Are You Astonished By His Grace?

“O Lord, I am astonished at the difference between my receivings and my deservings, between the state I am now in and my past gracelessness, between the heaven I am bound for and the hell I merit,” prays on of the Puritans. [1]  Who prays like this anymore? What a time we live in, that despite our selfishness and love for sin (one loves lust, another greed, another pride, another idolatry, but each is rebellion against God), persons like to think humanity is “basically good.”  Many act as though God owes us something, as if salvation is a given. 

I am not so much talking about the non-religious, but I am talking about many church goers who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ. People declaring they are such and such, condoning whatever behaviors suit them, then acting as though God is obliged to look upon them with favor.

Is any of us really like sweet Georgia peaches, just a little bruised? But what do the Scriptures say?

As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” … For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, ~ Romans 3:10-18, 22-23

Elsewhere, in an epistle written to Christians, the apostle writes,

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. ~ Ephesians 2:1-3

Apart from Jesus Christ, none of us is deserving of God’s affection. Each of us was walking dead men, followers of the devil, walking in the passions of our own lusts, and children of wrath. No, we are not sweet peaches but poisonous mushrooms. What presumptuous arrogance that is so predominant in many American churches, as persons live however they want to live, disregarding the authority of the Scriptures, the teachings of Christ and His apostles, and thinking God is pleased just because persons gather “in His name.” This is no different than the rebellious and idolatrous Israelites, false prophets, and the corrupt priests God rejected in the Old Testament.

Where is humility? What has happened to mourning over one’s sins? What has happened to persons acknowledging God’s perception as being correct and that it is the individual’s perception which is wrong?

My friend, if there is no evident change in your life and no conformity to the likeness of Christ (including His love, humility, purity, holiness, and the like), then it is highly unlikely that you are genuinely a Christian. 

The apostle writes concerning the grace of God,

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation [i.e., making it available] for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. ~ Titus 2:11-12

Again, he writes,

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant. ~ Philippians 2:3-7

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. ~ Galatians 5:13

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ~ 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

If you are saved—born again—it is only by grace. The Scriptures tell us that even our righteousness—our supposed good deeds—are but “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6, KJV). Look up the Hebrew term for “filthy rags,” it’s quite disgusting—which is the point.

Each of us should be astonished at the mercies God grants us. We shouldn’t ever lose the wonder of His undeserving grace. If you do not at all see glimpses of the wretch and scoundrel you really are (as am I), then how do you understand your need for a Savior? And if such glimpses of your depravity don’t  cause you to realize your desperate need for repentance and forgiveness, it is highly doubtful you really understand anything about grace, let alone experienced it.

That God would bother to look upon us with pity and snatch us from the flames, which was our destination, should create such unending humble gratitude. But how much of this do we truly see within American churches?

__________

[1] Arthur Bennet, ed., “The Mover,” in The Valley of Vision (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1975), 12.

Of course you and I are not “perfect,” but for far too long Christians have been saying this to justify sinfulness and shortcomings. No, we are not perfect, but we can honestly own up to our shortcomings. We are not perfect, but we should steadily be maturing and changing from glory to glory, day by day becoming more like Jesus. By His grace we have come so far, but let us not settle for mediocrity. In the words of Oswald Chambers, let us give our utmost for His highest.

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 3:13-14

It is difficult being a parent. Sometimes we can be too harsh, and other times too lenient. Sometimes we mean well, only to have everything blow up in our faces. Still, other times everything seems disastrous, but miraculously things come together. Mom, Dad, our kids make mistakes and need our grace. We make mistakes too and need God’s grace. Breathe. You will never love your kiddos more than God loves you.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” ~ Romans 8:15

If you are saved, it is entirely of grace. Regardless how we might like to compare ourselves to other schmucks, we are merely redeemed schmucks. Each of us were once dead in sin, followers of Satan, and children of wrath. This is why grace is so amazing.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. ~ Ephesians 2:1-2

Jesus did not come to simply love us as we are. His grace was never intended to bring forgiveness just so we can continue in our pride, vanity, immorality, drunkenness, laziness, bitterness, etc. When a person is truly touched by the love and grace of Christ, his or her life begins a process of change. 

By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. ~ 1 John 2:5-6

“I Did Not Make It—No, It Is Making Me”

One of my favorite musicians is the late Rich Mullins. In his song, “Creed,” based on what is commonly called the “Apostle’s Creed,” [1] Mullins writes,

“I believe what I believe,
It’s what makes me what I am.
I did not make it, no, it is making me; It is the very truth of God, not the invention of any man.” [2]

Christianity is not about people having it all together, for if that was the case, why would we need a Savior? No, Christianity is about the living God and Redeemer who puts people back together, who are ravaged by sin, through the death and resurrection of His dear Son.

As Romans 3 tells us, we have all, like sheep, gone astray. All of us have searched for other pastures, seeking to satisfy our longings with anything but God. We have all become corrupt, each of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We have resisted God, succumbed to our desires, and defiantly sang to God, Frank Sinatra’s, “I did it my way!” As a result, our lives are broken, splintered, and ridden with emptiness and shame.

But then comes God’s grace and truth. Understand, the two must be together. Too many people profess grace while their behaviors are left unchanged. On the other hand, you have those declaring truth, but their lives do not display the love and compassion of the God they claim to profess. The grace and truth of God, together, builds and repairs our lives.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. ~ John 1:14

But think about Mullins’ words. “I believe what I believe, it’s what makes me what I am.” He is not simply talking about a creed, but the very Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is this which is remaking and remodeling him, not man’s philosophies, pop psychology, or religions.

“I did not make it, no, it is making me.” This comes from something outside and other than him. He did not “pull himself up by the bootstraps,” nor did he apply mind over matter or positive thinking.

“It is the very truth of God, not the invention of any man.” What is making him, rebuilding him, and restoring him is the very truth of God and His Gospel. God, alone, gets the glory.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. ~ Romans 1:16

Is the Gospel making you? God extends His glorious Gospel to you, my friend, no matter what you have done. No, you nor I can make it, but it is what makes us.”

[1] I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,  the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

[2] Rich Mullins, “Creed,” from the album, A Liturgy, a Legacy, & a Ragamuffin Band, Reunion Records, 1993.

Revive Us, O Lord

You might be familiar with the word to an old hymn:

Revive us again;
Fill each heart with Thy love.
May each soul be rekindled
With fire from above.
~ from “Revive Us Again” by William P. Mackay 

Whatever happened to the words “revive” and “revival”? These used to be spoken of more, even prayed for, in churches but have somehow fallen on the wayside. This is tragic, since we are in such desperate need of revival.

Imagine, for a moment, a cruise ship. On board are people involved in various activities. Some are working, some are in meetings concerning itinerary, and others are running to the next fun activity. Many are content with a sense of safety and security. However, look over the rails and there are literally multitudes drowning in the waters. Is this not unthinkable that those on the ship would not have a sense of urgency to help as many as they could?

I am not trying to be critical nor am I saying fun, rest, and relaxation are wrong. However, are not many churches like this ship and its passengers? We have our meetings and planners set for coming events, but often there lacks any real sense of urgency. Oh sure, we want our churches to grow numerically, but does it always have to do with “souls being saved”? While we might say, “Yes!” But does this include those who are quite different than us? The “sinners” and outcasts for whom Jesus also died? Shame on us when the gospel is more for “people like us.” Lord God, have mercy on us for our Pharisaical hypocrisies!

Our church events, like any secular entertainment, are fleeting. The persons (i.e., souls) around us are eternal. How can our hearts not be burdened for the perishing? Oh, that God would revive us again!

We’re Going to Heaven (but So Many Won’t Go)

We’re going to Heaven—O glorious day!
But still there’s so many who are lost on the way.
Will our hearts have compassion, will we be saddened so—
That we’re going to Heaven, but so many won’t go?

We’re going to Heaven, but so many to hell;
My brothers and sisters we have Great News to tell—
That on an ol’ Cross Jesus died for our sins,
Opening Heaven so that all may go in.

We’re going to Heaven, but are family and friends?
Will they know Jesus when they come to the end?
Oh, do they know how much God loves them so?
We’re going to Heaven, but will they, too, go?

We’re going to Heaven—O glorious day!
But still there’s so many who are lost on the way.
Praise God, Jesus saves! Let the redeemed say so—
We’re going to Heaven … but so many won’t go.
~ Geno Pyse

The Present—His Presence

We are living in uncertain times. What is going on in government? What is going to happen to the economy? What is going to happen in our lifetime, and what is the world going to be like for our children and grandchildren? One commodity that seems to be dwindling for many is hope.

One of the gems within the Christmas/Gospel message is God’s presence among people. It is important to understand Jesus’ highest position. We are told He is the Alpha and the Omega (First and the Last), and Lord of lords and King of kings (see Rev. 1:8; 17:14). In John’s Gospel we are told Jesus is the Word, who was with God and is God, who took on flesh and “dwelt among us” (see John 1:1-5, 14). Furthermore, Paul tells us that in doing so, Jesus “emptied himself” (see Phil. 2:7).

In Matthew’s Gospel we are told one of the names of Jesus is Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (see Matt. 1:23). He did not come to dwell among the elite or to live in the lap of luxury. He was born in poverty, grew among the average Joe, and associated with the hurting and outcast.

Although Jesus has ascended, He promises His continual presence through His Holy Spirit (see John 14:15-17). Note, the passage says that He will abide with us forever.

Perhaps you are facing some challenging circumstances (e.g., loneliness, illness, financial issues, marital problems, etc.), and God feels a million miles away. Maybe you are thinking He has abandoned you. My prayer for you this Christmas season is that you will remember the Word (Jesus) “dwelt among us” and continues to dwell within His people. 

There are some who feel they are “too far gone,” but Jesus, His grace, and His presence are given as gifts to all who are willing to receive them by faith. If you have not already, may you receive these gifts this Christmas season.

The Greatest Gift of All

This has been a different sort of Christmas season, as my wife and I have recently made a 1400 mile move. For the past few months we were downsizing, going through things to sell, donate, or throw away. It is astonishing how much stuff is accumulated over the years, much of which is not needed, and some not even wanted. My wife and I repeatedly told each other we have too much stuff.

We live in a society that constantly tells us more is better, and having this and that will make us happy. For us, we realized having so much stuff actually added to our stress. Not only by going through it all, but also just looking at it all the time. Even with the house straightened up, there was still clutter.

I have not been in the Christmas spirit at all this year. Granted, I have been preoccupied with the move, but it has become so overly commercialized. It has felt strange going to the store for groceries or cleaning supplies and seeing people do their Christmas shopping. In a matter of a year or two many of the gifts will be trashed, sold, or left to collect dust. So much stuff not needed.

Nevertheless, buried beneath the commercialization, festivities, and wrapping paper there remains for each of us the greatest gift of all, which is the real reason for the season. What makes this gift unique  is it is a provision for what we truly need: redemption, love, joy, peace, and meaning. Yet, this gift is left unopened and unwanted by so many. Still, this wonderful gift is offered to any and all who are willing to receive it. And what is this gift?

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. ~ Isaiah 9:6

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. ~ John 3:16

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. ~ Romans 5:15-17

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

Have you received this gift from God? If not, why do you continue to reject it when it is freely given?

It’s a Beautiful Morning

Followers of Jesus Christ are not to live in deliberate or habitual sin. We are asked, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1 -2, ESV). Furthermore, elsewhere the purposes of both grace and salvation are explained:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. ~ Titus 2:11-12

Even so, the Bible teaches us, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins, (Ecc. 7:10) and “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8).  And life teaches us experientially that we can sometimes blow it profoundly! How many of us have asked, “Will God forgive me of this? Again???” In fact, some give up altogether that God still loves them and can forgive them.

My friend, perhaps you have asked such questions. Maybe you are wrestling with such doubts now. Believe me, I have been there numerous times. But God’s grace truly is amazing, and the death Jesus died in our stead transcends our understanding. I hope you will be encouraged by the following passages:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ~ Lamentations 3:22-23

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. ~ Psalm 103:13-14

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. ~ 1 John 1:9

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. ~ Psalm 51:17

Perhaps you have blown it big time and guilt haunts you. My friend, look to the cross and the glorious and merciful Savior who had been slain upon it and is now alive forevermore! Find refuge in His mercy and peace in His great love for you. His mercies are new every morning, and there is never a time when we are not in need of them.