Stay focused on God's grace

173 focus on God's grace

Recently I saw a video that parodied a TV commercial. In this case, it was about a fictional Christian worship CD titled "It's All About Me". The CD contained the songs: "Lord I Lift My Name on High", "I Exalt Me" and "There is No Like Me". (Nobody is like me). Strange? Yes, but it illustrates the sad truth. We humans tend to worship ourselves rather than God. As I mentioned last, this affinity causes a short circuit in our spiritual formation, which is based on trust in ourselves and not on Jesus, "the beginner and finisher of the faith" (Hebrews 12,2 Luther).

Through themes such as "Overcoming Sin," "Helping the Poor," and "Sharing the Gospel," preachers sometimes help people unintentionally adopt a misconception of Christian life issues. These topics can be helpful, but not when people are focused on themselves rather than Jesus - who he is, what he has done and does for us. It is vital to help people to fully trust in Jesus, both for their identity, their calling to life and their ultimate destiny. With eyes focused on Jesus, they will realize what has to be done to serve God and humanity, not by their own efforts, but by grace in participating in what Jesus is in his accord with the Father and the Holy Spirit and perfect philanthropy does.

Let me illustrate that in conversations I had with two dedicated Christians. The first discussion I had with a man about his struggle with giving. For a long time he tried to give the church more than he had budgeted, based on the false concept that giving, to be generous, must be painful. But no matter how much he gave (and how much pain he felt), he still felt guilty that he could give more. As he issued a check for the weekly sacrifice, one day, grateful, his approach to giving changed. He noted how he focused on the question of what his generosity meant to others, not how it affects himself. The moment that change in his thinking came to no longer feel guilty, his feelings changed to joy. For the first time he understood a scripture that is often quoted in sacrificial recordings: "So everyone should decide for themselves how much he wants to give, voluntarily and not because the others do it. Because God loves the one who gives happily and willingly. "(2, Corinthians 9, 7 HFA). He realized that God loved him no less when he was not a happy giver, but God now experiences and loves him as a joy-loving giver.

The second discussion was actually two conversations with a woman about her prayer life. The first conversation was to make the clock pray, to be sure she prayed for at least 30 minutes. She stressed that she could handle all the prayer requests during that time, but was startled to look at the clock and saw that not even 10 minutes had passed. That's why she would pray even more. But every time she looked at the clock, the feelings of guilt and inadequacy would only increase. As a joke, I realized that I feel "adoring the clock." In our second conversation, she told me that my remark had revolutionized her prayer approach (God gets the honor for that - not me). Apparently, my on-the-go commentary gave her mindset a boost, and when she prayed, she just started talking to God without worrying about how long she was praying. In a relatively short time, she felt she was more deeply connected to God than ever before.

Focused on our performance, Christian life (including spiritual education, discipleship and mission) is not about a "you have to". Instead, it is about participation through grace, in what Jesus does in us, through us and around us. Focusing on one's own efforts tends to end in self-righteousness. A self-righteousness that often compares to or even condemns others and falsely concludes that we have done something to earn God's love. The truth of the gospel, however, is that God loves all people as much as only the infinitely great God can. This means he loves others as much as he loves us. God's grace eliminates any attitude "we against them," which incriminates itself as righteous and condemns others as unworthy.

"But," some may argue, "what about people who commit great sins? Certainly, God does not love them as much as he loves faithful believers. "To respond to this objection, all we need to do is look at the heroes of faith in Hebrew 11,1-40. These were not perfect people many of them experienced times of colossal failure. The Bible tells of more stories about people God saved from failure than people who lived a just life. Sometimes we misinterpret the Bible as if the redeemed did the work instead of the Redeemer! Unless we understand that our lives are gracefully acclimated to discipline, not out of our own efforts, we erroneously conclude that our reputation with God is about our accomplishments. Eugene Peterson addresses this error in his helpful book on Discipleship "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction."

The main Christian reality is the personal, unalterable, persevering commitment God places on us. Perseverance is not the result of our determination, but it is the result of God's faithfulness. We do not exist the way of faith because we have extraordinary powers, but because God is righteous. Christian discipleship is a process that makes our attention to God's justice ever stronger and our attention to one's own righteousness weaker. We do not recognize our purpose in life by exploring our feelings, motives, and moral principles, but by believing God's will and intentions. By emphasizing God's fidelity, not by planning the rise and fall of our divine inspiration.

God, who is always faithful to us, does not condemn us if we are unfaithful to him. Yes, our sins even bother him because they hurt us and others. But our sins do not decide whether or how much God loves us. Our triune God is perfect, he is the perfect love. There is no lesser or greater measure of his love for each person. Because God loves us, He gives us His Word and Spirit to enable us to clearly recognize our sins, to admit them to God and then to repent. That is, turning away from sin and returning to God and His grace. Ultimately, every sin is a rejection of grace. By mistake, people believe they can absolve themselves of sin. It is true, however, that anyone who renounces his selfishness, repenting and confessing sin, does so because he has accepted the merciful and transforming work of God. In his grace, God accepts everyone where he is, but he continues from there.

When we focus on Jesus and not ourselves, we see ourselves and others as Jesus sees us, as children of God. That includes many who do not yet know their Heavenly Father. Because we live a life pleasing to God with Jesus, he invites and prepares us to share in what he does, to reach those in love who do not know him. As we participate in this process of reconciliation with Jesus, we see with greater clarity what God is doing to move his beloved children, turn them to repentance, help them to lay their entire lives in their care. As we share in this ministry of reconciliation with Jesus, we learn more clearly what Paul meant when he said that the law condemns, but the grace of God gives life (see Acts 13,39 and Romans 5,17-20). Therefore, it is fundamentally important to understand that our entire ministry, including our teaching on the Christian life, with Jesus, is done in the power of the Holy Spirit, under the umbrella of God's grace.

I stay tuned to God's grace.

Joseph Tkach
President GRACE COMMUNION INTERNATIONAL


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