Tag Archives: grace

God’s Sovereignty, Human Responsibility

creation-of-adamHolistic healing—the harmonious relationship of body, soul and spirit— comes when we learn to live our lives governed by the grace of God. How do we know we are governed by the grace of God? I submit to you a simple test. Ask yourself this question: When were you saved?

Now—what is the very first thing that comes into your mind when you read this question? The answer to this question—the only biblical answer—is, “At the cross, by the eternal plan of God the Father before He created the world.” (Read the details in Romans and Ephesians.)

There is a delicate balance between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. To the degree we tip that balance to the human side, we err. God takes the initiative. We love Him because He first loved us. Even the process of conviction comes from the Holy Spirit. If we associate the moment of our salvation mainly with the day we knelt at our bedside, walked down an aisle, prayed the sinner’s prayer or any other thing, to that degree we make our salvation a thing of our own doing more than God’s grace.

To the extent we tip that balance, we become less able to hear the Holy Spirit, and we become more vulnerable to the lies of the world, the flesh and the devil. We become more prone to the stress of believing lies rather than truth, of living at a lower level than God intended for us.

If we are honest with ourselves, none of us fully accepts the grace of God in our hearts, even if we believe it in our minds. Our habits of thinking and doing are still deeply rooted in fallen natures which want to do everything in our own strength. We are more ungodly in our thinking than we imagine.

Instead of kicking ourselves for our failures, we must daily remind ourselves that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” Learning to live by God’s grace is a lifelong process. Knowing God saved us at the cross through His Son should better help us to accept ourselves because HE accepts us and aids us in transforming our awed lives and characters. This is a difficult, but necessary step toward holistic healing.

Psychology tells us that to accept ourselves, we must look into our past to heal ourselves. But God, the Great Physician, accepts us at a deeper level, and He did it before we were born. To experience full healing, we come to know ourselves best when we first learn to know God’s grace. This is when true healing takes place.

Our failure to live by God’s grace explains the poor health of so many churches and our culture. When the church does not live out the full healing power of grace, we cannot live as salt and light, and we cannot change the culture around us. All of this makes the church appear powerless, unable to bring the Great Physician to a hurting world.

Paul preached the finished work of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). His emphasis upon God’s grace in Jesus Christ helped to spread the gospel across the Roman Empire. Let us pray for an unprecedented Great Awakening to the truth of God’s holiness and God’s grace and see the gospel once again spread like wild fire throughout the unreached world!

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Grace to the Graceless

2016-10-graceOur effective fulfilling the Great Commission sometimes depends upon how we honor the most dishonorable people of our lives with God’s grace. This may include parents who mistreated, neglected and abused us.

To a degree, we all experience dysfunction. All parents are sinners. Yet some of us have or had parents who gave us little more than misery and torment. Just the thought of them revolts us. God commands us to honor our parents, but how do we honor them?

You cannot truly obey this command until you first know God and the great work He has already done for you through Jesus Christ — deep in your heart, not just in your head. This requires a supernatural act, the earnest of the Holy Spirit, assuring you of deep gospel truths in deep ways, as they apply to your unique situation.

Those truths include God’s foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justifying and glorifying of you before creation (Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:3-5). You may have terrifying or awful parents, but long before God created Adam and Eve, He chose to pull you from this muck and make you His own. Not even the cruelest parents can pluck you from His hand.

Vietnamese people have a proverb that well illustrates this fantastic truth: “The lotus grows in mud, but it doesn’t smell of mud.” You are that lotus. Discover who you really are in Him, and He will give you the grace to honor wretched parents even as He has chosen to honor you.

Remember that God is a “Father to the fatherless” (Psalm 65:8). He can use everything for the good of those who love Him and are called of Him (Romans 8:28). Take a small step of faith toward Him, see Him act, then take another step. Be honest with God about your feelings. As a man, He was “despised and rejected . . . a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” (Isaiah 53:3) so He understands your situation perfectly. He wants to help you do what you can’t do yourself.

Remember that honor is primarily an action, not a feeling. It is an offer of God’s grace to graceless people. It does not mean trusting them or tolerating further abuse or rewarding their evildoing. Thank God He is big enough he can even use such nasty people to bring you into the world and adopt you into His royal family!

Practically speaking, how can we honor dishonorable parents? Here are some suggestions:

  • Become willing to forgive them and release emotional baggage. Only the Holy Spirit can help you do this. With Him all things are possible (Mark 10:22). Read Lewis Smedes’ Forgive and Forget—a helpful book.
  • When possible, call and listen to them, and say nothing when they say hurtful things.
  • When possible, do acts of kindness for them.
  • Accept them where they are. Don’t expect them to match your expectations.
  • Note any good things they may have done and express gratitude for them.
  • Don’t criticize your parents before other family members.
  • Create safe boundaries to prevent manipulation.
  • Teach your children to love their grandparents.
  • Pray for parents who mistreated you.
  • Let your relationship with Christ shine through. Who knows? God’s grace in your life, shown to them, may eventually bring them to Christ. It happens.

Sometimes the hardest people to win for Christ come from under our own roof. Let God use this acid test to train you to reach around the world in His name.

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When Our Children Don’t Succeed

All of us who have children want them to succeed in life. We become overjoyed when they do, and we proudly tell others of their accomplishments. Their success reflects upon us. In a very real sense, we regard their success as our success.

What if they don’t succeed? What if their accomplishments are few, or worse, what if they fail and become burdens to our family and to society? Whose fault is it? Most parents tend to blame themselves. They spend endless hours asking themselves where they went wrong and where they failed God, not always able to arrive at solid conclusions.

May I offer a word of comfort to such parents: God the Father is the most perfect of parents, but all of His children (you and me) are abject failures in His sight. Is it possible that God the Father does not judge us as parents on whether our children succeed in life but on the way we live out His love and grace toward them? None of us will ever have a perfect family this side of heaven. So what is God looking for?

Christian family counselor Emmerson Eggerichs suggests a worthy biblical model for a good parent in the father of the prodigal son and his ungrateful older brother. In their own ways, both sons are miserable failures.

In this parable, Jesus clearly wants us to imitate the father’s grace toward his sinful sons. Throughout this parable, the father demonstrates remarkable patience in the face of outrageous behaviors and attitudes. As we study this parable, we become amazed that the father does not disown both of them for their insulting and ungrateful ways.

The father in Jesus’ parable represents God Himself. This means that to become successful parents, we must learn to first love God even more than we love our children. When we learn to love God first, we soon become overwhelmed by His grace. When we see the powerful grace of God working in our own sinful lives, we begin to take a different attitude toward our children and their failures. We begin to see them from God’s perspective.

Rather than see (and even resent) our wayward children as imperfect reflections of ourselves, we begin to think of them in the way that God regards us. Rather than judging or even rejecting our children, we begin to show them the same grace of God that He has displayed toward us. Like the prodigal son, some of our wayward children may return “home,” humble and repentant and ready to serve God and their fellow man.

Even if our children do not return, we will have the peace of knowing we succeeded in demonstrating the grace of God toward them.

Let us all learn to become overwhelmed by the grace of God. Let that growing experience of His grace make us the best parents. It will also help us to submit to our husbands, give ourselves to our wives, and do things that encourage rather than discourage our children. It will also make our gospel message more credible to a world filled with failure.

God’s grace helps us to accept others’ failures when we see how God receives us in spite of our failures.

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Your Life, His Grace

In the Greek New Testament, the word for “witness” is also the root word for “martyr.” When Jesus tells His disciples, “You shall be my witnesses…,” He is also saying, “You will lay down your lives for My sake.”

This does not mean that we must seek martyrdom to become a “witness” for Christ. But it requires that we count the cost of discipleship. We must see ourselves as soldiers for Christ. When a new recruit takes his oath of loyalty, he gives his superiors the right to send him anywhere, even into battles that require great risk to his life, from which he may not return.

A-bigger-lifeTo become a “witness” for Christ means that we serve a life bigger than this earthly life. The circumstances of our lives are short and uncertain. There are other things better and eternal, centered on Christ. A true “witness,” like Jesus, has compassion upon people and a world that wander like sheep without a shepherd. Whether in life or death, true witnesses trust Jesus to provide everything they need, to go wherever He says to go.

Jesus warns His “witnesses” that He may assign them to take the gospel as “sheep to wolves.” Many will gladly accept the Good News, but others will hate the “witness,” claim that he is destroying society and seek to defame him or her.

Like Jesus, witnesses may also have to stand before the authorities in trial for their faith. But their suffering will further the gospel, and the Holy Spirit will give them the words to say at the right time.

We are to become Christ’s witnesses with the perspective of Christ’s own suffering and of His Second Coming. We are to know that whatever suffering we face will bring glory to God, a great reward in heaven and ultimate judgment for those who persecute us. We are to know that even if we lose our lives, human power over us ends at death, but God’s power is eternal.

Grace is costly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us. The gift is free, but it costs our lives. Beware of “cheap grace,” he warns, “the grace that we [not God] bestow on ourselves…forgiveness without repentance…baptism without discipline, communion without confession.”

“Costly grace,” he goes on, “costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew what he was talking about. God called him as a witness to serve Him in Nazi Germany—a place unfriendly to the gospel. He became a leader of the Confessing Church when other German churches were giving in to Hitler. His friends wanted to save him by bringing him to America, but after a few months, Bonhoeffer knew he must return to the place God called him.

Bonhoeffer indeed paid with his life, but he became the ultimate winner. Days after his death, Hitler went down to defeat—and suicide. Bonhoeffer’s witness continues throughout the world in his writings and his example of commitment to Jesus Christ.

This month, as we celebrate Christ’s costly sacrifice and His triumphant resurrection, may each of us also count the cost of discipleship and commit ourselves to effective witness however and wherever Christ calls us.

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