freedom in Christ

What does it mean to have a ministry atmosphere that is “full of grace” (John 1:14)?

freedom in ChristWe must emphasize the many rewards of obedience.

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. 

Begin the Series  – A Jesus-Like Culture Part 1

Continue the Series – Part 5 – Targeting the Heart with Grace and Truth

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!

This is a repost of A Jesus-Like Church Culture  by Scott Sauls. It appears here with the author’s permission. Website: cpcblogs.blogspot.com.

 

Sometimes when I think of the process of Christian Growth to Christlikeness, I am discouraged by my progress.  Recently, I have been part of our church’s discipleship initiative which placed a leader with three other believers in a group.  These groups met each sunday morning before our worship.  We were to discuss a topic related to the basics of the Christian Life and follow that with some basic pastoral diagnostic questions and prayer.

A+These questions related to how well we had been doing this week in our relationship with God.  How was our personal worship and time with God? To be honest, there were weeks where I dreaded going.  Why? Because I was the leader…. and I did my homework on Saturday. Personal discipline hasn’t been my strong point as a whole.  I tend to be one of those people who make a calendar and forget about it.  The immediate and urgent typically hits me and drives my calendar.  So Sunday came, I sat with these other men and felt like a looser.  Yep, the leader who can’t even string together a successful week of quiet time with God.  Did I pray? Sure.  Did I spend time with the word?  Yes.  I did those things but not every day.

What I wonder is why I tend to think of my spiritual life as performance? Why spending time with Jesus isn’t something I look forward to.  Why is does it feel like doing my algebra homework in Jr High School?

 

What is the point?

I have come to the conclusion that when I focus on Sanctification as the end or more precisely, Spiritual Disciplines as a goal I tend to fail.  My heart wants to have a way to measure its growth.  I find that I condemn myself for not doing the particulars.  But the real issue here is that I forget that the particulars are not the point to begin with!

Big fat harry deal that I missed a 20 minute quiet time on Wednesday morning.  What I need to remember is not that I “didn’t do my homework” but that I didn’t get to enjoy spending time with Jesus!  My heart wasn’t encouraged.  My spirit didn’t hear from the Holy Spirit that I am a Son of God.  I didn’t remember the gospel!  I didn’t see the forgiveness that I mine in Christ! I didn’t remember that my Father in heaven loves me!

 

Seminary Surprise

I remember a seminary class during my last year.  We get the syllabus and begin to read over it looking at what we are expected to complete.  Some of us are wondering how we can get all this new work done and also have time to look for a job after graduation.  The pressure of getting good grades and also mastering the material is important.  The professor says to the class, you already have an A.

What?  The whole class looks up from their pages!

“You already have an A.”

He took the issue of grades and performance off the table from the start!  He set the tone of the class from the beginning.  We were there to learn. Not to get an A.

That class was a lot of fun.  We laughed and we learned.  We didn’t worry about the grade.

The gospel frees me to learn, laugh, cry, relax and spend time with Jesus.

 

The Difference between Justification and Sanctification

It is worth noting that the Westminister Shorter Catechism points out the difference between Justification and Sanctification in the first phrase.

Q. 33. What is justification?

Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

Q35. What is sanctification?

  1. A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

Note that the difference is that Justification is an ACT and Sanctification is a WORK.  Both are by the Free Grace of God.

When I remember that my relationship with God begins with an “Act of God’s Free Grace” and that act of God is based on the righteousness of Christ applied to my account freely and received by Faith alone, I then am free to walk with God as He works to make me like Christ.

Sanctification is a Work of God’s grace, where I find renewal, and am enabled!

This looks a whole lot different than doing my homework!  It becomes an adventure in grace!  Today I open my Bible and listen.   I’m not trying to get my homework done so I can get the A.  I already have one!