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.

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!

No Shame in Christ

I think churches need to recognize that men are made of flesh and so they sin. It’s also true that women sin. Women are just as capable of having affairs or getting divorced. Women are made of flesh too.

People in the congregations act surprised or even scandalized when a woman cheats or gets divorced. “Oh my gosh! She got a divorce?” Well, how is that a surprise? 53% of Christians get divorced. It happens! Women can make mistakes. Women can forget to protect their marriages.

When you condemn a woman who hasn’t succeeded in protecting her marriage, you’ve judged her. I’m waiting for Jesus to come and write in the sand, because you’re acting like a Pharisee. Jesus will say, “I’m going to write in the sand. I’ll write everything that you do wrong, and then you can tell me why you think you’re better than her.”

What would you do then? Don’t you think you’d just walk off?

It’s not our place to judge each other. It’s not our place to be shocked and it’s not our place to condemn each other. People seem to think that their brothers and sisters have to be held accountable, but who are we to do that? Instead, why don’t we help them through it? Let’s just love on them!

Grace is what we should be all about. 

Obviously, I’m passionate about this. Seeing Christians condemn each other makes me angry. But that’s because I’ve done it! I’ve read scripture and then didn’t apply it. We all do it. We pick out a few verses and the live by them, discarding a lot of the rest.

All of that stuff about the Pharisees is in the Bible and we shouldn’t discard it. We need to pay attention to it. Most of us are Pharisees! Most of today’s Christians that are pharisaical are law-abiding Christian citizens!  

But they are not grace-filled and free. They are legalistic and judgmental. That’s why so many people don’t like them. I know we don’t want to think we’re that way. I don’t want to think I’m that way! But we’re all vulnerable to legalistic thinking.

The answer is so pure. It’s simple and perfect. It’s grace. When we understand the identity of who Jesus is, holy and righteous, living in grace and love, we move away from legalism. Grace gets us away from legalism.  

People want to be around the free Christians, the ones filled with grace. They want to be around the Christians that share in the identity of Jesus. Think about it. Who hung around Jesus? Sinners! Why? Because He treated them like human beings!

Christians are popular when they are easy to be around. People tell me, “Maybe we don’t agree, but I don’t feel like you’re always condemning me.” When that happens, I say, “That’s Jesus.”

And then I tell them, “Hopefully, one day you’ll see that this love I have for you is the same love that Jesus has for you. Hopefully, you’ll want to be part of it. It’s so liberating! You don’t have to lie in bed at night wondering who you are. You won’t be scared because you don’t know who you are, or afraid that you’re not going to add up. Instead you’ll find out how much Jesus loves you.”

You are free! You have no shame! In His eyes, you already add up. Your imperfections are why He died. He doesn’t condemn you. He loves you! He loves you so much that He won your freedom on the cross.

Now you are free to love everyone just as He loves you, precious in His sight.

Why So Judgmental?

Why are Christians so judgmental, when it’s obvious that God is all about love? This is a hard question to answer. It’s normal to judge. We all do it. We depend on judgment. We depend on a shared moral code. Distinguishing good from bad preserves the peace. It guides us in our common life, as a community and a nation.

But God tells us not to judge. God tells us to replace judgment with forgiveness. He tells us to love each other as He has loved us. How do we make sense of this?

Suppose you’re sitting in a park on a sunny day. Maybe you’re even reading your Bible. You happen to see a guy drinking a couple of six packs, and he’s getting pretty drunk. You know what the Bible says about drunkenness, so what do you do? It’s really hard not to say, “Man, that guy is a bad person. He needs to change. He needs to find Jesus.”

Well, maybe he does need to find Jesus! Maybe you are right. But before you judge him to be a bad person, think about Jesus. What would Jesus do? I think He would look at the guy and say, “I see his heart. He was born into sin. Who wasn’t? Now he’s sinning. Who isn’t? I think I’ll go talk to him. I’ll go love on him.”

That’s what Jesus does. He doesn’t look at the guy and say, “What a bad person.” Jesus looks at the guy with love and understanding.

If that’s what Jesus does, then why should a Christian, a follower of Jesus, look down on the guy? Some Christians even judge a guy and then expect his admiration. I’ll let you in on something. It doesn’t work.

Some people treat their kids the same way. They drag them to church. They tell them, “You’re bad! You need to do better!” Kids hear that, and guess what? They feel bad!

This is terrible. It’s terrible that kids live in fear of their parents. It turns into fear of God, and I’m not talking about reverential fear. I’m talking about actual, scared fear. They will look at God and literally be scared of His judgment. “Mom and Dad think I’m bad. God must think I’m bad too.”

Teaching children to fear just wounds them. It drives them away from God. That’s not what we want! We want our children’s hearts to fill with love! We want them to love themselves and love their neighbors! But love only happens when children experience God’s love. Not their parents’ judgment.

Let’s go back to the guy in the park, the one you were tempted to judge. Judging him does not help him. It hurts him. It pushes him further away from God. It doesn’t help you either. Judging others hurts you because it draws you away from grace and into a judgment mentality.

Here’s what I try to do. I see that guy in the park, and I think, “Well, in my view, what he’s doing is wrong. I’m not going to go and get drunk with him. Does he need Jesus? Yes. But I’m not going to bring him to Jesus by smacking him in the back of the head with a Bible. He’s not going to love Jesus because I’m standing there, telling him he’s wrong.”

How about just loving on the guy?

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.

The New Country of Grace

So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land! Romans 6:1-3

I blog a lot about grace, and I’m about to blog about it a lot more. I truly hope that the message of God’s grace will reach your heart. I hope your heart says, “This is it. This is what I need to hear. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is going to help me get out of my issues.”

His grace is going to help you today and every day. You might have messed up, but it’s all going to be okay. Jesus loves you and He smiles on you.

You, me, the Apostle Paul — we all have the same experience. We do not want to sin. It is not our intention to sin. And yet we do. We sin. How are we going to get out of it? It’s only by grace!

The church is an agent of grace. In church, you can hang out with other people that can honestly say, “I sin just like you.” It helps! People who have been where you are can understand what you’re experiencing. They can say, “I know that Jesus walks with me. He’s encouraging me! So I know He’ll walk with you. You can lean on Him. You’ve got to know that we are righteous and holy, and you’ve also got to know that sometimes, righteous and holy people act out of the flesh.”

Just remember what Paul says: grace abounds over sin. Because of Christ, there is now no condemnation. His grace will always cover our sin.

People challenged Paul when they heard that. They said, “Does that mean we can sin whenever we want? Seriously? We can just run around and sin, and there will be no consequences?”

And Paul replied, “That is not what I mean! I mean that once you’re of the Spirit, you will do things of the Spirit. In fact, you are living a new life now. You’re living in the new country of grace!”

That’s what Paul said. Through our baptism, we have actually moved to a whole new country.

In the new country of grace, you won’t want to sin. You’ll want to do the things of the Spirit, like love unconditionally. You’ll want to! You won’t want to gossip or tell lies.

Okay. At times, you will want to sin. After all, you still have flesh on your bone. That’s not going to change until Christ returns. So you might mess up. You will mess up. I know. I understand.

When you mess up, you will want to hide in your sin. That’s what the flesh wants to do. But that’s not what God wants. He wants to free you. His grace says, “Take my hand, and I will help you. We’ll expose your sin, because in the light, it will die.”

When you understand the grace of God, then you will know that you do not have to hide. You can go boldly before His throne in Heaven. Do you know what will happen? He won’t yell at you, or punish you. He will smile at you! He will free you! He will say, “My child, I don’t see that sin. I see you for who you are.”

Then He’ll point out all the good in your life. He’ll show you all the good of who you are. He’ll say, “This is your heart! Your heart is good! This is who you are! I want you to see yourself as I see you.”

God is with you, so don’t be afraid. Build your home in the new country of grace. When you sin, He will be right beside you, and He will restore you. He has made you, and you are good.

See you Friday.