Free and Unmerited Favor

We want control. We’re only human!

We want control over what we do and what happens to us. We want control over the future. In our flesh, we experience hunger, so we have to provide for ourselves and our families. We have to eat, so it’s natural to want control.

But we also want control over other people. We try to control how they react to us. Some of us try to control how they behave in our presence! This isn’t about the hunger our bodies experience or the food we need to stay alive. This is about something else. It’s about avoiding shame.

The thought process is something like this: “I want people to act a certain way when I’m around because that will make me feel better.”

For some of us, our greatest need for control involves the people closest to us, like our families. How many of us have said, “If my husband (or wife) and my kids look like this or act like this, then people will think that our family is good.” Does that sound familiar?

There’s no shame in wanting control. It’s just being human.

As a baseball player, I was very control-oriented. When I went out on that field, I didn’t control where a hitter hit the ball. I didn’t control when a hitter took a swing. So I had to control everything before that. I controlled my environment at the field. I controlled my workouts and the development of my technique. I controlled the delivery of the pitch. All of this helped me succeed.

But when it comes to family and relationships, control won’t work. You cannot control other people.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “grace”? How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh, I’ll give them grace this time.” It’s like saying, “I’ll just let it slide.” In some ways, grace has acquired a casual quality. This is a non-spiritual way of looking at it.

Maybe we hear grace and think mercy. We say, “Grace? That is Jesus dying for us. Grace is allowing us into His kingdom. It’s allowing us into His family.” That confuses grace and mercy a little bit. There’s more to grace than this.

I finally started to truly understand grace when I heard the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED defines grace as “the free and unmerited favor of God.” Think about that. How do we get God’s grace? We don’t! Grace is free. It is unmerited. We can’t earn it. God just gives it to us.

In some ways that is such a foreign concept! God just gives us His grace, even though we don’t deserve it? Who does that? Well, God does! Truly, that’s what He does. He just gives it to us. He simply gives us favor.

And when God gives us grace, He allows us to live in it.

God has been taking me on a journey into grace. I think this is a big part of the Christian life. Going on this journey, and understanding what grace means, has been a very big deal for me. It has allowed me to see scripture in a new way. God leads me to work with Biblical principles in new ways, and gain fresh insight.

I’ve been learning what the Bible really means when it says, “Don’t live by the law.” It’s leading me to freedom. Surrendering control and living by grace frees us. It frees the people around us. Giving and receiving grace is living in freedom.

More on this next time. See you Friday.

Husband and Wife in Grace

Christian legalism focuses on the box. Christian legalism emphasizes no. It says, “You’re not allowed to do that. You’re not allowed to do this.” And that causes problems!

It causes problems in marriages. I’ve been there, but I no longer try to control my wife or my children. If you try to control your wife, then things will get bad for your family. I’ve seen men, including myself, say to their wives, “You know what, as long as you live the way I say to live, then everything’s okay. But if you don’t, then I’m going to get angry, and basically, you’re not going to like it when I’m angry.” And when men start controlling, it gets really bad. Then you’ve got your family living at the address of misery.

What good is this? How does your family feel when you tell them that they can only make you happy if they live up to your standards? It’s an impossible situation! You’ll only make your family miserable.

It’s the same with any other relationship. Your friends don’t like you when you tell them they have to do what you say, right?

Grace allows us to be free. Grace allows us to liberate each other. When I go home at the end of the day, I am not living in expectation. I don’t have to stake my happiness on what my wife is or isn’t doing. I don’t go home thinking, “Great, unless my wife is doing what I want her to do, then I’m going to be miserable.” And I’m not making her worried or anxious. She isn’t wondering what to do or how to make me happy. When I get home, I assess the situation, and then I say, “Okay! How can I help?”

And when my wife has an opinion, I listen to it. When she wants to do something, I don’t try to stop her. I help her. I don’t feel compelled to say, “No, that’s not how I’d do it.” If she wants to do something a certain way, then that’s her call to make. She’s her own person, and that’s great!

Truly living in grace is an amazing experience. I feel so free, living without expectation of how things have to be. And I love living in a grace-based relationship. I don’t have to demand that my wife or my children live a certain way. I don’t want to control their demeanor, or control everything they do! God made everyone to be different. God gave us all different personalities. And if this is what God has done, then this is a good thing! Why would I try to control what God has made, or change what God has given?

See you Tuesday.

Grace Moves In

Someone asked me the other day, “What is grace?” That one is really hard to define for me, because it’s so big! I think grace is a lot of things. Grace is an action. It’s a way of being in relationship. It’s the opposite of shame. It’s the power to transform. Grace is a really big idea, because grace is Jesus.

People will often say, “Grace is that Jesus died for you.” But actually that’s not grace. That’s mercy.

Grace is the essence of our relationship with God. It’s the gift of understanding that you’re a human being so you’re going to mess up. Through His grace God says, “You’re going to mess up and it’s okay.” Grace is our second chance with Him. And since God is infinite, He gives us infinite second chances.

When we allow grace into our relationships, we give each other the same gift that God gives us. It comes from our hearts. We look at each other and we say, “I know you’re going to mess up. I’m going to mess up, too. It’s okay. Let’s talk about it. Let’s try to understand how we affect each other. And then let’s work through it.”

Suppose a friend or someone in your family says something to you that you don’t like. Maybe they say something mean to you, or maybe you just take it the wrong way. Either way, you react. You get angry, or you get hurt. Or both!

Grace moves in and says, “Hold on! That person needs grace from you.” Grace shows you what your relationship needs. It shows you that sometimes your family and friends need you to step aside and say, “You affected me deeply by that comment. It’s okay. Let’s take a time out. Let’s talk about it. Can you explain what you meant by that? I don’t want to get wounded or react to you in anger.”

Grace also moves in when you don’t take that time out. Sometimes a friend or someone in your family says something to you and you react immediately. We all react out of our wounds sometimes. You know what? It’s okay. Grace shows your friends and family how to look at you and say, “Hold on. You reacted very quickly to what I said. What did you hear me say? Let’s talk about it.”

If what they said is truly what you heard, and it still hurts you, then grace shows them how to say, “I’m sorry. How could I have said it differently?”

If you misunderstood what they said, then grace says, “Let’s take time and open up to each other. I would like to be able to explain what I said, because what you heard is not what I meant.”

So you see, grace to me is such a very big thing. It’s so rewarding to live in it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s very hard to do. I mean, most things are not black and white.

Sometimes we need grace to say, “Hold on, I love you, and I’m going to let that one go.” Other times we need grace to say, “I love you, and I’m willing to let that go. But we need to talk about it because I want to tell you how it affected me.”

I need grace when my children are acting out and making mistakes or getting in trouble. I look at them and say, “Look, I don’t want you to do that again. I’m going to extend grace to you right here and now. I’m going to tell you why I don’t want you do to that again. Then if you do it again, I’m going to give you a discipline. But right now, I want to talk through why it’s not okay to do that. That way, if you do it again and you are disciplined, you’ll understand why.”

I don’t want to just say to my boys, “You did something wrong so go to your room.” I want them to understand that their words and actions affect me and other people. I don’t want them to go to their room with no idea why they’re being sent there.

This is grace in action. It’s being in relationship with an understanding that there are always going to be second chances. Grace is liberating. Grace is without judgment. Grace is without condemnation. When the Bible says there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus, to me it is saying that there is grace.

Saying there is no condemnation is not the same as saying, “Do whatever you want.” No. Saying there is no condemnation is saying, “Now there is grace. You are going to mess up, but it’s okay. You get grace.”

See you Friday.

 

The God of Second Chances

Jesus told the apostles, “I didn’t come just to die for you. I want to show you how to live. And once I show you how to live, I’m going to redeem you. You’ll have a second chance. Go and teach others what I have taught you.”

Jesus tells us, “Now that I have shown you how to live, you can be like me! I know you’ll mess up, but I died for you, so you’re redeemed. Because of my blood, you can come into heaven. I did that for you because without my redeeming blood, you don’t have a shot. You can’t live the right way. There is too much sin in the world.”

Second chances are so important. We all need one. We all need a lot of them! There are too many things working against us. There are too many enemies, right here in the world with us, telling us to live the wrong way.

That’s why we turn to Jesus. We need His powerful blood. Without it, we have no hope.

This is also why we need to evangelize. We can’t wait for Jesus to return. It’s our job to show others what Jesus showed us. We have to reflect Him now. People don’t really understand who He is, but without Him they have no hope. We need to bring Him to everyone.

Who is Jesus? For one thing, He’s a risk taker. He entrusted the Gospel to twelve men and a prostitute. Think about that. He gave the Gospel to twelve men, Mary, and later Paul. He gave them the Gospel to take into the world. He relied on them to show people who He was, and to remind people who God is.

Mary and those men did it. They did it well. By the time they died, there were one million Christians. One million!

He’s asking us to do the same thing now. He’s entrusted His Gospel to us. We have to continue that heritage. We have to continue the legacy left to us by Mary and the apostles. We have to show people who Jesus was.

Some people have lost sight of that. Some people think that the legacy of Jesus is make sure you go to church on Sunday, hang out within four walls and a roof, and then go home. That is not the legacy of Jesus! Jesus walked the streets. He hung out with people. He hung out with sinners!

And He didn’t judge them. He said, “I created you and I understand you. I don’t live like you but I can see how you would sin. You’re going to need a lot of forgiveness, because you’re going to mess up. You’re going to need my blood, because you are going to tank it. All the time.”

Jesus knew how hard it would be for us. So He showed us how to live, and then He gave us a second chance. He asked us to make sure the world understands. We need to do this. We need bring this to our relationships. We need to bring this to the church. This is grace, and we need to bring it.

See you Tuesday.

Life in Trust

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4

Thanks to my study time with the Truefaced ministry, I’ve learned so much about trust. Not only have I learned about the grace that comes from trusting others in who they are, I’ve learned about the grace that comes from trusting others with who I am. Not the person that I intend to be, always feeling great and never having a problem or a bad day. No, I’m talking about trusting others with the real, imperfect person that I actually am. The real me.

This has been a lesson in freedom! It’s very freeing to be able to be my true self, knowing that there is now no condemnation. Now I can mess up and not feel ashamed. Imagine: I don’t live in shame now. I live in trust. I mess up! And I live in trust.

Here’s what it’s like. In my close relationships, I say, “I’m going to trust you. I’m going to tell you right now, I am not perfect. I am a Christian man who will fail. I will mess up. I will have a bad day. Maybe I will cuss every now and then. I might snap at somebody, or show some frustration.”

Then, when that bad day comes around, or I show some frustration, my family and friends will say, “I know. I don’t think of you differently. I know you messed up. It happens. But it doesn’t change my opinion of you. I love you.”

That’s what trust brings to relationships.

Jesus is the reason that I can trust people with my true, imperfect self. Jesus says, “I died for you. I took all of that shame and I died. I did it for you. And then, I resurrected.” The Bible says that because of Jesus’s death and resurrection, we are made holy and righteous. It also says that the same Spirit that lived in Jesus now lives in us. In His Spirit, we are free!

With this understanding, my wife and I can look to each other in trust. She looks at me and I look at her, and we see each other just as God sees us: righteous and holy. It’s the same with my close friends. It’s the same with my children.

I’m imperfect. I mess up. But there is now no condemnation! In trust with God and my loved ones, I am allowed to be a saint that sins. Not a sinner that is saved, but a saint that sins. The two perspectives are completely different. When you live biblically in your identity as God’s very own creation, His very own precious child, then you understand how God sees you. He looks at you and sees you just as He made you. Righteous and holy!

See you Friday.

Bring Grace Home

There are so many wonderful things to say about grace. I frequently write about the freedom that comes with grace because it’s awesome. Grace frees us from sin! Grace frees us from slavish obedience to rules! We are free, because Jesus helps us with our sin. We are free, because the Spirit guides us and advises us. Do you see what this means? We don’t have to be afraid. We have help!

Think about that. Grace frees us from fear!

When your family is founded in grace, there is no fear in your home. Instead there’s freedom. Your kids are happy, your husband or wife is happy, everyone is growing and thriving, and you are living righteous and loving lives. People will look at your family and say, “Man! What are you doing? We want that too!”

I mean, who wouldn’t?

But then they ask, “What rule did you make? What law did you give them, that they live so well?”

That’s not the right question! That’s legalism. When people don’t understand grace, they think about dropping a Bible verse and making a rule with it. But that’s not me. I’m not a legalistic father who wants to drop a Bible verse on my sons when they’re not doing right. I want them to know grace.

I can hear you saying, “But Jeremy, does that mean you never discipline your children?” Not at all. It means I don’t use anger to control them.

We parents want so much to let our kids express their emotions. But have you noticed that we only really encourage it when those emotions feel good to us? We don’t get mad at them for being happy. We don’t get mad at them for laughing. We don’t get mad at them for being joyful. We don’t even get mad at them when they’re sad and crying.

But when they get angry, we get mad at them!

This is backwards. It makes no sense to tell them, “I’m going to get angry at you for being angry.”

Obviously we don’t want our kids to be angry. But it happens. What do they learn from us if we respond with anger? Nothing! It’s a vicious cycle.

I think our anger comes from trying to control our children. We want to control them so that we can control how we react to them. This is typical of legalism in the home. An angry child is not a reason to get angry. In fact, I think responding with anger is the worst thing you could possibly do.

Why not just accept them and be with them? You can acknowledge that there’s something going on. Maybe it’s something that you don’t know about. Maybe there’s something troubling them. Whatever it is, getting angry with them won’t help either of you. But grace can transform the situation. Grace says, “How can I help you? How can I love on you? How can I make you feel better? I can see that you’re having a bad time. How can I be here for you?”

When you do that for your child, then all of a sudden a bad day can become a good day. Now in their bad day, you’re not just someone else pounding on them. You are with them as a loving help to them.

I’m far from perfect, but I try not to get angry at my sons for getting angry. I let them be angry. And then we talk about it.

This is the difference between grace and legalism. My family loves and laughs and thrives because I didn’t give them a rule. I didn’t give them a law to live by. I gave my family freedom. My wife and I brought grace into our home and we are happy. With God’s grace, we are really truly free!

See you Friday.

We Can’t Do This Without Him

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10

In a Spirit-led life, our deeds are righteous. But they don’t belong to us. If I am a righteous man, it’s only because I have the blood of Jesus on me. If I live a righteous life and make the right decisions, it will be because Jesus is in me and works through me. I can’t boast about that.

I can’t do this without Him.

We feel like we need to control things. Maybe we even want to control other people, even though we know that things will go wrong when we try.

I’ve given that up. In fact, I’ve given up my life — to Jesus Christ. You have to do that in order to live in grace. Now I don’t try to control my family. I prefer to live with them in grace. This is the basis for a true relationship with Jesus.

The Bible says that we love Jesus because He first loved us. So I don’t go to my wife and children and tell them to love and respect me. They will love and respect me when I first love and respect them.

If you try to control your family, they will fight you. If you only love them when they perform, then you’ll have a battle on your hands. I think that’s why it was so hard for us before Jesus came. You see the battle in the Old Testament. We had to live a certain way and act a certain way. We had to follow the Ten Commandments. It was too hard, and we could never do it, so we always had to make sacrifices to make up for our transgressions.

I think there was a plan all along. God saw that we wanted rules. We sent Moses up to Mt. Sinai because we wanted rules. Rules cause problems, but we wanted them, so God gave them to us. Then we had the law, and we couldn’t follow it. We broke it all the time! Then we had to offer sacrifices — burnt offerings — all the time, in order to make things right with Him. There were a lot of burnt offerings!

God wanted to free us from this, so He sent His Son to make the ultimate sacrifice. After that one perfect sacrifice, there was only one commandment. Love your neighbor as yourself, and love God.

The only way that we can possibly fulfill that commandment is through the blood of Jesus Christ. You can’t do it without Him. That’s why you can’t boast about the good things you do. You can’t say, “Look at me! Look at what I did!” Instead, say, “Look at Jesus! Look at what He did!” Jesus is the only reason that we can love as God has commanded us to do.

When you can give up legalism, and give your life up to Jesus, then His Spirit will live in you and through you. Then you will walk in grace. You won’t walk in condemnation. You won’t walk in judgment. You won’t walk in expectation. You’ll live your life in freedom, not bound by all those laws. You’ll be free to do the work God has prepared for you.

And what is that work? God’s work is love. With Him, you can truly love.

See you Tuesday.