Be Careful Little Ears

The title’s few simple words of a children’s Sunday School song have been sounding over and over in my head lately.  It stems from stopping to consider one key word of our Christian existence – gospel.  After all, it’s what Jesus told His disciples to share with the whole world, just before He ascended to heaven.

Mark 16:15 NIV  He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.

Just what is this gospel we are to share with the whole world?  In brief, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words says the English word gospel denotes the good tidings of the kingdom of God and salvation through Christ and what He did, which is to be received by faith alone.  We don’t have to work to receive or keep salvation.  It is in Jesus Christ and His finished work alone.  This truly is good news!  But, do the messages we hear always sound forth the simplicity of this truly good news?

If the gospel is good news, then it is always totally good news.  The completed gospel of Jesus Christ will stir our faith and bring us into deeper revelation of freedom from condemnation and guilt, with its post-salvation lie of working to make ourselves righteous.  It will always exalt the finished work of Jesus on the cross and expand our understanding of the perfect and unconditional love of our Father for us, which removes all fear.  When what we hear from our pulpits, our fellowship with one another, Bible studies, online ministry, etc., produces anything contrary to these things, we are not hearing the gospel.1  Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly2 – because He paid the price for our sin and unrighteousness already, not because He would help us work to become righteous.

The reality of the gospel needs to be the filter for every message we hear, in whatever form the message takes.  Then we can receive only that which Jesus came to give, and discard that which would draw us back into the place from which we were saved.  Confusion will be greatly diminished, and that peace that passes understanding will be greatly increased.

What are you listening to and receiving?  Be careful, little ears, what you hear!

1 Galatians
2 John 10:10

Not by Faith Alone

“Why is this headache not leaving?  I’ve spoken ‘by His stripes I am healed’1 all day in faith, and nothing has changed.”

“How am I going to pay this bill that’s due today?  In faith, I believe ‘My God shall supply all my need according to His riches in glory,’2 but the bill is still unpaid.”

“Even though I’ve prayed in faith that I trained up my child in the way she should go, and when she is old she shall not depart from it,3 my daughter is farther away from God than ever.”

Do any of these sound similar to things you’ve said, cried, or prayed?  These statements and questions, and many more like them, come from a sense that all of your faith hasn’t done what you thought it would.  Having been there myself many times, I know how frustrating and confusing it becomes.  Maybe if we consider faith from a little different perspective, however, it will help.

How were you saved?  How is anyone saved?  “For it is by grace you are saved, through faith.”4 You had to have faith to be saved.  Here’s the catch: You weren’t expected to have that faith except by grace – God’s grace.  His grace made it possible for you to have faith in what the Bible says about Jesus paying the price for all your sins and providing eternal life.  You didn’t understand it fully, yet you believed in faith and received.  You didn’t make John 3:16 true by having faith in it.  Because John 3:16 was already true, you were able to receive salvation, by God’s grace, through faith – not by faith alone.

This is the same way we are to live our lives day in and day out, by God’s grace through faith in His finished work – not through our faith alone to make it work.  Somewhere along the way, however, we tend to lose sight of this foundational Truth, and begin trying to operate in faith without relying on God’s grace for it.  We think we are standing in faith, even using Bible verses; in reality, we hope what we call faith will make it happen.  Unintentionally, we’ve omitted the One Who gives the grace for the faith we need in order to believe it has already been done, regardless of what we see in the natural.

Only when we rely completely on God’s grace do we truly come into agreement, in faith, with whatever part of Christ’s finished work is required for our situation.  Now, we speak with boldness and confidence in God’s Word, no matter how long we must wait for the change to manifest in the natural.  Now, we can rejoice in the fullness of Christ’s victory on the cross for our lives –  when we come not by faith alone, but by grace through faith.

1 1 Peter 2:24
2 Philippians 4:19
3 Proverbs 22:6
4 Ephesians 2:8

That Amazing First Love

Sometimes, it seems like the simplest things in the Bible are the ones I miss.  Is it because of its very simplicity that I think there must be more to it?  The specific “it” to which I refer in this post is what believers in Christ refer to as first love.

For much of my Christian life, when people spoke of their first love experience with Jesus, it was with the understanding that they wanted to return to those feelings of love, and the actions they produced for the Lord.  I felt almost sub-Christian in these conversations.  You see, my salvation experience was so different from what is considered normal, that I didn’t even know I was saved until years after the fact.  During a particularly moving pre-Easter service, more than a decade later, I actually said to the Lord, “I know I am saved, but when did it happen?”  (See my testimony for the rest of that story.)

Revelation 2:4 . . . You have forsaken your first love.

When I received Jesus, I didn’t feel that overwhelming love.  Through the years, as I fellowshipped with believers who referred to that honeymoon period of their first love with the Lord, I felt I had missed out on something.  Did God withhold from me for some reason?  Of course He didn’t, but it took a while for me to know that.  Instead of that initial overpowering experience with His love, I came to know and grow, little-by-little, in the depth and length and height and breadth of it.

All this time, it’s not been about my love for Him, but His love for me.  The more I know the love of God in Christ for me, the more I want to know of His love.  And, the more I know of His love for me, the more I love Him and everyone else.  His love – alone – is the first love.  Isn’t this so wonderfully and amazingly simple?!

1 John 4:19 We love because He first loved us.

Return to Simplicity

It occurs to me, as I ponder questions about how God operates – if He operates in this way or that way, why He doesn’t do this or that, etc. – that I have left the underlying and overriding Truth of salvation.  After all, what has God done in salvation?  He has sent Jesus to earth to take on my sin – past, present, and future – to suffer the excruciating agony of separation from His Father because of my sin, which actually makes the physical suffering pale in comparison (Yes, it does!) – simply so I could be born again into life in eternal relationship with Our Father!

John 3:16 NIV  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

When I simplify the whole Christian life equation, removing all the variables and all the unknowns (possibly never-knowns this side of eternity), my perspective becomes clear once again.  If Jesus would do this for me – and He did; and if Our Father would send Him to suffer for me this way – and He did; why do I insist on getting so caught up in but, what about?  God is fully trustworthy and so unlimited by my limited mind and its understanding!

Proverbs 3:5-6 AMP  5 Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding.  6 In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths.

When I allow myself to focus on the things I don’t or can’t understand, at least for now, I begin to doubt (read this distrust) Him and His goodness, and even His motives.  But God is good!  Period.  He has given His all for all – even if I am the only one who ever received what He gave (and I know I’m not).  And He is trustworthy, even when I don’t understand.  He gave me His Word.  He gave me His Son.  He gave me His very life!

John 10:10 NIV  . . . I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

2 Chronicles 6:41 NIV  Now arise, O Lord God, and come to your resting place, you and the ark of your might.  May your priests, O Lord God, be clothed with salvation, may your saints rejoice in your goodness.

I choose to return to the simplicity of what God has done for me.  He’s given me life.  He’s given me salvation in Jesus Christ.  Praise our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Free!

Galatians 5:1 NIV  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Romans 8:21 NIV  . . . that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

What do we give to the people around us?  Only what we have received.  Have we received the freedom – the glorious freedom – described in these verses?  As believers in Christ, you might be quick to reply, “Of course!”  My observation and my own experience give a very different answer.  It has nothing to do with whether Jesus Christ has given us this glorious freedom, for He has, but whether we have received it in its entirety.

Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV  8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

Oh, yes, we received the gift of eternal life, with the assurance of going to heaven.  This was by God’s grace in our hearts and faith to believe we couldn’t earn it no matter how much we tried.  Somewhere along the way, however, we missed the fullness of this Truth: this is also the only way we are to live our lives in Christ – by grace, through faith.  After salvation, we have worked very hard attempting to do enough or be good enough to deserve what He has already given us freely for this life.  In reality, we have allowed ourselves to be burdened again by a yoke of slavery to the law – we must work to be worthy.  This, my brothers and sisters, is not freedom, and definitely not glorious freedom!

When we live in Christ this way, it is also the way we live toward others, seeking to train them in our ways of the Lord.  But this isn’t what Jesus came to give.  He came to give absolute freedom in Him and in His finished work on the cross, including abundance of the grace of God for every need.  In turn, this freedom and grace is to be given to others who have not yet heard the gospel.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news – but so much better than what our lives have shown it to be to this point!  He came and gave His life, doing all the works and fulfilling all the requirements of the law, by the grace of God in Him, so that we could live in freedom from those requirements.  When we have a life-changing revelation of this Truth, the works we do in this complete and glorious freedom are done in response to His wonderful love and provision of grace – and with a desire to glorify Him and lead others to know Him this way, too.

Matthew 10:8 AMP  . . . Freely (without pay) you have received, freely (without charge) give.

May you be stirred to seek after His freedom beyond what you have known, so that this will be what you give to others – no strings attached!