Thursday, September 13, 2012

Who's in Control? Pt. 7: Earning vs. Grace

I’ve written about this issue a couple of times in a couple of places….. One was last November as I started looking back over the personal revival which God had been working in my life over the past 11 months. The other is a post  I wrote last month (posted a couple days ago) for Thrive80, a website by Moody Publishing targeted at Millenials. In both of those posts, I focused on what happened on the day God revolutionized my perspective. In this post, however, I want to step back and look more at the big picture. So check those out for the snapshot version/resolution of this issue  J

I’ve always been a perfectionist. Partly as a result of this, I also grew up focused on feeling the need to earn people’s love/acceptance/approval/whatever. Yes, I knew my parents and other people loved me no matter what. But I still put pressure on myself to behave in a way that would impress them and ensure that I kept their love. I still worry far too much about people’s opinions of me. This approach to my human relationships affected how I approached God as well.

Sure, I knew I was saved by grace and not by what I did. But that didn’t keep me from thinking that I needed to make sure I was behaving myself properly so that He would keep on loving me and approving of me. Looking back now it seems so simple and rather silly – but it was the trap I was stuck in.

In Galatians 3:3, Paul asks “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” And in Titus 3:4-5 he writes “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.” I knew these verses. I had heard the latter one quoted often during a season of Bible Quizzing.

But somehow, the truth of the former verse did not make its way from my head to my heart. I tried to have a relationship with God in which I earned His pleasure. I failed to recognize that Grace extends beyond salvation, that it is at work in every moment of my life.

I knew I was a miserable failure at keeping myself “good enough.” What I guess I didn’t realize or want to accept was that even in those moments when I have messed up, God’s Grace covers that. No, this is not a license to sin (Rom. 6:1ff). I know that very well. I want to live a life of holiness, to seek to become more Christlike. My problem is that I often base my self-acceptance and my idea of whether God is accepting me on my actions alone. I tried to live by Rom. 6:1, but I forgot about Rom. 8:1.

Yes, there is a delicate balance here. It is easy to go to either the extreme of pietistic legalism, as I tend to, or to go to the other extreme of flippant licentiousness. God calls us to neither. We do not earn His favor by what we do, but we are to constantly seek to draw closer to His will for our lives.

This summer at Capitol Hill Baptist Church (see my first summer post for more about the church) they had a mini-series from Galatians 3. It seemed as though every week after that there was some mention about how we don’t earn God’s favor by our good deeds. Maybe it’s that I was finally at a place where I believed that, but I don’t remember hearing that truth emphasized in church very much ever before, if at all.

I’m thankful God spoke that truth over me 21 months ago. I wish I had learned it sooner…I wish I had been able to hear it from my church. That would have saved me some heart ache in high school. At the same time, I know God knows what He is doing. If I had learned it without struggles, I wouldn’t have the same testimony of God’s work in my life. It was the struggles I lived through that made the lesson so real and applicable.

It’s the clouds that make the sunset beautiful J

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Who's in Control? Pt. 6

Well…..that was over a month ago now…but I am finally enough into the swing of my semester that I am going to take some time off from school work and try to finish this up.

On our way back from D.C., my parents and I visited a church in Virginia. We literally went to the town’s visitor center and asked the lady there where a church was located. You can’t get much more random than that, right?? But guess what? The God who created the Universe can orchestrate even seemingly chance happenings. And the church we visited “just happened” to be doing a sermon that relates to this same topic which has been the theme of my summer.

The pastor used Matthew 6:24 as his jumping off point. His sermon centered around the question of “Who is Your Master?” which tied in well with both this summer’s main idea and the Spiritual Emphasis speaker from last year (this post talks some about that).

Now, I have naturally heard about the whole idea of not being able to serve two masters before. But God knows I can always use a reminder! This pastor made a point of saying that there is no middle ground. “You are not free,” he said. “You are owned by someone—either God OR Satan/Sin/Self.” The question is not whether I will be a slave, but rather who I will be a slave for.

Christ redeemed us from our enslavement to the world, the flesh and the devil. The word redemption, he said, refers to purchasing a slave out of the market. God is not an evil Master. He redeems so that we can have a relationship with Him, not only so that He can benefit from our slave labor.

At the same time, the natural reaction of someone purchased out of slavery to an evil master is to want to serve the giver of freedom, the pastor said. We should be eager and willing to serve God because of everything which He has done for us!

When we do not choose to put Christ first and above all else, that means that there is something else to which we are giving that priority. He pointed to Deut. 6:4-5 as a call that we cannot simply coast through life. The choice to serve God must be an active choice throughout our days, months, years.

He did also make a point of saying that what we receive from Christ (salvation plus!) is many times more valuable than anything we can ever bring to Him. This ties into another topic (the focus of my next post) which has been an issue for me and which I have finally heard this summer explicitly stated from a church pulpit for the first time that I can remember.