“But For The Grace Of God”

“But For The Grace Of God”

Did you know there are five single-chapter books in the Bible? I found this out, I’m slightly ashamed to say, when, in response to a challenge to read a book of the Bible, I sought out the shortest one. (I have always looked for the easiest way. To be fair, though, I  resolved to read all five to complete the test.)

If you are curious, allow me to save you the time it would take to look them up. They are: Obidiah, Philemon, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude.

So, this morning, as I contemplated how to get my time in the Word, I decided to have a look at one of these books, and chose Jude. Some translations will have “headers” to different sections of verse, and Jude started out ominously, “The Warnings of History to the Ungodly.”

As I read, a cliche came to me and I dug a little further into it. “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” is commonly attributed to John Bradford, a preacher in sixteenth-century England. The supposed occasion for the saying was the sight of convicted criminals going to their execution. The inference I take is that the fate of the wrong-doers was something Bradford had been unconditionally pardoned from; which is to say he believed himself to be deserving of the same punishment, or worse. (If there could be anything worse. If you believe, I think you’d agree there are several things worse than a swift death.)

(As a side note, the ‘history’ Jude lists are: the post-Exodus destruction by God of some of His people, the angels who followed Lucifer in being thrown down from heaven, and the fates of Sodom and Gomorrah.)

What research showed, however, is a complete reversal in the saying’s meaning in modern times. Nowadays, we might intone the phrase whenever we see someone who’s experiencing some bad luck or misfortune. The change is as if it were not villains the speaker is observing, just some poor innocents in the wrong place at the wrong time. I assure you, God’s Amazing Grace is not some lottery prize only for those with some winning combination of circumstances. It is a free gift offered to every living person, simply waiting to be received, enjoyed, and employed.

Do you see? The new interpretation is one of victimhood. “I’ve done nothing to deserve this,” we claim now. Certainly, we are guaranteed storms in this life, and we are unlikely to understand why ‘this’ is happening to us. But “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” “Human” and “perfect” are two words that can not be set together, except when referring to Jesus Christ. Instead, what grace allows is our continuation of this human journey. It is progress, not perfection, we seek. And what we often need is convincing to carry on.

One source indicated Bradford was paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 15:8-10, in which Paul is explaining why he is the least of the apostles because he persecuted the church in his past, and: 

:10 God’s kindness made me what I am, and that kindness was not wasted… I worked hard… [but] it was not I who did it, but God’s kindness was with me.

Jude also states this concept of a divine reprieve, and the opportunity for us to change which it makes possible. We are invited to redouble our efforts to accept His assistance and the sacrifice which provides the ultimate for us, and to:

:20-21 …use your most holy faith to grow. Pray with the Holy Spirit’s help. Remain in God’s love as you look for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you eternal life. (GW translation)

I really like the sense of urgency the AMP version gives to this:

…waiting anxiously and looking forward to the mercy of our Lord…

“Anxious for mercy.” The Grace of God. It’s not about my fortunes or rich circumstances, but about a constant acknowledgement of my real blessing in receiving the ultimate in undeserved favor. The greatest gift. So, maybe it is like winning the lottery, after all.

By the way, as for John Bradford, he was burned at the stake in 1555.

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1:30AM: When you wake up and… you’re awake

1:30AM: When you wake up and… you’re awake

lampHaving faith is like waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep. I know this from experience. I often find myself in the “wee hours,” wide-eyed, and no matter how I try, I simply can not drift away.

adventureAnd so, sooner or later, out comes the coffee and the journal, and I begin scribbling another blogging adventure. There’s usually some main idea that’s stirred me, maybe based on something that has happened recently (in this case, waking up and not going back to sleep, and wondering how (or if) that relates to my spiritual and tangible life).

…you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.
For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
Romans 13:11 ESV

281This verse states the obvious. Of course, every second I live brings me closer to that time when “He returns or calls me home” (In Christ Alone). But what actually gave me the idea that “believing is like being awake” is that, once I wake up (like this morning), I know I can not fall back asleep, which is just like knowing that, having become a believer, I can never “unbelieve” again. This can be a good or not-so-good feeling, like the memory of something seen that can never be “unseen.” It can be pleasant or gruesome.

Part of me does not want to forget. Part of me knows I should not ever forget.

Therefore let us not sleep as others do.
But let us be alert and sober.
1 Thessalonians 5:6 MEV

IMG_3338It’s both the knowledge of God’s grace for me (now) and the promise (or threat?) of what is to come (in the future) that’s behind this need to stay awake. I know because I’ve read God’s Word; I believe because I’ve had personal experience that proves His Word.

The only debate, I suppose, is whether this belief (God’s forgiveness of sin) is a constant completely conscious choice (based on my knowledge), or whether it is fully a divine gift, an uninstallable “system-upgrade” to fix some behavioral bugs.

IMG_3346Patient endurance (something we choose) is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will.
Hebrews 10:36 NLT

Those who have been born from God (something we’re given) don’t live sinful lives.
What God has said lives in them. So they can’t live sinful lives.
1 John 3:9 GW

The only thing which causes me to lean toward the former is the fact that I eventually, consistently slip and fall (and want to, in the heat of that moment). I really do worry about it all being up to me. You might say the thought is what “keeps me up at night.”

IMG_3352For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once and for all.
Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins.
There is only the terrible expectation of God’s judgement…
Hebrews 10:10,26-27 NLT

On the other hand, this certainty I feel (about never again being ignorant) is a comfort. I was given something, a gift that cannot be returned or put aside or ever misplaced.

IMG_3303The two combine for a very practical effect. I wake up. I get up and begin the new day. (Don’t worry, I take a nap around noon and repeat the whole process – 2 days for the price of one!) Likewise, I fall. I get up again and keep moving forward. Once was for all. I have received the knowledge of the truth.

Til on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid-
Here in the death of Christ I live.

(In Christ Alone)

For songs to go with this post, I simply must include In Christ Alone (the Getty version).
Please download the digital track here.

But here’s a great hymn in a contemporary style that fits the theme of waking and rising, Arise, My Soul, Arise (the Indelible Grace Unplugged version).
Please download it here.

 

A + B = C (where C is Christ)

Radical idea: My Christ-likeness might be different than yours.

Well, I should say, it will be the same, just different. I spend a lot of time in God’s Word, so I feel safe in saying that such a contradiction is Biblical. It’s kind of like saying there are many roads to God, but only one way. Or that the only constant is change. Or that exceptions are the rule. Hence my formula, “A + B = C (where C is Christ)”.

There are actually many more variables that go into the equation. The most important ones are f, u, m, e, s. I’ll get to those in a moment. But let me present a full explanation, starting with how I stumbled onto this theorem. The following verses came up in my morning devotionals:

Colossians 4:2
Devote your lives to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.

1 Peter 1:22 ERV
You have made yourselves pure by obeying the truth. Now you can have true love for your brothers and sisters. So love each other deeply – with all your heart.

I scratched a note on the second:
“You make yourselves ‘purer‘ by obeying the truth – Grace is God’s gift; now that you know you have received it, ‘go and sin no more’“. I will never be perfect, but I pray to make progress towards the purpose my Creator has for me. Whatever He has for me to do, it will involve true, deep love for all others, even those with whom I disagree. So what is this “true, deep love”?

Romans 12:9 ESV
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.

I thought another way of saying this, is the cliche, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” So I googled that phrase. Among the many results were two in particular. The first of interest was a post on the site RedeemingGod.com (by Jeremy Myers). The statement that stuck with me from that post is:

“If you love someone, you love all of them, even the lifestyle choices that might have resulted from sinful actions and behavior.”
(To which I added, “you love all of them as they are right now.”)

Honestly, I read the whole thing, but didn’t agree with it completely – I felt it sought to excuse sin. I then clicked on a link to Bible verses.

Romans 5:8 ESV
But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Matthew 6:14-15 ESV
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,
but if you do not forgive others their trepasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

I was intrigued that this version did not say “forgive others their trespasses against you“. Therefore I took this to mean that I am called to accept, and then forgive, everyone exactly as they are, to meet them where they are. This is what God does. We all are sinners. No sin is lighter than another. Christ died for all sin, for everyone’s sin.

And what doesn’t matter, in effect, is how that sin came to be. In fact, the “why” of any sin is resolved by the variables mentioned above:
God’s
forgiveness
understanding
mercy
encouragement (for us to persevere, to endure)
strength (for us to change
, to ‘go and sin no more’)

God knows my story as intimately as I do. He’s very much aware of my ‘legitimate’ reasons for falling away from Him. He feels the weight of the cross(es) I bear. And He waits on me to realize my need for His help. It’s this realization which “A + B = C” expresses.

Romans 1:22 ESV
Claiming to be wise, they became fools.

:25
…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than The Creator…

My rationales for behaving the way I did were, “It’s not harming anyone.” “It’s OK to feel good.” “God created pleasures to be enjoyed.” Until I found that I was literally hurting myself, my health – and those closest to me. Until I slid down the slippery slope and all I wanted was to feel only pleasure and “fun”. Until “pleasure” wasn’t pleasure anymore, because there was nothing to compare it to. Until I became less and less functional in the real world, serving only my selfish desires. My brokenness. My sin. I did what ought not be done.

Romans 1:28
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not be done.

Let me stress again, this is about me and my sin. Your sin is different. What is the same is that we all sin. And God knows it and us. Being Christ-like is about having a personal, individual relationship with God, The Creator. That’s the “A”. Think of it as Accepting God in this one-to-one manner. Heavenly Father, Savior Son, and Holy Spirit within. He knows me very, very well. He knows what is sin to me, for me. Sin is what hurts me by taking me away from Him. (What hurts me might not be sin to you.)

Once I had a growing relationship with my Maker, I began to read, meditate, and listen to His Word by making the time to be in The Bible (the “B”). God prompts through His Spirit within me, with specific verses each day as I read. These are my guide to changing from the inside out.

Putting A and B together leads me to C:

Romans 2:4 ESV
… God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.

He leads me to turn from the sin I do, from self-hurt and harm to others, literal or in the way I treat them. The fruit of the Spirit, of this time I spend with God, is Peace, Joy, Love, Patience, Kindness, Goodness (Humility), Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control. God tells me through His Word what is sin for me. It might be different than what is sin for you, but it’s the same for all of us. Loving others is accepting the way they are, and supporting their efforts to follow Christ to become better.