Should I marry this person? What career should I pursue? Should I change jobs? Should I move from here to there? These questions, and many others, are important life decisions. As Christians, we desire to know God’s will for our lives because we want to obey God and to not do our own thing. However, this desire mixed with bad theology and bad teaching causes many Christians to be frustrated and confused when it comes to making decisions. In this video I share how we can make important life decisions with great confidence, even when these decisions don’t work out how we hoped or expected. Please share your questions or comments in the comments section. Grace and peace.
WARNING! Hyper-grace makes Christians lazy. Hyper-grace leads to Christians-gone-wild living. Hyper-grace gives Christians license to sin.
What is hyper-grace? Hyper-grace is too much grace. Hyper-grace is excessive grace. Grace is good, but too much grace is a problem. Grace needs to be balanced; all in moderation.
But, think about it, isn’t the nature of God’s grace hyper?
• The thing about God the Creator coming to earth as one of His creations seems a bit much.
• Or the one about God loving us in spite of our rebellion and our lack of desire for Him seems over-the-top.
• Or the one about sinless Jesus becoming sin for us and hanging on the cross as a cursed man seems out of control.
• Then there’s our receiving God’s absolution and Christ’s righteousness by no effort or contribution of our own – crazy!
• Or the thing that all is finished and that by God’s grace we are justified and sanctified seems overboard.
• Or what about the stuff about resurrection? That Jesus’ Resurrection is a precursor to our resurrection is totally extreme.
The point being, why would we want grace to be anything other than hyper?
So, what happens when grace isn’t hyper?
Here are some thoughts:
When grace isn’t hyper God’s Law is softened and reduced to exhortations and principles that are keys to unlock God’s favor on your life.
People are left with the impression that God’s Law is a set of life hacks rather than God’s exacting standard of perfection that he requires from everyone. In other words, if God’s Law is life principles, then God’s grace doesn’t need to be hyper. Jesus didn’t need to die to get you to the next level in your life; many are excelling in life without God.
But when grace is hyper, God’s Law is held in its rightful place as God’s righteous standard we are required to meet 100%, 24/7. In turn, we see our failure to live up to the standard (close doesn’t count). But when we see God’s excessive grace toward us in spite of our sin, His kindness leads us to repentance. We trust in Jesus’ perfect obedience to the Law for us, we trust in the imputation of Jesus’ righteousness to us, and we trust that God’s love and presence is forever with us.
When grace isn’t hyper God’s Law becomes a pathway to get and keep God rather than a guideway to enjoy God.
When grace isn’t hyper, it’s all on your obedience to God’s Law to get you to God. So week after week people hear messages about how they can keep God’s love, remain in God’s favor, trigger God’s blessing, etc. “Do this and you get more of God,” we are promised. “God did his part, now He’s waiting for you to do your part,” we are exhorted. “Look at all that God did for you, the least you could do is this,” we are guilted.
But when grace is hyper, we know that because of Christ’s obedience to God’s Law for us, we have God fully and completely – forever. Now, in the confidence and security that we can never lose God, God’s Law becomes His gracious guidance that show us how we enjoy God and live to His glory. Grace never gets rid of obedience, it empowers it.
When grace isn’t hyper we become insecure and selfish.
Confronted every Sunday with the weight of biblical commands, imperatives, and exhortations as a way to keep God in their lives, people are left wondering if their obedience is good enough. This insecurity leads to selfishness because when left wondering if their obedience is enough for God, there’s no way to truly worship God and serve others; the person’s focus will always be on himself, either in despair or self-righteousness.
But when grace is hyper, we rest in confident assurance that Christ’s obedience on our behalf was good enough for God. Now our good works are no longer about us; they truly become about others. But if I’m loving you because I want to keep God’s favor in my life, then I’m loving you for me.
When grace isn’t hyper we confuse evangelism with pragmatism.
Instead of proclaiming good news, we proclaim good suggestions. As alluded to above, sermons become life hacks and inspirational teachings that tell you how to get to the next level in your life. Jesus is mentioned and Scripture is quoted, but they are only there as helpmates to give you a leg-up in life. No doubt, these are practical and good suggestions. Heck, you don’t even need to be a Christian to follow them.
But when grace is hyper, we realize we don’t need good suggestions, we need good news. We realize our biggest problem isn’t finding our destiny, it’s our sin that got us death. We crave the announcement of good news that there’s nothing we did to get God’s love, and there’s nothing we can do to lose God’s love. We gather every Sunday, not to learn anything new, but to be nourished once again with the ancient gospel of grace. When grace is hyper, one can’t help but to be evangelistic.
Thank God His grace is hyper because my sin needs His grace to be hyper.
Thank God His grace abounds toward me like a tidal wave rather than a trickle.
Thank God His grace is a hurricane rather than a wisp of air.
Thank God His grace is excessive, over the top, crazy, overboard, and extreme.
Thank God His grace is never less than hyper.
This is Good News!
“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.”
1 John 5:4 (ESV)
Ok, admittedly this blog’s title is click-bait (but aren’t all titles?). In any case, I also admit these kinds of titles appeal to something in me that wants five easy steps. I like principles and techniques, especially when they are condensed to catchy phrases in a bulleted list.
When John says that we overcome the world, like Pavlov’s dog, I salivate for a to-do list.
Tell me how to overcome! Boil it down for me. Give it to me in scannable, bite-size pieces. I don’t have time to read a whole blog post, especially because I need to scan another blog post on 7 ways to write a better blog post.
Look, tips and principles are not wrong. In fact, there are biblical principles that are good and true. However, blogs, books, and sermons that primarily “principalize” the bible miss the message of the bible.
So, since I like lists (especially lists with bullets), here’s a list on how we miss the message of the bible if we principalize 1 John 5:4:
8 things we miss if we “principalize” overcoming the world:
- We miss that it’s not even us that does the overcoming in the first place. Jesus is the one who overcomes the world.
- We miss that we contributed nothing to this victory. Just like a baby contributes nothing to its birth, we contribute nothing to our birth into God’s family. And because we are God’s children, all that belongs to the Son belongs to us, including Jesus’ victory.
- We miss that it’s not our muscular, robust faith that got us this victory. It’s our faith in Christ’s perfect obedience and death that gets us this victory. Now, his victory is our victory.
- We miss that life in Christ is a posture of rest because Christ accomplished the to-do list, not us. It is finished.
- We miss that overcoming the world means we are saved from a worldliness that believes and behaves that this world is all that there is.
- We miss seeing the beautiful hope we have that the day is coming when we overcome the world finally and completely as citizens of the new heaven/new earth.
- We miss that in spite of the world’s attempts to kill, criminalize, and/or marginalize Christianity, the Church will survive. All countries and kingdoms will fall, but God’s people will be the ones to remain. And it has nothing to do with our adherence to tips and principles, and it has everything to do with God’s grace, power, and faithfulness to help his people persevere to the end.
- We miss that God’s commands to love him and to love our neighbor is God’s invitation to enjoy our victory in Christ right now, at this very moment.
Reducing the bible to tips and principals boils out the amazing acts of God to rescue and redeem his people from slavery to sin, and to graciously and faithfully care for and sustain his people in this life as he leads them to their final resting place in the new heaven/new earth.
At its core, principalizing the bible makes the bible all about us and what we’re supposed to do rather than the bible being all about God and what he has done.
And while these lists are catchy and increase blog traffic, they ultimately drop our gaze onto ourselves and subtly appeal to our inner Pharisee to trust in our ability to implement tips and techniques.
Of course, there are instructions and commands given to us in the bible. But these are not principles and keys that unlock a more victorious life. Instead, God’s commands are how he graciously guides us to live in the victory that we already have.
So, when we read that we have overcome the world, we shouldn’t be looking for how-to’s, we should be believing and declaring that it is done! In Christ, the how has been done. You are unhitched from the anchor of principalized to-do lists. It is finished.
Lists produce exhaustion.
The gospel gives you rest.
This is Good News.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18a (ESV)
Instead of calming our fears, the verse seems to create them; rather than breathing a sigh of relief after reading this verse, we wonder if it’s really true.
What I mean is how can fear be cast out when it’s part of the human experience?
On the psychological level there’s a myriad of phobias that people battle everyday, from spiders, to flying, to darkness. On a circumstantial level there’s fear caused by politics, the economy, disease, our kids, the future, the unknown. Fear is with us on many, many levels.
Rather than being an evicted tenant, fear seems like it’s here to stay.
At this point, some may be saying:
• You gotta meet fear with faith!
• Where’s your faith, bro?
• The opposite of fear is faith!
Okaaaaaay, thank you for the Christian t-shirt-slogan pep talk, but let’s notice something: John never says it’s my robust, muscular faith that casts out fear. He says perfect love casts out fear. And if we look at the two verses prior, we will see that it’s not even about our perfect love.
Verse 17 says, “By this is love perfected with us…”, and verse 16 tells us what “this” is: “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
In other words, God abides in you, and since God is love, his love abides in you perfectly (completely). You have 100% of God’s love fully and completely. He didn’t put down 50% of his love and then promise to make payments over time depending on how well you do. Nope, you got it all, right now, and you can’t lose it.
The implications of this are huge! John says, since this love is perfected in you, “we may have confidence for the day of judgment…for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (vv.17, 18)
Here’s the thing, the only people who have confidence standing before a judge are innocent people. Guilty people have no confidence; they are fearful, because the evidence is stacked against them.
Saying that God’s love is perfected in you isn’t simply a warm-n-fuzzy sentiment. God’s love was demonstrated on a bloody cross where God the Son took on himself all our guilt and punishment. That’s the perfect love of God that abides in you perfectly.
Because all guilt and punishment was placed on Jesus Christ, we can stand before God on judgement day with confidence, not fear. Perfect love casts out fear.
And since the greatest threat of God’s judgment has been removed, we don’t need to muscle our way through our smaller,earthly fears, wondering if our faith is big enough or strong enough.
Rather, we rest in God’s perfect love. Punishment has been removed, so fear is gone.
And because we have this confidence…
- We can boldly approach God’s throne of grace with all our earthly fears and anxieties, and we will receive mercy and grace to find help in our times of need.
- We can cast all our earthly fears and worries on God because he cares for you.
- We can go to God in prayer in spite of our anxious hearts and there we find Christ once again offering his daily peace and protection.
- Even when our faith is small and the worries of this world seem overwhelming, God graciously and patiently offers himself by giving us his righteousness, by putting us in his kingdom, and by caring for us as our Good King.
- We can even seek professional attention for debilitating phobias because advancements in medicine and science are ways God cares for us. And in the brokenness of our minds and bodies, we are lovingly directed deeper into the gracious abiding love of the Father that guarantees that all things broken will be made new.
Perfect love produces confidence, not fear. And when your confidence is in the perfect, ever-abiding love of God that is yours now and forever, you rest because conquering fear is not on you; instead it was done for you.
This is Good News.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie Rain Man is when Ray (Rain Man) and his brother, Charlie, go to Vegas and win big at the blackjack table. Ray’s mathematical genius, trapped in an autistic mind, is able to count a seven-deck chute and accurately calculate his odds of hitting 21, or busting. In the movie, they hit often, and they hit big.
Without getting into the nuances of the game, blackjack is fairly simple: if your cards total 21 you win, if your cards exceed 21 you’re bust. Of course, hitting 21 means you win money; busting means you lose money.
It occurred to me that Christians often see God as a blackjack dealer. We see God as having a big stack of love and favor – like casino chips – that he distributes when we hit 21. For example, we hit 21 if we do certain things like have devotions, go to a small group, invite a friend to church, resist temptation, help someone in need, etc. And like a casino dealer, God is compelled to give us his love and favor chips because that’s the rules of the game.
Now, I realize that we don’t view God’s love in a purely transactional way, i.e. we do, he gives. I think most would agree that God loves us unconditionally, at least in the beginning. However, there is a sense that if we play our cards right, God bestows on us more love and favor. In other words, we say, “of course God loves us, but there’s more to be had.”
But then if God is giving out love and favor chips when we hit 21, then the opposite must be true also. When we bust and don’t do the things that get us to 21, then God takes back his chips. It’s not that God now hates us, it’s just that God doesn’t love us as much as he could. God is more so tolerating us like an annoying friend or co-worker.
The problem with “blackjack” theology is it confuses the means of God’s grace with the evidence of God’s grace. “Blackjack” theology makes the evidence the means.
This leads us to believe that our obedience gets us God’s love, and keeps us in God’s love (we hit 21). Therefore, the opposite must also be true: our disobedience causes us to lose God’s love (we go bust). You see, we make the evidence (our obedience) the means, or the way, we get and keep God’s love.
“Blackjack” theology turns the gospel upside down, or puts the cart before the horse. The gospel tells us that God loves us. Period. Full stop. The gospel tells us that there is nothing that we did to initiate God’s love for us, and that there is nothing we can do to remove God’s love from us.
To demonstrate this love, God the Father sends God the Son to die, not for repentant people, not for obedient people, not for sorrowful people, but for sinful people (Romans 5:8). And since this was God’s rescue plan before time began, we have a deep assurance that God won’t back off of his plan as soon as we go bust.
It’s good news that God’s abiding love isn’t dependent on my obedience. God’s love abides in me and is perfected in me, not because I obey, but because I am united by faith to the One who obeyed perfectly for me.
That God’s love is perfect in me means it is complete, 100% in effect. It means there are no more chips to be won because they were won for me at the cross.
This also means we can live to the glory of God who loved us before time began. We can love God and neighbor, not as a means for God’s love, but as evidence of God’s love.
Further, we can rest and abide in God’s love because his abiding love won’t pick up and go the moment we have a bad week. No, the love of God that got you, is the same love that keeps you, and holds on to you, and is with you. Right now. And forever.
Period. Full stop.
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1 (ESV)
At Grace City Church we are preaching through the book of 1 John. Here are some thoughts from this past Sunday’s message on “Testing the spirits”:
- False prophets and false teachers are not only an ancient problem; they exist today.
- We test the spirits by examining what is being said, not how it’s being said. Listen to the content of the message not the style of the message. Humor, story-telling, voice inflection are part of oratory, but that’s not what is primary.
And what is that one question? It’s WWJD, of course!
If you were around Christianity during the 90’s you certainly would know that WWJD stands for What Would Jesus Do?. You may have even owned the ubiquitous WWJD wrist band at one point.
Asking yourself What Would Jesus Do was a reminder to follow the example of Jesus in whatever situation you found yourself. This was especially helpful if you were in a moral or ethical dilemma.
So how did asking WWJD change the world? (more…)