By Linda Rex
I remember a brief visit to the Arizona desert. The setting sun was painting the sky with brilliant colors. The saguaros and Joshua trees were silhouetted against it, and the air was crisp and dry. The desert was beautiful, but it was dry and parched. The only thing that would have made it even more beautiful, that would have made really it come alive, would have been rain.
Sometimes, like the desert, we may feel dry and parched. We feel an inner emptiness that nags at us that we really can’t quite put our finger on. We try to avoid dealing with it, so we cram ourselves and our lives full of all kinds of stuff, none of which truly fills that emptiness. Our life may have a stunning beauty and be full of all kinds of stuff, but nothing quite takes away that nagging feeling of thirst.
The sad thing is that we can be doing all kinds of things for God, and still feel this way. This is because we have forgotten who we are and what we were created for. We weren’t created to do things for God, but to do all things with God.
Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it and to be fruitful. And God walked with them in the garden—sharing life with them as they went along. God did not just put them in the garden and then walk away and say, “Take care of it. It’s all up to you now. You’ve got to get it right or else.”
But he did give them a choice—the same choice he gives us. A choice between life on our own—choosing for ourselves what is good and evil—or true life, life in communion with him forever, trusting him in every situation. Even when Adam and Eve made the wrong choice, God intervened and promised them that evil would not have the last word. Their failure was not the end of the story. It was redeemed in Christ.
Because Christ took on our human flesh and lived, died and rose from the grave in union with us, all of life is a participation in God’s Triune life and love. We can try to live life as though we are here on earth all by ourselves, tackling everything ourselves on our own. (Our track record with that hasn’t been the greatest.) Or we can live life in an intimate relationship with God moment by moment through Christ in the Spirit.
Through Christ God sent his Spirit so that we could share in his life. We are free to ignore the tree of life, the Spirit, if we wish and continue to hide away from God. Worse yet, we can declare ourselves aligned with God and with Christ as our Savior, and yet live as though it’s all up to us. Either way we end up making demands on other people that they cannot fill. And we live with an inner dryness that we try to stuff with all kinds of things that are never quite enough to fill the emptiness.
Instead we can choose to live our lives as a participation in Christ’s life, believing that all of life is taken up in Christ. Whatever we are doing at the moment, we are doing in union with Christ and as we are walking in the Spirit, we are doing in communion with God in Christ. This is the perichoretic life of the Father, Son and Spirit—making room for one another. God has made room for us in his life. We make room for God in ours. We make room for others in ours as well. We live gratefully in God’s true freedom based in love in a warm, loving relationship with God and each other.
This means that we live, moment by moment, with an awareness of God’s presence. We begin to tune into the presence and power of God’s Spirit. We make some effort to listen to the Word of God and the promptings of his Spirit. We begin to make room for God in our hearts, our minds and our lives.
Every act of life, no matter how trivial, is not an unusual thing for God—he is not surprised. He already knows all about us. He knows us intimately. Nothing is hidden from him, no matter how good we are at hiding it.
He wants to share all of life with us, just as we would with a best friend, a lover, a brother or sister. God wants to do all of life with us, not just the parts we get right. That’s why he gives us his unconditional love and acceptance—his grace. And he loves us so much that he’s not going to leave us where we are—he’s going to grow us up to reflect the perfect image of himself, Jesus Christ. He’s going to work to heal us and make us whole. He’s going to transform us.
When we feel that nagging inner thirst, we need to ask ourselves—am I doing life on my own again? Where’s God in all this? Who is God for me in this moment, in this situation? Am I doing life for God or for myself? Or am I doing life with God—together with him in joyful companionship and friendship?
Whenever we find ourselves in that dry spot where we’ve started going the wrong direction, all God asks of us is to turn around. He beckons to us, “Come—join me in my life and my work! Share life with me! You don’t need to do this all by yourself.” And he runs down the road to meet us and embrace us. Because he’s always expectantly looking for us to join him. Let’s not keep him waiting.
Holy God, thank you so much that we don’t have to do life all on our own. Thank you for your real, intimate presence with us and in us by your Holy Spirit. Forgive us our tendency to live life our way on our own without you. Grant us the grace to make room for you in our lives, our hearts and minds, and to live each moment in an intimate relationship with you. Fill our thirsty souls with your real presence—we long for you. We’ve lived too long in this desert place without you. We praise and thank you for your faithful love in Jesus. Amen.
“They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:8-9 NASB
by Linda Rex
In my last blog I mentioned that “There are lots of opportunities in life to celebrate pity parties.” I followed this with a comment about our common human experience of at times feeling forgotten and unnoticed. Then I began to talk about Hagar’s experience.
Unfortunately, this may have given my readers the impression that I believed Hagar was having a pity party out in the desert, sitting next to a spring of water somewhere feeling sorry for herself. In reality, she was no doubt reflecting upon what had just occurred and was frightened and upset. When God, the One who saw her, came to her in her distress, he had something to say to her about the whole situation in which she found herself.
This all began because her mistress, Sarai, was unable to conceive a baby. According to the cultural norm of the time, but against the wishes of God, Sarai offered her maid Hagar as a surrogate mother. Hagar’s child would become the family heir in place of the baby Sarai could not conceive.
The problem arose when Hagar conceived. All of a sudden her attitude toward Sarai changed. She despised her. And Sarai could not tolerate this. In her frustration, she went to Abram and laid the blame at his door. In response Abram gave Sarai permission to do whatever she wanted with Hagar—she was considered their property. Sarai acted according to the cultural norms again, and rather than treating Hagar with God’s grace and wisdom, she treated Hagar harshly.
In response to this abuse, Hagar fled. Thankfully in the wilderness she found a spring of water, and it was there that the angel of the Lord met her. Hagar’s response to the angelic visit was to name the spring after the God who saw her there in her distress.
Which is a little surprising when you think about what God said to her through the angel. He didn’t pat her on the head and say, “Oh, you poor thing.” He didn’t sympathize with the injustice of it all. He didn’t criticize her for her behavior and attitude toward Sarai. Nor did he excuse it. He merely said in effect, “Go back and do what’s right. I will redeem this. This child has a future and a purpose.”
John’s gospel tells us that Jesus’ response to another woman facing unpleasant circumstances and unwanted consequences was exactly the same as that of the God who sees us. This woman was being accused by some Pharisees of committing adultery. When all was said and done, Jesus never accused her nor did he excuse her. He merely said, “I don’t condemn you either. Go, and sin no more.”
Jesus’ response exactly reflected the response of Israel’s God—God’s response to our failures, the struggles and consequences we face in life is grace. God takes whatever happens in our lives, whether we caused it or not, whether we are the victim or not, and determines that it is not the end of the story. God, in Christ, has redeemed and will redeem it all—he will cause it to fulfill his ultimate purpose and will. He will work it to good as we love and serve him in the midst of it.
What he asks of us is to leave all these things in his hands and to go and do what is right. He wants us to trust him to make it right, to restore what is lost, to forgive what we’ve done wrong, and to heal what is broken. He wants us to rest in him and just live in gratitude for what he has done and will do for us, and to bear witness to his grace and truth in Jesus. He gives us his Son and his Spirit and says to us, “Go and do what’s right. I’ll take care of all this. Trust me.”
Thank you, Father, for your precious gift of grace in your Son and through the Spirit. Thank you that no matter where we are or what we’ve done or what’s been done to us, it is redeemed in Jesus Christ, and you will use it to accomplish your purposes in our lives and in the lives of those around us. We thank you in advance for the grace to trust you no matter what has happened, is happening or will happen in our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Now the angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” Then the angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.” Moreover, the angel of the LORD said to her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” Genesis 16:7–10 NASB
by Linda Rex
There are times in our lives when we may feel completely invisible. Everyone around us at work seems to receive the perks and we get nothing. All our friends have a significant other, but we don’t. Our life is falling apart and no one seems to notice or care. Perhaps we come to the holidays, like Valentine’s Day, and we wonder why we, once again, have to spend them alone and forgotten.
There are lots of opportunities in life to celebrate pity parties. It seems to be the nature of being human to have days when life just doesn’t seem to be worth living, when we feel forgotten and unnoticed by God and everyone else.
I am reminded of the story of Hagar. Hagar’s story begins with her being forcibly employed as a servant to Sarah, the wife of Abraham. When Sarah could not have a child, but Abraham had been promised to have an heir, Sarah decided to follow the customs of the time and have an heir through her maid Hagar.
Humanly, it seemed to be a great plan, but the plan quickly began to fall apart. Jealousy, anger, conceit—all the human weaknesses seemed to be involved in destroying the family unit. Sarah beat her and the frightened and pregnant Hagar fled into the wilderness. As she wept in the desert for herself and her precious son, an angel provided her with water and told her to go back to Sarah. God saw her and her son—God had an inheritance in mind for him—he saw the ones who were invisible.
This encounter with God profoundly impacted Hagar. Hagar was one of the few people in the Bible who gave God a name—‘the God who sees me’. She understood and appreciated the reality that God was not some ethereal concept or distant being in the sky. He wasn’t just some manifestation of human consciousness. The God who had intervened in her life was real, powerful, personal, and cared about her and had come to her in the midst of her suffering and isolation.
So what about you and me? It’s not every day that we see or experience manifestations of the divine. Life still falls apart around us while we do our best to hold it all together. Is there really a God who sees you and me? Or is that just another mythological story in a book? Is that just a nice fairy tale that’s designed to make us feel better about ourselves and the world we live in?
I suppose a person could give all types of explanations about why you should believe in a real and personal God. I can share the testimony of scripture, of the God who created you and me, and loved us so much that he came to be one of us, to live with us and die for us, and who rose from the grave. But it boils down to this—have you personally encountered the living God? Do you realize for yourself that you are not invisible to him? Have you experienced the reality that he sees you and loves you and wants a personal relationship with you?
Faith in the God who sees you in the midst of your invisibility begins with knowing that he is real, and that he rewards those who diligently seek him. (Heb. 11:6) God enjoys hide-and-seek, but he will not be found unless he chooses to be found. We often prefer God, if we want to believe he is real, to be a God who will show up and to do something for us, but we aren’t about to seek him out, much less let him tell us what to do.
God gave us a really big clue as to how to find him when he came to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being. (Heb. 1:3) He is God in a tangible human being—the God who sees us here among us as one of us. Jesus died and rose again, and the testimony of the church is that the Father sent through Jesus the gift of the presence of God in the Holy Spirit to those who would receive him. So you and I, as we seek God, have been offered the gift of God living in us by his Holy Spirit. The God who sees us now is the God who lives in us.
God sees you and he sees me. He became you and became me in that he took on our humanity in Jesus. And God lives in you and in me by his Holy Spirit. As we welcome his presence within us, we will begin to experience the reality of the living God as being more than just an idea or mythology. As we hear the inner voice of the Spirit guiding us, teaching us, and as we experience the Word of God in the Bible coming alive and real to us and beginning to transform us, we realize the unseen God is indeed the God who sees us, his beloved and cherished unseen ones. Life may still be hard, and we may still feel invisible, but when God abides in you and me, our lives are never the same. God may ask us to do the hard things, but we never do them alone—he is present in the midst of our invisibility—you and him, me and him, forever.
Dear God, thank you for making yourself real to us in your Son, Jesus Christ, and by your Holy Spirit. Thank you that we are not invisible to you, but really and truly treasured, cherished and understood. Make yourself real to us today—open our eyes to see you and our ears to hear you. Transform us by your grace. Holy God, may we bless and serve you forever, through Jesus’ name. Amen.
Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” Gen 16:13
by Linda Rex
I was intrigued by the story of Samson when I was a little girl. Here was a man whose birth was announced by an angel to his barren parents. He was set apart for God from birth, which back then meant he could not drink any juice or wine made from grapes, nor could he cut his hair. As long as he was separated for God in this way, God gave him supernatural strength by which he helped his nation overcome their oppressors, the Philistines.
This was all well and good, and Samson began destroying the enemies of Israel. But he had a small problem. His heart was not fully devoted to God. Many times he gave his heart away to a woman and inevitably ended up in trouble because of it.
In the final scenes of Samson’s life we see the infamous Delilah show up. Delilah stole Samson’s heart, to the place that one night he told her everything that was in his heart. In other words, he told Delilah the secret to his strength. The one thing that God had said was his and his alone, Samson gave to another.
This would not have been a problem, only Delilah was not a safe person for Samson to be sharing his heart with. Delilah took that knowledge, sold it to the Philistine leaders, and cut off Samson’s hair. He became a prisoner then of the enemy. They blinded and shackled him. He could no longer do the work God created him for.
Too often in life we are not careful about to whom or what we give our hearts. Then the people or things we’ve opened our hearts to begin to wound us, destroying the beauty God meant for us to have and our usefulness for his work in this world. We find ourselves trapped in a place God never meant for us to be, bound and shackled. What begins as a moment of pleasure or a relationship of passion ends up as bondage, suffering, and maybe even destruction.
The story of King Hezekiah also tells us about the hazards of opening the heart of one nation to another. In this story the king had recovered from a fatal illness because of God’s mercy. Some Babylonian envoys came by for a visit to share the joy. Now Babylon at that time wasn’t much of a country. And Hezekiah didn’t really think he needed to restrict what they saw. So he showed them everything. He opened the heart of the country completely to them.
There was a small problem with this. What Hezekiah did not realize was that Babylon was on the way up. They were to become the next superpower of the ancient world. And Israel would be one of the nations they would squash. Opening the heart of his nation to Babylonian envoys was not a smart move.
The truth is there is only one person who can be fully trusted with your heart and mine. That is God.
You belong in this universe he created. You were meant to have a place in God’s story. He created your heart for himself and he will do and has done everything he possibly can to protect and care for your heart when you give it to him. He honors your boundaries and will not push himself on you.
If you are willing to receive the gift, he has given you his heart in place of yours. He has given you a whole heart in place of your shattered one. He has given you a strong heart in place of your weak one. Your physical heart may give out and you may die. But his heart in you will live on into eternity.
Heart-sharing. God seeks your heart and mine—he has given his fully to you and to me. The cost of opening himself up fully to us was the suffering we inflicted on Jesus Christ in his life and death. But the payment is everlasting life for us in God’s presence through his resurrection. We need to be careful to whom and what we give our hearts in the world around us. But we can freely and fully give our hearts to the One who completely shared his heart with us. He stands with open hands, his heart fully yours. Will you share?
Lord, thank you for your heart of love that is fully ours in Jesus Christ. Grant us the grace, the courage and faith to share our hearts completely with you. Amen.
“So he told her all that was in his heart and said to her, ‘A razor has never come on my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If I am shaved, then my strength will leave me and I will become weak and be like any other man.’
“ When Delilah saw that he had told her all that was in his heart, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, ‘Come up once more, for he has told me all that is in his heart.’ Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her and brought the money in their hands. She made him sleep on her knees, and called for a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his hair. Then she began to afflict him, and his strength left him.” Judges 16:17–19 (NASB)
“Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah and said to him, ‘What did these men say, and from where have they come to you?’ And Hezekiah said, ‘They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.’’ He said, “What have they seen in your house?” So Hezekiah answered, ‘They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing among my treasuries that I have not shown them.’” Isaiah 39:3–4 (NASB)
by Linda Rex
On my desk there is a block of wood with the word “MENTAL” engraved on it. A colleague of mine from several years ago knew I liked to write and he gave it to me for the times when I experience writer’s block. I can’t help but chuckle when I see it because right then, at that moment, I experience a “mental block.”
How often, though, do we find that we have a mental block when it comes to spiritual perfection? If we are expected to become perfect, how do we do it? For the perfectionists among us, this is important information, because perfectionists cannot settle for anything less than perfection.
There is way of looking at faith in Christ as an expectation that we become perfect people once we get done saying we are sorry for our sins. For some of us, we even think that we have to become perfect before approaching God or he will reject us. Either view is based on a misunderstanding of God’s expectations of us and confusion about who we are as his creatures.
First of all, part of the process of coming to faith in Christ is an acknowledgement of the perfection of God and his love for us, and the confession of our imperfection in the face of God’s perfection. As long as we see ourselves as acceptable, good enough, and able to take care of ourselves, there really isn’t much need for anyone else.
But there is a dignity in our confession of our imperfection. We are human, made in God’s image, to reflect his likeness. We were created for perfection. God desires to share his perfection with us. This is why Jesus came.
Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith—the one who began and will finish the process of perfecting us. Because he joined us to himself in his life, death and resurrection, God in Christ shares his perfection with us. We participate in God’s perfection in Christ by the Spirit.
But this is a process, a journey. It is a relationship with God in Christ by the Spirit in which we are, over time, transformed by the renewal of our minds. In light of God’s mercy in Christ, we surrender ourselves to God in obedient service and we walk in union and communion with the Father, Son and Spirit in love with God and one another.
Our spiritual perfection lies in Christ—we have the assurance that we will one day be like him in glory. For now, though, we focus on Jesus Christ and persevere in our relationship with God in him, rejecting and resisting anything that may seek to draw us away from the path of righteousness we walk in him.
When we read the history of faith in Hebrews 11, we recognize that faith does not come simply but exacts a price. Perfection is not an easy process. It is hard work. But it is not something we do on our own to perfect ourselves. And faith is not something we have to somehow come up with on our own. It is all of grace. It is a gift. Just as faith is a gift from God, so is our perfection.
So, in the midst of the messies of life and our imperfections, we can have Christ’s perfect peace, because he has given us his perfection, and he will continue to perfect us until we fully reflect him in glory. Seeking perfection isn’t a bad thing—but in the midst of all that effort, it is best to remember that there is only one who is perfect, and it is not us. But that Perfect One has graciously included us in his perfection.
Thank you, Perfect and Holy God, for including us in your perfection. Thank you that we don’t have to perfect ourselves or have perfect faith. You are the source, the author and finisher of our faith and our perfection. We trust you to finish what you have begun in us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1–3
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1–2
by Linda Rex
In my last blog I asked the question, when a chronic sinner who deliberately chooses to live in sin faces the Son of God in glory, will they be found to be in Christ? What happens when someone willfully sins and turns away from God’s grace? This is indeed a question worth wrestling with.
Reflecting back on my days as a former legalistic lawkeeper, I recall that I often read the law of God in such a way that I believed I had to do everything in it so that I would be good enough and God would not be angry with me. I believed that when Israel didn’t keep the law, she was punished by having to make sacrifices and kill animals and do other things to appease God’s wrath. I also believed that Jesus came to take away God’s anger towards me because of the bad things I did and do. I lived in an ongoing state of guilt and shame, constantly asking God to forgive me and to accept me.
Unfortunately, this is a misunderstanding of the nature of God and his holiness and the nature of the work Jesus Christ did in his life, death and resurrection. When we read the Bible, we begin not with humanity but with God in Christ. Jesus Christ is central to understanding anything that we read in the Bible, including the chapters on the law, the prophets, and so on. This is because Jesus Christ is God who took on human flesh for our sakes. And Jesus Christ revealed the nature of God to us as Father, Son and Spirit who live in oneness of love and unity the church fathers called perichoresis. Perichoresis is best understood as ‘making room for one another’, meaning mutual indwelling. The holiness of God is a purity, beauty of oneness and equality in unity that is love.
The love of God is not like our human love of eros, which seeks its own satisfaction, or philo love of friendship and companionship. It is agape, a love which as God has demonstrated is best expressed through self-denial, laying down one’s life for another, and through the death and resurrection of oneself on behalf of another. This is true holiness and is what Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection has brought us up into—in union with God in himself, in communion with God in the Spirit.
The law was merely a shadow of these spiritual realities. The law doesn’t tell us what to do so we can be good enough to be in relationship with God. What the law does is describe what it looks like when we live in union and communion, in holy love, with God. Israel was given the law as an expression of life in harmony and communion with the God who had called her his own. The sacrifices were given to Israel as a way to restore this love relationship when she lived out of harmony with the God who loved her.
Jesus Christ came so that the law would no longer be external to humanity, but would be written on human hearts. This means that through Christ in the Spirit we receive God’s nature, his very self within, so that we desire to live in relationship with God in union and communion with him. This is a gift from God to us as human beings. In Christ, each of us as human beings has been perfected and we participate in that perfection as we live and walk in Christ. God is making us holy—bringing each of us into a deeper relationship with himself in Christ by the Spirit.
But God does not violate our free will. We are given the freedom to live in harmony with the will and nature of God or in opposition to it. We are all included, but we can live as though we are not included. We are all given this gift of life in Christ, but we can choose to live as penniless paupers. We do have that choice.
But God’s passionate love toward us will not allow anything less than our inclusion in his life and love. His wrath (the same word used for passion) is toward anything that would separate us from him—it’s not against us. He is absolutely and completely for us. It’s against all that is evil and unloving—anything that stands between us and him or holds us captive. The fire of his love will burn away anything that will mar his perfected creation. He is making us holy.
Someone who chooses to live as though he or she is not included in the life and love of God will experience the passionate love of God as “fearful expectation of judgment.” In our hearts we know when we are living in opposition to our true selves.
We can be blinded by the evil one to the true reality of God’s love and live as though God were someone he is not. Sadly, we often do this and suffer the consequences of living out of ourselves instead of living and walking in the Spirit. How often I have met people who see God as being someone he is not! And so they live in fear and in condemnation instead of in the love and blessing God created them for and called them to in Jesus Christ.
So a new question arises. Will we live as enemies of God or as his children? If we choose to live as enemies of God, what will be the consequences of our decision? For nothing can stand against God and not be consumed by the fire of his love.
Holy God, thank you for your love for us that is so complete and so glorious. Thank you for not leaving us in our rotten sinfulness, but for giving us yourself, perfecting us in Christ. Thank you for your faithful love, that you will not give up until all are included in your life and love. Grant us the grace to live in gratitude all our lives for your gift of life in your Son Jesus Christ. In his name we pray. Amen.
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Heb 10:1
But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Heb 10:12–14
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Heb 10:26–27
by Linda Rex
Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t fix things? Why doesn’t he fix this broken world? If God is such a great, awesome Being, why doesn’t he fix everything when we ask him to?
Specifically, why does God allow us to keep stumbling over and over again in the same way when we continually are asking him to help us to change and be different? Are people who are chronic sinners covered by grace or are they somehow outside the limits of grace, in some place of condemnation, headed straight for hell?
Do you ever think about questions like this? These are the tough questions of life. And there are no easy answers. It is questions like these that caused Martin Luther to walk away from Catholicism and to tack his objections on a church door. And he had good reasons for his objections. When is grace not enough? Is there a limit to grace? Is grace an umbrella under which only a few can stand and the rest (those “heathens”) are left outside?
Salvation is, as Paul wrote, not something earned, but “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8). Every good and perfect gift, including grace, comes down from God and he does not change his mind.
He cannot change his mind about grace because he has committed himself unreservedly and completely to humanity in Jesus Christ. He has united his Godhead with our humanity in the person of Jesus Christ.
There is no limit to grace. God didn’t just commit part of himself to us—he committed all of himself to us by uniting himself with us in our human flesh. There is no limit to God’s grace because God didn’t take up just part of humanity in Jesus Christ, but all of humanity. As the church fathers said, what is not assumed is not healed. God’s grace is unlimited.
But what about us? Is it all up to us to receive God’s grace? What if we reject it? What if we turn away from it? What if we, even knowing the consequences, continually turn away from God’s grace or abuse it? And what if we mess up after we have put our faith in Christ? What if our best efforts at “being good” fail?
Well, this is a topic worth wrestling with. If indeed, all of humanity was taken up in Jesus in his life, death and resurrection, then he stood in our place when he obeyed John the Baptist’s call to repent and be baptized. He certainly didn’t do it on his own account—he never sinned because he was God in human flesh. He did it in our place, making the choices we should have made and should make day by day and don’t. Jesus lived the life we ought to live in relationship with God and others. He, through his life, suffering, and death, and resurrection, was humanity’s perfect response to the Father, in our place, in our stead.
Whether or not we receive and embrace the grace offered by God is bound up in Christ’s perfect response to the Father on our behalf. So what is left for us to do? All God asks is that we participate in Christ’s life, death and resurrection. This is why Christ is central to everything in our relationship with God and others. We participate in his “Yes” to God in the face of our human “No.”
The scripture says sinners will not be in the kingdom of God. For example, the apostle Paul writes that people who practice “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing,… will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Since we as Christians have all been guilty of these things at some point just like every other human being on earth, we all stand in the same place—in need of grace. This is why Jesus stands in our place even today as our “high priest” interceding on our behalf with the Father. This is why in Romans 8:1 we read that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ.
When we realize this and embrace the gift Jesus has given us—himself in our place—we begin to experience an inner transformation. The Holy Spirit, God’s gift to us of himself to us, within us, begins to change the way we think, feel and believe.
But it does not happen all at once. And indeed, there are things that we will wrestle with throughout our life, whether physical, spiritual, mental or emotional, that God will not immediately fix or remove. Whatever the apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, God didn’t fix it. Instead he used it to keep Paul dependent upon his grace. It is in our humanness and weakness that God’s power works most effectively. We always and ever participate in Christ. Our mantra must be, “not I, but Christ.”
When someone willfully sins over and over, and turns away from God’s grace—God’s grace doesn’t go away for them. It is still there. They can still participate in Jesus’ perfect response to the Father. But if in the presence of that perfect love they live in rejection of it, they will be miserable. They will suffer all the consequences of rejecting the gift God has given them by giving them himself. Because they are denying their true humanity—they are denying and rejecting themselves. They reap the consequences of that inner split. Question is—when they stand in glory and face the One, Jesus Christ, who is both the Judge and the Judged—will they be found to be in him? And that is another question worth wrestling with.
Lord, thank you for your perfect gift of grace. Thank you for the infinite measure of grace you have given us in Jesus Christ. Please grant to each of us repentance—a change of mind and heart—that will enable us to fully receive and be transformed by your gift to us of yourself. Thank you that even though we are imperfect, you have perfected us in Christ. Thank you that even though we are weak, in Christ we are strong. Thank you that even while we were yet sinners, Christ, you died for us. You are our only hope, Lord Jesus. We trust completely in you. Amen.
“Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.'” 2 Cor. 12:7–9