December 4, 2013

The Road of Grace Leads To And From God

Grace is such a strange animal to me, a man who was used it doing things through sheer willpower and bludgeoning fierceness. A weightlifter that tried to muscle his way through everything that the world threw at me. Leaning into things, grunting and headbutting them to where I wanted them...and it almost worked. Things are changing now though, I can sense it.  I sense that the Spirit of God is now intensively infusing my life with grace as I am no longer fighting it in the flash as I used to. I have been broken to the truth of its absolute need and necessity in my life and other's lives.

Ephesians 4:2 ~ "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Proverbs 10:12 ~ "Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.

Over the last 4 years I have lost parents, left jobs and struggled quite acutely along with my family. Grace was foreign to me and sometimes it still is. It was strange to me and perhaps this is because I never had any or had very little. It also has a lot to do with the fact that I found Christ (He found me) in my thirties. I also suspect that if there is ever one attribute that God wants His faithful to get right…it is grace. I also believe that if a believer does not get this one right in a reasonable amount of time, God will inevitably begin to smack them upside the head with it until they do get it. Sometimes grace will need to come in a less than graceful manner for the hardened of heart. Why? People are thickheaded, and stiff-necked, that’s why.

Grace is a clincher and deal breaker. If we are to emulate God in His holiness, the buck stops here. It was unmerited grace that saved us from ourselves. Grace has been the sticking point in my life and ministry and it has taken a long time for me to come to this conclusion. It's taken over 40 years. My ministry is virtually none-existent right now and I’ve come to the conclusion that I will never step foot in a pulpit again or get to teach anyone until I get this right. It has been a slow uphill work of God in my life as my flesh battles it every step of the way. Unless I am faithful with this fundamental building block of the Christian life…I will not be allowed to take on the bigger tasks the Lord has waiting.

I am willing to acknowledge the need for God’s grace in my life but reciprocating it to others has been a struggle…even in my own family at times. It has caused a lot of grief and it saddens me but I am not surprised. It is Romans 7 come to life. I have a choice though. I can allow the Holy Spirit to work in my life instead of trying to cut Him off at every turn.

So why does God so strongly wish us to do what we are incapable of on our own? Is God toying with us in a condescending manner? Does he mock our finite nature and frailty?

So I pondered this conundrum for a long time. I pondered for hours a day, for weeks and months and the answer slowly creeps into my mind over this past month. Sorry folks, I'm a little slow on the uptake. God expects grace of us because it essentially forces us to look to Him for it. Thereby we turn and repent to Him who is the source of all holiness and grace. His demands on us are deliberate. He knows we can’t do it so in commanding us to do so we turn to the only place we can to get the command fulfilled. So I turn to God in prayer and turned my life over to God even more completely (which I didn't even think was possible). 

We die daily to self and give God the reins of our lives. There is no other way. None.

Also, when I say grace is the shows in people's behavior in a strange way that have it. It shows in a level of no expectation of others. There is little or no sense of entitlement...even when the person deserves it. There is no sense that the person is owed something. There is humility like I have never seen before even in other Christians that have not truly embodied grace. There is a nearly tangible meekness about these types of people.

The natural man cannot love their enemies. They cannot turn the other cheek when struck unjustly. That is why a person that has been instilled with grace is one of the greatest indicators that a believer is indwelt by the Spirit and to what measure that indwelling has taken hold. There are plenty of self-proclaimed Christians out there that exhibit virtually no grace. I was one of them for a long time. I still fail to exhibit grace on many occasions and for this I am ashamed. I must mortify myself. These failure or absences of grace should shoot up red flags to an observer on the condition of the believer. What’s more is the grace should be able to endure suffering. In other words, in prolonged suffering and pain this grace should be even more profoundly exhibited in spite of the suffering. The grace therefore should increase, not abate in times of trial.

It stands to reason that if the grace exhibited is the work of the Spirit, things like suffering should not diminish it to any great extent. This is one of the reasons I so abhor things like the prosperity Gospel. It virtually kills grace in the church, especially those that are young in the faith or theologically immature. Grace isn’t earned any more than salvation is earned…it is accepted and becomes us. When we suffer it is clear we have little or no reserves of our own to draw on so if grace be manifest it has to be of God. No one expects more water from an empty well but we should expect living water from God. The source would need to be outside of us just as water and a dried well.

The observer who sees us suffering and increasing in grace is then forced to ask the obvious question: 

From whence does this grace come? 

When it is clear it is not us the answer then becomes as obvious as the question itself: It has to be supernatural in origin, it has to come from God. Where else could if come from? Along with this grace we will also see other attributes surface as by-products such as deeper empathy and compassion for people that we would’ve normally been apathetic and indifferent to. The poor, the down-trodden, widows, orphans and those that cannot help themselves. We should be acutely aware of injustices and they should not sit well with us. We should be more concerned with other’s well-being than our own. We should see agape. Those full of grace are self-giving, not selfish.

There should be abundant grace manifest from an abundant God. If not, one should make a close examination of their lives. Where or how is the person stifling the work of the Spirit? If there is lack of God in our lack of grace, then we must conclude that grace is intrinsic in turning us to God and a lack of grace is pivotal in turning us from God. That is exactly what we see in a believer’s life. God giving man grace freely gives man salvation through the Gospel. Man extending that same grace given to them--unto others expands the presence of God…thereby expanding the Kingdom…and therefore salvation.

The Church is where the Kingdom is and the Kingdom is where the kings is.

Knowledge of grace is not enough. I had knowledge of grace for decades but it did me no good. It isn’t until that grace is applied into one’s life that supernatural changes begin to occur in a believer’s life and the lives of those around them. The benefit of grace comes from its application, not the intellectual acknowledgment of it. It works the same with Jesus. Intellectual recognition of Jesus does nothing other than make us aware of Him. Demons have knowledge of Jesus…but it doesn’t save them. Demons know what grace is but they don't exhibit it...because the Spirit of Christ is not in them. It is when we apply Jesus Gospel (of grace) in our lives and die to self in an attempt to be Christ-like that we really begin to see the power of God and the Kingdom of God break through into the here-and-now. I suppose that is why we see Paul nearly always use the words mercy, grace, peace and the name Jesus interchangeably in his letter/epistle introductions and salutations. He knows that, if the basis for all communication and relation between believers is started, ended and based on Christ…grace is already assumed to be in the mix.

So to conclude…how do we best embody grace and assure it is in our lives? I just told you…sort of. We need to understand Jesus. The historical Jesus? No. The mystical Jesus? No! The Jesus of other faiths like Islam, the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses? No! We must understand the Jesus of Christian Scriptures…exactly as He is spoke of and explained in those Scriptures. The Scripture attest to who Jesus is and how He most perfectly exhibited grace. Therefore they are the best benchmark for us to study to be like Him. The answer then becomes obvious for a human being that wishes to have grace in life. Grace is best achieved by emulating God in human Christ Jesus. This is Jesus described in Scripture. In this way the Spirit is given unimpeded access to an unpolluted soul that has been paved by the word of God and the paths are made straight through our repentance and our turn to Him. Jesus turned to and did the will of the father both actively and passively. We should strive to do the same even though we will fall woefully short of Jesus' example.

Without God’s sovereign grace no one is saved. Without God’s sovereign grace no stays saved either. Without grace there is no growth as a Christian. Without grace a Christian therefore stays dead in their trespasses and sin. Without grace extended to a non-believer, that non-believer stays dead in their trespasses too. Grace is a divine fountainhead.

A.W. Pink's quote below finally makes sense to me: 
"Just as the sinner’s despair of any hope from himself is the first prerequisite of a sound conversion, so the loss of all confidence in himself is the first essential in the believer’s growth in grace." ~ A. W. Pink
The grace in the believer then acts as a beacon or neon sign for the Cross and therefore makes A. W. Tozer's quote understandable to me now also.
“The cross is the lightning rod of grace that short-circuits God’s wrath to Christ so that only the light of His love remains for believers.” ~ A. W. Tozer
I pray that you are increasing in grace also...if not, you should figure out why.

May the grace of God be with you. 

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