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Over the past few years my blog has been visited by people from all over the world. Very few know me, or of me, they simply are looking information concerning the Bible and discover my blog. After many years of intense study and teaching, I've come to believe we are vulnerable to misguided and incorrect teaching if we don't understand for ourselves the teaching of God's Word. My 'hot buttons' are - grace, sovereignty, exhortations and sanctification. If you understand these basic principles of Scripture, and apply them to daily life, you will understand what it means to have peace, joy and absolute security in any circumstance.

Friday, August 9, 2013

TEN MOST IMPORTANT THINGS ABOUT GOD # 10 - BY GRACE ALONE

"Love me when I least deserve it, because that is when I really need it" - A Swedish Proverb

I'm Swedish-American. All my forefathers came from Sweden to America during the turn of the twentieth century. They were seeking a more prosperous life, and an opportunity to succeed in this new land. My Swedish roots prompted my husband and me to visit this lovely country. I was thrilled to walk the streets of cities and villages where my ancestors were born; I connected with relatives who live there. My heart skipped a beat the day we found the grave of my maternal grandmother's first born son, Oscar, who died of diphtheria shortly before his ninth birthday in 1905.  He was buried behind a church in Visseltofta, with "1839" written on its steeple.
      My grandmother, Johanna, who never ceased to mourn the loss of her son Oscar, was born into a Christian family in Malmo, Sweden. I have the Bible given to her as a young girl; probably when she was 'confirmed' in the Lutheran faith. A cousin told me that our grandma was pregnant when she got married. Her family was ashamed, and relations were strained. Apparently, they were unable to forgive. And this reminds me, judging others is God's business, not ours.
      Her father had written down several verses in the Bible he'd given her, but I'm not sure he understood the God he worshipped.
Our humanity limits our understanding until God opens our eyes to see and ears to hear spiritual truth. Perhaps the Lord had not taught  my  great-grandfather about His grace, so I'll give him a pass.
      I think my grandma believed that in order for God to approve of her, she must be good. She didn't appear to understand that God loves us when we least deserve it, because that is when we 
need it most. Many Christians, when asked the question, "How do you get to heaven?'' will reply, "By being good." The problem is, we have a difficult time agreeing on what is 'good', or 'good enough' to enter heaven. I often refer to Paul's writing in Romans 14 when this subject is discussed. Paul makes it very clear that the Lord is the Master of the servant, and it is He who will make us stand, Romans 14:4, not behavior that others will judge as acceptable, or not. Take a few minutes and read through all of chapter 14. Each passage is worthy of a blog!

# 10 God has saved us by grace alone.

"So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace." Romans 11: 5 - 6

      Have you heard this verse taught very often? Probably not. Paul is actually addressing the Jews in this passage. They were the 'religious ones' of the day. They believed themselves to be righteous before God because they worked so hard to keep all the laws imposed upon a religious Jew. They'd set themselves above the Gentiles. In reality, a remnant of Jews were 'saved by grace', in the same way as the Gentiles, apart from works.
      Grace - a very difficult concept. We don't live in a graceful world. Right from the start we learn that we need to be 'good' in order to receive a reward. What mother tells her child that it doesn't matter how naughty he's been, she will take him out for ice cream anyway? What teacher gives a student an 'A' grade when they are doing ' C ' work? What boss gives you a raise or promotion if you are late for work every day and unable or unwilling to do your job? We all have learned that we need to earn what we get. We need to work for it, deserve it, and even fight for it.

      God's way is not our way. He has a different plan.

"And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. . . that he might show the incomparable riches of his grace. For it is by grace you have been saved. . .not by works... Ephesians 2:6 - 9

      Amazing, isn't it, that eternal life, the only thing that will matter when we leave this earth, is not something that we can work for, earn, or deserve. It's simply a gift! If this weren't so, that would put us in charge of eternal life. As we learned in my last blog on sovereignty, that will never happen. Scripture so clearly says that God has prepared a group of people, from the creation of the world, Ephesians 1:4, who are His chosen ones. This 'choice' was not based on anything 'good' or deserving in us. Our complete lack of worthiness is described in Romans 1 - 3:20. A bit depressing I'd say. Then, in 3:21, we begin to read the good news of the gospel. We who believe are "justified freely by his grace."
      I know the Bible can appear to have confusing, even conflicting messages, but hang in there...Scripture interprets and explains  Scripture. It's God who reveals His truth, and one day, it will all come together and paint an incredible scenario - you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free, John 8:32.
      Exhortations, I believe, are the basis of our confusion over works versus grace. As we read the exhortations in Scripture, we find it's impossible to be perfect in God's eyes. This is why Jesus came to pay the penalty for all of our imperfections (sin), wiping away all the dirt and making us "whiter than snow", Psalm 51:7. I love that David used this metaphor - a new fallen snow is so pure white. 
      I read on the internet that the word  'exhortation' was first used in the fourteenth century - not true! It was used many times in the New Testament which was written during the first century. The New Testament was written in Greek and some Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. The Greek word for exhortation is 'dialegomai' which means to "say thoroughly, i.e. - discuss, dispute, preach, reason, speak". Our English version means "to incite or encourage". In the Bible, words of exhortation are related to self-discipline. 
       Exhortations speak to our new life in Christ. We need not look at them as a 'law', Jesus has fulfilled the law, Romans 10:4.             We may ask questions like. . .Do we need to be baptized? Must we go to church every week? Is it alright to drink alcohol? Can we play cards, dance...what would your question be? We generally want to 'fit in' and do what is right and avoid what is wrong. We need to understand that we are not under a law that defines behavior; we are under God's grace (Romans 6:15) which means that all sins, past, present and future have been paid for. God no longer sees them, He sees His Son in us, and we live by the power of the Holy Spirit.

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."  Galatians 2:20

      The concept of grace may be difficult, but we should be able to understand what it is to 'exhort' someone - we do it all the time, especially our children.  We freely, without being asked, tell them how to live their life. We want them to be safe, healthy, successful, content, and experience joy. Most important, we who are Christians, want them to stay close to the Lord, seek His presence  and know the truth of the Bible.
      We have a heavenly Father God. We are His children, and He exhorts us to live a life that will honor Him and give us joy. But, and this is important - He doesn't expect us to be able to do this on our own. He created us and knows we need help. You won't have much trouble finding exhortations, they're all through the Bible, but these are some of my favorites. . .

"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances...Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil...The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it."
I Thessalonians 5:16 - 24

What makes this verse so profound? Why does it give such peace? Because it states that the One who called us is faithful - that's God, and He will do it, that's awesome! God knows that our faith is fragile. He knows He can't count on us, but we can count on Him.
      The exhortations in the Bible are given to us as a guide, to show us how to have a joyful life - no matter what circumstances surround us. This is a life that honors God and others above ourselves. Know that in all things you can trust God who loves you so much He willingly hung on a cross so you and I could spend eternity with Him.

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  Romans 8:1

Take the time to read Romans, chapters 6 and 7 to find what the "therefore" is there for. It's because of God's unmerited favor, another way of expressing grace, that you have full assurance that God will keep His promise and you'll be together with Him eternally.
      If my grandmother had understood grace, and had known for sure that Jesus is able to keep us from falling and will present us before God's glorious presence without fault and with great joy, (Jude 24), she would have experienced more peace in her life here on earth. Johanna discovered, the minute she stepped into eternity and stood before God, that all her worry had been in vain.

Lord, thank you for giving me the grace and opportunity to serve you through this blog. I love to tell everyone about the amazing things You do! I thank you for your grace, unconditional  love, faithfulness and eternal life. Whatever this life brings  me is from your hand, and I can be confident that the good work you started in me will be completed and we will meet, face to face. I pray for all those who read this blog. Lord, allow them to see how deep your love, how complete your forgiveness, and what a wonderful heaven you have prepared for those who love you.