When Grace Is Not So Amazing

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When Grace Is Not So Amazing

James R. Aist

The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to a life of obedience and grace, not of rebellion and compromise!

“Grace” can be defined as receiving something good that we haven’t earned. It can be given by one person to another, and it can be given by God to anyone. Most notably, it is by the grace of God that sinners are saved from spiritual death (Ephesians 2:8), which is the penalty of sin (Romans 6:23). And this is what is so amazing about grace: that the penalty for our sins was paid by God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, so that we may not perish (i.e., go to hell), but have everlasting life with God in heaven. For our part, God only requires that we believe in the One He sent, Jesus Christ, in order to receive this amazing grace (John 6:28-29). This is the real and complete Gospel of Jesus Christ in a nutshell, as summarized beautifully in John 3:16.

Sadly, false teachings and damning heresies concerning grace have crept into the Christian church. Something that is absolutely essential to the Gospel – the grave consequenses of sin – is being increasingly ignored or even denied in some of today’s Christian witness concerning grace. Many contemporary teachers and preachers are leaving sin out of their message of grace, yet calling it the Gospel. What they fail to understand is that where there is no sin, there is no need for grace. In such a scenario, grace would be neither amazing nor necessary.

At this point, I believe it would be helpful for me to provide some prominent and current examples of the kinds of “gospel compromises” I have in mind:

Abortion. Abortion clinics are being dedicated to God by clergy who claim that Jesus approves of them, whereas the Bible clearly teaches otherwise (click HERE);

Fornication. Unmarried couples living together are being given positions of prominence and leadership in some churches, whereas the Bible clearly teaches that they are not qualified (1 Timothy 3:1-7; 1 Timothy 3:8-13);

Foul language. Cursing, swearing and profanity are being practiced increasingly by some Christians, sometimes even by pastors, whereas the Bible instructs us to refrain from such misuses of the gift of language (Exodus 20:7; Matthew 12:35-37; Ephesians 5:4; James 3:10);

Homosexuality. Openly and actively homosexual people are not only being given positions of prominence and leadership in some churches, but they are conducting homosexual “weddings”, against all that the Bible says about the sanctity of biblical marriage and the sinfulness of homosexual sexual relations (click HERE).

Of course the grace of God is available for all kinds of sin, but God will not be mocked! When evil is called good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20), the grace of God does not flow, and sin remains. Moreover, if we cherish sin in our heart, God will not hear us when we call out to Him (Psalm 66:18), and that is not a good place to be in! The true Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to a life of obedience and grace, not of rebellion and compromise! And if you are wondering if obedience really fits in here, remember that Samuel said to Saul, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Obedience is better than sacrifice, a listening ear than the fat of rams (1 Samuel 15:22).” And .Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). The grace of God does not make obedience optional!

So, here is the fatal flaw in such perversions of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ: all have sinned and come short of the righteousness that God requires (Romans 3:23). Mankind has a “sin problem” that must be dealt with effectively before the grace of God that brings eternal life is even available. The grace of God (manifested by forgiveness) comes into play only after we have confessed our sins (i.e., we have agreed with God that what we did is a sin) and repented of that sin (i.e., solemnly resolved to not repeat it). God has offered us no other way to restore a right relationship with Himself. And when we confess our sins and repent, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrightneousness (1 John 1:9); faithful, because He promised to forgive, and just, because Jesus has already paid the price for our sins. Those who preach and teach a gospel that ignores or denies the sin problem (or specific sins) are not presenting the real Gospel of Jesus Christ, but a perverted counterfeit of it (2 Corinthians 11:4). The sad result is Christian churches that are becoming more like the secular world instead of more like Jesus.

The true Gospel of Jesus Christ begins with the bad news of our sinfulness and ends with the good news of God’s forgiveness of our sins. What many don’t realize is that it is the grace of God that brings both the bad news and the good news. The following phrases in the beloved hymn, Amazing Grace, state this truth wonderfully, “’twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fear relieved.” Moreover, Jesus gave us an example of God’s grace bringing first the bad news and then the good news to the woman at the well (John 4:4-42). The bad news was that she had 5 ex-husbands and was currently shacking up with another man out of wedlock. Once He got her attention with those Words of Wisdom concerning her sinful ways, He was able to then move on effectively to the good news that He had for her, and many were saved because of her testimony.

Before I close, I would like to share with you a vision God gave me that reveals His heart toward people who are among the “down and out” of our society. I was sitting in my car one day, waiting for my wife to finish having her hair “done.” Along came what appeared to be a homeless man. His clothing was dirty and tattered, his head was down and he had a slow, plodding gait, as one defeated by life. As I watched him pass in front of me, suddenly his form became somewhat transparent and another man’s form was superimposed upon his. This other man was clean, well-dressed and walked with his head held high. After they had taken a few steps in unison, the image of the second man disappeared, and then I saw just the homeless man as he walked out of sight. For just a few moments, God had given me a glimpse of who He saw walking in front of me: not a disheveled, defeated and hopeless man, but a happy, successful man full of hope, the kind of man God wanted him to be! Then I received the interpretetion (i.e., the message) of the vision: There, but for the grace of God, go I!

When we speak of God’s grace to someone, let’s be sure not to water it down by compromising what it really is. When sin is at issue, tell them that God’s grace brings first the conviction of sin, and then, following confession and repentance, the forgiveness of sin. Anything less than that is not really God’s grace, and it is not amazing at all. So let us always be obedient to this instruction from the Apostle Paul: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)

(To read more of my articles with a biblical theme, click HERE)

 

 

 

Be the One!

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Be the One!

James R. Aist

“The King will answer, ‘Truly I say to you, as you have done it for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you have done it for Me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

Recently, I began to reflect on some of the instances when someone took the initiative to step up and be the one who blessed me by filling a need in my life that I couldn’t fill on my own. As a result, I felt a flush of gratitude and appreciation for these thoughtful and generous people and for what they did for me. I am writing this article to encourage you to be on the lookout for opportunities to “be the one” yourself. As you read on, keep in mind that my family had to move every 2-3 years, because Daddy was a Methodist minister. So, hold on, we’re going to move around a bit!

Let me begin by sharing with you three of the blessings that came quickly to my mind that day. The first of these happened when I was about 12 years old, we were living in Evening Shade, Arkansas, and Daddy didn’t have much time to spend with me at that time. Mr. Thomas was the Principal of the local school and a very avid and accomplished fisherman. He was firm with the students, but he also had a sweet, calming spirit about him. We knew that he had our best interests in mind. I greatly admired and respected Mr. Thomas. Well, one Friday afternoon, he approached me at school and asked if I would like to go fishing with him the next day! At first, I was taken aback that he would think of me, a 12 year old boy, as a fishing buddy. But I quickly agreed to go, and we had a great time together. He treated me as if I were his equal, at least for that one afternoon, and I learned some things about fishing from a real master.

The second blessing came to me about three years later. I had just been selected to be on the varsity basketball team at Batesville High School and was about to experience my first away game. I had some warm clothing to help keep me warm on the long, cold school bus rides from away games, but I hadn’t thought much about anything more substantial for the coldest nights. My family couldn’t afford anything warmer for me anyway. Then one day as I was passing by the old General Store in Bethesda on my way home from basketball practice, the store owner, Mr. Porter, caught my attention and asked me to come inside, because he had a surprise for me. So, I went inside, and he handed me a large, flat, cardboard box. When I opened the box, inside was a brand new, hooded, parka, perfect for long, cold bus rides late at night! He said to me, “I didn’t want you to get cold coming back from your away games, so I got you this.” Well, I was quick to thank him for the gift, and I was amazed that he would even think to do that for me, when I hadn’t even given it a thought myself until then.

The third blessing I will share with you came a couple of years later when I had made the basketball team at Springdale High School. We lived 6 miles away, in Elm Springs, I didn’t have a car, and my parents were unable to provide me a ride home after away games. So, it seemed to me that I would have to give up on playing basketball for my last two years of high school, which would be a major letdown, to say the least. So, I told  coach Sanders that I couldn’t play after all, and why, but he was not discouraged. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I will give you a ride home after the away games.” “But that’s six miles each way, it will be very late at night, and you have a family to go home to after the games!”, I countered. “Thats OK,” he said, “I want to do it.” Once again, I was amazed that he would make that kind of sacrifice for me. It hadn’t crossed my mind to ask him for a ride, and I wasn’t even his star player.

As you can see, the common element in all three of these stories is that someone saw a need in my life and just took care of it themselves. That is what “grace” looks like. Grace cannot be either earned or deserved; it can only be offered and received. And so it is with salvation: we are saved, not by works, but by the grace of God through the gift of faith in His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. So, as we continue our journey through life, let’s extend grace to those around us as the opportunities arise and as we are able. Let’s us “Be the One!” In doing so, we will not only be helping someone in need (that’s a good thing), but we will also be glorifying God by modeling His grace to others.

(To read more of my articles with biblical themes, click HERE)

 

Why Does God Allow Satan to Tempt Us?

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Why Does God Allow Satan to Tempt Us?

James R. Aist

“Then Jesus was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1)

The Bible alludes to “temptations” using various terms, such as tests, adversities, trials, persecutions and tribulations. This is because temptation is portrayed primarily as a testing of our faith in, and loyalty to, God. There’s no doubt about it: every man from Adam to Jesus to us has been or will be “put to the test” (cf., Psalm 11:5; John 16:33; 1 Peter 4:12; Hebrews 4:15; Revelation 3:10). To further establish the truth of this point, let’s expand, somewhat, this trail of temptation in the Bible, so that we may more fully grasp its inevitability. God allowed Satan to tempt Eve (and through her, Adam) in the Garden of Eden using a slanderous lie; God allowed Satan to tempt Job by destroying all of his earthly possessions, except his life and his wife; Abraham was tested by God when He instructed him to offer his son, Isaac, as a burnt offering; David was tested by the fearful sight of a giant, Goliath, who was mocking the God of Israel to his face; Jesus was led up into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil; Peter was tempted to deny that he was a follower of Jesus; we are tempted by Satan (1 Peter 5:8) to sin and to abandon our faith in Jesus; and, at the end of the millennial reign of Jesus, Satan will tempt the inhabitants of the earth to join him in mounting one last army to defeat Jesus and His followers. So, the question arises, “Why does God allow Satan to tempt us?” To put the question another way, “Why hasn’t God forbidden Satan to tempt us during this Age of Grace?” Isn’t it enough that we have declared, sincerely, our allegiance to Him?

The short answer to this question is, “No, mere words, by themselves, are not enough.” But why Does God require more than our solemn word on it? I believe that the Bible gives two, interconnected and fundamental answers to this question. First, let’s take a close look at Genesis 3, where we can find one answer. Satan was allowed to test the fidelity of Adam and Eve toward God, and the first man and woman, representing to God all of mankind, failed the test. What followed, necessarily, was a cosmic consequence of “biblical proportions”: Adam and Eve had to be banished from God’s presence in the Garden of Eden to an outside world ruled by God’s arch enemy, Satan. Adam and Eve got it wrong, and the whole of creation has been paying the price for their transgression ever since. What if God, in giving mankind a second chance, requires us all to get it right this time by willfully obeying God, not Satan, when Satan tests our loyalty to Him. Our loyalty to God must be demonstrated by our willful obedience to God when we are tested. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments (John 14:15).” That is the proof that God requires, beyond mere words to that effect; words are cheap, but actions can have eternal consequences. So, in my view, that is one reason why God is allowing Satan to remain active on the earth during this Age of Grace. My perception is that God is using Satan to test and prove our faith, in order to demonstrate that what we have is not mere mental ascent to the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Matthew 13:21), but saving faith that endures to the end (Matthew 10:22; 1 Corinthians 10:13). The other answer to this question can be gleaned from a study of Job 1-2. Satan challenged Job’s faith in God and received God’s permission to try to persecute Job into cursing Him. This challenge, in effect, turned into a contest between God and Satan to determine if God’s power to keep Job faithful to Him was greater than Satan’s power to get Job to deny Him. Now, the Bible says that it is by the power of God that believers are kept faithful to the end (1 Peter 1:3-5). By allowing Satan to test the faith of Job, God demonstrated that His power to keep Job faithful was greater than Satan’s power to destroy Job’s faith. The Apostle Paul said it like this, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities nor powers, neither things present nor things to come, neither height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).” So now we can surmise that God has a dual purpose in allowing Satan to tempt us: To demonstrate that a) saving faith is the kind of faith that withstands even the assaults of Satan, and b) God is more powerful than Satan in the battle for the souls of mankind. To me, these are reassuring insights concerning my own eternal destiny.

But that’s not all. In the Bible we find that the testing of our faith has other important purposes. It strengthens us against future temptations (2 Corinthians 12:10); it prepares us for future ministry in His kingdom (Hebrews 2:18; 2 Corinthians 1:4); it helps to perfect us in God’s eyes (Romans 5:2-4); and it reveals to us what is in our hearts and minds, so that we will know that He judges rightly when the time comes (Jeremiah 17:10).

And, there’s still more. When this Age of Grace is over, Satan will no longer be allowed to tempt us; he will have fulfilled God’s purposes in allowing him to tempt us during the Age of Grace, and he will be banished to the Lake of Fire for eternity, far away from us. As a result, those of us who are born again in this life will be able to enjoy the next life with Christ (Matthew 10:2) in a new and amazing world free of temptations. What a glorious day that will be!

(To read more biblically oriented articles on this website, click HERE)

 

Encountering God in the Barn on Sunday

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Encountering God in the Barn on Sunday

by Annette Seybert, Guest Author

God is full of surprises. I never thought I would find myself living on a farm at this stage of my life. I call this God’s unexpected grace.

God is sovereign, He reigns over all, and that would include me, my family and my life. There are things that I don’t understand, secrets that I may never have answered this side of heaven. However, I know there is a purpose in His plans for me. There are unexpected blessings that pop into our ordinary days. I experienced one of these while I was watering the yearlings in the barn on Sunday afternoon.

We have four heifers that inhabit the barn (these would be the babies that were born last spring). You could say they are kinda stuck in the middle, similar to a teenager, too old to have their mama’s attention, yet too young to be mixed in with the rest of the herd, especially with the bull. This foursome of “tweens” will put a smile on your face even on the darkest of days. I do believe they have stolen a piece of my heart. They can be mischievous, like dragging the watering hose around the barn floor and stomping holes into it. But in spite of their awkwardness and ever-increasing size (somewhere between 700 and 800 lbs.!), they have a gentle and sweet disposition.

The watering of such beasts is not an unpleasant task. I rather enjoy the encounter. The atmosphere inside the old barn is pleasant and peaceful. This is a wonderful place to meet with God. A place to stop striving and allow God’s thoughts to permeate my own. Something about this place seems to make time stand still, just for a little while, long enough to let peace settle in and to be reminded of simpler days. There is an old familiarity about this place, like I always have known it. It seems to be somewhere hidden down deep inside of me.

I wonder if God gives us some little sampling of our home in Heaven when we allow the busyness of our crazy world to fly, fly away for a brief time. God gave me a glimpse of this on Sunday, in the barn. He used the soft breath of a yearling at the base of my neck and a rough lick of a tongue across the back of my hand. God is creative; you can count on Him to use what ever resources are available at the time you need to hear from Him the most. The barn is full of useful resources.

Nothing huge happened on this day in the old barn. I do not have the words to describe His overwhelming Presence on Sunday, but it was there, and it was for me, and it was glorious.

I walked away from the barn with a smile on my face, a little lighter in my spirit, and with a deep down assurance that … I am loved.

(To read more, awesome short stories on this website, click HERE and HERE)