Monday, September 23, 2013

Growing in Grace - Christianity 101

"Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God." (Acts 13:43)
Our spiritual lies are not static, they are dynamic. To grow in life, and in the things of the Kingdom, require effort, industry, and continuance. Life with God is not something you taste once and then move on; it's not a prayer that is said while the supplicant returns to their daily life; it is not a deed or thought that is experienced then forgotten. Life with God is an on going daily experience that involves us in the working and teaching of the Holy Spirit; it is an ongoing daily growth in God and the things of God. Here Paul encourages us to continue in grace, not like those who start out in grace and end up in the flesh (Galatians 3:3) rather like those who continue to grow from grace to grace. It is not sufficient to experience grace, we must continue and grow in grace. Peter similarly concurs when he concludes his letter saying, "but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:18) So how does one grow in grace?

First we must understand that grace is accessed through faith. Paul tells us that it is through Jesus "whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand." (Romans 5:2) When we first come to faith in Jesus we are introduced to His grace in our lives. To continue in and grow in this grace requires the continuation and growth in faith. This is why Paul was so concerned with the Galatians. He asked then,
"Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain — if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?" (Galatians 3:3-5)
Our Christian walk is a walk of faith and it is by this same faith that we come to know and experience God's grace. We cannot expect to trust in the ability, power, and will of the flesh and still arrive at the grace of God. It's only found when we trust in His strength, His love, and His will for our lives that we experience the fullness of His grace in us. This walk of faith requires us to leave somethings behind that we might obtain those things that are ahead of us. First, we must leave behind the Law. Paul writes,
"I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly." (Galatians 2:21)
Here Paul is speaking of one specific aspect of God's grace, but it is also true of grace in general. If we reject the righteousness that is found in Christ for a righteousness that comes for our own good deeds, then the grace of God is of no use or value in our lives. We have ceased to live by grace, Christ's benefits are not longer ours, and our lives have become dependent on our own good works rather than the finished works of Christ. We cannot have it both ways, let us either trust in ourselves or trust in Christ; in whom is the very fountain of grace.

Secondly, we must abandon all fear and reticence to approach God. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to,
"draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)
For some of us it may be a fear of what others might think, for others it may be a fear of rejection and judgment from God, Either way, our fear can keep us from finding the very grace we need in our times of trouble. God wants us to come boldly and with all frankness, courage, and assurance not fearing who may be watching but full of faith that the one we seek is willing and able to give us what we need when we need it.

Thirdly, we must give up the pursuit of all arguments, philosophy, superstitions, and false doctrines that try to sooth our minds as if we have what we really don't have. Again from the writer of Hebrews,
"Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited." (Hebrews 13:9)
It is easy to become sidetracked from our pursuit of God. Here, the writer is not referring to foods that refresh our body and soul but rather the argument over which foods are permitted and which are forbidden by God. Jesus Himself plainly told us that, "whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him" (Mark 7:18) and yet arguments persisted as to what a believer could and could not eat or drink. The problem is further compounded when we encourage our heart that we have kept our commandments over food and drink yet have failed to keep it full of the grace of God. All such wrangling, speculations, and pride are destructive to the work of grace in our lives. Further, James reminds us that, "He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, 'God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'" (James 4:6) Let us therefore choose the grater grace that is found in humility rather than pride and pretension.

Finally, we must reject all attempts to turn the grace of God into licentiousness. Jude warned us of those who had.
"crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." (Jude 4)
Paul also asks the rhetorical question, "Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?" (Romans 6:1) How can those who love God, and desire the grace and favor of God, continue in a life that is displeasing to Him? Grace is not a pass for sin nor does not excuse us from our pursuit of sin. We don't sin that we may experience grace rather it is because we have experienced grace that we freely and willingly cease from all sin in our lives. Those who use grace as an excuse for sin have either never really experienced the grace of God or, having forgotten their introduction into grace, have perverted it for their own personal benefit. Why should we live in sin any longer seeing the grace of God is now ours in abundance?

David Robison

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