Loving Others

The religious message tells us that we are commanded to love other people.

The standard Christian message says that God loves us, so we should now be motivated to love other people.

The grace message is that God loves us and has placed His Holy Spirit in our lives; He now loves other people through us.

A Perfect Problem

I have a perfect dog.  Her name is Gracie and she is indeed a perfect dog.  She chews up things we don’t want chewed up.  She brings bones into the house.  If you leave food on the cabinet within her reach, it soon disappears.  Gracie’s a perfect dog because she perfectly follows her instincts.  The challenge is to train her to ignore her instincts.

We are born human.  And we act perfectly human.  We have a human nature that is piloted by sin.  We do things we know are wrong; we don’t do things we know are right.  We are born spiritually dead.  And we are in perfect alignment with a spiritually dead world.

This is why we call what God did for us “Salvation.”  He rescued us from that condition.

But God doesn’t just change us; He creates us anew.  He gives us a new nature with a new default setting.  God doesn’t call for us to ignore our instincts or to control our instincts through religious training.  His way is better.  He gives us new instincts. 

It is our perfect humanness that is the problem.  We can change the outside with limited success; God can make us new and different on the inside.

And when the inside root gets changed, the outside fruit is different.

Grace Without Judgment

God is a just God.  God is a righteous God.
God does not view a high level of human “righteousness” as righteousness.  And God does not view a high level of human “holiness” as holiness.  Righteousness is 100% or 0% in God’s eyes.  Holiness is 100% or 0% in God’s eyes.
So how can any of us escape our deserved judgment?
Our judgment of others is often an attempt to justify ourselves.  And it mig…ht justify ourselves in our eyes, but no one can justify himself in God’s eyes.  So we are all unrighteous.  But here’s the good news: Christ paid the price for our unrighteousness.
In God’s love, He gives us grace instead of judgment.  When God looks at us through the work of Christ, He sees us as holy and blameless in His sight.  That is grace.
God placed our sin upon Christ; and Christ’s righteousness upon us.  That is grace.

What does God want us to do?

What does God really want from us?

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”  Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

Sometimes I wonder where this verse has been all my life.  Did it get added to my Bible a few years ago?  How did I miss it?

“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

The whole purpose and rationale for religion – false religions, true religions… extreme religions, mainstream religions… crazy, far-out religions, accepted religions… the whole purpose is to satisfy the god or gods of that religion.

People do strange things.  People do bad things.  People do good things.  But the goal is the same: satisfy the god or gods; meet the requirements of that god or gods.

The Jewish religious leaders said that could be done by following the Law of Moses.  So they defined that Law.  Legalists today say that it can be done by lists of do’s and don’ts.

Jesus said that God is asking for one thing only: Believe in the one he has sent.  Put all your eggs into that one basket.

Perfect forever

Maybe we sometimes try to overthink this whole situation.

Hebrews 10:14 says that by one sacrifice Christ has made us “perfect forever.”

How complete is “perfect?”  How limitless is “forever?”  Both terms are superlatives; there is nothing additional that can be added.

If we have been made perfect forever, then we are forever perfect.  Right?  It seems simple and direct.  And if we have been made perfect forever, then we can never become imperfect at any time.  Also, true?

So if we are perfect forever, then it must be impossible that we could fall into and out of righteousness.  There just doesn’t seem to be much room for misunderstanding or debate.

Perfect.  Forever.

A Problem of Religion

There are many good things done in the name of religion.  And, there are many bad things done in the name of religion.  Quite honestly, history shows us there is more in the second column than the first.

Here’s why.

“Religion” points to a god or a deity, but it centers around man.  It is man’s attempt to reach up to God and earn something with God.  It will always be based on what man should do.  It will almost always edify man.  It will always consist of rules that man has devised or re-interpreted.  And people will use it to abuse others.

Christianity confronts this in two ways:

First, while religion is man reaching up to God, Christianity is God reaching down to man.  There is a place for pride and judgment in religion because it centers around or includes man’s performance.  Man can be at different levels.  But there is no basis for pride or judgment in Christianity because it is based on Christ’s performance.  We are all on the same level.

The second guard Christianity offers against religious abuse is the component of love.  God’s love flows through us.  Christ’s Spirit – living in us, loves through us.  As he is present in our hearts, his love is present in our hearts.

What is the application for us?  Don’t let your Christianity become a religion.

The Inadequacy of Religion

It is true that we respond to God, but religion gets it backwards.  Religion is man’s attempt to reach up to God.  The message of Christianity is that God reached down to us.  Christianity is “Christ-centered” and “God-centered”.  Religion is man-centered.

Religion will always require that we do certain things out of our own strength and our own power.  It might be wearing certain clothing, saying a specific number of prayers, going to a specific church a certain number of times, fulfilling certain quotas of righteous actions, not doing particular behaviors, etc….

Religion is the idea that we do specific things that impact our standing with God.

But the true gospel message is that we don’t earn any standing with God.  He gives us spiritual life only because of His grace work on our behalf.  The true gospel message is that we cannot change ourselves, only God can change us by giving us a new heart and by indwelling our lives with His Holy Spirit.

Religion is not the answer.  It shouldn’t even be the question.

Being Perfect…

So, have you been perfect today?  Perfect in every action, every thought, every motive?  What about yesterday?  How about last week?  Jesus said that we are to be perfect just as our Father in heaven is perfect.  How are you doing?

Some people think that Jesus meant his statement to be God’s expectation for his children.  He outlined the specific lifestyle that God demands of us.  Thus, the guilt and sense of failure if we are honest.

Others say that Jesus was expressing the goal we are to shoot for.  We can’t make it, but we should strive for it.  We will at least get closer than we would if we weren’t aiming at it.  In this scenario, the guilt and sense of failure is somewhat lessened because we get closer than some others.  But Jesus did not say that we should just get closer than others.  He said, “Be perfect.”

So, what is the meaning?  Jesus was outlining the standard that we have to maintain if we want to be righteous in God’s eyes based on our own merit.  Just be perfect.  Every day.  Every time.  No exceptions.  One strike and we are out.

I can’t do that.  That’s why I need a Savior.  That’s why I need the righteousness of Christ to be given unto me.  That’s why I need to be justified by faith.

Too Much Grace?

The truth of pure and unfiltered grace would seem to be a wonderful message to all who hear it, but in reality some are uncomfortable with what they perceive as an over-emphasis upon grace.  They fear (perhaps unconsciously) that if it is all about what God does and nothing at all about what we do, then we have lost any degree of control over the whole situation.  That does not seem fair or logical.  God’s opinion of us should at least be affected to some degree by our goodness and efforts!

And the Grace Message certainly goes against the status quo and the sin management emphasis that has been taught to us for our entire Christian lives.  Plus, will not an acceptance of the Grace Message promote and even encourage sin?

These ideas explain why so many sincere Christians are uncomfortable and express warnings about too much emphasis upon grace.  But for those who begin to understand it, it is a message of freedom and joy.  And for those who rest in it, it is more than a message of change; it is a message of new life in Christ.  It is accepting that Jesus is Jesus and that I am in Him and He is in me.

Grace Through Faith

Grace extended out to its fullest implications might suggest that all humans are saved and forgiven by the blood of Christ.  If it is all God’s grace without any mixture of human works, then that grace could be interpreted as covering everyone.  If Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, then one could conclude that the whole world is saved from sin.  If it is the finished work of Christ, then it is not dependent at all on man’s accomplishments or works.

And it is all God and all Christ and none of us… except for the component of faith.  We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8).  We have peace with God and have gained access into grace by faith (Romans 5:1-2).  Jesus told the disciples that God had only one requirement: belief (John 6:29).  John wrote that “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5:12).  And, John directed those words to “those who believe” (1 John 5:13).  Earlier, John wrote that “to those who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12).

Clarifying the recipients of Christ’s salvation might seem to be needless surmising, but file it away.  You may hear someday that some are teaching a message of a general worldwide forgiveness without expressing the need for a specific individual faith.

I thank God for His grace.  I thank the Holy Spirit for revealing the truth of my need and showing me the solitary sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice.  I thank Jesus for his finished work.  In him I have placed my faith.