Series: Foundations in Grace -- home
Again, by talking about foundations I don’t want you to think that we’re going to lay a foundation in grace and then go on to something else.
Everything that I preach as long as I live will be from the perspective that God loves us unconditionally; that he has saved us in Jesus Christ before we did anything to earn it; he accepts us completely as his children on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ; and he has empowered us by his Spirit freely, we don’t have to earn it or work for it, and this enables us to live out the life of discipleship. It’s good news from beginning to end.
I want to really go over and over this and make sure we understand the unconditional freeness of God’s saving and empowering grace to us.
The uniqueness of New Testament Christianity is grace. All the world’s religions are an attempt to get right with God. Every religion has a code of ethics such that God likes you more or less depending on how well you do at them.
Look at Deuteronomy 28. The Old Covenant is basically, God gives us something to do, and if we do it well he blesses us, and if we don’t he punishes us. There are two parts to all covenants: our part and God’s part. In the Old Covenant, if we keep our part, God will bless us. If we don’t, God will see that we are cursed. That’s his part.
What could possibly be wrong with God’s covenant? This law comes from a holy, righteous, perfect God. Could he give something imperfect? Could he make a mistake? Why do we need a New Covenant if God has already given us an Old Covenant?
There is nothing wrong with the law of God. What’s wrong is us. There is nothing inherently wrong with the Old Covenant, it’s just that it will never work for us. The conditional covenant of “if we do this then God will bless us” will not work for sinful people in a fallen world. It will not work because we will not keep our end of it.
The New Covenant is God’s remedy to the weakness, the inappropriateness of the Old Covenant, because it does something about the fact that we don’t keep God’s law. It does something about the root of the problem.
The genius and effectiveness of the New Covenant is first of all in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the New Covenant keeper for us. The weakness of the Old Covenant was that it was never kept at our end. The New Covenant is kept at our end. In the performance of Jesus Christ on earth, for the very first time the law of God was kept at this end by a man.
Those who have believed into Jesus Christ benefit from this fact. His experiences become our experiences when we put our faith in him. It is as if he took our exams for us and got straight As, and all of these have been credited to our report card.
The New Covenant has been kept once and for all. And now it is out of harm’s way. No matter how badly you mess up a day, you can’t break the New Covenant, because it is kept by Jesus Christ in heaven at the right hand of God the Father. You don’t need to walk on egg shells and be afraid that you might break the New Covenant. It’s too late for that – it has already been kept, and it has been eternally kept. This covenant is out of harm’s way, it’s a done deal (Hebrews 9:12).
Look at Hebrews 8:7-13 and Hebrews 9:11-15. You died for sins committed under the first covenant, but Jesus died for you. And so now your sins are remembered no more. Not just your past sins, but your present sins and the sins that you are going to commit in the future. They are not remembered if you are in Christ. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ. None! When you experience condemnation or the fear of punishment, it’s coming from your own tortured conscience or from the devil, but it has no basis in reality.
Someone will say like they said to Paul, “Well, shall we just go on sinning? If we are not going to be condemned, then why not just go on sinning? I mean, it’s hard to be good, isn’t it?” Someone asked me this at a conference last week. I said, “Let me ask you a question. Does God’s love, God’s grace, God’s goodness have a sinful effect on you? Does meditating on God’s love and his pouring himself out for you turn you into a bad person?”
And they say, “Oh no, not me. I’m grateful.” And I say, “Have you ever met anybody that God’s goodness has an evil effect on?” “Well, come to think of it, I haven’t.” “Then cut me some slack! Give me a break! If you’re not going to talk about something that actually happens, but just wring your hands wondering if something might happen – until you have people’s exhibit A, get out of my face about this!”
I get so sick of people coming to me an saying, “What about repentance, and shouldn’t we be a little bit afraid of God’s judgement? Won’t that keep us right?” First of all, it doesn’t keep us right. Look at the people of Israel. God came on them with the Philistines, with snakes, with scorpions, with death, with destruction, with curses galore. Did that keep them straight? No, that’s the whole problem. It didn’t do them any good at all. It just made them more sinful.
It’s God’s goodness that leads us to repentance. It’s reflecting on and looking at how much God loves us that cleans up our act. I have yet to meet a person in 20 years of ministry who was made evil by reflecting on God’s goodness and love for them. “Shall we sin?” Up until now, that’s just theoretical to me.
But if you simply have to ask that question, let’s go on to the second part of the good news of the New Covenant. Your position in Christ is secure and it is freely given to you at his expense. That’s the first part of the New Covenant. The second part is that when you are born into this New Covenant, you receive the power to live the live the life that you want to.
No matter how badly you mess up a day, you are right with God, because you accepted in the beloved Son of God. That’s objectively true. You might feel bad about yourself, and you might feel guilty and condemned and all that kind of stuff, but every once in a while get a grip, snap out of it and say, “This is how I feel, but it just isn’t true. This is how I feel, and I guess I shouldn’t try to repress the fact that I do feel bad, I do feel guilty, I do feel condemned, but this is simply the way I feel right now.”
I don’t want anybody to repress your emotions. Your emotions are valid. They may be based on error, but they are valid. They are what they are. You will never hear me consciously saying, “Pretend that everything’s alright.” Whatever you feel, you feel, and that’s OK. But every once in a while, just get a grip and remind yourself, “This does not reflect reality. I wonder who’s talking to me. Because I know God loves me, because he loves Jesus. He is my righteousnes, he is my rightness before God.”
But the wonderful thing in addition to that is that through this relationship with God in Jesus Christ we are empowered by the Spirit of God to then live up to the Covenant performance that was lived out for us. More and more as you read the “love your enemies”, “don’t worry about anything ever”, “preach the gospel”, “heal the sick”, “don’t lust”, all of those things that seem so impossible to you are promises to you. Because God’s bidding is his enabling. What he calls you to do, he has also empowered you to do. And he is in the process right now of gradually training you to do that.
Look at 2 Corinthians 3:3-6. This New Covenant is not just something that is objectively true, but it is also a subjective power. It is the experience of being made competent ministers of the New Covenant. We are changed in such a way as to make us different people.
This is not unlike going through puberty. When a young man goes through puberty, two radical things happen to him. He has a whole new attitude towards women, a whole new set of appetites that he didn’t know existed before. That happens to you when you become a Christian – you find yourself having new desires and new attitudes. The things of God are important to you all of a sudden. Meeting with the body of Christ is important to you. Before it was either a threat or boring. It may still sometimes be a threat or boring once in a while afterwards, but there is nevertheless a longing, a desire. There’s a longing for the Bible, there’s a longing for prayer, there’s a longing for intimacy with God.
Getting back to the young man going through puberty, not only does he have a whole new set of desires but he’s also got a whole new set of capabilities. He has the ability to do something about that which he desires. The same thing happens to you when you enter into the New Covenant. You are altered so that you have a whole new set of desires, and you are also empowered to do something about those desires.
You long for peace – you’ve got the power for it. You long to help people – you now have the power for it. You long to be one with God in prayer and in worship – you now have the power to do that. You always wanted to forgive your enemies, and now you’re able to. You always wanted to love those who are unlovely, and now you’re able to. You always wanted to know something of love, joy and peace, and now you are empowered to do that.
The New Covenant gives people exactly what they want. There are two things that you want more than you want anything else in life. The first one is to be accepted for who you are. The New Covenant does that for you, because you are accepted as you are, on the basis of his performance for you. You don’t know how to worship – that’s OK, he did and does. You don’t know how to pray – he did and he does. You don’t know how to obey – he did and he does. He has done all that for you and it is credited to you, and you are accepted on the basis of that.
The second thing that you want, paradoxically, is that although you want to be accepted for who you are, you don’t want to stay the way you are. You want to change, you want to get better than you are. It’s odd, isn’t it? You’re not happy with the way you are, but you want to be accepted the way you are. You don’t want to jump through anybody’s hoops, dress up in a particular way, say the right words, always be nice, always smile, or whatever the style is around the people you are trying to impress.
You want somebody to know you. I think that’s one of the reasons why we have pets, because they are uncritical. Old Fido will come out and jump up on your lap no matter how badly you’ve blown it that day. You are uncritically accepted, and you long for that.
But you don’t want to stay the way you are. You want the power to change. The New Covenant does that – it gives you the power to become bigger and better than you were. That is what this church is about. It is about accepting people the way they are, and not letting them stay that way.
Look at Jeremiah 31:31-34. “I will put my law in their minds” – I will empower them. “I will write my law on their hearts” – I will change them. “I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more” – I will accept them.
And again in Ezekiel 36:24-28. Here God says again, the Old Covenant isn’t working. It’s right, it’s perfect, but it’s not working for sinful people. I am so eager to have an intimate relationship with my people that I am going to devise a covenant whereby that will happen. I will forgive their sins, I will accept them, and I will change them.
And we discover in the New Testament how that happened. He will remember our sins no more because he looks at Jesus when he looks at us, and Jesus has no sins on him. I am going to accept you because I accept him, and I am going to send the Spirit that empowered Jesus to empower you.
Now you cooperate with that empowering Spirit. You give yourself by reading the Bible, by praying, by participating in ministry, by giving yourself in worship. Expose yourself to the Spirit, and the Spirit will plant seeds in you and bring them to fruition, and you will be changed by a power that is in you that you don’t have to grunt and groan to manufacture.
I had a picture earlier of a drill going right past the brackish and the polluted water, right down into subterranean streams, and there’s so much pressure and so much purity, and lavish ampleness of that stream deep down inside that gushes up automatically, spontaneously, and heals and waters and nourishes everything that it comes to.
This is what is inside you. You don’t have to grunt and groan, “Oh, being good is hard. Living up to the gospel sure is tough. God deserves better than me.” That’s a whole wrong approach. It is about getting in touch with the ample power of the Holy Spirit that has been put in you by the New Covenant and cooperating with him, deferring to him, yielding to him, nourishing his work in you by reading the Bible.
You don’t read the Bible to get even with your conscience or to please God. You read the Bible to be empowered to live a life that’s pleasing to him, to find out what to do and to see promises in their to claim, and to let that word wash you and be implanted in you and impregnate you.
The question is, if this is everything that everybody wants, why aren’t people breaking the doors of churches to get in? Because the New Covenant is being preached primarily in the Old Covenant form. The New Covenant truth, Jesus has died for you and the Holy Spirit lives within you, is now preached as: you’ve got to read the Bible, tithe, come to meetings, feel guilty when you lust, whatever.
And Jesus is held up as our example. “Just do what Jesus would do.” Fat chance! I can’t even do what Moses did, let alone Jesus. Give me a small break! – and feel guilty if you can’t. And stay guilty so that we can keep manipulating you.
The New Covenant has been hijacked and couched in Old Covenant conditional terms. “If you repent, God will love you. If you tithe, God will love you. If you read your Bible through once a year, God will love you. If you witness, God will love you.” It really is just about that crass. “If you send this money to our TV ministry then God will bless you.” And the depressing thing is that people fall all over themselves to submit to that garbage.
The power has been subverted by making God’s love conditional. “If you do this, then he’ll do this.” It has to start with, he has done it all. Herein is love, here is how we love God, here is how we keep his commandments: not that we loved God, but that he first loved us. And this love releases empowering within us. If we know that we can try and fail and he’s not going to punish us, we’ll try. And when we stop trying to buy God’s favour and realise that it’s free, it will come flowing.
One of the reasons why people sometimes don’t experience the power of God in their lives is because they are trying too hard to pay for it. And God is thinking, “I’ve labelled this thing free and they’re trying to pay for it. I can’t give it to them. When they stop grovelling and trying to repent more than anybody else or seek holiness or anything else, then I’ll give it to them, and they will repent and they will be holy and they will be powerful.”
You get it free first and then you live out the reality. God won’t trade you anything and he won’t sell you anything, and he won’t be bought by you. He only gives and he only receives gifts.
Jesus was the original, quintessential competent minister of the New Covenent. Turn to John 20:19-23. “Just as the Father has sent me, full of peace, full of love, full of joy, full of power to heal, power to preach, power to forgive – just as I have been sent, so do I send you.” He gave them power, he gave them substance. An Old Covenant minister looks at the Bible and studies it and tells you what’s in it. A New Covenant minister imparts power to you.
One of the reasons why so much of Christianity is so frustrating to so many people is because the preacher is nagging people to live up to a standard that he hasn’t empowered them to live up to. Isn’t it awful when you have a job where you have been given responsibility for things that you haven’t been given authority or power to deal with. How would you like to have that inflicted on you every Sunday morning? “Do this, do that, do the other. Live up to this, live up to that. Bye.” Jesus empowered his disciples to live the life that he commanded them. This was his Bible study: he breathed on them, he imparted something to them.
The New Covenant imparts something. You look for that, you plan on that, you get in touch with that. Because it’s going to be imparted to you more and more. And when you read the high ethical demands in the New Testament, don’t shrink back from them. Look at them and say, “That’s what God has empowered me for. I’m going to live up to that one day! And I can see that I’m already making progress. And I’m not proud of it, because it’s all him! He did it for me. He’s enabled me to do it.” And so you stay humble, even though your performance improves.
Series: Foundations in Grace -- home