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.

The Freedom of Life With Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I receive their grace, and it sanctifies me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You will only be speaking the truth!

Fire Insurance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holy and righteous simply loves its neighbor.

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

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

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

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

The Perfect Sacrifice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Painful Cycle of Shame

A works mentality can really tie you up in knots. You start performing for God because you think a good performance can win His approval. You focus on doing good deeds in order to be saved. I think we’ve got that wrong. Salvation is not about doing good deeds. Salvation is from God, and He gives it to us for free.

Satan runs rampant over us when we get caught in a works mentality. He wants us to do good deeds. He uses that mentality to mess with us. “Go ahead, man, work to make yourself feel good.” Suppose you host a fundraising event, and you help a local charity. Or you fund one of your church’s mission projects. You feel so good!

But then you sin. You can’t help it. You live in your flesh. Maybe you have an envious thought, maybe you look at a woman with lust in your heart, or maybe you judge your neighbor. Satan has been waiting for this moment. “Oh man,” he says. “Oh, man! Now you’ve done it. See that? You messed up big time. Better hold another fundraiser, because you need to make up for that. Don’t you want to feel good again, like you did before?”

That is shame. Satan shames you. His goal is to get you into a cycle of shame. When you feel shame, you feel bad about yourself, and when you feel bad about yourself, you start trying to convince yourself that you’re not bad. So you do another good deed. You do it to feel better, but you also do it to prove to God that you aren’t a bad person. Now you’re in a works mentality.

Shame is where Satan gets to work. He doesn’t have to make terrible things happen. All he has to do is use what’s in your head to destroy you. And when you live in shame and guilt, you go further and further away from God, until finally, you stop trusting Him.

It’s a cycle and it kills you. You die, because you don’t trust God.

But God never leaves you. He is right there with you, helping you and advising you. God tells you what to say. “Hey, Satan, I’m holy and righteous, so you are not guilting me into anything. I’m going to hold a fundraiser because I love my neighbor as myself. It’s got nothing to do with how I messed up. I already know I messed up, because I’m in my flesh and my flesh is always going to mess up.”

This is the wisdom that God gives us to fight Satan. Believe and know that you are holy and righteous in God’s eyes! Tell Satan, “My flesh is the only thing you control. And you know what? My flesh sucks. So congratulations. You have control over something that sucks.”

Your flesh has nothing to do with who you are. Never forget what God sees when He sees you. He sees His very own child, beloved by Him, a prince or princess of His kingdom.

Never forget! You are holy and righteous in His eyes.