Thursday, April 5, 2012

3 Degrees from a Noose: Accepting Grace (Part II)

In my last post, "Remorse to Repentance," I shared some thoughts from a sermon I recently co-preached with Luke Norsworthy. The sermon focused on Peter and Judas, how both felt remorse, shame, and sorrow over their betrayal of Jesus and yet they ended up in vastly differently places: Peter as a key Early Church leader and Judas dead! Peter moved from remorse to repentance while Judas moved from remorse to shame to self-hatred. Peter's success centered on his ability to accept God's Grace.  

Having personally stood in both Peter and Judas' shoes, I too found myself at the crossroads of repentance or self-hatred.  Thanks to a community that surrounded me and a strong theological foundation I was able to accept God's grace in my life and move into a new and better place than I have ever been.  Here are three necessary steps in accepting God's grace in your life.
1. You must BELIEVE in God's grace .  In order to accept God's grace you must be solidly grounded in its limitlessness.  That’s why "good" theology is important.  That’s why knowing your Bible is important. If teachings of a disappointed, angry, and legalistic God shaped your understanding of the Father then grace will be nearly impossible for you to receive.

As I struggled to accept God's grace in my own life I dwelt in Romans 8.  I lived in this passage until it's truth became a part of my daily rhythm.  It is a passage about God’s love, his justification, and life in the Spirit. Particularly, I prayed 8:33b, "It is God who justifies" hundreds of times a day.  I prayed it for three reasons:
  • Unfortunately you cannot undo the damage your sin caused. (Sin always destroys. That is what it does.) You can cease a sinful act, you can repair relationships, you can seek restoration but you cannot undo the sin.  You cannot fix it. "It is God who justifies," is a calming reminder that although you cannot make what you did right, God can and does make you right.  It will let you sleep at night. (There was a period in my life where I prayed this phrase over and over until I fell asleep at night.)
  • Many times your sinful choices bring judgement from others. You will hunger to change people's perception of you.  Praying, "It is God who justifies," helps you find peace in knowing that others' opinions of you cannot justify or condemn you because only GOD justifies, and not Lady From Church who sits on the third row.
  • Finally, praying "It is God who justifies" reminds you that you have a right standing before God,  a Child of God, not because you did "good" or you did "bad' but because he made you his child.  God justifies because of his love and not your performance.
In order to accept grace, you must immerse yourself in the truth of scripture and God's nature. You must BELIEVE in his grace. 

2. You must FEEL God's grace. If believing in God's grace helps your mind accept grace, then feeling God's grace helps your heart accept it.  Unless you are the exception and have stood face to face with God, you probably have not felt his arms wrap around your body- where God swallows you up in an embrace as the Father does The Prodigal. While God may not appear in person, the body of Christ is there to help you physically accept God's grace.  The Church is the arms and legs of God, the Spirit-filled (His Spirit) community.

It is imperative that you stay connected or get connected to a church body when you are seeking to make that change from remorse to repentance - to accept God's grace. When you enter the remorse phase Satan will immediately attempt to ISOLATE you in your shame and guilt.  In my case, I knew this and therefore one of the first things I did was call two of my best friends and tell them, “I need your help.  I cannot do this by myself.”

You need to feel God’s grace. You need to feel people love you in spite of your failure.  The place we go (should go) for that is the Church! DO NOT ISOLATE YOURSELF IN YOUR SORROW.  If you do you will guarantee it will lead to worldly sorrow. Remember Judas...suicide is always committed alone!! But on the other hand, Peter, who bounced back, gathered with the Eleven only two chapters after his denial.  He stayed connected to the body.

[NOTE to Churches… We must be the arms and hugs of God’s grace to those who are moving from sorrow to repentance.  We are the physical manifestation of God's grace.]

3. You must LIVE out of God's grace. Satan wins a battle when you give in to temptation and choose sin, but he wins the war if you let the shame and guilt of your sin paralyze you from getting involved in Kingdom work. He is perfectly content for you to feel bad for your sin, to even stop sinning as long as the guilt of your sin keeps you immobile in the Kingdom.

It is one thing to believe in his grace and to feel his grace but if you really want to repent, to turn the car around, to go the other direction you have to LIVE out of grace.  Peter is a great example of what it means to live out of God's grace. Not only did he return to the Eleven but Peter gives a sermon at Pentecost that ends up with 3000 people baptized.  Peter's greatest witness for God came post his epic fail! He goes on to become one of the most powerful leaders in Church history because he chose to live out of God’s grace.

Your sinful past/present will make you feel unworthy to serve in the Kingdom. YOU ARE UNWORTHY! WE ARE ALL UNWORTHY, always… that’s the beauty of grace.  God uses the unworthy for his ministry.  Don’t let your past cripple your ministry in the present! Live out of grace.

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