Thursday, March 28, 2013

Day 10 - Grace for Sinners - 30 Days of Grace

 We want to dig more deeply into the riches of grace and see all Christ has done for us, but first, it's a good idea to deal with some feelings that may surface from time to time as we study grace:  "This all seems too good to be true!  We get all these wonderful things for free, without any hard works?  And how come I don't 'feel' some of these things in my life?"

For example, just looking at Day 9 and the passage from 2 Peter:  when we think of all Christ has done for us by grace, how He brought us to faith, how He has delivered us out of the decay and ruin in the world of sin and has given us a relationship with Himself, even giving us the divine nature inside us to want to love and trust Him, all as a gift without any mention of our need to clean up our behavior or really do any can seem too good to be true, can't it?  And sometimes it can make us shake our heads wondering how this good news can be true when we still see sin and evil doings in our lives, when we don't always feel loving or trusting, when sometimes we feel distant from God rather than in a close relationship of true knowing, and when we sometimes feel we are lacking so much when it comes to godly living. 

I have had those feelings and thoughts come to me before.  How can grace be true when I have this sin in my life, feel sinful thoughts and urgings, and really haven't done anything to deserve it?  Let's look through a passage that can help us with these questions:

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.   Rom. 5:6-8

According to this passage, at just the right time, Christ died for us.  When was the right time?  While we were powerless!  When we were at a low point, really the lowest we could be, THAT was God's right time to send Christ to die for us!  Powerless means helpless, unable to do anything to help oneself.  So why would that time, when we were without any power or strength to help ourselves, be the right time for Christ to die?  Because then the work He did could be shown to be completely by His love and grace, all of His work and not earned or produced in any way by us.  But the verse describes us even more fully.  Who did Christ die for?  The ungodly!  Ungodly means the total opposite of God!  That means we were the total opposite of Love, for God is Love.  We were the total opposite of Holy, for God is Holy!  We were the opposite of Good, for God is Good.  So God died for people who were not like Him in any way at all!  We were totally without God, God was foreign to us. Not only were we helpless to save ourselves, but we were ungodly and didn't want to be saved!  We were bad, rebellious, having resistant thoughts and a disobedient attitude toward God!  We were not running toward God trying to find Him and just helpless to do so, NO, we were running away from God, hiding from Him, not wanting a relationship with Him! 

According to the passage, what kind of person would someone dare to die for?  A good person.  And then, only rarely would someone actually die for that good person.  Why is that?  Because giving up your life is the ultimate sacrifice of love you can make for a person, and it's rare to find that kind of love, that kind of person willing to die, and that kind of person who deserves such a sacrifice to be made for him/her.  

And yet, what did God demonstrate to us, the helpless and ungodly?  He demonstrated His love!  His love is bigger, greater, more self-sacrificing, more amazing and abundant than any other love.  It's in a class by itself:  God's Love!   It's perfect hesed love that never fails and never ends, going on and on and being faithful to love no matter what the circumstance, obstacle or cost!  How did God demonstrate this love to us?  He demonstrated it in that while we were STILL SINNERS, Christ died for us!  (He died not just for helpless and ungodly people, He died for sinners - what is a sinner?  A sinner is a person who sins by nature.  We were people infected with a sin nature, following Satan rather than God, choosing to disobey God.) 

It was a great demonstration of love for Jesus to die for us while we were still sinners!  Had we done one thing good for God yet?  NO!  Had we even turned to Him and asked for help yet?  NO!  Had we even thought about God yet?  NO!  Had we even cared at all about God?  NO!  THAT'S the kind of people we were before knowing Christ, and THAT'S the you Christ died for!  Christ died for bad people!  He died for people who were rebels and God-resisters, flat-out troublemakers with nothing good to say about themselves.  He died for people who didn't deserve to have someone die for them.  He died for people who didn't qualify to have someone die for them.  He died for people who didn't merit or deserve to be saved!  For Him to do this act of love to save us BEFORE we had cleaned ourselves up or even turned to Him in repentance or faith, was and is and act of PURE GRACE.  That is what grace is - it is love that acts to save and bless the undeserving!

Now if Christ would do that, what does it tell us? It tells us God's love is unconditional!  No matter what sin we commit today or tomorrow, no matter how far we fall, no matter how much we run from God, forget God, or resist God, no matter what ditch we fall into from our own wrongdoing, no matter what, God is there loving us STILL!  None of that fazes God!  He loved us at our worst.  He helped us at our worst.  That is real unconditional love.  Jesus' death for us on the cross truly shows the depth of His love, that He is going to love us always, for He already loved us - and even sacrificed His own life for us! - at our worst.  Here is someone who knows you at your worst and still takes you in, still loves you, still acts on your behalf to lift you up!  Not only does He love us in our mess, but also He doesn't condemn us in our mess but instead lifts us out of it!  THAT is the love we have been looking for all our lives, and it is found in God!

Jesus' death on the cross for us tells us something else, too.  It tells us that this helping us out of our mess/saving comes solely by grace.  Christ died for us before we could do one good thing to earn points with God.  Christ died for us before we could clean ourselves up. Christ died for us before we could even turn to Him or have faith, say we're sorry, vow to change, surrender, promise to do better, make Him Lord of our lives, feel bad about our sin, or even ask for help. In fact, Christ died for us before we were even born!  So we know that we contributed nothing to His work on the cross.  We did nothing to make Him decide to go there and die.  There wasn't anything good in us that caused Him to die for us.  What does this tell me?  I don't have to be good to be loved!  I don't have to do anything to get God to love or help me!  He is already on my side to save me!  None of my works are required.  I don't have to merit His help.  His love and help are free.  They are gifts of grace.  God is for me, without me having to be or do anything.  He is for me!  He has aleady moved to help me!  He sent Jesus to die before I even existed! THAT is grace!

So how does this study help us with our feelings of unworthiness to have such wonderful gifts?  It reminds us that we don't have to be worthy to be loved and blessed by God!  God loves and blesses us because He IS love.  We don't have to be lovable to be loved.  That is a wonderful truth in the good news of grace!  So next time we have those feelings that this is all too good to be true, that we don't deserve it, that we don't feel qualified to receive all this goodness and salvation from God, we can remember we don't have to qualify for grace!  God's salvation is by grace, which means it is for the UN-qualified and UN-deserving!  So if you are unqualified, I guess you actually "qualify" for His grace!  His favor is UN-merited, so those who are without merit are the ones who get it, which just means ALL of us get it!  

What do we have to be to have Christ die for us? Helpless...ungodly...sinners!  Jesus didn't die for perfect people.  He didn't come and die for righteous people.  He died for dirty, rotten, messed up, rebellious sinful people.  That's you, that's me.  Thus, we 'qualify' for His salvation, just by being 'unqualified.'  

This reminds me of a story told by Brennan Manning about something that happened in a church once.  The parishioners were kneeling to receive communion, and as the church leader came with the cup to a certain young girl, he noticed she was crying. She felt she had done so many things wrong, and felt ashamed.  The man leaned down and whispered to her as he handed her the cup, "Take it, lassie, it's for sinners."  If you've felt you were sinful, a sinner, condemned, ashamed, and dirty, well, you are the one He died for.  He died for sinners.  So receive His grace, His love, His salvation.  You see, it's for sinners, so if you're a sinner, then it's just for you, isn't it..  It's for you, it's for me!  What wonderful grace!

By the way, if the very God of the universe would take on flesh and actually give up His life for you, you must not be so worthless or useless after all.  You must be pretty valuable.  You must be pretty special.  You must be truly precious to Him!  To love means to value and esteem highly, as precious.  God showed His love for you when Christ died for you.  That means He showed what you are worth to Him.  You are worth what He was willing to give up for you:  you are worth His Son!  I guess you are pretty precious and esteemed in God's eyes!!

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May the amazing grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, and the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. 2 Co. 13:14