My church just finished studying Galatians, which is one of my favorite books, It makes it clear that salvation is through grace and found only in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross. It also tells us that anything we add to the gospel nullifies God's grace. Paul wrote this epistle to a church dealing with people who were adding things of the Jewish law to the gospel. They had trusted Christ to be their Savior when Paul was there, but when he left, they slid back into thinking they had to do something to keep God's love and merit HIs continued grace. They didn't grasp the truth that grace earned isn't grace at all.
Maybe the Galatians distorted the gospel so living out their faith would feel more familiar. The rules and rituals that had previously guided them when they sinned or when they wanted to be blessed by God were more comfortable than sitting in His grace experiencing conviction and sorrow caused by sin. They no longer had a way to numb this discomfort when they didn't work for mercy or ease their guilt through legalistic actions. Somehow they had not grasped that their Salvation had resulted in a relationship with God and the way of restoration for current sin was now a relational matter that was repaired through confession.
When I volunteered as a youth worker, I went on short-term mission trips with students. While on these trips the level of commitment and understanding of grace was thrilling to see. However, as students returned home, some returned to their old ways of life because they didn't know how to navigate relationships in light of the grace they had experienced, the new or renewed relationship they had with God, or the stickiness of the new moral compass God brought into their lives, but not their friends. Others seemed to grasp the grace of God on trips only to fall right back into legalistic, judgmental ways that stripped them of the joy they had experienced. Still others became so legalistic with themselves they were drowning in shame over sin committed after trips. Those had a hard time believing God could forgive them again and again and again. As some grew more legalistic, others left wounded by the legalism. I think these experiences were similar to what the Galatians were experiencing.
Sometimes in our zeal to mature believers, we become like the Galatians and we add regulations to the gospel so people in our church look like saved people should look. When they don't, we judge them as "probably not saved" while claiming we believe salvation is only though through Jesus. The problem is that different people and different churches have differing views on what "saved" looks like. A change in church can result in needless questioning of one's salvation. The problem is that any effort we put on people to look and act a certain way nullifies God's grace and fosters pride instead of growth. This judgment can discourage those who are struggling because they came to the Lord more wounded and broken than you or I. Who are we to decide what saved looks like in a given moment?
Sometimes we present grace as a doctrine that allows us to overlook sin and its consequences. Many are living in broken relationships because instead of dealing with the sin, we tell people to forgive and forget, forcing them to reconcile with those who aren't repentant. There are some who in the name of grace even redefine sin so it doesn't have to be dealt with. For example, when a wife reveals her spouse is in bondage to porn and is told to give him more sex so he doesn't need to fill his "need" with porn we have redefined his sin as a need. This "grace" is toxic and leaves people who aren't repentant demanding grace. And grace demanded is nothing more than an invitation to enter a sick system that is in denial of sin.
The Bible tells us local churches have goats mixed with their sheep, tares mixed with their wheat, white washed "tombs" that look clean and bright, and wolves wearing sheep clothing. We may or may not be able to discern which is which and in our effort to make sure we all look good we preach grace while making snap judgements that classify people into "true believer groups" and "those who probably aren't really saved groups." The problem with this is that how we look on the outside is often influenced by how we were raised. A moral person may look saved, but never have face the sin in his life or the fact that he needs a Savior. When one has grown up in the church, he may have the church lingo down and never reflect personally on what he believes about sin, Jesus, His death, and His resurrection. When we get to heaven, there will be some we thought were saved, but weren't because they were self-righteousness people who never tasted God's grace. Then there will be others whose lives were messy and who struggled daily with sin who are dancing in glory because they placed their faith fully in Jesus and His complete work on the cross.
I think when we err on either side--the legalism mixed with grace side or the "feel-good grace of denial" side, we do great damage to people, to the church, and to our relationship with God. When we err it could be that we have forgotten God believes in discipline. He wants us to discipline ourselves--that discipline meaning training. When the flesh wants to sin, He wants us to discipline ourselves so we can resist sin. A disciplined life is a proactive life. It is proactively spending time with God in His word and praying over it. It is proactively fellowshipping with others so we have a natural iron sharpening iron process in place that is mixed with encouragement. It is proactively sitting through the angst of temptation, choosing to delay fleshly gratification, keeping our eyes on Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith.
The Bible also makes it clear that God, Himself, is a disciplinarian who disciplines those He loves and calls His own. We don't always understand and embrace this concept, but can gain insight by looking at our own parenting. First, we instruct our children. God does this through his Word. It tells us how to live and that we have the Spirit who will help us to remember what we learn and will empower us in our weakness to live lives worthy of His calling. We must be humble and acknowledge our weaknesses and our dependence on God to experience His strength.
Second, as parents we know our children don't like the pain of broken fellowship with us. They feel convicted and either run away from us or run toward us, desperately wanting to experience our love in the distress of their guilt. The same is true for us as we read His Word and gain knowledge. With that knowledge comes feelings of conviction and grief and the discomfort of these feelings is God's discipline as that discomfort motivates us to change when we don't deaden the discomfort through denial or legalism.
Third, good parents safely allow their children to bear the consequences for their actions so that they learn their choices either bring good or bad into their lives. Likewise, God disciplines us by allowing us to bear consequences for our sin. A man may want to blame God when he loses his job, but the truth is God graciously lets him face the consequences for bad behavior or unacceptable work ethic so he will grow and change. A young lady might blame God for her out of wedlock pregnancy when God allows her to face the consequences for choosing to have sex outside of marriage. God doesn't desert people in these kinds of situations, He graciously walks them through them just like we do our children.
Fourth, there are times when parent's have to take desperate measures to get between their child and the destructive path they are on. God does this through church discipline that He lays out in His Word. When we see each another person we care about practicing sin, we are to confront them in a loving way. If that doesn't draw them back to the light, we are to confront them again with a witness. If that fails, we are to engage the church leadership and the body, the goal never being to shame but to invite one back to the light. This kind of discipline is hard to do right, because it requires we be involved in a church and choose to do life together. It also requires honesty, humility, and a vulnerability that very few are comfortable with. I think sometimes we could head off huge moral failures had we confronted early on. One pastor shared in a sermon that he was having lunch with a believing friend and noticed him ogling every woman that walked past him. He asked about his walk with the Lord and his relationship with his wife and the guy claimed both were stellar. So, he gently pointed out what he had observed. His early invention saved the man from big sin that would have devastated his wife, kids and church.
God's discipline can be very uncomfortable, but it is never a punishment for sin. It's purpose is for our good so we might share in His holiness. That is grace! God wants us to be not only free from the penalty of sin, but from the power of it as well. It shows He values our relationship with Him and does what ever He needs to do to protect it. Oh, that we would not only fully trust in the finished work of Jesus, but embrace all aspects of His grace, including the grace of discipline.
Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!