So, to recap from the previous post –
- God’s standard is not a list of rules. It’s LOVE.
- Human beings are totally messed up and unable to love very well.
- So we need someone to bring justice into the pain we’ve caused, and…
- Do something for us so we can belong in God’s Circle of Love.
Enter Jesus. We are very familiar with the fact that he died for our sins. But the second part seems to be something that isn’t talked about a lot in evangelical circles. Jesus lived a perfect life and that was for us, too. He accomplished on our behalf what we will never be able to, and the Father was delighted!
So what happens is we are let off the hook and receive mercy, and we receive the huge gift of a perfect human life credited to our account. Is that Grace with a capital “G” or what?! Paul says that we now stand in grace – we are in good standing with God. God is satisfied, completely satisfied. As Jesus said, “It is finished.” There is no more to be done to earn God’s approval.
In some circles, grace like that is regarded as a bad idea, a dangerous message, because where is the motivation to shape up and become better people? Everyone knows self-improvement is the name of the game. Some form of good works to earn God’s approval is highly desirable; it’s man’s natural religion.
But….once you truly get hold of the reality that you will never be able to do enough to make God happy, then the truth of the Gift is a staggering relief. We are accepted in the Beloved. Imagine that – we are brought into the embrace of the very same tender, passionate, focused love that the Father has for the Son! John exclaims, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us!”
Believing and receiving that kind of love brings security and rest and peace and happiness. It provides the deep soil of connection and worth in which we can grow. It’s the environment in which human beings are designed to flourish. Infants fail to thrive when cuddles and delighted smiles are missing, no matter how well they are cared for; babies who are loved develop and grow. The same is true of our souls, from birth till death.
Being so loved, then, is the context for the New Testament “commandments”. The “do’s” are a result of God’s love, they don’t earn it. Paul reinforces this in most of his letters, expounding the gospel in the first chapters, and only after that giving instruction on the Christian life in the latter chapters. There is a handy way of describing this order – first the indicatives, then the imperatives.
This casts the imperatives in a completely different light. They come AFTER the good news, the Gift. They grow organically out of Love. Being loved, you become more loving. As John says, “We love, because he loved us first.” Growing in grace means understanding and receiving more and more deeply the meaning and extent of the love of God, and loving people more as you grow in grace.
Your attitude toward people begins to change. You want to help, you don’t want to hurt, you want to be more patient, there are people you want to pray for…and there you are, involved in the main things we are instructed to do, but from an entirely different motivation. It’s not about us trying to achieve “sonship” to make ourselves acceptable; it’s focused outwardly on God and neighbor.
And it puts an entirely different aspect on guilt. You still feel it, of course, because you don’t love perfectly, you’ve failed in many respects. But that is not the same as guilt for having not done enough to achieve spiritual stature and earn God’s approval. When you let yourself off the performance hook, trying to do stuff perfectly and do enough of it, and instead allow yourself to simply grow in grace as you live your normal life learning to love better, guilt becomes manageable. You confess it to God, ask for grace to do better, and go on.
The confession of sin in the English-speaking church since the Reformation puts it so well, “… how often we have offended you in thought, word and deed, not only by obvious violations, but by failing to conform to its perfect commands, by what we have done and by what we have left undone”. We pray that together every Sunday, because we need to, and God knows we will need to until the very day he takes us home.
It’s a huge relief of soul to accept our fallibility, and stop. Stop expecting that we ought to arrive at a point in this life where we won’t have to pray that prayer. Stop feeling that God is disapproving of us because we aren’t there yet. And relax in the finished work of Christ.
When you find yourself all tense about what you “ought to be doing”, remind yourself that you are in the Circle of Love, and because of God’s love, you are growing in grace, and that is what he is expecting of you. The instructions in the New Testament are to that end, to show us what growth looks like.
An Assembly mental roadblock pops up at this point – “What about rewards??” Funny how you don’t hear much about this subject in normal churches. It takes a narcissist to blow it all out of proportion – to feed his ego – and leave the rest of us scrambling. And then there’s the flip side of “losing out”. We have all those threats hanging over our heads as believers! The “Reality Therapy” concept of consequences wasn’t just used in Brothers Houses – the ministry inflicted it on all of us as if that were God’s way of dealing with his children.