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Crucified Before the Foundation of the World

"Crucified before the foundation of the world." What does that mean? How could that even happen? Historians and archaeologists ta...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Does Grace Require Repentance?

I'm still stuck on grace.  I like grace; I like to explore the meaning and limits of grace.  Are there any limits?  I'm not sure, maybe there aren't.  God's grace is as deep as God wants or allows it to be.  It's not really up to me.  He will forgive and heal and save at his discretion, not mine. 

Some preachers and teachers of the Word say that there is no end to the grace of God.  He will forgive and receive any of us even if we do not repent and change our behavior as long as we claim grace and believe that he died to make us righteous. Jesus said that we should forgive our brother repeatedly even to 70 times 7 times.  I think he meant that as an analogy for infinity.  I should not try to set limits on forgiveness because God does not.  He forgives me over and over.

Paul said that the law was given by Moses to teach mankind the meaning of sin, but where sin was plentiful, the grace of God was even more plentiful. (Romans 5:20 my translation.)  Grace trumps sin.  So does it matter that we do things God doesn't approve if he is going to forgive anyway?  In Romans 5:8 Paul states that when we were still sinners Christ died for us to remove the barrier that separated us from God. 

If this is true and grace is poured out for us, even in spite of our sin, we might surmise that the more we sin, the more of God's grace we can claim.  No!  God forbid it, Paul says in Romans 6:1.  When we were saved and brought into the grace of God, we were not saved to continue in sin, but to be released from its grip.  Jesus died and we were redeemed and freed from sin to live a holy life before God.  We are always moving closer to the life of purity Jesus followed, and the more we walk with him, the closer we come to that perfection.

Does it make sense that we would be saved from the sin that is common in the world, but continue to engage in it?  No.  It's like a child growing to  adulthood.  If the boy at 10 is no closer to manhood than he was at 1, something is terribly wrong.  The senior in high school who can only do basic addition is not learning his lessons.  The person who continues in sin refuses to grow into the Christian Christ died to create. 

Yes, we are forgiven over and over, but we are obligated to repent and forsake the sin when we recognize it.  It damages our souls, our lives, our relationships to God and to others.  The consequences are damaging and damning.  John the Baptist, Jesus himself, Paul and preachers over the centuries have pleaded with sinners to repent.  It is still a valid message.  Repent!  Repent and walk in grace.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Stuck on Grace

Amazing Grace, First version, in "Olney H...Image via WikipediaGrace is so amazing and so abused that Christians often don't understand what it means.  Grace means more than we know how to accept because there is no cost or level of performance and no minimum standard to achieve it.  We are used to things being free--free chips when you buy a hamburger, kids eat free when the parents buy a meal, free tickets to a sales presentation.  There is always a catch.  You have to pay somewhere.  But grace doesn't have any catches.  Grace really is free.

The  definition goes like this:  Grace is the unmerited love and mercy of God toward sinners.  In Romans Paul said it like this: " ...God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." NKJV, Romans 5:8.  Before he knew there would be any believers, he paid the cost of sin before God.  That's grace.  God pours out salvation on sinners when they just ask.  There are no trial memberships.  We are accepted on our word alone. 

Now is there a catch?  Sort of.  God does not require any payment or level of performance, but he does indicate that we must ask for what he has to offer.  1John 1:9 says that he will forgive our sins when we confess.  That's all.  We confess that we are sinners and he forgives the sin.  We live in a litigious society--there must be more to it that that.  Well, there is.  He will not allow us to stay in the state of sin he found us in.  He wants us to become a reflection of himself  He wants us to be pure.  "Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect."  That doesn't sound like he is satisfied with just any old confession.  Watchman Nee uses the illustration of a draftee versus a volunteer.  Once we are Christians we are obligated to become like him.  We have to wear the uniform and conform to the rules.  He accepts us in whatever condition he finds us, but his will is to change us to what he wants us to be.

Now let me return to grace.  By grace we are saved, and by grace we are united with him.  Then by grace we are changed to become what he wants us to be, and the change may be, probably will be, a painful and daunting metamorphosis.  He will love us, but never doubt that you will be different than he found you when this is all over, and that what you will become is not what you envisioned when you began.

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

When I See the Blood

In Leviticus 17 Moses gave instructions about how the children of Israel were to deal with sacrifices and blood offerings.  It also explains why they were not to consume the blood.  In verse 11 he says that life is in the blood and God has given it to you to make atonement for your sins.  They were to drain the blood and use it as the offering because the blood was the agent that gave life to an animal.  They burned the fat and ate the lean meat, but the blood was for God alone.

In Exodus 12:13 Moses told the people to take of the blood they drained from the lamb and put it on the doorposts of their homes.  God said, "When I see the blood, I will pass over you."

Isaiah 53:7 records that Jesus would be "led like a lamb to the slaughter."  It was not simply punishment, not just beating, not even agony on our behalf.   It was a blood sacrifice.

John 19:34 "...one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water."  (Scientists say that the manner in which Jesus died would concentrate the blood in his heart.  When the heart was perced, the total blood supply flowed out.)  Jesus was our lamb, our offering, one time.

Hebrews 13:12 states that Jesus gave his life to make believers holy through his own blood.

When I read these scriptures in sequence, it becomes obvious that God chose blood to represent life.  The life of a person or an animal is in the blood.  Making a sacrifice means that the blood which was poured out on the altar was a symbol of the life of the animal.  When the Israelites were told to use a lamb as a sacrifice. the lamb was meant to represent the sinner, to take his place.  The blood represented my life and your life.

I tried an exercise this week in which I was required to read a passage of scripture and use my name in place of the pronoun in the text.  Here is what I wrote adapted from Isaiah 53:4-6:
Surely he took up my infirmities
   and carried my sorrows,
yet I considered him stricken by God,
   smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for my transgressions,
   he was crushed for my iniquities;
the punishment that brought me peace was upon him,
   and by his wounds I am healed.
I, Gayle, am like a sheep, I have gone astray,
  I have turned to my own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
   my iniquity.

The requirement for a blood sacrifice for sin is so abhorrent that we turn away in disgust.  God could just forgive us and let it pass, couldn't he?   No, this is the value he puts on our forgiveness and redemption.  We are too important to God for him to ignore our sin.  He found a way to make us right with him through his Son, through the death of his Son, through his Son's blood.

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Is the Gospel of Grace an Easy Message?

Figure of Jesus on the Cross at The Cloisters,...Image by Tony the Misfit via Flickr There was a day when preachers expounded on the sins of parishoners and communicants urging them to repent and be saved.  That was a hard message that left no one untouched by guilt and remorse.  Jonathan Edwards was a champion of the fire and brimstone messages of the 18th century.  John Wesley was not lax in challenging his listeners with the state of sin in their lives.  His friend and fellow preacher George Whitfield also bore a message of repentance and surrender to the claims of Jesus.  These men were noted preachers during the time known as The Great Awakening in North America, England, and Europe. Their messages focused on repentance from sin and acceptance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

A century later Charles Spurgeon was still preaching that message.  His sermon entitled "Why Many Cannot Find Peace" contanins this statement:

Dear Friend, without the fullest confidence as to your saved condition, you have no right to be at ease and I pray you may never be so!*

I cannot define the time when this emphasis on sin and repentance lost favor, but as of this date, it is a lost art.  The current theme in Christian circles is grace:  "Grace greater than all our need."  Grace is defined as the unmerited favor of God.  It is the overflowing love of God toward us that is not the product of our own efforts and cannot be secured by human wisdom, subtrefuge, or sacrifice.
Grace is so wonderful and powerful that we can hardly understand it.  Grace, forgiveness, love in abundance poured out for sinners, poured out for me.  And I didn't have to do anything to get it.  Being a Christian is easier than I thought.  Paul's call to grace in Ephesians 2:8 says that "...we are saved by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves--it is a gift of God not of works lest anyone should boast."

Other scriptures record other words of Jesus.  In John 3 Jesus gives a dissertation on the meaning of salvation and the new birth.  We don't receive God's grace in an unsanctified state.  Jesus said  “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."  Now go back to Ephesians 2:8 and reread the sentence until you come to the words "through faith."  But the faith is in Jesus Christ and he died.  Grace does not pour out on unredeemed souls.  Salvation comes to a sinner by the goodness and love of God because he, the sinner, has been made righteous by the blood of Jesus shed on the cross.

Matthew 4:17 records Jesus saying, "Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand."  This is after Jesus was baptized by John and before he had called his disciples.  It almost seems like Jesus is taking up the ministry of John.  John's message had been a call to repentance marking that change in their lives with baptism. 

After John was put in jail, Jesus became more urgent: he chose twelve disciples and moved to Capernaum.  He chose them from the crowd of people who listened to his preaching.  His message was not a light one:  He proclaimed that their righteousness must be greater than that of the current religious leaders to gain heaven.  He told them they must love their enemies.  And he began to talk about his own death.   As his message became more urgent, it also became more difficult. 

In John 6:53: Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."  Eating bread in a field while he preached was one thing, but to translate that into eating of his flesh and drinking his blood was a far more demanding discipline.  What kind of belief, what kind of commitment was that?  Many in the crowds that had followed him took offense at this.  Many of them followed him no more.

Will those who have embraced his grace back off when they hear the rest of the story?  When they learn that self sacrifice is part of the package, they may find, like the followers that enjoyed the healing and the bread, Jesus's call is a "hard saying."  There are other words of Jesus, other commitments, and other levels of participation.  Righteousness, obedience, and sacrifice do not creep in quietly in the dark hours before dawn unhearlded.  They come with demanding effrontery in the full light of day and they require attention.  And you and I and every believer will have to address their requirments.  Don't believe an easy gospel.

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