November 2012: A Look at Grace
But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.
Grace: the undeserved favor and mercy of God. By it He has changed countless lives over the centuries, including mine. Let’s take a look at this awesome gift from several angles.
* Grace frees us from shame.
Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”
When exposed to the light of God’s grace, our shame, especially that from sexual sin, dissolves. Put yourself in the shoes of the woman caught in the act of adultery (see John chapter eight) when she encountered Jesus. Standing before God knowing she deserved death by stoning (as the pastors of the day who were standing nearby were demanding) must have been debilitating. There’s no hope. Then Jesus looks her in the eye and says “I do not condemn you”… when the law clearly says her penalty is death?
Now make it a little more personal. You’ve just finished masturbating to porn and are riddled with shame. For me the normal response was to roll in the mud of self-condemnation for hours, even days. Today I know it was unnecessary. All I needed to do was look Jesus in the eye, say “I sinned,” and then receive it His mercy by adding “thank you for forgiving me” (1 John 1:9). See Samuel 12:13 to see how David confessed his sin after he was confronted for with affair with Bathsheba.
That might sound too easy to some… certainly remorse is required for forgiveness, right? Or at least a few hours of shame? Indeed, the Holy Spirit will do the work of conviction after we’ve fallen, but a roll in the mud of condemnation isn’t going to please God. We can’t make it right with Him. We can only receive the gift by accepting it; just as I believe the woman caught in adultery did. When a ray of light breaks through our heart that we’re not the rejected, piece of sewage that the adversary has been saying we are, and that God will never leave us or forsake us in spite of our deepest and darkest failures, joy breaks loose. We don’t have to carry the burden of shame any longer or wallow in self-condemnation; we can receive God’s forgiveness without striving to earn it.
* Grace frees us from sin.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed
2 Corinthians 9:8
Is the grace of God only about getting a ticket to Heaven? Jesus came to set captives free from the power of the devil and bondage to sin. Every once in a while someone will email me and say they’ve fallen so many times for so many years that they no longer believe there’s hope. What they’re really saying is that God isn’t big enough to free them. I struggled for 20 years with sexual sin; once God became my last hope He forever changed my life with a revelation of His love deep within my heart. There is hope.
Most people have no idea how vast the grace of God is. We see it when we take in the majesty of His creation. We hold it when we read His amazing Word, and hear it when He speaks to us with a well-timed verse. We experience it when He draws us near to Him in praise and worship and we sense His presence. We are a recipient of it when He provides our needs. We glory in it when we realize that God allowed Himself to be killed for us.
Think of how hard it is for you to forgive someone when they’ve hurt you deeply; all of the anger, desire for revenge, and twisted emotions you have to fight your way through. Now think of a holy God forgiving you, immediately, every time you confess your sin. That’s huge. Your sin is tiny compared to the vast covering and power of the grace of God.
The enemy doesn’t want you to get a hold of the truth of how big the grace of God is; he knows it will change you from his marionette to a front line enemy. He wants to keep you in the dark to all the blessings, grace and power of God that are at your fingertips.
How is this grace accessed? In most cases of my life it has been when I’m one-on-one with the Lord, and have allowed Him to uncover the layers of sin that keep me from receiving His Holy Spirit-induced flow of grace. Pastors and friends can tell me about the grace of God, but if I want it I have to receive it from His hands.
* Grace must be packaged with truth.
For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.
Recently, Chuck Swindoll shared a story on his radio show that shocked me. Before I go on, realize that this is a pastor who wrote a book called The Grace Awakening, on the excellence of the grace of God and the ugly sin of legalism.
Swindoll told a story of how a friend of his attended a church that focused mainly on the love of God. His friend told Swindoll that “those people would have loved me right into hell.” He went on to say that this church didn’t tell him he was a sinner or of his desperate need for God.
I’ve heard the American church say such things as “you can do anything you want and God will forgive you.” God forgives all our sins (Colossians 2:13), but there’s a problem with “you can do anything you want.”
For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
Picture getting married and then telling your new wife, “Honey, I know you love me and will forgive me of anything. I’m going to have sex with just one other woman a week, with an occasional prostitute in the mix. There’ll also be some porn to fill in the gaps. But we’re good ‘cuz you’ll forgive me, right?”
That marriage would be done.
“You can do anything you want…” can’t square with verses like:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
We cannot have sin and God; we must choose which one we want. Telling people “God loves you” without telling them they’re dealing with a holy God who hates sin and does not compromise with, condone, or tolerate it is dangerous. When we realize we dare not play games with God, it produces a holy fear which the Bible calls “the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). The penalty of sin is so severe that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). We need this truth to take deep root in our soul so we are not one of those who fall away (Matthew 13): our heart is a dark, wicked mess, and apart from the grace of God we will be in hell. We desperately need the redemption of the cross.
I fear that we are becoming too sophisticated to be desperate for God. We can get so caught up in having the right teaching and building up our knowledge banks that we don’t take a hard look at what’s really going on in our hearts. If I have the right theology but my heart is dead, bitter, or worse, lukewarm, something’s wrong. Grace must get from the head to the heart for change—which requires the help of the Holy Spirit.
The American church is breeding shallow Christians, many who are falling away. Statistics show that 70-80% of youth leave the church by the time they’re 18. Are we “loving people into hell” as Swindoll’s friend said, because the secular philosophy of “be tolerant” (i.e. only say nice things to people) has infected the church? The trend doesn’t look good.
None of this is to say that we will achieve perfection in this life. But when a man is broken by the truth of his wretchedness and has a holy fear of God, he will see his desperate need for the grace of God and will go hard after Him all his life. He will “love God much because he knows God has forgiven him of much” (Luke 7:47), and will be more likely to fulfill the greatest commandment, which is to love God with all his heart, mind, soul and strength (Luke 10:27).
* Grace exposes our pride, fear, and self-righteousness.
XXXchurch is a ministry led by Craig Gross. They attend porn conventions and hand out Bibles to the workers in the porn industry, and have led some to Christ. One former porn producer that turned to God went to seminary to become a pastor. They also provide help for those who struggle with sexual sin.
In his book “Starving Jesus,” Gross writes that 95% of the hate mail they receive comes from Christians.
Don’t believe me? They’ve got pages of these letters up on their website at http://www.xxxchurch.com/extras/hatemail.html. XXXChurch has been called “wicked,” “reprobates,” “false prophets,” “evil,” “snakes,” and more, complete with Scripture references. One person wrote that they hoped God would punish them.
In his new book ReFocus, Jim Daly of Focus on the Family tells the story of when he met with a well-known homosexual activist. Although they disagreed on many points, near the end of their time together, when Daly broached the love of God with the man, tears came to his eyes. Daly walked away feeling like God had intervened in that moment and brought a ray of light to that man’s life.
But when he returned to his office, Daly was quizzed about the meeting by a member of his staff. This person feared that Daly was in jeopardy of compromising his principles because he met with a homosexual activist, and that if word got out of the meeting it would embarrass Focus on the Family.
Daly wrote that he had a greater clash with his Christian brother over sharing the grace of God than he did with the homosexual activist. Daly also writes that if we want to live as Jesus did we will encounter resistance both inside and outside of the church.
Grace is dangerous.
Grace provokes fear in those whose view of the Christian life is that it must be safe, contained, squeaky clean and orderly. When someone reaches out to a porn actress, a homosexual, a sex offender, (or how about a Muslim?) it turns their white, suburban delusion of controlled, comfy religion on its head. Fear is provoked because now the shallowness of their love is exposed, triggering the walls of judgment for defense.
Grace exposes our pride and self-righteousness if we view others as less worthy of God’s forgiveness than ourselves just because their sin makes us squirm. We’re blind to the fact that we’re just as wretched as they are, and maybe more so because pride is number one on the list of sins God hates (see Proverbs 6:16-18). Sexual sin doesn’t even make the top seven.
Sometimes the church blocks the flow of grace more than it encourages it.
I think we need some Sundays where the pastor hits the congregation with an industrial strength, in your face, confrontation of our self-righteousness, pride and fear. We desperately need to be convicted of these sins as time is short, and none of us wants to be a stumbling block to God’s work.
Such conviction would be another act of God’s grace, because we will be brought back full circle to the truth of our brokenness, sin, and desperate need for His forgiveness.
That’s a great place to be.
When a Father Says it’s Okay for His Son to Look at Porn
Last month an editor from Crosswalk.com contacted me and said there was a letter circulating on the internet where a father caught his son viewing porn, patted him on the head, and gave him some “safe porn sites to view.” (That’s not a misprint). I was almost surprised when I read this, until I remembered that moral mush is the norm today.
The editor asked if I could come up with an article in response. You can read it here:
My gift is in writing, not design, so if anyone would like to help with newsletter design or other issues related to the website, please let me know. I’m getting more opportunities to write for other ministries and it would help free up some time for writing and other ministry projects.
October 2012: When Someone Shares their Sin
September 2012: Willpower Doesn’t Work
August 2012: Look Who’s One of the Porn Industry’s Biggest Customers
July 2012: For Those Who are Control Freaks (and Don’t Want to Be)
June 2012: Blazing Grace on a Sunday Morning
May 2012: Why We Need Suffering
April 2012: The Forgotten Half: Wives of Christian Porn Addicts
“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? “Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. “But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.”
Blazing Grace’s purpose is to minister to the sexually broken and equip the church to effectively deal with the porn epidemic.
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May God’s grace abound to you.
All material copyright 2012 Mike Genung