Struggle in Peace

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

Jesus told us, “Do not judge.” No one is different than anyone else, and we can’t change. We can be changed. And when the Spirit of God flows through us, judgment is replaced by encouragement, understanding, and love.

“Do not judge.” That concept is so much easier for me to grasp when judgment is replaced by loving my neighbor. If you try to just “not judge,” you’re going to have a really difficult time. “Not judging” is hard!

“Not judging” is much easier when you do something in its place. How about listening and helping?

I wish I could look in the mirror and say, “I don’t ever judge people,” but I can’t. I definitely judge people. I don’t like this about myself, but I still do it.

I think sometimes we judge because we’re cowards, at least in certain areas. We don’t want to go to somebody and talk to them about something we don’t like about them. We don’t want to be direct about what we think they’re doing wrong, or how they frustrate us. We want to be able to feel it, but we don’t want to have to do anything about it.

We just want to look at somebody and say, “This guy is driving me nuts. He’s doing all these things wrong and he’s an idiot.” You know? We’re happy enough to just think these things and walk away.

The problem is, you’ve just judged that guy seven or eight times! We do that, and then we still want to think we’re good people.

The reality is, I’m not a good person. I strive to be a good person, but I can’t do it alone. I need Jesus with me, telling me, “This is how you can become a good person.”

We all have demons hidden inside our closets. And you know what? We’re never going to get rid of them. That’s why, if you try to live without Jesus, those demons are going to frustrate you.

If you continue to live just for yourself, you’re going to fail yourself every day.

Life in Christ is a good way of life, because Jesus is where we find joy. When I think about Jesus, I think, “This is where heaven is!”

With Jesus, you are going to find peace. Your struggles in life are not going to go away. They aren’t. Life has its struggles. But you’re going to find more peace in those struggles. That’s because when you have Jesus, you have something inside of you that’s different.

With Jesus, the happiness is the struggle. That’s why Paul said, “Hey man, I take joy in my trials and tribulations. You know, I lean on God during these times and this is where I find the ultimate peace. I find Him. In Christ, I can have all things. When I have the Spirit of God living in me, I have all things.”

I know that even though I’m going to mess up, and I’m going to have issues, and I’m going to struggle with my own problems, I have someone to turn to. He has poured His Spirit into our hearts, and now we have hope without shame. Struggle becomes a whole new deal. In struggle we lean on Him, and He gives us peace.

The Freedom of Life With Jesus

By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Hebrews 10:10

Understanding our identity as Christians is so important to living in grace. I’ve mentioned before that we are saints who sin. What do I mean by that? It means we are justified. Through the cross, we are sanctified. Jesus did it all in one perfect sacrifice.

Now we are invited to receive grace. Here’s an amazing thing about receiving grace. We begin to live in trust, and that increases us in grace.

I’ve learned so much about this. I have experienced the grace that comes from trusting others in who they are. I have experienced the grace that comes from trusting others with who I am. I’m not talking about the person that I intend to be, always feeling great and never having a problem or a bad day. I’m talking about the real person, the person I truly am.

This has been a lesson in freedom! It’s very freeing to be able to say to people, “This is who I am.” It allows me to mess up and not feel ashamed. Think about that. We don’t have to live in shame! This is huge! We can live in trust.

This is huge because I’m not perfect. I fail. I mess up. I have bad days. I cuss every now and then. Sometimes I get irritable. Sometimes I get frustrated. Sometimes I blow a fuse.

But I can trust my wife, my close friends and my children to say, “I know you messed up. It happens. It doesn’t change my opinion of you. I love you.”

I receive their grace, and it sanctifies me.

Jesus is the reason I can trust people with my imperfect self. He took all of our shame to the cross. Then He resurrected! He gave us new life!

Now, the same Spirit that lived in Him lives in me. Now, because of His death and resurrection, I am a righteous man. I am holy because Jesus is holy. He has set me free from sin and death. There is no condemnation! (Romans 8:1-4)

Through the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, we are righteous and holy in the eyes of God.

With this understanding, we can look at each other in trust. We have to! When we live in trust, we understand what it means to say that we have been sanctified. We are saints that sin.

That’s different from the identity of sinners that have been saved. The two perspectives are completely different. When you think of yourself as a sinner, you’re scared of sinning. You’re scared of being less than perfect. You know you have been saved, but that just feeds the shame of your sin.

When you live Biblically in who you are, then everything changes. God looks at you and He doesn’t see a sinner. He sees His precious child who is righteous and holy.

That’s why you don’t need to hide in your shame anymore. You’re sanctified! So when you mess up, that’s it. You mess up. You’re not perfect, because as long as you are in the flesh, the flesh will sin. So when you mess up (and you will), you say “I’m sorry” and then trust that you will receive grace. Not shame. Grace.

This is the freedom of life with Jesus. Now you have the freedom to say, “This is who I am,” and do you know what will happen? You will receive grace!

When shame starts causing you trouble, banish it. Say, “No! I am righteous!”

You will only be speaking the truth!

Fire Insurance

Last time, I wrote about the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, a perfect sacrifice that made us holy and righteous with God once and for all. Now we can go to God with open hearts, trusting in His grace and mercy.

People hear this Good News and they are incredulous. They ask, “So this means you can just do whatever you want and God’s okay with that?”

It doesn’t mean that! A question like that comes from the flesh. The flesh thinks about “doing whatever it wants to do” because it’s thinking about what it wants to do. The flesh thinks, “I have fire insurance. I can literally do whatever I want, with literally no consequences! That’s what it means when you say I’m saved!”

I can see how the message of grace might sound that way, but that’s not the message. We need to think about this using a different mindset. Don’t think from your flesh. Instead, think from within God’s family and kingdom, because that’s where you live now.

In the world of the flesh, doing whatever you want seems fun at the time, but there are a lot of unwanted consequences. The desires of the flesh can cause a lot of pain. People can get hurt when we let the flesh do the thinking.

At the very moment that you recognize what Jesus did, you are saved by the Spirit of God. At that very moment, your identity isn’t in your flesh any longer. Your identity is in Christ. That identity is holy and righteous.

You see, that’s what God does, man. He changes your identity. He goes into you and He transforms you. He makes you a new creature in Christ. He creates within you a new Spirit, and Spirit thinks with the mindset of God’s kingdom, which is grace and mercy. So that’s what we reflect. We reflect grace and mercy into the world, not fleshly desires like lust or envy.

Holy and righteous simply loves its neighbor.

The way to do that is to serve. Kingdom mentality is a servant mentality, so we reflect God by serving. We love our neighbors as ourselves.

That’s how I understand my identity in Christ. This is who I am. I don’t perform acts of service in order to receive acceptance from God. God has already accepted me. I serve because I’m a member of His family. I can trust that I am holy and righteous.

Knowing that I am holy and righteous in His eyes, I am free. I can serve because I want to serve, not because I’m trying to earn His favor. There’s no point in trying to earn God’s favor, because Jesus already did that for me.

Now, in my freedom, I can feel good about the good works that I do. Loving my neighbor comes from the identity God gave me. In my freedom, He makes me who I am.

The Perfect Sacrifice

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28

This teaching from the Sermon on the Mount is key to understanding how Jesus won our freedom by dying on the cross.

Jesus was speaking into a culture that practiced animal sacrifice. In order to atone for certain sins, people would sacrifice animals in an annual ritual. The sacrifice would make them right with God.

The problem was, the righteousness didn’t last. They would mess up again, so then they would sacrifice again. It had reached a point where sacrifices were routine. You could sacrifice an animal, go and live any way you liked, sacrifice another animal, and so on. People were atoning without a heart commitment.

Look at it this way. If you told your wife “I love you” simply because you were supposed to, that wouldn’t mean that you actually love her. You would just be saying “I love you” to fulfill an obligation. That’s not what your wife wants, and it’s not what God wants, but that’s what was happening with the law and sacrifice. It was being done to fulfill an obligation. It was missing that heart commitment.

Even the Pharisees were keeping the law without a commitment of the heart! “I don’t murder,” they said. “I don’t commit adultery.” And so Jesus told them, “Yes, but think about it. You’re still unrighteous.”

Jesus was talking about the heart. He said, “You think your righteousness will be seen in your actions, but God will see it in your heart. Adulterous thoughts are just as bad as the acts themselves.”

The problem is that it’s too hard to control your thoughts. You see your neighbor’s sports car and you have a covetous thought. You see someone attractive and you have a lustful thought. The flesh is weak! Righteousness means living right, but your flesh doesn’t do that.

It’s a battle for all of us. It’s why Paul asked, “Why do I do the things I don’t want to do, and the things I should do, I don’t do?” You probably feel the same way.  You probably think, “I can’t ever make myself right with God, because my thoughts betray me! I think wrong things all the time!”

If you think that, then guess what? You’re right! You have no shot at being righteous on your own!

But you have hope. You have a ton of hope. You have hope because Jesus also said, “When I am 33 years of age, I’m going to die on this cross. I’m going to tear down the Temple and I’m going to rebuild it in three days. And then, it’s finished. Then, he who believes in me and who I am will be righteous and holy. I am the perfect sacrifice so no more sacrifices will be needed. I will atone for you. I’ll make you righteous and holy, just as you are.”

Now when we mess up — and we will — we can go to Him with our hearts open and He will help us. He has already forgiven us! Now He will help us by assisting us with His grace. His sacrifice freed us from sin and delivered us into grace! Amen!

Learning Love from God

When you trust people, you can freely accept and love them. When you trust people, you don’t judge or condemn them. You don’t react negatively to the way they act. You’ll see them do things that you don’t necessarily admire. No doubt! But they’re only human, just like you, so you love them with the same trust and mercy that God has when He loves you.

I have to tell you, I did not live this way for a long time. I wanted to! I had the knowledge to do it! But I just didn’t put it all together.

Now it has all come together for me. In my relationships, I am learning to feel free. And people are feeling free around me! This sense of freedom is continually growing in my family, and it’s growing in our friendships, too. My wife and I have Christian friends that live in the same trust mentality and we have a great time together.

Do you have Christian friends who are always correcting you or judging you? Do they disapprove of what you say or do? I’ve been around people like that. I can’t be fully honest when I’m with them because I don’t want to expose myself to criticism. I see how judgmental they are, so I don’t trust them with my whole self.

I think we’ve all met someone like that. It’s exhausting, right? It’s not freeing!

My wife and I have friends who live in trust. They are welcome in our house every day. We’re never exhausted. We talk and share our frustrations. We help each other. We say things like, “Yeah, I’ve been through that.” Or, “Here’s an idea. How about approaching it this way?” We never chide or chastise each other.

We don’t say, “You need to do this better.” Instead we say, “Let’s help each other. Let’s get a game plan together.”

People who live in trust also live in freedom and it’s freeing to know them. It’s also relaxing and energizing to be around them. That’s what friendship is all about. That’s what relationship is all about.

And that’s what God is all about! When you trust God, then relationship with Him is freeing, relaxing, and energizing.

I think that God tells me, “Jeremy, I know you’re going to mess up. You know what? I’m here to walk through it with you. When you mess up, I’ll say, ‘Look. Okay. Let’s strategize. You know you have my Spirit in you, so you have the ability to not sin. You have the ability to live in righteousness and holiness. So all we have to do is figure this out together. How will we get through this? How can I walk with you? How can I encourage you?’”

That’s the God who loves us. I feel close to Him! I’m so happy! I get to say that He is my Savior and my Lord and my God and my King, the one who forgives me, helps me, and never leaves me.

I’m not talking about a God who is a dictator. My Savior does not put me to shame. My Lord and King loves me and encourages me!

I trust Him so I learn from His love. I am learning how to love my family and friends as He loves me.

We love one another as He loves us!

Out of the Cycle of Failure

And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry. Luke 15:20-24

We trust God. We trust that God sends Jesus to save us. That’s what Christians do. It’s part of the gig, right?

But do we trust God in all things? Most of us would say yes, we do. But do we, really? All the time? God says that we are holy and righteous, but do we truly trust that? When we mess up, what do we do? We crawl into a little hole in shame. When we come out, we try to double up on righteousness to make sure we cover for our failure. And then we feel like we fail doing that. It’s a cycle of failure!

We get caught in this cycle of failure, and then we don’t feel like God is close by. So we try even harder to make ourselves righteous. “I’m not fasting enough.” “I’m not praying enough.” Or we go to church and someone asks us, “How often do you do your Bible study? Did you read your Bible this morning? Did you get into the Word of God? Is your intimacy with Him there?” We start to fear that we’re not enough for Him.

Intimacy with Christ will increase your ability to feel close to God. I have no doubt about that. Meditating on the Word of God is huge. But meditating on the Word of God will not make you more righteous and more holy. It does not matter how much you do it. Only the sacrifice of Christ can make you righteous and holy.

It’s really hard for us to wrap our minds around the idea that Christ earned our holiness and righteousness, and that it’s free to us, no performance necessary. It’s hard to grasp, because everything else we do is performance-based. Jobs, games, sports, it’s all performance-based. It’s hard to trust God when He says that we are holy and righteous because it’s such an incredible gift. We want to perform so that our actions will prove to Him that we are worthy. But God has already told us that we are worthy. We are new creatures in Christ Jesus. God says, “I made you new. Now you are holy and righteous. That’s who you are.”

No longer do we have to say, “I messed up today. I’m a terrible person.” No. Now we say, “I messed up today. I did! But I have God and He has already forgiven me. He loves me and smiles on me, His prodigal son.”

God is the dad running across a field when He sees you, knowing that you messed up. God knows that you messed up and yet He still throws His arms around you, puts a ring on your finger, puts a robe on your body, and says, “Let’s feast! You’ve come back! Awesome!”

That’s God! That’s Jesus. Trust Him. You are righteous and holy.

Make Redemption Your Identity

We are loved and forgiven no matter how much we mess up. Our God is an awesome God.

We know that, but it’s still so hard for us to trust His love and forgiveness. That’s because we still sin. We don’t want to, and we expect ourselves not to, but we still sin. Our flesh is not righteous. Our flesh is not holy. And we know it! Right? It’s hard for us to trust that our sins are forgiven because in our flesh, we’re always committing new ones!

But the flesh is not what Jesus saved. He saved our spirits. Does this mean there are no consequences for fleshly actions? Of course it doesn’t. There are consequences. But that’s not because God doesn’t look at you as righteous and holy. He does. That’s what His Son died for.

If you have to perform to be righteous and holy, then there’s no point to Jesus. I know that’s a shocking statement. But that’s how powerful this idea of trusting God really is. Hear me out. If you have to perform for God, then Jesus doesn’t make sense. If you think you have to live a certain way and follow a list of rules in order to prove to God that you are holy and righteous, then why did Jesus have to die?

The Bible is filled with stories of Jesus dealing with sinners, and He didn’t act like they let Him down. They often felt guilty around Him, but Jesus looked at them and said, “You didn’t let me down. I don’t expect you to be perfect, because you are a human being. The only perfect one that walks on this earth right now is me. So why do you think I’m going to judge you? When you accept me as your Savior, and I say your sins are forgiven, your sins are forgiven. I have not said that your sins are forgiven as long as you don’t mess up or fail. I know you will! Do I think you are wrong in your sin? Yes, I do. Do I think you should stop sinning? Absolutely! But I have said that your sins are forgiven. You are holy and you are righteous before the eyes of God. Live out of that.”

Make your redemption your identity. Trust that you are exactly who God says you are, holy and righteous. When you trust God in that, then you’ll live from the spirit, not the flesh. And when you live from the spirit, you won’t have to perform. You won’t need rules that tell you how to be good. You will simply be good. Instead of avoiding adultery because it’s on a list of sins, you won’t commit adultery because you simply don’t want to. It’s that easy! You won’t hate, because you won’t want to. You won’t judge, because you won’t want to. You won’t look down on others, because you won’t want to. You won’t want to have judgmental thoughts. You just won’t want to.

Now when I see somebody who is messing up or failing, I don’t say, “Oh, you’re not doing a very good job of being a Christian.” No! I say, “Right, I do that too. I know where you’re at. And I understand how it’s possible. I don’t think any less of you. Tell me your story so we can see if we can work with each other. I want to help you. I don’t want to judge you!”

When God says you are holy and righteous, then own it, and feel it, and live it. Then you won’t need a list of rules to tell you how to be good. You will know and understand what His love means. Your redemption will be your identity.

There is no guilt and shame when we act from our redeemed spirits. There is joy! And His grace flows through us. That joy spills out into the world in love.