Saturday, June 2, 2018

Inside Out and Upside Down

How often are you on the path to success when you realize you've got it all wrong? It's inside out and upside down?

That's what happens when we believe our relationship with God is a result of our choices and actions. The Bible teaches (and we inherently know) there's a connection between what we do and God Himself. The problem is that, if we don't know better, we think that's all there is to it.

Instead, God says it's the other way around: our relationship with Him affects our choices. Our choices do not affect our relationship with Him. That might get you a little excited. And you may think I've lost it and gone heretical. Yep. Because that's what Jesus says--and it runs against everything we want to believe.

In reading today, the Pharisees and Sadducees  were "coming for baptism" (Matthew 3:7). And I had to ask myself if I'd read that right. Really? They wanted to be baptized by John? That made we wonder why? Why would the most religious members of Jewish society go to a man in camel skin clothing from the wilderness for baptism? And the answer, based on their reputation, is that they were doing one more thing to guarantee a right standing with God. They really, really wanted to be righteous, holy, and blameless. That's what they lived for; it's what they were willing to kill for.

What, then, do I think I need to do better? More of? Less of? What is my "if only" that will finally clinch my holiness, reputation, and righteousness? I'm sure the Pharisees and Sadducees found their list growing: as soon as they made one change or added one new habit, there was a new one. That was Benjamin Franklin's discovery in his 13-week self-improvement plan. It's never enough. There's always more and the way is fraught with failure.

John answered, "...bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father...’" (Matthew 3:8-9). In other words, change is evidence of a life that belongs to God, it does not create a life lived for God. If you really know Him, your life will be different. You will think, speak, and act the way He does. You will change from the inside out. Repentance begins with the way we think about God--that He is the instrument of change, we are not.

And, really, the fact that Abraham is your father is a great excuse for sin. Most of us can't use that one, but I know I have others. The truth is that we can depend on our parent's reputation, lives, and actions to a point, but it doesn't work when it comes to personal, spiritual responsibility. There is a level of acting in accordance with God's grace once we've received it; after we put Him in the place of doing and winning our salvation. But thinking we have any part in making it happen is where we get it wrong.

If there's a list in my head, or a series of spiritual self-improvement goals that will finally get things right, I've missed a huge piece of God's plan. God's plan is already done. Finished. Complete. And accomplished from eternity past to eternity future in Christ.  If that sounds like heresy, then I've got it right. Grace is anti-effort. Grace always pushes the envelope. Grace is always better than it sounds. Grace is God at work, not me. And that's what makes it so amazing.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun

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