Tuesday, September 4, 2012

walking through the gospel: grace upon grace :: when we stumble

This week in our walking through the Gospel series we are talking about grace- which is funny because it's something you have to experience more than you can talk about!

When you do experience it, it brings a whole new layer of thankfulness to your heart. Grace is one of the most beautiful ways your heart is drawn to God.

what is grace?

Really, grace is the very heart of what God has done for us. It's the gift of something we don't deserve: forgiveness of our sins and salvation from life and eternity apart from God.

Ephesians 2:8-9
8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 

We are sinners- we all know that in our hearts- but God has given us the gift of being rescued from sin. We were once held hostage by it- we couldn't get out of it no matter how hard we tried.

But Jesus released us from that bondage when He died on the cross. And when we believe in Him, we accept that free gift of release from sin.

Romans 6:14
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

sinning as believers

But the confusing part comes when we still sin after we become believers. Don't you wish that you would suddenly be as perfect and sinless as Jesus was? I know I do.

But our flesh- our mortal body- was conceived by sinful parents {tracing all the way back to Adam and Eve}, and it desires to do what our new spirit in Christ does not.

Let me give you a quick example of how the "flesh" works: if one of your children or siblings colored on your favorite tan leather jacket {you know, the $150 one you got for your birthday} with a sharpie- what would you do when you found it?

If you're anything like me, you'd probably be extremely angry. And the anger would probably come out vocally, if you know what I mean. Harsh words, yelling... you can imagine.

The horrible tension that bubbles up in your chest and comes out in your thoughts and your words- that's your flesh talking.

And somewhere, in the back of your mind, you know you're doing wrong, and you hear a whisper, "Stop yelling! Be kind..."- that's the Spirit working in you!

You see, we are in this middle place. We are not at home- we are in a battle in a foreign land, so to speak. Our hearts are being made pure by the Holy Spirit, but we let our fleshly bodies win sometimes {and we don't even want to!}.

the battle: flesh against spirit

This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 7:

14For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Paul was feeling the very same battle that we feel every day: we want to do what is right- our mind says to do it, but our flesh is going to battle against it!

Our mortal, fleshly bodies are tied to sin- but our spirit is not, because the Holy Spirit lives in us and has freed us from it by the power of the cross!

We can't overcome sin with our own power- it has to be God's. And if God lives in us, we cannot continue to keep doing the old sins that we used to love, because the Holy Spirit continually changes us! {isn't that the best news you've heard all day?!}

the good news: the flesh loses

Paul immediately shares the good news about this battle in chapter 8:

1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.a 2For the law of the Spirit of life has set youb free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,c he condemned sin in the flesh, 4in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

The Holy Spirit gives us life- when you believe, even though your mortal body will die because of sin, you are given the gift of life when you walk with Him! God condemned sin in the flesh through the death of Jesus on the cross so that you can have life in Him now and in eternity.

That means, when you believe and follow Jesus- when your mind is set on Him, and the Spirit lives in you {and your mind cannot be set on Him without the Spirit living in you}, He defeats the sin in your flesh!

This is the gift of grace at work in you! You see, God is putting sin to death where it starts- in your heart!!

grace works at the heart level

You'll find when you seek God with all your heart, that He starts to put sin to death in you more and more. But it definitely happens over time, as far as I can tell. :) The longer you walk with Him, the more you will start to see the sin in your heart.

He gently reminds you when you do mess up, too. Like He did for me. I was selfish, and He nudged my heart and showed it to me. And my sin was ugly!

I would've never thought slamming a door in anger was really all that sinful 10 years ago- but thankfully, He works on you over time!  ;) And He is so patient with us! 

Psalm 103:8
The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Over and over, I stumble and sin, and He shows me and forgives me, and reminds me of what He did for me on the cross. The most amazing thing is that I don't want to sin as much as I used to. I want to please God more than I ever did before- and that has nothing to do with me. Nothing at all.

I know myself- I know that had He not redeemed me, I would be more and more lost every year- more deeply selfish- more impatient- more bitter. It's the way it goes.

But God is so, so merciful to give me grace. He brought me back to life, to know who He is, to FEEL His Spirit- His presence. I don't deserve that- not one bit of it. And every time I mess up, I understand more of what He has done for me, and I end up seeking more of Him! This is His strength being perfected in my weakness!

He is good. Oh, He is so, so good to us! Praise Him for His grace toward us! Will you pray for His grace to be evident in your life if it isn't right now? 

Next week we will talk more about how the Gospel transforms us and changes our hearts toward God and others, and what that sharpie situation looks like when your heart starts to be transformed. :)

next week: 
the transforming power of the gospel

previous posts in the walking through the gospel series:

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