Monday, July 28, 2014

In Heavenly Places

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." - Eph. 2: 4 - 9 (NASB)

I remember reading Mark Twain's book The Prince and the Pauper (1881) when I was a young teen. It made such an impression on me, especially one of the secondary plots of the story.

For those that don't know the story, young king Edward VI (Henry VIII's son) is one of the main characters in this book (the prince) and a boy born in squalor, spending his life stealing money and food for his alcoholic father and dodging his blows when he didn't bring in enough, is the other (the pauper). Prince Edward sees this young boy (Tom) outside his gate and takes him in, cleans him up and realizes that this child is his double! They trade places "temporarily" - the prince to see what adventure lies outside the gate and the pauper to see what comforts lie within. 

While outside the gate, Edward takes a man into his confidence, Miles Hendon, a man who starts out believing the boy has gone crazy, but who humours his delusions that he is the heir to the throne, to the point of becoming like a manservant to him. He protects the boy from the pauper's father and from the elements of the society which surely would have killed the naive prince. Edward rewards him by granting Miles' request, a privilege Edward did not allow him previously, the right to "sit in his majesty's presence." 

Henry VIII dies and plans are made to place Tom (the pauper) on the throne.

Edward (with Miles' help) manages to return to the palace, interrupt the coronation, prove his identity and assume the throne, naming Tom a ward of the palace. Miles, having been detained by the palace guard, is unaware that Edward has returned to his rightful place. Miles manages to evade the palace guards and attend the last part of the coronation. He fights his way through the crowd and sees the new king in his splendor. He recognizes the boy he had come to know. 

In desperation, he does the only thing he can think to do. He rushes up to the foot of the throne, and sits cross-legged on the floor in full view of the new king and all who are present. There is an audible gasp from the crowd. The guards move in to drag him away, but Edward stops them and says that this man has been granted the right to sit in his presence and has often protected him. 

That scene in the throne room - for me - was the highlight of the story. 

Photo "Father and Daughter"
by photostock at
To have the right to sit in the presence of the King is a privilege that God has granted to us because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, because of His great love for us (Ephesians 1). Not only does He allow us to sit in His presence, but He brings us to sit with Him in His throne, free of condemnation, safe from all who would seek to destroy us. 

His grace toward us is so complete and so permanent that He states that He HAS saved us. It's already been done! Ages ago!! We are NOW sitting in His throne with Him; this is not some pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye promise. Eternal life, the new creation, the reborn existence, begins at the moment we accept all that He has done as enough for us; nothing more can be added to it. Nothing.

We are fully accepted. Fully. 

Being in His throne with Him doesn't give us the right to judge another; that is God's prerogative and not ours. Not even Jesus has that right (John 12: 47 - 49). 

The more we realize how completely accepted by the Father we are, accepted in such a deep way, being loved that much with absolutely no condemnation, the more we comprehend the key to living the life of faith, that abundant life that Jesus promised in John 10:10 and which many of us have given up hoping is possible. A lot of very good things can come in and take the place of what is most important. Those good things can themselves become a form of slavery and detract from the good news of the Way Jesus died to provide.

That Way doesn't come by turning over a new leaf; it comes by Grace.
It doesn't come by behavior modification; it comes by Grace. 
It doesn't come by moral codes and church constitutions; it comes by Grace.
It doesn't happen through being busy in the Lord's work; it comes by Grace. 
It doesn't come by Jericho marches; it comes by Grace.
It doesn't even come by Bible-reading or prayer; it comes by Grace. 

The cart - as usual - is before the horse in the minds of many believers. Focusing on what our lives "should" look like, we try to produce those results without resting in the Grace of God. 

It's a recipe for bondage and burnout. Plus, it's (in effect) saying to God that Jesus' sacrifice wasn't enough. 

Let that sink in for a minute.

I'm not saying that we live in lawlessness and anarchy. Far from it! However, if we get it into our heads that keeping ourselves in the love of God means keeping the commandments, we've missed out on what Jesus died to give us freely.

So I close with a couple of verses from Galatians. And I pray that you and I will take it to heart - every day - with the highest Way (the Way of Grace) in mind.

"It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold, I Paul say to you that if you receive circumcision [substitute here: "if you follow the rules and regulations"] Christ will be of no benefit to you..." - Galatians 5: 1, 2

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