“You are just a big baby…why don’t you grow up!”

“You are just a big baby…why don’t you just grow up!”  Most of us have heard or used those words with friends or others as we were growing up.  They were meant to get our attention so something would change in the way we were acting.  In my experience many of those times the charges were accurate.  I needed them.  I was acting in a way that was destroying the enjoyment and relational comradery of the people I was with.  These same issues are true in our lives today.

While Paul didn’t use that exact phrase, he did clearly infer the same thing to the church in Corinth.  It wasn’t designed to flatter but get their attention so something would change.

  • 1 Corinthians 3:1-3  And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.  (2)  I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able,  (3)  for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?

The writer of Hebrews did the same thing.

  • Hebrews 5:12-6:1  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  (13)  For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.  (14)  But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.  (6:1)  Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity.

My wife and I have been privileged to have 4 children and 6 grandchildren (2 on the way).  We have loved every stage of our children and grandchildren’s lives.  We have also walked with many other people raising children and grandchildren.  One thing is true both naturally and spiritually. Babyhood is delightful, but perpetual babyhood is deplorable.  This is why we are all called to “press on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1, Phil 3;12-16).

Babyhood is delightful, but perpetual babyhood is deplorable.  This is true both naturally and spiritually.

What does it mean to be growing towards maturity?  A simple definition is living more of our lives responding to God and less to any other motivation (self-centeredness, flesh, culture, or the enemy).  Paul said it in the above verse “you are still fleshly…for since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly” (2 Cor 3:3).  Consistently yielding to the motivation of self-serving flesh is the sure sign of immaturity.

Self-centered immaturity is the cause of much harm in any relationship, especially among the people of God.  This is why Jesus consistently mentioned that we must deny self-centeredness in the calls to follow Him (Mt 10:37-39, 16:24-25, Mk 8:34-35, 10:21, Lk 9:23-25, 17:33, 14:27-34, Jn 12:24-26).

Three areas that reveal immaturity

  • Your inner desires: In the natural realm as you grow up you notice that your childhood toys no longer interest you. I think spiritual maturity works in a similar way. When you are growing in Christ, the world’s pleasures that are often wrapped up in things lose their appeal. At the same time, your hunger for God increases. You want to be with Him (prayer etc) and you become more motivated and sustained with making Him known. You want more of Him moving in and through your life. That desire gradually begins to overshadow all others (like Jesus said the Kingdom would do in the parable of the mustard seed Mt 13:31-32).
  • Your understanding: When you were young your understanding of the world was very limited. As you grew up you began to see the world from a broader, more mature perspective. It works the same way spiritually. As you grow you begin to see life from God’s perspective. You evaluate opportunities as well as temptations from a bigger perspective. It becomes more difficult to be pulled into things that have no real eternal value. Serving God becomes the most important thing in this life and everything else takes a back seat.
  • Self-centeredness: One of the most obvious traits of infancy and childhood is selfishness. Babies want their way and they want it now! Mature Christians are more submissive to the Lord. They become more concerned with His world than their own. They are willing to sacrifice and wait for Him.  More and more of their life source is found in Him and His world rather than their own. Instead of God existing to bless their world a mature perspective takes over and they begin to see that they exist to serve His world.

If we are going to “press on” and grow to maturity we have to be willing to put away “childish things.”  Let’s not mistake me-centered or self-help spirituality for genuine spiritual maturity lest we end up worshipping a god we make instead of the God of the Bible. Relationships are both the measurement and means of maturity. Click To Tweet

People growing in maturity will progressively exhibit fruit in these 3 Biblical areas.  They are indelible characteristics of one growing in maturity.  You will notice that possessing them will enable us to walk well with others, while not possessing them will work to destroy most relationships.  Relationships are usually both the measurement and means of maturity.  Just possessing Bible knowledge isn’t maturity.  It is when that knowledge coupled in a relationship with God causes actual fruit to be produced in these areas.

Relationships are both the measurement and means of maturity.

  • The ethics of God’s love (attitudes and actions of 1 Corinthains 13:1-13).  “Patience, kindness, not jealous, no bragging, non-arrogance, does not seek its own, not easily provoked, doesn’t take into account wrongs committed against them, does not rejoice in unrighteousness but the truth bears all things (patience), endures all things, and hopes in all things.”
  • The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24).  “Joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control.”
  • The mind/attitude of Christ (Philippians 2:1-11).  “Doesn’t have selfish ambition,willing to unite and walk in unity with others,  humble in mind seeing others as more important than self, doesn’t look out for its own interest but the interest of others,has a humble attitude, and is a servant.”   

To press on to maturity we must follow what Paul continues to say in Philippians 2:23-13 Work out salvation with fear and trembling (it takes effort) as we embrace God’s work in us. 

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Online Comparisons

“I I was shocked to hear they had separated!  All the way up until the time I found out her Facebook page indicated that they had a wonderful life, marriage, and family.  How could she publically put out that appearance when it wasn’t what was really going on?”  With bewilderment, she was referring to a college friend who lived in another city that she was close to and a godparent of one of her children.

Hungarian Proverb “If you keep wanting to be someone else who will be you?”


In our day and age, an online presence can become more influential than our real presence.  It is our current cultural platform through which we communicate.   It has spawned worldwide communication and opened great possibilities to share your life worldwide.  Like any other thing, it can be good or bad.  For God’s people, the good thing is to stay in touch with friends and highlight the good things God is doing in your life.

Unfortunately, It can also be a means of portraying a false online life that isn’t rooted in reality.  I have heard it referred to as people becoming curators of the display of self.  It can also provoke people to comparisons that can lead to something very harmful to all of us, jealousy and envy.

  • “Look at where they got to go on vacation…we have never gone to a place like that.  How do they do it?”
  • “Look at how nice their new house is…How did they manage that?”
  •  “Their kids seem to have no problems.  They are so cute, happy, and obedient.  What’s wrong with mine?”

It can even carry over into our life in Christ.

  • “We had 15 people baptized in the past 2 weeks.”
  • “I had 3 international trips in the past 3 months and am reaching the ends of the earth”
  • “I am preaching to the Alive Conference tonight with 6000 people; please pray for this humble servant of God (of course posted with pictures of the amazing meeting).
  • “Our new building is advancing rapidly and the money is pouring in.”
  • “I was asked to speak at the …(famous, big, and slick)… conference. Hope to see you there!”

Google the phrase “Facebook envy” and you will get 24,000,000 hits.  Google the phrase “Facebook depression” and you will get 91,900,000 hits.  These are growing trends.

Paul speaks of the danger of comparisons.

2 Corinthians 10:12-13  For we will not make comparison of ourselves with some of those who say good things about themselves: but these, measuring themselves by themselves, and making a comparison of themselves with themselves, are not wise.  (13)  We will not give glory to ourselves in over-great measure, but after the measure of the rule which God has given us, a measure which comes even to you.

When we start the comparison game we automatically fall into the trap of pursuing the wrong kind of glory.  We pursue a glory (even God’s glory) to give validation to ourselves.  The great problem for followers of Jesus is that it is validation from sources other than God.   Paul speaks of this as well.

Galatians 1:10-11 GNB  Does this sound as if I am trying to win human approval? No indeed! What I want is God’s approval! Am I trying to be popular with people? If I were still trying to do so, I would not be a servant of Christ.  (11)  Let me tell you, my friends, that the gospel I preach is not of human origin.

1 Thessalonians 2:4 GNB  Instead, we always speak as God wants us to, because he has judged us worthy to be entrusted with the Good News. We do not try to please people, but to please God, who tests our motives.

Ephesians 6:6-7  Do this not only when they are watching you, because you want to gain their approval; but with all your heart do what God wants, as slaves of Christ.  (7)  Do your work as slaves cheerfully, as though you served the Lord, and not merely human beings.

Glory Hounds

C.S.Lewis Mere Christianity “Pride is essentially competitive…Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more if it than the next man.  We say people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good looking, but they are not.  They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.”   

Constant comparison is fueled by one thing, pride.  It can be toxic spiritually because it has cousins called jealousy and envy that will always move in to stay.  When we constantly compare ourselves it becomes about our glory rather than His.  Even when Peter admonishes us to use our unique gifts that aim was “His glory” not ours.

1 Pet 4:10-11 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 

Three important things from Peter that helps avoid comparisons.

  • We all have gifts and value. Everyone is special and needful in God’s economy.
  • The purpose of these gifts is to serve His body so she reveals His glory (Eph 1:22-23 3:10-11). Gifts are not about boosting our ego.  We are to use our unique giftings and wiring so the church can flourish and God gets the glory.   
  • The ultimate goal of everything is so God is glorified through Jesus…forever and ever.

Chasing our own glory through comparisons leads to futility.  Jesus frees us from that futility as we “lay our lives down for His sake.”   Remember the more self-focused you are the more you will care about comparisons and the less self-focused you are the less you will care about these comparisons.

Remember the more self-focused you are the more you will care about comparisons and the less self-focused you are the less you will care about these comparisons.. Click To Tweet

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Never Follow Your Emotions

In light of the danger of Selfie Christianity we must look at the whole issue of our emotions. While our emotions are always real they aren’t always right.  God has created us in His image with the ability to experience emotions.  Unfortunately we live in a fallen world and the pollution of sin, and our immaturity can cause our emotions to go astray.   Emotions are often connected to chemicals in our brains so we must appreciate them while at the same time hold them in suspicion.

What happens when our emotions are not telling us the truth? I have had my share of both feeling and moving in my emotions that lead me away from God’s truth.  Paul said, “be angry and sin not” (Eph 4:26).  While we can experience the emotion of anger we still have to avoid sinning when we feel it.

I have had times with my family over the years (family is often the laboratory for both revelation and development of real spiritual maturity) in which I reacted with an emotion and one of my children responded, “dad Jesus doesn’t want you to act that way.”  Of course those sobering times cause the only spiritually sane response, repentance.

CS Lewis “Sensations are merely the response of your nervous system. Don’t depend on them. Otherwise when they go and you are once more emotionally flat (as you certainly will be quite soon), you might think that the real thing had gone too. But it won’t. It will be there when you can’t feel it. May even be most operative when you can feel it least.

Sometimes our emotions can be so strong it seems we can’t help ourselves.  We believe them along with the thoughts that are generated with them.  When we feel depressed we wonder if God is there or really cares about us.  When we are excited we have no doubt He does. We can sometimes feel emotional pain out of a genuine tragedy, and sometimes out of a perceived offense that may not be real.  These feelings can be momentary and other times they can be ongoing.  The thoughts that come into our mind as a result of emotions can cause us to not see straight.  We can be confused, accused, and void of hope or happiness.

 Example of David

When I think about the variations of our emotions in serving God I often think about the Psalms.  David who wrote many of them experienced strong emotions, both good and bad.  Think about his emotional life.  He was a king, poet, writer of worship songs, a warrior who killed people, and one who was betrayed by friends and relatives who sought his position and his life.   His emotional life had great extremes and the Bible doesn’t hide it.  We do get insights from the Scripture on how David handled them, both right and wrong.

Two of the psalms David wrote about emotions were instructive Psalms (Maskils Ps 42-43). These two psalms show clear challenges and solutions with emotions.   Three times in these two chapters he makes a strong statement to himself about His emotions,   “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5).  His emotions were talking to him but he was also talking to himself.  I have often said we spend way too much time listening to our emotions and too little time talking to them.  Instead of just letting his emotions speak to him David spoke to his soul.

I have often said we spend way too much time listening to our emotions and too little time talking to them.

Think about it for a moment.  If God designed our emotions He surely can help us when they are out of alignment with Him.  Each time when David asked himself the question he came up with the same logic in God …. “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

Hope in God is a clarifying statement and a command.   It is a clear God perspective that pushes back against confusing and cloudy emotions.  He reminded himself of God’s care and future.

Two clear things we can lean from David’s responses

1. Emotions can be real but also lie.  We can’t always believe our emotions. David was willing to question his.  Why do I feel this way?  We need to question our feelings.  We live in a culture in which questioning our inside feelings has almost disappeared.  If I feel a certain way then it must be true.  If you feel like the opposite gender then you must be…who would argue with your feelings…who cares if it isn’t your biological sex…you need to go with whatever gender your feelings are telling you.   Our culture mistakenly thinks that questioning your feelings somehow will betray the authentic you.   

Obedience means marching right on whether we feel like it or not. Many times we go against our feelings. Faith is one thing, feeling is another. DL Moody

This subjective way of living is not only harmful to ourselves but also harmful to others.

I have met and tried to help many people who have felt the extreme pain of their spouse moving on an errant emotion of “I have fallen out of love with you and fallen in love with someone else.  I have to follow my heart.”  NO YOU DON’T, IF YOU ARE A CHRISTIAN YOU FOLLOW JESUS!

What I have experienced is that if we go with our emotions the very thing we mistakenly think will happen as a result never happens.  Jesus said we must “deny our self (emotions) to find His life.”  When I go with an emotion that is against God’s truth it rarely produces ongoing life, joy, fulfillment, or meaning.  Most of the time when I go against those feelings and live by the word of God I end up getting what Jesus said, life, hope, peace, and joy.

2. Hope is not just a feeling but a state of looking towards the God of hope. Romans 15:13  Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Even though David was confused like we often are, he comes to an important conclusion of truth.  Either life is an absurd meaningless existence or God is the only hope we have.

When we face the challenges of life, and everyone faces them, we will tend to conclude one of two things. Life is a random array of chance happenings or there is a God who is at work (Rom 8:26-32).  One way is meaningless darkness, the other gives hope in Jesus Christ.  God is bigger than us.  It only stands to reason that our future is in the hands of the God who cares for us.

We either hope in God or head to a cycle of despair, confused thinking, and wrong decisions.  Life is too challenging, too big, too unknown to figure it out on our own.  God is bigger and has revealed His love for us through His word.  It is much more emotionally healthy to hope in Him.  We must speak to ourselves and remind ourselves to “hope in God, for I will again praise Him.”  Life is too big, too unknown and too confusing for us to figure it out on our own. God is our salvation. Our souls can find their hope in Him.


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Worth the Fight #3: Narcissistic or Kingdom Advancing Relationships

Everything exists for me

Everything exists for me

Author Rodney Clapp wrote, A noted western Philosopher introduced to the world in 1926 was one day sitting on a log when he heard a buzzing sound.  He was puzzled and fell to pondering.  As his leading chronicler remembers the event he reasoned along the following lines.  “If there is a buzzing noise somebody is making a buzzing noise, and the only reason for making a buzzing noise that I know of is because you’re a bee says the Poo.  Then he thought another long time and said, “And the only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey.  And then he got up and said, “And the only reason for making honey is so I can eat it.” 

Unfortunately Winnie the Poo’s attitude reflects how mankind often approaches their lives. Like Pooh they see “the only reason” things exist is for our personal likes, desires, and consumption.  It is a reflection of a narcissistic approach to life that is all too common today.

Narcissism is based on the Greek myth of Narcissus, the proud young man who saw his reflection in a pool and fell in love with it.  Narcissus was unable to break away from his own gaze, and eventually died by the side of the pool.  The psychological definition of Narcissism is an egotistical preoccupation with self, personal preferences, aspirations, needs, success, and how he/she is perceived by others.   

This is what the Bible calls “pride” which is the opposite of humility. C. S. Lewis aptly described humility as, “not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

Pride and narcissism are bad in any arena but especially among the people of God. It will result in taking precious truths of the design of God and making them about our glory instead of His.  We can do this with something as important to our lives as relationships with God and others.  This is why Jesus was so clear in His calls to follow Him in which He clearly puts “self” in a secondary/denied place.  

Luk 9:23-24  And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  (24)  “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it (MSG Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self).

Mark 8:34-35  “If anyone wishes to come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it (See also: Matthew 10:39,  Luke 17:32-33, Matthew 16:24-25, Mar 10:21, Luk 18:22, Luk 14:33).   

In the church world “relationships” or “fellowship” conjures up images such as sitting around a living room, eating refreshments, talking about life, enjoying each other’s company, and doing fun things together.   Being around people who are interested in our life is a very appealing.   A good relational church can be imagined as a nice sheep pen in which the sheep are cozy with one another and the shepherds are constantly attending to their needs.  Even Biblical ideas such as “accountability” can be viewed narcissistically.

Accountability can be twisted to simply cause us to be a little more open and honest.  We may share more about our struggles and challenges if we know others have imperfections like we do but where does it lead us?  Instead of motivation to change it becomes almost therapeutically comforting to know we are all imperfect, and God loves us just they way we are.  What about growth, change and progress in pleasing Jesus? 

This type of relational life seems very safe, sanitized, tame, but also self serving. It can seem like a “nice” effort designed to produce “nice” people that feel better about themselves.  While these things have their place, if this is the extent of fellowship then we are missing something very important.  God joins people together for His purpose, not ours.  The church is not to be a narcissistic body consumed with itself.  It is a body designed for a purpose beyond itself. 

Eph 1:22-23  Msg…The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

God isn’t about simply filling the confines of the church with cozy groups of fellowship.  He wants to fill the whole earth with people expressing His life.

Kingdom Relationships Should Stimulate Zeal for God

An important element that is often missing in “church relationships” is seen in Hebrews. Heb 10:23-25  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;  (24)  and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,  (25)  not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

The word “stimulate” one another is a very interesting word.  It is far from the safe and sanitized form of relationships.  The word “stimulate” means “incitement, provoke unto, contention.”  It means such things as “to call into action; to arouse; to excite; to provoke anger or wrath; to provoke war; to excite or challenge; to stir up or arouse.”  It means to incite to action with a zeal for God.

This isn’t a tame word!  There is an element of danger and forward action in it.  As the church goes forward and “fills everything with His presence,” darkness is destroyed.   It is the idea Jesus declared when He said in Matthew 16 “I will build my church and the gates of hell can’t stop its forward advance.”   When our relationships stimulate us to go forward, the fire of God moves through us to destroy the works of the enemy in every square inch of our lives and God’s earth.

The prophet Zechariah spoke of these types of relationships among God’s people.  Zec 12:5-6 “Then the clans (social units) of Judah will say in their hearts, ‘A strong support for us are the inhabitants of Jerusalem through the LORD of hosts, their God.’  6  “In that day I will make the clans of Judah like a firepot among pieces of wood and a flaming torch among sheaves, so they will consume on the right hand and on the left all the surrounding peoples, while the inhabitants of Jerusalem again dwell on their own sites in Jerusalem. 

Like Samson, Jesus gathers His people around His fire

Like Samson, Jesus gathers His people around His fire

A great Old Testament story that depicts these types of relationships comes from Samson.  Their enemy, the Philistines, had planted crops on God’s land.  Samson, who was a judge God raised up to deliver His people and advance His purpose, did something very interesting.  He caught 300 foxes, put a torch between every pair of them, and tied their tails to that torch.  He then set the torch on fire and sent each pair throughout the enemy’s crops.  This resulted in the crops that the enemy had planted to be burnt down.

Jdg 15:4-5 NASB  Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took torches, and turned the foxes tail to tail and put one torch in the middle between two tails.  5  When he had set fire to the torches, he released the foxes into the standing grain of the Philistines, thus burning up both the shocks and the standing grain, along with the vineyards and groves.

What a story to show us what this type of Biblical fellowship is like!  God’s sets His fire (Holy Spirit) among us, and ties us together with Him and each other.  If we are on fire for God as we move out, “two by two,” we end up spreading a fire that destroys the work of the enemy.  This is what Peter and John did when they went together to pray in the temple.  They encountered a beggar and out of the Spirit filled fire among them they prayed for him and he was healed.

Our relationships should “stimulate” us to action and Kingdom advancement.  They should work to light the torch of the Spirit among us.  They should produce a zeal for God and change in us. These type of relationships destroy the enemies crops in our lives and in the lives of others.   This is far from sitting around a living room having coffee and therapeutically focusing on ourselves.    Let us seek the type of relationships that “stimulate one another” by the fire of God to overcome the work of the enemy.   

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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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Climbing the Fence of Offense

“People who wish to be offended will always find some occasion for taking offense.” – John Wesley

Matthew 6:12, 14-15 “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 

Forgiveness takes a real offense (debt), or even a perceived one and renders it cancelled or inactive.  This is what God did for us through Jesus (Ps 103:12).   When we become offended and don’t get over it through God it puts a blockage or fence up that restricts our ability to move forward in God.  If we continue to hang onto offenses we will live behind a fence of demonically strengthened disobedience to God that will destroy everything valuable.  Like cancer or high blood pressure it will not only keep us from forward movement but will become a silent killer.

Current Cultural Offenses

Or culture is running amok with how offenses are handled.  In our politically correct environment people have lost jobs, been forever “blackballed,” and had their public stature ruined based on an offense they had no intention of giving.  It’s sad in this climate because most of the offenses that cause the problems were “perceived offenses” in the mind of “victims” more than real ones directly cased by people.  We saw this with the president of MU being forced to resign for things he had no knowledge of, or direct control over.    

The strange twist is that the victims may hurl terrible, insulting, and degrading things back at the perceived offender but that doesn’t seem to matter. The perceived offense is there and it empowers and justifies victims to act terribly in response.  In the end little progress is made.  The “offender” loses based on something they didn’t deliberately do and the offended remains a victim with little progress in their life.

What is going on culturally has parallels to what goes on among Christians. We all have the propensity to be offended and Jesus warned that it would happen frequently in the last days (Mt 24:3-13).  I have seen overly sensitive Christians get offended by the unintended actions (or inaction) of others.  They see themselves as victims and feel justified/empowered.  The unrestrained Facebook post start flowing.  People respond and accuse online in front of everyone, polarization happens, and fences are erected. 

Benefits of climbing the fence of offense

Climb the fence or be imprisoned behind it

Climb the fence or be imprisoned behind it

I once read a great quote containing an important truth, “Those who do not overcome the spirit of offense will have it standing between them and every breakthrough of life.”  If we don’t climb the fence of offense we will miss something valuable in God.  

We have to ask something important, is the problem only with the offender or could there perhaps be a problem with the offended? Usually the root of offense (especially the perceived kind) is “self”… After all, “I deserve better, and they should know that!”

I use a phrase that gets at the heart of something God is after that is beneficial to us, “dead people don’t get offended.” I once saw a natural example of this when I attended the funeral of an older man. A small (somewhat out of control) child drifted away from the adults.  He began to carelessly play with a toy car driving it all over the casket. Many of the people were shocked and greatly offended with the parents, but the guy in the coffin didn’t think anything of it!

For people who have been “crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20), and are following Jesus’ call to “deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him” (Mt 10:38, 16:24, Mk 8:34-35, Lk 9:23), how hard should it be to offend them? 

God Offends

Don’t forget God offends.  God is love but out of that love there are numerous passages in which Jesus offended people. As a matter of fact He was rejected and killed for that reason. His cross and His words were designed to be offensive (Isa 8:14-15, Mt 11:16, 1 Cor 1:18-23, 1 Per 2:7-8, Ps 2:8, Isa 53:3, Gal 5:11). Jesus’ offensive actions were based on His perfect blend of love and truth. He loved people enough to bring truth to them that would offend, but He was getting at something with love.  What offends the heart reveals the heart. He was trying to bring heart change to people who were behind a religious delusion while they claimed closeness with God.   

Not everyone who offends has truth or love in their hearts but our loving Father does and will use it redemptively.  How does God work redemptiively in the midst of the fence of offense? 

We all feel pain in offenses. It really hurts.  God will heal us in our hurts while at the same time reveal “what hurts isn’t dead yet.”  God uses perceived offenses, if we handle them His way to work a deeper death to self which actually produces more of His life in us. Even Jesus embraced this when dying His physical death.  He made sure of His own heart before God with His last words, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).  This is amazing because what people were doing to Him was not “perceived offenses” they were real.

If we embrace God in the midst of offenses and climb over the fence God will work forward progress in us.  Here are some things to remember that help us climb the fence.

  • We have to avoid unforgiveness, hatred, and bitterness.  This is how the enemy wants us to respond. That not only destroys the relationships but it destroys us. I heard it said that bitterness and unforgiveness is like drinking poison thinking that it will help us get back at the person who offended us. Bitterness “defiles  many” (Jas 3:6, Heb 12:15). 
  • Love God, His ways, and his truth more than we love ourselves.
  • Death to self enables us to live and follow Him.  
  • Forgiveness is an absolute commandment of God so we must forgive. As we embrace His truth it sets us free in Him (Jn 8:31-32).
  • Ask God what He may be getting out in our heart when we feel offended. 
  • Do not hang on to the “victim” syndrome, don’t wallow in self pity.  That is the opposite of  being “crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20).” 
  • Don’t dump your stuff on others.  Take the biblical action steps of confession of sin, not gossiping, and enrolling the right people who will help resolve relational issues (Mt 16:15-17).  If you don’t, in your dealing with your offense it will become an offense to someone else!  Here’s the rule of thumb.  If it is an offense where both parties are aware of it go to them and get it right.  If you are offended and the other person has no idea of it, deal with it between you and God first (John 20:23) . If you can’t get victory go to them.  Don’t be a spiritual “dumper!”  

By God’s grace we can climb over the fence of offenses and God will enable us to make progress in Him.

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