10 Nov 2013 by Eugene Tan-
The Christian life is not about the changed life but exchanged life; it is not about behaviour modification but heart transformation; it is not about good works but the finished work.
If Christianity is about changed life, how much change do we need to be acceptable? How much more in our behaviour do we need to tweak or add good works to, before we qualify?
Driving a friend who was a pastor to a speaking engagement, our conversation came into the subject of grace and forgiveness. My friend shared with me over his unhappiness over an incident in his church. A new believer was found smoking every week after the service, whereby many church members frowned upon and complained about his behavior to my pastor friend. My friend was saddened by the judgmental attitude of the church members who were supposed to extend grace.
But for the sake of discussion, I asked my friend, “Pastor, how long do you think it’s acceptable for this new believer to continue smoking?” My friend floundered for a while. So, I asked more specific questions, “Is three months okay?” He paused and replied, “Should be okay lah.” I asked again, “What about three years?” This time, my friend answered, “Oh no, you need to lead a holy life. I doubt if he is truly saved if he still smokes after three years. You know that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit!”
Hence, from this story, we learned that three months are acceptable but not three years. And this is where the church failed because we teach and shout over our roof tops that all sinners are welcomed into church including the homosexuals, child molesters, murderers, drugs addicts, unmarried pregnant woman, and people who have HIV or AIDS. And to give credit to many churches I had been to, the churches had been practicing what is commendable to say the least. The only trouble is that once a person gets saved, he is now expected to live a holy life immediately.
Now, beyond any doubt, when a sinner accepts Christ, he is instantly transported from darkness into God’s marvellous light. The sinner is now made righteous in the eyes of God and God sovereignly bestows eternal life on him. Being righteous in the eyes of God does not mean that the person has immediately become a saint or an angel who does not sin anymore. This gift of eternal life in Heaven is after all grace, meaning unmerited favour by God that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The blood of Christ dealt with our sins, justifying our sins. This is called as justification but that does not mean the sinner has stopped sinning altogether. But because of his simple faith on God’s grace, he is now as I understood as ‘saved.’ He still needs to grow toward maturity, a process understood as sanctification. And day by day, bit by bit, slowly but surely, he learns the meaning of living a life that honors God. But to transform one’s entire attitude immediately is near to impossible.
Apart from smoking, is it acceptable for an impatient man to continue to be impatient after three years he accepted Christ? How about a man struggling with lust or a woman who habitually gossips after three years they became believers? What about those who love to eat and still continue to overindulge in food after ten years accepting Christ? If we were to base our salvation on performance, then who would qualify?
We have a God who sees the heart, not only the externals. Hence, there is no room for hypocrisy or double standards. The Bible declares that God do not judge like mere mortals who could see the speck in other people’s eyes, but not the plank in front of their own eyes (Matt 7:3). The Bible declares that we are saved by grace through faith and not works, so that no man can boast because grace is a gift of God (Eph 2:8). In Exodus 12:13, God said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” The Israelites were rebellious, stiff-necked and disobedient, yet I thank God that it is not what they do or think, but all they need to do is to believe in the blood of the Lamb.
Of course, some of us have heard believers who were instantly delivered from drug addiction and gambling addiction through God’s power. But let us be honest about ourselves, how many of us still struggle with irritability, impatience, gossiping, and other frailties years after our conversion. Hence, if the answer is yes, the question is again, “Are we saved or not then?”
Also, our understanding of our body being the temple of the Holy Spirit needs to be calibrated. Apostle Paul was not referring to the physical body but the spirit (1 Cor 6:19). Imagine the Holy Spirit dwelling in our fleshly body and dying with us. When God spoke to Adam, He told him, “But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it, you will surely die (Gen 2:17).” Did Adam die after eating the food? No. Was God lying? No, but God was referring to the spirit man. Likewise, the Apostle Paul was referring to the Spirit. This is a classic example of how truths can be misunderstood.
Jesus said, ““Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matt 11:28).” Is this for real? Are we experiencing the reality of what Jesus said? Is our faith easy?
Is our Christian walk happy? How can anyone of us be happy if we constantly feel we are not good enough? Can you be a happy wife if your husband constantly thinks that you are not good enough, not pretty enough, not tall enough, and not a good cook enough compared to someone else’s wife? How can a child be happy if everything he or she does is not good enough for the parents? In the same token, how can any child of God be truly happy if we constantly feel that we are not good enough and we cannot live up to God’s expectations?
When God visited Adam and Eve in the garden after they had eaten the fruit, did God ask them why they did it; what happened to them, and what in the world made them did it? Instead of asking those questions, our gracious and loving Father asked, “Where are you (Gen 3:9)?” He is asking, “Where are you my child? Where are you hurting?”
The next question He asked was, “Who told you that you were naked (Gen 3:11)?” To paraphrase, this sentence could sound like, “Who told you that you are not good enough? Who told you that you are not qualified? Who told you that you are not complete? Who told Abraham that he was too old and Sarah’s womb was empty? Who told Nick Vuijicic that he is not going to make a difference in this world because he had no arms and legs?”
Yes, grace is radical because grace dares to believe. Grace dares to challenge established and preconceived mind-set, ideas, cultures, and religiosity. Grace says that you are not a sinner because you sin but you are a sinner because you are sin. A Chinese may be born in United States and not speak a word of Chinese but he is nevertheless a Chinese. We are born into sin through Adam and we are born again through Jesus Christ who is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2)!
When we inherit a fortune, we do not have to work for it because it is our birth right. Therefore, grace says you don’t pray for victory, we pray from a position of victory. Likewise, we don’t pray for more power and more of the Holy Spirit because God is not a supermarket retailer who dispenses packets of victory, power, or Holy Spirit; but everything we ever need is within us.
Christ in us is the hope of glory. In Him, we are more than conquerors. In Him, we can do all things! Let me add a disclaimer here; grace is not antinomianism, it is not a license to sin. Grace only removes the guilt, shame, and condemnation of sin but it does not remove the consequences of sin for breaking the laws we need to respect, i.e. law of nature, gravity, or our government. If you murder someone, you go to jail. In short, grace must be tempered with common sense.
Preaching about grace is risky. Some may believe that the grace message is too liberal with too little care about the holiness of God, hence allowing believers to continue sinning. In fact, there will be believers who will thank us for taking away their guilt because in their mistaken mind-set, they think that continuing their carefree and loose lifestyles are okay to continue.
If you are a parent and one of your children chose a sinful lifestyle due to the grace theology you preached and practiced, that could create a lot of guilt. As a parent, you fear that you may be too gracious. Having said that, in my personal opinion, erring in the side of grace is better than the side of legalism.
Still, on the scale of one to ten, how gracious are you? Are you gracious to the point whereby you allow your children to play with firecrackers at three years old, go to a mall without adult supervision at ten year old, ride a motorbike without a driving license at 15 years old or stay over at their boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s apartment at 17 years old? Do we still use the rod on our children at 17 years old because the Bible says spare the rod and spoil your children (Prov 13:24) or do we follow the Americans who do not use the rod at all according to Benjamin Spock?
Also, where do we draw the line between grace and common sense for ourselves and in church? Do we allow our church members to serve communion in their sandals or do we insist they dress up in suits? Does grace mean that the ladies of the church could dress up in miniskirts or micro shorts, with body-hugging spaghetti strap tops or do we insist that they cover their head with a shawl?
For those who are married, do we extend our grace to our spouse to a point where they have the liberty to do whatever they like such as reprimanding each other in public or migrating to another country with the children without mutual consensus? On the other hand, are we so controlling that we need to know every movement and every little decision?
The moral of the story here is grace need to be tempered with common sense.
Most Christians do not have a clue of what they are missing. When Emperor Hirohito surrendered, many American soldiers were still fighting the Japanese. After the American civil war when the slaves were emancipated, many were found still working as slaves. At the cross, it is finished; it cannot be more finished. God has given us everything in Jesus Christ. Let us do away with the slave mentality. The whole abundant life is already embodied on the cross and in the cross; our role is to work out what is already within us, that abundant life in us.
Grace that is received but unexpressed is dead grace. If we do not know how to enjoy grace and to translate grace into our personal experience, grace is dead in our lives. Cheap grace justifies the sin rather than the sinner. True grace, on the other hand, justifies the sinner and not the sin. We don’t fall from grace when we misbehave but we fall into grace. When sin abounds, grace abounds even more! Grace is not a struggle for a free life but grace belives, in God’s economy, that all struggles have expiry dates. Some of our life struggles are learning curves and I believe our Heavenly Father allows them to happen to help us to be more mature.
Let me conclude by saying that grace nullifies guilt; there is no doubt about that. Grace removes guilt; it renders shame powerless. Guilt and shame keep us away from God. And from the example of Adam and Eve, the Bible paints a picture of God as a seeker.
Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son further exemplifies this perception. God is like a lovesick father, constantly looking out over the horizon for us. And brothers and sister, this is the power of grace. It continually reinforces God’s love for us and by doing so; it empowers us to know who we are in Jesus Christ by liberating us to be our true selves without fear and condemnation, plus with a lot of common sense! God bless.
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