Is Grace a Work Free Zone?

Is Grace a Work Free Zone?

Is Grace a Work Free Zone?

The Bible often presents truths that seem somewhat contradictory but are really truths in tension.  God is completely sovereign yet gives man free will.  Jesus was fully God and fully man.  God is trinity Father, Son, Holy Spirit, yet God is One.  We are justified by faith apart from works according to Paul but James says faith without works is useless.

I remember when I first began to study the history about the origins of controversial doctrines.  The great teachers like Calvin would indicate when presenting an extreme position based on certain passages an acknowledgement of other ones in tension.   They would use phrases like “I’m saying this” based on a passage, “but I am not saying this” based on other passages.  Authentic teachers have a humility and a fear of the Lord that is reflected in Ecclesiastes 7:18. 

Ecclesiastes 7:18 “It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.”

This is what Paul exhibited in passages like Romans 6 in speaking about salvation through grace alone when he twice said, “shall we continue to sin that grace will increase, GOD FORBID! (Romans 6:1, 15).   I find this humility and fear of God often missing in some of the extreme teachings today. 

Today more than ever we live in world of sound bites that people use to spin ideas in certain ways in accordance with their own views and desires.   Both conservative and liberal news sites use quotes and sound bites from the same speeches and interviews then spin them in completely different directions.  They obviously have a perspective they believe to be true and look for bits of speeches to use to reinforce their narrative.   In doing these types of things they completely miss the context of the view the people speaking intended. 

We live in a marketplace of spiritual messages.  There are well over 550 million Christian based web sites along with multiple times that number of social media sites.  We must remember that there are 3 things at work when it comes to God’s word.

  1. His truth.
  2. What we believe to be true.
  3. What we want to be true. 

What we believe to be true should always be a result of pursuing what is true, not what we want to be true. 

When what we believe is guided more by what we want to be true we will do what Paul warned against, (which is easy to do with all the online marketplaces of spiritual messages) find “teachers in accordance with our own desires.”  2 Timothy 4:3  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,

This can be very true when it comes to the idea of grace wand works.  You can Google “grace and works” and find over 152 million responses.  You find catchy slogans like “Grace +  works = legalism, Grace – works = salvation.”   Is grace a work-free zone?

Philippians 2:12-13  So then, my beloved… work out your salvation with fear and trembling;  (13)  for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Anything good that we do in our lives is only a result of God’s wonderful working by grace.   Our works apart from Him were unable to earn His approval.  What we couldn’t do on our own God did in sending Jesus.  Salvation is God’s free gift beyond our works.  God liberated us from a works based salvation but did He liberate us from works? Ephesians 2:8-9“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; (9) not as a result of works, that no one should boast….  

Unfortunately people often stop at verse 9 and forget the completion of Paul’s thought in Ephesians 2:10  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.  We are never working to earn acceptance by God but that doesn’t mean we are not working.  Some people interpret the idea of God’s grace as a “work-free zone.”  Nothing is further from the truth. 

Dallas Willard said it well, “Grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning. Paul writes in Philippians to “work out our salvation” but he isn’t telling us to earn it, but rather, to “live it out.”

People do a similar thing with what Paul said in Titus 3:4-7  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared,  (5)  not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,  (6)  whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior,  (7)  that being justified by His grace, we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life

Again people stop there (use that sound bite) and make bold assertions regarding grace and freedom from work but again we must allow Paul to complete his thoughts.   Titus 2:8 This is a trustworthy statement, I desire that you strongly affirm that those believing God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable…

Self-Generated or Spirit-Generated works

While God has liberated us from self-generated religious works that earn our salvation He does come to dwell in us to inspire and enable good works.   When we are saved Holy Spirit becomes a living reality in our lives.  He both inspires and directs.  This will result in works, Spirit inspired ones.   This is what Paul was saying in Philippians 2 “work out your salvation…for God is at work in you, both to will and work for His good pleasure.”  

Paul had no concept of a lazy grace that would result in a work-free zone.  He considered that posture “receiving grace in vain (empty, futile, without purpose)

1 Corinthians 15:10  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.

2 Corinthians 6:1  Working together with Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.

Over the years I have noticed that people that are the most emphatic about grace not being about works are often the ones that work the least.  They tend to be the least sacrificially serving and the most self-serving.  They consistently justify behaviors that the Bible frowns upon playing the grace card when challenged.  Right behavior will never justify us before God but if we are truly justified it will result in right behavior.  

Living in Christ will result in God-inspired ideas, Spirit enabled actions, and God motivated serving, flowing through our lives.  We will also see exhibited what Paul said in Romans 8:13 if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. His inner working will ultimately affect every area of our lives and will result in good works   These are the “good works” that God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  Eph 2:10.  God’s grace isn’t a work-free zone but works that result from Him working in us. 

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If Grace is about a Relationship then Relate

prayer in secretHave you every heard any of these ideas?

  • “Legalism is about rules, God is about relationship.”  
  • “You need to get out of religion and come into grace.”  
  • “The reason I can do this is grace.”  
  • “The reason you can’t do it is you are bound by legalism.”

Often when I hear people bringing up the idea of grace they immediately associated with a behavior that was previously thought of as sin, but is now allowable.  It often has self-justification at its core.  Just like the legalist brings up their list of do’s and don’ts as a means of justification others bring up their “belief” or “understanding” about grace as their justification. 

Grace isn’t a thing disconnected from a person.  God’s grace is in Jesus Christ. 

2 Corinthians 13:14  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.  I think Judah Smith sums it up well,

“We shudder at the term grace because it has been so maligned, so abused, so misrepresented. We see grace as the get out of jail free card. “Oh yeah, I love me some grace man. I get my jiggy on in the weekend then I come back on Sunday and get me my grace on.” No, that’s not grace. You’ve met a concept, not a Person.”

Any time there is an immediate connection of grace to behavior we can get away with instead of  walking with Jesus it is a distortion of grace. 

Romans 5:1-2…having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  (2)  through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand…

If God and grace is about a relationship with Jesus then it should be evident in a relationship with Jesus. Jesus Himself said abiding in Him connected with prayer is essential.   John 15:1-2  “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing...“If you abide in Me…ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

When I speak with people who shout the loudest about grace and relationship not  rules and religion their “actual prayer life” defies their belief. 

How to consistently abide with Jesus in prayer

God has designed us in such a way that our ongoing relationship with Him is sustained through regular prayer.    Many Christians would admit that they struggle with consistency in their everyday personal prayer life.  It is something that everyone knows they need to do, but often struggle with consistency. 

I remember how difficult it seemed in my early years of serving Jesus to gain a consistent prayer life.  I remember a book by Andrew Murray called “The Prayer Life” as well as other books on prayer that really helped me reach the tipping point in going from an inconsistent to a consistent prayer life.   You can read Murray’s book “prayer life” free online at http://www.onread.com/reader/1145974.

Prayer is a spiritual experience and a spiritual discipline. 1 Timothy 4:7…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.  Here are some essential tips if we are going to be more effective in consistent prayer.

Tips for the prayer closet

  • It needs to be regular and consistent.  Jesus said “when you pray” not if you pray (Mt 6:6).   It is good to set a consistent time every day and get into the habit.  In doing so we fit our life around prayer rather than trying to fit prayer into our life.  Trying to fit prayer into our life rarely works. The Bible puts a premium on Morning Prayer.  It is a first-fruit time in which we are the clearest before the day begins.  If you can’t do Morning Prayer make sure you set another time (that works in your schedule) that is a priority you attend to every day 
  • Real language, not religious eloquence, is the language of prayer.  Prayer is above all communication with God.  Jesus always seemed to frown on religious language but wanted real communication from our heart.
  • Find a private place where you can be alone and undistracted with God.  This is what Jesus met by the “inner room.”  It can be a literal room or someplace where you can have undistracted communication
  • Thanksgiving, praise, and worship are essential to entering God’s presence and staying alert there.  These things work to draw us to God and keep us alert in His presence. 
  • Psa 100:4  Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
  • Col 4:2  Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;
  • Shouting/lifting our voice is a good way to create alertness and focus.  Shouting is by far the most common expression of praise and interacting with God in the Scripture.  It is used 265 times, silence is the least mentioned. Only 4 times is silence mentioned towards God.  The word meditate is used about 13 times in regard to God most of which are meditating on His word and His ways.  Shouting brings our foggy mind to a sense of focus and alertness. 
  • Psalms 95:1-2  us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.  (2)  Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. Psa 77:1  My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud; My voice rises to God, and He will hear me.
  • Psa 142:1 I cry aloud with my voice to the LORD; I make supplication with my voice to the LORD.
  • It is good to alternate praying/singing in the Spirit (praying in tongues) with praying/singing in your understanding.  The helps cultivate a Spiritual atmosphere and engages us with the Spirit of God. 
  • 1 Corinthians 14:15…I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
  • Use Scriptural Prayers as a pattern and example.  I have all the prayers of the Bible recorded on my computer and I regularly pull them up and pray them.  It is part of Jesus’ instruction about His word abiding in us as we pray in John 15.  
  • The biggest thing is to just do it.  Prayer is not just a good intention or a good concept.  It is a practice.  The only way to develop a consistent prayer life is to consistently pray!  There is not magic prayer pills.  Nike launched one of their most successful advertising campaigns that had a tag line which expresses the foundation of consistent prayer, “Just Do It.”  

If grace is about a relationship not rules then cultivating that relationship through regular communication/prayer is a must.  It will also help with behavior because light dispels darkness.  If you are doing something in which you can’t connect with Jesus while doing it there may be a problem with what you are doing!

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Home on the Range Theology Pt 2 (no conviction allowed!)

Bible 1I wrote in my last article about the great need for a systematic approach in studying and/or teaching the Bible.  If not we may end up in a spiritual cul-de-sac of subjective ideas.  What that means is when looking at or using a certain passage/subject from the Bible it is a good idea to look at the other places where that subject is mentioned and how it is used.  As we review them we get an overall perspective of how God thinks about that subject.  

We need the Spirit of God working through His word to measure our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors because there are two things we all wrestle with, what we believe to be true and what we want to be true.  Without Him and His word the latter can overshadow the former.  


What we want to be true will shape what we believe to be true and we can always find a confirmation from the over 500 million Christian based web sites.  

Holding both Grace and Truth Together

Joh 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.  Both grace and truth are important in our lives.  In looking at the subject of God’s grace and how He works in our lives through it we understand it is very liberating and appealing in a special way to believers who have been ensnared in a legalistic system where there is little positive encouragement or assurance.  In legalistic theology God is seen as harsh, aloof, impossible to please, and always waiting to punish us for any mistake. This doesn’t sound like the “Loving Father” who wants us near Him and sent His “only begotten Son” to make it possible.   

At the same time we must guard against a tendency to jump from one theological extreme to another.

Ecclesiastes 7:18 “It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.”

Jesus was the full embodiment of both grace and truth, not just a balance of the two or one to the exclusion of the other    When it comes to God’s great grace I have seen a tendency to hold to “one thing” while “letting go of the other” (Eccl 7:18).  In seeing the empowering and affirming aspect of God’s grace I have seen people let go of the fact that God does challenge/discipline us.   The writer of Hebrews does say “discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” Heb 12:1-29.   If we don’t see this we will end up with what I call “Home on the Range Theology” where as the classic western song says, “seldom is heard a discouraging (challenging) word, and the skies are not cloudy all day.”  We will end up missing important things God wants to do in us that aren’t always comfortable.

I had the privilege of seeing a historic example of this when visiting Washington D.C. Thomas Jefferson cut out verses he liked  from a couple of Bibles and combined them into the “Jefferson Bible.”   He definitely “grasped one thing” while “letting go of the other” (Eccl 7:18).  

Jefferson Bible

Jefferson Bible

Jefferson donor Bibles

Jefferson donor Bibles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God doesn’t convict us

One case in point I recently discovered was when I read some popular authors who put forth the idea that God doesn’t “convict” us. The line of reasoning is that any challenge or conviction is legalism not grace.  They base it on the fact that “Holy Spirit convicts the world (not His people) of sin” Jn 16:8.  It is important to note that the word for “convict” in Jn 16 is from the Greek word “elegcho” GG1651 which means “convict, refute, confute, to bring to the light, to expose, to correct by word, to admonish, to call into account, to show fault.”   Because Holy Spirit doesn’t “convict” then anything that has that sort of challenge in it isn’t of God.  You can imagine where that leads.

This is why we need to take a systematic approach and look at all the scriptures to determine if that is true, or “what we want to be true.”  Let’s consider the places where that word is used in the New Testament.   

  • Mt 18:15 If your brother sins, go and show (G1651) him his fault (G1651) in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.
  • Lk 3:19 But when Herod the tetrarch was reprimanded (G1651) by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the wicked things which Herod had done,
  • Jn 3:20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed (G1651)  
  • Jn 8:46 Which one of you convicts (G1651) Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me?
  • Jn 16:8 And He, when He comes, will convict (G1651) the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment;
  • 1 Cor 14:24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted (1651) by all, he is called to account by all;
  • Eph 5:11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose (G1651) them;
  • Ephesians 5:13-14 But all things become visible when they are exposed (1651) by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. (14)  For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.”
  • 1 Tim 5:20 Those who continue in sin, rebuke (G1651) in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.
  • 2 Tim 4:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove (G1651) rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
  • Tit 1:9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute (G1651) those who contradict.
  • Titus 1:13 This testimony is true. For this reason reprove (G1651) them severely so that they may be sound in the faith,
  • Tit 2:15 These things speak and exhort and reprove (G1651) with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
  • Heb 12:5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED (1651) BY HIM;
  • James 2:8-12 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well. (9)  But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted (G1651) by the law as transgressors.  (10)  For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.  (11)  For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.  (12)  So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.
  • Jude 1:14-15 It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, (15)  to execute judgment upon all, and to convict (G1651) all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”
  • Rev 3:19 Those whom I love, I reprove (G1651) and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.

Additionally Jesus Himself speaks to 7 churches in the first 3 chapters of Revelation and links His words to “let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev 2:17, 3:18).   In the messages 8 times Jesus tells them to “repent”  of things He isn’t pleased with and further tells them something similar to Hebrews 12, “whom I love I discipline”  (Rev 3:19).  

We are thankful that Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and His people encourage us as sons and daughters reminding us that we are adopted and gloriously forgiven by His grace.  It is also out of His love for us that challenge/discipline comes so that we will not be destroyed by “the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13).  Home on the Range Theology will reject this because of mistaken ideas about the love of God.  While God always loves us that doesn’t mean He always loves what He sees.  Only an evil parent would ignore things that would hurt or destroy their child (Heb 12:11). 

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“Home on the Range” Theology

False doctrine I had the great privilege recently to meet with a large group of people who are involved in teaching God’s word.  We were covering the subject of making sure we take a sound systematic approach in preparing to study or teach the Bible.  If not we may end up in a spiritual cul-de-sac of subjective ideas.  What that means is when using a certain passage or subject from the Bible it is a good idea to look at all the other places where that subject is mentioned and how it is used.  As we review all the places, we get an overall perspective of how God speaks on that subject in Scripture.  We want to interpret the passage or subject we are using in light of the whole of God’s revelation.  Another way to say it is that we use Scripture to interpret Scripture.

No sooner did I finish the weekend when I was confronted with a prime example of why we need to do this.  Over the past 36 years of helping lead churches I have come across my share of strange ideas from people using scriptures.  Some of these ideas tend to circulate in different forms from decade to decade. With over 550 million Christian based web and blog sites along with an unknown greater number of Christian social media sites good and bad spiritual ideas are everywhere.  We have an internet smorgasbord of just about any theology you like.

I had not come across this idea before.  I was reading someone who boldly declared that Christians shouldn’t pray the “Lord’s Prayer.”  I have told a few people about it since then and I get the same response, a moan followed by “what?” The author set out his logic.  The prayer contains “Old Testament legalistic” things like asking God to “forgive our trespasses (sins) as we forgive others” as well as helping “lead us away from temptation and deliver us from evil.”  Jesus taught this before He gave His life for our salvation.  Now because our sins are forgiven and we are in the New Covenant there is no need of such prayers.   After all Jeremiah 31:31-34 announced the New Covenant (affirmed in Heb 8:6-13, 10:16-17)  in which our sins are not only forgiven but “remembered no more.”   Jesus died for our sins “once and for all” (Heb 7:27, 9:10) past, present, and future so why pray something as legalistic as the Lord’s prayer.   Asking forgiveness is some sort of works based Christianity that was Old Testament.

While I have seen my share of hyper grace teachings over the past 4 decades this latest version, often identified with phrases such as “grace revolution,”  also lacks a good systematic approach towards the Bible.  The spiritual logic is easy; you pick out some passages you like, string them together, ignore the rest of the passages surrounding them and “eureka” you’ve found it.  Of course you have to ignore facts like the church has been praying the Lord’s prayer for two millennia.  Early church fathers like “Polycarp” (a disciple of John the Apostle) prayed it, as well as first century writings like the “Didache” record its use.  While some answer, as I have heard, the early church just didn’t understand things like this as well as we do.”  I would be careful with that line of thinking.

The last two writers of the New Testament, Jude and John, began to address similar types of teachings that were creeping into the church.  It is good to remember that prior to their writing Jerusalem had been destroyed causing a serious blow to the Judaizers (those where were trying to pull the early Christians back to keeping the Old Testament law as a means of being right with God).   The biggest problems they were facing were teachings that were causing the church to believe that because of grace and knowledge God was okay with them living any way they desired (defined as “sin” in the Bible).  There are no consequences because of the grace and knowledge they had.  Jude specifically addresses this in most of His short letter.

Jude 1:3-25  Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.  (4)  For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness (aselgeia G766 unbridled lust, excess, outrageousness, shameless behavior, CEV “God treats us much better than we deserve, and so it is all right to be immoral.”) and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.  (5)  Now I desire to remind you…(7)  just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire… (12)  These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves… (16)  These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.  (17)  But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ,  (18)  that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.”  (19)  These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.  (20)  But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,  (21)  keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.  (22)  And have mercy on some, who are doubting;  (23)  save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

While we are gloriously and wondrously saved by God’s grace being poured out on us through Jesus, that grace isn’t a license to live any way we desire.  It is an empowerment to walk with Jesus and live in His design.

Titus 2:11-12  For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,  (12)  training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.

“Home On The Range” spirituality

In contrast, a hyper-grace approach has no challenge in it because that would be negative.  There is never any room for such things as conviction, repentance, correction, or confession of sins.  They have already been forgiven in Jesus, past, present, and future.  I call it “Home on the Range” spirituality.  If you remember that classic western song most of us learned growing up (which happens to be the state song of Kansas) “where the deer and the antelope play, where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day.”  Everything is positive, no consequences, we just spiritually feel good about ourselves.  God’s revelation throughout scripture sees grace as having a much greater purpose than us simply feeling positive about our lives.

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Made in God’s Image or Making Him into Ours

“In the beginning God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.” Voltaire

I was recently in a worship service in which we were singing the song by Keith Getty and Stewart Townend, “In Christ Alone.”  It is a tremendous song full of Biblical truth. It gained quite bit of popularity among Christian circles for which I am very glad.  What a joy to know Christians all over the world have worshiped Jesus as they sang such wonderful Biblical truths about Him.  I have worshiped many times with this song, cried, and been freshly filled with Holy Spirit as I sang those marvelous truths about Jesus.  

It is always good to appreciate and worship Him based on how He revealed Himself and what He has done through Jesus. There is a fallen nature in mankind and culture, however, that tries to make God the way we would like Him to be rather than worshiping Him for who He has revealed Himself to be.   During the creation of mankind God said, Let us make man in Our image and likeness (Gen 1:26-28).  It is great for God to make us in His image but bad when we try to make Him into ours.  

We have that tendency to ignore what we don’t like about how God revealed Himself in His word and only highlight what we do like.  This leaves us with a God made in our own image and likeness.

“God created man in His own image, and man, being a gentlemen, returned the compliment.”  Mark Twain

This was highlighted in a controversy I remembered as I was singing the aforementioned song.  A few years ago the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song decided to exclude it from its new hymnal.  The song was being sung in many of their churches and the committee wanted it included but a line from the third stanza: “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied” caused a problem.  For this they wanted to substitute: “…as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.” The authors of the hymn insisted on the original wording, and the Committee voted nine to six that “In Christ Alone” would not be among the eight hundred or so items in their new hymnal.  I am sure it cost the authors financially but I am glad they didn’t bow to cultural or politically motivated heresy. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/08/05/presbyterians-decision-to-drop-hymn-stirs-debate/2618833/

In Christ aloneMany Christians deal with unpopular aspects of God’s nature like His wrath the way Victorian Christians handled the idea of sex.  Treat it as something shameful, embarrassing, and best left in the closet.  God is perfectly just and His wrath is not unbridled anger based on capricious whims.  Neither is His love just sentimental love.  Jesus living a perfect life, bearing our sins, and facing the perfect judicial wrath of God is the foundation of His being our Savior.

We must be careful not to try to make God the way we want Him to be rather than seeing Him as He is.   Some people choose aspects of God like we choose items on a salad bar. I love salad bars, and I know very well how they work.  We pick out what we like, leave out what we don’t, get as much as we want, and still end up with salad.  God doesn’t work that way.  The Psalmist speaks of this tendency of making God the way we want Him with God’s reply, “you thought I was like you.”  In other words you tried to make Me the way you wanted Me to be.  

Psalms 50:16-22  But God said…(19)  “You are always ready to speak evil; you never hesitate to tell lies.  (20)  You are ready to accuse your own relatives and to find fault with them.  (21)  You have done all this, and I have said nothing, so you thought that I am like you. But now I reprimand you and make the matter plain to you.

The great church leader Tertullian, 160-225 AD from the Carthage in the Roman province of  Africa responded to some early heresies of a similar nature that were coming into the church.  He said that the heretics proposed,

“a better god has been discovered, one who is neither offended nor angry nor inflicts punishment, who has no fire warming up in hell, and no outer darkness wherein there is shuddering and gnashing of teeth: he is merely kind.” 

As the early Christians understood Isaiah 53:4-5, Christ was pierced for our transgressions, smitten by God and afflicted.  He bore the wrath of God for us.  The wrath of God is actually an aspect of the love of God. British scholar Tony Lane explains that “the love of God implies His wrath. Without His wrath God simply does not love in the sense that the Bible portrays His love.” God’s love is not sentimental; it is holy. It is tender, but not spineless.  It involves not only compassion, kindness, and mercy beyond measure (what the New Testament calls grace) but also indignation against injustice and unremitting opposition to all that is evil.

In his 1934 book, The Kingdom of God in America, H. Richard Niebuhr spoke of the salad bar approach to God, “A God without wrath brought man without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

How many other issues that Christians feel the press of culture to ignore or redefine have we succumbed to? We must be careful not to make God in the image we would like Him to be.  In doing so we may end up worshiping a god of our own making which the Bible calls an idol. 

 

 

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Tom and Doug speaking at the International Leader’s Conference

During the first part of April Tom Bedford and Doug Kreighbaum  spoke during the corporate sessions of the Salt and Light International Leadership Conference near London England.  The main leaders in the Salt and Light Family from the various nations gathered (24 nations). There were 10 corporate sessions that are available for free online at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLgP6-niVcMVM7xMnPz4INkMhIdGNQ3dtH.

Here are Doug and Tom’s sessions.

 

 

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Our main problem isn’t His love for us but our love for Him

keeping yourselves in Gods loveGod is love  (John 4:7-8).  We are thankful for His great love seen in sending Jesus. Through His sacrifice we can be forgiven and joined to God.  

Ephesians 2:4-5  But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us…

John 3:16  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…

There is another aspect of God’s love we must consider, our love for Him.    Mark Twain once said something that is a very true especially in the area of our love for God.

“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” 

Not long ago I was in a worship service in which we were singing songs about God’s great love towards us.  I could really sense His presence. We had some prophetic words and exhortations aimed at helping people be reminded and have a deeper appreciation of God’s love towards us. Then out of the blue the Spirit said something very surprising. “The thing that causes most problems in the lives of My people isn’t about Me loving them but them loving Me.”   

This was a little surprising to hear in that tender moment.   Then He preceded to show me this in Scripture. This was the first question Jesus asked Peter  after the resurrection.

Joh 21:15-17 …Jesus *said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me…”Tend My lambs.”  16…”Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”…”Shepherd My sheep.”  17…”Simon, son of John, do you love Me?“…Jesus *said to him, “Tend My sheep.

Over and over Jesus said that the first (not second or third), and most important thing is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Mar 12:28-30…”What commandment is the foremost of all?”  29  Jesus answered, “The foremost is…30  AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH. (Dt 6:5, 7:9, 10:2, 11:1, 13, 22, Mt 22:37, Lk 10:27).

John (the apostle of love) outlived all the other apostles and was dealing with heresies that had crept into the church.  He continually showed us that the acid test of authentic faith was loving God which is clearly seen through loving others and obeying His commands.  

  • Joh 14:15  “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.  
  • 1Jn 4:11-24 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…. We love, because He first loved us.  (20)  If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  (21)  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.  (Joh 8:42, Joh 15:10-14).
  • 1Jn 3:16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (Walking in Jn 3:16 should lead to walking in 1 Jn 3:16)
  • 1Jn 5:2…By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 

Loving God in response to His love is a key that brings healing and restoration in our lives. It causes us to obey His commands which makes us better husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, and employees. Knowing God loves us should carry over into us loving and obeying Him. 

Loving God is also the foundation for local churches displaying the nature of Jesus the head of the church.  As John was recording Jesus’ messages to the 7 local churches in Asia Minor He challenged Ephesus about this very important issue.  Revelation 2:4 ‘But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.  If loving Jesus isn’t at the heart of a church it will be hard for Him to reveal Himself through it (Eph 3:10-11)

A most challenging scripture

Paul wrote probably one of the most shocking things about loving God to the Corinthian church.  He had stressed the importance of walking in God’s love in chapter 13.  No matter what we do in God’s kingdom if we don’t walk in love “it does not profit us.”  He finishes the letter with a crazy statement.

1 Cor 16:22-24 MSG If anyone won’t love the Master, throw him out. Make room for the Master! 23 Our Master Jesus has his arms wide open for you.

“Throw him out” for not loving God?  It sounds like a very unloving and unChristian thing to say.  Why was Paul so strong on this?  He knew that all the challenging things the Corinthians were going through could not be resolved without loving God.  If people stayed in the church who refused to love God things would only get worse. 

Keeping ourselves in the love of God 

How do we stay in and grow in our love for God? Jude 1:21 keep yourselves in the love of God.   Many things can help but one of the biggest is a constant gratitude for His love and forgiveness.  Like the immoral woman that Jesus used to show us what it means to love Him, we need to constantly be amazed by His great love.  This is what causes us, like her to “love much.”

Luk 7:30-50 …So which of them will love him more?”  (43)  Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”(47)  “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

We tend to live in an entitlement culture that works against the idea of gratitude.  When we think we are owed things or deserve them we begin to lose a sense of gratitude. In order to abide in God’s love we need a deeper gratitude.  It is a constant gratitude for God Himself.   Psa 106:1, 107:1  O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting (Psa 118:1, 136:1, etc.)  

This is a radical gratitude for who He is that causes us to lay our lives down in response. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; (15) and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

This is an essential trait if we are to keep ourselves in God’s love.

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Jesus in the neighborhood

 

church has left the buildingGod’s people are called to be a real community/family that reflects the life of God as she engages the world. Consider Jesus’ last prayer from the Gospel of John and His commission after His resurrection.

Joh 17:11  “I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. ..18-23  “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world…  (20)  “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word;  (21)  that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.  (22)  “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one;  (23)  I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.

John 20:20-21… So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

Sent like Jesus “Incarnation”

John 1:14  MSG The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.  We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

The word “incarnation” means God became flesh and lived among people.  God did not Incarnational
become a text, tweet, or a Facebook comment and “dwelt among us.” God became human and dwelt among us.  As our culture becomes more detached it creates emotional longing for physical presence.

I heard a story about a little boy who was frightened by a thunderstorm.  His father came to his room and the boy cried, “Daddy, I’m scared.”  His dad prayed over his son and said, “Son, it will be alright.  Don’t forget Jesus is here with you.”  After a moment of silence the boy responded, “I need Jesus with some skin on Him.”

People need Jesus with some skin on.  God’s people are the body of Jesus in the earth. They are not to run away from the world and huddle in church buildings.  We are not trying to escape the earth but see “Thy Kingdom come They will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  

N.T. Right said, “Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven.”

Our primary calling  to “Make disciples” (Mt 28″19-20) isn’t as much about formulas or simple steps.  It is entering into life with people and helping them know and follow Jesus. Christians need to be embedded with people and fully present in an age of family disintegration, disengagement, and dislocation. 

Our mission is the alert people to God’s life through Jesus Christ.  We alert people to the reality that Jesus is ruling, not just through verbal announcement but also a living demonstration of the values and goodness of His reign right under their noses.  

Philippians 2:14-16 Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night

Elements of an incarnational approach to everyday living

  • Active sharing of life in your neighborhood.  
  • Entering into people’s world and identifying with them. 
  • Have confidence in the gospel being communicated by both word and deed
  • Make sure you take advantage of being in places where people hang out everyday. Just like Jesus encountered the woman at the well (John 4 a common everyday place) we are to encounter people in everyday places (stores, coffee shops, parks, etc.)  
  • Practice hospitality which primarily means making people feel welcome (Rom 12:13, 1 Tim 5:10, Heb 13:2). It also means inviting people to be around you as well as in your homes.  People don’t just want to hear us talk about the Gospel…they want to see authentic Christianity expressed through the love of Christ.

 

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Ordinary life becomes extraordinary as we connect with God

ordinary 2God has a way of making ordinary things in everyday life become “extraordinary.”  There is a life in God that causes even the mundane to become glorious.  What causes this? When we connect to Him in a real way right in the midst of everyday life.    

Moses was out taking care of his flock in the wilderness like he had done many times before.  He came near the mountain of God (always good thing) and God called out to him from an ordinary bush that had become “marvelous” (Ex 3:1-5).  Moses “turned aside” to approach the bush that was on fire with God but not burnt up.  Then Moses heard God’s voice and had to take his shoes off because what had once been an ordinary thing in an ordinary place had now became “holy ground.” 

All of God’s people need daily encounters with Him which causes ordinary everyday life to become holy ground.

We need God’s Manifest Presence

While God’s presence is everywhere it is only when we encounter Him in a real way things change.  It is not that the things themselves change but our perspective on them changes.  It is like being home with my wife.  She can be in the same house with me and technically her presence is with me.  If I am in another room or consumed with something else her presence isn’t affecting me much. When I change my posture and go into the same room with her, look at her, talk with her, and notice her beauty I become affected by her presence.  She didn’t change, I did. 

We are to have those types of experiences with God everyday.  Bible scholars call this aspect of God’s presence His “manifest presence.”   As God’s people we must have ongoing connection with God’s manifest presence so the ordinary of everyday life becomes extraordinary in His presence.  

The danger of empty religion is that we carry the name, the call of God, but rarely connect with Him in a real way.  That causes life to become empty, mundane, ordinary, and “religious.”  This is what dead religion is all about.  It is what Jeremiah warned God’s people to avoid. Jer 2:13 “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, To hew for themselves cisterns, Broken cisterns That can hold no water. 

Jesus pointed this out to the religious leaders of His day who were steeped in their religious practices.  They even read God’s word diligently but God’s life was not in what they were doing.  Why, because they refused to come and connect with Him.  Joh 5:39-40 “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me;  40  and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.

“Certain (ordinary) Places” becoming “Awesome Places”

The story of Jacob (Gen 28:11-22) holds an important key to seeing “certain” (ordinary) ordinary 3places” become “awesome places,” filled with the life of God.  

Gen 28:11-22 He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place.  12  He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  13  And behold, the LORD stood above it and said…15  “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…16  Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”  17  He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”… 19  He called the name of that place Bethel (the House of the Lord).

Jacob was on the run from his brother when he came to a “certain place” (verse 11).  It wasn’t a great church meeting or worship concert, just an ordinary place. Jacob had deceived his brother and quarreled with him.  Now he was avoiding him, tired, and looking for a place to rest.

This sounds like church life if we aren’t careful, worn out people, spiritually sleepy, not living in unity with their brothers, making them oblivious to God’s presence that is all around them. 

Something happened before daylight.  Jacob became wide awake declaring this is an “awesome place, the house of God, and the gate of heaven.”  What happened?  How did a “certain place” become an “awesome place” (vs 17)?  How did an ordinary place become Bethel the House of God the gateway of heaven where the things of God’s heavenly realm move into this earthly realm (vs 19)?  

What makes the house of God the house of God, and an ordinary place “awesome” isn’t the building or meeting.  It isn’t a church service with worship bands or great preaching.  It is when His people wake up and connect with Him in a real way.  It is when we see Him and hear His voice.  When this happens we find ourselves like Jacob realizing afresh that ‘the Lord is in the place” and we “did not know it.”  We may have known He is there in theology but not in reality.  That all changes when we actively connect with Him.

We need to do everything we can to “wake up” and connect with Jesus in a real way.  Whether in our regular everyday “prayer closets,” or in gatherings of God’s people we need to push past spiritual sleepiness or sluggishness and connect with God.  This is what Hosea referred to as he encouraged God’s people with an approach to “press on” to know the Lord until His influence comes like rain watering us and the earth.   Hos 6:3 “So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain, Like the spring rain watering the earth.”

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Extraordinary living in the midst of ordinary life

OrdinaryThere is a tendency in humans (which includes Christians) to love the extraordinary and despise the ordinary.  For followers of Christ the extraordinary is defined by miracles, signs and wonders, feeding the 5000, missions’ trips to unreached people groups, or platforms in large meetings.  The ordinary can be defined by such things as raising a family, working at our jobs, shopping at Wal-mart, walking in everyday relationships, and the day in and day out of local church life.  

When testimonies are given to inspire Christians to go all out for God the ones often highlighted are the extraordinary exploits. The possibility of God showing up in our ordinary everyday lives is rarely highlighted and often Christians aren’t motivated to see the extraordinary God in the midst of ordinary life. 

We even have an internal ranking of Scriptures.  We have a class A list that contains extraordinary Scriptures of great Kingdom exploits that are especially appealing to the charismatics.  Then there is a class B list that we often read over thinking they surely aren’t that significant to focus on. 

Class A Scriptures

Mar 16:15  And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.

Joh 14:12  “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.

Mark 16:15-18 …And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  (16)  “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.  (17)  “These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues;  (18)  they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Class B Scriptures

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 NASB  (11)  and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you,  (12)  so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.

1Ti 5:10  having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work.

2 Thessalonians 3:12-13 NASB  (12)  Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.  (13)  But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.

Colossians 3:17-23 NASB  (17)  Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.  (18)  Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  (19)  Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.  (20)  Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.  (21)  Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.  (22)  Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.  (23)  Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,

1Ti 6:2  Those who have believers as their masters must not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but must serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved..

The Extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary

Most Christians live with a haunting thought that they could never do anything significant in God.  This is not a Kingdom idea!  God values the ordinary; as a matter of fact, the principle of incarnation is that the extraordinary God came into ordinary humanity.  When the extraordinary God comes into ordinary humanity the ordinary takes on the aura of the Divine. That principle continues through the countless lives of Christians who faithfully walk with Jesus everyday, living out the Kingdom in their sphere of everyday life.

Oswald Chambers, “Expect to do something extraordinary for God…but we must be extraordinary in the ordinary, everyday living for God.” 

One of the parables Jesus told about His Kingdom was a man finding a treasure in the midst of an ordinary field.   Matthew 13:44–58   “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  The field itself wasn’t special, but the treasure made it significant.  The man was willing to sell all he had to buy the ordinary field because the treasure (extraordinary) was in it.  It meant putting up with the imperfections and the ordinary day in day out life of the field in order to possess the extraordinary treasure.  This is the way we walk with “God’s treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor 4:7).   

Jesus brought the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary.  He was born in a manger; ordinary 1you can’t get more ordinary than that.  He grew up in a small village and learned how to be a carpenter.  He could have introduced nuclear physics, or built the first airplane, yet he spent 30 years in an ordinary life.  He was the head of his home after Joseph died and dealt with the ordinary task of running a small business and caring for His mother.  Even after His baptism Jesus never traveled more that 110 miles from His hometown.    

Is it more important to be involved in preaching to thousands or speak with a coworker or friend about the things of God?   Is it more important to serve someone in a third world country or serve a needy family across the street?   We need to reevaluate the “work of the Lord.”  It isn’t just running around the world trying to reach multitudes we do not know. It is also touching the people God has placed in our lives every day.    

We are doing the will of God when we love our spouses, train our children, care for our parents, nourish our friendships, serve coworkers, and show care to others.    The overwhelming statistics in evangelism show us that anywhere between 85-95% of people who come to follow Jesus do so as a result of the influence of individuals in daily life. The vast majority of the evangelism in the first century church was not preachers, teachers, or gifted debaters. They were the nameless thousands of people who brought Jesus to their daily ordinary lives. Because ordinary men and women shared the gospel with colleagues, customers, relatives, and friends the early church grew and the Kingdom expanded.    

 

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