Thursday, April 12, 2012

Chained No More: The Freeing Power of Grace!

I wonder why more people don't want to become Christians.  I wonder why our faith is so difficult to talk about.  I wonder why more Christians aren't joyful.  All this makes me wonder:  How good is the good news?  

To be blunt, if Christians walk around looking like we just got finished sucking on a bag of lemons, the world will take notice...and promptly decide that if that is what being a "follower of Jesus" looks like, then they want no part in it.  Can you blame them?  If the news we have to share is so good - why don't we act like it?  


Maybe we don't fully understand the news. 

The most amazing part of the gospel is grace.  Grace literally means, "unmerited favor."  What God has made available to us, through the sacrifice of His Son, is His extravagant, unlimited, unmerited favor! It means that when Jesus came to forgive our sin, He came to forgive ALL our sin!  Past sin, present sin, even the sins we have yet to commit.  When we accept Christ, we acknowledge our guilt and He, in turn, declares us Not Guilty! 

If we are "not guilty," then how is it so many of us are walking around feeling guilty?  Why are so many of us tired of "fighting the good fight"?  Why do we feel so defeated?  Why do Christians often appear frustrated, stressed and less-than-joyful?

For me, the reason was simple.  I was trying to better myself.  I was trying so hard to be good that I was failing and making myself miserable.  I had already given God my "big" stuff.  I gave him my past promiscuity, my alcoholism, my abortion...all the really big bags, so to speak.  I gave Him my past, what I didn't give Him was my present - my temper, my pride, my arrogance, my feelings of inadequacy, my fear and my stubbornness.  (The list is way longer, but I was afraid you'd stop reading if I listed EVERYTHING.)  Somehow, I failed to understand that Jesus forgave these sins too.


I face at least one of these "old pals" every day.  And every time I failed to win the battle (which was often) I would feel guilty.  Then I would repent.  Then I would add another thing to my "holy to-do list" in an effort to make up for my mistake.  Rinse and repeat.  And what did I get?  A very long to-do list!!  I could not help but feel like a screw-up.  Especially when I would do something like yell at my kids for being too loud while I'm TRYING TO PRAY!  Do I have any sisters out there?  Are you getting where I'm going? 

That whole process left me drained and tired.  There was little joy in my life.  Don't get me wrong, I got good at faking it.  But inside, I still felt like I was just play-acting.  I could talk about the power of redemption and knew it to be true but the joy from my own redemption experience had long since faded.  I was fighting every day to feel good enough.  And you know what?  I never made it.  

But then, something amazing happened!
 
Someone told me that God isn't mad at me.  Someone told me He is not up there shaking His head wondering what in the world He was going to do with someone like me.  Someone explained to me that when God says "unmerited favor," He means it!  When He says "unmerited" it means we don't deserve it.  He gives us His favor because He loves us. And the best part is this:  We cannot do anything to make Him love us any less...or any MORE.  I truly believed that I had to work to get better.  God says I don't.  God says that when I accepted His Son, His Son had already done the work.  
Philippians 1:6 says, "being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus;"
now go to verse 11:  "filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God." (emphasis mine)

God completes the work, not me; the fruit is through Jesus, not my effort.  Can I just say:  PHEW!!  Thank You, Jesus!!  I do not have to walk around shackled by the guilt of my every day failures.  I am human.  I am not perfect, nor will I ever be in this life.  The sooner I get comfortable with that, the better off I will be.  And do you know something?  Any works that I do in order to try and "get better" will be for naught.

When we start trying to "get better" by our own works and accomplishments, we lose any joy we may have had in the beginning of our walk with Jesus.  We get bogged down in condemnation.  We start living in fear of God instead of marveling at His love.  We wrap ourselves in chains of guilt and shame until we cannot move.

Jesus put it this way:  "Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing."  John 15:4-5 (emphasis mine)


The only way to "get better" is by abiding in Jesus.  I can't make myself better, I can't try and do more good things in order to be good enough.  I wasn't good enough to begin with and I won't ever be good enough.  But if I hang out with Jesus; if I talk with Him; if I read His word, soak up His abundant, extravagant grace; then I find I start to bear fruit - I start to get better!  I start to exhibit the fruit of righteousness...one of those fruits is joy!


After Jesus tells His disciples about the vine, He tells them this:  "As my Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.  If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in His love.  I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."  John 15:9-11


Jesus wants to give us JOY!  Not only that, He wants to give us HIS joy and our joy to be complete!  This is the joy that the world is seeking and needs to know about.  The only way they will know about it is if they see it all over us.  Christ in us, grace that covers ALL our sin, unmerited favor of God that we cannot lose once we accept it.  THIS is the gospel of good news!  The news that the grace of God is bigger than our sin!!  I hear that grace calling to us!   I hear freedom singing its song!  I hear Jesus telling us to come just as we are and let Him and the Father take care of the rest!  I hear shackles falling to the ground!  I hear the GOOD news!!

 

2 comments:

  1. And it is such a relief not to have to be in charge of our own goodness.

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