In 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis declaring salvation by grace through faith. Today the church desperately needs a second reformation of sanctification by grace. Christians are chained to a treadmill of trying to please God by their behavior, of trying harder and sinning less. If they can just discipline themselves enough and be determined enough, they are deceived into thinking they can become righteous and holy and be close to God and He will be pleased. Grace tells us that our relationship and intimacy with our Father in heaven is no longer dependent upon our behavior...or lack there of. Grace tells us we no longer have to strive to become righteous, because He has given us a new nature that is righteous. Grace tells us that it is the only thing powerful enough to deal with our sin. Grace tells us that God is already head-over-heels in love with us and nothing we do can change that. Welcome to "Formed by Grace."

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Does God Motivate us with Threats?

I have written a number of times how the Gospel transforms our fear of God from being scarred, timid, and apprehensive to wonder, awe and amazement. This is why I can always approach my Father with confidence and boldness.

A couple of weeks ago a friend responded, "Yeah but what about Philippians 2:12, 'Work out your salvation with fear and trembling'?"  Great question.  This sounds as if our Christian growth should be motivated by a fear of what God will do to us if we don't meet his standard of effort and progress.  It feels like a semi-veiled threat to be faithful or else.  This is what I used to think and I had it wrong.  For a couple of reasons.

First, we discover that if it is a subtle threat it is an empty threat.  In our moments or months or even years of half-heartedness we do not experience a heavenly Father that makes us tremble with fear and duck for cover.  Rather our experience is exactly the opposite, we have the experience of the prodigal son being embraced by his father.  We don't have a Father who is trying to move us along with a cattle-prod of fear, rather we have a Father who is wooing us with his love and goodness.

Secondly, the person we are responding to with "fear and trembling" is not is us. Ralph  Wardlaw, an early 18th century Scottish Presbyterian wrote, "This fear is self-distrust; it is tenderness of conscience; it is vigilance against temptation...It is taking heed lest we is the caution and circumspection which timidly shrinks from whatever would offend and dishonor God and the Savior."

Lastly, the very next verse, verse 13, describes God's participation in our growth, "For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him" (NLT). God is out in front of us, enabling us to obey and cheering us on--not behind us kicking us in the butt.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What is God Thinking!?

Yesterday I was leading a Bible discussion group and because it was a new group and the first time we had been together, we took most of the time to get to know each other.  As I was sharing my story I mentioned that one of the core lies that had been planted in me as a young teenager was that my worth was dependent upon what you thought of me.  In other words I was an addicted people pleaser.

We talked about how pleasing people and pleasing God are two sides of the same coin...and that both sides will cause you to hit the wall at some point.  I then explained that what is true in our relationship with our Father in heaven will be true in our relationships with one another.  And then I shared the part I never like--that what characterizes my horizontal relationships with those around me will be a reflection of what characterizes my vertical relationship with God.  For example, I will only extend as much grace to others as I have received.

At that point one of the individuals asked me this question, "What do you see in your relationships with others that could be a reflection of your relationship with God?"  Even though the shackles of people pleasing have been cut off and no longer hold me captive, I can still periodically hear the rattle of those chains in the background and so I replied that I can find myself wondering what people are thinking of me.  Applying the above principle, that means there are times I find myself wondering what God thinks of me!

After a moment of pause the wonderful truth of the gospel replaced the lies that had defined me for so many years and I  realized that because of the gospel I NEVER again have to worry about what God is thinking about me. Today he is looking at me through the righteousness of Christ and he says "I love you.  That is what I am thinking about you.  Period."

We all have the rattle of chains in our ears...sometimes they sound far off and at other times as if them are right against our ears. No matter how much noise the chains make, what is important is that the awesome good news of the gospel is the loudest sound our hearts hear. 

When I fly I sometimes take with me a set of noise canceling headphones.  They cancel out the irritating noise of the engines and the distracting chatter going on all around me and allow me to hear with brilliance the beautiful music on my ipod that can minister so deeply to me.  That is what the gospel can do for us.