Series: Foundations in Grace -- home
The reason that I am stressing the foundations of grace is because grace is foundational. But I don’t want you to get the impression that once we have a foundation in grace, then we go on to good works. We go on to grace. We begin by being accepted by God as we are on the basis of Christ’s performance, and we go on being accepted just as we are despite our performance.
In other words, sanctification comes out of grace just like justification comes out of grace. The entrance into the Christian life is a gift of God, and the power to go on in the Christian life is a gift of God – it’s grace from beginning to end.
So I don’t want to give the impression that in laying a foundation we’re then going to move on to something else. We’re never going to get outside of or away from the grace of God, and I will always preach from that perspective.
A quick review: Adam sinned for us (thank you!). He not only was the head of the human race, but at one time he was the human race. And when he sinned, we in him sinned – we are credited with his sin from the beginning. That puts us under and subject to, or as Paul says in Romans 7, married to the law. And in Jesus Christ we are freed from the law and put on the right side of the law.
What kind of a husband was the law? Law only comments when you have offended him. He will never encourage, never praise, never take your side in anything, and he will provide absolutely no support. He only criticizes. He is impersonal, he is always right, and he cannot be reasoned with. He will never lift a finger to help you, and worst of all, he will never die. You were married to the law until death do you part.
But that is exactly what happened – you died (Romans 7:4). You died to the law when Christ died for you. Just as you sinned in Adam, you died in Christ to that sin, and you died to your relationship to your old husband the law. And so now religious dos and don’ts have no more power over you. Your accusing conscience has no more power over you – you can ignore it. And the devil’s accusations can likewise be ignored, because they are null and void. They are without validation. They are no longer legal (Romans 8:1). There is no condemnation, not now, not ever.
Now the relationship you have with Christ as a free gift is one of affirmation. Instead of always being condemned, never being condemned. Instead of never having your husband lift a finger to help you, we have Christ in us, and we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil 4:13). Our new husband helps us not with nothing but with everything. You don’t have a religious part of your life that he helps you with. He helps you in everything, with everything.
The flip side of the law is Jesus Christ. He’s there, he’s attentive, he can be reasoned with, he’s helpful, he’s encouraging, he blesses you, he is always saying he loves you, he is always picking you up when you fall, and all you have to do when you sin is talk it over with him and he is faithful and just to forgive you. Repenting of sin is saying, “This is who I am. I did it again, and if you don’t help me, I’ll always be this way. I not only need your help, but I’m lost without your help.” And he says, “That’s me!”
Secondly, this rescue from the old husband to your new husband and the free gift of your life in Christ is a gift, and it is a true, bona fide gift. It comes costing the giver everything and costing you nothing. You cannot and ought not to try to pay him back for his free gift to you. If you try to pay him back, you are doing one of two things. You are cheapening something of inestimable value. For you to pay back his free gift to you – for anything you do to be currency by which you can pay some of that back – is to cheapen it. The other possibility is that you are trying to do something which is a sheer impossibility – you are trying to buy something that’s free.
What that means is this most radical of all understandings – that you owe him nothing for your salvation. And that makes religious people very nervous.
Although your salvation from death and hell cost him everything to give to you, it costs you nothing to receive it. The thief on the cross is an illustration of that. He asked Jesus to remember him, and Jesus said, “Today. Now that you ask, today.” We have not because we ask not. It’s free, but for reasons that are not completely understood, it is his desire that we ask him. I think it has something to do with that fact that if he crams his gifts down our throat and inflicts his love on us, it is not love. It’s asked for and it’s voluntarily received.
How many have you found yourself thinking, “When is he going to get around to sin and repentance? Can we just go on sinning if we’re forgiven?” Hmm. Not enough.
My preaching of the gospel is not what it is supposed to be until that question comes to the surface. If the question of “are we free to sin then” doesn’t arise in your mind, then I haven’t made the gospel free enough, yet.
Paul was accused of this frequently (Romans 6:1, 6:15). Think back. How much of the religion that you’ve been exposed to ever allowed that question to rise to the surface? Or did you always know what you couldn’t do and what God would condemn you for ? Most preaching today would never allow that question to arise to the surface. You are always only to aware of those things that you can’t do and those things that God is angry with you about.
I would submit to you that most modern preaching is not designed to set you free. The gospel is designed to set you free. To be completely free. Most modern preaching is designed to tell us what to do and what not to do. It is designed to make us “good”, according to the standards of this denomination or church or whatever. In order to be a good Christian around here, you dress a particular way, or say particular things, or you come regularly to church, or give a tenth of your income. Most “Christian” teaching is not designed to set you dangerously, radically free, but to conform you to particular standards which happen to be the standards of the group that you’re with at that particular time.
But if the gospel is preached rightly, it makes you free of anybody’s manipulation – the church’s, your conscience’s or the devil’s. That’s what I am interested in doing. And if it takes us a while to get going and a while for you to understand that, that’s OK. I want this foundation to be right from the very beginning.
This freedom is not a minor issue in the Bible. Jesus said, “I have come to preach good news to the poor and proclaim freedom to the prisoners.” He wasn’t talking about people in jail, he was talking about people who are imprisoned by religious law. Jesus never had a campaign against organised crime or anything like that. He had one major crusade, and that was against religion.
Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed” (John 8:36). Paul says, “The Spirit of life has set us free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). “You my brothers are called to be free” (Galatians 5:13). Your calling in life is to be free, to be unmanipulatable. God has received you to himself through Christ’s death so that you could be holy in his sight and free from accusation (Colossians 1:22). “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). It’s not a minor thing, it’s a major thing. (see also – Ephesians 3:12, Revelation 22:17).
Why is it that God wants to set us free? For two basic reasons. Only if we are free can we be who he created us to be. He created us to be free agents in the world, free to do what we choose to do. He wants us to get free from everybody’s manipulation so that we can do what we want, so that we can act out what we feel, so that we can make choices and follow through on them without anybody’s manipulation.
The second thing that he wants is for us to use that freedom to return to him in love. It’s a big risk. You might think, “You’re taking a big risk. If you keep preaching this and make people completely free, then you’re not going to get them to do what you want to do down the road.”
Precisely. If you don’t want to do what I want us to do as the leader, don’t do it. I’ve got no control over it. I am cutting myself off from the possibility of manipulating and controlling you in the future. I want to take the same risk that Jesus did. We can return to him freely or not, but if we go back to him, it’s the real thing. And if we don’t, it was never the real thing anyway.
And for reasons that I don’t fully understand, that’s the way he likes it. He wants us to be just like him – choosers, not clones. Free, not slaves.
Religion is basically like this: it holds the carrot out in front and the stick behind. The carrot out in front is, “We’ll like you and accept you if you do this, this, this, this and this.” And the stick behind is, “If you don’t, we won’t like you, and we’ll reject you.” Now everybody knows that the thing in between a carrot and a stick is not an adult. It’s a donkey. And that’s not the way God wants people made in his image, his children, to be treated. God wants you free so that you can be a free, choosing adult.
Let me just say ahead of time that I understand that some of you won’t want this. Some of you simply will not want this freedom. In reflecting on this the other day I realised that the reason there is so much legalistic preaching is because there is a big market for it.
I don’t think for one minute that you are victims of anything. If you are babies or children, then you can be a victim, but as adults, you are no longer victims. You submit to that garbage because you apparently want to, for reasons that I don’t understand.
People are scared of freedom. They are afraid to make choices that they are responsible for. There is a big market for slavery, for giving up control. For giving somebody else the right to make decisions for us and giving somebody else the responsibility for taking care of us. The attraction between authoritarian, legalistic Christianity is that the church tells us what to do, and the church tells us when we’re good and when we’re bad. And that’s all we care about. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ where he tells you what’s right and wrong is too scary.
And I know that some of you are not going to want to stay, because I am going to insist that everybody act responsibly as adults and take their own God-given freedom seriously.
Some of you will say, “Well really, bottom line, what are the rules around here? Really, how do you get into the inner core? What are the expectations? When you say that Christ accepts you and therefore we accept you, what does that really mean?” And when I say, “I trust you, I trust the Holy Spirit in you, you do what he leads you to do around here”, some of you will just run for the door, because you don’t want that kind of accountability to God, and that kind of radical freedom. You want somebody else to take the responsibility.
“Where are the programs? Where is the flowchart of responsibility? Where are the lines of accountability and authority? There’s just too much ambiguity around here. I’m just going to have to leave.” I just want you to know that that’s OK. You are free to leave. But you cannot escape your freedom. You are stuck with your freedom. You can be responsible with your freedom or you can be irresponsible with it, but God is going to find some way to make you free, and then you will be accountable for what you do in response, for the choices that you make.
Let me tell you another thing, just selfishly. Do you know one of the reasons that I want you to be free? Because I don’t want to take responsibility for your life. I don’t want to tell you what to do. I don’t want to take responsibility for your choices. I’m having enough trouble in my own life not to presume to have authority over your life.
So the first reason why God wants you to be free of manipulation and free to be an adult and free to choose is so that you can be the adult human being made in God’s image that he wants you to be. The second reason he wants you free is so that you can freely return his love to him, or not.
Again, for reasons that I don’t fully understand, God wants personal relationships with his children that are free of manipulation, even his manipulation, because he wants a love relationship with us more than he wants anything else. He’s willing to give up control, he’s willing to give up order, he’s willing to give up his own personal safety. He’s willing to risk his good name. He’s willing to risk the life of his own boy, so that he can express free, unmanipulated, sovereign love to you, and that you can respond to him or not.
True love demands freedom. God bought our freedom from the law with the blood of his Son so that not even he could manipulate us. But when you see and feel that love, you will be impelled to love him back just as freely and as lavishly as you have been loved. “Herein is love: not that we loved God, but that he first loved us.” What I am discovering is that it’s people who have suffered under the law that are stingy with their love towards God. But those who have been freely forgiven much love much.
I have yet to meet a Christian who has in a calculated way said, “Well, I’m set free. No longer have any expectations for acceptance or non-acceptance. I think I’ll indulge in some more sin !” I may live long enough to meet somebody who is that twisted and that perverted, but I have been at this for a long time and talked to thousands of people about this very issue, and I haven’t met one yet. Everybody says, “Now that I see how much you have done for me, what can I do for you?” And the Bible is full of that, too. “This is what you can do ...”
The story of the Prodigal Son illustrates this truth rather brilliantly. The son comes to the father and says, “Dad, if you were dead I could have my inheritance, but since you’re not, and I can’t wait, give it to me now.” The father is under no obligation, but he gives the boy what he asks for and puts him in charge of his life.
Why does he give us so much freedom? I’ve asked the same question. “Why did you let me do that? I almost killed myself! Why did you put that power in my hands?” I don’t know. But once you see it, it’s breathtaking. He really has taken us seriously. “You want to go with half the wealth of the family? Here. Only, what you do with it is your responsibility.”
“Thanks, dad”. So he goes out, he wrecks his life with wild living, and a little bit of the curse comes in and a famine hits the land. So he comes to his senses and decides to come home of his own free will. The father could have kept him there initially by force, but if he had done that, he would have never had his son’s heart. He was willing to risk everything including his wealth so that his son could have the opportunity to come back on his own.
So his son comes back. But what is interesting to me is that he doesn’t come back with any pure motives. He doesn’t say, “I wrecked my life, but at least I can come back and I’m loved by my father.” Not at all. He wants to come back as a slave. He doesn’t want to come back as a son. He says, “I no longer deserve to be your son, make me like one of your hired men. Give me a contract so that I can now earn my way. How can I pay you back for what you’ve given me?”
But he comes back nontheless, and even though he’s got it wrong theologically, the father says, “It doesn’t matter, he’s home, we’ll work out the details later.” You don’t even have to come back with the right motive. The father doesn’t even give the son a chance to repent.
And many of you are saying, “What? What?” You’re loved by God, not if you repent. You’re just loved by God. You’re not welcome back to God if you repent – you’re welcome back to God. And he’s waiting for you to come freely home and receive everything from him freely again. And he’s willing to risk you never coming back so that if you do come back, it will be out of love.
The prodigal son ruined his life and came home. He had a long time to reflect on how free his father had made him, and how dangerous that was to him. But he came home. And the father met him and reinstated him completely. No repentance, no provision – “he is sort of any immature Christian, we should put him under the law for a little while, to school him. He might do this again, and if we don’t discipline him, he might just go back and do it again.” I’m sure that the father’s servants had all of these very important and helpful things to say to him.
But the father said, “No, give him the ring, give him the shoes, give him the robe. He’s my son. It’s as if he never left.” But I guarantee you, something happened in the heart of that boy. That boy was never the same. The love of the Father is the same yesterday and today and forever, but our response to the Father once we’ve been loved in that way is never the same.
God wants us free of manipulation so that when we come back to him, it’s the real thing. Another way to put this is that you cannot give yourself to God if you don’t own yourself. If you are not in possession of yourself, if you’re doing what you’re doing out of some compulsion or manipulation that’s in your conscience or religion or from the expectations of the people around you, if you’re not completely in control of yourself and you are not making choices, then you cannot give yourself.
God will not sell you anything or trade you anything, he will only give. And he will not be bought or manipulated or coerced. He will only receive. Freely given, freely received. That’s the kind of relationship he wants us to have with him. And it is dangerous, it requires a close relationship with him, it requires knowing him, and it requires courage. That’s what he has called us to be. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Know Jesus, and you will be free indeed.
I know that God has called this church to do great things, and it is going to cost a lot of money to do those things. And I have just made it impossible for me to manipulate that money out of you. But I am not nervous about it, because I know that once you see God’s lavish love for you and the extent of his grace poured out to you, you will be so grateful that he has given you so many ways to love him back, one of the ways being your life’s blood your money. You will be so grateful that he has given you this avenue to come back to him. And then you will know the joy of being a cheerful giver, not a manipulated giver.
Paul didn’t use the law to motivate people to give. He said, “Don’t you know that Jesus was rich, and for your sake became poor?” (2 Corinthians 8:9). He holds up an example of love and incites them to love God back. “I am not commanding you, but I am checking out the sincertity of your love.”
Again in 1 Corinthians 6 when he was exhorting and correcting them about their sexual immorality, he did not say, “Don’t you know the law of God? Thou shalt not commit adultery?” He didn’t bring in the law at all.
Paul had a way of saying, “Do this and don’t do that”. But it was totally different to the law. Look at 1 Corinthians 6:13b-17. Paul did not hit them with the law, even though there was an obvious law to hit them with. He never did. The first half of Paul’s letters say, “You’re great, you’re wonderful, you’re doing a great job, you are loved by God, you are completely secure in him” – he takes away any possibility of manipulating them with law, and then he says, “Look what you’re doing. If you love God, how can you do that? Reflect on his love again, and you will come up with the right response.” He reminds us of God’s love and says, “Now, how are you going to act?”
The Bible is not an index of answers to your questions necessarily. Much less is it a book of rules. The Bible is your new husband’s heart on paper. As you experience his love, you will want to approach the Bible in a brand new way, looking to see, “Now, what can I do for you ?” And you are going to find lots to do. But you won’t do it because of a contract or to get even with your conscience, or to be accepted around here. You’ll do it out of love for your new husband. You don’t have a contract with God, you have a marriage covenant.
Series: Foundations in Grace -- home