Conditional Grace (6/29/16)

Do you ever feel like you’re not good enough to serve Jesus? This isn’t an uncommon thought among Christians, especially those who are all too aware of their struggles with sin. However, we should never let our past sins keep us from serving God. Jesus Christ’s atoning, sacrificial death on the cross saves us from the consequences of our sin. God doesn’t choose perfect people to serve him because there aren’t any.

Even though God knows we’ll never be perfect, he still calls us to throw off the “sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1). The difficulty with this is that when God or other people confront us about our sin, our normal, human reaction is to try and justify it. There are those rare occasions when we will humbly agree with those who challenge us but our normal, human reaction is to defend ourselves.

In his book Future Grace, John Piper writes: “Sin is what you do when your heart is not satisfied with God. No one sins out of duty. We sin because it holds out some promise of happiness. That promise enslaves us until we believe that God is more to be desired than life itself.” This quote makes sense because we wouldn’t break God’s commandments if we really thought they are what’s best for us. We wouldn’t justify sin if we desired God more.

To help us understand how we treat the sin in our own lives, let’s do a little exercise. Please answer the following question: The sin I struggle most with is…? Don’t make this complicated. You know what it is. It’s the area in your life where we know you are out of God’s will.

Now let’s wrestle with a follow-up question. The things I’m doing to overcome this sin are…? Did you think of something other than praying and reading the Bible? While praying and reading is vitally important, doing only these two things usually doesn’t bring freedom and healing. Did you also say you’re reading books or watching videos that address your sin, having others keep you accountable for your actions or even admit you’re seeing a counselor?

Several years ago, Ted Haggard rose to prominence as the pastor of a mega church and as a leader in the evangelical movement. In 2006 he was accused of engaging in drug use and cheating on his wife by having a homosexual affair. Initially, he denied the allegations but later admitted to them and stepped down from his leadership responsibilities.

After some time out of the public eye, he went on Larry King Live to discuss his situation. He said he thought he could overcome his addictions with prayer and Bible study. But he couldn’t.

Although I usually don’t use Wikipedia as a referenced source, it had an excellent article on him. It states,In August 2009, Haggard told Charisma magazine: “I do not believe my childhood experience is an excuse. I fell into sin and failed to extract myself. I am responsible, and I have repented.” He also extols the benefits of qualified counselors: “I highly recommend qualified Christian counseling… for anyone losing their fight with any kind of compulsive thoughts or behaviors. … I believe our generation of believers is going to have to accept that it’s not always lack of faith if we need counseling for assistance with integrity. If I had gone to counseling, I probably could have completely avoided my crisis”

While overcoming every sin we struggle with might not require seeing a counselor, this quote is a powerful reminder that we need help in overcoming our sin and life issues. Are we willing to humble ourselves and do whatever is necessary to overcome the sin in our lives?

We know that we can’t save ourselves or overcome sin on our own. If we could do this, we never would have gotten involved with sin in the first place. The apostle Paul states in I Timothy 1:12-17: “12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

As we look through the New Testament at the life of Paul, we see God radically changed him from a violent murderer of Christians into one of the greatest apostles the world has ever known. The power of Jesus Christ is what changed him. We need to have this same power flowing though us. Jesus is the starting point in our long journey to overcome sin.

Even though Christ gives salvation and the strength to overcome sin, we need to understand is that God hates sin and that our sin restricts what God can do in our lives. God wants to shower us with his grace. However, some of his grace is conditional. By this I mean there are certain things God calls us to do if we want to receive the fullness of what he has to offer us. If we choose to ignore these conditions, we limit God.

The following examples highlight God’s conditional grace.

James 4:6“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Without humility, we won’t receive all of God’s grace. We have to ask ourselves: How is my pride affecting what God is doing in my life?

Romans 8:28 – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God promises to work good in all things only when we love him and follow the calling he gives us. Many times we quote this verse when bad things happen in people’s lives but according to what this verse actually says, this promise doesn’t apply to those who aren’t faithfully walking with Jesus.

Matthew 6:14-15 – “14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” We aren’t experiencing all of God’s forgiveness if we’re refusing to forgive others. Perhaps we shouldn’t claim to be Christians if we’re intentionally holding grudges and being hostile toward other people.

Hebrews 12:14 – “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Living a holy life requires effort on our part. We won’t see Jesus without it.

The Bible is full of other passages which talk about conditional grace but many Christians gloss over this concept when they read it. One reason is because we live in a culture which believes everyone will be saved and God unconditionally forgives everything. This is why Bible passages are being misused in the public arena and why Christians are labeled as intolerant and unloving if they still call sin what it really is – sin.

So, we need to come to terms with some questions about own lives.

1) Do I really desire to walk with Christ? Don’t automatically say “yes” until you wrestle with a follow-up question: Do I really want God more than I want the sin I’m holding onto? We don’t really want to walk with God if we desire sin more.

2) Am I willing to meets God’s conditions for grace? Saying “yes” to this question is going to require Bible study. We can’t meet these conditions if we don’t know what they are.

3) The things I’m going to do to overcome my sin are…? Accepting Jesus as Savior and studying the Bible are good starting points but often additional steps need to be taken. Are we willing to humble ourselves and do whatever is necessary?

God will still use us if we choose to make excuses about our sin and refuse to face the honest truth about ourselves. However, our relationship with him will be distant and we’ll never “be all we can be” in Jesus Christ.

So, what do we desire more? Our sin…. or God?

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