Pastor's Blog

I Am Saved and Live THROUGH Faith Alone

"Faith Alone" gets a bad wrap. At least, I think it does.

Images of shyster preachers in shiny polyester, hair groomed about a decade beyond acceptable, sweat shining on their foreheads as they work up a lather: "If you ... uh ... buh-leeve! If you buh-leeve!" 

And that image seems paired with another, even more depressing. Desperate people in great distress: perhaps poverty, perhaps disease, perhaps anguishing family crisis. They have gathered at the feet of the shyster. They seem to hope if they will just say, "I buh-leeve! I buh-leeve!" with enough summoned intensity that dawn will break over their darkness. Riches will come. Health will return. Families will heal.

Of course, the two images presented above are caricatures. Theatrical absurdities. Such calls to faith and such cries of faith do happen but they are in the minority.

The shyster preacher does not represent the historic call to Christian faith. For every snake-oil salesman, church history could supply hundreds, if not thousands, of humble pastors who thoughtfully and winsomely called people to Christ. 

The desperate, oh-so-easily manipulated listener is not indicative of those who, down through millennia, have believed. The wide net of the gospel has gathered many, many ... many different types of believers, from all strata of society, holding all shapes and sizes of needs and/or questions and/or doubts. 

But those bad images stick, don't they? As though the whole notion of "faith in Christ for salvation from sin" is a hoax propounded by the unscrupulous and accepted by the unthinking. And if the whole idea, itself, is a pig-in-a-poke then its not hard to dismiss it. No such thing as sin. No such thing as any need for salvation. "Run along and take your gospel to the blithering idiots who seem to believe they would need such a charade."

Oh, I bristle at the powerful work of the evil one. How he does blind the eyes of the lost!

Does any person doubt something is broken in the people of the world? In spite of historians we keep on repeating the same tragedies, killing ourselves in the same wars. In spite of teachers and philosophers we can't seem to educate ourselves out of deceit, or greed; can't seem to cultivate an enduring culture of compassion, or mercy, or generosity. We no more than set up islands of flourishing than they are swamped by the rising waters of self-interest and self-protection.

To say, in earnest and with full, heart-felt conviction, "I believe Jesus is the Son of God who died for me and rose from the dead," will not bring back lost manufacturing jobs. Saying it will not cure cancer, stop earthquakes or bring Daddy back home. But then again, Jesus never said it would. In fact, He promised in this life we would have hardships. He even said He had come not to bring peace, but division.

But accepting Jesus as Savior and following Jesus as Lord does change life! It does! Here and now and ... eternally. Saving faith cleanses me of my sin (oh, yes: sin IS real) and fundamentally alters my life going forward. I live forgiven. Not beleaguered by past guilt. Not lacking purpose for a full life. Now my every action and breath has been redeemed by the grace of God. I do not fear death. I may fear dying but I do not fear death.

Think of how much anxiety and grief in life is drained because I no longer fear death as the end to living. Think of how much more flexibility I have, because of salvation in Christ, to deal with the inevitable crises of life and relationships. Think of how much freedom I have to know, with certainty, not only am I a person of worth but you are, too. 

To be saved by faith is not a mere few words said in the passion of desperation.  It is a changed and sanctified ... sanctifying ... life. All of life is changed. Life now and life forever. 

All because of faith in Jesus. No, not faith in ourselves. Not faith in ... faith. But faith in Jesus. The crucified and risen Jesus. Jesus Who is beyond us but Jesus Who comes to us. Jesus Who lives with us and abides in us ... through faith.

 

Posted by Tim Alexander with

I Am Saved and Live By Grace Alone

“Is grace confusing?” I think it is. Let me rephrase.

Perhaps I should say, “I am confused by God’s grace.” God's grace itself is not confusing. Nope, not at all. God chooses to love sinners. That's grace in a nutshell. God chooses to love sinners not because they are lovable. Certainly not because sinners make themselves lovable.

God chooses to love sinners because, well, God chooses to love sinners. It is His choice.

Can we agree to that? His choice? His choice.

God chooses to love and, lo and behold, He chooses to love sinners. God works out the details of His choice in such a way that totally satisfies His holiness and, in the process, the sinner is made holy.

Now ... I wouldn't have thought of that.

Staying holy and making holy. All in the service of a choice to love a person so utterly unholy. (me, for example) But that's what God wanted to do. That's what God did.

Where grace confuses is not, surprisingly, in the details. One would think the details would be confusing; they usually are. Yet thousands, yea verily, tens of thousands of terminal academic degrees have been earned mining the details of grace. People have picked apart the details for millennia. Literal tons of tomes have been written unpacking the details.

Such as?

  • Imputed righteousness.
  • Propitiation.
  • Forensic justification.
  • Sacrifice.
  • The tension of past and future forgiveness.

The list of details goes on and on and on, like a trail path disappearing into a darkening forest.

And it's not that the details are unimportant. They are important! Those details reveal the depth, breadth, height and scope of the larger picture of God’s grace. Becoming familiar with the details makes us more comfortable, more certain of the wonder of God's grace. 

But we are not saved by details.

We are saved and we live by God’s grace alone. The center of God’s grace to me—a sinner, surely!—is not a detail unearthed through torturous theological struggle. At it’s essence, God’s grace to me is His choice to love me.

Why would He love me? The confusion lies with me, not with God.

I know I am not worthy of His love. I know it in my bones. I know it as surely as I breathe. The only way I can even imagine (falsely!) my own love-a-bility is the fantasy where God loves me because I'm better than the person standing next to me ... all the time ... every day ... always better.

And that's not happening. Not for a year, a week or a second. 'Cause I know I'm not better. The fantasy bubble bursts in my self-awareness. If I were God, I would not love me. God does not evaluate me by looking at the other person. God judges me by Himself. By His own holiness. I'm not standing next to a person working on being comparatively lovable. I'm laid bare before the eternally pure, alien righteousness of Holy God. This can only end one way.

Knowing what you know about you - come on, be honest, no one else knows as much about you as you - ask yourself a question. "How do I stack up against God's against pure and unapproachable holiness?" No fudging. No qualifications. Just answer the question. Are you as lovely as God? As pure? As holy?

No, didn't think so. Me neither.

Why would God make such a choice? That's the confusing part. That's the part I don't understand; can't wrap my mind around. What's in it for Him? He is no less God if I reject Him. He's still God and I'm still a sinner. The ocean is still the ocean even if I never swim in it. Gravity is still gravity if I walk off a mountain cliff.

My rejection of His love for me in no way diminishes Him.

God is no more God if I embrace Him. He doesn't become more God if I love Him. A pure gold ingot is not more gold because I hold it. Air is not more air because I breathe it. Yielding to God's love, accepting it, treasuring it, does not change God. He's still the same God. But I enter a vastly richer life when I glory in the wonder of God's love.

(Which, by the way, God wanted all along.)

 

God chooses to love me. It's His decision. He wants to love me. He wills to love me. He worked out the details. Really, He took out the guess work, any uncertainty whatsoever. God - praise His holy name - is not at all confused by His grace towards me.

My "confusion" about grace is not really confusion at all. God is not confused. No, not confusion but a struggle to let go of my pride.

"Pride," you say?

Yes, pride. Pride, as in, "I am unwilling to let God make His own choice regarding His own love, who receives it and how it is applied. Knowing what I know about God and knowing what I know about me, I wouldn't love me ... if I were God."

You're not God. I'm not God. 

Grace is God's choice - mysterious to me but urgent to Him - to love me. So, am I willing to let God be God and make His own choice?

Yes.

 

 

Posted by Tim Alexander with

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