What does it mean to have a ministry atmosphere that is “full of grace” (John 1:14)?
God’s commands, when followed from a Gospel-motivation, enhance life. His commands are not given to hold us down, but to free us to be the fullest and best version of ourselves. Here are just some of the rewards of obeying God’s life-giving commands:
Fulfillment. As Augustine once prayed, “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Obedience to God’s commands connects us with the “true us”—with the design of our Designer, which gives life! Remember Joshua’s words, “Do not let this book of the Law depart from your mouth. Meditate on it day and night, and be careful to do everything that is written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8)! When we teach any command of God, we must be careful to highlight how that command will bring fulfillment and blessedness (happiness!) to those who obey.
Inner peace. There should be no fear that God’s Laws will bite us when we obey them. They are not merely laws, but loving, life-giving laws. When we depart from God’s design, it brings distortions, anxiety, and disruption to our inner lives. But when we surrender to Him, there is inner peace…an integration of life! Remember the fish-in-water, fish-out-of-water picture.
Intimacy with God. Once we belong to God through faith in Christ, our position with Him can never be threatened or weakened. Nothing in all creation (including ourselves) can separate us from His love (Romans 8). However, our fellowship with God, our experience of intimacy with Him, is always weakened by disobedience, and strengthened by obedience to His commands. Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).
We must find joy in owning our struggle, even our failure, to follow God’s commands.
It is both ironic and wonderful that both obedience and failure to obey can lead to deeper joy and deeper intimacy with God. The rewards of obedience are as stated above. But there are also deep rewards for those who have come to terms with the fact that they fall short of the mark every day:
Joyful humility. As ironic as it may sound, there are few things that are more life-giving than admitting our failure to obey God’s commands. As Paul says, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” Knowing that we are saved by grace and not by our efforts is liberating. It also changes us. We become tender rather than harsh, gracious rather than judgmental, humble rather than defensive. Don’t we all want to be this kind of person? The grumpy people in the Bible were those who would not face their failures, because they had built an identity based on their performance, offering moral and behavioral resumes to God and other people (and to themselves—remember the Pharisee who prayed “to himself” in Luke 18, so as to feel confident in his own righteousness). This left them in the awful position of either being puffed up with pride (because they thought they were being righteous), despair (because they failed at the laws upon which they built their identities), or denial (because they couldn’t handle the thought of being seen as sinful). Those whose hearts were set free, on the other hand, were those like the tax collector who prayed, “God have mercy on me, the sinner,” and went home justified and healed (Luke 18:9-14).
God’s delight in our imperfect efforts to obey. Isaiah reminds us that even our best efforts to obey God are tainted with motives that are sinful and therefore damnable—like “filthy rags” (literally from the Hebrew, like a used menstrual cloth). Yet, surprisingly, even our weakest desires and attempts to obey bring pleasure to God’s heart! Zephaniah 3:17 is breathtaking, “The Lord…will take great delight in you…He will rejoice over you with loud singing!” I’ll never forget the scene in the movie Radio, where the football coach tries to teach the mentally challenged man named “Radio” how to write his name. The coach writes it down for him: R-A-D-I-O, and then says, “Now you try it.” Radio then smiles, takes a pencil and paper, and proceeds to scribble inarticulate nothingness onto the piece of paper. He looks up at the coach and smiles, and the coach, rather than showing disappointment or frustration, looks at Radio and says, “YOU DID IT!” If the people under our care are to ever be motivated to attempt obedience (even while knowing their very best efforts will still fall short), we need to regularly pour grace all over even their weakest attempts to follow Jesus. This is how the Gospel is applied to the Law.
Having a big and powerful Jesus versus a small, impotent Jesus. Our failure to keep the Law enlarges our sense of Jesus, who He is, how much we need Him, and how willing and eager He is to meet our deepest need. The paradox of the Gospel is that the more we see our sin and the more vivid it becomes to our senses, the more vivid the grace and love of Jesus become to us as well. Consider Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 1:15-17 to see the truth of this!
This is part 4 of a series of articles by Scott Sauls.
Scott Sauls, a graduate of Furman University and Covenant Seminary, is foremost a son of God and the husband of one beautiful wife (Patti), the father of two fabulous daughters (Abby and Ellie), and the primary source of love and affection for a small dog (Lulu). Professionally, Scott serves as the Senior Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to Nashville, Scott was a Lead and Preaching Pastor, as well as the writer of small group studies, for Redeemer Presbyterian of New York City. Twitter: @scottsauls
Editor’s Note: Scott was a member of our WDA Campus Ministry (Next Generation Ministry) while at Furman University. We are excited to see our alumni continuing to carry a vision for discipleship!