In my adult Sunday school class yesterday, we had a pretty lively discussion of following the commandments and laws along with the ideas of legalism and grace. These ideas are difficult for Christians to parse out. Many strict religious laws can be off-putting and can lead to self-righteousness, especially man-made laws. Yet sin is an ever-present factor in life and we all need to repent of our sins. We depend on forgiveness and grace to feel that we have moved toward some sense of absolution. None of us can claim perfection. We all have that natural bent toward sinning [thanks to Adam and Eve].
We have discussed in previous posts on this blog our need for a Savior and even more, our need for a Lord.
But when we go beyond needing a Savior and admit that we need a Lord, Pastor John Bevere says we have to give up our will. Admitting that we need a Lord means that God begins to control us.
Bevere quotes Tim Keller, pastor, theologian and apologist who says “if you really have God in your life, you have to give up your own will, and that shows us the difference between someone who actually is trying to use God [to get to heaven] and someone who is trying to serve God.”
We did not discuss it much in class yesterday but the subject of “grace abuse” came up, the tendency we have to justify our sins with the idea that “Oh well, God will extend grace to me. He will forgive my sin” and then what do we do–we sin again. God never intended grace to be a license to sin; He wanted it to be a way to overcome sin.
In the Old Testament, the Israelites tried unsuccessfully to follow the strict guidelines that God provided. They failed over and over again. We needed Jesus to come and model for us how to operate as sinners in this imperfect world. God did not change between the Old and New Testaments. The same God who gave the law also gave us Jesus. His grace was demonstrated through the Law by providing the sacrificial system to cover sin. Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to reveal them” [Matthew 5:17].
Here is the catch.
If we declare a love for the Lord, we must live as if He is our Lord. James says “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions” [James 2:18]. We can’t cherry pick the way we want to live. The Lord tells us what He expects of us.
If we get selective, we may be practicing “grace abuse.”
“When we obey God, we are sure that we know Him. But if we claim to know Him and don’t obey Him, we are lying and the truth isn’t in our hearts” [1 John 2:3-4].
As Pastor Bevere concludes Chapter 4, he summarizes his thoughts about the “foundation” of Christian good [remember his book’s title is Good or God]. God is clear. Jesus is clear. We are to deny ourselves, we are to take up our cross, we are to follow Him. He is our Lord. We need to be obedient to His words. He began his book with an explication of the Garden of Eden, the idea that Adam and Eve evaluated their life according to the tree of good and evil [the wrong tree]. They took the serpent’s words as more truthful that God’s.
“It’s sobering to think that the same folly still repeats itself, from the garden to the present day. It takes on a different form, but it’s the same root. Again it comes down to this: do we think we know best about how to live, or do we believe that God knows best” [Bevere, 58].
If we don’t get this straight, if we don’t have a strong foundation, there may come a day when we may have words similar to those Jesus spoke in Matthew “And then I declare to them,, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” [7:23].
Wow, “I never knew you”… Words I don’t want to hear.