Saturday, April 11, 2015

Undiluted, Pure Grace

Whenever I get confused about what I have to do, what God's will is for me, or whether I'm barking up the wrong tree, I always end up in either Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 5, or Galatians. 

Today, I decided to take a different tack with my approach - instead of reading a few favorite verses, I decided to read the whole book of Galatians, and in a readable, relate-able paraphrase called "The Message." I find that this paraphrase demystifies Paul's writings for me and helps me get to his intent, his real message, stripping away all the convoluted fancy talk. 

I wanted to see just what the church's problem was at Galatia. What specifically was Paul trying to correct? I wanted to see the big picture and not get "lost in the tall grass" as one acquaintance put it once. And it was so clear as I just read through all six chapters that the thing he was trying to correct was that the Galatians believed the lie. The lie is that humans can do something to make God like them more. 

What they didn't GET was that God already approved of them, had already gone to the cross for them, rescued them, and made them righteous in His sight through the sacrifice He made for them, putting them right back into the covenant that God made with Abraham: you know, the one based on faith alone, five hundred years before Moses was even born. They were stuck on keeping the law as a way to add to what Jesus had already accomplished for them; it was an insult to His grace. It detracted from it, diluted it.

To dilute something means to lessen its power by adding something else into the mix. While dilution can be a helpful thing in cases of making something more palatable or less toxic, the sense in which I mean it is of something that would be detrimental by being watered down. For example, the orphanage in Dickens' book, Oliver Twist used to water down the porridge served so that it was no longer porridge (oatmeal) at all, but gruel, or oatmeal-flavored water. It left the boys in the orphanage constantly hungry, which gave rise to Oliver's famous quote, "Please sir, may I have some more?"  

Grace gets watered down with religion - and the result is gruel. Nasty, tasteless, unsatisfying gruel. 

But people don't know the difference if that is the only diet they've ever gotten. The only way is to give them a taste of what they've been missing.

Here is a taste of Pure Grace. Jesus has done it all for you; He has already fully accepted you; there is nothing else you need to do for Him to completely love you and approve of you. God did that IN JESUS AT THE CROSS from before the foundation of the world. Nothing you can do can add to it or take away from it; the Grace of God stands alone. 

Photo "Rushing River" courtesy of Maggie Smith at
Your faith is nothing more than saying "Yes" to His Grace, believing that you can step into that stream of living water already flowing beneath your feet. He works His life out in you. 
He is with you, and as near as the breath you breathe. Always. Not just at some ornate altar somewhere, He is with you at all times, loving you, bragging you up, doting on you. 

Listen to what a friend of mine had to say about this:

It seemed that the gospel I was raised with required my faith in order for my sins to be forgiven. That God would not or could not love me until I worked faith out. This seemed to make my faith a work by which I gained or won salvation. Now I know that my faith simply accepts what is already mine. While I was a sinner Christ died and rose again for me. God has never held my sin against me. Christ was crucified before the world began. I was reconciled to God from birth. It’s all mine (and yours) now, though I won’t experience it until I believe it. However, the accepting of forgiveness does not produce it. Faith simply says ”I see it, I believe it.” Seeing it, believing it, is a work of grace, and then I have to simply say “yes” to it.

This radical shift for me has now begun to cross over into what I have as a believer. I have longed for certain gifts to be mine. Asked, begged, pleaded with God, to allow them to be in my life. Thinking that until I act in some worthy fashion and exercise my faith that they would not be manifested. But they are all mine already, and have been from the very beginning of all things, and thus certainly from the beginning of my spiritual life.

“For in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form, and you have been filled in him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.” (Col 2:9,10)

“For every one of God’s promises are “Yes” in him; therefore also through him the “Amen” is spoken, to the glory we give to God.” (2 Cor 1:20)

Faith just says “I see it, I believe it.” Seeing that all his gifts are mine already is a work of grace, and then I have to simply say “yes” to it.

Demanding that anyone produce the work of faith before they can be forgiven is actually a sure way to keep them from it. If faith becomes a law, a thing we must do before God will love us, then we have fallen from Grace before we ever find it. If believing that the gifts are mine is a law, a thing I must do before they can be mine then I am already insulting the Spirit of Grace. I am already far from the reality as it is in Jesus.

It’s all ours now, all we have to do is see it, believe it, and say yes to it.
    - Rev. Stephen John Fenton, 2015-04-11.

I saw this work of Grace in the heart and life of my own dad. He was a chain-smoker, started smoking when he was five years old and had tried to quit SO many times, to no avail. He struggled with it all of his life. And for decades he had been judged and condemned by the religious elite of the community - which included his own wife many times - and sometimes he had tried to change, to clean up his life. He just. couldn't. do. it. He couldn't change himself, not one iota. He couldn't understand the Bible, didn't want to read it, didn't want anything to do with the people who'd judged him...the religious ones...or the petty, vindictive god they served.

When he was 58, he had a heart attack. And one day, after having developed a respect for the pastor who went to see him every day and showed that he cared about HIM, that pastor asked him for permission to ask him a personal question. With Dad's permission, the pastor said, "Are you trusting Jesus as your only way to a relationship with God?" And Dad thought about it and then he said, "Yes." And he meant it.

In that moment, something radical changed in him; he was never the same. And all he said was, "Yes." That's pure Grace

Yes, he struggled with his addiction. Yes, it eventually and ultimately killed him - first laying waste to his lungs, then his brain. But the person he was when he walked out of that hospital at fifty-eight years old was a different person than he was when he went in. He found himself automatically loving Jesus. He found himself automatically wanting to spend time with Him, reading what He had to say. He became more generous, more loving, more gentle, more humble. All without even trying. Jesus was doing the working out of Grace in his life, giving him the "want to" and the power to live each moment in gratitude and in returning the great love he had been given back to the One who gave it. And at the end of his life here, not even 10 years after that heart attack, there were so many people at his funeral that folks filled the foyer, and had to stand outside the church in the cold November air. 

Grace has nothing to do with us. It has everything to do with God.

That's how it works. That's how it always works - full-strength, undiluted, pure Grace. 

Thank God!!

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