"To the praise of the glory of His grace,
By which He made us accepted in the Beloved.”
(Ephesians 1:6, NKJV)
If there is one biblical truth that towers above all others, it is the truth that, once we confess our great need of salvation and trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are fully accepted by God in the Person of His Son.
And we are accepted as we are—with our sin.
This is a truth that I often emphasize in sessions of online Christian counseling because it is one that is so simple that we are in danger of skipping over it in a way that prevents us from realizing its power. We might think, for example, that this truth of our acceptance in Christ is for newly born spiritual babes but not for us, as mature Christians, who have been fruitful in some "mighty" work or have been obedient to God's commands for many years. In short: we may think we have progressed beyond acceptance in Christ to a point where we can stand before God (in part or in whole) because of our own personal merit or worth.
But no one ever progresses beyond this central truth of salvation. No one ever stands justified before God except on the basis of the perfect life of Jesus Christ.
Regarding what it means to be “accepted in the Beloved”—it is important to understand that acceptance in spite of our sin is not true acceptance. This is not true acceptance because we come to God as sinners; therefore, we must know that God accepts us with our sin, not in spite of it. And God does accept us with our sin. This is grace.
I remember once asking a Christian couple the following question during an informal session of Christian counseling: “Do you think God accepts you as you are, with your sin?” The wife quickly answered, “I’ve always been taught that God receives us as we are, but He does not accept us this way.”
If we think God does not accept us as we are (with our sin), I can assure you that we will have significant interpersonal problems with others (as this wife did). This is so because the way we relate to others is always a direct reflection of the way we are relating to ourselves. And if we believe we are unacceptable to our Creator and Redeemer as we are, then, clearly, we are not relating to ourselves in a healthy way. Therefore, we will not relate to others in a healthy way.
Here are two texts of Scripture that demonstrate God’s acceptance of us in Christ as we are:
There is also the well-known text that I cited at the beginning of this blog entry:
Despite the clear and forceful way in which the Bible declares our acceptance by God for Jesus’ sake, all of us struggle in this area at one time or another. We are especially prone to these struggles during times of crises when we become painfully aware of our past and present shortcomings. This awareness of our shortcomings makes us feel unacceptable to a pure and holy God.
I remember how I struggled in this area of my life at a time when I really “bottomed out.” I was beginning to see the arrogance and pride in my life (as well as the insensitivity and selfishness) since all of this worked its way back to me in the most painful ways through the words and actions of others. Because I was beginning to see all of this in raw and intense ways, I felt totally unacceptable. And this feeling of unacceptability drove me to sin. It became a vicious cycle of (1) unacceptability, (2) sin, (3) greater unacceptability, and (4) greater sin.
The more I tried to be acceptable, the more I would fail; and the more I would fail, the more unacceptable I would feel—and on and on it went.
I was such a basket case during this period that I would chew on my hands in ways that I seemed powerless to control. My hands would sometimes bleed as a result. Once, when I was driving, I found myself sitting behind a car at a red light, and I began chewing on my hand. I remember saying to myself, “This is crazy. I’m not going to do this anymore.” So, I stopped.
Then, in about thirty seconds, I was doing it again—uncontrollably.
Clearly, I was a mess, but God’s grace is sufficient for all the messes we become. Unfortunately, I was unable to receive God’s healing grace because I was seeking to make myself acceptable through self-conscious efforts to be good rather than by resting in God’s acceptance of me in Christ. I learned firsthand the truth of this spiritual principle: “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me . . . making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am!” (Romans 7:21, 23, 24, emphasis added).
I eventually learned the truth of another principle as well: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1, 2).
I will state an all-important point: It was only as I ceased self-conscious efforts to be good and rested in God’s acceptance of me in Christ that beneficial fruit began to develop in my life.
Regarding this all-important truth of resting in God’s acceptance in Christ, I must emphasize that this is an actual experience, not a mere mental assent. In other words, no amount of mental gymnastics in an effort to convince myself that I was in right standing with God could substitute for the actual experience of being loved and accepted as I was by our merciful Father in Christ. I mention this because there is often an emphasis in our society on positive thinking and affirmations.
This experience of acceptance became real in my life—not because I practiced positive thinking or recited different kinds of affirmations—but, rather, because I was driven to cry out desperately in faith as I was broken of my pride and arrogance. I simply claimed—in a very personal way—the truth of my acceptance in Christ, and God responded to my anguished cry of faith (as He always does) by ushering me into interpersonal communion with Him. I thus knew by firsthand experience that I was loved and accepted by God as I am, and this experience of love and acceptance provided a rock-solid spiritual foundation for my walk of faith.
(May 6, 2020)
* * *
I have experienced many brutal trials and heart-wrenching failures in my life. During the many sessions of Christian counseling in which I have taken part—both as a client as well as a Christian counselor—I have learned that most people have. I have also learned that these painful experiences of adversity and defeat can cause us to cry out to God in authentic ways of which we are incapable at other times—and this is the key to our growth.
Why are we incapable of crying out to God in authentic ways except during times of extremity? It is simply because, at other times, we are trying desperately to remain in control. Ever since Adam and Eve took matters into their own hands in the Garden of Eden, the exercise of control has come quite naturally to us. We manipulate matters to insulate ourselves from shame and vulnerability, and we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
Seemingly hopeless situations, however, have a way of changing this. These bruising ordeals drive most of us to cry out in anguish to a power greater than ourselves, and this, of course, is a form of relinquishing control. Times of adversity thus have the potential to break the projection and denial that have been woven into the fabric of our being since the Fall. They become the gateway to honesty and truth.
It is important that we understand this central aspect of any trial so that we do not misinterpret the merciful activity of God during these critical times. Indeed, God’s primary purpose in trials is to bring each of us to a state of brokenness. This humbling of our willful pride allows each of us to do what is completely unnatural for us to do since the Fall, namely, to confess the truth.
As we navigate through difficult times, we must remember that God’s posture toward us is always one of tenderness and compassion. This is true in good times as well as in terrible times, and this truth will be emphasized repeatedly by any competent Christian counselor. It doesn’t matter if we are joyfully basking in the sunshine on the mountaintop or painfully plodding through the deepest and darkest part of the valley. God always has caring thoughts and sympathetic feelings toward us, for anything opposed to this disposition is “strange” and “alien” to His tender and merciful heart (Isaiah 28:21; 1 John 4:8).
God loves us!
(May 14, 2020)
* * *
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.
A man reaps what he sows.”
Life has a way of catching up with us, doesn’t it? Any insensitivity on our part, however expressed, has a way of finding a path back to us through the words and actions of others. And when it finds its way back to us, it has a way of breaking us.
I remember the first time I was broken. I had just completed a doctoral program in philosophy at the University of Connecticut, and I had become very proud of my abilities. I had also become quite dogmatic and close-minded. I had it all figured out.
I knew nothing of my personal pride and arrogance at this time because God had not yet allowed me to “bottom out.” This process began quickly after my graduation, however, because the path I had chosen ran its course to completion. I found myself facing an employment situation where there were hundreds of applicants for each of the few academic positions that were advertised, and I also found myself facing a “motivational” situation where the mere thought of continuing to teach philosophy was like death to me.
So, I was dying.
I was in a suicidal state for about two years, and, during this time, God allowed me to witness much of my hardness and dogmatism as these qualities found their way back to me through the words and actions of others. Truly, what goes around comes around—“As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head” (Obadiah 15). And again: “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).
Truly, each of us must be brought over the same ground over which we have caused others to pass, for only then do we feel what they have suffered because of our personal lack of sensitivity and tenderness. These are the times when sessions of Christian counseling with a competent Christian counselor can be very beneficial so that we do not lose hope. During these times, we will often cringe at our own hardness of heart, and, if we are honest with ourselves and with God, this will drive us to confess our deep need of the compassionate character of our Savior.
Even if we do not seek Christian counseling at these times, it is helpful to share our plight with grounded Christian friends who are strong in faith and who have trusted the Lord through difficult times. These brothers and sisters in Christ can encourage us to persevere in faith.
During my many personal crises, I have always experienced the tender influence of the Holy Spirit as He brought comfort and acceptance to me. This was especially true during the painful times when I was facing condemning and judgmental spirits in the people around me. The Holy Spirit caused me to remember the many times I had caused similar pain and discouragement to others. He thus used these experiences to awaken me to my great need of sensitivity and compassion, and He prompted me to cry out in Christ to my Father for courage and strength.
Also, because the pain I experienced during these crises was raw and intense (as it is during all crises), the awareness of my lack of sympathy toward others was likewise raw and intense, so it went deep—to my core. I was thus brought to the point where I could acknowledge the hardness of my heart in ways I formerly never could, and this acknowledgment and confession led to long-needed growth. Truly, God works all things together for good in the lives of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
One point of grace I learned during my initial extremity (and during others as well) is this:
This is so because, during times of non-crisis, I am in “cruise control.” That is, I am “cruising” along in my insensitivity and dogmatism by the power of a prideful (and unrecognized) inertia that carries me forward. This “cruise control” is in full operation even if the prideful inertia is expressed only in passive ways that seem quite harmless.
I have no doubt that all of us are in the grip of this inertia until God intervenes. We are stubborn in ways we do not realize, and if this stubbornness is not broken, we remain bound by the inertia of our self-will. “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people” (Exodus 32:9). This statement about the Israelites is no less true of us than it was of them. We have stiff necks that must be broken, and the only way to break them is through the hard, crunching trials that God ordains in tender and merciful ways.
The apostle Peter writes that we should not be surprised by this activity of our heavenly Father. He even states that we should rejoice in it: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:12, 13, NKJV).
A further point of grace I have learned during my many trials is this: Not only do I never grow without a crisis, but I also never grow unless the crisis in which I find myself is so severe that the pieces of my shattered life seem as if they will never fit back together. In other words, I never grow unless the fiery ordeal I am experiencing is so severe that my situation seems hopeless.
And why do I never grow unless my situation seems hopeless? It is because it is only during times of hopelessness that I feel completely and utterly helpless. And it is only when I feel completely and utterly helpless that I am brought to the point of relinquishing the control of my life—a control that, under normal circumstances, I hold onto at any cost. In short, it is only during times of hopelessness that I am brought to the place that I can be broken.
What do I mean by being broken?
To accomplish this deliverance, God allows all of us to reach the end of our ropes (the absolute end—where there is no rope left to tie a knot and hold on). God allows us to reach this place in the hope that proud, arrogant creatures like you and me will finally admit, “You know, I think my Creator knows best.” It is at this point that we stop trying to go it alone and start seeking His will for our lives.
(May 20, 2020)
* * *
Let’s face an obvious truth here that I repeatedly emphasize in sessions of online Christian counseling: As rational creatures of our God and Creator, we are acting in a manner that makes sense only when we are acting in harmony with His will for our lives. Since God obviously wants us to live purposeful lives that make sense, He is always working to bring us to a place where we cease living autonomous lives of irrational independence. He brings us to the point where we see that our proud desire to always be the one in control, to always be the one calling the shots is what brings us to crisis points of desperation. We thus realize that “going with the flow” of our natural, manipulative drive to be independent of God just does not work. (I remember a song that was popular many years ago that expresses this thought. It was “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”)
We see this desire for autonomy and independence expressed in the lives of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Eve believes the lie of the serpent that she will be “like God,” so she eats the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:1–6). Adam, though not deceived (2 Timothy 2:14), eats the fruit as well (Genesis 3:6)—apparently because he cannot bear the thought of life without Eve. By these acts of rebellion, Adam and Eve clearly attempt to escape their dependency upon the Creator and endeavor to be autonomous. That is, they try to live lives that are independent from God’s will, and this leaves them feeling fearful, ashamed, and seemingly incapable of acknowledging and confessing the truth of what they have done.
They are initially conscience-stricken because of their nakedness, so they sew fig leaves for coverings (Genesis 3:7). Then they run and hide from the presence of God when they hear Him in the garden (Genesis 3:8). When God calls to Adam, he replies that he is afraid and is hiding because he is naked (Genesis 3:10). God asks, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Genesis 3:11)
Adam does not confess that he has done this; rather, he “explains” (and, thus, in his own mind, justifies) his action by blaming Eve—“the woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12). When God questions Eve, she also does not confess that she has done wrong. Like Adam, she “explains” (and thus justifies) her actions by blaming the serpent (the creature You allowed to be in the garden “deceived me”—Genesis 3:13).
Clearly, Adam and Eve’s acts of rebellion have resulted in their being thoroughly immersed in denial, for they are incapable of honestly confessing the truth of their wrongdoing. In their minds, God Himself, as the ultimate first cause, has become the convenient source of the problem. God has also become more of an enemy than a friend, for He is now someone from whom the Eden pair feel they must hide. (Hide from their Creator?! This is our inherited inclination as well.)
God pronounces judgment by informing them that there will be difficult times ahead. Eve’s childbearing pains will be “very severe” (Genesis 3:16), and Adam’s work will involve “painful toil” on an earth that will now produce “thorns and thistles” (Genesis 3:17, 18). God also informs Adam that he is not, in fact, an independent being that possesses true autonomy. He tells him, “Dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19).
We learn from this biblical narrative of the Fall that there are legitimate reasons God allows times of extremity in our lives. The first reason is one I have already mentioned, namely,
We see two additional reasons for the “fiery ordeals” that God allows in our lives because of tendencies that surfaced in Adam and Eve after the Fall:
“Fiery ordeals” are thus needed for these three important reasons. How else can the truth of God’s Word enter our hardened hearts but through times of extremity that bring brokenness and contrition?
In closing, let us remember the words of Andrew Murray whenever we are going through times of crisis and extremity. In 1895 Andrew Murray was suffering terribly from back pain, and, as he was eating breakfast in his room, his hostess told him of a woman downstairs who was in great trouble and wanted to know if he had any advice for her. Murray handed the hostess a piece of paper on which he had been writing. He said, “Give her this advice I’m writing down for myself. It may be that she’ll find it helpful.”
A Christian counselor whom I greatly respect mentioned these words to me once because they had been so meaningful and helpful for him.
This is what Andrew Murray had written:
“In time of trouble, say, ‘First, He brought me here. It is by His will I am in this strait place; in that I will rest.’
“Next, ‘He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace in this trial to behave as His child.’
“Then say, ‘He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow.’
“And last, say, ‘In His good time He can bring me out again. How and when, He knows.’
“Therefore, say ‘I am here (1) by God’s appointment, (2) in His keeping, (3) under His training, (4) for His time.”*
These words should encourage all of us, for, truly, God never intends to “park” us in a valley to die of brokenness and despair. Rather, He promises to walk us through the valley (Psalm 23:4) to the other side. He will surely do this for all of us—in His time. We will then feel, once again, the intense warmth and comfort of His acceptance and love, even though God was there for us all the time.
*Andrew Murray, quoted by Ray C. Stedman, in “How to Kill a Lion on a Snowy Day,” Nov. 4, 1973.
(May 28, 2020)
* * *
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities.
The punishment that brought us peace was on him,
And by his wounds we are healed.
An important point of grace we must learn when going through hard times is this: God punished Christ for everything we did to bring the crisis upon us, so there is no punishment left for us.
This is an area in which I struggled mightily when I was “bottoming out” after completing my doctoral degree. I understood (on a “theoretical” level) that God had punished Christ for my many sins, but I was braced to resist the application of this truth to me personally because I was painfully aware that I had brought the crisis upon myself through my arrogance and pride. I knew that I myself deserved punishment for my abominable behavior, so I felt incapable of accepting the fact that God had punished another in my behalf.
It just seemed wrong.
I remember struggling with this issue as I was engaged in Christian counseling with a wonderful Christian counselor. My struggles even reached the point where she stated that she would drop me as a client if I did not get past this sticking point because she felt that it had become an insurmountable obstacle to future healing.
God eventually brought me to the point where I realized I would never be delivered from my extremity until I claimed by faith the truth that He laid all the punishment I deserved upon Jesus. And why would I not be delivered until I claimed this truth by faith? Because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and I had sinned (Romans 3:23). Therefore, I deserved—not deliverance—but, rather, death. I thus needed to claim by faith the truth that God laid all the punishment I deserved upon Jesus. Only in this way would the “wages of sin” be paid in my behalf; therefore, only in this way could I claim—in Jesus’ name—God’s many promises of deliverance.
During crises in our lives, we often find it difficult to hold fast to this promise that God laid the punishment we deserve upon Jesus because crises are times when we will feel least worthy to claim anything. Reflect again upon the Scripture quoted at the opening of this blog post: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). We doubtless know this text of Scripture, just as we know many other texts of Scripture that state that God punished Jesus for our sins. But we are prone to doubt the truth of these statements because we feel uncomfortable saying something like, “God punished Jesus for my abominable behavior.” We might even think there is some sort of Christian virtue in standing up like a real man (or a real woman) and graciously accepting a just penalty from the Almighty. I hope we eventually come to realize, however, that there is never any virtue in such a posture toward our merciful heavenly Father, for He has no punishment left to dole out to us. Truly, it was all laid upon our Savior.
In our fallen state, we are naturally prone to seek the autonomy and independence that Adam and Eve sought in the Garden of Eden; there-fore, we have a difficult time accepting that the punishment we deserve was laid upon Christ. We are driven by a deep desire to be in control—even of our own salvation. God will continue to hedge up our ways with thorns, however, until we are humbled by His grace. He will continue to usher us into the “fiery ordeals” of which Peter speaks until we are broken of this deep desire to exercise control over our lives and the lives of others. God desires that we begin to appreciate Him with a heart softened by His mercy and love rather than with one hardened by legalistic manipulation and works.
Notice that the Bible states, not only that God punished Christ for our sin but also that “it pleased the Lord to bruise Him (emphasis added)” (Isaiah 53:10, NKJV).
Can we even begin to comprehend such love and mercy for us?
I have no doubt that it is impossible for us to fully appreciate such boundless love, but I hope we can at least understand that, if it pleased God to bruise Jesus in our behalf, it certainly does not please Him if we refuse to accept this gift of grace to us. And we are surely refusing this merciful gift of grace when we adopt a posture of thinking that we must accept punishment from our heavenly Father.
By thinking that we must accept punishment from God, we are effectively asserting (in a passively proud sort of way) that the punishment He has already laid upon His Son is somehow insufficient (or, worse yet, not needed or desired) in our cases. May God help each of us to understand that there is never any virtue in attempting to graciously accept punishment from Him. Such a posture reveals a state of deep delusion, for it completely distorts His character as well as the nature of His plan for our salvation.
Surely those of us who have been born into God’s family experience the compassionate care of the divine nature. Do you not experience the tender mercies of God during times of sweet communion with Him? We should thus know through firsthand experience that our heavenly Father would never seek to punish us in the ways that we, as fallen sinners, seek to punish others who cross our wills.
Also, the Bible states plainly that, for God, vengeance is a “strange work” (Isaiah 28:21). It also states that He takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). Indeed, the Bible makes it clear that our heavenly Father will gladly take all punishment upon Himself and freely justify anyone who simply humbles himself by confessing the truth of his lost condition (Luke 18:13, 14).
The unfortunate reality, however, is that most people will not humble themselves in this way because most are determined to be proud and autonomous—even if this means that they must be dishonest and deceitful. In short, most are People of the Lie* (John 8:43–45) rather than People of the Truth (John 18:37).
To summarize, when we encounter difficult times, we often have a piercing awareness that we deserve punishment. This is quite natural, and the feeling is hard to shake because we have a deep sense that we have brought the extremity upon ourselves. We thus believe we must be punished for our waywardness. This sense of deserving punishment reflects the truth of our situation, for we know that justice demands a price to be paid for the hardness of heart that was committed by miserable wretches like us. What we must realize in the face of this truth is that Jesus became the miserable wretch who was punished in our behalf. This is what He was in God’s eyes when He hung upon the cross.
*This is a phrase employed by M. Scott Peck, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1983).
(June 5, 2020)
* * *
When we are contemplating the fact that the Father punished Christ for our sins, we should be careful not minimize this truth because we know in our hearts that we ourselves are the true wretches who deserve punishment. We should not allow ourselves to wallow around and say things like, “I’m such a bad person. I deserve bad things in my life. I brought all of this upon myself. I will take God’s punishment like a real man (or a real woman).” These are the sort of statements that Christian counselors often hear during sessions of Christian counseling, but, clearly, such expressions effectively deny the truth that Jesus became the punished wretch in our behalf.
When we finally allow ourselves to accept redemption in Christ as we should, we realize that thoughts of “graciously” accepting punishment from God are expressions of rebellion and unbelief. They represent nothing less than adamant refusals to be grounded in God’s grace, and only a grounding in God’s grace allows the door of deliverance to be opened for us. This is true because only a grounding in grace places us in a position where we may justifiably claim, in Jesus’ name, God’s many promises of deliverance.
Personally, I have found that most of us are willing to accept the truth of God’s grace only if it does not come too close to home. That is, we will accept the truth that Jesus died for our sins in an abstract, theological way, but if this truth should ever get too close, too personal—then we balk. We respond in this way because proud, autonomous creatures like you and me are uncomfortable accepting the truth of our “creaturehood.” We would rather retain the control of our lives and go it alone than relinquish this control, cry out to God, and place the total weight of our desperate need upon Him. We are far more comfortable moaning and groaning and griping and complaining about anything and everything that is wrong in our lives. All our elaborate excuses, our many gripes and complaints—these have become like a nice, soft easy chair or a “company of sympathizing friends,” and we have become accustomed to settling into them. They are comfortable, and they keep us protected. Most of all, they allow us to continue in our stubborn ways without having to be broken—of our pride, our self-will and our hardness of heart.
But there is no way around being broken, for only in this way are we delivered from the projection and denial that come so naturally to us in our fallen state. Only in this way are we brought to a place where we begin to acknowledge truth—about our situation, about God, and about ourselves.
To give a practical application of this principle, think of the experiences of Judas and Peter. Each betrayed the trust of Christ (although, admittedly, in different ways). Judas was unwilling to be broken of his pride and self-will. He refused to relinquish the control of his life, even though Christ treated him with the utmost understanding and mercy throughout the course of his betrayal. Jesus even washed Judas’ feet along with the other disciples. All of this was to no avail, however, as Judas was determined to persist in his proud path of unbrokenness. He thus rendered himself incapable of repentance and finally “went and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:5).
Peter, on the other hand, met a different fate. Imagine him as he begins to “curse and swear” and eventually yell, “I do not know the Man!” (Matthew 26:74, NKJV) Clearly, this is a person who is feeling only shame because of his association with Jesus. (I hope all of us will allow ourselves to confess the times when we have felt such shame of our Savior.) At the precise time when Peter is feeling this shame, the Bible states, “... the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:60–62).
Imagine getting a tender look from Jesus just as you finish denying Him for the third time! Unlike Judas, however, Peter was humbled (to the dust!) by this expression of mercy from his Savior. He was broken of his pride and self-will, so he responded by weeping in repentance rather than hanging himself. The result of this experience is that the Bible records Peter issuing the following words to the Jews in Jerusalem shortly after Christ’s ascension: “You denied the Holy One and the Just” (Acts 3:14).
Do you see how quickly God can restore a person? Peter uttered these words shortly after Pentecost, so it was probably about eight weeks after his own personal denial of Christ. Yet Peter is not whining and moaning. He is not thinking of hanging himself because of overwhelming regret and remorse. Rather, he is boldly bearing witness to the Jews’ denial of Jesus—even though he himself openly denied his Savior and Lord just two months prior.
Truly, God works all things together for good in the lives of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), and in precisely those areas in which we are weak, He makes us strong. It should therefore come as no surprise that He chose Peter to give this forceful message to the Jews in Jerusalem.
In conclusion: There is no punitive element to any trial God allows, for God has taken all the punishment upon Himself in the person of Jesus, our Savior. And, miracle of miracles, it pleased the Father to do this for us.
“Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves.”
(June 12, 2020)
* * *
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness
To be tempted by the devil.
We learned in the previous blog entry that there is no punitive element to any trial in our lives because God laid all the punishment for our sins upon Jesus. In the present blog post I will show that there is likewise no “works” element to any trial because the Father is fully satisfied that His Son passed every test in our behalf.
The central point here is that Jesus is primarily our Savior, not our example* (Matthew 1:21). Thus, His life of unbroken obedience is primarily a gift for us to receive rather than a standard for us to attain. When this truth enters our hearts by faith, we have peace with God, freedom in Christ—and rest. If this truth does not enter our hearts by faith, then we have no peace with God, no freedom in Christ—and no rest. On the contrary, we live lives filled with continual unsettledness as we strive to attain the standard of a perfect example. Surely, this is no way to live for believers who claim to be saved by grace.
Christian counselors who are actively involved in the work of Christian counseling often encounter hurt and despairing believers who are thoroughly entrenched in some sort of works routine. I have found, however, that engaging in some “gut it out” mode during difficult times in my life accomplishes nothing. I have also found that there is no virtue in this approach. This is so because—as with punishment—believing that God is trying to extract some “works” element from us during the trials of our lives completely distorts His character and His purpose.
Since God is an omniscient being, He obviously knows all of us completely; therefore, He has no need to “test” us by hard times to determine the content of our hearts. He knows what we can bear and when we will crumble. He has no need for us to perform some work to prove something to Him.
Remember, the perfect life needed for salvation has already been accomplished for us in the person of Jesus, and God’s word is clear that this perfect life is given to the believer as a gift (Romans 6:23). Everything in relation to the perfect standard needed for salvation is therefore a settled matter with God.
I remember when I was trying to “prove” myself by working out of the pit I was in when I hit bottom. The more I tried, the more I became entrenched in a sinful mode of behavior that battered my already-tortured conscience. I was completely enslaved by sins of indulgence during this time, and I seemed incapable of being motivated to work for God and His kingdom. I desired only to do things like watch movies, stuff myself with food and lie in bed feeling sorry for myself.
I realize that people descend into much darker pits of sin than this, and I do not mean to make light of their reality by simply mentioning areas like watching movies or overeating. I have certainly struggled in other areas of my life during later years. I remember starting to smoke again (something I had left behind when I initially became a Christian), and I also remember having to install an Internet filter on my computer at one time to block sites related to online pornography.
Returning to my efforts to “prove” myself, I will state this: As long as I continued in this mode, just so long did I continue to be overwhelmed with my inadequacy. It was only as I ceased self-conscious efforts to prove myself and instead rested in the finished work of Jesus, my Savior, that beneficial fruit began to flow from my life.
Truly, God does not desire that crisis situations be times when we perform heroic tasks for Him. He has promised to do the progressive work necessary for our sanctification, and there is plenty of time for Him to accomplish this work on the other side of the crisis when we are better grounded in His grace. But during a crisis, He desires that we simply rest in the perfect work that Christ has already accomplished for us.
It is this rest and cessation from works that allow us to see
Truth about our situation
Truth about God
Truth about the condition of our hearts
I will continue this message in the next blog entry.
*Christ is, of course, our example as well as our savior (I take this to be obvious). Nevertheless, Christ is not primarily our example, and His role as our example has nothing to do with the root of our salvation.
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(June 19, 2020)
Our natural condition since the Fall is one of projection and denial. It therefore comes naturally to us to be autonomous and independent, to blame others and God for our problems, and to be completely blind to the truth. We are so blind to the truth that our natural response to our merciful Creator and Redeemer is to think of Him as someone from whom we must run and hide (Genesis 3:8).
Our Father in heaven uses difficult times to break these tendencies in us so that we can reach a position where we are able to receive the truth. If we adopt a works-oriented posture where we believe we must “gut it out,” then we will thwart this grace-centered work that He seeks to accomplish for us. As I mentioned in last week’s blog entry, Christian counselors who are engaged in the ministry of Christian counseling often talk with discouraged and hurting children of God who are in seemingly hopeless bondage to a frantic system of works. Such believers are so absorbed with their efforts to bear up under a crushing load that they are incapable of seeing anything God is trying to reveal to us.
Individuals such as this are constantly thinking thoughts like,
I would venture to say that the thought, “I can’t break down,” is one that most of us think repeatedly during difficult times. I repeated these words to myself quite often when I was persevering through the two years that I was suicidal. I remember reaching a state in the ongoing ordeal where I felt I was right on the edge of a physical and mental breakdown, so I would arise each morning and think to myself, “If an ant crosses my pathway today, then I’m packing it in.” In other words, I felt that I could barely get through each day by supporting the crushing load of my wretched, miser-able life; therefore, if I had to deal with anything extra—even something as seemingly insignificant as an ant crossing my path—it would be enough to cause me to collapse.
I know it was only by God’s grace that I persevered through this trying period, but the vital point I am making is this: I believe God wants us to break down during hard times—not in the sense of committing suicide, of course. But He wants us to break down in ways that cause our pride, our dogmatism, our hardness of heart and our perceived sufficiency to crumble.
It might be helpful to remember that all those who are ultimately lost in this world will be condemned—not because they disobeyed God’s commandments—but, rather, because they rejected His grace. In other words, all who are ultimately lost are those who refuse to be broken. They refuse to be brought to the point where they cry out to God from their hearts; therefore, they experience no need of the infinite grace that He offers: “They do not cry out to me from their hearts but wail on their beds” (Hosea 7:14). As I stated in a previous blog entry, we are far more comfortable moaning and groaning and griping and complaining about everything that is wrong in our lives (“wailing on our beds”) than crying out to God and placing the total weight of our desperate need upon Him.
I worked in mental health case management for about five years, and I can tell you from firsthand experience that most people will cling to their autonomy at all costs, and they will justify their independence through the most confounded reasoning and rationalizations. But I do not have to look to the lives of those whom I served during my years in mental health case management to know this, for I find the same reality played out in my own life as well.
God seeks to bring us to the place where we can see this tendency—really see it—not only in others but in ourselves as well. The dishonest condition of our unredeemed hearts must change if we are to experience God’s deliverance during the difficult times in our lives. Truly, we are no different than the stiff-necked people we see in God’s Word. Therefore, like them, we must be broken of our tendency to rationalize, to blame, to murmur, and to complain. In short, we must be brought to the point where we acknowledge the truth—however humbling this may be to our proud, arrogant natures. This is the key to our deliverance.
I realize that such an analysis may seem overly simplistic, for there are people in all parts of the world who are experiencing life-threatening crises—even extreme abuse. Do I mean to imply that these people could be delivered from these situations by a simple acknowledgment of truth?
Yes, I mean to imply this.
I do not mean to imply that deliverance will necessarily involve a magical escape from the trying circumstances they are experiencing, but it surely will involve the reception of needed grace to bear the ordeal as good soldiers of the cross—and this is what God’s deliverance is all about. It is about receiving supernatural grace and strength that allow us to move forward in faith rather than be crushed by the circumstances of our lives.
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