BIBLE STUDY LESSON # 29...April, 25 , 2010
"A Life Of Grace: Are We Truly Living It?"
May I briefly say that I truly struggled over this study? It was not what I intended to write about; but, no matter how hard I fought not to write this God continually led me back to this topic.
Over the last few years, a disturbing trend has developed within the Christian community, especially in the United States. It appears that we as Christians have forgotten the key foundation to our faith - that, through God’s mercy and grace, Jesus suffered and died upon the cross to save us from ourselves and our sins. Either through our belief that we have earned our salvation, or through complacency, our search for honor and esteem within the church, academic circles, or legalism, we have developed a “do it yourself” spirituality while forgetting that we are sinners saved only by the grace of God.
As I examine some of the situations that have arisen, let me assure you that I am not being judgmental of anyone. Fully believing that I may fall somewhere within these categories, these brief explanations are only to move us to a realization that we have fallen away from the very essence of our faith; we have forgotten that we are all sinners saved by grace. As we delve further into these situations and the actual study, my hope is that each and every one of us will reconsider our faith and strive to live a life covered solely by grace.
Trying to show their superior piety, many who call themselves Christians have viciously attacked other Christians who do not share some of their views. While professing to follow Christ, they have, in reality, resorted to treating fellow sinners exactly opposite of how Christ treated others. In essence, by questioning other Christians’ ways of dress, worship, praise, and beliefs they have become more Pharisaical than the actual Pharisees. Within a community that claims to be based on love, love is the most lacking characteristic. Having forgotten that being a Christian means being Christ like in nature, they belittle those from other denominations, races, and lifestyles, as well as different educational and economical backgrounds.
Yet, others who are looking for honor and esteem use fancy titles hoping that it adds authority to the words they say and the actions they take. Touting their education or life-experiences, they pad their egos thereby giving themselves an aura of authority and superiority. All the while, they are misleading those entrusted to their care.
Meanwhile, others have grown complacent and seek only to fill a place at the banquet table while doing very little to bring others into the banquet hall. They become so relaxed in their faith that they forget that through this faith they are also called to serve.
Additionally, many use academics to reason their faith thus forgetting the true definition of faith. Essentially, by taking God out of the equation they explain faith as a belief in something not seen whereas faith is actually a trust in God.
Lastly, there are those who practice a legalistic viewpoint allowing rules to control their lives rather than risk living a life in unity with Christ. While following the Ten Commandments was endorsed by Jesus, many of the other more stifling laws were not.
Upon recognizing this disturbing and destructive trend, we can now look for the answers to combat this trend and the situations arising from it. Let us examine our hearts and our souls as we delve into this study on living a life of grace. Again, departing from the norm just a little, I will be posing questions that we can only answer ourselves (These questions will appear in bold print.).
Ephesians 2:8-9(NIV) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.
Obviously, the first step in our learning to live a life of grace is by realizing that through grace we are saved. Likewise, we learn that it works through our faith – our trust in God. Equally, we are told that it is a gift from God not a result of our own actions other than receiving the gift. And, since it is a gift from God we cannot boast about it; in other words, each one of us is equal when it comes to our saving grace. Thus, we should not see ourselves as anything other than a gracious recipient of God’s saving grace.
Yet, we attempt to point out that we are surely more deserving than others – that we should be considered more worthy than others. But, what does God’s Word say about this? Let’s see.
Matthew 9:9-13 (NIV) As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at a tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” He told him, and Matthew got up and followed Him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with Him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Within these verses, we can begin to see just who is important in Jesus’ eyes. Obviously, it is those who are drawn to Him; those who see the love and adoration God has for everyone, even the worst of sinners. While it is true that each of us is treated as if we are the only person deserving His love and devotion, we are all the same in Jesus’ eyes. Unfortunately, just like the Pharisees, we tend to think that we should not have to share evenly in God’s love. Thus, we frown upon knowing that the “sinners” all share the same Savior as we do.
What a shock it will be to many when we are standing at Heaven’s gate alongside the prostitute who only wants to provide for her child, the homosexual who has died from AIDS, the lowly town drunk, and the mass murderer. Surely we will ask ourselves, “How can this be?” And the answer will be, “They, just like you, have been washed in the Blood of the Lamb.”
If there is one thing that we must first do in order to live a life of grace, it is to humble ourselves. Truthfully, we must understand the puzzle Jesus posed to the Pharisees. Ultimately, we must realize that all are sick (sinners) and need a doctor (Jesus) to heal us that we might live.
Luke 18:9-14 (NIV) To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “ Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man went, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For every one that exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Which of these two men best exemplifies your relationship with God? Are you a boaster who only goes before God to tell him how magnificent a person you are, only thanking Him for what you are not? Or, are you the humble scallywag too ashamed to face God eye to eye, but willing to confess your sins and you worthlessness? Do you hunger for glory or thirst for salvation?
In last week’s lesson on David, Marty pointed out the pride of David when it came to hiding sin. He was ready to condemn another until he was confronted with his own sins. Immediately, he repented and composed the masterful psalm of repentance. Within that wonderful song, David tells us exactly what God wants from His children – a broken and contrite heart. Once broken, as was David, God can easily inhabit our hearts and guide us in a life filled with grace.
Matthew 18:1-4 (NIV) At that time, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And He said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Why would Jesus choose a small child as an example of what we are to become before we can enter into a relationship with God? I believe there are two good reasons.
Firstly, small children, although precious, were considered insignificant. God demands that we deny ourselves to follow Jesus. In essence, we make ourselves insignificant in our own eyes thus allowing Jesus to take significance in our lives. I have actually heard this referred to as a significant insignificance. Secondly, small children are innocent and dependent upon others. Hence, Jesus is telling us that we must return to our innocence and depend on God for guidance. We are to develop a trust in God that resembles a child’s faith in his father.
Once we have attained a childlike faith, grace flows eternally through God’s mercy. And, as little children, we all attain equally our place in the Kingdom.
Matthew 19:16-22 (NIV) Now a rich man came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” “Which ones?” the man replied. Jesus replied, “’Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Complacency means that we have become satisfied with our position and feel that we need not do any more than what has been done. Oftentimes, this leads to self-righteousness. In the rich young man, we see someone yearning to attain eternal life. Assuring Jesus that he kept all the commandments he wanted to know what else he needed to do. When Jesus told him to go and sell all his possessions, the rich young man sadly turned around and left, not willing to part with his earthly treasures to gain heavenly treasures. Likewise, we run the risk of becoming so satisfied with our life here on earth that we may lose our life with God.
When we become complacent, we can easily miss out on God’s grace. I pray we never let complacency settle into our lives.
I Corinthians 2:1-5 (NIV) When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
We all know that wisdom and knowledge are good things to have. However, Paul tells that there are times when wisdom and knowledge can be a hindrance to the Gospel.
Probably one of the wisest men of his time, Paul told the people at Corinth that he did not want to seem too intellectual to them. Being afraid that they would place too much emphasis on his words rather than on God’s power, he reasoned it best to appear timid and afraid as he testified to the Corinthian people. Relying on God to work through his actions – of healing, love, and compassion – he wanted everyone to see that it was God in whom they should be trusting.
What about us? Are we looking for others to trust more in what we say than in what we allow God to do? Does our intellect sometimes get in our way?
God’s mercy does not flow through our words, but through our actions. As the ancient saying goes, “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words when necessary.” A life of grace is one that is easily recognized; all we have to do is live it.
Galatians 3:1- 14 (NIV) You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you. Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing – if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you have heard? Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law because, “The righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for as it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
I commend all who strive to keep the laws as well as trust fully in God’s grace. However, when observance of the law becomes more prevalent in one’s life than his/her trust in God, serious consequences can develop. When we tell others that they must adhere to the laws that they do not know or understand, confusion sets in and often leads to those who are just learning to trust God to flee, forsaking the call of Christ because we have placed too heavy a burden on them. Faith clearly is not based on law because we cannot always trust the law to do what is right. While we may plead for mercy under the law, only grace can conquer the law.
An excellent story is told of former New York Mayor, Fiorella LaGuardia, a true man of grace and mercy. As the story goes, one night during the Great Depression mayor LaGuardia turned up at night court and gave the judge the night off. As he was presiding over the proceedings, a woman was brought before him accused of stealing a loaf of bread. Upon questioning, she told the mayor that she only did so her sickly daughter, whose husband had deserted her, and two grandchildren would not go hungry. Unfortunately, the store owner refused to drop the charges forcing the mayor to sentence the woman to $10 or ten days in jail. Without giving the woman any time to respond to the sentence, LaGuardia had already reached into his wallet and tossed the fine on the table. Then, he fined everyone in the courtroom fifty-cents for causing a poor woman to steal a loaf of bread. After the bailiff collected the fine, the mayor turned it over to the woman – a grand total of $47.50.
Oh, if only we could mirror God’s mercy and grace the way Mayor LaGuardia did. People would be craving the same graceful life we are living.
As we can plainly see, to live a life of grace we must be humble, broken and contrite, childlike in our faith, trusting, self denying, and above all faithful. Above all else, we must readily admit that we are sinners albeit sinners saved by grace. Living a life of grace is never easy; we may fall down over and over, but we must be willing to get back up every time we do fall. Even when it seems we cannot continue, God is there reaching out his hands to help us to get back up again.
Do I have the courage to get back up over and over again after I have fallen time and time again? Am I willing to give my life over completely to God and allow His grace to be sufficient for me? Will I seek Jesus on my terms or allow Him to come to me on His?
As I stated earlier, I did not wish to condemn anyone other than myself for some of the ungodly actions arising from the Christian community. I hope that each one who reads this study will join with me as I try to live a more meaningful life filled with grace.
Perhaps you have read this study and are seeking a relationship with God based on His grace. Would you please pray this prayer with me?
“Father God, I humbly come before you today a sinner needing your love and mercy in my life. I now confess my sins to you and plead the Blood of Christ which washes away my sins. Thank you for forgiving my sins. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.
Perhaps you, like me, have fallen in with these trends and now want to escape from them and start reliving a grace-filled life. Would you join me in this prayer?
Heavenly Father, I have fallen again and need help in getting back up. Please help me flee from these disturbing attitudes to once again thrive and flourish in your mercy and grace. Thank you for Your Son Jesus who so lovingly took my sins and shame upon Himself so that I may find peace within your grace. In Jesus’ Most Holy Name, I pray. Amen
Thank each of you for allowing me this opportunity to guide you in this study. May God continually bless each of you and your ministries in His name. Love in Christ, Mark McKinney
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