March 10, 2015

Grace is Strong Enough to Hold You

A few weeks ago, I sat waiting in a quiet room at my doctor's office and, without warning, I was overcome with the idea that I NEEDED TO COMPLETELY RE-WRITE MY BOOK. The thought screamed in capital letters, all the things I could have written and should have written flooded my mind, and I panicked thinking of all those books coming off the printer and shipped out in little Amazon boxes.

And then last week I went to Texas to teach several groups of women about God's grace. I'd prepared my talk long before, but as I prepared to speak to the first group, I looked down at my notes and they appeared ridiculous and scribbly. The panic immediately came back, telling me adamantly that I HAVE THIS GRACE THING ALL WRONG and I DON'T HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT.
Can you tell from the screaming letters what I've worried about with this book? I've worried that I would somehow misconstrue grace, that my words would cause someone to cheapen and take advantage of it, and that my Jesus would be misrepresented. I've known all along where the pushback would be, but I didn't expect that I'd so often have to defend the extent and power of God's grace to myself.

Because what I'm writing and saying out loud is that God's grace is for our salvation and our sanctification, that God is willingly the responsible party when it comes to our spiritual birth and growth, and that we really have no ability to create spiritual fruit through our self-effort. Do you know what this means? This means that God's grace in sending Jesus to die and resurrect is a grace that teaches, leads, and helps us for life. It means that God's grace is so rich toward us that He gave us a Helper, because He knew we are spiritually impotent without Him living the Christian life in us. It means freedom from bootstrap religion, freedom from self-conviction, freedom from setting up fearful parameters for ourselves, freedom from seeking God's approval (because we have it), and freedom from striving.

And that's just where I question it. I know my response to grace is to present myself to God and receive it joyfully each day, just as a child receives a birthday present. But can salvation and sanctification truly be that simple? If I fall back into grace and just enjoy it, will it really well up and compel me to obedience or will I end up taking advantage of the gift? Can I trust the love of God and His grace toward me to be powerful enough to change my life or should I go back to trying to change on my own? Can I trust the Holy Spirit to convict me and draw me toward God or should I go on trying to act as my own Holy Spirit?

The answer is that God's grace really does do what He says it will do. It will compel us away from ourselves to love and serve God and others. Over and over this past week, I keep coming back to how God's grace has truly changed my life. I've grown spiritually in ways that could only have been from His hand and His help. He has sanctified me and is sanctifying me, and it's happened only as I've stubbornly refused to live by self-effort.

I've been asked how I believe grace and holiness fit together, as if they oppose one another. It helps to know that when I speak of grace, I'm not just touching on the forgiveness of sins. I'm speaking about the riches of Christ poured out on us--that we become alive to God, new creations, adopted into God's family, and that we receive all the benefits of that inheritance. One of those benefits is that I am given the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, God indwelling me whose primary role is to lead me to holiness. Holiness, then, is a fruit of the Spirit working in my life (Romans 6:22), a supernatural outworking of receiving God's grace.

I think we tend to have a leadership problem. We'd never say it out loud, but when we think we're the ones in charge of our sanctification, we basically have a low view of God's power and a high view of our own abilities. We trust in our own power to change rather than the power of God. But God provides the only power to grow, and only when we submit to His leadership--and His grace as the means for our growth--will we actually be conformed to Christ. So I'll keep writing it and speaking it. I'll proclaim it until the day I die and dare you to try Him and see:

God really will do what He said He would do. He will grow us. We can fall back into His powerful, extensive grace. 

"He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:6

"Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely....He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it." 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24