Freedom From Expectation

I’ve been reflecting on the many ways that grace is our ticket to freedom. Here’s another one. Living in the room of grace, we aren’t controlled by our expectations. Not only can we stop trying to manage our sins, we can also stop trying to manage the sins of others.

Grace frees us from the expectations that we place on our relationships. In the room of grace, we don’t say things like, “Listen, in order for you to be my friend, or husband, or wife, I expect you to do certain things and behave a certain way.” And we don’t hear parents saying, “Kids, if you want to be in my good graces, and if you want to live and function and be happy in my home, then these are the things I expect out of you.”

People really struggle under our expectations. They hear our lists of do’s and don’ts and they say, “I can’t live up to all of that.” When we “sin manage” our relationships, we make our loved ones miserable. We can’t perform all the time, and neither can they.

Think about your kids. Your expectations can crush your kids. And what happens? All of a sudden, at 16 or 17 years of age, they rebel and stop talking to you. They stop loving you, because they’ve never been able to make you happy.

I see so strongly the gifts that grace will bring to my boys. My boys are going to mess up. There is no doubt about it. Maybe it will be an accident when they first start driving. You know what? I intend to handle it with grace. I’ll say, “Let me tell you something son. You messed up. You wrecked the car. They said you were speeding when you wrecked it. So you were driving recklessly and you were driving a little crazy, and now you’ve ruined the car.

“But son, guess what? I know how it goes. I got in two wrecks before I was seventeen. One of them happened because I was driving recklessly. The other one happened because I hit some ice. I’ve been where you are right now, and I understand the situation. There are consequences. You’ll have to take responsibility. You’ll have to go to work and save enough money to pay the difference in the car insurance bill. This is how it is when you wreck a car. You have to get another car and the insurance goes up, and you have to pay the bill. This is not a punishment! It’s just what happens when you wreck a car.”

I will never say to one of my sons, “You idiot. How could you be so dumb?” I will not do that! I’ll talk to him. I’ll explain how the world works. He’ll have to take responsibility for his actions. But he will never have to fear me. He’ll never have to think, “Oh my gosh, my Dad’s going to kill me if I get in a wreck.” No, it won’t be like that. There’s grace there. I love my boys, and they will make mistakes, because we all do.

To my mind, that is a free home. And that is how God regards us, living in that room of grace.

More on this next time. See you Monday.

Sin Management is a Trap!

The Bible says that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control. Right? The Bible doesn’t say that these are the fruits of the flesh. The flesh does not give birth to love or joy or peace, or to patience, kindness or goodness. It certainly does not give birth to self-control. The flesh gives birth to death. That’s all it does.

It is so awesome when you receive God, because God frees you from the flesh. A follower of Jesus Christ will still have a flesh mentality at times, but that is not how God sees us. God looks at us and sees children who are holy and righteous. And that is awesome!

If Christians could only realize this! If only you knew that your God sees you as holy and righteous. If you did, you would live a holy and righteous life. That’s what you would do.

art by chris kuhn found at http://kuhnart.com/illustration.html

art by chris kuhn found at http://kuhnart.com/illustration.html

But we are so worried about performing. We are so worried about tracking all the do’s and don’ts. And we are so worried that God is going to punish us when we do wrong. We have convinced ourselves that God only smiles on us if we conquer our flesh, and that’s when we get into the room of good intentions.

You read your Bible just to please God. You say to yourself, “I’ve got to read five chapters today, because then God will smile on me and He’ll bless me. And then my day will go the way I want it to.” Then when you don’t have a good day, you think, “Maybe I should have read more. Or maybe I didn’t pray enough today. Why is this bad thing happening to me? I did everything that I was supposed to do. My pastor said I need to read the Bible every day, and he told me to pray without ceasing. I’ve been doing that. I was encouraging to someone today. I always try to say something very encouraging. So why am I having a bad day?”

You try again, and this time you try to do more. But you get the same results. There’s only one way this can go. Eventually, your good intentions implode on you. You get bitter, or angry, or frustrated. You tried so hard to make yourself look so good by not sinning and then all of a sudden, you’re exposed. Everybody looks at you and says, “What? So you’re a Christian? You’re no different than the rest of us. You’re a fake.”

When we get worried about performing, for God and everybody else, we lose our focus on being righteous and holy. We switch our focus to not sinning. We get trapped in sin management! Do you see the irony here? When you try to manage your sin, you actually sin more.

It’s killing us, because it’s exhausting.

But Jesus says, “Hey, how about just accepting that this is who you are. You’re still made of flesh, so you still have your moments, but I look at you and see a person who is righteous and holy.” When you can accept this, you don’t have to get into sin management. You don’t have to manage yourself or anybody else. You’re out of the room of good intentions, and into the room of grace!

More on this next time. See you Thursday.

Freedom from Sin

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10

The Bible says that because of righteousness, it is possible for you to not sin. You actually have that ability. That’s what righteousness does. That’s what grace does! This is what it can do.

When you live in the room of grace, you stop trying to avoid sinning. That belongs to the room of good intentions. In the room of good intentions, you live with assumptions about yourself and others. You intend to behave a certain way, or you expect certain behavior from your loved ones. Then you react from the flesh when your intentions or expectations don’t pan out. Someone doesn’t do what you intended for them to do, or someone doesn’t treat you the way you intended for them to treat you, and you react, with frustration maybe, or even anger.

But grace gives you the freedom to trust yourself and others. In the room of grace, you don’t have to strive to contain your behavior or control the behavior of others. When you walk with that freedom of trust, you stop trying to avoid sin. You have a new habit now. You just don’t want to sin.

Does it mean you won’t sin? No, it doesn’t. We all sin. If you could never sin, then the death of Jesus wouldn’t make sense. And if He doesn’t save you from your sin then it was pointless for Him to die. As we’ve been exploring, the people in the room of grace have all kinds of issues. But sin is not their habit. It’s not their lifestyle.

1 John talks a lot about this, but people misinterpret it. 1 John is read as if it says, “Do not sin, and if you do any of the things on this list, you’re going to hell.” But that’s not what 1 John means. It says that if you live a life of sin, with an attitude of sin and a habit of sin, and if you live with hatred towards people and God, then hell is definitely a destination.

But it is not telling you that must avoid sin. 1 John says, “Listen, you’re going to sin. But you have to realize that when you live in Jesus you are made righteous and holy. Live in that. Confess and God will purify you.”

Will you live in your flesh from time to time? Yes! You can’t be perfect. The flesh cannot be saved. Nowhere in scripture does it say that the flesh can be saved. The flesh is evil and you cannot expect to make it good.

But here’s the point: You’re good in the spirit of God. He has made you righteous, and you are free from sin.

I have more to say on this next time. See you Monday.

Choosing Between Two Roads

After studying the contrast between living in the room of grace and living in the room of good intentions, my conversations with my sons have changed a lot. Here’s an example of one I had with my oldest the other day. He had been talking back to his mother, and I sat down with him and said, “Walker, buddy, I’m going to give you two roads to go down.” “Okay,” he said.

I told him, “You can continue going down the road where you disrespect us. You know what? I’ll let you take that road. But you can also go down a different road. If you want to, you can go down the road where you honor your mother and father. That’s the road where you don’t talk to mommy or daddy that way. Now down that road, son, there are much better things in store for you.

tworoadstworooms“If you take the road of disrespect, okay. You have that prerogative. That’s why I will let you choose that road. But if that’s the choice you make, understand that there will be discipline. You might lose your iPad. Maybe you won’t get to watch TV. Getting disciplined is a part of the going down that road. But I promise you this, buddy. If you choose that road, I will still love you.

“Now think about this. You can also choose to go down the road where you honor mommy and daddy. The outcome of that road will be better.”

Walker looked at me, and then he said, “Okay, Daddy, I’m sorry. I don’t want to take that road. I don’t want to go down that road of disrespecting you.”

I said, “Buddy, I really appreciate that, and I thank you for choosing the right path. I just wanted you to know that I love you, no matter which road you choose. But now, we don’t have to worry about discipline. Thanks to your decision to respect us, now we can just live the life we should be living, and we can go on and have our fun day.”

Even for adults, there’s a choice of roads. The road of good intentions turns out to be a lot like the road my son chose not to take. As an adult, if you take the road of good intentions, you’ll have a lot of stuff coming back at you.

When you live in that room of good intentions, you never get the feeling of love that comes when God walks with you through your garbage. You wear your mask and pretend you’re perfect in the hopes of creating some distance between yourself and your garbage. That way, if your garbage is exposed you can pretend to be separate from it. But when you do that, you leave God on the other side of the room. He sees you with all your junk, but He can’t even come close to you.

In the room of grace it’s different. In that room, God actually walks with you in your garbage. And then you get to bask in His love. He says, “Oh, I know you’re going to mess up. I know it. If I thought you were going to be perfect, then sending Jesus to die is a waste of His time and mine, and the pain that we put Him through was not relevant.”

That’s the power of the cross. I have more to say about this next time. See you Thursday.

Confessing Our Sin to God and One Another

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16

Last time we looked at what it’s like to live and walk in the Holy Spirit. We can go before the throne of God without fear and receive grace and mercy. We can trust in God’s love and salvation, which frees us to recognize our sins, accept them, and let them go.

So why do we ask God for forgiveness? That’s not for God. We don’t need to ask for forgiveness to be right with God because we are already righteous and holy. When we go to God to ask for forgiveness, we are recognizing and accepting what we have done. It’s a way of admitting, “Okay, that was not the best way to behave.” And it’s a way to tell God, “You know what? That was stupid. I get that.”

Going to God with confession in our hearts is not a way of telling God, “I need forgiveness.” The people who say “I need forgiveness” are the ones who are living in the room of good intentions. As we’ve discussed, good intentions, while obviously good, are bound to be thwarted. When our good intentions are thwarted, we go to God and we say, “I need forgiveness because I did not intend to do that, God. I totally had good intentions, and I fell short. So I need forgiveness.”

When we are living in the room of grace, however, we go to God and we say, “Thank you for forgiving me for that.” For example, we might say, “Hey God, you know what? I lived in the flesh right there when that guy cut me off. I yelled at him and I cussed him out. Thank you for forgiving me! And thank you for giving me the grace to move on. Help me to use more wisdom next time so that I won’t act like that. I acted from my flesh, and I would rather act in your Spirit, because that’s what I’m destined to do.”

That’s what we say to God, but the Bible also tells us to confess our sins to one another. Why does God want us to do that? He wants us to confess to one another because it is a liberating thing to do. What if you could sit among fellow believers in the room of grace? Try to imagine it. You would sit with people and say, “I’m going to confess my sin to you. I can do this because none of you will look at me with shame. And this will free me.”

The Bible says that this is what believers do. We confess our sins to one another because it’s the confession that lets the sin out. But we have to do this in the room of grace. Our job, as followers of Jesus Christ, is to look at the person making his confession and say, “I just want to let you know that I love you. I’ve been in your situation. I’ve messed up like that. Or maybe I haven’t messed up like that, but here’s how I messed up the other day. Here’s my confession.”

This is how we know and love each other as human beings. In an encounter like this one, you are looking at each other and accepting that you both live in the flesh, yet understanding that you live in the Spirit as well. You chose to live in the flesh at one point, but that is not who you are. So hang in the room of grace. You are holy, and you are free.

Life in the Spirit of God

In Romans Paul says, “Who can save me from this battle with sin that rages within my body? I’m never doing what I should be doing, and I’m always doing what I shouldn’t be doing! Who is going to save me from this? Only one can, and that’s Jesus Christ.” Romans 7:15-20

Even though we are imperfect in our flesh, in the Spirit we are holy and righteous. Even though we mess up, we are welcome in the presence of God. Why? Because of Jesus. Because of Him, we can live a righteous life in the Spirit of God.

The Bible says that the Spirit gives birth to the Spirit, while the flesh gives birth to the flesh. So the ability to walk in righteousness and holiness can only happen with the Spirit. It’s not going to happen in our flesh. When we acknowledge Jesus as our Savior, that’s when we can walk in the Spirit.

Jesus said He had to leave so that the “other counselor” could come down. The Holy Spirit is the other counselor, basically, the other lawyer. We try to make the “counselor” into some kind of gushy-gushy thing, but the Spirit is a counselor as in “legal counsel.” As counselor, Jesus can present a case, and He’s up there doing that. The Bible says He’s up there fighting for us. The Holy Spirit is here, doing an even greater work. Jesus said, “I have to go, and you will do even greater things than I have done, because you’ll have the Holy Spirit. You’re going to walk with Him, generation upon generation.” The Holy Spirit is not only giving us legal counsel, He is encouraging us. He is reminding us that we are holy and we are righteous. That’s who we are.

We forget who we are. We don’t trust very well. Because we don’t trust very well, we try to perform. We try to pretend that it’s all good. We try to pretend that we’re always doing great. We try to pretend that we have it all together and we never make mistakes. We live in this room of good intentions. And when that takes over religion, when we base our theology in our performance, it kills the church. It kills the church when we feel like our numbers have to add up in order to be found worthy of the Kingdom of God.

We don’t have to perform to be found worthy. God has said that because of what Jesus did, through Christ and in Christ, now we can come boldly before the throne of grace and find mercy.

There are no preconditions. God did not say we can come before the throne of grace only if we go to confession. He didn’t tell us to stay away from His grace and mercy until we do penance for our sins. No, that’s not what He said!

He said the Holy Spirit is in you now. You now walk in Jesus. And because you walk in that authority, you are boldly able to come before the throne of God.

You have to live in that, and you have to trust that. And when you can trust that, you’re able to mess up, and let it go.

I’ll continue with this next time. See you Thursday.

Taking off the Mask

It’s so freeing to get into relationships where you don’t have to perform to be liked. It’s so freeing to discover that you are just liked, just because. Someone likes you and loves you, just as you are. And when that happens, you’re better able to accept that you will make mistakes and have problems. Hanging in the room of grace lets you accept that the flesh will always be the flesh.

The Bible doesn’t say you can’t be angry. It actually says you would do well to get angry. Being angry helps you emotionally. Just don’t go to sleep on it. Don’t carry that burden. Don’t hold a grudge! But violent anger, that’s what happens in your flesh.

Living in my flesh, I know that something is always going to go wrong. In my flesh, I might cuss somebody out. In my flesh, I might lie. In my flesh, I might lust. In my flesh, I might boil in anger. In my flesh, I might gossip. That is all part of the flesh.

So why do we say to each other, “Shame! That is so wrong”? Is there anyone who hasn’t lived in their flesh? You’ve never acted out? Never cut someone off in traffic? Never flipped someone off? Never yelled at someone, or gossiped? Never had a bad thought about anybody?

You can’t say that!

But we do it anyway. We don’t understand the trust and we try to live in the room of good intentions. We put on that mask, and we say, “Nope! I’m perfect! This is who I am!” But it’s a fake mask. And you will start to get hot and sweaty behind that mask. You won’t breathe well. You will start to feel uncomfortable with that mask on all the time. When you wear a mask at Halloween, it’s not very comfortable, is it? Kids take their masks off their heads because they don’t want to wear them anymore.

It’s not fun to wear a mask, but that’s what happens when you try to live in the room of good intentions. You think, “I have to perform to be good, so now, in order for me to perform, I’m going to put on this mask. It’s going to make me look like I’m always doing well, and I’m going to try to perform that way.” It’s very exhausting.

In Christ, the truth shall set you free. The Bible says there’s no condemnation now. Grace abounds over sin, and you can live in that room of grace. You can live a righteous life. That’s what happens with the Spirit of God.

I’ll continue this next time. See you Monday.