A LESSON IN GRACE

Some excerpts from God’s Word:

This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the payment for our sins. – 1 John 4:10 (GWT)

and…

For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God; -Ephesians 2:8 (AMP)

For many years after accepting the fact that Jesus died at Calvary to take away my sins and offer me eternal life through His sacrifice, I would try ignoring the Lord and the conviction of my sin from the Holy Spirit because I failed to fully accept the fact of His grace. By failing to do that and trying to ‘work’ my way into His favor, with each successive failure I would step away from the Lord more and more, falling deeper into sin and its attendant unhappiness. In my case, this happened for a very long time. It was nothing short of God’s incredible grace that has brought me back to Him, restoring me to a wonderful fellowship without comparison.

Convicted of sin:

He will come to convict the world of sin, to show the world what has God’s approval, and to convince the world that God judges it. – John 16:8 (GWT)

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Apart from God, life has no meaning. There is no purpose to getting up, going to work, paying bills, acquiring things and taking care of the physical needs of myself and my family without a point to it all. The more I try to fill that emptiness with things, the worse that emptiness became. There is also no plausible explanation to any of this world without a reference to God as the creator and who sustains the universe.

More from the Bible:

Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. -Ecclesiastes 2:11 (ESV)

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As an evangelical Christian, the Holy Spirit gives me a sense of right and wrong as a follower of Jesus and convicts me of my sin when I choose to ignore His directives and chart my own course. Aside from the guilt of my sin, which He ‘convicts’ me of, there are usually unfortunate consequences that result when I am living outside of God’s plan for my life. The farther I go from Him, the worse those consequences often get. Fortunately, in this instance, the journey back is much shorter than the trip away was. It begins with confession and repentance. The forgiveness and blessings it brings begin immediately.

I am almost done reading a really good book on grace by a Calvary Chapel Pastor named Chuck Smith called Why Grace Changes Everything. It’s available for Amazon Kindle and possibly other e readers, as well. He writes about his early days in a pentecostal church and his lack of understanding about how blessings come from faith in God’s grace and not the doing of works to somehow make one ‘holy.’ I can remember [when new in Christ] attending a pentecostal church and wondering why I wasn’t “getting it” like they did. How come they were receiving the baptism of the Holy Ghost and I wasn’t? I knew some of them on the outside and they didn’t seem to be any ‘holier’ than I was. In fact, sometimes they seemed ‘less holy’ when I took the time to compare myself and my outward actions to [what I saw as] their behavior. What wasn’t I doing that they were? How could I increase my faith to their level so I could exhibit this new found power of speaking in tongues, healing and prophesying? The answer I have found follows in the next paragraph. I’ll give you a hint: it has everything to do with faith.

My approach to increasing faith was something I thought I could achieve on my own through hard work. Making myself spend extra time in prayer, constant vigilance and continuous repentance (remorse for past conduct) and the begging of forgiveness were key – so I thought. I was afraid that if I did not achieve this thing as others had, I would be “kicked out” of God’s club and somehow robbed of my inheritance in eternity. So what wasn’t I getting? I had not fully surrendered to the truth of God’s overwhelming GRACE. There was no way for me to work for the gifts of the Holy Spirit or have faith sustained only through fearing God and the consequences of my inaction. I had to come to love God and really comprehend that He loves me, despite my sin. In fact, He doesn’t recognize that sin because of what happened at Calvary.

Grace is nothing new. God didn’t suddenly change and bring the New Testament idea of salvation through grace about. He has always shown His grace to mankind. From the days of Genesis on. Noah experienced it: But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. -Genesis 6:8

I stayed away from God for a long time because I figured that’s who I am and maybe God will forgive me anyway, since He is ‘supposed to’ love me. He loves everybody, doesn’t He? I went farther and farther away until He was almost out of sight. I did many sinful things and would some times tell myself I was going to change and make things right with Him again one day, only to continue my downward path into more sin. The things I would use to blot out the reality of my sin became bigger and bigger and eventually even they stopped working. I saw the life I somehow knew I was supposed to have being lived by other people. They seemed to be “getting it.” I wasn’t.

The next thing I know, I found myself in a marriage and having a home and every reason [on the surface] that I should be grateful and happy – but I was not. I was becoming more and more convicted of my sin. Today I thank God for this conviction, because it has pushed me into repentance and consequently into building a relationship with Jesus and feeling the power of the Holy Spirit that I only dreamed of in years past. I have the life I dreamed of – only because of His incredible grace. It keeps getting better as I spend time in His word each day and finding fellowship with other Christians. The bills are far from paid off, the wife and I still have our ‘moments,’ people still don’t drive the way I think they should (especially when I am in a hurry), I still don’t make the money I somehow think I deserve… but it keeps getting better as I focus on what really matters – the gospel of Jesus. As I do, bills get paid, my partner and I get along better, people manage to drive better and I seem to have enough money.

What has changed is me. Not on my own, either. Fortunately, I dropped to my knees in repentance one day and asked Jesus to once again be the Lord of my life, my primary focus, and asked the Holy Spirit to work through me to keep it that way. Through the incredible, wonderful and indescribable grace of God. Today I know the Holy Spirit is active in my life. I feel that presence and inescapable love each and every day – for which I praise God. It is my prayer that you can identify the very same feeling in your life, too.

Of course, the evil one wants me to think that there is no way God can forgive me and heal me from the amount of sin I have committed in my life. He would have me view God through some legalistic lens that somehow avoids the spectrum of His grace and forgiveness that results. He tries really hard to get me to think I am deluding myself and God will never again bless me with His love. He is wrong. Dead wrong. The Bible makes it perfectly clear that I can’t work my way into heaven and the answer is Jesus. Pure and simple. It’s a life time offer of forgiveness and fullness.

We are supposed to be known by our fruits. When I read God’s Word and fellowship with other Christians, I make myself accountable and less prone to sin than. That brings me closer to God and the fullness of life in the Spirit. Even just a few minutes of scripture reading a day can make all the difference. When I made a plan to read the Bible each and every day, I began to notice a change. I began to think more and more of God. Of course, the enemy doesn’t like that and begins working overtime to derail any spiritual growth we have as Christians. Past sins are thrown in my face and he tells me how unworthy I am. He’s right, I am unworthy – apart from Christ. That’s the part he leaves out. Every time I go to the Word in prayer, the weapons I need to defeat the enemy are given to me and I can achieve victory yet again. His grace is sufficient. The Bible says: And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. -2 Corinthians 12:9  God uses us in our weaknesses – no matter what they may be, to His glory. That victory begins and ends with Jesus Christ – the same yesterday, today and forever. God bless you as you open yourself up to that simple truth.

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