The Origins of Grace: The Fall

Genesis 3:22-24 (NKJV) 22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”– 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

In our last two posts we have looked at the creation of man in some detail. To understand grace, we must understand its origin. Why was it necessary for God to bring grace into the creation? We have set a stage that is marked by a beautiful harmony. God created a world where his family could live. He is able to fellowship with them. They are different from all other created things just as he is different from everything in any world.

God is a spirit. He lives in and rules over a realm or dimension called the world of the spirit. The God of creation is all powerful, all knowing, everywhere present and unchangeable. There can be only one such being. He had created angels, beings who were also part of the world of the spirit. They were created as servants of God. They were not in the same class as God. For one thing, although they had the capacity to make a choice, they did not have the right of choice.

When some of them, led by Lucifer the leader of heavenly worship, did choose, there could be no redemption for them. Their choice brought a contamination to heaven that could not be tolerated. God had to create a place of separation for them. That place is called hell. It was created to hold the devil and his angels so that the contamination of sin would not affect the spiritual world (Matthew 25:41.)

God’s desire for a family caused him to create another place. A place that was separate from the world of the spirit. A limited place in which he could put man, a being whose life flowed from the spirit world but who existed in the limited, physical world. He wanted a family to love him. Because man existed in the physical world, God could give him the divine right of choice. Without choice there can be no love. Man was given both the capacity and the right to choose to either love God or not.

God put two things into the physical realm that would create the atmosphere of choice for man. He put two trees in the Garden. One representing the choice to love God and the other the choice to rebel against God. He put something else in the Garden. More accurately he put someone else in the Garden.

Isaiah 14:12 (NKJV) 12 “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations!

Here we see that Lucifer also known as Satan was “cut down to the ground.” We see that in the Garden of Eden there is a being who has the power of speech. He is not man but a serpent. Satan is often seen as a serpent.

Revelation 12:9 (NKJV) 9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

In this verse we see Satan called the serpent of old. God put a tempter in the Garden. If man was going to choose to love God, he had to make sure there was no question that he would make the choice. In Genesis 3 the drama God knew would happen plays out. You can read the scriptural account later but let me summarize.

Satan temps the woman to eat from the forbidden tree. He could not make her eat. She had to choose to eat. In Timothy we see that she was deceived but Adam was not (1 Timothy 2:13.) We sometimes think Adam was off somewhere else in the Garden during Eve’s temptation. He was not. Genesis 3:6 says that she gave the fruit to her husband who was with her. Adam now had to choose. Until he ate of the fruit nothing happened. He was the head of the woman. He could have chosen to remain loyal to God, his Father. We cannot know what would have happened to them if he had.

He knew that Eve had eaten. He knew that he loved her as “flesh of his flesh.” It is my opinion that he believed God’s promise concerning the “Tree of the fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” would come to pass in her life. She was going to die. He could not bear to lose her, so as he looked at the fruit she had eaten he made an informed decision. He chose her over God. When he ate their eyes were opened.

This set-in motion a number of things. God came looking for them in the cool of the day. He is God. He knew where they were, but they had to take responsibility for what they had done. He pronounces several consequences for their choice. Man will no longer rule the earth. He will have to fight it for survival. Woman will no longer be man’s “helper” designed to share in his dominion over creation. Instead, she became his servant. Her desire would be for him, but childbearing would be in pain. This was not God’s original plan. It was a result of choosing sin and self will over submission to God.

Let us not forget the main curse associated with eating from the forbidden tree. The Hebrew says, “The day you eat from it, in dying you shall surely die.” Adam and Eve did not die physically for many years after they ate from the tree. However, there is no indication they would ever die before they ate of it. Adam and Eve were eternal beings.

There is an interesting fact about the human body. All the cells in our bodies are renewed every seven years. With each renewal cycle there is a flaw that grows. That flaw is what we call aging. I do not believe that flaw was in the original design. Man was designed to physically live forever. He was to be a spirit being who would live eternally in a physical body. They were to be God’s eternal family. When they sinned, something was introduced that caused them to begin to deteriorate. That something is called death. More specifically it is called spiritual death or separation from the source of man’s life, God himself.

Spirit beings cannot cease to exist. Man’s spirit would not cease to exist once his body died. However, since he would pass into the spirit world separated from God by his own choosing, he would suffer the same fate as Satan and his angels. He would spend eternity as a spirit being separated from God. The bible calls his future home Gehenna or the lake of fire.

All of this is what man deserves. He chose Eve over God. Adam knew the consequences but disobeyed anyway. God knew that he would. He was prepared for it. He had a plan in place to get his family back. Man did not deserve this from God. Man deserved to be left to his fate. God had every right to destroy what he had created but he did not. Man deserved eternal separation. That is not what God planned to allow.

God was moved with compassion for his family. He told Satan and all creation that he was going to give man what he did not deserve; a way out. He was going to redeem him from his choices and give him new choices. The act of redemption was mercy. The fact that Adam’s descendants would be offered what they did not deserve was grace. In today’s verse we see God’s mercy to preserve them until he did something about their situation.

Grace was not introduced in the New Testament. It was part of the original design. God planned for man’s fall when he created him. He was ready to put the plan of redemption into motion even before the fall of man. He makes a declaration to Satan that sets the course of history. In this declaration he declares both mercy and grace. Read it now and we will discuss it next time.

Genesis 3:15 (NKJV) 15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.”

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The Origins of Grace 2

Genesis 2:7 (NKJV) 7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

The story of the Bible is the story of the separation and reunification of a Father and his family. In our last post we saw that God created a physical universe. We focused on the fact that there are two realities that exist. There is the visible world of the natural and the invisible world of the spirit.

God is a spirit (John 4:24 KJV.) His realm of existence is a place called the spirit. If we are going to accept the truth of the Bible, we must also accept that this higher realm or reality exists. We live in the visible world of the natural. According to Genesis the natural was created by the physical. According to Paul in 2 Corinthians 4, the visible is temporary and the invisible is eternal. The visible is is subject to the invisible.

There is an important change in God’s method of creation when he came to man. God spoke the rest of creation into existence already alive. As far as we can see, the birds came forth flying, the fish swimming and the cows mooing. In today’s verse we see that God formed man’s body. The Hebrew word implies squeezing together like molding clay. To me this involves great love and care.

In Genesis 2:19 God uses the same word to describe his creation of the animals. What Genesis 2:19 does not include is the next step in man’s creation. The body that God lovingly formed for man was not alive. Again, everything else seemed to come forth alive. Their source of life was the physical creation. This was not the case with man. The body of Adam was dead. Then God does something very important. It says he breathed into man the breath of life and only then did man become a living soul.

There are many interpretations of what God breathed into man. One thing that can not be disputed is that whatever he breathed into him was the source of his life. It was then that he became a living soul. I believe that God breathed a spirit into the man. He took something from his own life and with that he gave man’s body life.

Let me be clear. I do not believe man was, is or ever will be God. There is only one God. The bible is clear on that point. What I do believe is that man is different from every other thing that God created. In Genesis 1:26 God said let us make man in our image. He did not say that about birds, dogs or even monkeys. He said that about man alone. Man is different from everything else in creation. How is he different and why is he different?

The why is simple. God wanted a family. He had created spirit beings, but they had no right of free will. They could not choose to love God. When 1/3 of them chose not to love and obey God they had to be removed from Heaven. Hell was created for them. Why was that necessary? They were part of the eternal realm of the spirit. Sin and rebellion cannot be allowed to contaminate that world. There could be no redemption for them. To be God’s family and to love him as he so desired, man had to be different.

God created a limited, physical world that exists outside of the world of the spirit. The beings who were created as part of that world were not spirit beings. The creator world could affect the created world but not the other way around. Sin in the natural world could not contaminate the spiritual world. God wanted a family who would chose to love him. Love without choice is not love. Giving a spirit being in the spirit world the right to chose created a situation God was not willing to allow.

The purpose of the physical reality was to allow God to put man in a place where, when he sinned as God knew he would, he would not contaminate the world of the spirit. He would only contaminate the world of the physical. Since the spirit world, the creator world, is higher than the physical world, God would be able to change that world and save the man from his sin.

What is man? Man is a spirit being just as God is a spirit being. He body is made out of the dust of the earth just as any other part of the physical creation. He is physical. He was given dominion by God in the physical universe. He has a right to that dominion because he is part of it and because God gave it to him. However, he is also a spirit being. Though his body is physical, the source of his life is the world of the spirit. I believe man is a spirit being in a physical body. Man is the only one who is both.

In a spiritual sense man has God’s DNA. That does not make him God, but it makes him different from every other physical creation. He is in God’s image. Genesis 1:25 is a statement of a law that God placed into the earth.

Genesis 1:25 (NKJV) 25 And God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

God made everything “according to it’s kind.” When things reproduce they would reproduce according to their kind. Cows would not reproduce horses. Fruits would not reproduce vegetables. When Adam reproduced he would reproduce after his “kind.” He would reproduce spirit beings in physical bodies. The bodies would be a product of the human physical DNA. The inner man from which the species “man” drew life would be created by God. Each and every human that would be born would have a spirit created by God. Each would be unique and each would be a child of God.

Let me set the stage as it is at this point of creation. God has created a being that is a part of the physical world. He draws his life from the spiritual world. He is unlike anything in either world. He is God’s child. God adds to the family by taking something from Adam and creating another being like him. This being was female. She was called woman.

God did not desire a world of children in the way Adam and Eve were. He wanted his children to share in creation with him. When the man, Adam, joined physically with the woman, Eve, something wonderful happened. Their physical DNA mingled and produced a physical child. Their Spiritual DNA which came from God produced a spiritual child of God. The creation of God’s family was set in motion.

In the beginning, God and his family were joined in the spirit. Genesis 3 it says God came to walk with man in the cool of the day. I do not know if God took a form man could see and walked with him. What I do know is that man’s connection to his Father God was not just on a physical level. He was joined to God in the spirit. Their connection flowed from the world God lived not from the one he created.

For man to love God in the way God desired he had to have a choice. God placed two trees in the Garden. He gave man free access to the tree of life. I do not have space to speculate on the nature of that tree. Suffice it to say it was a connection to God’s life. He also placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The fruit of this tree they were forbidden to eat.

Why did God place the second tree in the garden? The answer is choice. If man chose to eat of the tree of life, there were only blessings. There was no curse associated with it. If he chose to eat of the second tree, there was a curse. God says that in the day you eat of it you will die. In the Hebrew it says “in dying you will surely die.

Again[BK1] , I am sure you are wondering what all of this has to do with grace. What happens next is the whole reason for grace. To understand grace, we must understand why it was needed. We will continue to explore tomorrow.


[BK1]

The Origins of Grace

Genesis 2:7 (NKJV) 7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

(Once again, we have been traveling and as a result I have not had time to do any posting. Let’s get back to our discussion of Grace.)

We are looking at the bible doctrine of grace to sort out some of the confusion that seems to be in the church today about this topic. Grace is vital to Christianity. Salvation without a reliance on grace is impossible. That said, we must understand that grace is not a license to behave any way we like. Christianity is a relationship and relationships have parameters that are required for them to exist and thrive.

There is a confusion concerning the difference between law and grace. Some say that law is about behavior and grace makes the law, and for some, behavior irrelevant. God gave us 10 powerful commandments that reveal his nature and character to us. We are still required to live by them. Christianity has not changed that.

What we do find in Paul’s writings is that there is a better way than outward law to keep them. They were written on our hearts when we were born again. We keep them from the inside out not the outside in.

It is very difficult for me to look at any bible truth without starting in the book of Genesis. Every doctrine has its beginnings there. Genesis means beginnings. Grace began in Genesis. More to the point, the need for grace came into the human experience in Genesis.

To understand any of this we must know why God created man in the first place. God wanted a family. He had the spirit realm and the creatures he made to occupy it. There were angels to fill many functions in God’s world. However, the nature of their creation meant that they were servants of God. They were spirit beings like him. They were part of the same reality or existence. Nevertheless, they were not really like God. They were not his family. If there was another like him, he would not be the God revealed to us in the bible. To have a family God had to do something completely different.

In Genesis 1 we read about the creation of the physical universe. One of the things that we must accept by faith is the fact of creation. Hebrews 11:3 tells us so.

Hebrews 11:3 (NKJV) 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.

I do not believe we will ever find definitive evidence of creation in the natural. Hebrews 11:6 tells us it is impossible to please God without faith. Natural evidence would eliminate faith from the equation. We have no proof or evidence of creation except our faith (Hebrews 11:1.) Nevertheless, we must accept Genesis 1 as true. If it is not, nothing in the bible makes sense.

God exists in another realm. Today we might use the term dimension to explain where God lives. I do not think that picture is really an accurate description of the world of the spirit, but it will do. Modern film and literature is full of alternate realities. Man instinctively knows that there is another reality beyond the one in which he lives. I believe that “other reality” is the realm of the spirit and I believe it is the world of God.

To have a family God created another “reality.” We call it the physical universe or the natural world. It is the only one we can see, hear and feel. The scientific community generally accepts the natural world as real and everything else as imagination, myth or foolishness. If we are going to understand bible grace we must accept the truth of Hebrews 11:3. God made this world out of a world we cannot see. Which world is more real? I submit that the creator world is more real than the created world. Look at Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NKJV) 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

For the Apostle Paul, the things he endures in this “visible” world are only light afflictions. In Romans 8 and 2 Corinthians 12 we read lists of things that happened to Paul. In the book of Acts we see many of them written in story form. To me they do not appear to be “light afflictions.” I would not want anything in the list! Paul seems to have a very different perspective. Verse 18 tells us why.

He speaks of two levels of experience. That which is seen and that which is not seen. That which is seen is temporary or subject to change. That which is unseen is eternal. Therefore, the unseen is more real and more enduring than the seen. Paul understands that something is happening in a place he cannot see while he is dealing with what he can see. That is the place God lives. It is the invisible world of the spirit.

I believe the spiritual world and the physical world exist in the same place. God created the physical as a home for his family. Since he created the physical world he can affect it. Control it and change it. He gave it to man.

Genesis 1:26 (NKJV) 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

God’s family became the controlling force in the earth by the Word of God and man’s connection with God. When man fell, he gave that control to Satan because of sin. God’s Word is always eternal. As creator he has the right to destroy what he made and start again. However, God is love. He would not abandon his family. He undertook a plan to bring them back to himself. This plan involved a legal intrusion of the spiritual world in to the physical.

Galatians 4:4-5 (NKJV) 4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

When the time was right, God himself came to the earth. He came as the “incarnation” or physical manifestation of the invisible God. Jesus was not born of a physical human male. He did have a physical mother through whom he received a physical body just like yours and mine. However, he was conceived of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35.) Jesus was the Son of Man but also the Son of God. He was human but also divine. He was of the invisible world of the Spirit but also of the visible world of the natural. He was the bridge, the mediator between God and man.

How does this relate to grace? Grace is unmerited or undeserved favor. Favor from whom and to whom. It implies a greater favoring a lesser. Who is the greater. Where is the greater one? Who is the lesser and where is he or she?

Of course, we know that the greater one is God and the lesser is man. However, that implies two worlds. For many Christians this is obvious. For many more this is a farfetched and strange ides. They accept Christianity as a religion and a philosophy. That kind of Christianity does not really need grace. A reality that believes in an invisible creator God and an eternal world needs grace. A man who is separated from the world he was actually created to interact with as the child of God but from which he is separated by sin, needs grace.

Grace, Law and Does Behavior Matter

Ephesians 5:1-7 (NKJV) 1 Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. 3 But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; 4 neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them.

In our last post we began looking at the wonderful bible topic of grace. Grace is at the heart of Christianity. We are saved by grace according to Ephesians 2:8. Without grace there is no salvation. In the past number of years, God has brought this bible truth to the forefront. I believe it is because we need to become more aware of the working of grace in our lives.

We ended with one of the major issues today in the discussion of grace. Does behavior matter? We are under grace not law. We cannot earn salvation or forgiveness. Jesus already paid the price so why do we need to repent. If we just try to love people and love Jesus that is enough. Grace takes care of the rest. Those statements are true, but they are not the whole truth. If Paul is the primary source of the revelation of grace, what did he say. He wrote the verses quoted today. He seems to think behavior is important.

I am going to try to systematically look at grace in the bible. We will talk about the power and necessity of grace if we are going to be successful Christians. Let me ask a question. How did Paul define success as a Christian? To explain that would take far more time and space than what we have available but let me suggest that these passages in Ephesians can give us a clue.

In the first verse 2 we read something that seem to fit with the view I stated above. We are to walk in love as Jesus did. He was the sacrifice to God. Walking in the love of God is absolutely the primary issue of Christianity. If we do not strive to do that, nothing else will work. However, there is much more here in addition to walking in love.

Paul begins by exhorting us to be imitators of God. When I was growing up I played some baseball. I had some players I really liked. When I played, I tried to imitate them. I wore the number of one in particular. I imitated him by trying to swing like him, field like him and generally play like him. To imitate means you act like the person you are imitating. We are to imitate God.

This implies that we are going to do our best to act like him. This begins with love because God is love. It does not end there. Whatever God would do, we must do to imitate him. If we do what he would not, we are not imitating him. I may be missing something, but that sounds like behavior.

Next, we see a list. I will not restate the list, but it is extensive. These are things we must not do. Paul, the great revelator of grace, says these things should not even be named among you. The Amplified bible implies that we should not even use the language related to those things because it is not “befitting the saints of God.” We should instead fill our mouths with thanksgiving. Is this not talking about behavior?

He goes on to give another list and says that those who do these things have no part in God’s inheritance. “See, he is not talking about Christians there!” say some. Verses 6 and 7 are important enough that I will quote them again. “ 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them.”

There is an aspect of what Paul is saying that does refer to those who are not saved. In the end he tells us that we are deceived if we think we can do these things and not suffer consequences. I do not think Paul could be much clearer with his exhortation. He says, “Don’t do those things.” It still looks to me like the one in the bible acknowledged as having the greatest revelation of Grace is talking about behavior.

So, what is the answer? Are we still under law or is Christianity lived by grace. The answer is yes to both. We are not required to keep the sacrifices or formalities of the law. However, the law, and more accurately the commandments of God, are not just legal requirements. They revelations of God’s nature. To imitate God, we still have to act like him. If we do the things in Paul’s lists, we are acting like the devil.

Now all of you that may have received the wonderful revelation of grace that we cannot earn anything from God do not run away screaming, “Legalism!” just yet. Give me some time. After all I am quoting Paul here. The truth is I am actually right with you for the most part. We just cannot eliminate right living from the equation. The question is how do we keep the commandments. From where do we keep them.

I believe Christianity is lived from the inside out not from the outside in. Paul says in Romans 8:3 that the law was weak because of the flesh. God gave the law because humanity had fallen in sin. Their inner man, or spirit, was under the curse of the fall. In order for man to have relationship with God, there were certain things he could not do. Not because they violated some code but because they violated God’s nature.

To give them some way to help control the nature that was contrary to God, he gave them a list of things they could not do and stay in relationship with his covenant. They could not help but do those things because it was there nature to sin (Ephesians 2:3.) To give them a vehicle by which they could restore their relationship to the covenant, he gave them The Mosaic Law. This was a set of rules, consequences and sacrifices that allowed God to push judgement forward for one year.

This system was the best God could do for people until Jesus came. They were by nature going to sin. They could not help it. God gave the law as a way to deal with the inevitability of sin and hold off judgement for it until Jesus could come. They did not deserve that. They deserved the consequence of sin, death (Romans 6:23.) God made a way to withhold what they deserved and give them what they did not deserve. That sounds like mercy and grace does it not. The law was a manifestation of both. The law is God’s mercy and his grace!

This was not the full manifestation of either. It was only a partial measure. It had a major weakness. It had to work via the flesh. God was going to do something far better. He was going to give us access to mercy and grace that would be more powerful than the law. The law is flesh trying to control flesh. God was going to go deeper. He was going to change our nature!

In our last post I closed by talking about Galatians 5. If we walk in the spirit, we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. Let me close today with another scripture in which God prophesies what he is going to. Everything God does pertaining to man is a matter of covenant. The law was a part of the old covenant. It did what it could for people who were sinners by nature. God has something better. A new covenant.

Jeremiah 31:33 (NKJV) 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

This is our covenant. It does not do away with the law it puts it inside us. We do not keep it from the outside in but from the inside out.

Stay with me now. This is going to get really good! Check back for our next post.

2018 The Year of the Victory of Grace

1 Timothy 1:12-13 (NKJV) 12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.

Romans 1:5 (NKJV) 5 Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name,

Another year is upon us and I believe it can be the best year of your life to date. We face many challenges globally. Personally, we may be looking at tremendous difficulties. I believe our country is at a crossroads that we cannot ignore. It is in such times that God does marvelous things. I remember many years ago it was popular to point out that wow could stand for Wonder of Wonders. I believe this is going to be a WoW year! We will look back and see that God has done wonderful things.

As I was preparing for this year, I felt God spoke to my heart that I needed to take another look at grace. I believe he wanted me to especially look at the victory that the grace of God brings into our lives. Grace is a hot topic in the church. I think some have embraced a message that takes grace to a place that is not what the bible teaches. This is often the case when God wants to emphasize a truth in the earth.

This happened in what became the faith movement. That was a truth that changed my life. However, many took it to extremes and others rejected it because of their mistakes. Nevertheless, God wanted faith to come to the forefront in the 70’s and 80’s. At one point I realized that I needed to find the balance. I did that by going back to what the bible had to say about faith. I stopped defending my camp and I stopped accepting everything my camp said as well.

One thing that made me take another look is that I realized that we who were in the “Word of Faith” camp were ignoring some verses that did not fit our theological point of view. Once we start picking and choosing what parts of the bible we are going to believe, we have become a law unto ourselves. That always ends up badly. Certainly, there may be different interpretations of some verses. When you have to skip some altogether, that is a problem.

I decided to look again without preconceived ideas. When I did, the revelation that remained was stronger than ever. Some things that I thought were true, I had to adjust to fit what the bible said. Some things I simply had to admit were wrong. In the end, my revelation of strong faith in the Word of God was better and more balanced. I am going to do the same with the revelation of grace. I hope you will come with me.

If you do, do not expect me to be an apologist for what is being taught today. Do not expect me to attack what is being taught today. I am going to do my best to find out for myself what the bible says. I expect much of what I believe will be strengthened. I also expect that some of what I thought the bible said about grace will change. Either way I know that God is leading me to a greater victory of grace in my life and in yours as well.

Any study of grace must look at the life of Paul. Paul understood grace because he needed it so badly. Paul never forgot where he came from. In today’s verses we see some important things about Paul’s understanding of grace. The first thing he does is give thanks to God for enabling him to be a minister of the gospel.

One of the aspects of grace that is often overlooked in the current debate is that grace implies enabling by God. Grace is God’s favor, but it is God’s favor that enables. Paul realized that all he was and all he could do was given him by God. The vehicle that gave him this ability was Grace (Ephesians 2:8.) He never considered his power to be of himself. It was all a manifestation of the grace of God at work in his life.

What he says next was something that we in the faith movement might have called a negative confession. Today, it seems that those in the grace movement might agree. Paul points out what he was, and it was not pretty. Look at the words he uses to describe himself. He was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man. Why would Paul say these things if understood the grace of God? I believe it is because remembering what he was caused him to appreciate and understand how much the grace of God had done. Grace did not make him deserving of what was given to him.

He makes it very plain at the end of this verse. He obtained mercy because he did it in ignorance. Mercy, which is not getting what we do deserve, opens the way for grace which is getting what we do not deserve. Paul obtained mercy for blasphemy, persecuting the church and being insolent. As a result he received forgiveness and powerful ministry by grace. He never forgot the former which made him appreciate that latter. We must do the same.

I am not saying that we should walk around saying that we are no good sinners saved by grace. I do believe we need to remember that we were sinners who received mercy and grace through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus and not by anything we did. Grace makes us the righteous of God in Christ. That is what I am. That is what I confess over my life. However, I never forget that I did not deserve this gift and neither did Paul.

In his letter to the Roman church, he makes it clear that he received both grace and apostleship together. The one cannot be separated from the other. Whatever we are, we are by grace. This applies to our legal state of forgiveness before God. It also applies to all we are and all we have. It is all undeserved. It is all God’s mercy making God’s grace available.

I want to point out something else. He says here that he obtained both grace and apostleship, “for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name.” One might say, “I thought Paul taught grace instead of law. Obedience sounds like it might be talking about law.” Paul is not talking about obeying a law. He is taking about obeying the faith. That faith flows from his relationship to Jesus.

Paul taught throughout his writings about living according to that relationship. If I want the power of grace to work in my life I need to walk in obedience to the relationship I have by faith in Jesus. Jesus lived according to certain standards. There were things he did and there were things he did not do. He made it clear that walking according to the love of God would keep us in line with that standard.

Paul added another aspect of the love walk in Galatians.

Galatians 5:16-18 (NKJV) 16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Paul does not say to obey the law, but he does say that we must walk in the spirit. What does that mean. Simply put, it means to walk with our spirit in control of our behavior. Our spirit is our inner man, that part of us that was born again in the image and likeness of God. Later in this chapter he tells us what it looks like when we let the flesh be in control (Galatians 5:19-26.) I wish I could say that Christians never let the behaviors listed here manifest in their lives but we all know that if we allow our flesh to rule, we do.

How does all this relate to grace? Is Paul saying we must walk in the law after all. We will consider those questions tomorrow.

Foundations of Grace

Deuteronomy 7:6-7 (NKJV) 6 “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. 7 The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples;

Deuteronomy 9:6 (NKJV) 6 Therefore understand that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people.

In our last post said that when we begin a new year, God has a plan and purpose for that year. This applies to the world as a whole and to your life in particular. Although there are probably things that carry over from one year to the next, we need to remember that 2017 is gone. Your successes and your failures are in the past. You can learn from both and build upon both, but you cannot relive them. God’s mercy is new every morning. No matter what happened last year you can start again in the coming year. God’s mercy will wipe the slate clean if you can receive it.

God began last year by highlighting his mercy to me. I have been praying about it and studying it through the year. Mercy is that aspect of God’s love which causes him to withhold things we may deserve. In Jerimiah we find that Israel had disobeyed God. They deserved to be destroyed but Jerimiah remembers something that gives him hope in the face of hopelessness. Since they were still there, God had chosen to extend mercy instead of judgement to his people.

Mercy cannot always hold back consequences. When we put certain things in motion with our choices and our behavior we may face physical and spiritual consequences. However, the mercy of God will cause him to do all that he can to minimize those consequences and he will not bring judgement from his hand upon us. As a Christian we have mercy because of our relationship to Jesus. That relationship itself is a product of the mercy of God.

As I was praying for God’s message to me for this year, I began to think about the progression we looked at in the last post. Compassion causes God to enter in to our situation with understanding. Mercy causes God to withhold what we deserve. The next step in the progression of God’s love is grace. Through Grace, the Lord brings to us what we do not deserve. Last year I felt God led me to concentrate on the fact that his mercies are new every morning. This year I feel the Lord wants me to take another look at grace.

It is always true that when the Lord begins to emphasize a particular bible truth, some will take that truth to the extreme. This will cause some to reject anything to do with that message. When I was a young minister I heard a message that really set me free. The essence of that message was simply that the Word of God was the highest truth in the universe and that anything physical could be changed by faith in God’s Word.

I still believe that to be true. There were many people who took that truth to a place God did not intend for it to go. There were extremes and in some cases abuses. The “faith movement” got a bad name in many circles. I was in a time of transition, so I found myself around people who did not come from where I did. I heard them say things about “those faith people” that were both unkind and not true, at least not about me and what I believed. The whole message got tainted by a few who took it beyond what the bible really said.

The result was that faith, prosperity and many other things became buzzwords both for and against a stream. On the one hand there were many who defended the “word of faith” to the point where they became angry and confrontational. To some degree the rhetoric caused them to reject good counsel and hold on to things they would probably have naturally seen as extreme. They would not accept it because they did not want to give in to the opposition.

On the other side, the rhetoric caused people to reject a truth that they needed. I believe God brought the emphasis on faith and the Word. However, because of the abuse and because we allowed what should have been a healthy dialog become a heated debate, many could not partake of it Something that could have met major needs in their lives was rejected out of hand. We cannot let this happen with the message of grace.

I have been seated across the table from people who said things to me in support of the current message of grace that were not biblical. I do know who they were listening to. It is not my place to judge anyone. I simply know that what they were saying was not right. I have talked to others that have allowed grace to become a dirty word because of its connection to a message with which they disagree. We cannot allow that to happen.

Grace, like faith, is part of the heart of Christianity. In todays scriptures we see that God choose Israel. That choice was not based how worthy they were. It was simply God’s choice. He chose Abraham and made covenant with him. As long as Israel stayed within the boundaries of the covenant they walked in favor. That favor was not what they deserved. By definition, the favor they enjoyed was a form of Grace. We often debate that Israel was under law, but we are under grace. However, as a nation Israel was what they were by grace.

The two verses quoted above point to some things we need to remember. God did not favor Israel because they were great. He did not choose them because they were deserving. He makes it plain to them. They were the least of nations not the greatest. They were small compared to others. They had little to offer. God favored them because he chose them. He chose them because he wanted to. He gave them grace.

God did not save you because you were great. He saved you by grace. He did not save you because you were deserving. As a matter of fact, how great or deserving you are is irrelevant to salvation. We are all the same to God. He died for everyone even though no one deserved his sacrifice. That is grace. You cannot earn it. You cannot deserve it. It is a free gift from God according to his will. He paid the price for it. He made the sacrifice because he loved us not because anyone deserved it.

Deuteronomy 9 makes the other truth we must understand clear. God did not give the promised land to Israel because of their righteousness. They were a stiff-necked people. They resisted God continually. They tried their best to get away from God’s mercy and grace. God was too persistent and too loving to let them go, but they tried!

Earlier in the chapter he makes it clear that they were not given the land because they were so good. They were given the land because the sin of the Canaanites was so bad. They did not deserve the land. We might think that God was saying they were not as bad as the Canaanites. That is not really true either. The only reason they were any better than the Canaanites was their covenant with God. It had nothing to do with their behavior. God made it clear that, if anything, their behavior disqualified them.

We cannot earn salvation. We cannot pay for salvation. We simply do not have the price. The only way salvation can work is if it is a free gift that God paid for with the blood of his only begotten son. It cannot come any other way. If it did, some would be excluded. It is ours by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8.) If it comes by works, it is not salvation in Christ. If it can be earned, it is not salvation in Christ. True salvation can only come by grace.

However, Israel did not deserve their covenant “grace.” Their behavior should have excluded them, but Mercy chose to provide grace instead. You cannot be good enough to earn salvation nor bad enough to be excluded. It is God’s gift. You have no reason to boast. You are not better than those in the world who do not know Jesus. You are simply forgiven because you have received grace by faith. Thank God for his goodness.

New Year and New Purpose

Lamentations 3:21-23 (NKJV) 21 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. 22 Through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.

We are approaching the end of one year and the beginning of another. I like to point out at this time that the division of time was God’s idea.

Genesis 1:14 (NKJV) 14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years;

Like most of you, my 2017 was a year of both good things and bad. For me, I think I will wave goodbye to this year grateful that it is over. Maybe 2017 was a year you will remember with fondness. Maybe you will remember it as one of the worst of your life. Either way it is over! You cannot get it back and you will not relive it.

Having said that, 2018 is a blank page from our perspective. We have no real idea what is coming. The only person who knows exactly what 2018 holds is the Lord. He knows what challenges you will face this year. He knows the blessings he has in store for you. He knows the potential you carry into 2018. The question is will you and I hear his voice and obey him. If we do, we will have a very successful 2018.

That brings us to the question I always ask this time of year. “Father, what is your purpose for 2018 in my life? What do you want to accomplish in the world in 2018? What is my part in that and how can I accomplish it?”

Some 30 years ago I began praying for a theme that would describe what I felt God was saying to me for the current year. When I was the local pastor of our church, that theme often became a guiding principle for us. Now that I am engaged in traveling ministry, I believe it is the message he wants me to carry those I am called to encounter this year.

Last year God led me to the first scripture quoted in this post. Let me share a quick review because it is relevant to what I believe God has called me to share in the coming year. Lamentations was written by the prophet Jerimiah. It is, as the title suggests, a book containing the grief that Jerimiah feels over the behavior that has resulted in the current condition of Israel. In this chapter, the prophet lists all the terrible things he sees and feels because of Israel’s disobedience to God.

In verse 21 he remembers something that gives him hope. He remembers that they have not been consumed and why. God’s compassion never fails, and his mercy has saved Israel. He goes on to say that God’s mercy is new every morning and his faithfulness is very great.

As I read this chapter I saw our day. Because I have had the privilege of traveling to many places I think I see the world from a different perspective than most Americans. If you watch the news you see that the world is in a very difficult place. However, the news makes things appear both worse and better than they really are.

I have seen firsthand what is happening. It is very bad. There is suffering everywhere, much of it extreme. There is tension within nations and between nations. The last war on American soil was the American Civil War. I have been in places where the memories of war are much more current, and the fear of war is there every day. We have hunger and poverty in the USA but as I have often said to our church, many people in the world aspire to what we call poverty. The United States will is not immune. We know that violence has already touched our shores and if things do not change it will get worse.

All of that may make me sound like a “gloom and doom” preacher. I am not. On the contrary I have also seen reasons for great hope. God is moving in the midst of all that is happening. It is in times like these that great moves of God begin. I see that happening in the world today. The great needs has created an atmosphere where people want answers. Those answers come from God, his Word and the moving of his spirit in the earth. The church of Jesus Christ is the only vehicle for those answers to come. That puts us in a very important and potentially powerful place.

Let me go back to Jerimiah. His world was much worse than ours. His people were in captivity. His nation was divided. There was no natural hope for him or his people. It is in the middle of this sorry state that Jerimiah remembers that the nation, though divided and scattered, still exists. I have good news for you. You are still here! You are still saved. God has not abandoned our world. The reason we know this is the same as it was in Jerimiah’s day. His mercy and compassion have not failed.

Compassion and Mercy are elements of the love of God. Compassion causes God to see our true condition. Hebrews 4:14 tells us that we have a high priest in Jesus who is “easily touched with the feelings of our infirmities.” Jesus never sinned but he understood the human condition and was moved by it.

That is a good description of God’s compassion. He knows what we are going through and he knows why. He knows how much of it is our fault and how much is not. He knows both our sin and our obedience. He is touched by all of it. Unfortunately, his compassion is not all we need. He is a just God. He knows our sin. Jerimiah understands that there is another aspect of God’s love we need.

Jerimiah finds hope in God’s mercy. God’s mercy causes him to withhold what we deserve. His mercy flows from his sovereignty. He chooses to give it. For their actions, Israel should have been destroyed. They were not. God was not done with them yet. He does not give them what they deserve he gives them mercy.

This is a part of the Gospel that we sometimes do not remember. Mankind had rebelled against God. Sin had become our nature. We did not seek God. Even Israel did not seek God. God sought out a man, Abraham, with whom he could make covenant. God chose to withhold what was deserved and because of his compassion offered mercy in the form of a covenant. Abraham received that mercy by faith.

You have received mercy if you are born again. You deserved eternal separation from God. God sent Jesus to make it possible for you to “not get” what you deserved. We can never forget that nothing we have in Christ is deserved.

When we forget mercy we always misunderstand the final aspect of God’s available to us. That is grace. Where mercy is not getting what we do deserve, grace is getting what we do not deserve. Grace without an understanding of mercy will make us feel that we are entitled to what God has given. Grace in the light of mercy causes us to remember what Paul did in Romans.

Romans 6:1-2 (NKJV) 1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

As I close for today, let me bring this back to the New Year we face. You had failures last year. You probably had successes as well. That was last year. You are still here. God’s compassion is still at work. His mercy is new for 2018. You did not get all you deserved. Do not take that for granted.

We have his mercy. It was new this morning and there is a whole new batch ready for 2018. Do not live settling for his mercy in 2018. In our appreciation of mercy let us expect his grace. That is something else entirely. Grace is when we receive what we do not deserve. Mercy is powerful and necessary. It must produce the right attitudes in us or Grace cannot work. When grace begins to work, life can get very interesting indeed.