Nov. 2, 2016: Standing in the Spotlight of God's Grace
In a time when we as a church family are praying that more and more people would receive the grace of God, it is possible that, strangely, you may feel that you are going backward in your own walk with God – that certain things that you were sure you had overcome have come back into your life and there are even perhaps a few things that you are beginning to recognize as contrary to God’s best for you. I want to suggest to you that this is not your “going backward” but this is actually all about the answer to our prayers for more of God’s grace.
Let me begin (with thanks to Fleming Rutledge’s masterpiece, The Crucifixion) by talking about the nature of sin. Sin is a verb. It is something that we perform or engage in. Paul reminds us, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). But sin is also a noun. It's a dominion under which humanity exists. Paul also wrote, “Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin…” (Romans 3:9). Sin is, therefore, not so much a collection of individual misdeeds but an active, malevolent agency bent on the undoing of God’s purposes in the world and in our lives. As Rutledge points out, “Our misdeeds are the signs of that agency at work; they are not the thing itself.” Sin is not something we merely commit; it is something that we are in. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34). As slaves, we are, therefore, in need of deliverance: to be liberated by a greater power.
The New Testament states unequivocally that Jesus Christ came and died as an atoning sacrifice for our sins and for the overcoming of the dominion sin. (Colossians 2:13-15). So how shall I respond to such a grace?
First, may I suggest that we need to understand that we are in the middle of a very large battle. There are two natures at work in every follower of Jesus and they are in daily conflict with each other:
1) the Spirit: the renewed Christian heart, made new by the Holy Spirit; and
2) the sinful nature (“the flesh”): not the physical part of us, but the aspect of our heart which is not yet renewed by (or yielded to) Jesus’ Spirit.
Paul stated this plainly, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other...” (Galatians 5:17).
This very large battle is one that I cannot win in my own strength. Although my will is necessary, my will alone is not sufficient to overcome this battle. Here again is Paul: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:18-20).
Second, to the very best of my own efforts, I am invited by God to respond to His grace and release my attachment to my own strong desires that lead me away from God. This process has a lot to do with humility. I am humbled by the fact that God’s grace pursues me, notwithstanding the fact that my collusion with sin is ultimately against Him. David leads the way. He writes, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you [God], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” (Psalm 51:3). But as we recognize our guilt we find that we are already standing within God’s grace. So within the same prayer that confesses his complicity, David is also able to affirm the mercy and steadfast love of God, “Have mercy on me, God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” (Psalm 51:1).
So, standing humbly in the spotlight of God’s grace, I do the very best I can, in the moment, to release my sins. What can I do to turn off the sirens in my life? How can I bring my will to bear upon this release? You may be thinking, “You just said I couldn’t win this battle on my own so how can my feeble attempts to release these desires be helpful in a battle that I am powerless to win by myself?” Well, this is “loaves and fishes” territory. How could five loaves and two fish feed a hungry crowd of thousands? In Jesus’ hands, somehow they did. We are powerless to win by ourselves, but standing in the grace of God, we are supernaturally empowered. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the way has been made for us to recognize our very real need of His deliverance and to accept His mercy.
This is why our current befuddlement with a renewed sense of the operation of sin in our lives is, in reality, an answer to our prayer for more grace. Only by the light of His grace can we recognize the power of sin lodged within us. Rutledge concludes, “The grace of God prepares the way for the confession of sin, it is present in the confession and even before the confession is made has already worked the restoration of which confession is not the cause but the sign.”