Grace

I was asked by a friend today if love is a work or not. By that he means, is it something we must do as a Christian to maintain or obtain our salvation, or if it’s something else.

Christian love is a mixture of philia and agape love in that we are firmly bound to those who are in four categories:

1) Christ – We are bound to Jesus by his outpouring of affection in agape love toward us, in that he died in our place while were still his enemies, and adopted us into the family of God to share in the kingdom of glory.

2) Our Spouse – This is a combination of the Eros (which can be God-centered in a committed relationship, most clearly defined in a Christian marriage where both parties love Jesus more than themselves or their spouse), philia, and agape – in that we are bound tightly together to each other, and to Christ separately, and he binds us to all of us together. One supporting, caring for, and encouraging one another. Not that Jesus needs our support, care, or encouragement, but that he facilitates all of it between all parties.

3) Other Christians – Just as in a marriage, our joint focus on Christ will breed and support the philia and agape love for other Christians which is the brotherly-love that we all share for one another as well as our self-sacrificing love where we will put ourselves in even harm’s way to assist and defend those who are other Christians in our community (in-person or online). We gladly give of whatever we have with an open hand to help those whom are in need in the Christian union. This is what’s meant by Jesus:

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ~ John 13:35 (ESV)

4) Non-Christians – Our philia love for other Christians and the agape love we share with Christ and our community, pours into our treatment of others who are not in our faith. This allows us treat people who are not Christian and who treat us poorly with respect and understanding. Now, they don’t understand that it’s because we are able to love other because we were first loved by Jesus when we were his enemies, so that is why we endure hardship, indifference, spite, and hatred from those outside the community of Christ. We take care of all others because we were cared for. We endure because Jesus endured on our behalf. When we are wronged we don’t respond in anger or retaliation, but with understanding because we, too, were ignorant and offensive toward that which we didn’t understand at first as well.

All of this to say that our love, in its many forms, defines who we are and is the heart and soul of what we embody, but it’s most certainly not a “work” by which we obtain or maintain our salvation. It pours freely from a heart of worship to our God and King. The closer we are to God, the more deeply we understand our own sin and failures, the more intimately we are attuned to our need for Christ on a daily or minute-by-minute basis, the more the love which is born in this Christian communion flows into all aspects of our life and into our dealings in every relationship we have.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:13 (ESV)

IF God is good, how can he allow bad things to happen to good people.”

That’s the question that everyone asks. Though ppl don’t like my answer – that God IS good but it is we the people who are wicked at our core. God, as creator of all, has the right and authority to give us rules and requirements for living on the planet that He supplied for us to provide for us. It is our sinful nature that separates us from Him in thought, word, and deed. Whether actively or passively, we are all at odds with Him and it is He who has acted to bring us into the fold with Him. Therefore, it is God alone who is good. The question of whether or not God is good because he allows bad things to happen to good people is irrelevant – it’s really why he allows good things to happen to bad people, who live their lives in constant opposition to His purposes.

They refuse to acknowledge him, blaspheme his name, mock his followers, live their lives by their own rules and laws, forsaking any authority outside of what they determine to be good enough to allow them to live however they want. They state that they are followers of societal law, but will quickly drop it if they can be certain to achieve whatever they desire if they think they can get away with it. They also actively seek approval for things that God finds offensive and openly accuse those who don’t agree with this process of hatred and intolerance for their views, all the while being intolerant for Christian views as a whole.

So, back to the “If God is good” question, look to Psalm 73 where Asaph asked the same question of God when he saw that the people who hated God openly have lives with little issue. They live long, are prosperous, and have few problems. The issues that they have are what are common to man so they determine that there is no God in heaven who cares one way or another as to their own actions. What comes in the end, however, is not peace for them but judgement. God allows them to have happiness and ease here because this is the only peace they will ever have. Sure they lose family members, some tragically, but we (Christians) understand that this is just life under the curse while they (non-Christians) accuse and attack God for His actions against them and use it to bolster their hatred of him, if they acknowledge him at all. Instead of looking to His return they say “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation (2 Peter 3:4)” and use it as an excuse to live lives that mock Him and His followers.

But we, who are of the spirit, know that His coming is sure which is why we pray that He would come soon, to defend Himself against their attacks and to end this relentless attack against His people.

Is god willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him god?
–Epicurus

See, it works like this. God created the universe and everything in it and, as its creator, he has the authority to make the rules. Most of all creation rides on its own set of rules – but mankind – we’re different. We can choose, we can think, and we can make our own decisions. Love that’s forced isn’t really love, is it? If I could flip a switch in the back of your head and make you love God regardless of your own impulses, then that’s not really love at all – you’re a machine. God created trees as machines, and livestock as machines, and even insects as machines, but us he created with the ability to choose to obey him or disobey him – to love him or reject him. At the outset we chose to reject him, despite his warning that there would be severe repercussions to come. What came from this fall from grace? Cancer and sickness, thorns and toil, pain and suffering. Is this the angry response of an angry unjust God or the result of justice being granted to the unjust? Man chooses to disregard the law and steal candy from a baby and his punishment is small – he steals from his work and he could get fired – he steals from the government and he’s looking at a long prison term, but if he steals from the president’s office and you’ll never see him again. All this and the crime is the same – why? What changed? The office changed. The authority from which the crime was committed changed. Our president can certainly do some damage to our lives here, but what if it is our creator who we’ve offended? The same one who spoke and the universe leapt into existence – who governs the laws of physics and nature, who controls wind and rain? What if, by our actions, God chooses to punish us here on earth for our actions against Him and we lose those whom we love? Or, what if He chooses to grant us safe passage on this rock until we die, despite our hatred and anger toward him through denying his existence or mocking his followers, only to secure for us the promised end of eternal punishment – the same one you say has no reign over you because you are so sure he doesn’t exist.

The point of all of this is to show us that our live on this rock has meaning and that we have a purpose – that it’s not just random actions and pulsing synapses before we take a dirt nap of meaninglessness. The point of creation is to point us to the creator so that we can stand in awe of what he has done, understand that he’s not only this grand creator, but that he is personal, that he not only cares about our lives and about our thoughts, dreams, and desires, but that he cares so much that he sent his only son to take your place for you on the judgment seat. He willingly took the punishment you deserve for your lifetime of rejecting him so that you can walk free. That’s the real gospel – it’s not the “do more, try harder” rhetoric of the world religions – it’s the “it is finished” yelled from a bloody cross as God who took the form of man to live a life similar to yours, with the same temptations, hurts, tears, and desires, but never once sinned – he took the punishment you and I deserve so that we can walk free. We repent of our sins, turn to Him and ask Him to forgive us for rejecting Him and to thank Him for taking our place.

Like I said before – you are no machine- you can choose to accept or reject this. He won’t force you to do anything, but know that the only alternative is that you hope beyond all hope that you’re right because if you are wrong – then you’ll have a long time to consider how many times people like me have reached out to you and you dismissed us as fools. All I know is that my conscience is clear.

Lastly, if God exists as he is described in the Bible, what right do you have, who are essentially his enemy, to dictate how he should respond to you? More than that, why should he listen to you at all? He rejects the proud and arrogant fool who tells him how to behave and how to act, but he listens to the humble who understands his plight and asks for direction and forgiveness. Unless you’re perfect, that is. You are perfect, right?

“I used to think that growing as a Christian meant I had to somehow go out and obtain the qualities and attitudes I was lacking. To really mature, I needed to find a way to get more joy, more patience, more faithfulness, and so on.

Then I came to the shattering realization that this isn’t what the Bible teaches, and it isn’t the gospel. What the Bible teaches is that we mature as we come to a greater realization of what we already have in Christ. The gospel, in fact, transforms us precisely because it’s not itself a message about our internal transformation but about Christ’s external substitution. We desperately need an advocate, mediator, and friend. But what we need most is a substitute – someone who has done for us and secured for us what we could never do and secure for ourselves.

The hard work of Christian growth, therefore, is to think less of ourselves and our performance and more of Jesus and his performance for us. Ironically, when we focus mostly on our need to get better, we actually get wore. We become neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with our effort instead of with God’s effort for us makes us increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective.

Again, think of it this way: sanctification is the daily hard work of going back to the reality of our justification. It’s going back to the certainty of our objectively secured pardon in Christ and hitting the refresh button a thousand times a day. Or, as Martin Luther so aptly put it in his Lectures on Romans, “To progress is always to begin again.” Real spiritual progress, in other words, requires a daily going backwards.”

~ Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian.

God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life. Sometimes that plan includes my wife going through horrible seizures, confusion, lack of mobility, and struggles with changes in medication. Sometimes that plan includes a lack of available finances so that we have to trust that God will help us to meet our needs despite everything that shows us that we should search out help elsewhere. Sometimes that plan means that we lose family and friends to cancer, or people we know turn on us for no reason at all. Sometimes it means that people we trust implicitly turn out to be pathological liars who only sought their own pleasure by contorting our lives around their deception. Sometimes it means that our best laid plans, no matter how well thought out or deeply conceived, will be shut down and abandoned.

God is the author of everything in our lives. We not only acknowledge this fact but we seek to live it out. At times that means that we lose friends and alienate ourselves from family members. It prompts uncomfortable conversations when opinions are raised against the solid Word of God and we are under pressure from family to relent to the opinion of those who we know to love us, or stand firm for the God who died to save us. Ultimately, trusting in Christ without living out what you say you believe only degrades the image of Christians and, by association, Jesus Himself, to the onlooking world.

My heart is bent toward legalism in everything I do. I want rules and regulations, not a God who says, “you’re forgiven” and leaves it at that. I search the scriptures for something that will give me a guiding principle, some sort of path to perfection, but it’s not there. That means that I struggle with the concept of understanding who I am as a Christian man on a daily basis. I want to serve this God who saved me but at some point my heart always brings the cart of my works, which were meant to be in gratitude for what He has done on my behalf, before the horse of His salvation and I end up trying to wrestle control of my life from God.

What does that mean for me now? I will, to the best of my ability, trust in God to direct my life and what I do by His own wisdom and plan for what He wants me to do. I acknowledge that I will fail on the way but I know that He is the one who is ultimately in control and I hope that I will remember to release control of the reigns when I find myself trying to grab them again and live my life for God according to my plan and not His. I will seek to stop making pronouncements for grand plans and ideas that I think will lead me to some next great plateau. I do plan to finish reading Calvin’s Institutes but that will come when God leads me back into it. I will finish reading all the books I’ve set before myself, but not to put them under my belt or to become a more respectable Christian, and instead so that I will be more able to appreciate the glory of God in as many facets of His character and nature as I can perceive and understand. In the end, I will trust in God to lead me and to control my life. Why? Because I know that He loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life.

Who is responsible for my salvation? God CALLED Abraham to himself just as Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb. Both were dead in their transgressions and sin before Him and God was under no obligation to save any of them. All of mankind stands condemned before our holy and perfect Creator and God is not obligated to save any of us. WE acted in rebellion against HIM. If my daughter steals my car and drives it off a cliff, totaling it, but she herself is saved. Am I obligated to forgive her? Is there some law on the books that requires me to forgive her for this transgression of my trust? In the same way, God is not obligated to forgive anyone. He has, by His own choice and on His own terms, chosen certain people before time began to save them by sending His own Son to suffer and die in their place. Jesus willingly substituted Himself for these undeserving haters of God and God the Father accepted His sacrifice on our behalf. If God, in His mercy, has done all this work for you, then does the work necessary to bring you to true repentance and trust in Himself, imparting to you faith and love beyond measure, are you then capable of rejecting His good mercy and act of grace on your behalf? What kind of a harsh and uncaring God would allow that to happen to those whom He has forgiven for all of their sins? You are not capable of out sinning God’s grace, and you are not able to thwart the plans of a perfect, holy, and uncontrollable God who has purposed to save you from yourself to Himself.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
~ Titus 3:3-7 ESV

Remember that prayer that you prayed, or the time you raised your hand during an “altar call”? Yeah – that didn’t save you. Jesus saved you. You’re not good enough to save, you’re not smart enough to have God look at you and say, “I HAVE to have THAT GUY with me in Heaven!” There’s no amount of “good deeds” that you can do to warrant God’s saving work to be applied to your life. If anything, everything you do to “work off” your salvation or make yourself worthy is just an affront to God and mock Him for His work on your behalf. It’s not you who hold onto God, but God that holds onto you. You can’t be lost – you can’t “walk away” from your faith because it’s not “your faith” to begin with. God is the one who started the ‘good work’ of salvation within you and He will not lose a single one whom the Father has given Him. You are secure because of God’s love for you, not because of God’s love of you.

See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

~ Galatians 6:11-18

Paul, who probably had bad eyesight as was described elsewhere, usually wrote letters through a scribe. Now, however, he is writing with his own hand to them this final warning and benediction. Tying up the letter, he brings the focus back to those who are trying to force the Christians in the region of Galatia to get circumcised and come under the Mosaic law. He accurately points out that it is for the sake of pride that they are seeking to convert these new Christians to Judaism, and so that they may not be persecuted as Paul and many other Christians have been. The issue with trying to keep the law is that not even the those who are born and raised under the Mosaic law can keep it and they know this. Instead of seeking to help them honor God, they are seeking their own gain through the attempted conversion of these well-meaning Christians. They are doing it so that they can “boast” in the number of people they have converted – nothing less than a man-centered, worthless goal.

In whom does Paul boast? Jesus Christ and Him alone! He has, as opposed to those who are harassing the Galatian Christians, by the cross of Christ died to the man he was, who sought after Christians for the sake of his own pride and glory, and now, living in the Spirit, he seeks to see those who are in his care separated from their worldly ties as well. The world system that once ruled his life is now dead to him, and he to it, and it has been replaced with a new system – one that is focused on Christ and Him alone and it is this system that he wants them to be a part of, to the glory of Christ. There is nothing more important in the world than this point: There are only two types of people in the world, saved and unsaved. Christian and non-christian. Not Christians and Jews and the rest of the world, but those who are redeemed through Christ, and those who are not. These are the only two categories that exist which have any lasting bearing. God isn’t going to accept you because you’re an American, just as He’s not going to accept you because you have the blood of Abraham in your veins, but it is based solely on the condition of your soul in reference to Jesus. Did God choose you for salvation before He laid the foundations for the universe? Have you repented of your sinful life and trusted in Jesus Christ alone to save you from your sins? Then you are forever free, totally transformed, and eternally forgiven before the throne of God above. It is not by your own merit, but by the work of Christ that you are now set free from your sins and you are able to stand before God, totally cleansed of your sin, and call out to Him as a child cries to his father.

Paul then finishes his letter with a brief request that no one harass him any longer on this subject, for he, unlike the people who sought to place the Christians under legalism, has suffered for the sake of the gospel. This is not a badge of honor, but a sign to all showing that he, unlike them, was unwilling to bend under the weight of persecution for the sake of his flesh. He has wholly surrendered, in body and spirit, to God above, regardless of whatever may come to him because of it. He reminds them of his love for them by praying that the grace of God be with them all and ends his letter.

One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

~ Galatians 6:6-10

Explaining his previous points, Paul now launches into a practical application. First, it is important that those who are focused on preparing for the weekly sermons and attending to the spiritual needs of the local body of believers have their needs met. Not just spiritual, though it is important to pray for your pastors and elders, but their financial and physical requirements as well. Remember, their job is not one of glamour – they are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the needs of the flock which God has placed them over and they see people in all manner of situations – both in the very best of times and in the very worst. They not only teach from the Word of God, but they and welcome in babies and help families cope after the death of loved ones. If anyone in your church should have their needs met, it is those who spend their time in the service of the flock.

Next, he states something that is often misunderstood and misquoted. I’ve often heard the statement that someone will be getting rich soon because they have “sowed a good seed” with God (meaning they’ve donated beyond their means) and hope to “reap” big rewards. This is a stupid assumption. It not only speaks of a lack of understanding about the nature of God, but an ill-conceived notion that God owes us when we give to Him. God owns everything and, if anything, we are merely returning back to God a tiny portion of what He has given to us.

It is for this reason that Paul explains his statement in that those who seeks to fulfill the desires of their hearts will reap the rewards of this life which end in eternal torment, whereas those who abandon their desires and trust in the Holy Spirit to lead them will reap the rewards of eternal life. As Christians we are not promised a good, happy, or trouble free life, but that we will have our needs met and that in the end we will live in Heaven with our Creator and Savior. That is the end goal for us, not anything we can receive here.

That being said, we should not ever tire from seeking after God and serving Him. Our work on earth will not go unnoticed. This work that we complete here does not save us, nor does it buy us favor with God, but as I explained in the last post, it is our opportunity to reflect back to God the love and grace which He has shown to us by working to serve others. So, who are we to serve? Ultimately, everyone, but first and foremost we are to serve our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Why then do so many churches make their ministry be about the business of serving non-Christians? I’m not entirely sure. In serving the body, we reveal to the world our love for one another and, as a result, they are reached for Christ to the glory of God.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

~ Galatians 6:1-5

Within the fellowship of believers, as mentioned in my last post, we will continue to struggle with sin. For the most part it will be temporary, but sometimes we will fall into a season of sin where we may be deceived into thinking that we can handle it and get out of it ourselves, or we may not even realize that we are in sin. So, how should a Spirit led, Christ focused church respond to a flagrant sinner in their ranks? Banish him? Burn him at the stake? Unfortunately, this is very often the case. Paul, however, reminds us that we are nothing more than sinners who were redeemed by the same good news of salvation from God on the unrighteous. It is therefore our duty as fellow believers to partner with that sinning brother or sister and help to restore them. If they are sinning such that they are leading others astray or causing division within the church it may be necessary to separate them from the body for a short period of time, but only while under the care of the body with a desire to see them brought back into fellowship.

Let’s say that one week your donation plate comes up short at your church. You know you put in $150 and that you saw others place more cash in as well, but there is only $75 left when it is counted at the end of the service. There is something obviously wrong here. After a short investigation, and a public proclamation that there has been a theft from the offering, a new member stands up, shaking and in fear, and confesses that they took the money to pay their rent. They didn’t know what to do and were short on time, they saw the money and when no one was looking they took enough to cover their needs. What is the response of your church? Should they be kicked out? Should the police be called to handle it? Let’s examine the situation:

First, the person who took the money did not make their need known to the body. This could be from a fear of man (pride issue), or because they did not know that the church would happily help those who have a need (lack of knowledge). The other issue is that the body did not know of their need and seek to help them. Not that we should know everyone’s financial status, but that we should make it known that we are able and willing to help in any way we can. The church is not just a place where our spiritual needs are met, but where our Christian family comes together to meet all the needs of one another.

So the right response may be that the church apologizes to that person for not making their availability known to them. Maybe there is a set restitution schedule to help them pay it back, or maybe the church allows them to keep it and, in a show of God grace, gives them another $1,000, free of any strings, just to help them get through this time of trouble. Maybe someone in the body who is a financial adviser should schedule some time to meet with them and to help them through their struggles. What would your church do?

Now let’s change it up a little. Let’s say that your internet-based email client tweaks out one day and emails everyone in your contact list your web history and there are more than a few pornographic sites listed within? Would you cover one sin with another and lie about it, or confess your sin and seek help from your local body of believers? In that case, what do you think the response from your church should be toward you?

It is in bearing the burdens and struggles with one another that we fulfill the “law of Christ” in that we are to love one another as Christ first loved us. As we are all going to have to stand before God alone, it is in our love for one another that we focus first on helping each other finish the race well, so that we may all stand before God knowing that we have done our best to honor Him and His sacrifice on our behalf. Again, not that our actions or works achieve anything for us, but that we are merely reflecting God’s love toward us on others for the elevation of the whole body of believers.

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(e.g., John 1 or God's love)

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