Don’t Be a Radical

I don’t want you to be a radical.

Now, that may sound like a strange statement on a blog called “A Radical for Jesus”. Especially when I have no plans of changing the blog name anytime soon.

But I still don’t want you to be a radical, because it’s spiritually dangerous.

Radicalized Islam Christianity

At age 20, Jonathan Hollingsworth boarded a plane for Africa.

He had already given away his possessions, started sleeping on the floor, begun reaching out to the homeless, and taken a mission trip to Honduras. Jonathan had taken a path of radical Christianity. And now he was headed to be a missionary.

But six months later, he was back home, crushed, disillusioned, and questioning his faith. The mission agency had turned out to be a disreputable organization, and they had prevented Jonathan from ministering as he had desired to do. They controlled every aspect of his life, even what he wrote on his blog.

And then, when Jonathan came home, his church didn’t want him to share his story, and they forced him and his parents into silence.

That only made matters a lot worse.

In retrospect, Jonathan realized that his desire to be radical and do radical things had set him up for being used and abused. As he told Boz Tchividjian:

…the unfortunate paradox of spiritual abuse, I think, is that the more devout you are, the more susceptible you are to it. My church leaders knew me inside and out. They knew I would do anything to please God, help the church, support missions, etc. So when I made the incredibly difficult decision to end my mission in Africa, they knew exactly what to say to keep me quiet and ashamed. They used my own spiritual values to beat me into submission…

There are a lot of people out there willing to exploit those who give up their whole lives for a cause. For every radical who gets on a plane, there’s a con artist waiting for him on the other side. And sadly, sometimes that con artist is a church or a mission agency. Before I left for Africa, everyone told me to watch out for kidnappers and hustlers and pickpockets, when in reality, it was the people I least expected who posed the biggest threat.

The danger of being radical

I read about Jonathan’s story a few months ago, and it resonated with me. Fortunately, I never went as radical as he did, but I had certainly adopted some of the same “be a radical” mentality.

I was struck by his point that those who desire to be radical are more likely to be used and abused. Such people believe that obedience to Jesus means doing something radical, and they are willing to do crazy things because they think Jesus is leading them to do it. Or because someone put a guilt trip on them to do it.

So often, I think, we “radicals” have been driven by fear. We’re afraid that we’re uncaring, unloving, too rich, too happy, too fun-loving, whatever. We’re afraid that we aren’t making God happy enough. We’re afraid that, unless we act more radically, we don’t love God enough.

Or that God won’t love us enough.

And when we turn to the Bible, we find plenty of verses to back up our fears. “Take up your cross and deny yourself.” “Be not conformed to this world.” “Forsake everything you have.”

But as time has gone along, I’ve discovered that I didn’t really know God during those “radical” days. I have come to realize that, while God may call us to do radical things, He has not called us to be radicals.

Jesus calls us to follow Him

We need to look at the rest of the passage where Jesus said to take up our crosses:

He said to all, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Jesus doesn’t just call us to take up our crosses. He calls us to follow Him.

We do have to deny ourselves and take up our crosses (in other words, present our bodies as living sacrifices [see Romans 12:2]) in order to follow Him. But that is the means to the end, not the end itself.

We can deny ourselves and take up our crosses all we want, and yet never follow Jesus. Unless we actually follow Him, we gain nothing from denying ourselves.

Led by the Spirit

More and more, I am convinced that what we lack the most in the church today is the working of the Holy Spirit.

We each need to be filled with the Spirit and be led by Him, because the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth.

And not only that, He is the antidote to our toxic, radicalizing fears.

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God. For you didn’t receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:14-15)

The Christian life is not merely a life of “not-doing”: not doing what we want to do. The Christian life is a life of doing: doing what God wants us to do.

But how do we know what God wants us to do? That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in.

For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so, no one knows the things of God, except God’s Spirit. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:11-12)

A true radical for Jesus–the kind that God is looking for–is filled by the Holy Spirit and led by Him.

To those of you who are trying to be radical to please God and be good enough to make Him happy with you, I have a simple word for you:

Relax.

Get to know your Father and His great love for you.

Be filled by the Holy Spirit and ask God to teach you to know when he is leading. Because, in my experience, Satan loves to hijack our thoughts, our feelings, our dreams, and any other means by which we think we can hear God. And when we have been “radicalized”, we come to expect a different message from God than what He actually wants to give us.

Be radically devoted to Jesus.

But don’t be a radical.

The Most Important Thing for the Christian Life [Video]

Do you know what is most important in the Christian life?

Most people have their pet doctrine. They teach about divorce and remarriage; they stand up against human trafficking; they strongly oppose homosexuality; they picket abortion clinics and hold pro-life rallies.

But are those things the most important things to talk about?

You can read the transcript here.

The Significance of Christmas

It’s Christmas Day. We’re celebrating the coming of Jesus. The King of Kings who, though He was equal with God, and was God, laid aside His Heavenly splendor—even His very maturity—and came to earth, not even as a man, but as a helpless baby.

Imagine that for a moment. Imagine being a king who owned the entire world and everything in it, and then imagine shrinking down to almost nothingness again, to be implanted in the womb of a young woman.

But not only that. For all your prior existence, you have been served like no one else. You have been waited on by millions of angels. And now, you have to serve. You become a small child who must submit to his parents. Few people do anything for you.

And not only that. You have come with a mission. You are going to love these people. Teach them the truth. Heal their sicknesses and diseases. Gain a huge following. And then be condemned and killed in one of the most barbaric methods possible.

And in that death, you will carry something that no one can imagine: the sins of the whole world. Your loving Father will forsake you. You will die an agonizing death under the weight of your cruel burden—a burden so great that you will agonize for hours beforehand at the prospect, and die of a literal broken heart.

But you will not only carry the sins of the world to that cross. You will also carry something else: their pain. Their hurts. Their griefs. Their sorrows. And you will nail it to that cross and kill that pain, that grief—on your shoulders.

This, of course, after you suffer your own share of woe and sorrow. You will start your ministry and your own family won’t believe. You will be led by your father to the wilderness to be tempted by your worst enemy for over a month, surrounded by wild beasts. You will heal many people and attract great crowds—only to have them leave you when you say some things that they don’t like. You’ll be betrayed by someone who you hand-picked to be part of your ministry, denied by one of your staunchest disciples, and forsaken by the rest in your darkest hour.

But then, when you return to your heavenly palace, yet in an indescribable way remain with those you love, you can say: “I know exactly how you feel. I have been there too.”

“I, too, suffered the pain of being forsaken by all who I loved.”

“I, too, experienced the hurt of being rejected by my own family.”

“I, too, was homeless and hungry.”

“I, too, was strongly tempted to sin by the Devil himself.”

“I, too, was misunderstood and reacted against by those who should have understood.”

“I, too, was stripped of my clothes, and I was hung up for everyone to gawk at.”

“I, too, was beaten and suffered abuse.”

“I, too, was a human, exactly like you. I can totally identify with how you feel.”

And that, brothers and sisters, is the significance of Christmas. It’s the story of a loving God who came, not merely as a human, but as a human baby, that He might experience everything that a human experiences. That He could be, not only like us, but one of us. Sinless, yes. Divine, yes. But still one of us.

And not only one of us, but one with us, that when He judges the world, He can say:

“What you did to this person, who is my brother or sister—you did it to Me.”

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

For both he that sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified, are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, “I will declare thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise to thee.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I, and the children which God hath given me.”

Since, then, the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them, who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.

Therefore in all things it behooved him to be made like his brethren; that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.

For in that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to help them that are tempted.

(Hebrews 2:9-18)

Merry Christmas!

 

5 Myths About Christmas [Reblog]

My brother Nathan just posted the results of his research into the origins of Christmas. Whatever your beliefs about celebrating Christmas, I highly recommend that you check out his article!

For years I have heard various arguments for and against celebrating Christmas. I finally decided to take an objective look at both sides, do my own research, and find out what is truth. I found that there are a number of myths about Christmas being perpetuated by, I presume, people with good intentions. Here are a number of the more popular ones and what I have learned about them in my studies.

Read more…

10 Myths About Lust

Myth #1: Looking at an immodest woman is lust

There is a big misunderstanding about what “lust” is. The English word “lust” is translated, in the New Testament from a Greek word that means “to set the heart upon, that is, long for (rightfully or otherwise)” (Strong’s Dictionary). It is translated, in the King James Version, “covet, desire, would fain, lust (after).”

It is the same Greek word used by Jesus in this verse: “And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). This verse could have been translated, “With lust I have lusted”, except that the context is not about lust. This is also why we read, “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:31) But wait! God said “Do not covet”! Well, this could also be translated “But earnestly desire the best gifts…”

In Romans 7:7, Paul explains, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” This is because “lust” and “covet” come from the same Greek word.

So what is lust? Lust is desiring evil—something that God does not want us to desire. It has the connotation of not merely having a fleeting thought about it, but longing for that which is forbidden.

With this understanding, we turn to Matthew 5:27-28 and read, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery;’ but I tell you that everyone who gazes at a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

Note that first of all, the lust is not in the look. Rather, the man gazes on the woman because of his lust. He looks at the woman with evil desire. For example, David gazed at Bathsheba and lusted after her. She was not his wife, and he was not her husband. He had no right to desire her, but he coveted her anyway.

There are various ways that a man could lust after a woman. A married man could look at a woman, married or unmarried, and desire to have her as his wife. An unmarried man could look at another man’s wife and covet her to be his own wife, or desire to commit fornication with his girlfriend. A man, married or unmarried, could look upon a woman and desire to rape her. All of these are examples of lust.

However, it is not sin for a man to look at a woman and think that she is pretty or attractive. Nor has God said that a woman is responsible to dress in such a way that men will not lust after her. It is not a sin for a man to look at any woman, regardless of how she is dressed (or not dressed). And God has never said that looking at certain women will tempt men to lust.

Throughout the rest of this article, the “lust” I will be referring to is specifically the lust Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:27-28. One can lust for many things other than a woman—for example, a fancy house, a fancy car, money, a better job, etc. At the end of this article, I will explain how God tells us to deal with lust—and it applies to any kind of lust, not just sexual lusts.

Myth #2: Seeing/looking at certain body parts is lust or will cause a man to lust

I read one woman’s story about causing her cousin to “stumble”. She leaned forward in front of him and happened to see his eyes dart toward her chest. She realized that the neckline of her blouse was low enough that he had been able to see her breasts when she leaned forward, and she felt very guilty for having caused him to stumble. She had not realized that her neckline was that low.

I don’t know what happened within that boy’s head when he saw cleavage. He was only ten years old. But this much I know: she did not cause him to sin.

This particular myth goes with the previous one: a misunderstanding about what lust really is. The myth says to women, “If men see any cleavage, undergarment, or maybe even shoulder, they will lust after you!” It says to men, “If you look at any part of a woman between her neck and her knees, you have lusted after her.”

Think about this: there are some parts of the world where the people wear very little clothing or none at all. If it were a sin to see someone else who is naked or partially naked, we would have to let those people go to Hell. But God has never said that it is a sin to see certain parts of the body.

It is not appropriate for men to go around staring at women’s bodies. Women hate it—even women with cleavage showing. But just seeing—or even looking at—breasts, thighs, belly buttons, shoulders, whatever, is not lust.

Myth #3: Sexual attraction is lust

I want to tread carefully here, because sexual attraction and lust can be related. However, sexual attraction, by itself, is not lust. It is given by God to ensure the propagation of the human race.

This is especially true between single people. When a single person is sexually attracted to a member of the opposite sex, there is nothing wrong with that attraction. After all, think of it in this context: should an engaged couple be sexually attracted to each other? Should they be looking forward to the wedding night? Of course! Should they allow their sexual attraction to turn to lust and end in pre-marital sex? Of course not.

And there is the difference between sexual attraction and lust. Sexual attraction, used properly, helps to draw a man and woman together into a lifelong, intimate union where each cares for the other and gives up their own desires to please their spouse. Lust, on the other hand, results in each party seeking to have their own desires fulfilled—a sure recipe for divorce (if they ever make it to the marriage in the first place).

Myth #4: Sexual desires, feelings, and thoughts are lustful

This myth goes along with the previous one. However, it is a little different, but it forms the basis for the previous myth.

The modesty/purity culture in which I grew up implied, and sometimes outright stated, that sexual desires, thoughts, and feelings were wicked, dirty, or improper. Nobody said, flat out: “If you desire sex, that is lust!” But the overall impression that I got was that my sexual drives and desires were bad.

Again, sexual desires can turn into lust. A man’s sexual desires, for example, can lead him to rape a woman. But the innate desire for sexual gratification is not a sinful desire—because God never said it was! God condemns lustful sexual desires—desiring to commit sexual sin—but He has never said that sexual desire is sinful. On the contrary, sexual desire is a God-given desire, to help us follow the instructions He gave Adam and Eve at the beginning of the world: “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Myth #5: It is normal for men to lust after women

Sin is not normal. Sin is common, but it is not how God intends for us to live.

If we are talking about unsaved men, then, yes, it is probably normal for them to lust after women. They are walking in the flesh and following Satan. They do not have the grace of God to prevent them from lusting. They can try to control their thoughts—and there is no excuse for criminal sexual activity—but without the power of the Holy Spirit, they will probably fall prey to lust.

For the Christian man, however, sin is not normal. Will he be perfect? No. Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses…”, indicating that we will repeatedly have to come to God and ask for forgiveness for our sinful mistakes. But brothers in Christ, if you struggle with lust, that is not how God wants you to live! You are not condemned to stay there! What’s the answer? Read on.

Myth #6: Lusting after the opposite sex is something that only men do because they are visually stimulated

After all, Jesus never specifically said that women should not look on men to lust after them. And it is true that men seem to be the ones who have the biggest problem with porn.

However, statistically, this assumption is wrong. A survey by Cosmopolitan magazine found that about 29% of women said they watched porn “daily” or “once every few days”. Closer to home for some of my readers, a survey by the conservative Mennonite blog Radi-Call found that 23% of female respondents were or had been addicted to porn.

What this means is that, in many homes where the mom has been placed in charge of the Internet filter, the fox is guarding the henhouse. It also shows that women can be visually aroused, not just men.

Lust is not just a male problem.

Myth #7: If a man lusts after a woman, it is her fault

When Jesus said that if a man looks at a woman to lust after her, he commits adultery, He gave no corresponding statement to the women: “And ye, women, see to it that ye do not tempt men to lust after you.” He placed the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the men.

Guys, I don’t care if a woman strips in front of you and tries to entice you to have sex. It is still your responsibility not to lust. Be a man and don’t blame the women for your own sin.

Myth #8: A woman’s dress can cause a man to lust after her

If this myth were true, Jesus would have been putting men under a horrible burden in Matthew 5:27-28. If they didn’t stay away from “immodest” women, they might be forced into committing mental adultery. How awful of Jesus not to have given the women some responsibility!

Nobody ever says that a woman can force a man to lust after her. Yet, I have repeatedly read articles stating that immodest dress can cause men to “stumble” (i.e., lust). The term “cause” essentially means “force” or at least “make”. In other words, when you boil it down, what is being claimed is that a woman can force a man to lust after her—that if a woman dresses a certain way, men will lust after her.

Guys, here’s the truth: no one can force you to lust. No one can “cause” you to commit mental adultery.

Ladies, you do not need to worry that if you happen to dress the wrong way, you will unknowingly “cause” some man to lust after you. Seek your Heavenly Father’s will in how you are to dress, and you will glorify Him.

Myth#9: By dressing modestly, women can help men not to lust

There are no statistics to back up this claim. (At least, not that I can find.) Unfortunately, in fact, the opposite is true: modesty does not help to prevent lust, and possibly increases the chances of lust. (My references? My dad’s upcoming book, The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment. I’ll let you see the whole package when the book comes out.)

In addition, modesty standards inadvertently emphasize to men how sexy women’s bodies are, and tell them that not only are bikini girls and nude models something to fantasize about—women in long sundresses or tank tops and shorts are as well.

This myth has been perpetuated far and wide. It is supported by claimed anecdotal evidence, but the hard factual evidence says otherwise. If it were true, the Arabic countries with high modesty standards should be good, moral places. Instead, the evidence points to an incredible amount of rape and other sexual crimes in these countries.

Myth #10: Lust can be conquered by “trying harder” and following spiritual disciplines

Brothers, let me assure you of something: if “trying harder” can enable you to stop lusting, Jesus didn’t need to die. By yourself, you will never attain complete victory over lust.

God tells us, “For if you live after the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I thought that I could change my ways and be a better man on my own. It wasn’t until God brought me face-to-face with my inability to make the necessary changes on my own, that I turned to Him for help and began receiving His grace to be the man He wanted me to be.

Don’t think for a moment that by following someone’s formula, such as fasting, praying, Bible reading, Scripture memorization and meditation, church attendance, accountability groups—in short, any “spiritual discipline” that does not require the power of the Holy Spirit to do—you will never gain spiritual victory. Even an atheist can memorize Scripture and participate in accountability groups.

You may feel too dirty to come to God for help. You may feel that you’ve gone too far, that God doesn’t care about you. Maybe you became a Christian at some point and have backslidden to the point that you think Jesus wouldn’t want to take you back.

These are all lies. The Good Shepherd is still pursuing you in love, seeking to bring you back to the fold again. You are not beyond repair. God will meet you where you are and redeem you if you will turn to Him. He assures us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) ALL unrighteousness. A-L-L.

Your transformation may not be immediate. It may take time as God lovingly works with you to throw out the bad and bring in the good. But this I can assure you from personal experience: it does work. God will cleanse you from unrighteousness and heal your wounded spirit if you will turn to Him, confess your sins, surrender your life to Him, and seek to know Him and follow His will. If you still lack complete victory, keep on asking Him for it. Ask Him to give you complete victory over lust—or whatever sin you are fighting.

One point is worth mentioning here: make sure that you are actually trying to gain victory over true sin and not merely a man-made “sin” that God has not called sin. God will help you to overcome sin, but He will not give you victory over non-sin.

 

 

Have you fallen prey to any of these myths? I certainly did. Ask God to reprogram your mind and your heart to His way of thinking, so that you can follow Him, and Him alone.

Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2)

What is Grace?

3 CrossesGrace is one of the most fundamental, yet most misunderstood doctrines of Christianity. God tells us, “By grace you are saved…” (Ephesians 2:8a). In other words, grace is part of the very foundation of our salvation. Therefore, it’s important that we understand what grace truly is and how it works in our lives.

For years, I struggled to live the Christian life and be the man that God wanted me to be. Over and over, I resolved to do better—resolutions that didn’t last. I saw a little improvement, but I was still wallowing in failure. Try as I might, I could not shake off my old habits and walk in wisdom. What was I to do?

It all ground to a halt when my dad asked me a simple question: “Do you realize that you cannot change yourself on your own?”

That day, God began teaching me about grace. It was a major turning point in my life. He taught me—well, let’s just start digging into it.

Four misconceptions about grace

The first misconception is the definition of grace. Grace has been popularly defined as “God’s unmerited favor”. This is a poor, Old Testament-based definition.

The second misconception is actually about salvation. Salvation is a two-part process. Part one is when we accept Christ as our Savior and receive the seal of the Holy Spirit on our lives. We become new creatures and are saved from sin, Satan, and the Law of Moses. But we do not receive the second part—our eternal salvation—until we get to Heaven and are saved from the second death of Hell. One of the clearest passages is Romans 5:8-11:

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (9) Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. (10) For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (11) And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

For more on this, I recommend our article at Biblical Research Reports, “A New Look at Predestination and Once Saved Always Saved”.

What does this have to do with grace? It gives a whole new meaning to the idea of being “saved by grace”. We are not merely redeemed by grace, but we also need grace in order to reach Heaven. More on this in a little bit.

The third misconception is that grace is automatic. We believe that God will shower us with grace and we won’t have to do anything to receive it.

The fourth misconception is that grace is a license to sin or to “fudge the rules a bit”.

Both of these last two misconceptions result from a wrong definition of grace, so let’s look at what grace is.

An Old Testament Definition for a New Testament Doctrine

This morning, God showed me that the idea that grace is “God’s unmerited favor” is actually Old Testament-based. Throughout the Old Testament, grace is almost exclusively used in this manner: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8). Usually, in the Old Testament, “grace” is about finding favor in somebody’s sight.

Another example: “And [Esau] said, What meanest thou by all this drove which I met? And [Jacob] said, These are to find grace in the sight of my lord” (Genesis 33:8). In other words, Jacob was giving Esau a present to try to obtain favor from him.

Throughout the Old Testament, God used many external forces to motivate His people. He gave them detailed laws. He gave them a list of blessings and cursings for obeying and disobeying His Law. When they disobeyed Him, He used other nations to discipline them and help them to return to Him. They largely followed their leaders and did whatever the king said to do.

But in the prophets, God said that He was going to change His ways and do something new.

“Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

God prophesied that He would start working from the inside, changing the hearts of the people and placing His commands within them.

Things changed on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples. The world has never been the same. This, too, was something that God had prophesied. To quote Peter’s sermon at Pentecost:

“But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:16-18).

It is important to realize that things changed between the covenants. God is not working the same way that He did in Noah’s day. Grace is no longer merely finding favor in God’s eyes.

Problems

If we define grace as “God’s unmerited favor”, it creates a problem. It makes utter nonsense of verses like these:

Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, [God’s favor] did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might [God’s favor] reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20-21)

And he said unto me, My [favor] is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

[In the context of spiritual gifts] But unto every one of us is given [God’s favor] according to the measure of the gift of Christ. (Ephesians 4:7)

Note: would this mean that God loves and favors some people more than others?

Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the [favor] of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this [favor] given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; (Ephesians 3:7-8)

If when sin abounds, God’s favor abounds even more, then God must like sin! Nope. He spends the next chapter (Romans 6) explaining that it doesn’t work that way.

The catch is that grace can mean “favor” or “graciousness”. And in some cases, depending on how we define the idea of God’s favor, one could argue that the word “favor” works.

So what is grace?

We need to look more closely at some other verses in Scripture to understand better what “grace” is.

And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. (Acts 11:21-23)

And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)

Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. (Romans 4:4)

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. (Romans 12:3)

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith… (Romans 12:6)

But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:5-7)

These verses, and others like them, show us that:

  1. Grace is a gift from God
  2. Grace helps us to do what is right
  3. Grace enables us to reach the lost
  4. Grace works through us to accomplish God’s purposes

In short: Grace is God’s power working in us. In some ways, I believe that it is “shorthand” for the Holy Spirit and His power.

Going further

With this understanding, and the understanding of the two parts of salvation, we can now examine a few verses for some new insights.

Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. (Acts 15:10-11)

This is James, the brother of Jesus, speaking here. He is already a believer. Yet, he puts salvation in the future: “we shall be saved.” And it is only through God’s grace, not by his own keeping of the Law. In other words, it is by God’s grace that we will be able to follow Christ and receive eternal salvation in Heaven.

Ephesians 2:8-9 is a very familiar passage:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Taken with the idea of grace being “God’s unmerited favor”, this passage says that we are saved by God being nice to us and saving us, and that nothing we do can ever affect that. But let’s look at the context:

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved), And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10)

God tells us here that His grace—His power working in us—brings us to life. He has incredible riches of grace to give us because of His great kindness to us.

We are not saved by our own efforts—ever. Not before conversion, and not after. But, that does not mean that we are free to do whatever we want and “God’s grace” will cover it. On the contrary, God’s grace gives us the power to walk in the good works that God created us to perform. Since it is God’s grace that gives us the power to live for Him, we cannot boast in our own ability to obey God. None of us will ever be able to meet God’s standards on our own power.

In fact, everyone who tries to live the Christian life on their own power will die spiritually. God tells us:

But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. (Romans 8:11-13)

The only way to stop fulfilling the lusts of the flesh is to kill them by the Holy Spirit. That is the power and grace of God! We can never kill sin on our own. If we could, Jesus would not have had to die to put sin to death. It’s not a matter of squashing sin, denying ourselves, or trying harder. Without God’s grace, we will die!

God tells us further, in Titus 2:11-14, that His grace teaches us how to live righteous lives:

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

In other words, God’s grace will lead us to greater holiness and more obedience and righteousness.

Due to the common misconception of what grace is, I believe that we need to be careful in talking to others about grace, so that they correctly understand what we are saying. I often use the term “the power of God” instead of “the grace of God” so that others know what I am referring to.

Grace is not automatic

This probably sounds like heresy. But I can tell you, both from my own experience and the word of God, that grace will not automatically work in our lives.

Going back to Romans 5:20-21, we read, “Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” In other words, where there is sin, there is also the grace of God—the power of God to forgive and cleanse—even greater than that sin, capable of completely cleansing the sinner from his sin. But obviously, if sin is abounding, God’s grace is not stopping the sin. Why?

God gives us an answer in James 4:6-7: “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

If I am proud, resist the offer of God’s grace, and try to stop sinning and clean up my life by my own efforts, God will not give me His grace. He can’t. I’m not accepting His grace. If He gives me grace, I will take the credit and boast in my own ability to change myself.

When we humble ourselves, acknowledge that we can’t fix our problems on our own, submit to God, and humbly ask Him for grace, God can then work in our lives, by the power of His Spirit, to purify us and cleanse us from all sin. That is truly grace! And it removes my ability to boast about how I helped myself.

When I realized that I couldn’t make myself into a Godly man, and turned to God and asked Him for grace, God began a great work in my life. I am amazed at what He has done. It is not something I can take credit for. It wasn’t the result of successfully following somebody’s five-step plan, or speaking positive words to myself. No, it was God, working all things together for good, to accomplish His will in my life and purify me to be one of His special people, zealous for good works. It is not yet complete, nor will it ever be on this side of Heaven. But one thing I do know: God is doing it, not me!

Grace is not a license to sin or “fudge the rules”

Because of the false definition of grace, many people view grace as a way to relax and stop trying to measure up to God’s standards. False! But true! Indeed, we do stop trying to follow God on our own efforts. But that does not mean that we can then do what we want!

Make no mistake about it: if your version of grace says that it doesn’t really matter how you live, it doesn’t really matter how well you obey God, it doesn’t really matter whether you live a righteous life or not—it isn’t grace. God is holy, and He wants us to be holy as well. God’s grace will always lead us into greater obedience to Him and greater holiness, not less.

Of course, this is obedience and holiness as defined by God, not by us, our pastor, our church, or the book on the coffee table. God is not going to lead you to do a better job of keeping manmade traditions or guilt trips. As you follow God’s grace, you will find that the modern-day “Pharisees” will be unhappy with you.

But remember: if you are living life by your own leading, and not by the Holy Spirit’s leading, you are not walking in grace. You are walking in sin.

Grace is not a license to sin.

Conclusion

God’s grace is truly amazing. It has the power to change us, and to change others through us. It gives us the ability to serve God and obey Him. It gives us the power to reach the world. It gives us love when we cannot love others, strength when we’re weak, cleansing when we repent of sin.

And though it is available to everyone, we can only receive it when we humble ourselves, acknowledge that we can’t follow God on our own efforts, and ask Him for His grace.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (Philippians 4:23)

 

 

When I Survey…

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross — Men’s Quartet

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Credits: Joel Horst, First Tenor; Nathan Horst, Second Tenor; Daniel Horst, Baritone; Luke Horst, Bass

Today is Good Friday, the commemoration of Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross. Nailing Christ to the CrossIn honor of what He did for us, we want to share this recording with you, in hope that it will stir your heart to ponder the great love that Christ showed to us, and to give Him “your heart, your life, your all.”

One evening after practicing this song, I was contemplating its message. As I meditated on the last verse, God spoke to me and reminded me anew of His love for me–a love that is beyond our comprehension. A love that drew Jesus from the glory of Heaven to the squalor of earth, there to be brutally murdered by the people He loved.

But Jesus didn’t just die for an impersonal us.

He died for me.

He died for my sins.

He died to make me the holy, righteous person that He desired me to be.

And please read that as your own personal statement.

Because, if, like me, you’ve grown up hearing about Christ’s sacrifice all your life, it may seem kind of ho-hum by now. The wonder and the amazement of how God could love us so much may have faded. You may have lost the realization that Jesus died for you.

And so, at this time, let’s pause and remember what He did for our sake. And then surrender to Him “my soul, my life, my all”.