Wednesday, February 5, 2014

God's Grace in our Lives

            We were talking last week in our group time at our Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Northern Kentucky, when someone made a point that struck a chord. She mentioned how there had always been two of her: a church version of her and an everywhere else version of her. Another member immediately began laughing, and when prompted stated that she had perfectly described her life in the past as well. I was sitting there thinking the exact same thing.
            Can I be clear and up front before we dive in? Is there one person that has been raised in church that has run from God? Is there one of us that has not learned, yea, mastered, being able to fake it?
            I’m hearing no objections.
            Now that that’s out of the way…
            Isn’t God good? We run from Him, spit in His face, and He still loves us enough to pursue us. Our freshman Bible study has taken us into the book of Hosea. “Go take this prostitute and marry her.” (This is my paraphrased edition, not a watered-down Bible version.) “Fall deeply in love with her. And when she runs from you back to her old ways, your heart will be broken, and you will have to go chase her down, but you always will because you love her. And by the way, I’m doing this to show that Israel is like a whore who keeps running, and who I keep chasing. And one more thing- all you Christians today are like them too.”
            Not exactly easy to swallow, is it?
            But easy to relate to. We’ve all rebelled, we’ve all turned our faces against God. If you haven’t, then I want to be around you. We get to middle school, high school, and we get busy. We get around our friends and let influences rub off on us. Before we know it we are left having to watch what we say and what we do around “church people” because who we really are, deep down, makes us sick. And instead of being honest with ourselves and others about our condition and getting godly help, we let things slip further. We want to enjoy our lives, and want everyone to think everything is all okay.
            If you’re in this situation now, I feel you. No one, at least not anyone legitimate that I know, will judge you for digging in and turning things around. But it doesn’t come through us. That can only come from God- He is the only one able to offer that sort of aid. Our sin nature brings us to that state, and our stubbornness, part of our sin nature, keeps us there. Like I said, I feel you.
            “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (II Cor. 9:9-10)
            All of us experience this for different amounts of time. Sometimes it goes into young adulthood. Sometimes it is over after high school. Sometimes it never ends. And remember that we are never out of the woods- we have never “arrived”. But there is the victorious life of relying on God and not on ourselves.
            For those of us that have quit this cycle, praise God. This is a sign of His grace. Many people raised in church claim they cannot have good testimonies, but I can tell you some of the best I’ve heard are those in which God has pursued one who has strayed from Him.
            And it is after this that God can truly begin His work in us. Being unable to be in the presence of sin, He cannot use a dirty vessel. But when we have submitted ourselves to Him, that is when we can properly serve Him. That is when sanctification takes its full effect. Nonbelievers often claim that being a Baptist or another who believes in salvation through faith alone means that we can do whatever we want. I find the opposite to be true.
            “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom. 6:14-23)
            This is the essence of sanctification. The grace of God saves us from our sin, so that we no longer have to. And He sends the Holy Spirit to do that work in us:
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Cor. 6:9-11)
            As I have learned in my life, and as we all have learned in our lives, we can do nothing apart from God. We can’t defeat sin, can’t make our decisions, and most certainly can’t get to Heaven without His grace. To do so would be to say that we can live up to His standard, that we are good enough. But “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
            I find it a bold claim that we can have some sort of concoction of works to get us into Heaven- as much as we all fail, I’m not sure I’d be willing to trust that method. But more than that, we are held to GOD’S standard. Are you as good as God? Neither am I.
            Thankfully, we don’t have to be. Jesus Christ took care of that on the cross so that we could accept His righteousness and His payment, and now we can reach Heaven, not on our own merits, but on His.
            “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” (Gal. 2:21) Why would God put His Son through the agonizing death He did if we can do ANYTHING on our own to get to Heaven?
            If you have accepted Him, then let go. Let go of your sin, of your life, and give it to God. Then repeat it every day. Now praise God for His grace. Now tell someone else about it.

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