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)

 

 

 

Letting God Be God

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Letting God Be God

James R. Aist

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)

I don’t know about you, but I have had a difficult time surrendering everything – I mean everything – to the sovereignty of God. Now, I’m not talking about mental assent only; even that’s hard enough at times. No, I’m talking about mental assent plus the “no strings attached” submission and obedience to God’s sovereign will that makes mental assent genuine. This “letting God be God” is what I want us to think about for the next few minutes, and it’s one of the most important matters that we need to settle with God, once and for all, as discussed elsewhere (click HERE).

God has made it abundantly clear who is in charge, “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does in heaven and on earth (Psalm 135:6).” He also commanded us to relax and let Him be God, “Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).” And how do we let Him do this? By trusting God to know best how to accomplish His will on earth and getting out of His way so that He can do it without our interference!

The Apostle Paul addressed this issue head on, saying “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thessalonians 5:18, italics mine).” In other words, whatever happens to you, accept it as God’s sovereign will for you; He has allowed it, so maintain an attitude of thanksgiving toward God regardless of what comes your way. Now, I know this is a hard saying, but we have several good examples in the Bible where this high regard for the sovereignty of God in the face of severe testing is illustrated for us: 1) Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:20-22);” 2) Abraham agreed to sacrifice his son Isaac at God’s instruction, and would have gone through with it (Genesis 22:1-3); and 3) Jesus said, “Nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done (Luke 22:41-43).” Submitting ourselves to God’s sovereign will does not mean excusing ourselves when the going gets rough! After all, “For he who is called in the Lord while a servant is the Lord’s freeman. Likewise, he who is called while free is Christ’s servant. You were bought at a price. Do not be the servants of men. Brothers, let every man, in whatever condition he is called, remain there with God (1 Corinthians 7:22-24, italics mine).”

So then, what’s in it for us? Well, how about peace with God? I submit that peace with God comes when we accept, with joy, all that He allows to happen to us. Moreover, can we agree that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him (John Piper)?” And, that is why we were created in the first place, to glorify God (click HERE).

Finally, to balance out this discussion, let me point out that I am not suggesting that God wants us to just accept every evil thing that comes our way without asking Him to come to our rescue, if that is His will. No, we are instructed to Cast all your care upon Him, because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).” That’s exactly what Paul did regarding his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7), and it’s what Jesus did concerning the kind of death He was about to suffer (Mathew 26:39). And, sometimes, like both Jesus and Paul, God may say “No.” But, I believe, God is always pleased that we asked and glorified by our asking, regardless of the answer. Furthermore, by asking in sincerity and humility, we are demonstrating that we are willing to accept whatever God’s sovereign will is in the matter. So, let us not be among those who “…have not because you ask not (James 4:2).”

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

Spiritual Encounters with God: Dreams

Spiritual Encounters with God: Dreams

James R. Aist

‘In the last days it shall be,’ says God, ‘that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” – Acts 2:17

Introduction

This article is the second in a short series on “Spiritual Encounters with God.” The first article in the series is about visions and voices (click HERE). This time, we will focus on dreams that God uses to illustrate spiritual lessons. I’m usually not one to read a lot either into or out of dreams, as some are want to do, but there are two of my dreams that stand apart from all the rest. They made a deep and lasting impression on me, and, at the time, I knew almost immediately that they were illustrated lessons that God wanted me to learn. So, I paid special attention to them and wrote them down right away.  Among Pentecostal and Charismatic believers, such personal, revelational encounters with God are commonly referred to as “Rhema.” As you are reading, please keep in mind that God interacts with each of His born-again children however He chooses, and one’s lack of a corresponding spiritual encounter with God does not rule out the validity of another’s.

The first dream came to me in 1991. In the dream, I was at a party, celebrating a great research accomplishment of mine that had gained considerable notoriety in the media. The partygoers were all abuzz about it, and I enjoyed listening to their excitement and their lavish praise for the “one” (me) who had done this great thing.

At first, no one recognized me as the one who had achieved this outstanding accomplishment. Then, someone identified me and shouted out, “There he is; he’s the one who did it!” Everyone was very impressed, and they all turned to gaze at me. Suddenly, someone across the room shouted, ”Quiet, I’m getting a message.” After a brief pause, people began to ask him, “What was it?” He turned, pointed straight at me and said, dramatically, “He is powerful!” Then they all “ahhhh-ed” in unison and turned to gaze at me, again.

At that moment, something welled up inside of me as if to take me over, to reveal itself, and I was as if transformed, no longer in control. I was surprised at what was happening to me and at what happened next. I rose up (levitated) high above the crowd, stretched out my arms and, with a fierce look on my face, let out a mighty roar that caused the whole place to shudder. The purpose of this performance was to display my awesome power, frighten them and gain control over them. It seemed to work, and I was feeling evil, haughty and superior. And, I was enjoying it.

Before long, however, I began to regain control of myself. Almost instantly I became very upset with what I had done, and I was condemning this show of power for self-exaltation and desiring fervently to, instead, proclaim the power of God, not of me. So, I started declaring, over and over, “God is powerful, God is powerful…” to somehow counteract the evil thing I had just done.

Then I woke up, still repeating “God is powerful”, until I sensed that whatever it was within me that took control of me had been defeated, and it was clear to me where I really stood with respect to God. I was very fearful of that hideous “thing”, the thing that had manifested itself through me and wanted to control other people through a sinister display of supernatural power.

The next day I recorded this dream in my journal and set about to understand the meaning and purpose of it. The dream indicated and confirmed to me that something despicable in me was seeking dominion over others for evil purposes. It was seeking to substitute itself for God, through me. Clearly, it was an evil spirit, a spirit of pride. The dream was a warning to me to not succumb to pride, and to doggedly resist the temptation to pride until it was overcome and no longer had any control over me. It was a sobering and frightful experience, and a good lesson for all of us.

The second dream came during the winter of 2006-2007, and I believe it was also from God and of spiritual significance. I was an onlooker in the dream and right there on the scene, as the events unfolded.

The scene was an open field among rolling hills, with patches of trees lining the perimeter. A heavy set, scruffy looking, bearded man was in charge of the proceedings. He ordered his henchmen to strap an alligator to the underbelly of a nearby gigantic, scaly, rotund, dinosaur-like beast, using two thick, heavy, elastic bands, and they did. When I inquired what was going on, he explained to me that the alligator has to learn to obey.

At that he commanded the beast, “Go!”, and the beast began to run swiftly through the countryside in great and powerful leaps, with the alligator strapped tightly to his underbelly. As he ran, the back of the alligator rubbed back-and-forth against the hard, sharp scales of the beast’s underbelly with each leap, because of the elasticity of the bands. After just a few leaps forward, the beast’s scales had torn through the tough hide of the alligator and were ripping away at his flesh. The alligator was in such horrific pain and terror that he cried out repeatedly in a loud voice, as if to plead for mercy, but the beast would not stop until he had completed a wide circle through the countryside, as prescribed. I was terrified, watching helplessly as the poor alligator could do nothing to prevent the process from being carried to its gruesome, painful and bloody conclusion. The henchmen then freed the alligator and sent him on his way, writhing in pain. As for me, I was aghast at what I had just witnessed and too afraid to say anything.

Then I woke up and began to ponder in my heart what the meaning of the dream might be. After a brief period of pondering, I conceded the obvious: the dream was a stern warning to me, to turn away from my besetting sins and obey God. If I don’t, I will be the alligator, and I will learn to obey…the hard way. So, I resolved, right then and there, not to become the alligator!

Now let’s compare this dream and its interpretation to 1 Corinthians 5:5, “…deliver him to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that the spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord Jesus.” Sobering, isn’t it? God is so serious about our sins that he sent His only begotten Son, Jesus, to die for them. So, let’s learn from the alligator and get serious with God about obedience, OK?

(You can find more of my biblically oriented articles if you click HERE)