Sunday, July 31, 2011

Grace ~ Charis

It is a fight to find your joy in Christ alone every day. In some seasons, it feels vastly more difficult than in others, as I have been recently learning. For another "Gospel goodness" post, I thought it would be appropriate to cover Grace.

In most modern church circles, grace has simply come to be defined as an unlimited acceptance of sin without conviction or sanctification. But this comes as no surprise when the church is allowing worldly influences to seep in, rather than making an impact and influence on the world! When the world seeps into the church, one starts to see an increasingly widespread tolerance of sin. It always starts in the "small" things that are subtle and hard to notice. But for those who are in the Word and abiding in the Vine, it is fairly easy to spot. So, as the definition of grace begins to truncate, the danger of sin starts to diminish in our eyes.
Oh how the eyes of man must be opened to take in a fuller view of God's divine grace! To really begin to see and savor His grace should lead us to a deeper abhorrence of sin and its dangers as we see how much sweeter and more fulfilling Christ is!

Here is a definition from the concordance that I really adore!

Grace - good will, loving-kindness, favour - of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.

Grace has two parts. It's unmerited favor and it's a holy enabling. I love that these two things are not separated! It's so utterly crucial to our Christian walk that we begin to grasp the depth of God's grace. Here's why...

1. If Grace was merely unmerited favor, we would rest happy and sluggish in our sins knowing that we are saved for eternity in Christ, but are free to sin as we please because we can always fall back on His grace. This mindset has led many to a spirit of complacency in regards to their sin, feeling that it is futile to strive to be better than what they are since they will "always be this way" or thinking, "Christ really doesn't expect me to live holy {in regards to every area of life} because that's an impossible standard that can never be achieved." This mindset leaves one wallowing in their messes. For such a person, they are content in living in the "desert" as the "Promise Land" seems a bit too idealistic to one living in a fallen world.

2. If Grace was merely a holy enabling and strengthening, we would become quite prideful, religious, and perfectionist in our mentality. For some, this mindset might lead them to continually be on a self-made "spiritual" high. For others, it might lead them to be judgmental and unloving towards others who aren't overcoming their sins "quick enough." It leads one to expect how much of the "higher standard" that they'll be able to grasp in this life, instead of leaning on the Spirit to do the work according to the Lord's perfect timing. This mindset is all about the power and strength that the Christian has in Christ and seems to ignore the humbling reality that Christ often works to make us extremely helpless and weak in many areas of our life (for however long a season He appoints) so that we won't lean on Him just for "power" and "strength" (i.e. what we can get from Him) but rather just to lean on Him for Him alone even when we don't get those things immediately. For such a person, they presume to know how much of the "Promise Land" they'll receive and get to explore in their lifetime.

For those who trifle with sin, perhaps a warning should be heeded:
For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. ~ Jude 1:4

Treating grace as a ticket to "do what you want" is a denying of the LORDSHIP of Christ over your life. Don't do it. Flee such a temptation.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
Rom 6:12-18

For those who presume to be above their sins, as if they've obtained a certain level of "perfection" or "holiness", perhaps a reminder is needed:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
~ 2 Cor 12:7-10

There is always debate and disagreement over what Paul's thorn truly was, but I don't think the focus on the thorn is the main point. And some may ask, "why did God allow a messenger of Satan to harass Paul and why would He never take this away from him?" Again, I don't think that is the point. God is saying His grace is sufficient, ALWAYS. For days or for years, we may never "feel" or "see" the relief of a struggle with a particular sin or issue, though we continue to press on after Him through all the difficulty. For days or years, we may never truly know what it means to be empowered by God in a dramatic, life-changing way. Perhaps, our season of weakness lasts much longer than we wanted or predicted it would. Perhaps, we never truly feel like we're living a victorious Christian life even though we pray, read and study the Word, fellowship, and strive to remain in the Vine. But that doesn't nullify His grace. His empowering grace isn't always as we perceive it should or might be. His grace is sufficient when we're going through a long and hard battle because He keeps us through it all. He doesn't let us go, no matter what we think or feel. It's not based on our emotions or thoughts. He children still remain His children. A Christian will always, no matter how dark of a season they travel through, come out of it still trusting and loving Christ. This may look different for many people, but this is God's loving purpose for us through hard times.

The Spirit of God works mysteriously in our lives. We cannot presume that we "control" it now that we are in Christ. Our dear Father in heaven looks down upon us with His smiling face. He has holy, wise, and good purposes for everything in our lives. It's a temptation to think ill of Him when He withholds something from our lives for a certain struggle or hard circumstance. It's hard to find joy in Him and to love Him when He seems to be silent. May we increasingly find comfort in this verse:

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. ~ Heb 4:16

When He withholds, He withholds lovingly. He says, "I love you so much. I know to the depths just how difficult this is for you. But I know what you truly need, even though it is not what you want. Trust Me in My decision concerning this. Is not My love and favor of you enough through the winds and the trials? Hold fast to me, My dear one. Please keep your eyes only on Me and, I promise, I'll carry you through. Don't look to anyone or anything else, no matter how wise or right it may seem. For now, all you need is Me. Am I not enough for you?"
Grace is not an empowering feeling. Sometimes, He call us to walk and obey in something even when we feel completely weak and unable to do it. Sometimes, the strength and enabling (whether that be actual physical strength, or joy, or love, or a willing heart, etc) doesn't come until after we start walking.
For those who seem complacent in their sins and never moving forward in their walk with Christ, we're called to bear with them. To bear long. And when we think they should have overcome already, or when we think we just cannot bear to hold them up any longer, we go to the His throne room of grace, again and again. And again. We are never to tolerate their sins in the way of encouraging or acting flippant of its dangers. No, we love them with truth and honesty, but also with tears and much service. To those willfully stubborn and unrepentant in their sins, we must learn to turn away. As Paul ordered to the Corinthian church to do for the man who was unrepentant in his sexual immorality, we are to deliver {them} to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that {their} spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord (1 Cor 5:5). And, we are to continue interceding for them, that they may come to a place of utter brokenness to find Life. In all these, He gives abundant grace so that we may learn to continue in prayer and well-doing, steadfast and sincere.

There are so many avenues in life where we come to learn what grace means and how it is applied. When it is woven correctly in the cords of who Christ is (Love, Holiness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Kindness, Righteousness), it is there that we will find freedom and change taking root.
We are great sinners, favored and loved by a great God, even in our most awful of states, pressing ever harder and striving ever further to obtain the fullness of Christ. I close with two of my favorite grace verses, praise God!

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. ~ Titus 2:11-14

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. ~ 1 Cor 15:10


Kelsey (Zoe) said...

Your posts are always such a blessing. Thank you!