Friday, August 27, 2004

The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Why Grace?
A message for Christian believers everywhere.
Are you a victim of spiritual abuse?
Are you bullied in your fellowship?
Are you never free of guilt yet regularly confessing your sins?
If you can answer yes to any or all of the above then read on to find out why.

I hope to reach all of you with this study, whether the Father is, right this minute, beginning to call you or you have been a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus for many years. To those of you who are long term believers and have been fortunate enough to find and belong to a Grace filled fellowship, I say to you, you are truly blessed, but read on as there might be something new for you here anyway.
Grace – why grace? What is it for? Why did Paul always greet the Churches in his letters with the opening remarks “Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” [I Cor. 1:3]? Could it be that together with the message of the Kingdom of God it was the most important aspect of Jesus’ message and the reason for His coming, and yet in so many fellowships, it is at best misunderstood, and at worst, completely ignored. Why is the word ‘grace’, in Paul’s salutation, accompanied by the word ‘peace’? Quite simply, because without fully understanding grace and living fully under it you will never fully experience the total peace that Paul refers to in [Phil 4:7] i.e. “the peace of God that passeth all understanding.” We have to be totally free of guilt in order to know this peace.
I was a member of a legalistic cult for seven years, where the ministers behaved like Pharisees and we the congregation were as those as described in Galatians [Gal.1:6] (foolish Galatians) only most of us, in all fairness, had never heard the original message in the first place. In defence of the cult, what I will say is that we learnt Old Testament scripture very thoroughly indeed, which in itself, as a study, was not a bad thing. I will also add at this juncture that cults do not have a monopoly in legalism – they are not the only Grace killers, but I have digressed somewhat - just a little about my background.
To give us a sense of what is important to God, the word 'Grace' appears seventy five times in the New Testament (The King James Version), and the words 'Kingdom of God/Heaven', fifty seven times. By contrast, the word 'religion' appears only five times. In three cases of the use of this word it accurately refers to the Jews and their legalist ritualised religion. In the other two uses, it means praise and worship in one and in [James 1:27] it is referring to pure religion which, in this context, is really love in action and not religion at all. James here is mocking religion not sending it up.
So what is so important about Grace? Well, to those being called as well as to those already called, it’s all-important. It’s all about Jesus’ sacrifice – His once for all time, for all sins, sacrifice. Jesus took all of our sins with Him to the cross, all the sins we have committed in the past, all the sins we have committed today and all the sins we will commit in the future. Psalm 103:11-12 states: “For as the heaven is high above the earth [so] great is the mercy toward them that fear (love and revere) Him. As far as the east is from the west [so] far hath He removed our transgressions?” Under Grace our sins are not only forgiven but also forgotten, and all of them, not just today's and yesterday's but our future sins too. We must learn the truth about Grace and take it on board or we will never fully grow in Faith and reach our full potential. In Luke 18:8 the Lord asks this very question, the second part of verse 8 “Nevertheless when the Son of Man cometh (returns as King of Kings), shall he find faith on earth?” This is what Jesus will be looking for, not how many Saturday or Sunday Sabbaths you are keeping or have kept. The Pharisees and the religious were not a first century phenomenon; they are still with us today. [II Tim. 3:5] “Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.” Men of religion.
The wondrous thing about this once for all and all time Sacrifice is that it is only half the story. Jesus’ death took away all our sins but His Resurrection gave us life, a new life and a new identity, a life of freedom; free from guilt; no more reproaching ourselves and most importantly an opportunity to grow in Godly confidence and Faith. We can then be confident in Jesus’ love and unconditional acceptance of us His friends and brothers.
Finally, and this may shock some of you, after our initial repentance and keeping a repentant heart, no more confessing of sins is needed; no more asking forgiveness, and no more penance, (what ever that means. I never could figure that one out!) Let us now get one or two things straight, because under Grace we now have a new identity and that means a completely new life; we are now born again. Read the wonderful story of Nicodemus [John3:1-13]. I never tire of it. When the Father looks down at us from Heaven, He sees not us, with all our imperfections, but Jesus (who is perfect) through the Holy Spirit in us. This is Grace. As and when we do sin, even wilfully, Jesus is there to intercede for us with the Father. (Roman Catholics please note, not Mary as she is asleep in her grave and knows nothing. Furthermore she will continue to know nothing until she is resurrected when Jesus returns [Ecclesiastes 9:5]). If we continue in wilful sin, He will even sort that out too. I will cover that subject in another study.
Now, I have covered quite a lot of ground so far on this crucial topic and I can hear the self-flagellators crying "heretic!" and groaning at the thought of realising that they may have to admit to the fact that the Lord Jesus has done everything for them, or will they? They will probably reach for their Bibles and immediately quote 1 John 1, so I will pre-empt them. The first chapter or first letter of John is not written in the same style as Paul’s letters and, perhaps, is not a letter at all but more of a sermon. Now this is crucial: The first chapter is addressed to a different audience from the second chapter, which is where a lot of ‘experts’ or ‘theologians’ go wrong. The opening verses are a declaration of his witness and personal experience of the Lord Jesus and of the opportunity, for those who believe, of eternal life, and the fact that He is the Light [verses 1-5]; but to whom is he declaring this information? Those who were already believers would have known this information. People don't declare old information they only declare new information; something that has not been heard before. Time was precious, even in the first century, and John would not have wasted time preaching to the converted. John was speaking to non-believers or those who were beginning to show an interest or those being called. That is why he is declaring it as if for the first time because his audience have not heard this message before. In verse 8 we read “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves...“ Those already born again in that congregation will have confessed their sins previously; again, why would John preach this message to the converted? Once born again, we have a new heart - a repentant heart; we now think differently. No, these verses are aimed at the unconverted.

Back to verse 3: “that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us…” Please note this and note it well, because John is saying: “that you may join us.” These people are not yet church members, they are potential converts – they are not established believers. All John is saying to them is, you can no longer carry on living the way you are, denying that you are sinners. He is explaining that they must decide to put their old life behind them, they must confess their sins, admit their wickedness and not try to kid God or themselves that they’re without sin. Quite plainly, John says to them again in verse 8 that if you say you have no sin then you are lying to God, your fellow man and even to yourselves. More importantly, in chapter 1 verse 10, John also says that we make God a liar as well and His Word is not in us. These passages are here to help bring new converts to true repentance i.e. to help them realise that in their fallen condition they need redemption and to know what is involved in order to become a true believer and follower of Our Lord Jesus Christ. All the Lord is looking for is that God given change in attitude, a one and only confession, and then a continuing repentant heart. This means an ongoing willingness to change as He empowers us, not "personal self-improvement," "getting ourselves 'right' with God," "our participation," "daily cleansing," "salvation by progress," "sanctification by process" or "boot strap Christianity" as I call it.

The words of the first chapter of 1 John should be extremely challenging and thought provoking for those coming to the Lord, and if accepted, then euphoric for new believers, but, and this is a big but, if these words are preached or taught as binding on those already born again, they are blasphemous and lethal, and will literally put that believer back into bondage and legalistic slavery.
In chapter two, of 1 John he continues his message to new converts and babes in Christ, repeating some of the basics of the first chapter, but by verse 8 of chapter 2, he has shifted the emphasis by explaining that the darkness has past and they are now walking in the Light. By verse 12, he speaks to these new converts by telling them their sins are now forgiven; notice, not some of their sins, but all of their sins. In verse 13, his message shifts again, and it is now aimed at the older members of the church, here called fathers, but the correct word is elders. In the same verse he also speaks to the young men of the church. We have, therefore, in 1 John a letter that is not only addressed to non-believers and newcomers, but also to people at different stages of maturity in the Faith.
OK, I have now come to the core issue of this study and the main question, which is – do we as believers have to continually and repetitively keep asking the Lord God for forgiveness and endlessly confess our sins to Him? Let’s stop and think about this for a while. I have already quoted God’s Word that Our Lord took all of our sins with Him to the cross. If that is the case, and I know that it is, then why do we keep on reminding Him of our latest sins? By doing this we are really saying to Him: “Here you are Lord, here are some sins you forgot to take with you to the cross.” Now is this a blasphemy or not? To me it most assuredly is. I now, no longer confess my sins to Him, and I will now give you the Biblical reasons why. Let us move onto 1 John 3 verse 1. As born again believers, we are now loved and accepted sons and daughters of God. Verse 2: he who sins breaks the Law and yet [verse 3], Jesus was manifested (clearly visible and apparent to the mind), to take away our sins – all of our sins. Verse 6 - now get this: “Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not;” how does that work then? I have not stopped sinning, I am human, but then I have not stopped trusting and believing either. Doh! Of course! I am abiding in Him if I keep on trusting and believing, so even though I sin, I don’t sin as far as the Father is concerned. He sees only the new born again man with Jesus Christ in me via the Holy Spirit, and not the old me. I am not going to argue with Jesus Christ and the Father over that, are you?

John then reaffirms this in verse 9: “whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin: for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin because he is born of God.” I’ll repeat my question: How does this work then? It works because He took all of our sins to the cross. This includes all of today’s sins and tomorrow’s as well. If He took them all then we must be perfect in His sight. Quite plainly if He didn’t take them all then we are, horror of horrors, still in our sins. The bottom line of this is, if we, as believers, are still confessing our sins and asking for forgiveness of our sins, we are trampling all over His Sacrifice. We are forgiven - period, there are no steps, stages or phases to forgiveness, we are either forgiven or we're not forgiven and that's it.

What about the Lord's Prayer I hear you ask? Am I saying then that The Lord’s Prayer is not for born again believers? In a word, yes, because it was delivered to those who were not yet born again, they were still under the Law. Even Jesus Christ was under the Law whilst He was in the flesh and walked this earth [Matt. 6:9-15]. Verse 12: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This statement is a conditional remark. Life under the Law was strictly conditional, do this and do that, don’t do this and don’t do that, in order to be forgiven. Now we are under Grace, we are free to choose. Because we are now forgiven, it should be natural to forgive, not forced or coerced. It should now be unnatural not to forgive. How can we not forgive knowing what He has done for us? Read the story of the wicked servant in Matt. 18:23-35.
Now let’s go to the last verse of this study, 1 John 3:3 which I believe says it all: “And every man that hath his hope in Him purifieth himself even as He is pure.” There you have it in one verse, and if you keep your hope and trust in Him you are pure as the Lord himself. So if we are pure, how can we confess sins? We are literally asking Him to forgive transgressions He cannot see. I hope this will be of help to all who read it.
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