Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Yes and No

"Well, Pastor Mark, I like this grace stuff you're describing. I know I can't do life perfectly, so I'm glad that God accepts me because of Jesus. But doesn't God want me to do good things now? Isn't he pleased when I do right things, and displeased when I mess up? Surely he still has standards and expectations for me!"

Well, yes, yes, yes and yes. And a resounding NO to some unspoken questions.

Allow me to explain -- it'll only take a few paragraphs, so please, keep reading.

God has saved us through Jesus. That was his plan before he made the earth (Eph. 1:4-7). We are adopted by God and called righteous because of Jesus's righteousness, not our own (Romans 5:19 & 8:4, etc) and saved because of turning to God in faith, not by learning to be better people on our own (Romans 3:20, Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5, etc).
We are called simultaneously dead and alive: "For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives." (Romans 6:11, New Living Translation)

What's the new life to look like? It's being led by the Holy Spirit, whom the Father sent in the name of Jesus to teach us (John 14:26), in a way that represents Jesus in this world: "A new commandment I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." That was a self-sacrificing love, an attitude of total humility and service (Philippians 2); not a self-seeking lifestyle.

The Holy Spirit leads us according to the will of God, not by the old textbook of the law (Gal. 5:18) and the fruit he produces in us is straight from the heart of God: love, joy, peacefulness, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (as overall attitudes; with many different ways of working those out in life).

It's not a legal contract, but a relationship of love -- a little like being married. I learned to love Joanne, and because of learning to love her, I wanted to start doing things to serve and give to her. Nobody (except God) gave me a list of things to do, but I began to learn what she liked and didn't like, and learned to do good things for her out of love. (And if I start thinking of them as a duty, not a joy, I realize my love is lacking and I have to go back to God and ask for more love!)

When we see what God has done for us through Jesus, and accept his generous love, we start wanting to give that love back to him. And that love, created in us by the Holy Spirit (again, not by our own effort) leads us into those godly thoughts and attitudes. Not out of the old way of the law, but the new way of the Spirit! (Romans 7:6). Not out of duty -- God doesn't want our dutifulness, but our joy!

Do I want to please God? Absolutely, just like I want to please my wife (only a lot more so). Does he care what I do now? Absolutely! That's why he sends the Holy Spirit, to teach me how to love others the way he would do if he were here. But that's a discussion for another day.

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