Saturday, August 28, 2010

homosexuals and gossips

This is a response to a list of 'problem' verses that seem to indicate that Paul doesn't really mean it when he talks about grace. My friend Kim Dickson (who is a wonderful Christian woman, and with a beautiful spirit of free dialog and exploration for truth) posted this verse in the midst of a lengthy dialog. It is part of a legitimate question about whether the Bible really does teach grace the way I am describing, and I am glad to explore it. Here is the verse:

"Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

The question at hand is, how does the idea that a slanderer or an adulterer (and all those other obviously sinful people) should not inherit the kingdom of God fit with Paul's message in the following verse?

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:1-4, NASB.

If there is therefore no condemnation, if we are free from the law of sin and of death, then how come greedy people and slanderers are not going to heaven? Perhaps Paul is schizophrenic, or crazy, or he just forgot about the grace message when he was writing this other thing. Let's get one thing straight: this is not a Jim McNeely issue, it is a "we haven't quite bothered to understand how Paul's mind works" issue. If we are coming to this trying to prove some doctrine wrong or some other doctrine right, instead of coming in search of actual truth, we will get nowhere. We must come to a unity in interpreting Paul's thought that does not twist scripture to our own ends. Are you willing to listen, to think, to change your mind? Are we all involved in a reckless and ruthless search for the real truth here? Are we going to go on being lazy about this?

If we go with the idea that Paul is not schizophrenic, and that there is a unity of thought to his writings, we need to look at Paul's general message and Paul's intent and circumstance in writing to the Corinthians. In the book of Romans, Paul had never been to Rome, the nerve center of civilization at the time, and he wanted to make sure he outlined a full explanation of the gospel from beginning to end. The Corinthian letters are different; Paul had spent a lot of time with these people, and he was writing a pastoral letter to address some specific and thorny problems. Corinth was a very carnal city and not only were there a lot of temptations there, several within the church tended to succumb to these temptations.

Now, the verse we looked at in Galatians is very useful to solve our problem:

“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Galatians 5:13, NASB.

Like the Galatians, the Corinthian believers are also called to freedom. If someone is a Christian, born of the Spirit and standing in grace, fruit will begin to bud and form such as love and joy and patience and kindness and such.

Under the law, the freedom of grace looks like license to sin. Under grace, sin looks like a really dumb way to spend your freedom. Paul is saying, you can tell when someone is posing, when they really aren't under grace, when they simply do not get it, because they are drawn to the forbidden! Under the law, if you say, you can't have sex with THAT, the fleshly part of you says, wow, that sounds EXCITING! I want to break out of this prison of prim properness and really live! Grace says, go ahead, you are allowed to do anything, do as you wish, you are eternally loved. You come into your right mind and say, REALLY?! Actually, I don't think I want any of that, gross! I'm actually really blessed right now, and sin takes me to places I don't like. I prefer to be happy and honorable and to live with dignity - why not?

This is all too simplistic though, right? It can't work without a threat. There has to be some kind of consequence for sin! Are we preaching some kind of universal salvation? Let's take another look at this same verse, but this time, let's include a tiny bit of context:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God. All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-12, NASB.

Notice that last sentence which I included this time. "ALL THINGS ARE LAWFUL FOR ME!" We don't need to thumb over to some other book or context to see this, it is in the same direct stream of thought as our 'problem' verse! It is the very next verse, nestled in the whole section on how terrible sexual sins are! What are these things that are lawful? What is he saying? The simple context would indicate that he is talking about fornication, idolatry, homosexuality, coveting, drinking to excess, swindling, etc. But didn't he just say that those who do these things should not inherit the kingdom of God? Is Paul crazy? All of the sudden he is saying you can do anything, but you might want to avoid sex with goats because it isn't profitable!

I want to pause here and note something. If your idea of salvation, your idea of what the Christian gospel really is, leads you to chop off this last verse, then you are really really really not getting it. The mindset of grace just looks at things differently. For example, look at a verse like Romans 6:23:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23, NASB.

If you think, "SEE! Wages of sin is death! We should stop sinning! Wages of sin is death!" You are totally missing it. The law is about earning favor by your behavior, you earn WAGES. Grace says, "SEE! Free gift! Free gift! eternal life!! WOO HOO its FREEEEEEE!!"

Here's another example:

“No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.” 1 John 3:6, NASB.

Under the law, you think, "SEE! stop sinning or you don't abide in Him!" Whereas grace says, "SEE! abide in Him, and sin falls off of you easily! Abide in Him! Know Him! It's great!"

Look again at our problem verse. What is the difference between the swindlers and revilers and fornicators and Christians? Is it primarily that they stopped reviling? NO, we don't have the power to just stop doing these things and the specifics are peripheral anyway. Grace is an umbrella term for a supernatural work of God in a sinner's life. Forgiveness is included in the package. So is washing. Because forgiveness is real, it allows you to see how rotten your sinfulness is, and to actually really want cleansing. This is heart-level change, born of a supernatural work. It includes justification AND sanctification, and it includes the idea that GOD DID SOMETHING in the midst of a troubled soul. There is a supernatural God-initiated change in a person. Law wants to strip the supernatural from the equation. If someone has this supernatural work of forgiveness and cleansing, there is no question it will be obvious in their life. There will be a great joy, and the interest in the things the law forbids will drop off.

So, it is not the specific behaviors themselves which prevent an individual from entering the kingdom of heaven. It is the disbelief in grace, the fascination and love for the forbidden. It is the dependence on self, the lack of the supernatural. It is the heart which seeks earnestly that which is NOT heaven. It is the heart which, led on by the exciting forbiddenness of evil, finds heaven and its freedom boring.

There is an issue of identity going on here. It is not individual behaviors which are at issue, but what you are. There is a difference between having a drink and being a drunkard. That difference has everything to do with your stance on the grace of God. He says, SUCH WERE some of you. We need this leeway because if we are going to minister among real sinners, (like, for example, ME), we are going to need some wiggle room to say they were washed but they still get their feet dirty again sometimes. We need room for people who used to BE drunkards or revilers to have some successes and occasional failures, to have an open door back to success. People whose heart is changed may have minds and life patterns which drag somewhat behind. We need room for some people to have a lot of failure. Legalists are willing to dismiss people for far less than God is. If someone fails once or fails 100 times and they come back, wanting to change, then there is a washed part of them in there that is struggling to show some fruit. Some fields that have particularly good soil may grow some great fruit, but they also grow great weeds; they need more attention, more patience, more work. If we do not have the same cloud of misfits and scoundrels and sinners delighting to hang around us like Jesus did, maybe we are not speaking forth the same message that sounds like beautiful music to their ears. If we don't like hearing about forgiving 70 times 7 PER DAY, we are going to be very uncomfortable with the kind of people God is really interested in.

If the way we read this makes us want to chop off the "All things are lawful" clause, then we are not getting it. If we focus on certain sins in this list, like homosexuality, while ignoring others, like coveteousness or reviling, we are not getting it. It is not the specific behavior, it is the MASTERY over a person that is at issue. We are not looking for specific instances of behavior in order to boot people out, we are looking for clues to the inner master of a person that says, they really may not be one of us. There is a difference between being 'unrighteous' and being under grace but stumbling. Our efforts to help and forgive aren't going to work because they need stronger medicine than a smiling welcome and general acceptance. Grace takes a different shape for them, the Father heart of God has a different plan to truly bring them into the fold in a way that they really belong.

So here is what is going on. There was someone in the Corinthian congregation was actually having sexual relations with his step-mother:

“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife.” 1 Corinthians 5:1, NASB.

This whole section in 1 Corinthians is really addressing that particular problem. There is some crazy crazy stuff going on, and Paul says, don't think that the response of grace is to smile and coddle him and pretend it isn't happening. Probably the guy isn't really a believer and is playing you all as shills; go ahead and have the freedom and the huevos to boot him out the door. We're under grace - that should be scary to sinners trying to take advantage of us! He is saying, guys, do a little tiny bit of fruit checking, and take some minimal action. Grace doesn't mean you can't do this! This is grace in practice in the real world.

Paul writes a second letter to the same Corinthian believers, about the same guy he told them boot out, imploring them to invite him back into fellowship:

“But I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again. For if I cause you sorrow, who then makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful? And this is the very thing I wrote you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not that you should be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you. But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree--in order not to say too much--to all of you. Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, lest somehow such a one be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. For to this end also I wrote that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. But whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” 2 Corinthians 2:1-11, NASB.

In the end, grace dictated tough love, and tough love worked. It wasn't easy, it was scary, and Paul, moved by the Spirit, really cared more than anyone realized for the welfare of the one disciplined. Grace does not mean there is no discipline, no sorrow. However, grace is quick to sieze on success, on hope, it finds the lost coin and has joy in the reconciliation. In fact, we are not the arbiters of grace; we serve a great and deeply loving Father who longs to see these lost ones reconciled back to the joy and felowship of the community of those who walk in His awesome grace. I'm so grateful to be there!

Ann Rice's anti-conversion

This is my reaction to one of the numerous articles about Ann Rice's departure from the Catholic church. Read the article here:

I am so sorry to constantly stir up trouble. This is not an attack on Jim Mann, whom I know and respect. However, the tenor of this is typical of just about every evangelical church in America:

Quoting the article:
"Jesus warned us 2,000 years ago that the Bible’s message would be offensive to the world. Heck, it offends Christians, too. The reason for the affront is the mirror-like aspect of God’s word, revealing our deepest flaws and all our ugliness apart from God. The Bible calls us to change our thinking. It calls us to change our actions. That’s where we get the term “conversion.”"

Ann Rice 'converted' to Catholicism. She is rightly rejecting a lot of the catholic church's graceless legalistic weirdness. As protestants, we reject a lot of it too. She rejects the pro-life stance; I have a problem with that, but no evangelical right-winger seems to be able to allow that there might be noble reasons why people want to think that way, and that it is possible to have a respectful dialog. See this blog post if you haven't:

I don't think the Bible calls us to 'convert' by primarily changing our actions. It isn't primarily about confronting us with our ugliness. For goodness sakes, who wants to 'convert' to that?! Yea, I get to be confronted about how rotten I am! I didn't know! If I make an impossible promise to change my behavior and follow the world's most monumental moral code then I can be a Christian too! That sounds awesome - NOT!

The message of Scripture, of Jesus and Paul and the writer of Hebrews and John et call, is the message of GRACE! We are converted from the world of earning favor and being good, to the world of being loved by God first. The part that is offensive is not that the Bible presents a higher and more unobtainable moral code. The part that is offensive is that we are asked to no longer manipulate our own significance by superior behavior, skills, or intelligence. It allows God by grace to establish our significance, and revels in His power and truth to establish us and even appear to be righteous.

These kinds of articles about Ann Rice or whatever are just more fodder for non-Christians to dismiss the church. I'd like to see what Ann Rice would think if given a chance to hear that Christianity is based on a loving Father, on truth, on grace and enduring mercy and forgiveness. I'd like to ehar how she would react if told that she is the pearl of great price that God desperately wants, and that that love is the engine for inner and moral change. I can promise you she didn't hear that hammered home in the Catholic church, and she wouldn't hear it in most protestant churches either.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The deeds of the flesh

In dialog with a friend, Kim Dickson, she did my work for me and brought up some passages that might seem to contradict grace. I am going to work through these one by one. However, before I do, I want to think through a bit of groundwork.

First, as Christians, we believe the Bible. The whole message of scripture is the right message. This is not a situation where we should be saying "they believe these verses but we believe these other verses." We all believe all the verses. I believe that the perspective of grace ties all the message of scripture, Old Testament and New Testament, Romans and James, together in a way that a more legalistic perspective does not. I am going to look at these passages that way - in context, according to a perspective of grace, and against the framework of Paul's thinking in Romans, Galatians, and his other writings, and against Jesus' teachings.

Here is the passage I want to look at first:

"The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." Galatians 5:19-21

Now, this is a perfect example of the whole point; Galatians is the proof-text for the message of grace. It almost isn't fair to start here, because the entire book is making the point that I am making, and making it probably much better than I could make it.

In Galatians, Paul is hopping mad at the people in the church at Galatia:

“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-9, NASB.

And again, even more forcefully, here:

“You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain--if indeed it was in vain? Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” Galatians 3:1-5, NASB.

What is the gospel he is talking about?

“... knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified. “But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! “For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. “For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”” Galatians 2:16-21, NASB.

What 'Law' is he talking about? THE LAW! No idols, no sabbath work, don't murder, don't commit adultery, the WHOLE LAW. Somebody show me where is talking about some other law! You can't, because he is not. By the works of the law no one shall be justified.

Then he says, "I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." When you come under grace, you no longer have personal obligation to live under the law, and righteousness springs from a new well. I always say, you cannot have Christian virtue that is of the natural - Christian virtue requires supernatural manifestation. It is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit as much as prophecy or words of knowledge or speaking in tongues might be.

Notice how he ties in the idea that the life he now lives he lives by faith in Christ, 'WHO LOVED ME'! The inception of our Christian walk is that Christ loves us, would rather die than live without us. And he brings up the crucial point that if righteousness comes through the law, it nullifies grace. Our ongoing walk, our present behaviors, today, are completely wrapped up NOW in the propitiatory death of Christ. When he talks about nullifying the grace of God and Christ dying needlessly, he is saying the same thing as when I say "the blood of Christ plus nothing" saves us. If it becomes the blood of Christ plus not having idols, or the blood of Christ plus not committing sexual sins, or the blood of Christ plus not having habitual sin, then the blood of Christ is nullified, and Christ died needlessly, because it wasn't enough to save us.

This isn't my idea, or some weird twisting of Paul's message, this is the general message of the entire book of Galatians. This is what they were violating, this is what he is addressing. What I am saying is truly the general point of the book as a whole. Skip this and you skip the real context of the 'problem' passage. Interpret the 'problem' verses in a way that puts people under law and you commit the exact error that Paul is so hopping mad about.

Does grace advocate sexual sins, and idolatry, and habitual gluttony and smoking and orgies? Of course not!!! Let's quote the entire passage here:

“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:13-23, NASB.

This, in context, paints an entirely different picture doesn't it? It's like a politician who gets quoted from an interview entirely out of context of what he was saying, making it look like he is saying something completely different.

When he says the deeds of the 'flesh', he means the deeds of the natural man, the natural mind, the non-supernatural person who is trying to do good by the law. He says, we are called to freedom! Use freedom to walk in the fruit of the spirit, not the flesh. If you try to live by the law like the Galatians, by the flesh, the flesh will win, and you become Jimmy Swaggart - you preach one thing and live something else. We do not live by NOT doing the deeds of the flesh, we live by being free, and walking in the fruit of a supernatural day-by-day experience with the Holy Spirit. This passage is all about fruit checking. Does this person seem to have any evidence that there is freedom, that there is supernatural fruit, is there an inner love and joy and peace, or is there anger and selfishness and strife and immorality? The solution to these evils is not to come under law, but to come under grace. So, if one is not under grace, and shows fruits of such, yes, they are headed straight to hell. It isn't a judgement on the behaviors, so much as it is their choice to live under the umbrella of obligation and law.

Some may say that this is too small and technical a point, who can understand it? I say, if you don't care about this, you miss the entire point of being a Christian. Christian virtue is about changing the source of the flow of motivation and thought to a free and desired and Holy-Spirit born joy. Any other source, whether it is obvious like a prostitute or concealed like a pharisee, is destined to failure. Notice that Paul looks at the deeds of the flesh that he lists as 'evidence' - they are ways to check fruit, but not the means by which one obtains the favor of God. We do not decide in the flesh, because our Sunday School teacher said so, that we are going to have peace and joy and love, and eschew orgies and selfishness. It simply doesn't work that way. One either comes under grace, and bears the fruit of that, or one comes under the flesh (law), and bears the fruit of that.

It is all about grace, and this passage, in its full context, proves that. I say, jump into the water of real scandalous full-blown grace, believe in the Father's love for you despite all that you have done or will do. The water is FINE!!!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The idolization of the 'changed life'

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10, NASB.

Discipleship, sanctification, the "Lordship of Christ", the evidence of "changed lives" - these are all euphemisms for a graceless Christianity. Notice that when people speak of the "Lordship of Christ", what they mean is that through their own obedience they 'MAKE' Him Lord - not that He actually IS Lord. I guess that poor Jesus cannot make Himself Lord unless I perfectly repent. What power I have! I conjure and control God with my 'holiness' - until I fall off my little pony! If the main sign of true Christianity is a "changed life", then if those who otherwise consider themselves Christians still stumble, still struggle, still crawl off of the altar of being a "living and holy" sacrifice, then is that evidence circumspect? Of course it is, because human beings will always consider their last failure the truest evidence of what they really are, and this kind of thinking just reinforces the idea that perhaps they are not really a Christian. That just leads them into further failure, and closes the door to God, discouraging them from going to the throne of grace in their time of need. How do you think the Father feels about that whole dynamic? I don't speak for Him directly, but personally, it angers me to no end.

On the other hand, we have the actual teachings of Jesus, and Paul, and the apostle John, et all. We have numerous parables and stories depicting the tender Father-heart of God. We see Him doing miracles to prove He has the power to forgive. We see Jesus persevering with making Peter the cornerstone figure of His church, even in the face of heinous rejection and betrayal. In this case, it is JESUS who is Lord - even terrible rejection and betrayal and abandonment by all of His closest disciples could not stop Him. He raised Himself from the DEAD, and came back with mercy and grace in His heart for them. I think that for them, the first disciples, the 'Lordship of Christ' would mean something very different than the half-hearted dim-witted drivel that most people who throw this phrase around mean.

Many modern Christians thus make virtue and their own changed life an idol, a graven and false image of God. 'Holiness' seems to be the chief end of their beliefs, not grace and mercy, not worship, not a free relationship with the true living God to whose throne we can go boldly in time of need. Grace for them is only a springboard into gracelessness. It is just as ridiculous and hopeless and pointless as it sounds. You can tell by your prayerlessness that you are sitting in that place - you have the picture that 'God' always sort of hates you and you certainly don't REALLY like Him either, He just makes you feel really bad about yourself all the time. Why would you PRAY under that dynamic? No wonder that people fall away from such nonsense. It is such a bad and colorless idol! If you want to worship an idol, why not make it a fat smiling Buddha who will let you have some fun! Then you can at least enjoy yourself for a short time before you spend eternity in hell. Maybe this is a bad example, but you can bet that everyone who chooses to be outside of the church definitely believes it; and they are more right than they know!

The language of graceless Christianity enters subtly through the back door even for many who otherwise profess to believe in grace. "We must move on from the need for mercy to a 'deeper walk.'" "Yes, Christ loves us, but we must strive to become more and more holy and make Him Lord of our lives and [blah blah blah blah blah]." "I need to die to self because the mind set on the flesh is death." What they are really saying is this: "I need to take every scripture out of context and twist it to make me and everyone around me feel much much worse about our tepid relationship with Christ. Guilt-inducing conviction indicates that the Holy Spirit is really moving." I'm sure they mean well, but what they really mean is, if you don't show evidence of a truly changed life then you probably aren't a Christian. What starts with grace continues with law and obligation.

So, does this mean that we reject virtue altogether? Does sanctification, gradually increasing righteousness, discipline and holy living, have any place? Of course, don't be ridiculous. Here is a news flash: really giving over to Him in belief in His grace and His empowerment, IS DEATH TO SELF. It means I am no longer in charge of making God accept and love me. It means I give up responsibility for being good and significant. It means I give up the secret idea that I can manipulate the favor of God by a limited and flawed and short-lived repentance. Eventually you get worn down enough by the circumstances of life to realize that you can't repent very well, and that in fact you don't even WANT to keep going that way any more. It is at that point you are ready for the power and joy of knowing Him. It is a JOY to surrender everything, even our own responsibilities. However, the power to change, the power to grow in holiness, the power to sustain a true behavioral change, is not an obligation, and it is not the basis for the Lordship of Christ even for me personally. Such change and such behavioral shifts are a GIFT, a fruit, a wonderful consequence of a growing and ongoing relationship with a God who loves me like a very good father. When we shift from the universe of law and obligation over to the universe of grace, when we set our minds on the things of the Holy Spirit, love and joy and peace and kindness blossom. It is a GIFT!

Grace and mercy and the everlasting acceptance and love of God really are good news! It is so HAPPY to believe all of this, and doubly so because it is BIBLICAL and it is TRUE. It is solid and sustainable to think that we will fail, but God will forever accept us and lead us to greener pastures, and feed our hunger for righteousness. Changed living is not the foundation of Christianity, grace is. There are terrible consequences when we worship idols, even very virtuous and seemingly benign and safely harsh ones. Jesus, on the other hand, is full of grace and truth:

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” John 1:14, 17, NASB.