In our weekly small group, we have been focusing on grace and have been camping out on the saying of Jesus, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” My experience, both in my own life and in my observations of others, has been that we humans tend strongly toward legalism and unbelief. It is very hard for us to sustain a conscious awareness that God is with us and for us. We struggle with maintaining a grace-based relationship with God that is pervasive enough to transform our fears and frustrations into “righteousness, peace and joy”.
Therefore, the purpose of church is to “encourage one another”. We are to remind one another of the grace of God. We are to remind one another of the immediate presence of God through Jesus Christ. We live in this life in a place of forgetfulness. We do not forget the law. We do not forget that we are not living as holy as we would like. This history is before us all the time. What we do forget is that God calls us forgiven and holy.
There are literally thousands, if not millions, of ways to illustrate from the scriptures how the gospel places us irrevocable in a grace based relationship with God, and I plan over the next few weeks to camp out on these static, immutable, truths. The first illustration I would like to give is given by Paul in Romans 7
What Paul is saying is that through faith we have been identified with the death and resurrection of Jesus. This identification with the death and resurrection of Jesus is the point of Romans chapter 6. Our baptism represents our death and resurrection. We often think that when we die we will be delivered from the bondage of life and we will enter into rest or heaven. Paul is saying that this death has already happened and the benefits of being freed from sin through death has already occurred because we were freed from sin because we already died. Jesus says the same thing when He says, “I am the door. Whoever goes through me will enter into pasture. For I came that you may have life and life abundantly.” Jesus is saying that his death, not your death, is the doorway into freedom from the human condition of bondage to sin.
In Romans 7, Paul makes an application of this participation in the death of Jesus as it relates to our relationship with the law. In our former life, we were married to the law, but now we have died and have been risen to be married to another that is Christ. So we are no longer married to the law but married to Jesus Christ. This reality is a permanent immutable reality. The Christian is not under law but under grace. The Christian is no longer married to the law but is married to Christ. The key then is to first know this but then to apply this truth to our conscious relationship with God.
The Wrath of God and the Christian
First, if I am not under the law, then I am no longer under the wrath or judgment of God – ever. I am never, ever, legally guilty and therefore never ever under punishment for my sinfulness. I am completely off the hook with respect to the punishment for sin. How then does this affect my head?? That is the question. God is never relating to me in a way that is anything other than constructive. When I sin or act in a way that disappoints God or myself, which is very frequent, how is God responding to me? How ought I to feel? How ought I to relate to God in the immediate aftermath of poor moral choices or some other expression of my brokenness.
First, I need to realize that God’s desire is to help me solve this problem of my moral failings. I am a servant of God and God is constantly available to solve my fundamental problem of powerlessness. First and foremost, we need to see God available to help me without shame or guilt to work on my shortcomings and character defects. Guilt and shame are not constructive and God is always relating to me in a creative and constructive manner.
So as I approach God, I confess to Him that I am walking in His grace and that I am in relationship with Christ. I address Christ asking for help. I confess my forgiveness and my thankfulness for His forgiveness. I confess my love for Him. I confess that He sees me as holy and set apart for Him and His good work. For me the moment I relate to God and acknowledging his goodness and helpfulness, I am joyful even if I am disappointed with myself.
We live in a place called forgetfulness and therefore self-discipline and self-control in the moments of the day are fleeting and illusive. This is part of being poor in spirit. This is just the nature of life in this dispensation. But we are under grace and we approach God with faith and hope in His ability to disciple us and empower us.
Secondly, even when we haven’t behaved in a way that disappoints us, we need to approach God with thanksgiving for our forgiveness and we need to confess that we are holy and set apart for His good works. This path of acceptance of our forgiveness and the abiding reality of grace needs to be a well worn path for us. Guilt and shame are not only self defeating, guilt and shame are bad theology and an affront to the cross.
Total Immersion in Grace
Remembering that we are no longer married to the law and therefore we should not approach God as if we are guilty is actually hard work. We are very forgetful. We need to work on this in our devotional life and also in our intimate relationships. We need to express this grace in all our relationships until our community is immersed, baptized, in grace. Only then will we have the joy of the Lord be our abiding moral strength.