Laws and Tithes

For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:14

If you live a Spirit-led life, you will naturally do the right thing. You won’t have to live by the law. You won’t have to live by dos and don’ts. You’ll never say, “I won’t steal, because the Ten Commandments tell me not to.” Instead, the Spirit of God, living in you, is going to speak to you and say, “Don’t steal, because that is not right. Not in a pure life with me.” You will love the feeling of fulfillment that comes with that.

This is one of the foremost themes in Paul’s epistles. His letters are genius! In both Romans and Galatians, he tells the churches, “If you’re going to live by the law, you need to obey the law. Good luck with that!”

It’s impossible to live by the law. I’ll give you an example. The law says, “Do not covet.” Well, it’s hard to avoid checking out your neighbor’s shiny red sports car. Right? Now if you think that’s hard, try to avoid even thinking about looking at it! That’s what it takes to live by the law.

To live by the law is to live in condemnation. It’s a miserable place to be. Why not live in grace instead?

Paul says that those who live in grace will have freedom. Those who live in grace just take what’s dealt, and they deal with it. They don’t have to live in a world boxed up by rules, a world where bad things happen when the rules get broken.

Tithing is a great example. If you give because you have to, it feels like a burden. It’s not going to feel good. In the life of grace, there is no rule about tithing. You don’t even see the word “tithe” in the New Testament. That’s because in the new covenant, there is no such thing as tithing.

In the Spirit-led life of grace, the Spirit says to be a cheerful giver, and you know what? You’ll feel it. You’ll want to tithe. You’ll want to give. You’ll want to support missions and projects. You’ll want to support your church, and help people in the ministry. You’ll want to help people in poverty.

You’ll be led by the Spirit into a Spirit-led life, and you will be so free! The righteous life will be inside of you, the Spirit at work. It’s so good to love your neighbor when you are led into it by the Spirit’s love. Let Him lead you into freedom!

Everyone Will Thrive

And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the LORD your God:
“Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country.
“Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks.
“Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
“Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
“The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.
“The LORD will command the blessing on you in your storehouses and in all to which you set your hand, and He will bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you. Deuteronomy 28:2-8

If you live in legalism, you eliminate God. Maybe you don’t tell lies, and that is consistent with a righteous life, but what if the only reason you don’t lie is because the Bible says, “Don’t tell lies”? Then you aren’t depending on God, You’re depending on rules. Things fall apart when you depend on rules.

What if you were able to just rest in God and understand that His grace will show you the way? When you do that, when you believe that God gives you His favor even though you didn’t earn it, then whatever you say, whatever you do, wherever you walk, wherever you go, you will be blessed. Your basket will be full. You will be at the head and not the tail of everything you do. You will be on top and never at the bottom. And everything your hand touches will prosper.

In grace, you will find success.

You may not find success in exactly the way that you want. It might not happen exactly as you want it to happen. But God will show you exactly what you need to do. He will show you exactly the decisions you need to make so that your spouse will thrive. He will show you exactly how to talk to your children so that your children will thrive. You’re on a journey, and you can believe that your entire journey will be a success because you are God’s precious child.

What happens when you walk and talk with the people you meet on your journey? They feel good around you. They feel good because you depend on Jesus to tell you what to say to them. You don’t have to be super-spiritual. You don’t have to quote Bible verses at them. Life’s journey is not about soapbox Christianity. It’s not about telling people to accept Christ or else rot in hell. Don’t tell people that they’re bad. Just ask God to tell you how to love them. He will tell you!

When you do that, what do you think will happen? Man, the people you meet on your journey will just love on you! They will want to live a righteous life because of you. Listen to Jesus, because He will tell you exactly what people need to hear. Then they will respond to His love! They will want to be around you! Maybe they won’t believe in God. Maybe they won’t do all the same things that Christians do. But you’re the one they’ll hang out with, because you won’t judge them. You’ll be too busy living in grace with them.

Allow Jesus to guide your steps, and everyone will thrive.

Let Go and Trust

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, you are forgiven and purified. You actually are! It can be hard to believe this, but it’s true. That’s what grace does.

Can you avoid sinning? No, you cannot. Can you forgive yourself in the place of God? No, you cannot! Why try to avoid sin, if you know you can’t? If you continue trying, you’ll create problems that God never meant you to have. You’ll try to behave a certain way, and you’ll try to control your loved ones so they’ll avoid sinning too. You’ll never know freedom.

In a mindset of sin-avoidance, you set yourself up for disappointment, and your loved ones too. When your expectations don’t pan out, you react from your flesh. Someone doesn’t do what you thought they should do, or someone doesn’t treat you the way you thought they should treat you, and you react, with frustration maybe, or even anger. You sin as a consequence of trying to avoid sin!

You can’t avoid sinning. That’s why God gives you grace. Grace gives you the freedom to trust yourself and others. Grace leads you to let go of control, replacing it with trust. By receiving and walking in grace, you don’t have to strive to control 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 simply don’t want to sin.

Will you sin? Yes. We all do. If you could totally avoid sin, then the death of Jesus wouldn’t make sense. If He didn’t save you, then it was pointless for Him to die. His grace doesn’t protect you from sinning. It invites you to forgiveness and restoration when you do.

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 you are good — in the spirit of God. He has made you righteous. He has freed you from sin. That’s what His grace does, and it’s for you.

To Replace Control With Trust

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

When we try to avoid sin, we will be frustrated. It can’t be done. Nobody can avoid sinning no matter how hard they try.

What’s worse, when we try to live without sin we frustrate others as well as ourselves. Especially our loved ones. When you make your life about avoiding sin, you live with unrealistic expectations about yourself and others. “I can live without sinning, and so can you.” How unrealistic is that? You’re not perfect. Nobody is perfect. Inevitably, your expectations don’t pan about. Inevitably you or somebody else sins, and you react. You’re frustrated, or maybe even angry. Those reactions come from the flesh. By trying to avoid sin, you’ve set yourself up to sin!

That’s why grace is so freeing! Grace gives you the freedom to trust yourself and others. When you live in grace, you don’t have to work day and night to contain your behavior or control the behavior of others. When you understand that you can be honest and confess, and trust that you will be forgiven, you don’t have to make your life about avoiding sin. You can make your life about grace.

Grace transforms your relationships. When that happens, your life will change. You’ll lose your former life of unrealistic expectations and the divisive, painful reactions they provoked. You’ll experience something so much better. You’ll experience trust.

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 it says! 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. It 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.”

You can still have all kinds of issues when you live in grace. And think about it. If you could never sin, then the death of Jesus wouldn’t make sense. If His death didn’t save you from your sin, then it was pointless for Him to die. Jesus’s death was not pointless! Living in grace does not mean that you don’t sin. It means that you replace control with trust. Now you trust that you are forgiven. And that is freedom!

Grace Before Law

Initially, the law was good. It still is! It says we’re not supposed to lie, cheat, or steal. We’re not supposed to serve any other god but God. We’re not supposed to commit adultery. We’re not supposed to go around murdering each other. These are all good things. There’s nothing wrong with the law.

The problem is not the law, but sin. Sin comes in and the next thing you know, it’s causing chaos. That’s why sin went after the law. It looked at the law, a good and benevolent gift, and said, “Perfect! I’m going to twist this into chaos.”

It began going around and saying to people, “You know what? If you lie, you broke the law. That means you’re evil and you deserve to go to hell. And you know what else? If you cheat, then you’re not a good person. God’s going to frown on you. Do you know how much work you will have to do in order to be worthy of heaven? You’ll never be able to do it! I’ll bet you’re not even saved!”

That’s what sin does. It shames you. And when you live in shame, you live in darkness. You’re frightened. You think you don’t add up. Sin is such a good liar that you start to believe you’re not good enough. Sin has shamed you into thinking that you will never be worthy of God. Now you’re thinking, “I need to act in a righteous way. I need to make sure I’m doing righteous things. So what does a righteous person do? Let’s see, I can’t lie, I can’t cheat, I can’t steal, I can’t…,” and so on. Sin has fooled you into thinking that the law comes before grace.

This is why Paul says the law stinks. The law is not good when it becomes legalism! Legalism stresses performance. It says you can’t receive God’s love and forgiveness until you stop messing up. Does that make sense? What were the crucifixion and the resurrection for, if they didn’t save us from sin and death?

The Bible says no to sin. It says no to sin’s lies. The Bible says no to chaos, fear, and darkness. Don’t be afraid. You don’t live in darkness. You live in the light! That’s the Bible’s promise.

In the light, you will find trust. In trust, we find joy in each other. Living in joy is scriptural. Hebrews 11:6 is just mind-blowing for me:

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Let’s think about this. What is faith? Faith is trust. So you please God when you trust Him. You don’t have to perform for Him first, by adding up, or being perfect, or cleaning up the messes you make. You don’t have to do any of that to please Him. He loves you! Trust Him. That’s it. That’s what God wants. He wants you to trust Him.

I don’t think churches have done a very good job counseling believers in this area. I think that all too often, despite their good intentions, churches do not trust God. That’s why you hear so much legalism in churches. They trust in God, yes. And they trust that there is a God. But they don’t trust that God is who He says He is. And they don’t trust in who God says they are.

Who does God say you are? God says, “Because of your faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, you are holy and righteous in everything that you do. You might look in the mirror and see a sinner, but I’ve already forgiven you. You are my precious child and I am going to help you.”

Do you trust God in that?

An Easter Message of Grace

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 spouse and my kids look or act in a certain way, 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.

Maybe we hear grace and think mercy. We say, “Grace? That is the crucifixion. That is Jesus dying for us. Grace is salvation through faith. Grace is allowing us into His kingdom. It’s allowing us into His family.” Grace is mercy and all these things, yet there’s even 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! We don’t usually expect to receive good things that we don’t deserve, especially something as awesome as an unbreakable relationship with God. But truly, that’s what God does. He simply gives us His favor, no strings attached, and when God gives us grace He allows us to live in it.

When we are ready, God takes us on a journey into grace. 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 has led 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,” and this is leading me to freedom. I can see now that surrendering control and living by grace frees us. It frees the people around us. Giving and receiving grace is the purest and most satisfying thing. It is living free in Christ.

Happy Easter!

 

 

The Blog Post You Need Right Now

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 timeout. 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 timeout. 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 in order to say, “Hold on, I love you, and I’m going to let that one go.” Other times we need grace in order 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 to do 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, 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.”

 

 

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!