The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Philippians 4: 23

The thing that I needed more than all else was God’s grace, for here I was, interested, even fascinated with God, listening to His word, and hanging out with His people; yet, until I was ready and willing to open my heart to Him and surrender control to His Spirit, I was as lost and as dead as any person who had never come near to His presence. In fact, I was more so; since, if I had continued to ignore His call, my intellectual knowledge could have become a very large barrier to entering into a true relationship with Christ. However, God’s grace continued to pursue me until I stopped running away and accepted Him.

This need for grace continues throughout my life; in fact, it seems that there are many times when the need has become even greater than before I had entered into that relationship with Christ, for now, evil tries to speak to me with a voice that tells me in detail about every way that I fail to follow God’s will, and it keeps reminding me of each instance of moral, ethical, relational, and spiritual deviation from the direction that God tells me to travel. It is the truth of the Lord that brings me back to my senses, and it is the truth about my Lord’s grace that overcomes the lies that Satan keeps speaking to my mind.

I know, based upon my life experience, that there will be times today when I will need to focus on the truth of the totality of Jesus’ saving work and on what that means for me right now. The glorious aspect of this fact is that when I do closely consider  God’s love for me and then get on with living as someone who knows from the heart that this love and acceptance is total and absolute, my spirit is lifted out of the depths of worry and concern that fear tries to push it into, and I am set free to live as God intends for me to live. It is the grace of Christ that carries the weight of life that this world and I keep attempting to hang around my spirit. So, this same grace is where I find freedom and living in that freedom is how I experience peace in my soul. 

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Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

Galatians 6: 1

The thoughts contained here are very broad on the one hand, and they are rather exclusive or limited on the other. When he says, “If anyone” and “any transgression,” Paul is aiming at a wide spread and highly diverse target. Within the family of faith, many people will get caught up in transgressions at some time or other. We all sin and do truly fall short of the glory of our calling in Christ. Much of the time we catch ourselves, or perhaps stated more accurately, the Holy Spirit within prompts us to recognize the wrong that we are perpetrating against Christ and His holy church through our thoughts, words, and actions. Then repentance, often self-confession, and working on restoration of relationships that have been harmed or damaged is the course of action that we follow. Some of the time, this is a big process, but most of the time, it is something that just happens in the general living out of our days.

However, there are other times when the sin in our lives can be either too great or too subtle to be handled on our own. These situations can be very challenging for others in the body of Christ as we are left with a difficult task that involves discernment and that can lead to confrontation, which is almost never something that we enjoy doing. Yet, God does call upon us to be honest and direct with each other, and we are to engage with people in the area of the sin that we observe in their lives. Any and all of this sort of action requires that we be prayerful in discerning the truth of the situation and also in our approach to a brother or a sister who we believe to be engaging in such sinful living. This is all to be done in a spirit of restoration and with Christ’s grace setting the tone and the nature of our approach to the person with whom we are engaging. The message that we deliver should be one of love, care, and concern for the person and for their relationship with Christ and with His body.

All of this is to be done with a spirit of gentleness. This means that we are careful to remain non-judgmental in the process of calling out that which the Spirit has revealed and that God’s Word has described as sin in the person’s conduct of life. We need to be careful in all of this to keep our own egos under control and to eliminate the contemplation of owning the outcome of these conversations. Christ is the one who is acting in these situations, and we are doing what we are called to do by Him as brought forth by the Spirit and in His Word. This is where Paul warns us to be careful, for it is easy to become angry, frustrated, or judgmental during the process of engaging with someone regarding sin in their life. Thus, there is the restrictive concept expressed in the text whereby Paul instructs us to do any of this sort of thing with the guidance of the Spirit. So, when we are told that “those who are spiritual” should be the ones who confront sin in the body, I think that Paul is saying that any of us in Christ can do this, but that each and every instance of such engagement needs to be done with prayer and with the guidance of the Spirit of Christ. 

We have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to God.

2 Corinthians 5: 9

Some people are known for their drive to please others. This can be positional, for, as an example, it is generally thought to be the role of middle children to fly beneath the radar of life and make no waves in the world. It can also be an adopted strategy that allows someone to remain relatively unobserved. There is nothing essentially wrong with being this sort of person; however, when being pleasing is a way of acting that is forced, it tends to cause the person who is trying to pull off being the pleasera lot of stress and strain. The truth is that, as fallen humans, we just aren’t all that pleasing that much of the time.

Yet, Paul is a very practical person. He says the sorts of things that are possible, and he tells us to do things that he has seen accomplished. When Paul says that it is his ambition to be pleasing to God, he means anything but flying beneath the radar of life, for Paul did quite the opposite of that. We are to be engaged in the messiest aspects of the worlds where people live, we are to live in the harshest climates that earth can provide, and we are to get squarely in the face of evil as it tries to control the lives of the people that God dearly loves. The Lord has a concept of what is pleasing to Him that would not make a conflict adverse person very comfortable. However, God does not promise us comfort in this world, and He doesn’t even suggest that by following His will our lives will be made easier.

The Lord, my God, who cares greatly about every second of my life, is pleased with me because I have chosen Him as my Lord and Savior. Additionally, He has a plan for my days that involves doing the sorts of things, embracing the types of thoughts, and allowing His love to infuse my heart so that I will appear to this world as a person who is truly set apart from its sin and decay in order to reach out with Christ’s grace and love to people who need to know that they can have eternal hope and complete joy. When we seek to live as humble vessels who pour out Christ into our world, God smiles upon us as He says, “You are pleasing to me, my beloved child.”

And Christ said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weakness, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

2 Corinthians 12: 9

 

Do you ever wonder about the way that our culture seems to be fascinated with stories about people who possess remarkable skill, power, and dominance over what life throws at them? Along these same lines, look at the popularity of superheroes in books and films; we spend a lot of money on escaping from our reality into one where evil is defeated by someone who seems to have strength and capacity that comes from a source beyond our access or understanding. Thus, they are heroes for saving us, and since their ability to do the saving comes from a seemingly miraculous source, they are super. How odd is this fascination with power that comes from beyond the human realm; yet, it is all actually completely natural.

 

We live in a world that is at least as perilous and as frightening as the ones where these characters of fiction dwell. We may not be faced by an angry god from some other dimension who decides to take his frustrations out on our planet, but we might consider that, in fact, the war that Satan is raging with God and with His creation is an even more intense one than those in the films. It is also real. This fight for survival and for our eternities is going on at this moment. As the struggle is enjoined, Christ does ask His people to engage in it. However, it is in His approach to it where the story takes a dramatic turn from most of the fiction that we encounter. Christ does not grant us great physical powers and send us into the battle to crush our opponents. Rather, He tells us to develop hearts that love them and that pray for their salvation.

 

Christ sends us into the battle without human strength or skill. He tells us to counter oppressive might with a turned cheek of obedience to God. He has us stop arrows with His shield of faith and protect our hearts from fatal blows with God’s unequivocal righteousness. This is all counter intuitive, and it can make us feel very vulnerable and even helpless. That just might be our Lord’s point! We do have a superhero as our Savior, and He has already completed the victory that we desire. He doesn’t need us blindly and wildly attacking a vicious but defeated foe. Christ wants us to yield our selves to Him and to empty our hearts and minds of our impotent power. Then we are truly strong; for then, Christ with His love, grace, mercy, and righteousness stands prominently before evil, and reconciliation comes under the shadow of the all-mighty cross of Christ.

For He says,

“At the acceptable time I listened to you, and on the day of salvation I helped you”;

behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 6: 2

 

Most of us experience times of questioning and wondering about the timing of certain decisions and about the best way to proceed through various situations that we encounter. God has equipped all of us with an inquisitive mind and with the ability to discern what is right so that we can make wise and informed decisions. However, there are also many times when we need to operate from a perspective of trust in our Lord and simply do what is right so that we demonstrate what His righteousness looks like in our world.

 

When we hit the point where our need for spiritual life exceeded our will to push on without God’s direct and personal involvement in our lives, Christ was there with a heart that listened to every urgent cry and that counted each of our tears as precious. At that point in our life journeys, Christ was ready to accept our surrender and to provide us with the purifying blood of His sacrifice so that we were made perfectly righteous in God’s eyes.

 

Now we are the ones who are called upon by the Lord to live as if that cleansing were our total reality. We are to behave as if everyone that we meet is in that same spiritually dead state, and we are to seek to live in a manner that makes every breath that we take an expression of the saving grace of Christ. Today is the day to live with your heart lifted up by your confidence in Christ’s grace and acceptance. This is the time when your life will matter for the eternity of another, for this can be the day of salvation for someone that you will meet.

 

 

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Jude 24, 25

 

We have all seen what it is like in a courtroom. This may be true from real life experience or these impressions might have come to us through television or film. There is one word that generally does not describe the scene in that place, and that word is joy. The exception to this is probably when the verdict is pronounced, and then. sometimes joy or joyous describes the prevailing party. This verse depicts a different sort of courtroom where the outcome, the verdict, carries a much more significant weight than does the one that can be handed out in any human court of law. In God’s court, each of us is held accountable for the life that we lived, for the righteous conduct of our days, and to the decisions that we made in regards to our relationship with the judge, God Himself.

 

Frankly, no one passes the test of the high standard of righteousness that God sets for us. Every one of us fails as no one is worthy of being in the presence of the pure and holy being that is the Lord. However, this same pure, holy and righteous God does not want to be separated from us. He designed and created each person on this earth with the desire and intent of enjoying a relationship with us that would continue into the infinite. So, God came into our world in the person of Jesus. He brought to us an answer to our guilt as Jesus took upon His absolutely blameless and innocent self the punishment that we deserve. With our guilty verdict proclaimed upon Christ, God allowed our death sentence to be carried out upon Himself so that when we appear before the seat of judgement after our days in this world are completed, the verdict that we will hear is innocent, and we are set free to enjoy the eternal presence of the Lord as we dwell in His glorious realm.

 

Although living for eternity in God’s presence is an extraordinary outcome to the highly flawed and blameworthy lives that we all live, it is not all that Christ grants to us through His sacrificial acceptance of our verdict of shameful guilt. In Christ, we are set free from a form of slavery that oppresses the soul and so subjects the heart and mind to its bondage. Christ redeems us from that life-long captivity, from that pre-sentence incarceration, so that we can live out our days breathing the free air of God’s Kingdom on earth where our lives are given great purpose and meaning as we are called by Christ to serve His redemptive mission. It is Christ’s grace that makes us, sinful and disobedient as we may be, suitable for this service. He pours out His righteousness upon us, and so, we are found to be blameless, and God joyously pronounces us to be fit for service to Him.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Romans 5: 10

 

Enemy is a strong word. I don’t know about you, but I am troubled by the idea that I was ever an enemy of God’s, for the concept of the Lord Almighty, the Lord of Hosts with His heavenly army waging war against me is terrifying. Yet, that is what everyone either is or has been. If we are not with Him, then we are truly and fully against Him. There is no middle or neutral ground in the contest of the spiritual. Still, God works tirelessly to win over every single person who opposes Him. Despite our rejection, disagreement, refusal to yield to Him, or other forms of rebellion, Christ’s sacrifice and the Father’s redemption of life from death are ever present offers held out to us for the taking. We may be enemies in fact, but God treats us as long-lost children who He seeks to bring back home by engaging with us with whatever means He discerns will accomplish our turning to Christ.

 

As we have come to know Christ, we are the recipients of grace. There is nothing that we receive from God that we earned or that we deserve to get. When we turn toward Christ and leave the camp of His enemies, we are not placed into some form of prisoner of war status or given a sentence to be served by being reeducated in a guarded facility. We are set free from the bondage of sin, and we are granted the freedom to walk all of the streets and to visit all of the halls of God’s Kingdom. The grace that we have received is total and absolute, we are unconditionally free and unconditionally loved. Christ wants us to do something in response to His love for us and with this grace that He pours out over us. The Lord desires for His people to live as purveyors of grace in our world. So, we may have enemies in this world. There are almost certainly people who cause us irritation, bring about disagreement, or who we encounter with open hostility.

 

These are all, without exception, people that God loves and that He has plans for. Each of these people is someone for whom Christ died and whose redemption is important to the Father. None of us has insider knowledge of how that other person’s life story will turn out. We are never given that information or provided any idea about their spiritual destination. This understanding and knowledge belong solely to God. What He does tell us is that, like us, these people who are enemies today are still loved and cared about by Christ. They are to be treated as if that were our own reality too. If God does not reject people out of hand, but rather came to earth, suffered, and died for each and every one of us, then we have no authority to hold attitudes of disdain and rejection of any of them. We are to love others and to pour out Christ’s infinite grace upon all. In fact, it might be true that Christ would instruct us to give an extra measure of that same grace that He provides to us to those who are particularly difficult for us to encounter. Just a thought.

 

A reflection on Dr. Timothy George’s thoughts at Wheaton Theology Conference 2018.