Tag Archives: grace

The Graceless Christian

The legalist lives a graceless existence that opens himself up to a crash-and-burn catastrophic spiritual self-destruction.

This realization hit me like a ton of bricks one morning while I was on the way to work and reflecting on another story of someone who seemed to have their life together who had just walked away from the faith in a blaze of glory. I was listening to my audio Bible, and I got to the passage where Jesus talks about those who aren’t sick and don’t need a doctor (Luke 5:31). One thing that has always bugged me about that passage suddenly became much clearer to me. It always bothered me that Jesus said that there were people who “didn’t need” a doctor. But, come on, Jesus surely knew that *we all* need a doctor! We’re all sick! Yeah, of course Jesus got that. So what was he getting at? What Jesus is expressing here is that those of us who avoid looking clearly at our own sin can quickly become pathagnostic; we can quickly fail to accurately diagnose sickness in ourselves and others. We become convinced that we’re healthy and that other people are truly sick. Spiritual health quickly becomes a world upside down.

Enter Jesus. In this situation, we quickly stiffarm him because we think we don’t need him. And we don’t need him because we’ve created a world in which he isn’t needed. The dying man kicks the doc off the front porch and sends him packing to the hospital. And this is what I mean by living a “graceless” existence.

Sure, the legalist needed grace to get him saved. But this is a whole different thing for him. The Christian life, to him, is a life of health guaranteed by his own good behavior. This good behavior is a mix of avoiding clear biblical sins and avoiding cultural taboos, which are supposed to keep him from violating the big biblical sins. In the flesh, the legalist is able to live a moral, upright, and healthy life. He really and truly doesn’t need a doctor in order to live a moral life. And it goes on like this month-to-month and year-to-year. The legalist lives a miserable and graceless existence apart from the healing hands of the Great Physician.

Into this void of grace creeps a sin which stricture and traditions can’t beat. And where sin abounds and there is no grace to abound even more, the graceless person is slowly overcome. This is the life of the legalist. Sin comes alive and she dies. She has no grace to fight sin because every day of her life has been a rejection of grace in the place of moral scaffolding. Every week has begun with the premise that being a good person is now just a matter of following the rules.

This graceless life can quickly end in a high speed wipeout of unrestrained sin because there is no room for the grace of God in a person’s life. Finding grace puts a believer on his or her feet. The first steps toward accepting grace are hard for the legalist’s heart. Here’s what the first steps looked like for me:

Let God show you that you’re more like the guy in the hospital than you’d like to admit. The sin that threatens to destroy you can be a means to grace if it brings an end to your graceless existence. When you think you’re messed up, let the scalpel expose more of your sinfulness.

Let the healing patient point you to the Doctor. When you think you’re healthy, you tend to see the sick as inferior. Once you begin to see your sickness, you’ll start finding true fellowship with those who are experiencing the gracious healing hand of Jesus. You’ll see grace up close and personal in the lives of other believers. Until you see the church as something that you need instead of something that needs you, you’ll never find the healing that God’s grace brings because you’ll always soar above the sickness.

Let grace train your heart to obey (Titus 2:11-13). Your behavioral medical kit is no good. Run to God’s grace for the ability to obey and for forgiveness when you don’t. As grace becomes your daily soul-nourishment, it will sustain you where your legalistic strictures did not. The growing cancerous sins are a massive threat to the paltry remedies of legalism. The scarily simple gift of God’s sustaining grace is your one hope for fidelity and obedience to God in this life in the face of besetting sins.

Presumed Grace

Probably my all-time favorite cartoon is “The Emperor’s New Groove.” The epically audacious Emperor Kuzco has been given everything in life. Really, he has no room to complain about anything. But this all ends one day when a peasant doesn’t want to give up his humble abode in order for Kuzco to build a personal resort. Shortly thereafter, Kuzco gets turned into a llama and loses any frame of reference for what he’s experiencing. What should be an overcomable obstacle becomes an end of the world scenario. Because he’s always been given whatever he wanted, a season of limitation results in a personal chaos and a (literally) meandering path back to comfort.Grooveposter

We all struggle to sympathize with characters like Kuzco, Richie Rich, Cinderella’s step-sisters, and so on, who presume that they should always receive the best things in life. Those of us who are used to receiving very little in terms of preferential treatment or monetary freedom have a different floor of expectation. For us, a life of moderation is what we expect. We anticipate that our basic needs will be met and know that everything else is gravy. But there’s another perspective that we’re often reminded of. Many in the third world don’t even take for granted that they’ll have a meal or two each day. That we should expect meals and clothes and housing is scandalous in their minds. To them, the daily provision you anticipate is a glorious blessing.

I’m not interested in shaming you if you’ve received a lot in your life. All I’m saying is that if you’re reading this article, you probably have received a gracious plenty in your life. Many who read this article have experienced heaps of blessings that others haven’t. Theologians tell us that the Bible teaches that every little blessing that we get, whether you’re a Christian or not, comes from the hand of God. It’s not something you earn because you’re good or because you’re from a certain part of the globe. God dispenses his “common grace” on the planet to sustain every human being that exists and to hold back the swell of evil in the world. This seems to be what Jesus was getting at when he said:

“For [your Father] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Matthew 5.45

From Jesus’ perspective, God’s care for the day-to-day blessings we enjoy is the only reason why we exist today. God’s common grace is the only reason why all of humanity isn’t starving and sick, hammered daily by earthquakes and hurricanes, and suffering from the devastation of mass despotism. So in a sense, we’ve come to anticipate common grace. And that’s why I think theologians should adopt a new term for this teaching: “presumed grace.” Kuzco-like, we tend to presume that God’s restraint of darkness is the norm and that calamity is the rare exception. We feel like every pack of Pokemon cards (yes, I’m showing my age here) should be full of rare holographic cards. When we come up with a single common card, we flip out. We start to feel that we deserve God for to keep the chaos of a rebellious world at bay and to be provided with all of the things we feel we need.

Let’s test our outlook with the following chaotic experiences: Tomorrow an earthquake kills hundreds. A relative is killed in a car accident with a drunk driver. You lose your retirement money in a stock crash. You get slandered in front of your friends and they buy it. Your adult child doesn’t want anything to do with you. A close friend is raped.

Some of you don’t have to think very hard in order to envision one of these scenarios. I’ve recently experienced a measure of hurt in my life too. And what do we tell ourselves when we’re in the middle of a situation like this? We tell ourselves that we don’t deserve this hurt. We feel devastated that we have been given this pain. We see the event in isolation from the blessings that God has so richly given us. In that moment, we’ve presumed upon grace. Instead of presuming that we will receive pain and hurt and chaos in life, we’ve come to anticipate the opposite.

Two conclusions seem plausible based on my consideration of presumed grace. First, I think that Christians should frame a better response to the academic pondering: “How can there be so much evil in the world and there still be a God?” Perhaps a better question is: “How can there be so much goodness in the world apart from a God?” We all see how the world turns to chaos and that the very possibility of life on planet earth seems but a fluke of flukes. So even our very existence and the stability of civilizations full of broken people like ourselves seems to be evidence of a good and gracious care of a Sovereign God.

The second conclusion is closer to home. Believers who are enduring a season of chaos should let this circumstance reorient them to God’s grace. Instead of presuming upon God’s grace, we should let the dark times remind us of so much of the brightness of mercy we’ve received. Every day that we draw breath, experience the joy of friends and family, enjoy food and drink, or see another disaster-free day is a gift of God. I suppose that we suddenly experience this reorientation when God gives us a win after a season of darkness. We look around and find ourselves momentarily out of the mud of the last few months and look around; the freedom from the chaos is what I’ve enjoyed far too often. No more do we presume upon grace.

9 Observations on the New Year

As I consider 2014 and the transition to 2015 in light of Psalm 90 and several other relevant passages, these are 9 observations that I found worthy of considering:

  1. The God of 2015 is the same as the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Peter, and Paul, moving all things to their created end (Psa. 90.1-2).
  2. God created 2015 (Gen. 1.14). There’s no need for doom and gloom, because God creates everything for a purpose.
  3. 2015 may be your last year. Make it count for eternity (Psa. 90.3-6, 12). Count the years and make them count!
  4. 2015 should, by nature of the fall, hold a store of evil and frustration (Psa. 90.7-11, Rom. 8.22-23 – “creation groans” – birthpangs that grow in intensity as the time of the child’s birth draws closer).
  5. 2015 will, because of God’s covenant, hold a store of grace and blessing (Psa. 90.13-17).
  6. 2015 will be for nothing if we don’t rely on God to establish our efforts (Psa. 90.17).
  7. 2015 offers us a fresh experience of God’s care (Psa. 90.14; Lam. 3.23 – in the midst of a time of great suffering and destruction, the Prophet Jeremiah rejoices in God’s mercy which is new every morning).
  8. The transition to 2015 is a picture of what God will do in the future (Isa. 65.17; 66.22; 2 Pet. 3.13; Rev. 21.1-5). He will make all things new.
  9. The transition to 2015 is a picture of what God does in the lives of those who believe in him (2 Cor. 4.16; 5.17-21). He will make YOU new.

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” – GK Chesterton

The Gospel According to God the Father

For a visual presentation, click here.

What is the Gospel? Even many Christians who’ve grown up in church their whole lives don’t understand what it is about the death of Jesus that rescues us from sin and hell. In order to understand the Gospel better, we ought to examine three pictures that come from the three times that God the Father spoke from Heaven during the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Water: The Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3.17)

  • Baptism is for sinners (3.5-6)
  • Jesus came to be baptized (3.13-15)
  • God the Father declares Jesus as the Righteous One (3.16-17)
    • “this” – A specific person we must pay attention to.
    • “beloved” – A unique affection that the Father has for Jesus. Implication: the Chosen One.
    • “Son” – A special relation between the Father and Jesus. Implication: Davidic heir (Ps. 2.7).
    • “well pleased” – A righteous condition before God. See Isa. 42.1; Hebrews 10:5-10.
  • Water=Jesus Identified as the Righteous Chosen One+Jesus Identifies with Sinners.

Message: The Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17.5)

  • Jesus identifies as the divine message (i.e., logos) to mankind (17.2).
  • Jesus identifies with the great messengers of Israel’s past (17.3).
  • The Father calls us to hear and obey the Gospel message of Jesus (17.5).
  • Word=Hearing the Gospel Message+Obeying the Gospel Message

Cross: Jesus Ministers in the Temple (John 12.28-29)

  • Glory among the Gentiles (12.20-22)
  • Glory in death (12.23-24; 30-33)
  • Glory to the Father in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus (12.28-29).
  • Cross=Death of Jesus+Glory to the Father

Conclusion: God’s Silence in the Death of Jesus (Matthew 27.46)

  • Water: Jesus is left without vindication by himself and the Father so that he could identify with sinners (1 Pet. 3.18; Rom. 3.24-27; 2 Cor. 5.21).
  • Cross: Jesus brings glory to the Father by absorbing his wrath against sinners so that they might be reconciled to God (Col. 2.14).
  • Message: This Gospel of Jesus Christ must be heard and obeyed (2 Pet. 1.19, cf. vv. 16-18).
    • All people must hear and respond to this Good News in faith — that Jesus identifies with them and has paid their just penalty.
    • Christians must respond in meditation coupled with rejoicing, lifting up the Gospel in order to glorify God, and by identifying daily with the reality of the Gospel.