Monday, May 12, 2014

Towards the end - revisiting Grace

I began a series of teachings in September at our church in the book of Romans, and am now nearing the end of it.  As the Apostle Paul comes to the end of his letter to the Romans  he makes two statements that have intrigued me to think some more.

In writing about the need for unity in their differences he urges them to not pass judgment on one another over disputable things in chapter 14.  I dealt with that issue in a message a couple of Sundays ago.  I did not touch much on a verse that struck me more this week - reflecting back on it - than the week I was teaching it.  The passage is Romans 14:22-23 (ESV) 
22  The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.
23  But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

The essence of what Paul is saying is that we have freedom before God in many decisions, but if our conscience is bearing witness it is not a faith decision, but rather a sinful one - that is, it might be ok, but if it is not done by faith, it is clearly not faith in action.

NOW, as I said, I didn't really deal with that passage that much.  But in preparing to teach yesterday's message from chapter 15, I found myself thinking about how these two thoughts belong together.
The first thought was the one above in 14:22-23, and the second one is in chapter 15.

Romans 15:14-18 (ESV)
14  I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.
15  But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God
16  to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
17  In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God.
18  For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed,  

Paul's emphasis here is on the conviction that he carried in writing this letter to them - that by God's grace he was set apart to be a minister to the Gentiles, and also commissioned by God in priestly duties for the service of the Gospel.  Paul is not ego centric here, and he is not proud in the sense of "look what I have accomplished".  

His pride comes from seeing what God has done - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - in bringing the Gentiles to faith in Christ through the Grace of God that was poured out to them (us) in the Gospel.
NOW, in a practical I need to add another passage to this in order to make the point.  Reflecting on the Grace of God in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul makes this statement in chapter 15.
1 Corinthians 15:9-10 (ESV)
9  For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
10  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 

I was riding in the car on the way home from church, and I started to think about the passages above.  In concert they say something very practical about God's grace.  This Grace that comes to us to save us, is also the grace that comes to us for sanctification - that we might know how to toss away those things in life that are not of faith, and therefore, no matter how "ok" they may seem, and not beneficial.

Our identity is one of graced people.  We are people who receive God's grace...and it is effectual to our sinful needs.  But this grace was never meant to be a reason to tolerate sin in our lives.  It is a grace that speaks to our conscience, and it reminds us that what is not of faith is not worth hanging on to.  Literally, "whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" and "his grace toward me was not in vain...on the contrary I worked harder than any of them".  

Dallas Willard wrote his amazing treatise on the Christian life in his book "Divine Conspiracy".  Perhaps one of the most interesting things to contemplate is his words that mirror Paul here:

"Grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning".

We are people of Grace...let's not waste it.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Prayer on the National Day of Prayer

Anne Graham Lotz wrote this for the National Day of Prayer:

2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)
14  if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

Lord of the Universe. Lord of this planet. Lord of the nations. Lord of our hearts. 
On this National Day of Prayer, we look to You…
In the darkness, You are our Light.
In the storm, You are our Anchor.

In our weakness, You are our Strength. 
In our grief, You are our Comfort.
In our despair, You are our Hope.
In our confusion, You are our Wisdom. 
In time of terrorism, You are our Shield. 
In time of war, You are our Peace.

In times of uncertainty, You are the Rock on which we stand.

We make our prayer to You using the words of the prophet Daniel:

O Lord, You are the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and keep His commandments. You are merciful and forgiving. You are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame because we have sinned against You, and done wrong. We have turned away from Your commands and principles. We have turned away from You.

Yet You have promised in 2 Chronicles 7, that if we–a people identified with You–would humble ourselves, pray, seek Your face, and turn from our wicked ways, then You would hear our prayer, forgive our sin and heal our land.

So we choose to stop pointing our finger at the sins of others, and examine our own hearts and lives. We choose to acknowledge our own sin–our neglect and defiance and ignorance and even rejection of You. This day we choose to repent.

In response to our heartfelt repentance, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Father of Jesus Christ, in keeping with all Your righteous acts and according to Your promise, turn away Your anger and Your wrath from the United States of America. Hear the prayers and petitions offered to You on this National Day of Prayer, as we give You our full attention. Give ear, our God, and hear; open Your eyes and see. We do not make requests of You because we are righteous, but because of Your great mercy.

For the glory of Your Name hear our prayer, forgive our sin, and heal our land.

We ask this in the name of Your Son Jesus Christ who offers us salvation from Your judgment, forgiveness for our sin, and reconciliation with You through His own blood shed on the Cross. Amen.