Growing In Godliness Blog

Growing In Godliness Blog

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Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part I

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part I

By Tom Rose

 

[Note: The article that follows draws heavily from two books by Philip Yancey which are referenced at the end.  In an effort to help describe grace, this author uses a new word to contrast everything that is not grace, which he simply terms ungrace.]

We speak of grace often as if we fully understood it, but do we?  More importantly, do we believe in it and do our lives proclaim it?  Most of us have grown up with many values based on what sociologists call the “Protestant Ethic.”  It can be described in phrases like: pull yourself up by your own bootstraps; the early bird gets the worm; no pain, no gain; there’s no such thing as a free lunch; and stand up for yourself!  However, each of these are examples of “ungrace”.  Indeed, most institutions run on ungrace and their insistence that we earn our way.  Over time, we build up a resistance to grace – partly because it is unearned (and doesn’t seem fair) and partly because it is shockingly personal to the individual who receives it. 

Aware of our inbuilt confusion about grace as well as our difficultly to explain it, Jesus chose to teach about it frequently – most often in the form of parables.  The three stories in Luke 15 (about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son) seem to make the same point.  Each underscores the loser’s sense of loss, tells the thrill of discovery, and ends with a scene of jubilation.  It is only when we pause and allow their meaning to filter through our minds that we are confronted with their astonishing message and begin to realize how thickly our veil of ungrace obscures our view of God.

For example, can you image a housewife jumping up and down in glee over the discovery of a lost coin (Lk 15:8-10).  Now that image is not exactly what comes to one’s mind when we think of God.  Yet that is exactly the picture Jesus insisted upon.  In effect He is asking us, “Do you want to know what it feels like to be God?  Well, when one of my creatures pays attention to Me, it feels like I just reclaimed my most valuable possession, which I had given up for lost.”  The message is clear: God will go to any length to bring us home.  How far will He go?  All the way to Calvary.  God gave us His Son as proof that He has not given up on us.  That’s grace!

Grace is unmerited, undeserved, unconditional love of God toward man.  Grace is what every sinner needs, but none deserve (see Rom 5:8).  Unconditional love is a difficult concept to grasp.  By grace, God did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  Truly, God’s goodness toward us was not based on any thing we had done – or would do in the future.  He acted freely and without expectation of receiving anything of equitable value in return.  It was unearned kindness.  Indeed, grace is the essence of the gospel as it puts the “good” in the Good News.  It provides healing to those who hurt, help to those who struggle, and hope to those who despair.

Here is an important concept, though: while salvation is by the “riches of His grace” (see Eph 1:7), it is not by grace alone.  Paul, in Eph 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”  The giver and gift are so involved that the gift cannot be handed over unless the recipient is involved.  Grace is God’s part; faith is man’s part.

Read the The Parable of the Vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16), then pause to notice the role of each character.  God is the master of the house, Christ is the foreman, the laborers are the disciples, the vineyard is the church, and a denarius was the ordinary pay for a day laborer.  Whereas the first group of workers agreed to a set wage, the others merely trusted the master to give them “whatever is right” (see v. 4).  Now at the close of day, the early hires were dirt covered, sweat drenched, energy depleted, hands throbbing, back aching, and denarius deserving – everything the latecomers were not!  The foreman was told by the master to pay the wages beginning with those hired last.  As each worker stood before the foreman they each were given a denarius – regardless of the time they started work.  Predictably, the story has those who get more than they deserve, those who think they deserve more than they get, and a jealous reaction arises.  However, no one received less than he initially expected, and some received more.  The master had not made the early hires equal to the latecomers; rather he made the latecomers equal to the early hires.

Many Christians who study this parable identify with the employees who put in a full day’s work, rather than the add-ons at the end of the day.  We like to think of ourselves as responsible workers, and the employer’s strange behavior baffles us.  However, unless we step outside the world of ungrace we risk missing the story’s point.  God dispenses gifts, not wages.  None of us gets paid according to merit, for none of us comes close to satisfying God’s requirements for a perfect life.  If paid on the basis of fairness, we would all end up in hell!  Grace cannot be reduced to generally accepted accounting principles.  In the bottom-line reality of ungrace, some workers deserve more than others; in the realm of grace the word deserve does not even apply.

Jesus did not want His followers to be haughty, nor did He want them to have an employee mentality.  It is not so much for so much.  Rather, they should focus on work, not wages; service, not seniority; production, not position; trusting in God’s goodness at the end of the day and not comparing themselves to other workers.  From our Protestant Ethic background, we reach a troublesome dilemma as few things seem more unequal than the equal treatment of unequals!  But this is the ‘New Math’ of grace. The master did not give the latecomers what they deserved; he gave them what they needed.  It was not based on merit, but mercy.  Moreover, if we care to listen, there is a loud whisper from the gospel that we, as believers, did not get what we deserved.  For each of us as His children deserved punishment and got forgiveness.  We deserved wrath and got love.  We deserved a debtor’s prison and got instead a clean credit history.  We deserved stern lectures and crawl-on-your-knees repentance, but He left our world to return to His and set the table of grace, beckoning us to come to His banquet feast.

It should be noted, however, there is one aspect of the Protestant Ethic that is affirmed by the scriptures.  Phil. 2:12-13 admonishes us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling…for it is God who is at work in you.  No one is too bad to be saved, but some are “too good” to be saved because they have a self-righteous attitude.  They tend to look down on others, think too highly of themselves, and feel that God owes them something.  Then there are others who are unwilling to make the effort to change their lives and to put in the work to grow in Christ.  Nevertheless, God will always do His part to make you into the person He wants you to be, if you will work, too.

In summary, grace remains the last and best word to describe what God has done for each of us.  First, grace is free only because the Giver Himself has borne the cost.  Second, grace makes its appearance in so many forms that it is difficult to define.  However, something like a definition of grace in relation to God would be: grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.  Yet, grace alone does not save us; grace is God’s means by which – if we choose to obey His commands - we may be saved.  Third, grace alone melts ungrace.  Finally, Christians are saved by grace in order to serve by grace.

When I stand before the throne,

Dressed in beauty not my own;

When I see Thee as Thou art,

Love Thee with unsinning heart;

Then, Lord, shall I fully know –

Not till then – how much I owe!

 

For the above article, ideas and phrases were selected from: Grace, by Aaron Erhardt, Louisville, KY: Erhardt Publications, 2015; God’s Amazing Grace: The Sweetest Sound of All by Wilson Adams, Murfreesboro, TN: Courageous Living Books, 2015; What’s So Amazing About Grace” by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997; Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014.  

How Long, O Lord?

Saturday, November 13, 2021

How Long, O Lord?

By Gary Watson

David was being hunted in the mountains by Saul. Saul's jealousy had prompted him to make a vow to take the life of David. David flees for his life and while in the mountains, he wrote Psalm 13. (http://www.fbbc.com/messages/hyles_psalms.htm).  It might be observed that David was so stressed that he felt alone and deserted.

Psalm 13 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

According to the Mayo Clinic, stress has many common effects on our bodies:

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems

Common effects of stress on your mood

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression

Common effects of stress on your behavior

  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal
  • Exercising less often

Scripture abound in assuring us that God will help us cope with stress.  1 Peter 5 strongly assures us that God will help.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever.

Note the assurances, challenges, and attitudes necessary as the passage describes: we must humble ourselves, submit ourselves to God, be sober-minded, and watchful.  We must resist the doubt and despair Satan causes. We need to be firm in the faith even if we suffer a while.

The words of Isaiah should reassure us:

Isaiah 40:

29 He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.

Mary- A Modern Day Mentor

Friday, June 12, 2020

Mary- A Modern Day Mentor

By Kim Davis

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is worshipped by some religions.  There are churches, statues, and prayers dedicated to her.  While none of this is supported in the Bible, one cannot deny that Mary was a remarkable woman that we can look to as an example for us today.

Luke 1:30 tells us that Mary had favor with God.  Out of all the women living during her time, God handpicked her to be the mother of His perfect, only begotten Son.  This alone says a lot about Mary.  The Lord knew He would need a strong woman who could bear the burdens that came with being the mother of the Lord.  We all like to think our kids are perfect even though we know better.  But Mary truly had a perfect child.  Can you imagine how wonderful that would have been?  No breaking curfew, no backtalk, but complete obedience.  But on the other hand, imagine the heartache she felt watching her son be prepared for the cross, and hanging there in front of her in pain, as sweat and blood dripped down His body as He was being tortured. Sometimes we watch a child face the consequences of his/her actions and even though it hurts to watch, we know that facing those consequences will help build their character and hopefully teach them a lesson.  But Mary’s child was suffering because of our sins.  Have you ever seen a child punished unjustly for something that another child had done?  It makes us angry as parents.  It’s not fair and we want things to be handled justly.  I can’t help but wonder if Mary experienced those same feelings, even though she knew it was God’s plan and she trusted in God.

Luke 1:34 tells us that Mary was a virgin.  We know she was engaged to Joseph but yet she had kept herself pure for her husband.  So let’s be honest here, is it possible to remain a virgin until marriage?  Yes.  Is it easy?  No, it takes a great deal of determination and resolve.  Many Christians have failed here but Mary did not.  Sometimes we forget that people in the first century struggled with the same sins that we deal with today.  All the way back to the Old Testament, the Bible is riddled with infidelity, multiple wives, and concubines.  Controlling ourselves in the midst of physical passion is not harder today than it was for Mary and Joseph.  We don’t always equip our young ladies with the tools and confidence they need to preserve their purity for their husbands.  But Mary stayed strong and preserved herself for her husband and the Lord was pleased with this.

Luke 1:39 tells us that Mary confided in an older woman, Elizabeth.  Imagine Mary’s state of shock after the angel dissipates, perhaps pacing the floor or staring out into space processing this visit she just experienced.  Then, jumping up and looking for her shoes and grabbing her purse, jumping on a donkey and heading toward the hills of Judah.  Her mind was probably going 90 miles an hour as she was trying to process everything the angel had just told her.  Can you imagine the anxiety that she must have felt?  She had been chosen to give birth to the Lord, the Messiah, and the Son of God.  Have you ever received great, unexpected news and the first thing you wanted to do was share it with someone?  She needed to talk to someone, to share in her excitement.  I think it’s fair to say she was excited from reading Luke 1:46-55. She reached out to share the news with her trusted friend and relative, knowing her reputation could be at stake.

Luke 1:38 tells us that Mary trusted in God. We know she was afraid because Luke 1:30 tells us that Gabriel told Mary not to be afraid.  However she didn’t let her fear stop her from trusting in God. She believed what the angel said and she didn’t try to run away like Jonah or convince God otherwise like Moses. How many times do we let our lack of faith get in the way of doing what God tells us to do? Even though Mary’s reputation was at stake and she didn’t understand all the details, she knew enough and trusted in the Lord and her faith got her through the rest. 

The Lord selected two women from the same family to bear the Lord and his forerunner, John the Baptist. There were likely some very special predecessors guiding them in the ways of God as they endured hardships and experiences which cultivated self-discipline, kindness, love, and deep seated faith for God.

Are we preparing our self (and our children) so that God will find favor in us? Are we teaching the importance of purity, the blessing of friendship and the peace that comes with trusting in God? If we are looking for a modern day mentor, Mary is a great example.

Faith of Demons

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Faith of Demons

By David Norfleet

The Bible is full of amazing accounts of people’s faith.  The 11th chapter of Hebrews alone speaks of those who, motivated by their faith in God and His promises, traded wealth for poverty, exchanged the known and comfortable for the unknown and frightening, and sacrificed that which was precious for a greater relationship with God.

But I would like to think about the faith of another group in Scriptures – the demons.  We think about those spiritual beings as our enemies, and rightly so (Ephesians 6:12), but we might not think of them as having belief or faith in God.  But Scripture says in James 2:19 that they believe and even shudder.  But, what do they believe?

Consider Matthew 8:28-34 and the parallel text Mark 5:1-13. In these accounts we find Jesus is casting out the group of demons self-identified as Legion, but what is revealed within these interactions about their faith is fascinating (Even if their tone is derisive it reveals a level of belief beyond what we would normally ascribe to these beings.).

  1. First, I would note how they identify Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus Son of the Most High God (Mark 5:7).  By identifying Jesus as the “Son of…” they are recognizing a fact the gospels make abundantly clear, and that Jesus is God.
  2. But that is not the only revelation concerning their faith in their use of this title, consider that they recognize the Father as “Most High.” In Hebrew that is El Elyon or God the Highest. What that means is even the demons recognize God’s preeminence. 
  3. Furthermore, they recognize there is punishment, they are subject to it, and Jesus has the authority to execute this judgment. Note the question they ask in Matthew 8.29, “…

Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29). 

  1. But these demons realize and believe in another aspect of God’s nature and that is that He is merciful.  Note their plea in Mark 5: 10 “And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country.”

Let us look yet further into the beliefs of these evil spirits. Not only did they understand who Jesus was, that there was punishment, and God was ultimately merciful, they also understood and were able to recognize that God had a means of salvation.  While traversing the city of Philippi to the place of prayer, a slave-girl with a spirit divination, spoke concerning Paul and his companions, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” (Acts 16:16-18).

This set of beliefs was not merely cold and lifeless to these demons, but resulted in a response whether of their own volition or not. Note the account in Mark 3: 11-12, “Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God!’”

Are you astonished to the degree that the demons believed?  Does it startle you to think of their body of belief? And yet, James describes their faith as incomplete, barren, and lifeless (James 2:14-26)

So, what is the point?  There was something lacking in their faith.  James says in James 2:22 that works (actions/obedience) completes, finishes, and brings faith to its intended goal. If we want a faith that is complete, alive, and useful it must go beyond that of demons and include our obedience to be justified before God.

 

Worldliness vs. Godliness

Friday, March 03, 2017

Worldliness vs. Godliness

By Brock Henry

“You and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness.” (C.S. Lewis)

Few distinctions are more clearly delineated in Scripture than the one between worldliness and godliness. In no uncertain terms, Scripture indicates that the character promoted by the world is diametrically opposed to the character promoted by God.

This does not stop us from blurring the lines, though.

As Christians, we often swallow, with ravenous enthusiasm, the poisonous lie promulgated by Satan himself that we can have our cake and eat it, too. We delude ourselves into thinking that piety and frivolity are symbiotic.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Godliness and worldliness are not parallel paths; they are wholly divergent. And so we stand at a crossroads every time we make a decision.

Either we will take the path that leads to life and godliness, or we’ll take the path that leads to death and worldliness. (cf. Deut. 30:15-20; Joshua 24:15)

There is no middle ground. Only life or death. Only hot or cold. God will vomit out of His mouth those who are lukewarm (Revelation 3:16).

At The Heart of the Distinction

When you boil it all down, there is one defining feature that distinguishes the worldly character from the godly one: Motive.

Worldliness, at its core, is selfish. Godliness, on the other hand, at its core, is selfless. One looks inward, the other looks outward. One says, “my will be done.” The other says, “Your will be done.”

3 Biblical Analogies

Scripture uses multiple analogies to describe the drastic nature of the distinction between godliness and worldliness. Consider three of them:

Light vs. Darkness: possibly the most vivid analogy Scripture uses to describe the distinction between godliness and worldliness is that of light and darkness.

John describes Christ as the “true Light” (John 1:9), and Jesus later confirms this epithet as valid when He simply states, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

It’s important to note that Christ did not say that He has the light of the world; He says that He is the light of the world. Thus, light is a defining feature of Christ Himself, not just His message. (And as Christ is one with God, it’s not surprising that John later writes of God the Father, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5, NKJV).)

As a result, it only makes sense then that those who call themselves by Christ’s name should also be described as the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) and as “having the light of life” (John 8:12).

Because God defines Himself as light, and bestows this light upon all who faithfully follow Him, everything that stands in opposition to Him must necessarily be described as darkness:

• 1 John 1:6 draws a distinction between fellowship with God and “walking in darkness.”

• Christ indicates that those who follow Him “shall not walk in darkness” (John 8:12, NKJV).

• Paul indicates that we should, “Walk as children of light...and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:8-13, NKJV).

• Paul also writes that the godly have been “...delivered...from the power of darkness...” (Colossians 1:13, NKJV).

• To the Christians in Thessalonica, Paul writes, “You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5, NKJV).

• Peter writes that the godly “...were called...out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

In the end, godliness and worldliness are as different as day and night.

Truth vs. The Lie: a second analogy that Scripture uses to illustrate the distinction between godliness and worldliness is that of truth and a lie.

Just like Christ defines Himself by light, He also defines Himself by truth: “I am the way, the truth, and the life...” (John 14:6, NKJV). Similarly, Jesus prays to the Father that He would, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17, NKJV). Again, it isn’t that God’s word has truth, it’s that God’s word is truth.

Accordingly, those who align themselves with the Creator are described as “walking in truth” (2 John 4; 3 John 3-4) and as “obeying the truth” (Galatians 5:7).

Because God is truth, everything that stands against Him is described as the opposite of truth. Whereas Scripture indicates that it is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18), it describes Satan as the “father of lies” (John 8:44).

Thus, those who choose an ungodly character are described as being “...of [their] father the devil...” (John 8:44) and as “wandering from the truth” (James 5:19, NKJV). When man opts for worldliness over godliness, he “...exchanges the truth of God for the lie...” (Romans 1:25).

So, just as godliness and worldliness are as different as night and day, they are also as different as truth and a lie.

Purity vs. Defilement: a third analogy that Scripture uses to highlight the distinction between godliness and worldliness is that of purity and defilement.

Purity is yet another defining feature of God Himself (1 John 3:3). As a result, everything that emanates from Him is also pure, including His words (Psalm 12:6; Psalm 119:140), His commandments (Psalm 19:8), and His wisdom (James 3:17).

Who then is qualified to associate with God? Those who have adopted a godly character and have purified their hearts (Psalm 24:4; cf. James 4:8 and 1 Peter 1:22). Jesus reiterates this when He says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

If the godly character is described as pure, then the worldly character is described as defiled:

• Jude describes certain apostates as having “...defiled the flesh...” (Jude 8).

• The Hebrew writer equates “falling short of the grace of God” with bitterness, trouble, and “becoming defiled” (Hebrews 12:15, NKJV).

• Paul, in his letter to Titus, makes a marked distinction between the “pure” and the “defiled” (Titus 1:15).

• Jesus speaks of “...evil coming from within and defiling a man” (Mark 7:23, NKJV).

Thus, just as godliness and worldliness are as different as night and day and truth and a lie, they are also as different as purity and defilement.

The Bottom Line

If we are to be people of godly character, we cannot even so much as dabble in worldliness. Godliness and worldliness are not opposite sides of the same coin, they are in fact two entirely distinct monetary systems. What works in the kingdom of this world is not even recognized by God as valid currency in His kingdom.

“No man can serve two masters,” Jesus said (Matthew 6:24, NKJV). It’s not that doing so is a bad idea, it’s that doing so is impossible. Because we cannot be both godly and worldly, we must make a choice. No other decision has more gravity than this, as what we select will do no less than determine our eternal destiny.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Cursed are the defiled in heart, for they shall not see God.

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