Grace: A Needed Message And Culture

 

 

CAE5Mh8WgAAhawOIn my experience, a lot of churches think they are pretty squared away on grace. Their statements of faith rightly hold to gospel doctrines, you know, “the gospel of grace.” In Bible College I learned all about grace. I learned all the big words that help give the grace its depth, its power. I am grateful for that, really.

What I didn’t get, or at least missed, was the application of grace. Looking back, my understanding of grace was significantly more fuzzy than I realized at the time. It boiled down to, “God will save you if you repent of your sins.” This is a glorious truth, of course, but there is a lot more to grace than justification. Part of the message of grace has to be its power in our sanctification as well.

The message of grace isn’t only that it pardons us, but that it also cleanses us and transforms us “from one degree of glory to another in the image of Jesus.” I thought I was squared away on grace. Not that I am “fully squared away” now by any means, but thankfully God has given me much more full understanding of his grace than I had in college.

I used to, many churches today, proclaim grace as little more than a get out of hell free card. I never saw how grace has daily transforming power. It took me a long time to hear and understand that message. The message of grace goes much further than where we spend eternity. The message of grace is one that also sets us free from sin now, fills us with both joy and hope, and changes us from within by ripping our hands off our idols and helping us cling to Christ.

Our churches need this full message of grace because without it our church cultures will remain more religious than spiritual, more works than grace. A message of grace is indeed attractive. People are drawn to good news of forgiveness, acceptance, and approval by God.

We can’t stop at the message though. It must affect our culture. Often times the “Christians are hypocrites” claim comes from people hearing a message of grace, but not seeing a culture of one. They hear, “We are all sinners,” but then get stones when they confess their sin.

People can be attracted to a message of grace, but if they don’t find a culture of grace that is marked by vulnerability, confession and repentance, and a community of people that apply and walk in grace together they will usually walk away.

All too often what happens is we as churches, “Deny with our culture what we declare with our message.” We must absolutely declare a message of grace. But we must also be careful to make sure our culture affirms our message.

What does this lost, hurting, and broken world need? Thousands, millions of churches that both proclaim and practice grace for sinners, like you and me.

Grace has saving and transforming power. Let us declare it and demonstrate it.

 

Inviting Wreckage And God’s Jealousy For You

There are beautiful seasons in ministry in which you hear constant news about how the gospel is changing lives, redeeming marriages, transforming hearts, building community, driving mission, and creating a culture of grace.

There are also heart-wrenching seasons in ministry in which you hear about absolute wreckage: suffering families, hurt and pain in church member’s lives, rebellion against God, and the devastating reality of sin in people’s lives.

It is excruciating to see people you love give in to the devil, believe his lies, fall into sin, and invite utter wreckage into their lives. God knows full well this reality and this temptation. It typically happens to those who think it can’t happen to them. God is not surprised, he saw it coming. So he has filled the Bible with warnings and exhortations for us to hold onto and plant deep in our hearts.

James 4:4:

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

The sad reality is that when we rebel and disobey God, we invite wreckage into our lives. God doesn’t tell us not to sin because he doesn’t want us to have good things. God’s laws are because he loves us… and he knows that He is what is best for us. When we run, rebel, and reject that reality we invite pain and suffering into our lives that can bring devastation.

It is easy to buy into lies such as,

  • If you do this one thing, you will be happier.
  • They hurt you, you deserve this…
  • God wants you to have what you want.
  • You have been good for a long time, it is okay to indulge.
  • “Did God really say?”

We know it is easy to fall into this because all of us do it.

James 4:4 sounds harsh. It is strong, it is serious, and it has profound implications. But, listen to the next verse…

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

What emotion does God have in the midst of us being an “adulterous people?” What emotion does God feel when, despite his faithfulness to us, we are befriending the world and walking away from our friendship with God? He is jealous for you… 

It is not without purpose that the Scriptures say, “He yearns jealously over the spirit he has made to dwell with us,” God deeply desires that our spirit, which he gave us, worships him and walks with him in such a way that we can be called his friend. God’s primary emotion to us, when we are inviting in wreckage is, “I love you, I am jealous for you, draw near to me and I WILL draw near to you.” 

In our unfaithfulness, we invite wreckage. But, when we humble ourselves, submit ourselves to God, and draw near to Him, he does something amazing…

  • He forgives us our unfaithfulness.
  • He brings sweetness to our devastation.
  • He brings beauty to the wreckage..
  • He gives grace to the humble. 
  • He pardons us from our sin and rebellion.
  • He cleanses us within.

We can certainly be an adulterous people. But God is standing there, full of jealousy, beckoning us to draw near to him. He whispers to us softly, “Humble yourselves before the Lord and I will exalt you.”

Only God is able to both save and destroy. We do not have to invite wreckage into our lives and we do not have to settle for a life of enmity with God. He will draw near to us. His desire is not to oppose us as we fill ourselves with pride, his desire is to give us grace as we humble ourselves before Him and submit to him.

After verse 4 warns us that friendship with the world makes us an enemy of God, verse 5 tells us God is jealous for us, and then verse 6 starts out saying, “But he gives more grace.” Folks, he gives more grace. We invite wreckage, we befriend the world, yet out of his jealous love for us he gives more grace. Let us humble ourselves and draw near to God… For he gives more grace. 

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

Two Kinds Of Unfaithful Churches: Only One Ever Gets Rejected

It seems that every week we hear news of another church “coming out” in favor accepting the LGBT community as members and no longer calling them to repentance and faith in Christ. Due to cultural pressure, yet in Jesus name, a lot of churches are abandoning the Bible’s teaching on sexuality. This truly is unfortunate for the Kingdom of God, the individuals not being called to repentance and faith, and the church that is now out of step with Scriptures teaching.

When churches do this the world applauds them and evangelical churches bemoan the continuing trend of congregations caving to cultural pressure. This is the church that I would call the unfaithful-rejected church. They are seen as “no longer” being biblically faithful and they are rejected because of it.

The problem is, there is a type of unfaithfulness that is commonly accepted within the American Church that is just as harmful. I recall a pastor once saying something to the effect of, “A lot of pastors get ripped for going too far, but no one seems to ever get ripped for not going far enough.” Every time a church “comes out” in approval of the LGBT lifestyle you have the multitude of churches condemning the move, just as the Bible does.

The problem with the multitude of churches? Most of those churches aren’t reaching lost people. They are also unfaithful, yet accepted. How do I know this? Every statistic about the state of the church says something to the effect of 80% of churches are plateaued or declining. It is easy to simply “remain faithful to the Bible,” especially when you aren’t reaching any lost people and your church has had the same 100 people for the last 20 years. Absolutely, it is disobedience to reject the clear teachings of Scripture.

But, we must come to terms with the reality that it is no more faithful to be a church that is content being the same 100 people for decades. 

It is easy for these churches to be filled with self-righteousness as they sit in their ivory towers of judgement, over and away from all the lost people. Should we not be as upset with and as full of angst with the masses of churches that clearly have an against the culture posture? Why do we only ever get upset with the churches that succumb to cultural pressure and fall in love with the culture? 

We all need to embrace a redemptive posture towards culture. 

We must both hold faithful to biblical teaching and love our neighbor enough to have a redemptive posture towards our communities in a way that leads us to “become all things to all people” so that some might be saved.

A good start would be for all of us to point out the elephant in the room and own that 80% of our churches are in no better shape than the ones that abandon biblical teaching. A biblical standard of sexuality is a test of evangelical authenticity, so is a faithfulness to the biblical mandate of mission. Does Jesus not make the case that the older brother was in fact further from the Father than the younger one (at minimum, at least as lost)? He absolutely does.

We need to stop accepting one type of unfaithfulness, while condemning the other. The life of the old brother might look more righteous than the younger brother, but Jesus was quick to help us see with new eyes. It is just as unfaithful for churches to deny the gospel with their culture as it is when they deny the gospel with their statement of faith.