Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I don’t understand why we have this idea that grace is nothing more than a simple giant eraser that merely wipes away all of our mistakes, short-comings, and sin.  It’s convenient.  But, in my view, misinterpreted. 
Does grace clean us up?  Absolutely.  Check out Ezekiel 16 for a great depiction of that. 
Is grace a point of conversion, marking the transition of a person from darkness to light?  Yep.  Acts 15:11.
But what about the vast number of scriptures that demonstrate this principle:
Grace is the strength of God given to us in order to live holy.
I’ve done a little search, and by no means do I intend to make myself out to be a celebrated expert on this topic.  But I’ve found passage after passage that clearly points to the fact that we are given grace so that we can live holy, pursuing God in relationship.  Our actions will then reflect that grace within us. 
Here are some great examples:
Luke 2:40
The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.  
(this is obviously talking about Jesus – who never needed the grace of God to remove or erase His sin or failure.  Being human, how did He do it?  The grace of God was upon Him)
Acts 4:33
And  with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 
(The application of grace in this context obviously points to the fact that the abundant grace that was upon them is what empowered them to give testimony of Jesus with great power.)
Acts 6:8
And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great  wonders and signs among the people. 
(This is pretty self explanatory – it was grace and power that allowed Stephen to perform great things.  In context and solitarily, ‘grace’ cannot be referred to in this passage as the single application of the removal of sin.  It empowered Stephen.  A great example of the fact that grace NOT ONLY cleanses from sin, but empowers us to live holy – pursuing God and His plan for our lives).
Acts 13:43
Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing  proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God. 
(The ‘continuing’ in the grace of God doesn’t imply that they are expected to continue in sin, applying grace for erasure.  On the contrary.  Scripture is clear that once we are cleansed from sin, we are expected to never go back to it.  Why go back to death when we have been made alive in Christ.  It is grace that empowers us to continue in the grace of God)
Moving on to the Epistles –
Romans 1:5
through whom we have received grace and  apostleship to bring about the  obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake,
(“grace and apostleship” – if you know what an apostle is, you know that apostleship doesn’t come from the ability to continually erase sin.  Who were the Apostles?  What did their lives look like?  How many died for their faith in Christ?  Were they glorified men who enjoyed the finest things in life or did they sacrifice everything for the sake of the gospel?  We know the answer to that.  Obviously, according to this passage, the reception of grace is what empowered them to bring out the obedience of faith!  GORGEOUS!)
Romans 6:15
What then?  Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!
(No commentary needed here.  Plain as can be.)
Romans 12:6
Since we have gifts that  differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith;
(So – track with me – each person is unique.  God created all of us to serve a specific purpose in His Kingdom.  Remember the scripture about the body of Christ?  Not everyone can be a hand.  Not everyone can be an eye.  We all have our own purpose.  And the gifts we are empowered with differ according to the grace given us.  If grace was merely an application of the removal of sin, how would it differ between all of us?  How would you apply this passage?  How would each of us exercise it differently from another?  After all, isn’t all sin, sin?  Think about it – we are given grace (according to the above) which empowers us (with the gifts/tools we need) in order to accomplish God’s purpose in our lives. )
1 Corinthians 15:10
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 
(Clearly the grace of God that was with Paul empowered Him to labor more… )
2 Corinthians 1:12
For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.
(I love this!!!  It was through the grace of God that they conducted themselves in the world.  POWERFUL!  Grace empowered them to live as witnesses of Jesus in the midst of an unbelieving world.  Do we not live in an unbelieving world?)
2 Corinthians 9:8
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;
(And again – no commentary necessary here.  We obviously are expected to live defined by every good deed.  We’re given abundant grace for THAT purpose.)
Alright, this post is getting very long, so I’m not going to belabor this point.  It is enough to say – God expects us to live holy.  An act of grace removes sin from our lives, purging the foul grime out of our soul.  But it is not a one-time-deal.  We know that.  The confusion comes into play when we apply what it means to live by grace.  Does it mean continual removal of sin?  Sure – we all sin.  We all have fallen.  Nobody is perfect.  BUT as Children of God are we expected to live our lives defined by habitual sin, and habitual acts of repentance and erasure?  By no means! 

If the grace of God is within you, know this: you are empowered to live holy.  So do it.  Imitate Christ.  Live Christ-like.  God has given you the awesome tool that enables you to do great things for Him.  Grace will set you on a high place, and grace will keep you there.  You don’t have to fall.  You don’t have to sin.  We all should be striving toward holiness, and it’s grace that empowers us to get closer and closer every day. 
Further than that – grace within you can accomplish great things!  And giving yourself to sin – using grace only to wipe it away is one of the most heart-breaking things I can think of. 
Pursue God.  Live holy.  God will empower you to do it, but you have to do your part.  In Jesus words – Go and sin no more. 


Let me start by noting that I’m not a widely respected scholar in the Theology of the various attributes of mercy.  I don’t have memorized all of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek terms that refer to the subject of mercy, nor do I boast the ability to comprehend the full depth of its ramifications on the life of the believer. 
I simply share what I know… and I’m confident that others know more… and others know less… but all of us do well to keep the principles of God’s grace and mercy in the front of our minds.  After all, it’s by God’s mercy and grace that we’re given the opportunity to breathe, and eat, and live, and read, and study… you get the idea. 
On to the principles of mercy.
In its purest form, mercy is being free from the punishment we deserve.  It is favor when we deserve shame.  It is freedom when we deserve prison.  One of my favorite passages about mercy is Isaiah 55, and it clearly displays the gorgeous result of mercy to those who are attached to the father.

      1"Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters;
         And you who have
no money come, buy and eat
         Come, buy
wine and milk
Without money and without cost.
      2"Why do you spend money for what is
not bread,
         And your wages for what does not satisfy?
         Listen carefully to Me, and
eat what is good,
delight yourself in abundance.
Incline your ear and come to Me
         Listen, that you may
         And I will make
an everlasting covenant with you,
         According to the
faithful mercies shown to David.
      4"Behold, I have made
him a witness to the peoples,
leader and commander for the peoples.
      5"Behold, you will call a
nation you do not know,
         And a nation which knows you not will
run to you,
         Because of the LORD your God, even the Holy One of Israel;
         For He has
glorified you."
Seek the LORD while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
         And the unrighteous man his
         And let him
return to the LORD,
         And He will have
compassion on him,
         And to our God,
         For He will
abundantly pardon.
      8"For My thoughts are not
your thoughts,
         Nor are
your ways My ways," declares the LORD.
as the heavens are higher than the earth,
         So are My ways higher than your ways
         And My thoughts than your thoughts.
      10"For as the
rain and the snow come down from heaven,
         And do not return there without watering the earth
         And making it bear and sprout,
         And furnishing
seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
      11So will My
word be which goes forth from My mouth;
         It will
not return to Me empty,
accomplishing what I desire,
         And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.
      12"For you will go out with
         And be led forth with
mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you,
         And all the
trees of the field will clap their hands.
      13"Instead of the
thorn bush the cypress will come up,
         And instead of the
nettle the myrtle will come up,
         And it will be a
memorial to the LORD,
         For an everlasting
sign which will not be cut off."
The question begs – to whom does this apply?
The answer is in the passage itself: “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”
Mercy is an abundant, free, fantastic gift for those who are willing to lay down the things that hold them back from a deeply engaged relationship with the Lord.  Mercy is real.  It’s powerful.  And it’s for all who choose to accept it.  It’s not for those who only want the benefits of God without a commitment to God.  He clearly states that it is the result of a ‘covenant’… so, by nature, it is therefore a commitment from both sides that is required. 
What commitment have we made to God?  Have we offered flippant empty promises that are nothing more than bargains to get our own way?  Do we expect God to move Heaven and Earth on our behalf while we barely inconvenience ourselves for Him? 
To me, the greatest demonstration of mercy in this passage is – “Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near.”  It’s the same as Revelation 4 where John sees a door that is standing open and hears the voice saying “Come up here.”  The invitation of our great God to engage in relationship is the absolute greatest act of mercy He could show.  We are privileged to seek Him because He will be found!  He wants to engage with us!  We who boast of our own wisdom while we quote that His ways are higher than our own… We who focus on such temporary meaningless priorities….  We who find it so easy to pursue selfish agendas…. We who understand so little….  He wants to show us things.  He wants to teach us.  He wants to reveal His great mysteries to us if we’ll just pursue…
What mercy.  Not only are we saved from an eternity of suffering – but we are extended the hand of fellowship.
What mercy.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Grace...and Mercy~

Everyone could use a little grace in their lives. 

And for some reason, we all have our own opinions about what grace actually is.  It surprises me.  Most of us think of it like a band-aid that takes away our faults, failures, and shortcomings.  Just apply ‘grace’ and watch the sins you’re responsible for vanish like a cat scratch with some Neosporin. 

I’m sorry.  Does that sound critical?  I don’t mean it to.

I guess what frustrates me is the idea that the wages of conscious sin – you know, the choices people make when they know they are wrong, but are so determined to do it anyway – mean nothing.  So many people believe that just a few verses of Amazing Grace, a few minutes dwelling on how stupid those choices were, and a few minutes apologizing (knowing that it’s entirely possible that they would do the same thing again), will cause their rebellion to vanish into the portals of history, never to be heard of again.  In my life, I’ve been guilty of exactly that. 

But is that really what grace is?  A band-aid?  Neosporin? 

Now, before anyone emails me with a long list of Scriptures quoting the removal of sin, please understand that I know.  I know that grace is nothing we deserve.  And I know that God loves to remove our sin.  I know that, as children of God, we don't have to wallow in self-pity, subjecting our physical bodies to sacrificial practices that abuse ourselves in penance.  And quite frankly, this is not a post about the act of repentance and the point of salvation. 

I will say this, as a side note, that I think the American Church (and I suspect many other countries, as well) would do well to recognize the impact of conscious sin, and would definitely benefit by a greater understanding of the selfishness that triggers it.  Sin is a deadly thing, and is not to be handled with trite flippancy.  It's not a list of 'don'ts', but rather, in it's simplest form, is independence from God.

But that's for another day, another time.

GRACE is not MERCY.  And MERCY is not GRACE.  They are not interchangeable terms that cover our failures and wrong choices. 

Yes, both are free.  Yes, both belong us as gifts through the favor of God.  Yes, both are applicable in our lives in terms of the effects of sin, cleansing of sin, and living lives defined by holiness.  But their applications to the Child of God are both necessary in their unique characteristics.  GRACE is not MERCY.  And MERCY is not GRACE.

In the next few posts I’m going to explore the truths God shares with us about these two powerful, foundational principles.  For now, I leave you with the words of one of my favorite songs through the years….

Once there was a holy place
Evidence of God's embrace
And I can almost see mercy's face
Pressed against the veil
Looking down with longing eyes
Mercy must have realized
That once His blood was sacrificed
Freedom would prevail
And as the sky grew dark
And the earth began to shake
With justice no longer in the way
Mercy came running
Like a prisoner set free
Past all my failures to the point of my need
When the sin that I carried
Was all I could see
And when I could not reach mercy
Mercy came running to me
Once there was a broken heart
Way too human from the start
And all the years left it torn apart
Hopeless and afraid
Walls I never meant to build
Left this prisoner unfulfilled
Freedom called but even still
It seemed so far away
I was bound by the chains
From the wages of my sin
Just when I felt like giving in
Mercy came running
Like a prisoner set free
Past all my failures to the point of my need
When the sin that I carried
Was all I could see
And when I could not reach mercy
Mercy came running to me

Sometimes I still feel so far
So far from where I really should be
He gently calls to my heart
Just to remind me

Mercy came running
Like a prisoner set free
Past all my failures to the point of my need
When the sin that I carried
Was all I could see
And when I could not reach mercy
Mercy came running to me
(Lyrics by Phillips, Craig, and Dean)
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