Freedom Fridays: Embrace Grace, Part 3

What have we covered so far in Freedom Fridays? (I’m only included the posts that are actually in this “Learning to Walk in Freedom” series).

Intro: What is Freedom? Part 1 & Part 2

1. Spend Time with the Freedom Giver: Part 1 & Part 2

2. Spend Time with Freedom Seekers

3. Act Like a Free Person, part 1 & part 2

4. Embrace Grace, part 1 & part 2

And now, Embrace Grace part 3.

We often talk about grace being how we believers are saved. And that’s a good thing! It’s so important to remember that we can’t come to Christ in our own effort or by following rules and we can’t continue to abide in Him through rules & effort.

But what else is grace? Is that all the word means?

I will preface this next section by saying I am not a Greek scholar. I have taken some Bible classes through our denomination, but no language classes at all and certainly not Greek. So the information I’m sharing is based on what I’ve learned through concordances, commentaries, and the teachings of others who have studied Greek. So take what I have to say as my experiences and the knowledge I have at this point and run with it 🙂

The Greek word that is often translated grace is “Charis“. It’s used about 148 times in the New Testament. Let’s take a look at a few examples of where this word was used in the New Testament, with the English word that Charis is translated into bolded (all passages are from the NASB).

In Luke:
1:30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary ; for you have found favor with God.
1:40 The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom ; and the grace of God was upon Him.
2:52 And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

John 1:14, 16-17 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth….For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses ; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.

Lots in the book of Acts. Many of the epistles begin and end with the author writing “grace” to the readers, as in Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, etc.

Other examples:
Ephesians 4:7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

2 Corinthians 12:9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

1 Timothy 1:12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service,

2 Timothy 2:1 You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

Hebrews 12:28 Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe.

We see through many of these passages that grace is not a one-time event, but an on-going need, as we’ve been taking about in the past 2 Freedom Fridays. We can also observe Charis is translated grace, good will, favor, thanks, the token or proof of grace, benefit, and expanded definitions from the lexicon I linked above, “the spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace” and “of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues”.

These last 2 are really what we’re going to discuss today.

Luke & John talked about how God’s grace was all over Jesus. Well, He never sinned and didn’t need to experience God’s grace in the way we do, so they must have been talking about something a little different. Could they have been talking about the condition of being governed by the power of divine grace?

In Acts 6:8, it states “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.” Grace & power went hand-in-hand, enabling Stephen to carry out God’s supernatural works. Acts 7:46 talks about the Charis/favor David found in God, and Luke talks about the Charis/favor Mary had. Ephesian 4 talks about how the supernatural gifts and callings are given through grace as Christ gives/apportions it. James 4 says God gives grace to the humble and that grace enables us to submit to God and resist the devil.

There are a ton more passages that demonstrate the depth of this word Charis and the broadness of all that God means when He speaks this word to us. Beyond the forgiveness of sins, grace offers us some sort of supernatural power/favor for everyday life, for resisting sin, and for doing God’s work. Rather than discuss this further, I want to encourage you to go to the Word and pray that God would show you how to live in Charis, that He would reveal to you His Charis in your life, fill you with this power to live how He wants you to live, and that He would refresh you with His supernatural power and favor.

Do Today’s Christians Idealize the Early Church?

Some friends and I have been discussing a blog post of John Piper’s entitled Don’t Equate Historically Early with Theologically Accurate

I am neither endorsing or not endorsing (what’s the opposite of endorsing? rejecting? disapproving? anyway…) John Piper or what he has to say in his blog post. But it got me thinking:

Do today’s Christians idealize the early church?

I just began reading the book of Acts again (prior to that, I read all the gospels), so this question really hit home for me.

I think many Christians do try to “reclaim” the early church by trying to create a church service or environment that looks like what they perceive the early church to have looked like. So they meet in homes, sometimes without a formal leader, focus on the book of Acts and the epistles, abandon a lot of the structure and programs that have come to mean “church” today. I’ll be upfront and say I am not at all “anti-house church”. Not at all. I am aware of some of the dangers (many do not have strong oversight and accountability, for one) as well as the benefits (many don’t have a set leader, so all input is valued, family worship is encouraged, to name a few).

But I think trying to recreate the early church environment is missing the point.

I have been reading about Amy Carmichael, and something she said really struck me (if you follow me on Twitter, I quoted this a few weeks ago):

I don’t wonder apostolic miracles have died. Apostolic living certainly has.

Those who idealize the early church seem to want to live church as the early church had church, but they don’t want to live lives as the early church lived their lives. I don’t mean we have to live on a commune, having no possessions of our own and striving to figure out what it means to have “everything in common“. But we often are not willing to live our lives generously, sacrificially, reaching out to others often with the truth of the Gospel.

That is what identified the early church – not what their meetings looked like, but what their lives looked like. Read the book of Acts to get a full picture of what the early church looked like, as well as the epistles, to get an accurate idea of the challenges they faced.

May we commit to living lives that glorify God and put Him in the center, sacrificially, generously, devoting ourselves to the Word, to fellowship, to prayer and breaking bread, caring for each other and bearing each others’ burdens, as our early church fathers did.

Freedom Fridays: Embrace Grace, Part 2

Hope you all survived last week’s Freedom Friday break! I actually meant to post something brief, but the cold I had been fighting for 5 days worsened – and I’m still sick! But I’m going to push through and post anyway 🙂

So brief recap from 2 weeks ago:
Understanding grace is key to learning to walk in freedom.

A few years into my Christian walk, I realized that while I believed in my heart that I was saved by grace alone, I was demonstrated a different core belief through my actions: Through rules and my own effort, I could overcome my life-controlling issues.

Let me tell you from experience that trying to be free through rules and human effort doesn’t and won’t work. In fact, it injects you into a cycle that makes YOU responsible for your own healing. I’ve found it only heaped shame and condemnation on my head when I messed up.

So how do we overcome the cycle of sin? And what does God want us to do when we struggle? Does He want us to walk around like a dog, with our tail between our legs? Or should we beat ourselves up for a certain amount of time, the amount of time being in direct proportion with the seriousness of our sin?

Of course it sounds ridiculous when I put it that way, but you know you’ve done it!

As I realized the futility of what I was doing in response to my struggles, that not only does it not work, but it’s actually not Biblical, a friend gently suggested I begin to more thoroughly explore what grace is.

I go to a charismatic type of church in a denomination with a holiness background. The denomination as a whole has a history of really liking rules 🙂 My church is quite grace-based and doesn’t have any weird rules, but I’ve heard of churches where in order to serve in any capacity, you have to sign agreements that you won’t drink alcohol, watch R-rated movies and other extra-Biblical rules. Some of the rules may be a good idea (I don’t drink, for instance, since I have alcoholism in my family), but they are not matters of Biblical mandate, but rather personal conviction.

In any event, I remember when I first heard Clark Whitten preach a thorough sermon on grace at the Exodus Freedom Conference in 2004 (he followed it up with another teaching on the law). Honestly, as I sat there, I didn’t believe what he was saying. I mean, he was quoting the Bible, and using the verses in context. It seemed to line up with what I knew about God and what His Word says about grace. But I couldn’t see past all the rules I had set up in my life.

Grace just sounded too good to be true.

“When you preach grace, unless your conscience accuses you of license, you haven’t preached grace.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Grace really is too good to be true. Maybe that’s why we try to accomplish through rules & own own effort. Yet God is very clear in how He expects us to react when we mess up:
Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV)

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

God doesn’t react to our struggles and sin in the “angry fire darts from heaven” way that we think He does. Sin says something about the condition of our hearts, and ultimately, God just wants our hearts.

Look at the Pharisees. Isaiah 29:13:

These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.

Externally, they seemed to do everything right. They followed all the rules, but they wouldn’t give God their hearts.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

I’m not teaching some sort of loosey-goosey sloppy grace message where sin doesn’t matter because it’s all covered by the blood anyways. That’s not what I’m saying at all.

The Bible is clear: rules have no power to restrain. Human effort will fail us.

Clark Whitten says “The greatest constraining power on earth against sin in your life is love.” The only thing that has the power to restrain us from sin is truly knowing, understanding and experiencing His love and grace. When we have a full grasp of His love and His grace and just who He is and what He’s done, we don’t want to hurt Him. We are less and less tempted to sin because we love Him, because we have experienced His grace and know His tender heart for us.

God wants to connect with our hearts! He wants us to know and believe that He really is Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides, and He really can meet our needs. That through His grace, we really can learn to experience freedom from our life-controlling issues.

There may be a part 3 to this post. I guess you’ll find out next week 🙂

Freedom Fridays: Embrace Grace, Part 1

We know the bottom line: that God is the freedom giver. But how exactly do we find freedom, and how/who does it come from?

The answer is grace.

It is for freedom that Christ set us free, right? How did He set us free?

Through salvation by grace alone.

From the Gospel according to John, chapter 1:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Romans 3:24

All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

2 Corinthians 8:9

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

2 Corinthians 12:9

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Galatians 5:1

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

We need to understand what Jesus’ death on the cross accomplished, in order to learn to walk in freedom. Jesus’ death on the cross took care of all our sins – those we committed before we were saved AND those we committed since then.

This really was one of the keys in helping me to overcome my struggle with habitual sin. I used to try to achieve obedience, freedom and mastery over my sin by my own strength. I would pray and ask for God’s help, of course; but then when I’d fall, I’d beat myself up for a good amount of time because of my fall. This behavior fit right in line with how I treated myself before I became a Christian, especially as it pertained to my eating disorder. If I ate too much (in my opinion) or didn’t exercise enough, or if I woke up one day and my weight was too high, I’d belittle myself and make resolutions about how to change
whatever it was that I didn’t like.

Galatians 3 says “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”

This way of thinking made me pretty legalistic. I made all sorts of rules for myself (and others) in an attempt to measure my faith as well as theirs. If I had boiled down my thinking, my core belief seemed to be that it was easier to follow rules than to try to live in the reality of grace.

It reminds me of Paul’s warning to the Colossians:

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Let me tell you from experience that rules alone will get your nowhere fast.

I just read this today: “Self-striving nurtures self-hatred.” Yes and Amen.

I cannot, cannot do this myself. I never could. That’s precisely why Jesus died on the cross.

More in Part 2, which may or may not be next week. I’m going out of town and will have to see if I have time to post!