Good people don’t need grace

““A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:41–50 ESV)““A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:41–50 ESV)

I once had a friend tell me that the reason that a pastor of ours was so passionate about his pursuit of Christ was because he had lived such a dark life before he became a Christian.  He quoted Luke 7:47 to justify his thinking (“those who have been forgiven much, love much”).  I still recall that conversation because it is true.  We often times think that God’s grace covers the gap between what we have done right & His perfect standard.  The problem with this thinking is that we fail to understand that we have never done anything right before God – all of our affections, actions and motivations are stained by sin.  The bible describes us using phrases like:  dead (last time I checked, dead people don’t do stuff), enemies of God, objects of wrath, destined for destruction and that no one is good in His sight.

Isn’t that the point of this parable?  Isn’t Jesus trying to get us to see the absurdity of our morality based thinking.  This is the Creator of the Universe – do we really think that we have anything that we can bring before Him that makes Him say, “that guy is really killing it, I’m really glad he’s on my team?”  It is true that many people who were saved out of checkered pasts fraught with promiscuity, drugs, drunkenness & immorality have a passion that other Christians lack.  The reason for this is because they are more likely to realize their desperate need for the grace of God because they have such a good understanding of their own depravity.  But, the truth is that EVERYONE is in dire need of grace.

Think about the parable of the prodigal son that Jesus tells in Luke 15.  We love the idea of God’s amazing grace towards the “worst of sinners” like the younger brother.  Unfortunately, we are some times more like the older brother in the story – indignant that the Father would be so gracious to that undeserving rebel and not doting over us for our faithful obedience.  Do you see it?  The older brother (like many of us) had grown dependent on his own obedience as the reason that God should approve of him.  He was self righteous because he had followed the rules; he had lived obediently.  The problem is that we can never earn the approval of God (God’s approval of you was earned by Jesus on the cross, period).  This thinking causes us to believe that God now “owes us” us because we have so faithfully obeyed.  The God of this universe owes us nothing – except His just wrath.

We all slip into this thinking without intentionality in our lives.  We must regularly beg God to quicken our hearts and enlighten our eyes to see His perfect, holy & sovereign nature AND just how rebellious our hearts are towards Him.  The better we understand these things at a deep heart level, the more profoundly grateful (like the woman in the parable above) we are for the unearned approval of the Creator.  Good people don’t need grace, but you aren’t good (Romans 3:12) – only One was good.

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Jesus + Anything = Nothing

“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—” (Philippians 3:2–3 ESV)

The Apostle Paul’s overall upbeat & positive tone in this letter suddenly takes on a harsh tone when he begins to address a quasi Christian sect of Jews known as the Judaizers.  He calls them dogs, which is not a compliment – this word can also be translated as “male prostitute” so we can begin to see the angst that the Apostle has towards these people.  The basic message of the Judiazers was that you need Jesus plus a list of your own works (culminating in circumcision) to be acceptable to God.  It was a “Jesus +” theology.  The letter to the Galatians was written to combat these people’s works-based righteousness theology.

This is no minor issue – this is a major issue, upon which there is no compromise.  Those who teach that something besides Jesus’ sacrificial death is required to be right before God have departed from the gospel.  It is unfortunate that many Christians, over time, migrate to this view.  After years, we often begin to think (though we’d never say it) that our hard fought efforts for the kingdom earn us additional favor with God.  We effectively believe that God is happier and more pleased with us because of our obedience and sacrifice.  Be careful, whenever we approach the Creator with a pile of our works in hand thinking that He will be pleased, it evokes a visceral response from the Almighty.  He calls our best works, when offered as self righteous justifying works, as a pile of filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  You are completely dependent on the finished work of Jesus alone to be acceptable to God – you can do nothing to add to His approval of you.  Rest in this, for it is finished!

We must be a people who place no confidence in our flesh.  We place no worth on anything that we can contribute to Christ and our relationship with Him.  As we glory in Christ, we will find that placing confidence in our flesh is a fools exchange! 

The fuel to kill complaining

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14–15 ESV)

Don’t grumble & complain.  Sounds easy enough.  Paul is calling the Philippians (and us) to continue to work out what God is working with in.  We should not grumble and complain because Jesus, the infinitely perfect Creator, did not grumble and complain about becoming human and becoming obedient to death.  He is our focus, His sacrifice is our fuel.

The result:  blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish (v15).  As our outsides increasingly match up with the inner realities of being children of God and the work that He is doing within, we prove ourselves to be truly His.  His choice of words are reminiscent of the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness and God ultimately calls them a crooked and twisted generation (Deuteronomy 32:5).  Surrender to Him today and do the work to see Him for who he really is for as you behold Him you will increasingly become more like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18).  Oh Lord, let us just get a glimpse of your glory so that we may be transformed.

Behave as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27 ESV)

This can also be translated:  “behave as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  This sounds similar to what Paul says in 3:20:  “but our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  The Philippians were proud Roman citizens, as are many in America today.  There is a temptation to place one’s trust in country or government, but our citizenship is in heaven.  Our identity, hope, allegiance & affections are first and foremost upon God.  Since we are citizens of heaven, we gain our identity from the gospel which propels us to live our lives increasingly in ways that glorify God and reflect Him – whether our leaders (Paul in this case) are around or not, because Christ is our King.

We are visually impaired

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21 ESV)

This is one of the most well known verses in all of scripture among Christians.  It is used to motivate people to live godly lives and accomplish great feats for the kingdom of God.  But the real question is how in the world is Paul able to say this when he has suffered so greatly for the cause of Christ.  He pens these words to the Philippians while in a Roman prison.  His logic is death would be better than life because he would get to be with Christ, while life means that he would get to continue for their progress and joy in the faith (v25).  Who talks like this?  Who says, “I’d rather die than live?”  He sees something that we don’t see and knows something that we don’t know.  It is easy to discount this as just Paul, after all he was an apostle and wrote over ½ of the New Testament.  But the same Power that was at work in Paul, is at work within us.  We are visually impaired, Paul was not – he saw things clearly.  “Oh Lord, enlighten the eyes of our hearts to see your beauty and to believe that knowing & loving You causes all things in this world pale in comparison.  Lord, make You our Greatest Treasure.”

The firm foundation for all authentic spiritual growth & transformation

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:3–8 ESV)

Paul opens this letter with thankfulness and joy – an unusual response for a man who had suffered so much and was currently writing them from jail in Rome.  This is no superficial joy, his joy is rooted in their partnership with him in the gospel – they had received the grace of God personally and were also faithful supporters of Paul & the proclamation of the gospel.  He views both imprisonment and preaching the Gospel as God’s grace; it is interesting that a man who has been so persecuted for the faith and proclamation of the Gospel views imprisonment & preaching the Gospel as grace – if only we could see grace in our hardships.  Difficulties have a way of pushing us to dependance which is the ultimate act of grace.  Paul encourages them that this was God’s work that HE BEGAN in them and that HE WOULD COMPLETE (1:6).  All authentic spiritual growth and transformation finds its firm foundation on what God has done, what God is doing and what God promises to do; our focus should be on the faithfulness of God, not on our own faithfulness.  The good, sovereign, holy God that saved them would sustain them and would keep them to the end! (Philippians 2:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:2–11; 2 Pet. 3:10–13; Rev. 20:11–21:8).  The same is true of us – He who began the work is always faithful to complete it.

 

The birth of a church, the miracle that still happens today

“So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.” (Acts 16:11–18 ESV)

Paul and Silas witnessed the birth of a new church in Acts 16.  It was quite the whirlwind as they arrived in the Roman colony of Macedonia.  They walked in to Philippi and ended up talking with an affluent woman from Thyatira, Lydia, who was a worshiper of God.  This was a commonly used phrase to describe Gentiles who believed in the God of the Hebrews, but had not converted to Judaism (see Cornelius in Acts 10:2).  But something happened to Lydia that is often read right over at the end of verse 14 –  “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”  It was not by Paul’s persuasive powers or his wisdom – it was by the supernatural work of God, by whom all are drawn to Him.  And we know that no one comes to God unless God draws him (John 6:44, 6:65).  If you are a Christian today, it is because God drew you to Himself, regenerated your heart and gave you faith to believe.  Don’t gloss over that – allow it to sink in.

The excitement continues as Paul & Silas are heading to Lydia’s house to stay for a few days when a demon possessed slave girl, who earned a lot of money for her owners by fortune telling (Acts 16:16), began following them saying, “these men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.””  Paul finally gets annoyed with her and casts the demon out of her in the name of Jesus (Acts 16:18) – what a power do you walk in when you get annoyed and cast out a demon?  Paul was probably annoyed because he did not want the gospel message to be identified with a demon possessed girl who told fortunes.  The girl’s owners became angry because their source of income was now gone so they call on the city officials, complaining that Paul & Silas were causing a commotion.  A miscarriage of justice occurred when the magistrates gave orders to have them beat with rods and thrown in to jail (Acts 16:22-24, 2 Corinthians 11:25, 1 Thessalonians 2:2).  This was just a prelude to the real action, though.  While they were in jail, they began singing and praying and a great earthquake shook the foundations of the jail and all of the doors burst open.  The jailer was shocked and attempts to take his own life, but Paul stops him.  The jailer then asks what he must do to be saved.  He believes and is baptized.

What an exciting way to see a church come in to being!  Fights, earthquakes, doors bursting open!  It is easy for us to read this and be unmoved by all of the miraculous things that are going on because most have never experienced these types of miracles.  But, the most miraculous thing that happens in this text, still happens today:  God opens the hearts of rebellious creatures to believe the gospel.  Why would a perfect, holy, all powerful Creator make peace with creatures who want nothing more than to take His throne?  Why would He draw such people to Himself?  Why would He justify them?  Why would He adopt them into His family?  Why would He do this for you and me?  For your joy and His glory.  The real miracle in this text – and one that still happens today is that God has called you, justified you, adopted you into His family and will one day glorify you.  Allow this truth to move you!