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.

Rely on Each Other

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

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

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

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

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

This is how we come to know and love each other as human beings. In an encounter of grace, you are looking at each other and accepting that we all live in the flesh. Yet you are showing that you understand that we live in the Spirit as well.

Relying on each other this way, we are holy. We are free!

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!

Breaking Free of Fear and Shame

Are you doing good works so that God will smile on you?

How’s that working out for you?

When I meet people motivated by a works mentality and ask them how it’s going, they invariably say, ”Ugh. I’m exhausted.” Yes, you are. The works mentality will exhaust you. It will burn you out.

You will never be able to do enough to feel like you’re righteous!

Bottom line: a works mentality doesn’t work.

Don’t weary yourself this way. Jesus died so that we would be made holy and righteous. That was His sacrifice for you. Let Him in.

The Bible says that the power of the cross is meaningless to those who don’t understand. So let’s understand. Why did Jesus sacrifice Himself?

He did it so that you, in your human flesh, wouldn’t have to make yourself righteous. He did it so you wouldn’t have to perform this impossible task. That was the concept. Jesus earned your place in heaven. He did it for you! He knew you could never do it for yourself. Jesus, the only man that walked the Earth with perfect thoughts, did it for you.

Now you never have to say, “God, look what I did to receive the Kingdom of Heaven.” You don’t have to work to exhaustion, failing yourself every day, being ashamed of who you are.

I know it’s hard to come to grips with that, but when you do, you are transformed. Man, Jesus! You did that! You did that to eliminate sin from our lives! Now we don’t have to be afraid of God!

And if that wasn’t enough, you resurrected! You conquered death. Now we don’t have to fear that either!

Jesus, thank you. You brought me into the Kingdom, to dine with the King. Every day there is a wedding feast because of all the new people coming in, and I get to go. Every day! I’m allowed at the banquet table no matter what I’ve done, because Jesus has stood in for me, and by His death, made me holy and righteous. The blood of Jesus has been poured over me. I confess that. Now God doesn’t see my sins. He doesn’t see my sins! He sees me! And He loves me. We are all precious in His sight.

Jesus broke your bonds of sin and shame, fear and failure. Now you are welcomed and loved for who you are: His beloved and precious child.

That’s freedom!

See you Tuesday.

Children Loved in Grace and Freedom

In a life filled with grace, you receive such joy and fulfillment from loving your neighbor and doing the right thing that the law becomes unnecessary. You want to love, so that’s what you do. You love. You want to give, so that’s what you do. You give. You don’t need a set of rules to tell you to do it. It’s your lifestyle!

There are ways to teach our children about this. How often do we meet resistance when we say, “Clean your room!” When I tell one of my sons that he has to do something, the resistance can at times be incredible. There might be yelling, and jumping and stomping of feet. Doors might be slammed.

But what if I can look at him and say, “Hey bud, you know what? It’s your call.” What if I take my own son’s freedom into account? When I do, it is amazing. No one gets angry! I don’t yell at him and he doesn’t yell at me. If you can allow your children to make their own decisions, then you may not meet quite so much resistance.

I have learned to talk with my son, instead of making demands. I tell him, “You need to clean your room, because Mama has asked you to clean your room. I’m just letting you know that you can make your own call here. There are two roads you can take, and you’re the one who has to choose. If you take the wrong road, there will be consequences, but we’ll deal with them together. I’m going to help you, and I’m still going to love you. So it’s your call.”

So when it comes to doing his chores, my son knows it’s his choice. And I also tell him, “You can be angry. It’s okay to be angry. I’m not going to force you to clean your room. We’re living in grace here. I’m not going to tell you what you have to do. I’m going to help you understand what you should do. And then after that, it’s your call. If you make the wrong choice, we’ll handle it as we need to, in love. It’s up to you.” And then I just look at him, and he looks at me, and then he says, “Okay, I’ll clean my room.” And he does. He cleans his room and we go on with our day.

I’ve had to learn that my way of making decisions is not necessarily my son’s way of making decisions. My boys don’t have the same personality as mine. God has given each of them their own personalities. It’s tough to learn the personalities of your children and live in grace. It’s a challenge, but when we can do it, there’s freedom. There’s freedom in being able to allow our children to work in grace. There’s freedom in saying, “Hey, look, this is going to be better for you if you choose to do it, but it is your choice.”

I think God teaches us the same way. We have the freedom to choose between right and wrong, and when we choose wrong, there are consequences. But there is no condemnation. We’re living in grace here. God has brought us into His family, and He will help us deal with the consequences, in love. I’m going to love my son just as much if he doesn’t clean his room, even though my wife and I will discipline him. I will never love my son less. How much more does God love us?

More yet to come on grace.  See you Monday.

The Gospel Truth

From noon to three, the whole earth was dark. Around midafternoon Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Some bystanders who heard him said, “He’s calling for Elijah.” One of them ran and got a sponge soaked in sour wine and lifted it on a stick so he could drink. The others joked, “Don’t be in such a hurry. Let’s see if Elijah comes and saves him.”

But Jesus, again crying out loudly, breathed his last.

At that moment, the Temple curtain was ripped in two, top to bottom. There was an earthquake, and rocks were split in pieces. What’s more, tombs were opened up, and many bodies of believers asleep in their graves were raised. (After Jesus’ resurrection, they left the tombs, entered the holy city, and appeared to many.)

The captain of the guard and those with him, when they saw the earthquake and everything else that was happening, were scared to death. They said, “This has to be the Son of God!” Matthew 27:45-54

We all make mistakes. We’re only human! But we’re also forgiven. When we mess up, we don’t have to live in guilt. Jesus is right there. He lives in us, and He walks through the mess with us.

I know we forget that. We keep expecting ourselves to be perfect, and we keep trying to perfect ourselves for God. I can almost see God shaking His head. He’s saying, “These guys! They actually think they’re going to get rid of sin so that I’ll be close to them! Don’t they know? By the time they get rid of one sin, they’ve already sinned again, in some other way! Curing their own sin is going to be literally impossible for them!”

There’s no way that God would expect us to perfect ourselves. It doesn’t make sense that He would, because it can’t be done! But there’s another reason why He doesn’t expect it. It renders the power of the cross obsolete.

Think about that Temple curtain. The only way that anyone could enter the Holy of Holies was if they had no sin. What if the priest had a bad thought before he walked into that tent? Talk about fear! That’s fear.

We don’t live under fear anymore. We don’t. Jesus took away our reason for fear when He died and the Temple curtain was ripped in two. The very thing that required perfection was split in half, and Jesus said, “That’s over. You walk freely now.”

Now there is no shame. Jesus took it, man! He took your shame! Think about it. If I’m Jesus, and I’m getting mocked, I’m not putting up with it. I’m getting off that cross so that I can scare the hell out of everybody.

But Jesus put up with it. He did it for you! He knew He could get off that cross, but He said no. He hung there instead, and He took all the shame. They spit on Him. They mocked Him. They beat Him. They laughed at Him. And the whole time He said, “I’m taking all this on me. Because 2,000 years from now, I’m going to live in you. I’m going to be right there with you when you start to wonder what you’re doing in life, and if you add up. I’m dying on this cross to let you know that you do. You add up. You’ve done nothing on your own to prove it. Nothing. I’ve done it all. I’m the point system for you now, and it’s all good. You are free!”

That’s the Good News. And that’s truth. That’s truth!

See you Monday.