Tag: obedience

Top 5 Passages Religious “Anti-Grace” People Love

Part 1 of 6

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Mixing is for Gin not the Gospel

Most Christians and Christian leaders love the concept of God’s Grace, but up to a point. As long as it’s mixed with what they would say is a “balancing” bit of Law (religious rules you obey) they are more than willing to cozy up to “Grace.” So, what has happened is that when it comes to salvation and the Christian life, “Grace” is seen as a kind of partner or side-kick within the Gospel. It’s seen as the softer aspect of God that tips our hat to His loving side. Conversely, the Law is seen as what makes sure people clean up their acts, do religious things, hunger for more “to do steps and strategies” and take sin seriously.  That’s why when you present God’s Grace in its purity (without the Law), typically, all bets are off as some Christian leaders become afraid of what they would call, “too much Grace.”

Yet, the Gospel is either all Grace or it’s all Law, there can be no mixture (balance) of a little bit of Grace and a little bit of Law. In fact, the Bible makes dramatic separations and distinctions between the two. A couple, among many examples…

Romans 6:14 …because you are not under the law, but under grace.

John 1:17  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Galatians 5:4  For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.

The pure Gospel of God’s Grace (a term Paul used in Acts 20:24) has always brought a stirring of criticism among the religiously spirited. I should know, I was one of them. Thankfully, God captured my heart and changed my mind about who He is, who I am, and the Gospel of His Grace.

I suspect there are many Christians who don’t even realize how much of what they have been taught and believe is contrary to the Gospel. I certainly didn’t. Like many unknowing Christians and spiritual leaders, my heart was in the right place, but my beliefs were not. As a pastor of 18 years, I did not realize (until a couple years ago) how much of my teaching, preaching and counsel actually placed people in bondage instead of the freedom I (and God) desired for them. When it came to the Gospel, I was so close, yet so far away.

So, what is the pure Gospel of Grace? In simple terms it is this…

The Gospel

We are all born sinners in a broken world. Everything about our lives has en expiration date on a pathway to death. In the Garden of Eden, our lives were forever changed as our first parents chose selfishness and distrust over faith in God.  Sin and death became realities and it’s shrapnel has penetrated everything, breaking our fellowship with God.  What God intended for our lives and living was poisoned through and through.Without an act of pure Grace, all of humanity in its sinful brokeness was destined for death, spiritually, emotionally, and physically as our best efforts could never repair our broken relationship with God and the depraved nature of our lives and living begun at the fall of Adam and Eve.

Yet, despite all of this. God is love, and God loves you perfectly, completely, and unconditionally, no matter who you are or what you have done or are doing. So much that He sent His son Jesus, fully God and fully man to die for your sins, and all of humanity. On the cross, Jesus took upon Himself the brokeness of all creation, including you. In His death and resurrection, Jesus put your sins to death and gave you His life. A new covenant was put into place where Jesus’ performance on the cross becomes your righteousness, holiness, and salvation. It is no longer about performing to get to God (as it was in the Old Testament), but God’s performance on the cross to get to you. His life becomes your life. His identity becomes your identity. The redemptive work in your life was completed, completely. You became a new person in Christ, a new creation in fact. Your sins, past, present, and future were all forgiven once and for all. It is no longer your nature to sin (though we still do), your old nature was crucified with Jesus on the cross. Sin no longer defines you, Jesus defines you. You old self died, you new self was reborn. You have the mind of Christ. You are a partaker of the divine nature, lacking no spiritual blessing. You are in fact, the righteousness of Christ, with no condemnation over your life whatsoever. You are not only a son (or daughter), but a king and priest in the Kingdom of God. As He is (seated at the right hand of God) so are you in this world. God’s favor and Grace are forever over your life.

All of this, Jesus provided and accomplished on the cross on your behalf, and that of the whole world. The moment you believe in who Jesus is and what He did, you receive it all. Done deal. We are saved by Grace through faith.

Now, it is no longer you who lives, but Christ living in you, and as you. The same Grace that saved you is the same Grace that sustains and sanctifies you. The Christian life is about growing into who you already are in Christ. Your part is to realize you have no part, only to believe. That’s why this growth happens through faith, not your efforts. You cannot produce spiritual fruit in your life, only bear the fruit God produces.  It’s no about striving and trying to be a better person, it’s rather about believing you already are a better person and living from that identity. It’s not about shame, guilt, punishment and religious rule keeping as you live a life focused on sin and your obedience. That system of living was canceled on the cross, at the moment of His resurrection, a new system was ushered in by Jesus Himself. It’s a life of complete and ever present forgiveness, freedom, peace, and rest as you focus on Jesus and His mercy, favor, and performance in your life, not yours. It’s an obedience of faith, not of actions. It’s a life of living from His Grace, in His Grace, to be Grace to others.

This is the Gospel.

So What’s The Beef?

Sounds wonderful doesn’t it?  Yet, what sounds like true love, freedom, and life, to the religious sounds like heresy! The Gospel can’t be that good. Give people Grace and they will just sin more. Besides, how are we going to be able to manage people? You are going too soft on sin, and what about repentance! Repentance, repentance, repentance! If we don’t give people something to work on, strive for, and do, how can we keep them coming and interested in church? God does His part, but we have to do our part, or else.

A Quick Clarification

Now, let me be clear with you. There are various variations of what people believe about the Gospel of Grace. So, if you couldn’t tell from my explanation of the Gospel written above, let me be sure you know what I am not… I am not a Calvinist nor a Universalist. I don’t believe God predestined, through what they call “irresistible Grace,” to regenerate some and not others so that some believe, but others do not, thus having some go to heaven and others to Hell. How that is considered Grace, I will never know. Yet, I am also not a Universalist who believes all are going to heaven, whether they really want to or not. I find both these systems of beliefs not congruent with how I understand the Gospel. I love my Calvinist and Universalist friends, by I respectfully don’t agree with them.

5 Passages Religious “Anti-Grace” People Love

That said, there are many people who are against and critical of the Gospel of God’s Grace as I (and others) understand it. They call it “hyper-grace,” cheap Grace” and a host of other names. And, they line up their Bible passages to refute it. Here are the top 5 passages (not in any particular order) they use and an explanation of how these passages in fact, do not refute the message of the Gospel of God’s Grace. One of the blessings of believing the Gospel of Grace is that it transforms the way you read the Bible. You realize that God is not in the bait and switch business of drawing you in with love only to blast you with Law. No, He is love from top to bottom and inside and out, and He perfectly loves you. When you see this you will no longer become frightened or confused when you read passages like those listed below.

keep reading… Part 2

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What to Do After You Sin

You have probably been taught that after you sin, there are certain rigorous steps and emotional postures you need to assume to make things right with God. Deep groans of profuse crying, long quivering statements of confession, and some kind of twisted punishment of one’s self are sure to be a good religious start, provided Jesus hasn’t already back-slapped you into hell.

As much as we love to try to work our way to God, we also love to try to work our way back to God once we have sinned. It makes us feel like we have some control (and credit) in the process.

Yet, no matter what you have been taught, the Gospel teaches us differently. First, you cannot work your way to God, and then once in Christ, there is in fact no need to work your way back to Him, if that were possible anyways.

For the non-believer, the prescription of what to do after you sin is simple… agree with God you sinned, believe in the forgiveness God has given you in Christ on the cross, receive it through faith, and stop sinning as you live from your “new creation” identity. (2 Cor. 5:17)

For the believer, however, things have been made a bit more complicated and confusing. So, to clear things up and get back to the Gospel, here’s what to do (and not to do) once you have sinned.

Once you have sinned…

1) Agree with God you have sinned.

2) Believe in the forgiveness that God has already applied to your sins… past, present, and future. No need to ask for what God has already given. He is not interested in your confession of sin (other than agreeing with Him that you sinned) but your confidence in His finished work on the cross applied fully to your life the moment you believed. (btw, 1 John 1:9 is written to non-believers, not believers.)

3) Trust that your identity, righteousness, and standing with God are still fully intact. Sin has not distanced you from God. The Christ that lives in you has not left the building or even walked to the front door. He has not given up on you, nor reduced His love or presence.

4) Believe on Jesus that He will enable you to overcome this area of sin in your life as you see that you are by nature no longer a “sinner.” Don’t get on a treadmill of trying and striving to “do better.” You cannot produce spiritual fruit in your life, only God can, and that only by faith, not your effort. Believe in who you are in Christ, lacking no spiritual blessing, and live from that belief. Right believing leads to right living, not rule keeping. The more you try to stop sinning, the more you will. The more you believe and trust in Jesus through His Grace to will and act according to His pleasure in your life, the less you will sin. An obedience problem is always first an identity problem. Behind every area of sin in your life is a wrong belief about God and/or yourself. So, when you sin, don’t ask, “what am I doing wrong?” and then strive to change your behavior. Rather ask, “what am I believing wrong?” and ask God to help you change your beliefs and increase your faith.

5) If your sin effects people, promptly ask them for forgiveness and do your best to clean things up and make things right. With people, confession and clean up are very important and often necessary.

6) Vehemently resist feeling condemned and applying false guilt and shame onto your life. Don’t live your life carrying an emotional burden Jesus already canceled. Forgive yourself from the forgiveness Jesus has already applied to your life, past, present, and future. To walk in guilt and shame is to deny the power of the cross and Jesus’ work in your life.

7) Focus on Jesus and His mercy, not your sin. Don’t be sin conscious, be Jesus conscious. Don’t give Satan the attention, give Jesus the glory. Thank Jesus and live from His mercy and favor, focused on His amazing grace.

8- Don’t start a spiritual battle with Satan that doesn’t exist. Rather, hold onto your identity, righteousness, and holiness in Christ. Religously praying “harder”, giving, serving, sacrificing, and going to church “more” will not bring you back into good standing nor keep you protected from the evil one. Resting in Him as you place your trust in His work and Grace is your spiritual armor.

9) Move on, focusing on Christ and your identity in Him. Have the mind of Christ who remembers your sin no more. The more you bring your sins with you into the future in your mind, the better chance you will repeat them in the future in your actions. It is for freedom Christ set you free.

Are you a Christian Pervert?

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.  -Galatians 1: 6-9

Grace is not a message, it’s not a theology, it’s not an idea, nor fad, it’s the Gospel.  If you don’t subscribe to the pure, complete, and full Grace of God in Jesus Christ, you don’t subscribe to the Gospel. There is not another Gospel, there is only One.  There is not one Gospel that saves you, and then another one that sustains and sanctifies you. There is not another Gospel where “God does His part but you must do your part.”

There is only one Gospel, “God does everything, because you can’t, you only need believe.” It’s all Grace, or it’s not the Gospel. When Jesus declared “it is finished,” there was no mixture. He didn’t say, “It is finished… but.”  At the cross of Jesus, life under the Law (religious rules you have to perform to please and access God) ended once and for all, life under Grace (Jesus’ performance on the cross which when believed, makes us new, right, pleasing, and seated with Christ at the right hand of God a part from our performance) began. The Gospel is not a little bit of Grace and a little bit of Law mixed together. It’s a all Grace or it’s not the Gospel.

We are no longer to live an “obedience of trying and striving” to follow the rules, but rather we are to live an “obedience of faith,” clinging on to the loveliness of Jesus and His performance, not our own. For the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about Jesus, not about us. The Law presupposed there is something you can do, the Gospel presupposes there is nothing you can do, but Someone you can believe who did it all, and does it all on your behalf!

There is no Gospel that brings you to Jesus from His Grace only to summon you into a life of striving to please God and merit His favor once you have become saved.  There is no Gospel that makes you (as a believer) into a twisted, two natured person; one part evil, and one part divine who never knows who he or she really is from one day to the next, nor has the assurance of their true identity in Christ, and is simply left to fight an inner battle Jesus already won.  There is no Gospel that sets you on a course of sin-consciousness where you must repeatedly ask God to forgive you even though He has already done so. There is no Gospel that burdens you with performance-driven talks and steps for you to achieve to increase your reputation with God and His desire to bless your life, only to leave you secretly feeling like a hypocrite because you know you can never do everything all the time to be seen as a true, genuine faithful follower of Jesus. There is no Gospel that is soft on sin when Jesus gave all of Himself to defeat it. There is no Gospel that is hard on sinners when Jesus gave all of Himself for them.  There is no Gospel that makes the Church into a legalist club for Christians with a cross on top filled with self-righteous believers who take inner pleasure on raising the sins of others as being more serious than their own. There is no Gospel that treats the Church, it’s purpose, and leadership as a man-centered, performance-dependent venture, or a chasing of the ego’s pursuit to take some part of the credit and glory for the building of the Kindgom. There is no Gospel that sets the believer onto a discipleship series of steps, rituals, and religious activities that appease God, turn His frown upside down, and give you smiley faces on God’s divine chalkboard.  There is no Gospel like any of this.

It’s all Jesus, all Him, all Grace, all His performance, all His work, all His faithfulness, all His mercy, favor, and blessing, received through faith alone, or it’s not the Gospel.  If it’s any other version, it’s a perversion.

In the Bible passage above, Paul identifies the true perverts of the world. Not sex offenders, not homosexuals, not child porn viewers, as evil and terrible as they are. No, rather, he speaks of Christians who turn away from or turn the Gospel of God’s Grace in Jesus Christ into another Gospel that is, in fact, not a Gospel.  At this point, you should either say, “Amen!” or “Ouch!”

The only documented places in scripture where Jesus gets mad or the Spirit is grieved is when Grace is not extended. Not rules, condemnation, religious activities, performance steps, or obedience speeches.  Paul echoes God’s heart and view on the matter as he declares that those who turn the Gospel of Grace into any other version should be “accursed.”

Right believing leads to right living. You can’t live the Gospel day to day into you believe it all the way.  An obedience problem is at heart an identity problem. You will never know who you truly are until you believe in the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Faith is what pleases God, not your performance. Faith is what makes His performance become your performance.  Faith is the root, obedience is the fruit. We walk by faith, not by sight, or might.

Are you a Christian pervert? Repent (change your mind) and believe in the Gospel.

 

Is Your Christian Life, Evil?

Most of us who are people of faith would probably never think nor consider the idea that our Christian lives could in fact become, “evil.” Most of us try to live in such a way that moves past the temptations of darkness and its work in this world.

Yet, when we look at how God defines evil, we may discover the sobering reality that the very thing we purpose to avoid is the very thing our Christian life has in fact become… evil.

The word used for “evil” in the New Testament is poneros. Every time the word “evil” appears in the New Testament, “poneros” is used. When we think of evil or people who are evil, our minds gravitate to dark visions of things that are bad or carnal. Yet, the idea that “evil” is simply an immoral, malicious, or devilish type reality is highly misleading, and quite frankly, a spiritual copout.  

In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, we see a reference to a person having an “evil heart…”

Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. -Hebrews 3:12

What does a person with an evil heart look like? What are the hallmarks of their living?

The answer could very well send you into a tailspin of shock.

The word “poneros,” actually means… full of labors.

Being “full of labors” is the idea of living to make things happen out of self-effort, a kind of internal striving to produce something good or worthy out of your life. It’s the performance-driven mentality that looks to one’s abilities for a better future or the procurement of success. It’s the busy-with-things-to-do-and-become mindset. It’s the heart that concludes… my identity, worth, and closeness with God are intrinsically tied to my achievement, skill, and performance. One may never say it that way, but so many of us are living that way. Self-promotion, self-improvement, self-actualization. “Seven steps to success,” “Become all you can be,” “Take your life to the next level.” It’s the Christian with their spiritual to-do lists of tasks, rules, and rituals used to feel like peace with God and affirmation of self is theirs for the taking. It’s the foundation of the religious spirit that is so prevalent in many a Church and Christian in our western culture today. Call it what you will… “best practices,” “excellence,” “changing the world,” “radical Christianity,” “faithfulness,” “vision,” “discipleship,” “spiritual maturity,” “leadership,” or “obedience.” When it’s done out of spirit of labor, God calls it… “evil.”

Oh snap.

In the opening lines of the book of Genesis, God rested on the seventh day of His creative work. Better yet, He set that day apart as being Holy. Why? Because God associates holiness with resting.

By resting, I’m not talking about doing nothing or having zero responsibilities, rather about living from an internal foundation of trust and faith that believes God’s finished work on the cross is enough for every aspect of your life. Your value, your worth, your merit, your entire essence. It’s a posture, a state of emotional and spiritual centering that relies on God’s work, favor, and provision completely above our own. It’s the realization that our part is to realize we really have no part, only to believe. His performance defines us, not ours.

Simply put, to believe is to rest. To labor… is evil.

In fact, the only labor that fits in the Christian life is to work hard at… resting…

Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. –Hebrews 4:11

Sadly, we have become a people full of labors. We say we believe, yet we worry. We say we trust, yet we strive and push to move things forward in our life. Leveraging relationships here, working angles there. We talk about forgiveness and being forgiven, yet we live in fear, guilt and shame. Racing to do more good than bad and somehow right our wrongs. We speak of Grace, yet we mix it with rules, regulations, rituals, conditions, and obligations. We proclaim the work of God in the past and present, but we rely on our efforts for the future, nonetheless.

We are full of labors, not rest. Goals not gratitudes. Striving and trying, not trusting. Performing, achieving, pushing, promoting, and stressing, not believing.

Consider Job in the Bible.

What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.  I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” -Job 3:25-26

Fear is built out of unrest. And where there is unrest, turmoil is just around the corner. Where did this stressful existence of turmoil come from, for Job?

When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom. -Job 1:5

Are you kidding me? Do you see it? Job is laboring day in and day out, doing something spiritual in hopes of protecting his children from an imagined reality with God that he fears. Let’s all try to get our heads around this. It was a spiritual pursuit that began his downward spiral into a state of turmoil and further unrest. He feared for his children, but instead of believing and trusting, he decided to labor his way through it as an attempt to take control of the situation and make things right.

Oh snap.

Ironically, as Christians, it is often spiritual looking things that we are doing that bring us into a further state of unrest, stress, and ultimate disbelief. Why? Because we are not living from a foundation of faith, but of fear, selfishness, and insecurity. Our spiritual song-and-dance maybe be fooling everyone else and even ourselves, but God is not fooled.

It’s evil.

Just look around at how many over scheduled, burnt-out, stressed, worrying, performance-driven, self-righteous, self-promoting, guilt-ridden, judgmental, religiously-spirited Christians there are. And this is what we hold up as the model, the goal, the essence of our faith walk.

For Job, something so spiritual looking was actually so ladened with evil. And dare I say, this is what is happening throughout American Christianity today. Our Christian lives have become, evil.

The holiest, most spiritual thing you can ever do is to rest in faith.

Your greatest responsibility is to rest in faith, believing the work of God in and through your life has already been accomplished on the cross. You are already a success. You are already whole. You are already faithful. You are are already complete. You, were one and done on the cross.

As you believe, and only as you believe, watch it all flow from you. Like rivers, quenching a dry land.

When we we rest, and only when we rest, the true work of God gets released through us.

This, is the way of Jesus.

To believe is to rest, to labor… is evil.

Much More Than You Think

One of the things that breaks God’s heart the most is when we underestimate or under-prize the depth and expanse of His love.

We have portrayed God far too long as primarily a heavy-handed, temperamental judge who takes pleasure in throwing His weight around.  For many, they see God’s deepest desire for them as to spend their life constantly undressing themselves of the garments of sin as they simultaneously try to contribute more good than bad to their performance account.  They sadly see the foundational desire of Jesus upon their life as “Do more good, sin less” That’s the stride and striving of their life.

Somehow, we have called this pursuit “faithfulness.” But this term has really become a spiritual veil to an empty faith. A house of cards covering a secretly abandoned trust. The very thing we call “faith-full-ness” is the very thing that focuses our hearts and satisfactions “fully” on our performance and away from the performance of the only One who “Is good, and sins not.”  We are not trusting, we are trying.

Meanwhile, God is dancing to gather our attention away from ourselves and our striving. Like a playful, smiling father trying to capture the attention of his preoccupied children, God desires to turn our eyes away from sin and striving to His heart and His cheerful Grace-giving.

What a sobering thought, maybe we have missed it? The meaning and desire of Jesus upon our life. Maybe in all our thinking about sin and doing more good, we missed what our heart and minds were suppose to be captivated by. Has Satan distorted our sights once again with his not-so funhouse of mirrors.

God loves you much more than you think, and probably more than your ego can stand. Isn’t that our resistance? Our ego. We want to earn our part, to have merited our standing. Can’t we just have a little of the credit, or have paid a little bit of the price?  His love for me now has gotta have something to do with my living somehow.  Let me just have a piece of the performance pie, I’ll make the grade, or make up for the grade. Everything else works by a merit system, why can’t Jesus and living for Him.

God loves you much more than you think. He is not mad at you or passive-aggressively waiting to pull the carpet out from under you. He’s not like Lucy who entices you to kick the football with flirts of trustability only to wrench it out of your stride the moment you extend your faith. He loves you perfectly, completely, currently, and eternally. His love is not bound or influenced by your past, present, or future. The Grace card is not a score card, it’s a pre-paid card. You are forgiven all your sins and sinfulness, whether you asked or not. Your only escape from Grace is disbelief not disobedience.  Faith is what makes God’s Grace a transaction applied to your account. What was “paid in full” becomes “applied in full.”  In fact, when you look at the quality of Jesus, He is an overpayment for your transgression.  Faith is not asking for something to happen, faith is believing it has and will happen. While you are striving to live better, Jesus has already made you better. While you are trying to side step sin, Jesus has given you an entirely new walk. While you are trying to do good things, Jesus made you more than good, He made you righteousness.

God loves you much more than you think. He doesn’t want your life, or for you to “give your life to Jesus.” In fact, He put your old life to death on the cross, knowing of it’s deep decay, deceit, and doom. How can you give what you don’t have? The cross was the second flood, this time of blood, drowning the old broken life of sin. You don’t have a life to give. Filthy rags, yes. Life, no. In His resurrection, He made you brand new. When you believe in Him and His work on the cross, you become reborn. What God has done becomes what is now. You are no longer you, you are “Christ in you.” You are forgiven (past, present, and future), righteous, having every spiritual blessing. You are a partaker of the divine nature. Not just a child, but a son (or daughter) of the living God.  You are an heir of the promise of God to rule and reign with Christ now and forever. You are seated with Christ at the right hand of God (from such a high view how can we have such a low sense of self and God).  You are royalty. A new creation. Without blemish. There is no condemnation over your life whatsoever. You are no longer by nature a “sinner.” You are not defined by your performance, but by your faith in Jesus’ performance. Hallelujah!

God loves you much more than you think. He doesn’t want you to live a sin-conscious life of striving, but a Grace conscious life of resting. He doesn’t want you to see yourself as a sinner in obedience training, but a saint in faith training. Right belief leads to right living. An obedience problem is always first an identity problem. That’s why the job of the Holy Spirit is no longer to convict you of the sin of your disbelief in Jesus, but to convince you of your righteousness in Christ. He wants you to be free from the painful and exhausting  shackles of religion and all it precepts and prescriptions. No more going through the motions, much more living from your promotion from death to life, solely based on Jesus’ behavior, not yours. His work, not yours.  No more fake it to make it, much more believe it to live it.

God loves you much more than you think. In Him you are successful and significant apart from your achievement. He doesn’t want you living stressfully towards some future success or significance, but from the current and complete success and significance you already are in Him. He doesn’t want you trying to become something, He wants you living from the everything you already are in Him. He doesn’t want you pursuing life from a foundation of performance that can easily break down and brake away, but from a foundation of faith in Jesus who’s performance is perfect with His love, work, Grace and presence in your life never breaking down nor breaking away. Jesus doesn’t want you living with any insecurity, fear, or sense of lacking in who you are. He doesn’t want you walking into any moment or setting with even the slightest sense of insecurity, but with a complete assurance of the royalty and wholeness you already are in Him.

God loves you much more than you think.  He wants your life and living to be wrapped in peace and assurance, knowing of God’s full love and Grace for your life. If you were to do nothing more and become nothing else, He would love you just the same.  He is proud of you, as is. Your faith is what pleases Him, not your striving and do-gooding. You are blessed to be a blessing, so find what you love to do and enjoy God using it to build His Kingdom and manifest His love and Grace into the world. He will lead and prompt you each step of the way. So rest instead of rush. You don’t have to do anything, you get to do it, it’s a gift. Discover the joy that comes from manifesting the Grace of Jesus to the world in the way God designed you to do it, and enjoy it.  He loves you.

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! –Romans 5:17

The Gap

We all want things to be better in our lives, no one says, “Wow, I wish things could be worse.”  We all want to be healthier, more fulfilled, happier, more successful, more loved, more loving, and experience increasing significance. We want to look in the mirror and be completely satisfied with who we are as a person on how our life is being lived. Nothing wrong with that, for sure.

Yet, if you are like most people, there are areas where you are dissatisfied. The person you want to be isn’t who you are. The way you act, live, and interact with others leaves you painfully aware of the gap between what you hoped for and what reality is.  Everyone senses these gaps on a daily (even moment to moment) basis, though they may not be able to put their finger on what they are feeling. Like the gap between the teeth of that cute girl you fell in love with in 1st grade, there are gaps in our lives between what we expect out of ourselves and what we end up being and doing.

Underneath the gap that we see between who we are and who we want to be, is a deeper gap. It’s the gap between God and ourselves.  We sense we were created by God, to live eternally, with God, forever.  That’s why seek God, that’s why we desire to overcome death, that’s why we imagine paradise-like existences.  It’s the stuff of poets, philosophers, and alike.  All sensing the gap, trying to bridge it, and imagining what life is like without it.

At every level, spiritual, emotional, and physical, there are gaps.  The question isn’t, “are their gaps in my life?” the question is, “what are you doing with them?”

To the the question, “what are you doing with them?” most people respond with one of four answers… religion, church, self-help, or life-enhancement.  The problem with each one of these is, they don’t work.  “Religion” just makes you more aware of the gap as you can’t seem to bridge it no matter what spiritual gymnastics you do, “church” futilely focuses on keeping you from acting on the gap with a bunch of rules to follow that you end up breaking, “self-help”  tries to convince you that the solution to the gap is within you when it’s not, and “life-enhancement” simply tries to put lipstick on the gap, hoping you won’t notice it anymore. That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it.

Admittedly, I have first hand experience with all four attempts to overcome the gaps in my life. In college, I dabbled in “religion” in the form of new-age trends. I have read all kinds of “self-help” books and psychological theories and applied their principals. I have even tried “life-enhancement” through pursuing success and behavior modification tactics available in both religion, church, and self-help arenas. And to be sure, as a pastor of 17 years, I have tried “church” as a way to fix the gap through focusing on overcoming it by following Christian “rules.” So, I can tell you through first hand experience, none if works. None of them made me a better person, neither in my being nor in my doing. No gaps were closed nor diminished. In fact, a lot of it made me frustrated, disillusioned, and exhausted.

There are a lot of genuine people (maybe even you) who are simply looking for solutions who feel the same way… frustrated, failing, and fatigued.  Yet, we wonder what to do. If we can’t find a real-deal-solution through going to church, applying some self-help technique, pursuing life-enhancement, or signing up for some kind of religion, what are we to do?  Especially since many Christians churches are actually contributing to the problem because they aren’t presenting the true Gospel. I must admit, at times, the way I have presented Jesus and His Gospel has contributed to the problem. As a pastor, I was like many Christian churches when it comes to the Gospel, so close yet so far away.

So here’s what has finally and truly changed my life and satisfied my soul. Here is what I want to tell you, and the message God has em-blazed upon my heart and as is using Amy and I to build a church around…

God loves you, as is-  He is not waiting for you to clean up, shut up, or grow up. He loves you with an everlasting love. God’s love of you is perfect. In fact, God is love. He can do nothing but love you. And you simply being created by God is reason enough for Him to make you the object of His love. It has nothing to do with what you have or have not done or will do.

In a real sense, it would be illegal for God not to love you, He would be a house divided against Himself because He is love. Don’t worry about coming to Him, you can’t. That’s why, through Jesus, He comes personally to you. Throw out the image you have of God who is simply waiting for that moment of failure in your life to push you under His thumb and make you pay. His deepest desire is to love you, give His life to you, and be with you forever. He believes your best days are ahead, and that nothing in your past needs to keep you from having His future.  God is on your side, always has been, always will be.

God loves you, it’s that pure and simple.

Because God loves you so much…

Jesus came to give you a completely new identity-  

This is critical to understand because your identity is the combination of who you are and who you believe yourself to be. It’s about 1) who you actually are, and then 2) your perspective of you are. Both are critical.

That’s why giving you a new identity involves first making you into a completely new person with a new nature, new standing, new future, and a new purpose, through your faith in Jesus’ finished work on the cross. Jesus gives new life by first giving us a new identity. There isn’t much of a new life without  a new identity. Becoming a new person doesn’t do much if you don’t know you are a new person. To give us a new identity, He must make us into a completely new person, through and through.

Without becoming a new person, we are as good as dead. As is, everything about is has an expiration date… our hopes, dreams, love, abilities, and admirable qualities. Everything. As good as we seem to be, because of sin, we are as dead as can be.  Look around, everybody dies. And the truth of the matter as, we can never measure up spiritually, emotionally, and physically as we are. We don’t just live in a broken world tainted with sin, we are a broken world, tainted with sin. Everyone, everywhere, everything.

The good news is, Jesus offers us a completely new identity by killing our old self, and giving us a completely new self. This is the essence of what Jesus accomplishes for us on the cross. He didn’t come to enhance our life, He came to crucify it and then resurrect it. It’s not about renovating your life, it’s about resurrecting it by killing it (spiritually) and then rebirthing it (spiritually). If your old self doesn’t die, your new self can’t live. We don’t give our life to Jesus (as well meaning as that sounds), Jesus gives His life to us. Our former life is of no good to Jesus, we have nothing to give Him. Additionally, our life is no good without Jesus, through His lavish Grace, He has everything to give us.  And by “everything,” I mean everything. Only His Grace can bridge our gaps!

That’s the heart of the pure Grace and Gospel of Jesus Christ. We give Him nothing (cause we can’t), He gives us everything (cause only He can). This exchange happens through one action, our “faith.”

The new identity and life God offers you through Jesus (received though faith) makes you into a completely new person with a new way of seeing yourself. Did you take that in? A completely new person! Your sins past, present, and future are forever forgiven. You become the righteousness of Christ, having no longer any form of condemnation from God in your life whatsoever. Don’t read that too quickly, let it penetrate your heart… “no condemnation”. You are completely made whole, lacking nothing. Every gap is filled. You are free from guilt and shame, and are given the mind of Christ. You are no longer under the law (rules), but under Grace. You don’t have to perform to get to God or even keep Him close. You don’t have to be a better person, you get to be a better person. Your performance no longer shapes your identity, your identity shapes your performance. God’s Spirit lives in you, not to convict you, but primarily to convince you of your righteousness in Christ, the very thing Satan wants you to discount!  Though you will still sin (because of our flesh), it is no longer your nature to sin (or worry, fear, doubt etc.). Sin no longer defines who you are, Jesus does; His life, living in and through you. You are perfectly loved by God and completely pleasing to Him. It is no longer you who lives, but Christ who lives in you. You lack nothing, you have all the fruits of the Spirit in seed form, and the Holy Spirit will help you to will and act according to God’s pleasure in your life. It’s all Jesus, not you! If it were you, it wouldn’t work.

Jesus doesn’t just want to give you a new life, He wants you to believe you have it! He wants it to become your identity. 

See, if you don’t believe it, you first won’t receive it. And if you receive it, but don’t continue to or truly believe it, you won’t be blessed by it. Faith is the currency of the Kingdom of God. It’s how what God has becomes what you have. That’s why so many people aren’t Christians, and why so many Christians are living defeated, discouraged, divided, and desperate lives. They don’t prevail, they fail. As 2 Peter 1:9 says, “For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins”  Right belief leads to right living. If you miss the Grace of God and who you have become in Christ, you will miss the blessings of it. That’s why the complete Gospel of God’s grace is so critical! You will never know your true identity until you see it and believe it’s true about you!

That’s why…

As you believe it, you will live it.  The goal of the Christian life isn’t your obedience, it’s faith in Jesus’ provision. Sadly, for many Christians obedience is the root, and faith is the fruit. Yet, the opposite it true. Faith is the root, obedience is the fruit.  A new identity equals a new way of living, not the other way around. The more you believe in who you are by the Grace of God in Christ, the more you will live it.

Satan always tempts us to do the wrong things by first tempting us to believe the wrongs thing about who we are and what we have (or can have) in Christ.  Notice that with Jesus, immediately after His baptism, Satan first tempted Jesus to doubt His identity as the “beloved son of God with who God was well pleased” which God had just declared over Him mere hours before Satan tempted Him to turn the stones to bread. In fact, Satan strategically and conveniently removed any mention that Jesus is beloved by God and well pleasing to the Father. Instead, he simply asks, “If you are the son of God…turn these stones…” in a futile attempt to get Jesus to believe the wrong things about who He is and what He has in the Father so that He would do the wrong things.

Satan is still vigorously trying to do the same with us, subtly trying to remove from our sense of identity that true believers are sons of God, beloved by God, and completely pleasing to Him. If we believe the wrong things about our identity, we will do the wrong things in life. An obedience problem is always first an identity problem. A gap problem is always a Grace problem.

Let me remind you again, for a true believer in Jesus, there is no condemnation over their life, none. You have become, through Jesus’ shed blood, the righteousness of Christ, and that is not merely a positional reality, but a complete reality. You are without blemish, all your sins (past, present, and future) have been put away (killed) through the cross, they are no more in the eyes of God. You have been made a new creation, the old is completely gone. You don’t have two natures, you have one. The old Adam is gone. (ref. Romans 6:6, Galatians 2:20) Christ lives in you, you have His mind. It is no longer your nature to sin, fear, worry, be depressed etc. It is no longer our nature to sin (though we do), and when we sin, it no longer defines us or separates us. You don’t live from you, trying to be a better person bridging the gaps, that will never work!  You live from Jesus, through faith in His work in you, and become a better a person. In Christ, you aren’t just a better you, you are a completely new you. 100% Jesus, 100% you. You lack nothing, absolutely nothing. I think you need to hear that again, “you lack nothing!”

This is the right belief of your identity, it’s all focused on Jesus and His Grace, not on your performance. Which, ironically enables you to perform with increasing faithfulness. As I stated earlier, right identity leads to right living. People who believe in the true Gospel of the Grace of God through Jesus don’t sin more, they sin much less. The gaps in their life don’t expand, they close. Their freedom becomes a catalyst for faithfulness because their heart overflows with thanksgiving for what Jesus has done as they walk in a completely new sense of self and life without guilt, shame, and sense of condemnation. It truly is amazing Grace.

“For if by the transgression of the one [Adam], death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” Romans 5:17

An abundance of Grace is what leads to prevailing (living much better) in life, not an abundance of guilt, shame, and rules. Believe in the abundant Grace of God for your life and see the results! Watch the gaps close. Remind yourself every moment, “I am already forgiven, I am the righteousness of Christ, there is no condemnation, it is no longer my nature to sin, I am better than that, I lack nothing, greater is He that is in me than is in the World, I am fully pleasing to the Father, I am perfectly and completely loved, I am a son of God (Galatians 3:26)” and see how your life and living improve.

God gave me a great analogy that I hope will bless you… Trying to live like Christ and bridge the gaps in our life  from our own efforts is like trying to sing like Celine Dion. You can hear her voice in your head, but you never can match it with your own. But if Celion Dion could somehow live in you, you could sing just like her as you allow her voice to become your voice. Her identity becomes your identity. In the same way, Jesus lives (or can live) in you (through faith), and when we live from Jesus in us and the identity we have because of Him, we will more and more act just like Him.

Living a gap-closing life is about our actions catching up with our true identity, not our identity being caught up in our actions. You cannot become a better person until you become a new person and believe it. Only Jesus can make you new. If you are in Christ through faith, you are a completely new person. You are a much better person, and when you believe that, you will act more and more like the person you are in Christ… much better!

In Christ, you have no gaps, now believe it, receive it, and live it! The more you have faith in the Grace of God, the more God’s blessing flow to you.  When you rest in God’s Grace, He goes to work on your behalf. When you go to work on your behalf, God’s grace rests. Happiness, success, joy, peace, loving and being loved, health, and even wealth are stored in God’s grace, not your own your efforts.

Believe it, receive it, live it!

Moving Away from Insecurity

So, do you want the real solution to insecurity?

I believe as the Bible declares, “as a man thinks in his heart, so he is.”  The way we see ourselves is foundational to how we go about living our lives, especially when it comes to dealing with things like insecurity. This is a critical truth to understand. Identity problems lead to living-life problems. It’s hard for people to make you feel insecure about something in your life that you first don’t have a certain amount of insecurity about within yourself.

Much of how we see ourselves (our identity) has been influenced by how we believe God sees us, even if the reality of God hasn’t been a significant topic of care or concern in your life. The perceived reality of or absence of God is a concept all humans give much mental and emotional attention, and much of the conclusion we draw are of great influence on our thoughts and conclusions about ourselves.

It is our sense of identity that has tremendous influence in our security of self. Whether we are secure or insecure as a person has much to do with our sense of identity. The challenge is, in order to truly deal with issues of security and insecurity in our lives, we need to examine our beliefs about God and our beliefs about our self in order to get to the root and vines of insecurity. For it is within our identity (which is deeply influenced from our sense of God) that we find the issues and remedy for insecurity.

With that in mind, not that I want to box in or label anyone, but for the sake of this post, there is one of 3 general categories people will likely fit into when it comes to their beliefs about God and how they are worked out in their lives, especially their identity.

Category 1) You don’t see Jesus as your Savior.

Category 2) You see Jesus as your Savior, but still live your life with a reoccurring sense of condemnation, guilt, and lack.

Category 3) You see Jesus as your Savior, and live you life with no sense of condemnation and believe you lack nothing.

All three of these have critical things in common. All three bottom line on 1) how you see (or what you believe about) Jesus 2) how you see yourself 3) how you see that your life should be lived. Additionally, depending on which category you fit into best, each will have a huge impact on your sense of security in self. In fact, only one category truly leads to having victory over insecurity, the other two lead to insecurity.

Let’s take a closer look into each of these categories as you discern into which one you might best fit.

People in Category 1 don’t see Jesus as their Savior. To them, He might be a very wise teacher, a very spiritual man, or simply a great motivator, but He is not seen as their Savior.  Some people in this category don’t see Jesus as their Savior because they have intellectual issues with doing so. Perhaps they don’t even believe there is a god at all or that all religions represent or lead to God. Others don’t see Jesus as their Savior because they are applying other methods and solutions to remedy or improve their life. They don’t see Jesus as their Savior because they believe in simple terms they don’t  really need to. Some are outwardly satisfied with their lives as is, feel they can make it through on their own, or don’t believe they need anyone or anything to “save” them.

People in Category 2 are Christians by profession. They believe they need Jesus and that Jesus died for their sins.  Yet, they believe that their closeness with God and many other aspects of their current life with God are based on their spiritual performance.  Though they might be saved, much of God’s presence and blessing are based on their performance in life. As a Christian, they believe they need to continually ask God for forgiveness to maintain their right standing with God.  They believe that they are still by nature, prone to sin and must battle to feed the old self (they believe still exists within themselves) more than then new self in order to have victory. When they sin, they still harbor levels of shame and guilt as they conclude God’s judgement and condemnation are still upon them. For them, God’s punishment is an every present possibility, and whether or not His favor is upon them is in direct proportion to their performance.  Though they received God’s salvation through a sure sense of Grace, they approach their spiritual walk with a sense that God’s love for them and His work in their life has many conditional elements upon which their performance hinges.  They tend to believe that  too much Grace leads to furthering a life of sin and encouraging unfaithfulness. Beyond having faith and belief, their efforts are seen as a critically important part of determining the closeness, stability, and standing of their relationship with God. For them, a primary job of the Holy Spirit is to convict both the unbeliever and the believer of their sin.

People in Category 3 are Christians by faith. They believe they need Jesus and that Jesus died for their sins. Yet, they believe that they have become completely new creations (creatures) in Christ.  Other than their earthly flesh, their entire self including their old sinful (Adam) nature is completely gone as it was crucified with Christ. As a new person, they see themselves as the righteousness of Christ, receiving every spiritual blessing, having had their sins (past, present, and future) forgiven on the cross. They don’t believe it is any longer their core nature to sin, but rather that sin has now become unnatural to them.  Additionally, they don’t believe they need to continually ask God to forgive them (sin that was accomplished on the cross) but rather to continually apply their faith in His finished work on the cross, knowing that it is not their performance that determines their standing, closeness, or favor with God, but rather their standing that is to determine their performance.  Their spiritually life is not a battle between two natures within themselves, but rather the desires of the flesh verses the leading of the Spirit of God.  For them, the primary job of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of their unbelief of Jesus and convince believers of their righteousness in Christ. They believe that having been given Grace and having been graced with many blessings, it is their privilege, passion, and honor to live their lives diligently building the Kingdom and cooperating with the Spirit’s work in their life. It is because God first loved them that they love.

So let’s talk about how these categories effect our identities and thus our sense of security in self.

For those in category 1, their identities are based on their performance, other’s opinions, or the circumstances around their life. If they believe in a different religion than Christianity, their belief system will dictate that much of their standing with God and His feeling towards them are directly related to what they do or don’t do in life.  All other religions apart from Christianity have this conditional moving-upward-to-God system of beliefs. If they don’t believe in God, they are left with themselves, others, and/or their circumstances as the source of their identity and self evaluation.

At times, for those in category 1, the opinions of other have a profound influence on their opinion of themselves. Furthermore, the circumstances of their life have a great impact on their self evaluation. Many internal and external factors dictate their self esteem. For example, for some, if their physical appearance is pleasing, they feel adequate. Perhaps for others, if their financial circumstances cast them in a positive light, they feel good about themselves.  With or without their religion, there are many “ifs” in their performance or circumstances that have a strong baring on their identity and self-esteem.

For these reasons, insecurity is common for those in category 1.  Our ability to perform and get things right certainly fluctuates as so does the opinion of others and our circumstances.  When our abilities, outward circumstances, and the opinions of others become the source of our identity, insecurity is just a mistake, inadequacy, misfortune, or rejection away.

For those in category 2, though they might feel that their eternal identity may be secure (though not all Christians agree in this) in Christ, much of their relationship with God in the here and now is not.  Sadly, as with category 1, much of their identity is based on their performance as a Christian. Though many would claim they are “forgiven” their trust and sense of identity is measured much more by the level of their faithfulness, particularly in the area of obedience. For some, when they see they fall short in their faithfulness, they resign themselves to an identity as a “sinner saved by grace” having the identity of a “sinner” as their core sense of self.  Many Christians in category 2 live their lives with significant layers of guilt and shame and find it very hard to apply forgiveness to themselves, believing deep down that they are unworthy of continued Grace or that they are still under a certain amount of condemnation. They conclude that God may have forgiven them, but he certainly isn’t happy, nor does he like them, and therefore, might withhold His favor and blessing at any given moment. Many Christians in category 2 see their identity as both sinful and yet forgiven with a sense of having two opposing natures. The goal therefore of a Christian in category 2 is to subdue the old self and somehow stay true to the new self. Here again, it’s their effort and performance in this area that is used to evaluate not only their closeness with God but also how God feels about them and thus their sense of self. Indeed, there are many performance based Christians that turn to their efforts, work, and making headway for significant aspects of their esteem.

For these reasons, insecurity is common for those in category 2. In fact, you may find as many religious Christians being as insecure as people who don’t share in their Christian profession. Since so much of their stance with God hinges on their performance, the foundation for a secure identity is shaky at best. Furthermore, since they believe God still looks against them when they sin (a distance and disgust is created) and their nature is divided between good and evil, they see themselves as broken people who are sinners at heart.  If only they could pray more, do more, take more steps, and sin less, they would feel secure in themselves. This is at the core of the religious spirit that infects many Christians today.

For those in category 3, their faith in Christ is deeply connected to what Jesus did on their behalf. For them, they believe not only are all their sins forgiven (past, present, and future) but that God has remade them into a completely new person, with a new identity. When they sin, instead of believing this a moment where God’s condemnation, disgust, and distance are given and thus they should feel ashamed, they apply their faith in claiming their identity in Christ as forgiven, continually cleansed, and the righteousness of Christ. Sin does not define them.  This claiming by faith and applying Jesus finished work on the cross to their identities does not make sinning easier, but enables them to sin less.  Their performance in life doesn’t determine their stance with God, but rather, their stance with God determines their performance.  The emphasis in their identity isn’t placed on their work, but on Christ’s finished work applied to their life through faith. For them, the Old Covenantal system where so much of one’s relationship with God is based on following rules and being obedient has been fulfilled through Jesus, and a New Covenant of Grace has been brought through Jesus that focuses not on rules to produce obedience but rather through the Grace of God giving people a new identity and standing with God. The more you think you are a sinner at heart, the more you feel you need to perform in order to have God be on your side, the more you think God’s favor and blessing depends on you, the more you will rely on yourself and not on Jesus and ironically, the more you will be prone to sin. As the Bible declares, the strength of sin is the Law.  The more you place yourself under the rules, the more you end up disobeying them. For those in category 2, obedience is the root, faith is the fruit. For those in category 3, faith is the root, obedience is the fruit. The foundation is what is different.

For these reasons, people in category 3 have far less moments of insecurity in their life. When they do, they simply apply their faith in who they are in Christ and the assurance of God’s grace and their new life/identity in Christ. Instead of trying to improve their behaviors to make things right, they apply their faith that all is right because of Jesus, and thus their behaviors follow their identity. An obedience problem is first an identity problem. Jesus isn’t into behavior modification, but life transformation. To be sure, people in category 3 have learned the secret that you can’t become a secure person until you become a new person through Christ, and believe it about yourself.  Right belief leads to right living. Right belief in the pure Grace of God through Jesus applied through faith leads to secure living.

Let me encourage you today as you finish reading this post to become a person in the category 3 club.  God completely and perfectly loves you and has a “new you” ready to be given the moment your heart leaps to what He has done for you on the cross. A life of complete security, assurance, peace, and confidence is waiting for you, and it’s all wrapped up in one person, Jesus.  Walk in freedom and strength, and allow your old life of condemnation, shame, guilt, searching, emptiness, inadequacy, and insecurity to be put to death with Jesus on the cross, and a new life of wholeness, salvation, security and freedom be yours.

Looking forward to your thoughts…

Becoming a Better Person: The Secret You Never Knew

I suspect, we all want to be better people.  Deep down, most people are not satisfied with themselves, though they may never show it. In fact, many live lives walking around with deep feelings of guilt, shame, insecurity, and regret. The good we want to do is not what we do, and the bad we don’t want to do becomes exactly what we do. It’s an endless cycle in the quicksand of our human existence.

With our list of imperfections tight in hand, we set off on our pursuit of trying to figure out what we can do to become a better person. We buy the books, watch the shows, go to the conferences, and maybe even join up with a church or some kind of religion. Or, maybe we just find a tribe of people to immerse ourselves in with whom our idiosyncrasies won’t become so noticeable to others and especially ourselves.

When it comes to the brokenness in our lives, we typically go into either concealment mode, camouflage mode, or can-do mode.  We either try to hide our flaws, camouflage them, or self-improve them.

The problem is, none of that works, at least not for very long. Find me a person who has attempted to hide their imperfections, camouflage them, or self-improve their way past them, and at the end of the day you will have found a person that still deals with deep issues of guilt, shame, condemnation, insecurity and a lack of real, lasting improvement in their actions and attitudes.

The sad thing is, the Christian church hasn’t been a very good place to become a”better” person either.  More so than not, churches focus on being obedient and following religious rules while admonishing people to get better by doing better. Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t go with girls that do.  They treat obedience and doing the Word as the root of the Christian life.  The focus becomes on loving Jesus more as the solution and the path towards an improved life. If you just loved Jesus more than you would be so much of a better person and be able to follow the rules.

The problem is rules and religion don’t change people and behaviors. In fact, the Bible clearly states that the law (standards of God for living) actually stirs up the desire to sin. “…the sinful passions aroused by the law…” Romans 7:5  When you see a park bench with a sign that says, “wet paint” what do you immediately think of doing? Touching it. The truth is, I can’t love Jesus enough to get better. Trying to do so makes my love a self-focused work. It turns my performance into my identity. Therefore, I end up leaning on me instead of Jesus for who I am and what I can become.

Furthermore, we tell true believers in Jesus that if they don’t love and obey God enough they are not really completely forgiven, their standing with God has surely been compromised, and they had better fix it, quick.  We have told what are newly created people in Christ that they really aren’t completely new creatures because the “old man” is still there waiting to win back their life. No wonder people struggle with sin so much, especially believers. If you think, by your nature, you are a still a broken sinner at heart, then guess what you will do? Yup, sin. The Bible says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.” Proverbs 23:7  If following the law (rules) and increasing your conscientiousness of sin is what we are told are the keys to becoming a better person, following that counsel will actually lead you to becoming a worse person in your behaviors and your heart will be filled with guilt and shame. No wonder why sin in the church is just as much a thriving reality as it is in the world.  Guilt, shame, depression, and frustration are just as prevalent in church as they are anywhere else.

The truth is, you can do all the spiritual gymnastics you want, but you can’t become a better person until you become a new person. All your efforts to become a better person won’t make you new or better, only the finished work of Jesus on the cross can make you new as you receive it through faith.

Right believing is what leads to right living. Faith in the pure Grace of God through Jesus is the root, obedience is the fruit. You performance doesn’t determine your identity, your identity determines your performance.

Satan always tempts us to do the wrong things by first tempting us to believe the wrongs thing about who we are and what we have (or can have) in Christ.  Notice that with Jesus, immediately after His baptism, Satan first tempted Jesus to doubt His identity as the “beloved son of God with who God was well pleased” which God had just declared over Him mere hours before Satan tempted Him to turn the stones to bread. In fact, Satan strategically and conveniently removed any mention that Jesus is beloved by God and well pleasing to the Father. Instead, he simply asks, “If you are the son of God…turn these stones…” in a futile attempt to get Jesus to believe the wrong things about who He is and what He has in the Father so that He would do the wrong things.

Satan is still vigorously trying to do the same with us, subtly trying to remove from our sense of identity that true believers are sons of God, beloved by God, and completely pleasing to Him. If we believe the wrong things about our identity, we will do the wrong things in life. An obedience problem is always first an identity problem.

The truth is, God loves you perfectly. In fact, God is love. He can do nothing but love you. And you simply being created by God is reason enough for Him to make you the object of His love. It has nothing to do with what you have or have not done or will do. In a real sense, it would be illegal for God not to love you, He would be a house divided against Himself because He is love. We need this Grace because we are as good as dead without it. Deep down, everybody knows something profound and central is missing and there is a standard to which their life doesn’t measure up. When your heart leaps at this Grace and believe Jesus is the source of this Grace, everything changes. All that God has and provided for you becomes yours.

For a true believer in Jesus, there is no condemnation over their life, none. You have become, through Jesus’ shed blood, the righteousness of Christ, and that is not merely a positional reality, but a complete reality. You are without blemish, all your sins (past, present, and future) have been put away (killed) through the cross, they are no more in the eyes of God. You have been made a new creation, the old is completely gone. You don’t have two natures, you have one. The old Adam is gone. (ref. Romans 6:6, Galatians 2:20) Christ lives in you, you have His mind. It is no longer your nature to sin, fear, worry, be depressed etc. Do we sin? Yes, because we still have of our earthly flesh, but it is no longer our nature to do so, and when we sin, it no longer defines us or separates us. Glory be to Jesus for His abundant Grace!  You are no longer under the rules, but under Grace. You don’t have to be a better person, you get to be a better person. Your don’t live from you, trying to be a better person. You live from Jesus, through faith in His work in you, and become a better a person. In fact, in Christ, you aren’t just a better you, you are a completely new you. 100% Jesus, 100% you. You lack nothing, absolutely nothing.

This is the right belief of your identity, it’s all focused on Jesus and His Grace, not on your performance. Which, ironically enables you to perform with increasing faithfulness. Right identity leads to right living. People who believe in the true Gospel of the Grace of God through Jesus don’t sin more, they sin much less. Their freedom becomes a catalyst for faithfulness because their heart overflows with thanksgiving for what Jesus has done as they walk in a completely new sense of self and life without guilt, shame, and sense of condemnation. It truly is amazing Grace.

“For if by the transgression of the one [Adam], death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” Romans 5:17

An abundance of Grace is what leads to reigning (living much better) in life, not an abundance of guilt, shame, and rules. Believe in the abundant Grace of God for your life and see the results! Remind yourself every moment, “I am already forgiven, I am the righteousness of Christ, there is no condemnation, it is no longer my nature to sin, I am better than that, I lack nothing, greater is He that is in me than is in the World, I am fully pleasing to the Father, I am perfectly and completely loved, I am a son of God (Galatians 3:26)” and see how your life and living improve.

Trying to live like Christ and become a better person from our own efforts is like trying to sing like Celine Dion. You can hear her voice in your head, but you never can match it with your own. But if Celion Dion could somehow live in you, you could sing just like her as you allow her voice to become your voice. Her identity becomes your identity. In the same way, Jesus lives (or can live) in you (through faith), and when we live from Jesus in us and the identity we have because of Him, we will more and more act just like Him.

Becoming a better person is about our actions catching up with our true identity, not our identity being caught up in our actions. You cannot become a better person until you become a new person and believe it. Only Jesus can make you new. If you are in Christ through faith, you are a completely new person. You are a much better person, and when you believe that, you will act more and more like the person you are in Christ… much better!

Right believing in the abundant Grace of Jesus leads to right living!

Hallelujah, glory be to Jesus!  Can I get a strong Amen?

© 2019 Chris Kratzer

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