Tag Archives: grace

That Old Question: Law vs. Grace

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For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Grace: …a spontaneous gift from God to man – “generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved”. (The New Dictionary of Theology)

Law vs. grace. Which do we follow? The good news is that we get to choose–well, both.  When we really accept grace, we don’t just brush the law aside; we want to please God, and we keep trying. But when we choose the law, we brush grace aside!

Sadly, some small but very vocal groups have hijacked the media, leading people to believe that Christianity is all about law and punishment and hell. It’s not.

Yes, God wants us to follow the law. Otherwise we take advantage of the gift of grace. “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6—the whole chapter) and “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Romans 3:20)

And… accepting His grace allows me to obey the law. We cannot ever earn God’s favor. “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Romans 3:20)

So which is right? Ultimately, grace is what sets Christianity apart from other religions. Because of Jesus, we don’t have to obey the law, but because we have been freely granted grace, we want to please God. “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh.” (Romans 8:3)

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)

Let’s accept God’s gift to us. All Christians have been given the free gift of grace; it would be rude to turn it down.

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Jesus Loves Sinners

Progressive 28Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:1-7

God is a righteous judge, and Jesus intercedes for us.

He went in search of me when I was lost. I was poor, I was lonely, I was confused, and I was actively sinning (I was bothered but I wasn’t repentant) when I felt compelled to walk back into a church building. Thankfully, I found a group of people who were equally imperfect and who didn’t judge me.

Many churches give the impression that people need to qualify before even walking in the door. I have never qualified for heaven and I never will. So I am deeply troubled by the expectations placed on outsiders.

Remember, there are two messages in Luke 15: Jesus actively seeks sinners. And Jesus does not favor “good” people. As insiders, we have to be gracious about that. Welcome should apply to every one of God’s children, and Come as you are should refer to everyone who is curious, questioning, or hoping. Come rich, come poor. Come white, come colored. Come hurt or angry. Come tattooed or not. Come married, come divorced, come gay. If God’s children need changing, it’s up to Jesus to change them, as only He can. Let’s let Him do it.

Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Romans 8:34

Who Does God Want to Save?

Progressive 21I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. 1 Timothy 2:1-6

There was a time when I was really messed up.

I’ve been a Christian forever it seems–I grew up going to Sunday school–but religion didn’t insulate me from the world’s problems. When I went down, I went down hard. (I’ll spare you the details, but it involved a lot of alcohol.) I haven’t forgotten it, and I haven’t forgotten what it felt like: lost, lonely, rudderless. I stopped going to church after sitting, week after week, next to people who appeared to be happy. Why? Because I thought I wasn’t “good enough.” Instead I turned to twelve step groups, support groups, and counseling. I found God in rag-tag groups of broken people who clung together for sanity. Now I know that I was always good enough for God, even if I wasn’t good enough for some Christians.

I think many Christians have divided the world into two camps: Christians, and those who will never be Christians. And they’ve constricted the definition of Christian to “those who believe exactly the same things I do.”

Some people love the passage about the narrow gate (“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” Matthew 7:13) even as they ignore the first line of the same chapter (Do not judge… Matthew 7:1) and the verses leading up to it.

It’s up to each person if they want to walk through the narrow gate. But let’s not push people off the road. Let’s invite them on, even if they seem beyond hope to our myopic vision. God knows their hearts and, for all we know, He might have great plans for them.

Every Christian has a before: a time when they weren’t Christians, or they weren’t walking with God, or they just didn’t understand. Every person has hope.

Will God save everyone? I don’t know. But I won’t stop Him if He tries.

Do You Have to “Believe Right” to be a Christian?

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Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1:17

[Jesus] answered … For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. … and now something greater than Jonah is here. Matthew 12:39-41

How old is the earth? How many animals fit in an ark? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Did Adam have a belly button? Can a fish swallow a man?

Hermeneutics. Substitutionary atonement. Dispensationalism. Supersessionism. Orthogenesis.

Does God love gay people? What about homeless people? Single moms? Does God love me if I love gay people, homeless people, and single moms?

 

These are the things my friends discuss, and they talk as if it’s very important to their salvation.

If I know the right answers, will I get into heaven? If I don’t, will I be turned away at the gates?

I’ve heard of Biblical inerrancy, infallibility, integrity, and literalism. Sometimes it leaves me scratching my head. Which do I believe? A little of each, maybe? According to Wikipedia, “‘inerrant’ means there are no errors and ‘infallible’ means there can be no errors.” *sigh*

I lean toward allegorical interpretations of the Old Testament stories, as opposed to literal. (In the story of Jonah, there was no fish: the story is an allegory, the fish is a literary device; maybe the story was a vision or a dream. Maybe Jonah was a real man, and his story was embellished (in much the same way Santa Claus—who may have been a real person—gained a supernatural ability to circle the earth in a flying sleigh), or… for all I know, there was no Jonah at all.

Here’s my confession: I’m just not sure.

Thankfully, my faith is not in Jonah, or Noah, or Adam. It’s in Jesus. For the time being, I choose to believe that Jesus really did die on the cross for my sins, but I don’t know whether to call it “substitutionary atonement” or not. I just believe. Yes, I “believe” science. And yes, I know coming alive after three days is not explained by science. Call it “willing suspension of disbelief,” if you like. Science explains a lot, but it doesn’t explain everything, and I still leave room for miracles.

What science doesn’t explain is the inner working of the soul. That, to me, is where God fills in the gaps. Sometimes I have a flash of understanding. I usually can’t put it into words: it’s (sort of) a feeling that everything is alright and God is in control (but that is far from adequate). This, I believe, is the Holy Spirit (God) speaking directly to my soul. Words would only muddle it up.

There is one thing about God that can move me to tears. Sometimes, when I strip away all the theology, when I think of Jesus allowing Himself to be executed by His own people; His choice to go through that kind of pain—for me—knowing that I don’t deserve anything like that at all…

Then I just believe.

Religion and Guilt

Progressive 37Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 2 Corinthians 7:10

Guilt is a strange thing. One one hand, it’s a powerful motivator. It can help us to do what we need to, to make bad things better: to repent, to apologize, to change for the better. Let’s call this responsibility.

But guilt without a clear direction may lead us to a life of vague hopelessness. Repent? Repent how? And from what? Okay, just feel bad, as if that will help somehow. We might call this stigma.

At its worst, guilt is used to shame other people into submission. This rarely does any good; people who are thus disgraced are more likely to retaliate with resentment and their own counterattacks, to loudly proclaim their lack of remorse, or to feel miserable and pull away. This kind of guilt can be called humiliation.

Sadly, stigma and humiliation have long been useful tools of religion. Enough people have been kept in line (and passed the shame on) to make shaming appear successful. Worse, people have pretended to be in line with others’ expectations, hiding their secret shame. I’m not saying that any particular church uses guilt in such a way; it’s something we all share. Parents pass it to their children and friends pass it to friends, often without knowing it. (Personally, I feel that the most damaging form of stigmatization is our current attitude toward mental illness, and religion is partly to blame.)

Unfortunately, there’s not a clear line between good guilt and bad guilt. So we often burden ourselves and each other with the wrong kind. The hallmark of this kind of guilt is that we can do nothing about it. Something happened in the past, something is deeply ingrained, or something is out of our control. Guilt doesn’t fix it.

Guilt that makes people miserable is not from God; it’s from the devil.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10

If you feel guilty over a past misdeed, the best advice I have is to rid yourself of it. Remind yourself (many times, if you have to) that you’re ALREADY FORGIVEN. Confess it and let go.

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

If you have been hurt by someone else, don’t shame them. Be honest and try to work it out in the least public way possible. If they aren’t hurting you, don’t shame them. Let it go.

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. Matthew 18:15

If you feel guilty over something that’s out of your control, remember, you can’t fix everything or everyone.  Give it to God and let it go.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

But… the other kind of guilt is useful. It’s that niggling feeling that you can do something. Maybe you have to go out of your comfort zone. Maybe it’s just inconvenient. If so, pray for guidance, pray for strength. Then do what needs to be done and let it go.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22

The opposite of guilt is grace. Through grace, we have freedom from the terrible weight of guilt. What a shame it is if we don’t accept this gift from God. Accept grace.

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8

Let’s accept God’s grace and be free. And then, instead of spreading hate and misery, we can show the world how wonderful freedom from the burden of guilt can really be!