Many believe that we are forgiven no matter what we do.
OK. Maybe that statement is a little excessive. No sane person believes that they can murder without true repentance and still be forgiven. Some do feel that they can steal if the circumstances warrant it - but who gets to determine the circumstances? How about the priests who are confessed pedophiles? Did you know that the Bible does not specifically forbid the practice of pedophilia if the "victim" is not a relative? Does that make it OK? Who decides?
The point here is not to make outrageous statements, or even to minimize the issue, but to draw attention to the sinful nature and the tendency of humans to excuse their desires by quoting laws strictly and precisely, while at the same time ignoring the "principle" of the laws. Now what does all this have to do with grace?
Everyone is under grace - at some point
At the point when Christ died and was resurrected, He was qualified to offer forgiveness for every sinner on the face of the earth. That bears repeating. Forgiveness was offered to every sinner. The fact that none of us deserve it makes it an act of grace. Of course, we cannot accept that gift as it was intended until that point in our lives when we find out that it is available to us. That happens when we truly find out what Christ did, why He did it, what it means to us, and that we do not deserve it. That is when we recognize the true nature of grace.
Once we truly realize that, all we need do to accept that gift is to confess to being a sinner and become committed to ending that condition (willful sinfulness) in our lives. Now, not everyone believes in the second part of that statement.
Some feel that this act of showering us with grace gives us some kind of shelter from future judgment - whether from men or God. For far too many, this supposedly removes from us any responsibility to lead our lives within the will of God. But, then what did Paul mean by his words in Romans 12:1-2
1Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your true and proper worship. 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.
? Or Romans 6:1-2
1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
? The biggest problem churches today have with it is the definition of the "will of God", as well as what is and is not called "sin" in today's Christian world.
However, how then do they handle the passages in 1 Corinthians 5?:
1It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father's wife. 2And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
6Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch - as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people - 10not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
12What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked person from among you."
"Wait, that's not in the ten commandments!"
What is Paul talking about here? Where is that prohibition that would cause such a drastic handling of a "Christian" Gentile so long after Jesus' death (for those of you who really don't know, it can be found in Leviticus 18:8
8Do not have sexual relations with your father's wife; that would dishonor your father.
. And don't try to say this is his mother, that is covered in Leviticus 18:7
7Do not dishonor your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have relations with her.
)? And what about grace? Where is that covering of grace that today's "church" denominations all claim to cover us and guarantee us believers salvation?
This man must have been a believer to be included in the congregation. For those who say you cannot lose your salvation once you become a true believer, how do you handle this? Is this man not a "true believer" as I was told by one Baptist minister that must be the case if one still sins? Looking at it from his point of view, just where is the list that helps us determine what is and what is not sin? This man was disobedient to a rule in the Old Testament, yet Paul used that supposedly now (and even then) "obsolete" rule to judge him.
"Are you not to judge...?"
What happened to the Christian idea that "all are welcome" in our fold? Does Christ turn anyone away? Can we even do anything that will affect the grace and forgiveness of Christ in our lives? Many people forget that Paul is talking about one of their "members" who claims to be a believer, but who does not walk the walk. We are still to love the sinner, but are not to associate with him if he continues to blatantly disobey.
So, the only thing we can take from this is that there are still sins that are unacceptable if one desires to stay in the "church". No, not the Baptist church, or the Catholic church, or the Adventist church. Yes, Christ does turn some away - with an admonition to confess, repent, and believe. We are really talking about the community of those who are part of Christ's ecclesia - those who follow Christ and stay within the will of the Father (John 6:38
38For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.
, Matt 7:21
21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."
). If we do not desire to do that (yes, as in works), then we do not belong to Him. The choice is ours, but it is still a choice we have to make.
How do we know the will of God?
No, I don't mean that people will blatantly go out and break the ten commandments, though most of them are already doing that by profaning His Sabbath day. Think about the apostles who were following Jesus around the countryside. Where did they get their definition of sin? What source is always there for reference? Back then, it was the only Bible they had - the Old Testament. Those words from the sages and prophets came directly from God to let people know His will for how they were to act.
Not the Jewish law, but the real Law of God
This is not referring to the Oral law and the Pharisaical interpretations of God's word, but the actual words of God. If the apostles had disobeyed these definitions of sin as they walked with Christ, would His grace overcome that for them? In 1 Corinthians 5:1
1It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father's wife.
(above), Paul referred to that same law with regard to a Gentile. Many say that the Old Testament law does not apply to the Gentiles. Will the grace of Christ save this Gentile man if he does not follow the advice of Paul? Why doesn't Paul temper his advice with mention of the forgiveness and grace of Christ?
Think carefully before you answer, because they are the same words with the same meaning for us today. If you believe that God will save you but not the Israelites, even though you are both doing the same things against Him, then one of us has a fundamental flaw in our thinking and obedience. If you feel that your "church" or "denomination" is exempt from the "rules" of the ecclesia, then what good are the words of God, Jesus, or Paul in describing the requirements you, and all Christians, are to follow?
"But, those are for the Jews..."
Most of today's "Christian" denominations will fight tooth and nail against this concept or responsibility. For them, Jesus dumped all that and gave us Gentiles (and not the Jews) two new softer, gentler, kinder, more permissive rules that released us from any expectations of proper conduct within His will. Why didn't Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, recognize this and overlook the actions of the man? Many would have called this kind of action grace, while it is really "Me-ism" at its finest. That puts us at the forefront or our actions instead of God.
Grace does not choose
Grace does not choose one people over another. Grace does not choose at all. God gave all sinners the chance to receive His grace. We choose grace, and all that comes with it, or we don't get it.
"Power" from on high
Some people, including my wife, think of grace as some sort of special power granted by God. You know, like seeing through walls, super strength, or the ability to read minds. No, she doesn't believe she has those powers, but she feels that God gives special "graces" to those who are...well, special. That "grace power" supposedly gives extra ability to be able to help others with stronger prayers than other Christians or better understand the word of God than scholars and explain it to others.
I am not in this camp. The Bible and the dictionary describe grace as an undeserved gift or favor - period. It is not something that shields us or protects us as armor on the battlefield. It is something that tempers how we will be judged, based on our obedience, not something to turn us into super-heroes so that we become the "saviors".
For such a simple word, there is a very long definition for "grace" at StudyLight.org which covers the difference between usage of the Hebrew "chen" or "chanan" in the Old Testament and the Greek "charis" used in the New Testament. They do use the word "power" to describe grace from the human perspective. They call it "a power which undergirds the present life". However, the results of this "power" in our lives are described as the basis of our calling, our witness, and our works - the word miracle does not appear on the page.
Again, rather than take this to mean that we gain special insight, strength, knowledge, or any other enhancement to our normal human selves when we recognize God's grace, we need to recognize that it seems to be more a confidence-builder so we have the courage to pursue the right course of action. If we take it to mean more than that, we start on the track of thinking we are special in our own right rather than giving credit to the real source of "power" - Christ. After all, it's His grace that saves us, not anything we do. All we can do is share with others the confidence that knowledge of His grace gives us. Whose those who receive our witness recognize this grace and receive it into their lives, that will be the miracle.
Grace has limits
Now, don't get the wrong idea here. When we realize that the grace of Christ applies to us when we accept His gift and try to stay within the will of God, then that knowledge gives us the strength to carry on and fight His battles. We are not taller, or stronger, or smarter, just more bold in the knowledge that we are on the Right side of the fence.
Remember the trials that Paul endured during his lifetime. We know that when we fall, Jesus is there to pick us up. Grace will not keep us from dying in the same way as did many of the apostles and others throughout history, but it will give us the confidence and strength to stand firm regardless of the cost to us. In the biggest way, this is the power of grace. It is not a special power from God, but a knowledge that He is there with us, and that knowledge adds strength to our convictions.
Grace doesn't depend on us, but accepting it is up to us
Fortunately, or unfortunately, the offer of grace does not protect us from ourselves if we decide to ignore the will of God. His grace is for the repentant sinner who stands up for Him (Matt 10:32-33
32Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
). If we do not follow Him, He will disown us.
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