Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Grace is More That Just Forgiveness

There are some preachers who would say that I misunderstand grace by writing so much about righteous living.  They will accuse me of bringing law into grace.  They will accuse me of being legalist.  They will preach an incomplete message that denies any kind of expected change in life after coming to Christ.  To them I say that it is not I who misunderstand grace, but it is you.  You turn grace into licentiousness.  You attack any message to the contrary as some kind of reflexive reaction.  In other words, you accuse those who preach righteousness as those who struggle with the things that they preach on.  They take one part of the Bible regarding us no longer being under the law as an excuse to never worry about living righteously for God.  They tell us not to worry about sin, about self-examination, about our failure, and, for some, even about confessing our sins to God.  Sometimes I wish that the Bible had something very specific to saw about not living under the law.  Sometimes I wish there was just a verse that specifically addressed the concern of living righteously when there is no law to bind us.  Sometimes I wish there was a passage that talked about the other side of grace.  Then I thought: "Oh yea, there is." 
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!  Romans 6:15 NKJV
That really puts that whole licentiousness idea to bed doesn't it?  Shall we sin because we are under grace and not law?  The answer is an empathic "No!"  Paul now goes on to explain why, that is to explain the other part of grace not taught in such churches.
Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin [leading] to death, or of obedience [leading] to righteousness? But God be thanked that [though] you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.  Romans 6:16-18 NKJV
You see, grace is so much more than forgiveness.  Don't get me wrong, forgiveness is awesome in an of itself; however, God does not stop there.  God gives us so much more.  Where we were once slaves to sin, we are now slaves to righteousness.   Where we were once slaves to our flesh, we are now slaves to the Spirit.  Grace does not just absolve us from the guilt of our sin, but frees us to live righteously to God.  Oh that I wish this were taught more from the pulpits!  Not just taught forgiveness but also taught righteousness.  Not just taught that we are free from the death penalty for our sins, but that the freedom to live new lives in Jesus Christ!  How many live in perceived bondage to sin because preachers never teach them any different? 
I speak in human [terms] because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members [as] slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness [leading] to [more] lawlessness, so now present your members [as] slaves [of] righteousness for holiness.  Romans 6:19 NKJV
What Paul is saying now is that we should live just as much for God as we once did for the flesh.  In reality, we should live even more for God than we did for our flesh, but most do not even live as hard.  Think about it, there was a time in your life where you would spend whatever needed to be spent and do whatever needed to be done to have a good time.  Do you spend as much money now on the things of God as you did in your old life on a night out drinking?  Do you stay up as late doing the things for God as you once did in revelry?   Is living for God as important for you now as living for yourself once was for you?  The answer is not in your words, but in your actions.  When you lived for sin, you did sin and you did not just talk about it.  Do you do the same now for God?  Again, some would want you believe that coming to Jesus is the end.  I guess it is, in a sense, as it represents the end to your old life. But it is really only the beginning of living true life.  Grace is the end of death and the beginning of true life because grace imparts life upon the believer.  This life is not just the eternal life to come, but a new life even in the here and now. 
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things [is] death.  But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.   For the wages of sin [is] death, but the gift of God [is] eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:20-23 NKJV
Paul now is sharing the contrast of our former lives and our new lives in Jesus Christ.  First Paul talks of the old life.  When we were slaves to sin, we felt we could do whatever we wanted and many of us did.  What did that get us, though, especially now when we see the truth of what we were.  We see nothing but committing and celebrating shameful acts.  We have no fruit other than stories we should be embarrassed to tell except to show the amazing things that God has done in our lives.  The fruit of what we were and what we did was poisonous and would only have led to death if not for Jesus coming into our lives.

Next Paul compares that to our new lives in Christ.  Our fruit now is holiness and, in the end, everlasting life.  I say that again, our fruit now is holiness.  Holiness is not some doctrinal imaginary thing that is imparted upon us with no reflection in our outward lives.  Fruit is an expression.  Fruit is outward.  Fruit is visible.  Holiness, therefore, is a visible expressed in our outward lives.  The fruits we are to bear as Christians are not invisible, but visible.  This holiness is not of our own efforts, but merely by submitting to the Holy Spirit living in our hearts.  It is not something possible on our own, but only by the grace of Jesus can we express holiness in our lives.  It is a fruit of grace, a sign that we have Jesus, a testament to the glory of God.  Furthermore, whereas the fruit we once expressed was on that brought death, the fruit we express now brings life.  When others see that fruit expressed in our lives, it attracts them to Jesus. 

Grace is so much more than forgiveness and preachers who teach otherwise are only cheating their congregation and the greater body of Christ of the full power of grace.  They talk about the favor of God, prosperity, health, wealth, and eternal life.  They add promises never made, take others way out of context, and fall short of ever teaching about a changed life.  They turn the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ into a fantasy sales pitch where you can have forgiveness for all you did or do, live however you want without being concerned one iota for the sin in your life, receive wealth and prosperity, and never get sick.  They make the gospel something carnal and try to cloak it in spiritual wraps.  They speak of righteousness in terms of the righteousness of Christ imparted to us with no talk on what that means for our lives.  They talk about being dead to the law but never talk about what it means to live for Christ.  They talk about forgiveness of sins but never about being free from sin.   Seriously, though, if God did not want us to be concerned with how we live for Jesus than why is so much of the New Testament teachings to Christians (the epistles) spent on teaching Christians how to live righteously for Jesus?  The fact is that it does matter how we live, it matters because our lives are a testimony to the work God is doing in our lives.  

Teachers, teach your congregations to be Christians, to live for Jesus, to present themselves as slaves to righteousness, to live as the light and salt of the earth, and to lead others to that same truth.  Otherwise, your church will not bear fruit and will be just as dead as some old dead barren tree on the side of the road just waiting to fall and rot away into obscurity.  That is unless Jesus comes first to clear out the dead wood to allow the living trees room to grow. 
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, [which is] your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what [is] that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  Romans 12:1-2 NKJV

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