Surrendered to God’s Grace

“The eyes of both of them were opened” Genesis 3:7

This is the first time any person ever felt guilt. Adam and Eve’s attempt to cover their guilt was futile. Covering for guilt and the ultimate removal of guilt would require the death of a substitute. Guilt caused them to flee God’s presence instead of coming to Him. Guilt still does this to those who are yet to be forgiven. Those who most vehemently oppose God are the one’s sensing guilt the strongest. Their sin is against God and only He can forgive their sin. To remain just, a satisfactory substitute would have to die. Adam had brought about a fundamental change in his being which must die. Only a new creation could allow him into God’s presence again.

With the guilt came conviction of sin for which Adam and Eve had no remedy but to flee God’s presence. This did nothing to diminish the conviction or remove guilt. Instead of desiring God’s presence they wanted to hide from Him. People who have believed Satan’s lie still prefer to hide from God.

We observe here that God pursued Adam and Eve until He caught up with them. He then gave them opportunity to have a change of heart which they eventually accepted. First they played the blame game. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent but in reality they were both blaming God. This characteristic of fallen people can be readily observed in all spheres of society throughout history and is still very evident today. It is, we accuse, always someone else’s fault!

When they eventually surrendered to the grace of God, God clothed them in animal skins thus picturing the means by which they and all who choose to believe what God has said will be saved. God is still in pursuit of people but sadly most will not heed His words of love, grace and forgiveness. Don’t be among them but be among those who humbly acknowledge their sin against God, turn to face Him and receive His gift of forgiveness. Paul wrote, “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

One who has received the gift of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ will not run away from God when they sin. Having experienced His forgiveness before, they will return to Him whenever they are aware of sin (1 John 1:9). This is a mark of one who has truly chosen to reject Satan’s lie and believe what God has said.

Stewards of Grace

“As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. … that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 4:10,11

It has been said that each person should find out what they love doing and then find someone to pay them to do it. From a worldly perspective that seems like a good idea. For the Christian it is a little different. We are to discover what spiritual gifting God has given us and then develop it by use. In doing this we will discover that we love expressing the gift given and in the process bring glory to God. That doesn’t mean it will be without cost and hardship.

I have been asked by family members what I would like as a birthday gift and then they may choose from the items mentioned. The Bible reveals that we don’t get that choice. Each one’s spiritual gifting is at the sovereign will of God. Keep in mind that it is a gift not a reward.

Peter, the last New Testament writer to mention spiritual gifting writes that spiritual gifting is for the benefit of the whole body of Christ. Each one is to “minister it to one another.” Such gifting is not for the purpose of boasting in ourselves. That is pride and we know the origin of pride (Ezekiel 28). Spiritual gifting is not a reward for service but it is divine ability in stewardship to serve others. We will give account at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:12-15) as to how faithfully we performed this stewardship.

Spiritual gifting is an expression of the Divine attributes of Jesus Christ and leave no room for pride or boasting on our part. The exercise of spiritual gifting is all to the glory of God. As Paul wrote, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Paul and the other apostles all had spiritual gifting but exercised them for the benefit of the church and not for personal benefit. Often they paid a considerable price to enact this stewardship.

Peter writes, “… be clothed with humility” followed by, “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:5, 6). If anyone boasts with regard to spiritual gifting it reveals that they are out of fellowship with Jesus Christ and speaking on behalf of Satan. Of all people, Peter knew what it was to be humbled by God and he became a good steward of the grace gift that God had given to the church through him.

Pursue Love

“So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken?” 1 Corinthians 14:9

This chapter begins with the words, “Pursue love” and follows a chapter describing the characteristics of God’s kind of love. This in turn follows a chapter describing the nature and purpose of spiritual gifting to the church through members of Christ’s body.

The Corinthian church regarded spiritual gifts as a thing of which to boast as if they merited the gift. Further to this they argued that their particular gift was better or more important than others. The focus was on exalting themselves in the eyes of others. There is no shortage of such people today and, unfortunately, we contribute to their pride when we idolise them.

Pursuing love is described by Paul in this chapter. It means to develop and exercise our spiritual gifting in order to edify other members of Christ’s church. This is accomplished through communicating understanding of God and His word in a language easily understood by the hearers. The key words in this chapter are edification and understanding. Rather than attempting to proclaim Christ in a language his hearers did not understand Paul writes that in the church he would rather speak five words with understanding than ten thousand words in a language not easily understood (v 19).

Love will demand that we minister to others and that means building up, strengthening and encouraging other believers. Apparently a spirit of pride had overtaken the Corinthian church and self exaltation had erroneously become recognised as a spiritual blessing. Paul corrected this attitude to spiritual gifts when he wrote, “Since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel” (v 12). This is love in action.

To other Christians Paul described the difference between the spirit of manipulation and the spirit of ministry. “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit.” That would be manipulation of others to serve one’s own pride. “But in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” This is the right attitude of mind. “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” This is ministry to others out of love (Philippians 2:3-4). In the same chapter, commending Timothy for this right attitude and ministry, he comments of others, “For all seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ” (v 21).

Paul gives to the Corinthian church, and to us, the principle to be applied, “Let all things be done for edification” (v 26).  He concludes his letter by writing, “Let all that you do be done with love” (16:14). That is how we pursue love.

Approved Approach

“I did not even think myself worthy to come to You” Luke 7:7

These are the words of a Roman centurion, a Gentile. It is not the kind of words one would expect from a man who is used to throwing his authority around and expecting people to look up to him with a measure of fear. Something had happened to this man that changed his attitude and behaviour toward others, especially toward Jews.

When he heard that Jesus, a Jew, was approaching his town he sent Jewish synagogue leaders to Jesus pleading for Him to heal his servant. It would appear that they did not represent him faithfully. On his behalf they presented him as one worthy who merited Jesus’ power to heal. Their appeal, typical of Israel at the time and most Gentiles then and now, was on the basis of good works and merit.

As Jesus came even nearer to his town, without response, the centurion sent friends who were faithful to the centurion’s words. They repeated his words, “I am not worthy … I did not even think myself worthy to come to You.” He knew that Jesus came in the authority of God (v 8) and he knew that while God is holy he was a sinner and unworthy of His presence.

The people following Jesus in Capernaum at the time were most likely all Jews and He took the opportunity to point out the contrasting means of approach to Him by saying, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel” (v 9). The leaders of the synagogue had sought Jesus’ favour on merit but the centurion sought Jesus’ favour on mercy and grace. We can readily see to which Jesus responded and approved.

Historically this is how Israel has generally approached favour with God but they are not alone in this. Most religions of the world, even some claiming to be Christian, come to Jesus like the synagogue leaders, on the basis of merit or partial merit. Therefore, thinking they deserve God’s favour, they praise themselves and not God and they are unthankful toward God. After all, they did not receive a gift, in their eyes they received a payment for works done.

Of the ten cleansed lepers recorded in Luke 17:11-19 only one returned to give thanks to Jesus for healing him. The other nine thought they deserved His favour and that their healing was merited. They saw no reason to thank Jesus. Only one knew that he was unworthy and was therefore thankful.

If we do not continually have thankful hearts to the Lord it is because in some way we think we deserve His favour. At those times we are like the synagogue leaders who presented the centurion’s case to Jesus and the nine unthankful cleansed lepers. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:32). This centurion was not worthy to come into Christ’s presence and he knew it but he is just the kind of person who Jesus is calling to Himself.

Seduced by Pride

“The king was greatly displeased with himself” Daniel 6:14

There will be times when we are displeased with ourselves – but will we seek out the root cause of those words or actions that brought about that displeasure? It is a lot easier to blame someone else, or sulk and have a period of depression until it becomes a distant and faint memory.

King Darius had brought about the downfall of the Babylonian empire. He attributed this to his own might and military wisdom. He established a new leadership consisting of people from the nations that the king of Babylon had conquered. He also attributed this to his own political wisdom.

Daniel was given the highest position in this new order but others were jealous of him. Since they could find no legitimate fault to present to the king they devised a way of creating a case for Daniel’s death. They appealed to King Darius’ pride. Their flattery found its mark in a proud heart.

Daniel had “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself” (1:8) and he would not waver from worshipping the one true God even under threat of death. The other governors, by appealing to the king’s pride, manipulated him into signing a decree that he alone should be worshipped as if he were God for thirty days. Flattery turned the king’s head so that he did not look at the consequences of his action.

Daniel was not moved by the decree. He knew the one true God and, like his friends (chapter three), he would not be persuaded or seduced into worshipping other than the Lord.

If we allow pride to have a toehold we will be vulnerable to being deceived and manipulated by others. We do need to encourage one another, but we also need to be able to discern between genuine encouragement and flattery. We also need to guard our hearts that we don’t allow even genuine encouragement to feed pride.

At the time of his seduction King Darius was not aware that it was the Lord who gave him the victory and the wisdom in establishing his rule. The Lord’s plan was for Daniel to be in the lions’ den as a means to open the eyes of king Darius. The moment in time was right because King Darius “was greatly displeased with himself” and was in a place of humility and repentance. As much as he tried he could not undo what he had done and this brought on a sleepless night of anguish. He did not try and blame someone else although he had that opportunity. He had been seduced by the leaders he had appointed and he knew that he alone was responsible for the pride in his heart.

After Daniel was safely delivered King Darius wrote, “I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel. For He is the living God and steadfast forever” (6:26).

In this one event King Darius was saved eternally, Daniel was delivered and Israel preserved in exile in readiness for their return (9:2).

Receptive to Correction

“Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you” 2 Samuel 7:3

The prophet Nathan was well aware of the way David became king of Israel. Samuel had anointed him as Saul’s successor years earlier and the Lord had preserved David through many and varied attacks on his life. It seemed that almost everyone was placing obstacles in the way of him becoming king. On occasions David seemed to act with prudence and wisdom and at other times he acted very much at a carnal level.

On this occasion, as on many others, David chose to inquire of the Lord so he expressed his desire to build a permanent structure, in which the Lord could dwell, to the prophet Nathan. He had built a great house for himself and he now saw the inequity of the Lord dwelling in a tent or tabernacle.

Nathan’s response to David was not unlike the way we might sometimes respond. Since the Lord had done much to get David to the throne of Israel it was obvious that the Lord was with him. Nathan assumed that because the Lord had demonstrably been with David that He was also with him in this desire. Without inquiring of the Lord he presumptuously told David, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.” In this he misled David and would need to be corrected. The Lord would not allow David to build Him a house and Nathan had to go back to David with a correction to his previous consent.

Have there been times when we have given counsel or approved something on the basis that the Lord has blessed that person in the past rather than inquiring afresh of the Lord? Perhaps we have even presumed that because the Lord has been with us in the past that we can go ahead with our desire without inquiry.

Nathan was a faithful prophet who was later used of God in bringing David to repentance and confession of sin (chapter 12) but here he made an assumption without first inquiring of the Lord. It appears that he was not rebuked but corrected. Because he was humble before the Lord he was receptive to correction and to putting things right. Such a spirit became the Lord’s opportunity to reveal His plan and purpose regarding David’s Seed. The ensuing covenant is a huge part of our celebration each Christmas (vv 12-16).

It may well be prudent for us to evaluate our way and walk with Jesus to see if there is any need for us to be corrected in a similar way. A close and personal walk with Jesus is the only means of prevention for being presumptuous. But if we do make this mistake a humble heart and teachable spirit, like that of the prophet Nathan, will allow Jesus to correct us without rebuke.

Free to Serve

“Let My people go that they may serve Me” Exodus 8:1

The Lord commanded Moses to speak this to Pharaoh on several occasions until Pharaoh eventually capitulated. While the events in Exodus were specific to Israel these same words of the Lord may be spoken to those who, like Pharaoh, enslave God’s people by false teaching.

Jesus said. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). The truth here is the truth of the Gospel of Christ not merely a person telling the truth. The world has high-jacked this phrase and applied it incorrectly. When a person knows the truth about Jesus Christ and the Bible they will be less likely to be captivated by false teaching.

Any religion that holds people in captivity is false by Jesus’ definition. Religions that say a person must belong to their organisation, obey their rules and perform in accordance with their traditions or rituals in order to gain God’s favour or heaven are liars and deceivers.

Unfortunately many Christians become enslaved to false teaching because they do not know or have not believed the truth revealed in God’s word. It appeals to our fallen nature to have a set of rules and a religious format or program to follow because that lends itself to pride. It gives us something to boast about. Instead of relying on Jesus Christ’s finished redemption we are inclined to want to take some credit for ourselves. When we do, we are in bondage whether we realise it or not. Pride says, “Look what I have done for Christ.” Humility says, “Look what Christ has done.”

It is a delight to reveal the truth to people who are tired of being enslaved in religious and legalistic bondage and see them set at liberty by God’s word. The legalist will hate this because it hurts his self image and he will have nothing of which to boast. He gives only lip-service to the words of Paul in Galatians 6:14; “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.”

When people are set free from bondage the control the legalist loved to have over them to his set of rules will be lost. The adoration and affirmation of his followers that he craves will also be lost.

The truth of the Gospel makes people free of this form of slavery so they may enter the place of trusting Jesus Christ only. The Lord is still seeking people who will follow Moses example and be His messengers to deliver others who are in bondage to false teaching so that they can worship and serve Christ freely.