Responsive to His Grace

Responsive to His Grace

What on earth is grace?

Grace can be defined as God’s astounding, scandalous, undeserved and unmerited love and His power to transform us.

Whilst we can define grace, grace is so hard for us to comprehend because grace is so foreign and alien to our world.

Love in our world:

  • is something that is earned;
  • love is something that is conditional;
  • love is something that is traded.

The world doesn’t know much of a love that is undeserved and unmerited, especially from a God.

A number of years ago a conference was held in the UK on comparative religions. Experts discussed religions, past and present. Eventually the discussion centred on Christianity. The experts were invited to consider what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith.

As quick as the ideas were presented, they were dismissed:

  • Healing – Lots of religions have stories of healing
  • Incarnation – Other religions also had gods’ appearing in human form.
  • Resurrection –  Again, other religions had accounts of people being raised to life.

The experts turned to CS Lewis and asked, him what he thought Christianity’s unique contribution was among world religions.

Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.” God’s undeserved and unmerited love was unheard of in every other religion known to mankind.

Philip Yancey in his book What’s so amazing about Grace writes:

The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and the Muslim code of law — each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.

Jesus lived out Grace

Jesus never defined or explained grace in His teachings. In the Gospels the word is scarcely used by him. But Jesus did reveal Grace to us by how He lived in the way He forgave sinners, embraced the destitute and unclean. Jesus oozed grace.

His greatest expression of grace was the Cross.

Romans 5:8 says:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Stripped of every dignity, having been falsely accused and brutally beaten, and hanging on an instrument of torture designed to kill Him, Jesus says these words:

”Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 24:34)

That is grace in motion. Jesus embodied Grace for us in life. He unveiled to the world a new value system that had the power to touch the hearts of the most callous and transform the most vile.

The Roman centurion responsible for overseeing Jesus’ execution remarked,

“Surely he was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:54

Grace means that no mistake we make in life disqualifies us from God’s love. It means that no person is beyond redemption, no human stain beyond cleansing. We live in a world that judges people by their behaviour and requires criminals, debtors, and moral failures to live with the consequences. Even the church finds it difficult to forgive those who fall short.

Grace is irrational, unfair, unjust, and only makes sense if I believe in another world governed by a merciful God who always offers another chance…

Philip Yancey

How to value Grace?

God invites us to enjoy Him.

Psalm 37:4 tells us:

Take delight in the Lord

The outcome of the invitation to delight in the Lord is that He then correspondingly gives us the desires of our heart.

Sam Storms says this about delighting in and enjoying God:

There was a time when I thought the verb “enjoy” and the noun “God” should never be used in the same sentence. I could understand “fearing” God and “obeying” God, even “loving” God. But “enjoying” God struck me as inconsistent with the biblical mandate both to glorify God, on the one hand, and deny myself, on the other. How could I be committed above all else to seeking God’s glory if I were concerned about my own joy? My gladness and God’s glory seemed to cancel each other out. I had to choose between one or the other, but embracing them both struck me as out of the question. Worse still, enjoying God sounded a bit too lighthearted, almost casual, perhaps even flippant, and I knew that Christianity was serious business.

Then I read Jonathan Edwards. Something he said hit me like a bolt of lightning. …

“God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. God made the world that he might communicate, and the creature receive, his glory . . . both [with] the mind and the heart. He that testifies his having an idea of God’s glory [doesn’t] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation [i.e., his heartfelt commendation or praise] of it and his delight in it” 

God invites us to be Christian hedonists. Christian hedonism is the idea that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

So the question remains, how do we jump into the pool of God’s Grace?

1> Embracing God’s Forgiveness of ourselves

I struggled with the idea of forgiveness. I felt so unworthy for such a long time. I knew my shortcomings. I thought I had blown it by going too far, all too many times. Not forgiving myself was a way I’d thought I could stop sinning.

How could God forgive me. He forgives because He is God.

At the root of unforgiveness towards ourselves is the the sin of pride. Thinking we are beyond God’s mercy. Suggests that we think we are too problematic for God. A special case.

It can be painful to see the pride that masquerades as humility, but to see and repent of that pride is a gift of grace. Pride makes its demands as “shoulds” and “oughts” – “I should have been better or done better. I don’t measure up; I lack.” 

Barbara Byers

The virtue of self acceptance is a way we show value for His Grace. His Grace is given to all.

What is the Unpardonable Sin?

At this point it would be helpful for me to address a not too often talked about subject of the unpardonable sin: Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It was the sin Jesus explained was unforgivable.

The sin of “Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” is described in three of our four gospels (Matthew 12:22-32; Mark 3:22-30 and again in Luke 12:10).

22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables:“How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”

Mark 3:22-30 New International Version (NIV)

I know from talking to many Christians that they have some point wondered if they have committed the unpardonable sin or are petrified that they will.

What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?

The religious leaders had just witnessed Jesus cast out a demon from someone. In response to the miracle they accused Jesus of being possessed by Satan and by inference they were saying that Jesus was doing His miracles by Satan’s enabling.

The pharisees accusation was not a one time slip. They were locked in a judgement against God.

My personal take on the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is that it is the knowable ascribing of the work of Jesus to Satan. What makes it the unforgivable sin is not so much that God won’t forgive the person but rather that they have locked themselves in such hardness that they won’t repent and acknowledge Jesus as their King.This was what the Pharisees had done. They were calling Jesus’ work the work of Satan and refused to receive Him as God’s Son and Messiah.

If a person who had been saying something was not of God turns and repents of their sin. God of course will forgive them. In other words a sure fire way to know you have not committed the unpardonable sin is if you are sorry for your sin and turn your heart back to God.

2. Forgiving others

The second way we embrace grace is by forgiving others.

Philip Yancey, in his book Rumours of Another World, shares a story about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that President Nelson Mandela established after apartheid had been abolished.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up by the Government of National Unity to help deal with what happened under apartheid. The conflict during this period resulted in violence and human rights abuses from all sides. No section of society escaped these abuses. 

 When the world sees grace in action, it falls silent. Nelson Mandela taught the world a lesson in grace when, after emerging from prison after twenty-seven years and being elected president of South Africa, he asked his jailer to join him on the inauguration platform. He then appointed Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head an official government panel with a daunting name, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Mandela sought to defuse the natural pattern of revenge that he had seen in so many countries where one oppressed race or tribe took control from another.

For the next two-and-a-half years, South Africans listened to reports of atrocities coming out of the TRC hearings. The rules were simple: if a white policeman or army officer voluntarily faced his accusers, confessed his crime, and fully acknowledged his guilt, he could not be tried and punished for that crime. Hard-liners grumbled about the obvious injustice of letting criminals go free, but Mandela insisted that the country needed healing even more than it needed justice.

At one TRC hearing, a policeman named van de Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an eighteen-year-old boy and burned the body. Eight years later van de Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father. The wife was forced to watch as policemen bound her husband on a woodpile, poured gasoline over his body, and ignited it.

The courtroom grew hushed as the elderly woman who had lost her first son and then her husband was given a chance to respond. “What do you want from Mr. van de Broek?” the judge asked. She said she wanted van de Brock to go to the place where they burned her husband’s body and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial. His head down, the policeman nodded agreement.

Then she added a further request, “Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.”

Spontaneously, some in the courtroom began singing “Amazing Grace as the elderly woman made her way to the witness stand, but van de Broek did not hear the hymn. He had fainted, overwhelmed.

Justice was not done in South Africa that day, nor in the entire country during months of agonizing procedures by the TRC. Something beyond justice took place. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” said Paul. 

Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu understood that when evil is done, one response alone can overcome the evil. Revenge perpetuates the evil. Justice punishes it. 

Evil is overcome by good only if the injured party absorbs it, refusing to allow it to go any further. And that is the pattern of otherworldly grace that Jesus showed in his life and death. 

Phillip Yancey, Rumours of Another World

We are not just called to forgive. We are required to forigve. But forgivenss does not come easily because it is so costly. 

Matthew 18

21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.

28 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 30 And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.

35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

Before we look at what forgivess is, we need to know what forgiveness is not. It is not:

  • Forgetting what happened
  • Sweeping that happened to you under the carpet
  • Ignoring how you feel
  • Letting someone back in your life
  • Giving access back to you life
  • Letting go of a person’s responsibility to clean up their mess

What is forgiveness?

Releasing of debt

It is the releasing of debt we are owed by someone sinning (intentionally or unintentionally) against us.

If you lend someone $10k and they don’t pay you back, forgiveness is where you don’t send them the bill anymore. They owe you nothing.

Forgiveness is from the heart

35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

Matthew 18:35

Sometimes in an effort to obey Jesus’ command to forgive we end up forgiving out of the head not the heart. When we fail to acknowledge the pain we have incurred we bypass the hearts role in forgiveness.

When I am truthful about the injury someone has caused me before God I am positioned to be able to forgive them from the heart.

 

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