Grace and Peace?
In your intention to get on with reading or studying God’s word, have you ever skipped on past those words at the beginning of the epistles (letters) in the Bible that read something like, “Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”?
You will see that from the outset of the letter, no matter how the church was behaving, God said words to that effect. He was saying, “In Me are all the resources that you will need: My wisdom, strength, love, joy,… and I want to remind you that I am at peace with you and I want you to experience that peace.” It’s the Gospel in a Nutshell.
You see, the full weight of God’s anger toward the sin in their lives had been poured out on Jesus, justice had been served, God’s rightful anger satisfied, and through confessing their sin they had been forgiven and restored to God’s love.
God Greets You Every Day with the Gospel
Stop and ponder the next time you are reading these words at the beginning of a letter in the Bible and realize that these are God’s words to you. In fact, when you wake in the morning, know that God is personally saying, “Grace and peace to you!” (“Good morning!”)
Peace and Goodwill to All
God really does have peace and goodwill for all men! And, you, no matter who you are or how you feel, are one of them! Have you turned to Jesus and received forgiveness for your sin? A life of grace and peace awaits you.
Mankind in the Eyes of God
The Bible is clear about how we as mankind stand before God. Romans 3:23 says,“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” and Romans 3:11-12 says, “There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God… there is none that does good, no, not one.” Because of our sinful nature it is impossible for us to live up to God’s standards and be righteous in and of ourselves.
Despite our sinful condition, God, in His love, made a way to make us righteous so that we could forever be in His presence. He sent Jesus to take our sin upon Himself, and the penalty for our sin, death. In this way God could satisfy His holy anger toward sin and at the same time He could justify us and declare us righteous. But most of all He could satisfy His love for us.
So, through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice, we can be made righteous. And, righteousness is a free gift that is given, once and for all, to those who believe in Jesus Christ.
Below are some verses from the Bible that tell us this:
“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight …But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law… the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation(satisfying God’s anger) by his blood, to be received by faith…For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:20-28).
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God …” (1Peter 3:18).
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Empowered to Succeed
At the point that we are made right with God, our nature is also changed and His Spirit comes to live inside of us enabling us to love Jesus and keep His commandments.
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
Apart from this grace we could never love Him properly nor keep His commandments.
“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will never fulfill the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh wants is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit wants is opposed to the flesh. They are opposed to each other, and so you do not do what you want to do. But if you are being led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, rivalry, jealously, outbursts of anger, quarrels, conflicts, factions, envy, murder, drunkenness, wild partying, and things like that. I am telling you now, as I have told you in the past, that people who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16-25).
God is Approachable
Hebrews 12:1 speaks of “the sin that so easily entangles us”. Essentially, we sin when we fail to walk in the power of the Spirit. Yet, despite sinning, we are forever called the righteousness of God! This, however, doesn’t mean that we are licensed to freely sin. Nor does it mean that sin doesn’t have consequences. What it does mean is that we can forever freely enter God’s presence where we can enjoy His love and friendship and be enabled to satisfy a new inner desire to love God and those around us.
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
You know those times when your kids press your buttons and you react really badly? Well guess what, your chief problem is not that you reacted badly, but that you are living from the wrong source. If you are a Christian, then you have either moved away from walking with the Spirit of God as your source of life, or you have never learned that He was your resource for all of life. You see, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control and the only alternative is our natural self, which, although can act civilized, needs only the right provocation to show its true colors.
Now, you know all those nice people out there who behave better than most of us Christians do (especially me)? They are doing a pretty good job of living from their natural ability, but trust me, or rather trust God’s word, they have all the sinful characteristics within their nature to behave badly under the right, or should I say “wrong”, conditions. Worse for them is that they are at a disadvantage, only able to live from their natural selves. Although they can be lovely people, nevertheless, they are in essence just the same as the worst criminal, having themselves rather than God as their resource for right living. It’s kind of like having that pet snake that you feel is safe to have around children, only to come home one day and have to wrestle your child from its clutches.
Christians are not people who don’t sin. The Bible speaks honestly of “sin that so easily entangles us.” This happens because we all too easily reject God as the Living Water and instead choose ourselves as the source in a situation. The cycle of self-effort to accomplish or achieve is followed by our eventual and inevitable defeat. This in turn is followed by despair and our crying out to God, only to rediscover God’s mercy and grace, and that all along His gentleness was at work bringing us to repentance. The cycle will repeat whenever we exchange His strength for our own. It is in repenting of this, our chief sin, and turning toward Jesus as our life (and by his grace staying turned) that we enjoy life.
Nevertheless, we have the resources to live free of sin. Yet, it’s not in being conscious of whether you are sinning or not. “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Rom 7:6). It’s in enjoying a healthy relationship with God where His Spirit is our life’s supply and not us. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16).
Christians often inadvertently live between two codes in order to live out the life that they believe they should be living. In most of our lives the change from one code to another happens regularly and sometimes unknowingly. You see, in some areas of our lives we are so aware of God’s presence and are so in touch with the Holy Spirit that error is impossible. Yet, in a moment, we can be facing a scenario where we are not so used to being in the Spirit’s presence and despite wanting to do what is right, we easily switch to relying on our own resources and fail.
Often we simply drift away from being aware of our need for the Holy Spirit to our old familiar pattern of relying on ourselves. Depending on who has become the most recent source of thought and action, the Spirit or us, will determine the response to any further provocation to sin. You see, we all want to do what’s right, and doing what is right makes us feel right, but whenever I begin with myself as the source of achieving what’s right, I’m already making the first error. My source is wrong. I presume that I am able to give life into a situation, when at best I can only mimic true life and temporarily hold things together.
Let’s look at the two codes:
Code 1: A standard that I must attain
Code 2: Jesus in me
Code 1: A demand
Code 2: A response
Code 1: A struggle
Code 2: A rest
Code 1: My apparent success
Code 2: My weakness embraced
Code 1: Ultimate failure
Code 2: Guaranteed success
Code 1: Disillusionment
Code 2: Impressed by His grace
Whenever we fail as a Christian, whether it’s intentional sin or not, it’s always because our source has been wrong. Whether you have simply given in to the passions of the flesh or whether you have attempted in your own strength not to give in (and maybe even succeeded not to sin), it’s one and the same problem. You see, although the second seems nobler, either way you have made yourself the source and have usurped God’s place. The cycle will repeat until we exchange our strength for His. It is in repenting of this, our chief sin, and turning toward Jesus as our life (and by his grace staying turned) that we really begin to live.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Christians should be lovingly frank about the harm people put themselves in when living outside of any of God’s laws. They are all important! And by harm, I don’t mean the punishment that will come their way, but the dangers that a loving God is protecting them from. When necessary, we might need to call sin what it is, but this need never amount to abusive name calling. As I see it, the problem is often in how we address people, rather than in the fact that at times we do.
While Jesus (God in the flesh) honored the laws made for the nation of Israel, and these are a good template for individuals and governments, we see that His approach to sinners is friendship. In fact, God’s laws can be a way of introducing people to His loving character found most completely in Jesus.
Those of us who have come to know the loving God should preach the good news of God’s love for law-breakers. This way, people trapped by their sinful nature can find the love and acceptance from the One who, though they have offended by breaking His laws, loves them. On receiving Jesus, we are acquitted and made righteous through the fact that Jesus paid the penalty for our sin by dying on the cross. Then, His Spirit in us and the law written on our hearts testifies that His word is true and, by looking to Him, we are enabled to keep it.
Without Jesus in our lives, government, law, moral society and God Himself can often seem like an uphill battle. This is the perception of sinful man. However, with Jesus we see God’s love in it all. Although we should sympathize and empathize with man’s weakness, we should not remove the things he battles against that are designed to bring him to the end of himself and see his need for Christ.
So, in summary, Governments should reflect all of God’s laws so people can happily co-exist. And, for both its purposes to protect people and to lead them to Christ we should not remove any part of God’s law that can be reflected in government law. Also, we should lovingly warn people about the harm that they put themselves in when living outside of any of God’s laws. Above all we should share the good news with people so that they can know forgiveness and discover grace to succeed.