Seeking Justice or Giving Grace

When wronged, which better describes you: A justice seeker or a Grace granter? The answer to this question, though difficult, is important.

 

Have you ever been lied about? I bet you have. I sure have. Sometimes those lies are little and don’t amount to much. But sometimes the lies can be quite large and really affect you. These lies can be considered defamation of character in many states.

When this happens – and I hope it doesn’t happen to you – what should a Christian’s response be? Should a Christian retain  an attorney and sue? Or should a Christian simply let it go on by.

And what should one do about the anger that comes with this? Oh, the anger!

But now, a few Scripture verses are flying through my heart and head…

BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger…Ephesians 4:26 NASB

So I’m angry about this, but am I sinning? Well, lets consider this little gem from James

Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. James 4:17 NASB

So what is the right thing to do. There is my desire for justice and vindication of an egregious lie. But there is also my impulse to show grace and mercy and walk away from it. Someone once said

 But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either.  Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.  Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.  If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is thatto you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:27 – 36 NASB

When I juxtapose my desire for justice with the verses above, I admit I struggle with what I should do. And I admit I’m not sure which way I’m going to end up going.

I can sue for defamation of character for the big lies that hurt or smear my name. If I do this, I can win and receive a little vindication.

I can also decide to show mercy and compassion, not sue, not win, and not be vindicated by my acts.

I’ve decided to share my journey into this decision with you. For the next few weeks I will write about what I am thinking, what the Lord is showing me and, hopefully, the decision that I make in the end.

So what happens when we are wronged and our desire for justice collides with our impulse to show grace and mercy? I think we’re going to find out soon…and in the process, maybe we can learn something about ourselves and our desires.

 

A Stranger at the Throne

If you thought that I had everything together and didn’t struggle like everyone does, this article will surely shatter that image of me. If you realize that I am the same as you – a pilgrim trying to make it through life – perhaps you can understand this. 

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Life is a blur sometimes for my family. Shoot, often it is a blur. We are so busy we barely have time to think much less anything else. With all our commitments, responsibilities, and other stuff we barely have time to relate to each other. It seems sometimes we are strangers in our own home. And if my wife and I are having trouble finding time to  speak to each other because of the busy nature of life, how in the world do I relate and speak to God each day. You know, that prayer thing. Have I become a stranger to God’s throne?

Ouch.

Sin is a cruel master. A very cruel master.

Last week I hurt my wife and my marriage (before you speculate, I didn’t have an affair or strike my wife  but hurt her and crossed a line I shouldn’t have). It was inexcusable and indefensible. But it was entirely predictable result of my becoming a stranger to God’s throne because I became too busy with life that I forgot to commune daily with my Life-giving Father in heaven. How did tis happen?

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Sixty hours at work per week. One hour commute to work. One hour commute from work. Responsibilities here. Responsibilities there. This ministry. That ministry. An event today, tomorrow, and the next day. Football practice, basketball practice, gymnastics, and dance. A blog article is due. Gotta finish that manuscript outline. Study? Oh yeah, I need to study…and pray. But I’m busy.

Too busy…

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I have apologized to my wife, asked her forgiveness, and taken steps to prevent the sin from repeating itself. My wife has forgiven me and we are working to repair the damage I inflicted on her and our marriage.

Now I need to approach God’s throne. I feel like I don’t belong.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 NASB

Jesus invites us to come to Him with all the burdens and labors we bear. I have no doubt these burdens included the unbiblical rules and regulations that the religious leaders placed on the people of that time. I also believe that these burdens – at least as an application – can include the burdens we often carry from previously forgiven sin. Like the burden I now carry.

Will I listen to His invitation and meet Him in His throne room? Will I shrink back, hide, and cower in shame and disgust at my sin? I wish I could answer those questions. But right now, I just don’t know what I will do.

Satan is having a good time with right now. He is working overtime accusing me of this and that. He is reminding me of my past and my present. He sure is good at making me understand just how sinful I am. He is trying to discourage me. And he is doing a pretty good job of accomplishing that…

Come to me…”

I clearly hear Christ’s call to come to Him. I just don’t want to go right now.

I’m broken.

I feel humiliated.

I’m hurt.

I feel just plain wrong.

How can I approach my holy God – the Holy One seen in Isaiah 6 – with this sin? How can I bear to see Him? How can I allow Him to see me?

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14 – 16 NASB

I know, I know. All I have to do is repent (done), ask forgiveness (done), and it will be granted to me. After all, that is what the Cross accomplished, right? All my sins were washed away. Yeah, I know ’em all. If I was counseling someone as a Pastor, I would be quoting them left and right. I’d be reassuring the one I’m counseling of God’s forgiveness if he repented.

But this one…this one really hurts. I hurt the one person I never wanted to hurt. I hurt my wife. The woman who has stood by me through thick and thin. She has endured things that I’m sure others know nothing about. And now this. I feel like I need to be beaten more. I feel that I need to do something and not just move on.

Forgiveness of my sin is granted at the Cross. Though I do not feel  forgiven, I am forgiven. You see, there is sometimes a lag between the granting of forgiveness and the realization that forgiveness has already been received. My sin wasn’t just committed by the act (again, not a physical thing). It began to work in me as I drifted from the throne room of God. That was a mistake I hope I never make again.

Come to me…”

“…receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need…”

My burdens have already been lifted. My sin already forgiven. I have received mercy and grace in my time of need. To believe anything less would cheapen the Cross. It would deny the power of Christ’s sacrifice. Now I just need to realize these things are true.

Just realize it.

This is going to be tough.

I Wasn’t Worth It

cross transparentI’m not worth the cost of the cross. Neither are you.
I’m corrupt, evil, selfish nasty person. And so are you.
There is nothing good in me. And neither in you.
I’m beyond reproach. I am a rebellious person. And so are you.

 

Every one in a while I hear a song on the radio that gets me a bit irritated. no, it isn’t Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, Ted Nugent, Motley Crue, or other band like them. No, this song is on Christian radio. And I hate it.

There is a line in this song that says something like “you were worth dying for…” in reference to the sacrifice that Christ mad en the cross for us. That little line frosts me. I hate. It is so very wrong. It cheapens the sacrifice Christ made and implies that we somehow deserve Christ’s sacrifice because we are worth it. UGH!

For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. Isaiah 64:6 NASB

I’m not worth the cost of the cross. Neither are you.
I’m corrupt, evil, selfish nasty person. And so are you.
There is nothing good in me. And neither in you.
I’m beyond reproach. I am a rebellious person. And so are you.

There is none righteous, not even oneThere is none who understandsThere is none who seeks for GodAll have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does goodThere is not even oneTheir throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceivingThe poison of asps is under their lipsWhose mouth is full of cursing and bitternessTheir feet are swift to shed bloodDestruction and misery are in their pathsAnd the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. Romans 3:10 – 18 NASB

 

I am worthy and deserve only death and eternal separation from God.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 NASB

And so do yo.

But that is exactly the point.

God loved me and chose me, not because of who I am, but because of who He is. He chose to glorify Himself through the demonstration of His mercy on me – and you. He chose me – and you – inspire of ourselves, not because of ourselves. Do you see the difference? I was not worth dying for – and neither were you – but Christ chose to die for me because of His great love and His desire to glorify God’s compassion by showering me and you with that compassion.

just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:4-6 NASB

If I somehow deserved it, then I cheapen the sacrifice. After all, if I deserved it, I should expect it, right?? This kind of thinking – that Christ saw something in us that was worthy of His sacrifice – is just plain wrong.

To understand the wonder of the cross and the depth of His love for us, we must realize the depth of our depravity. We must realize that there is nothing in us that would draw Christ to us. He simply chose us because of HIs love for us.

When we understand this, then we can understand our great dependence on Him for everything we are in Him. This realization should never leads to a position of pride but should lead us to our knees in humble gratitude for the grace He has showered on us.

Revel in the grace that He has bestowed on us. Rejoice in the forgiveness we have received. Rest in the safety of His salvation.

The Amigo of Grace – again!

Grace delivers us from bondage to laws

and frees us to enjoy God in an enriching

and satisfying relationship

 

In order to grasp the reality of God’s grace we must first understand the reality of our own sinfulness. If we are convinced that in spite of the little vices which we all have, we are basically good people deserving of God’s favor, then we shall see no need for His grace. If we believe that God is obligated to let us enter Heaven because we have tried to keep His laws and done the best we can, then grace is totally unnecessary. The whole concept will appear absurd. But if we accept God’s assessment of our lives—that we are unrighteous, deceitful, desperately wicked, guilty, condemned sinners, incapable of measuring up to God’s standard and unworthy of His acceptance—then a deep appreciation for His grace will begin to dawn on our sin-dulled minds. We will get to know the God of all grace.

We learn a valuable lesson about grace from observing God’s gracious actions toward us in salvation. Just as the root meaning of the New Testament word involves joy and pleasantness, so we notice that God’s grace has an uncanny way of transforming the unpleasant into the pleasant. He takes an unbeliever, chained to his wretchedness and sin and bound for the bitterness of an eternal hell, freely gives him the lovely garments of Christ’s righteousness, then assures him of Heaven’s glory and beauty. What a transformation! That is God’s grace for salvation.

Then He continues to act toward us in grace. Not only does He bring delight to our drab existence by giving us the gift of eternal life, but He keeps on giving us good things to meet our needs and brighten our lives. For example, He gives us the resources to build us up and set us apart more fully to Himself, progressively replacing the ugliness of our daily sin with the attractiveness of holy living. That was Paul’s message to the Ephesian elders:

 

And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which

is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those

who are sanctified – Acts 20:32 NASB

 

That is grace for sanctification.

Sanctification is not slavishly submitting in the energy of the flesh to somebody’s man-made list of do’s and don’ts in order to enhance our own reputation or earn points with God. It is laying hold of God’s gracious plan to become more like Christ for His glory and praise. Grace delivers us from bondage to laws and frees us to enjoy God in an enriching and satisfying relationship. We will be motivated to please Him from within rather than pressured from without. We delight in pleasing someone who never stops giving good things to us.

God also provides grace for Christian service. We have a tendency to get carried away with our own abilities, and we begin to think that God is rather fortunate to have us on His team to do His work. We may feel that He is obligated to prosper us when we do serve Him. Those attitudes often lead to failure. The Apostle Paul admitted without shame that he was unworthy to serve Christ: “I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power” (Ephesians 3:7; cf. also 2 Corinthians 8:1-2).

We do not deserve to have the pleasure of serving the eternal God, but He has bestowed that privilege on us by His grace. We serve Him not to obtain His favor, but because we already have it. Any success we may enjoy will be the gift of His grace. He freely gives us the abilities and strength we need to serve Him. He transforms our feeble, bungling, embarrassing, unpleasant efforts into an effective, satisfying, and rewarding ministry that brings glory to Him. It is all part of His gracious actions toward us.

Grace – The First Amigo

An Undefinable Word

Grace is a subject that is broad and deep. I could take years examining the word of God and not adequately plumb the depths of grace. If I had an unlimited vocabulary and perfect writing skills, I would not be able to adequately communicate the beauty of His grace. There just are no words for it. So I will do the best I can to share what I have learned. But to describe it accurately is to try to accurately describe a beautiful sunset painted on the canvass of the sky. To adequately communicate its affect on the human souls is more difficult than to describe in detail the joy of watching one’s child be born…or their first intentional smile!

A Theological Description

God’s grace is that perfection or attribute of God that enables Him to have mercy on us. It is that part that strives with a rebellious person like me…and you. Like every other perfection (or attribute) grace just isn’t an adjective, it isn’t even just part of God. Grace IS who God is. Just like He is love, righteous, holy, just, etc. God is grace and He sheds His grace on us. Now how He sheds grace on humanity can be different but make no mistake that all of humanity experiences God’s grace one way or another.

 

Important Distinctions

Common Grace

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.                   – Matthew 5:44-45 NASB

Common grace is shed on all mankind, not just the elect. We see it in not only the rain cited in Matthew 5, but also in the healing of diseases, feeding the hungry, withholding judgement of those who scoff at God, murder others, and commit all sorts of unrighteousness. We even saw it at the beginning of man’s rebellion when God was gracious to Adam and Eve by making them clothes and graciously allowing them to live rather than execute judgement on them immediately. God’s common grace is that grace that everyone enjoys whether they recognize it as being from God or not.

 

Saving Grace

But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.  – Acts 15:11 NASB

 

The saving grace of God is on full display during the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. In Acts 15 the Council has been convened to discuss the issue of gentiles getting saved. A question arose that centered around the issue of whether the gentiles needed to become Jewish and hold to the Law before they could be saved. It was an honest argument that later turned into a legalistic requirement by some. Anyway, the result of that discussion is the verse quoted above: ALL mankind are saved by the grace of God.

 

In Ephesians 2 Paul states

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.                                            – Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB

 

Some Questions for Thought

God’s grace is what saves us. So what does this have to do with justification and sanctification? And what about security? Can we once saved ever be not saved? Does God’s grace keep us as well?

All these questions are good ones that need straightforward answer. They all will be addressed in the next few weeks as we continue to consider the three amigos of grace, justification and sanctification. It may get a little tangled, but there are very important things to understand about these three amigos and how they apply to life. We’ll also be able to understand how each is distinct from the other but how each works with and enhances the other. I hope you stick around for the ending. It is really awesome.

And I do mean AWE-some

 

 

The Three Amigos

I’m at about 35,000 feet in the air as I write this article. I’m flying to a conference in St. Paul, Minnesota that will take a week of my life. This type of thing isn’t necessarily the most fun I have on my job, but it is part of my job. Sometimes understanding why I have to leave my family for a bit of time is difficult. Like this time. I just don’t always understand the need for me to go somewhere. But my job demands it, so I go. I plug away and work hard to get through it, not just slog through it –  but get through it well. Why? Because everything I do, even the things I don’t fully understand – I do for Christ my King.

This article is the first in a series that examine the relationship between grace, justification, and sanctification. The reason I am examining these three amigos is a dear brother in the Lord asked me a question. I didn’t have an answer for him and I struggled a bit forming one. But I kept going. Not just to get an answer, but for the glory of Christ my Savior and King. Do I fully understand everything? Nope. Does my lack of understanding in any way detract from the truth of God’s word? Nope.

My plan is to examine each of these three important doctrines. I will then put it all together in (hopefully) one article that will try to put these three amigos together. I hope I communicate the truths I have discovered well because, quite frankly, they are nothing short of awesome. So let’s jump in and discover God’s wonderful three amigos – Grace, Justification, and Sanctification.

These three doctrines are important to understand on their own. It is also important to understand how each of them interacts with the others. And not for just these three essential doctrines but for all essential doctrines. Getting that done is not always easy – well, truth be told, it is never easy. But it is important because none of these doctrines works its way out in our lives in a vacuum.

There is a logical progression of sorts in the order these doctrines become effective in the life of a believer. This is only a logical order since there is very little (if any) time between these doctrines becoming active in the life of a believer. The logical progression of these three amigos can be illustrated simply

 

Grace——————->Justification——————->Sanctification

As I said before, this is simply the logical – not chronological – progression. In real time, the three amigos essentially happen at the same time but do have an affect on each other throughout the Christian’s life.

I hope you  enjoy this short series concerning these three very important doctrines. As usual, we will proceed as fast as the subjects allow. I’m in no hurry to get these done. I am, though, wanting to communicate precisely and clearly the subjects. I trust you will profit from this.

 

 

I’m Baaaaaack

I’m baaaaack! I’m not sure how many missed me in the weeks since my last article, but I’m back at my keyboard refreshed, full of ideas (not sure how many will make to this page), and full of thankfulness. So where was I?

In a very real way I experienced in real time God’s radical grace. No I did not get saved again (once is all one needs). No, I experienced God’s radical grace through the birth of our daughter, Rebeka Alain. She was born on May 20, 2016 after 22 hours of labor. Yes,  I wrote 22 hours of labor. Twenty-two. Wow! That was some kind of labor! Watching my most recent child arrive safely was once again an awe-inspiring experience. She was tiny at birth and still is kind of tiny. But she is a rather large reminder of how God is gracious to us every single day.

I realized how gracious God is to us every day when I was holding little Rebeka. He graciously delivered to us an little baby to our family. She is healthy though small. She is a little beauty. And a reminder of God’s graciousness to us. I shouldn’t need a reminded of God’s graciousness toward us, but I do. But isn’t that the way we all are?

Each day we wake up to magnificent sunrises or rain feeding the ground so our crops may grow. Bit still we look for God’s favor. God paints our sunsets with brilliant hues of blue, yellow, and red. He paint the sky more beautifully than any of the so-called master artists of history. And still, we look for God’s favor.

We seek to invent ways of God granting grace to us and our children but ignore the signs of grace all around us. We do this to our shame. We have become so ignorant because we have treasured knowledge rather than wisdom. We lose sight of the beauty of God’s creation in the science of botany. We analyze, theorize, and master the nuances of why the sky is painted with brilliant colors and lost the simplicity of appreciating the One who painted the evening sky.

We have eyes but we don’t see. We have ears, but we don’t hear. We read, study, memorize, and regurgitate things but we lack wisdom. All these things happen because we choose to do them. We make choices each day that blind us to the simple – yet radical – grace of God.

I have decided to try as much as I can to slow down and actively recognize the many ways God displays His grace to me. Today (Sunday) He shared His grace with me through the humility of my Pastor. I’m not sure how He will display it tomorrow but I do know I will be seeking to recognize it.

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When you recognize God’s grace – His radical, loving, undeserved grace – in your life, it changes you. Please share your grace experiences with me in the comments or through email. There are many out there…if we only choose to recognize them.