The Grace of God Changes our Identity: Eph. 5:1-2

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”–Eph. 5:1-2

Two weeks ago, we discussed how Paul shows the church how God’s grace enables and commands us to lead holy lives. He continues that thread into chapter five, but before he continues his description of what believers’ lives should look like, he reminds the church of their new identity in Christ and calls them to a new life in response to it.

When you put your faith in Jesus, you didn’t just get forgiveness and a spot in heaven, as remarkable as that is. You got adopted by the God of the universe! How often we forget in our struggles and our sufferings that we are children of God. We are not God’s employees or simply God’s servants…we are His children!

We who deserve hell not only receive pardon and right standing with God, but we actually get adopted. Matt Chandler has described it like this: When God justifies us, that is, He forgives our sin, clothes us in Christ’s righteousness, and takes over as our God, He is acting as a judge. It’s best analogy is that of an employer and employee. I have had a good relationship with my bosses. There is nothing between us, and I have not been written up. However, I am not necessarily going to talk to them very often outside of work; I’m not going to hang out with them or have a personal relationship with them outside of work. This is similar to how God would be if He stopped at forgiving us and not counting us guilty. As amazing as that is, the gospel goes further than that.

As Chandler describes, God, as He forgives us and declares us righteous in Christ, takes off the judge’s robes and takes the role, not just of judge, but of Father. Now, we don’t just have forgiveness, we have fellowship. We don’t just have eternal life, we have an eternal Father who has called us into a life-changing relationship with Him. That’s why the difference between Christianity and other religions is a personal, life-changing relationship with Jesus. I usually hate cheesy phrases, and sometimes that gets thrown in that mix, but it is absolutely true.

And this new relationship brings new responsibilities.

We are to be “imitators of God.” All of the descriptions Paul gives of holiness is not to be done as just a to-do list as we said two weeks ago, but in an attempt to be who we are in Christ and glorify our Father. We want to glorify God, and how do we do that? We imitate Him.

And we walk in love. Jesus talked about this when He said the law can be summed up by “loving God” and “loving others like yourself.”

When we love God, we want to do what pleases Him. When we love God, we love what He loves, and we want to be with Him, and we naturally do what He calls us to do.

When we love others, we want to do what helps them, and we put their needs above our own. This is what Jesus did for us by dying for us on the cross.

So, for us who know the love of the Father, we honor God by imitating Him and doing what He calls us to do. And we honor Him by loving others by serving their needs.

There’s no A-B-C list of how to meet others’ needs. We simply must look around and see needs and meet them.

Lord, may we remember that we have been adopted, not merely forgiven. May we rejoice and rest in your love. May we have eyes that see others’ needs and meet them, so we imitate and honor you.

God bless,

Neal E.

The Death of Guilt at the Cross

Everyone, at some point in their lives, has felt guilty. Everyone has skeletons they’d like to keep buried in their closet. Every single one of us has done things we aren’t proud of. The feeling of guilt can paralyze us and make us live in shame and doubt for the rest of our lives, if we don’t deal with it correctly.

So how do we deal with it? How do we react when we feel guilty?

First, we have to remember that we feel guilty because we are guilty. Those feelings of shame and guilt we feel at our actions come because we are legitimately guilty, not just before man, but before God.

Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All. Not 95%, not 99%…100%. All fall short of God’s glory, and incur, not just feelings of guilt, but actual, real guilt before a holy God.

If you’re looking for a god who will tell you that it’s all okay, and that your sin is “no big deal,” and you simply need to “overcome negative feelings and emotions,” and “believe in yourself,” you need to throw away your Bible, because you won’t find a “god” like that in it. The God of the Bible, far from telling us our sin is okay, demands blood. He is a holy and jealous God, refusing to bend even slightly from His holiness. To do so would be to betray His own character and reject His own rule and reign over us.

Think about a parent who just lets their kid get away with whatever they want. Do we consider them to be good parents? Of course not! I worked in retail for two years, and I can tell you I really appreciate parents who discipline their children, instead of the parents who let their kids destroy my department and make my job 50 times harder than it has to be. Good parents discipline their children. And a good God punishes sin, because sin is offensive to Him and ruins the world and the people He created.

Thankfully, the story doesn’t end here. We don’t have to suffer the wrath of God as a result of our guilt, because our God is a gracious God, who sent someone to suffer in our place.

Here’s how God deals with our guilt:

“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God, on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”–Heb. 9:24-26

God deals with our guilt by punishing His own Son. God throws every ounce of our real guilt, our real sin, our lust, our laziness, our murder, our anger, our idolatry, on His Son. The Son of God became our sin, became cursed, so that those who were not children of God could become children of God.

In light of His great sacrifice, here’s how the Bible tells us to deal with our guilt:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”–1 John 1:9

How simple is this? Not easy…dealing with our sin is never easy…but it is simple! We confess our sins, with faith and repentance toward Christ, and He forgives us and changes us!

God never expects us or asks us to “make up for our sin.” He never commands us to try and add to what Christ has done for us…and yet, how often do we try to do so?

I watched The Da Vinci Code a few nights ago. Don’t worry, I’m well aware that the movie’s view that Jesus had a wife and kids is total garbage….but I’m also well aware that Tom Hanks is a great actor. Anyway, one of the main antagonists in that movie spends time in self-flagellation, that is, brutally beating himself in order to “please God” and earn forgiveness of sins. It’s quite the gruesome scene. It’s also quite the ungodly scene.

Beating ourselves up and atoning for our own sins sounds nice if we don’t dig too deeply. We’d probably respect someone who is so convicted that he or she decides to “make up for it.” We love those stories…the convict who spends time mentoring others so they don’t wind up in prison, the recovering alcoholic who spends time warning people of the dangers of alcohol abuse, etc. And while there’s nothing wrong with that (if it’s done for the right reason), all of that can be a cover-up for legalism.

If we try to show God how sorry we are by beating ourselves up, or by shedding thousands of tears, thinking that those actions will merit His love, we spurn the love He showed at the cross. If we try to show God how much better we can do by self-effort, we miss the message of the cross. The cross says that our sin is so wicked that we cannot save ourselves–there must be a death that occurs. The cross also says we are so loved that God Himself paid that price for us.

If Jesus has fully paid for our sins, why do we act like there’s something else we have to do to “earn” forgiveness? The good news is that we don’t “earn” forgiveness…we receive forgiveness, freely, through the blood of Christ, through faith and repentance in Him.

If you have trusted Christ for forgiveness, and you are submitting to Him as Lord, looking to Him to lead you in new life, you are completely, 100% forgiven. There is nothing you can do, no sin you can commit, that will make God love you any less. There is nothing you can do, no good work you can commit, that will make God love you any more. While we can please and displease God with our actions, we can never lose His love, if our faith is in Christ.

So what do we do with our guilt? We take it to the one who died for us. We lay it down at the cross. We rest in His forgiveness, and trust Him to help us follow Him.

And then we get up. We walk forward, day by day, by the grace of God. And we keep living.

Don’t be paralyzed by guilt. Take it to Christ, and be rid of it.

Lord, may we never forget the cross. May we not beat ourselves up, or try to add to your work with our effort. May we rest in your grace. May we move forward in holiness by your grace. May we lay our guilt down at the cross, and worship you.

God bless,

Neal E.