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Friday, April 27, 2012

Pure Grace

I have a tendency to run the full-length of emotions in life - how about you?  Some days, I am on top of the world, others I am in the pit looking up.  The ups and downs, twists and turns of life just keep us in knots, wondering what is coming next.  It is one things to feel these various emotions because of another's action within our lives - quite another to feel them because of our own actions, isn't it?  One brings a sense of anger and retaliation, the other brings a sense of frustration and shame.  


Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.  (Romans 12:3 The Message)


The main reason we experience these ups and downs in our emotions is our viewpoint - it colors our interpretation of life.  I wonder if we really know what it means to live in "pure grace".  I think we might have an idea of grace - but I think we may not fully appreciate the depth of grace - going to the deepest places of hurt and sin in our lives.  We don't understand its breadth - reaching into the periphery and uncovering what only festers where it is hidden.  Amazingly, we do understand how to cover up, run from, work to be free of, and involve ourselves in all kinds of spiritual contortions in order to "feel forgiven".


Paul writes to the Roman church (and to us) about the grace of God - pure and simple - adding nothing to it!  It is this grace which sets man right with God.  This same grace restores hope to the hopeless soul.  Nothing is quite like grace.  Looking at our passage closely, we see Paul setting out some important truths:


1.  Living is at its best when it is in "pure grace".  There is nothing more fulfilling than to be aware of how much God has forgiven in our lives, the ways he has changed a hardened and unyielding heart, or the phenomenal job he does in changing our mindset.  Yet, we live far short of "pure grace", don't we?  We "muddy" the grace of God with the actions of our own attempts at "feeling forgiven".  We want to do something to "feel forgiven" - like serving out of obligation rather than love, engaging in religious activities for the sake of how it makes us feel.  Then we wonder why we just don't break free from the feelings associated with our past failures.  It is almost always because we don't understand grace - a gift, pure and simple, with no strings attached.  Look again - Paul reminds us we don't bring our "goodness" to God - he brings it to us!  No matter what, God's grace is ours - we just have to learn to accept the grace we have been given and stop trying to "add" to it!


2.  We only understand ourselves when we behold God.  Why?  He is our creator - we are created in HIS image.  When we look upon him, we see exactly what he created us to be!  As we behold him, we see how he sees us!  It is in beholding what he is - pure, holy, loving, righteous, long-suffering - the revelation of how he sees us becomes more real.  We are definitely not pure - but in Christ, we are totally pure.  We are definitely not the embodiment of love - but in Christ, we experience pure love.  We are certainly not long-suffering - but in each extension of God's grace, we begin to understand the limitless supply of his grace.  


3.  It is his action within us which helps to "even out" those ups and downs of emotions.  It is what he does in and for us which produces "evenness" in our character.  Left to our own devices, we would still ride the roller-coaster of emotions.  We simply cannot experience lasting emotional stability if we are counting on any human effort of our own to make us "feel" right.  Eventually, we will disappoint ourselves!  We will do something, say a few choice words, or forget our commitments.  In the end, all the religious effort to be "good" or "pure" will just not "make us" so!  Only grace has the ability to accomplish what grace is intended to do - to pardon, to release, to erase.  Nothing is quite like grace!


A TV commercial is out right now featuring a soccer team and their soccer mom.  The soccer mom is handing out bottles of colored, sweetened, "fortified" beverages.  She announces they need to "drink up" because they are losing water out there on the field.  One little girl bravely asks, "Coach, if we are losing water, why aren't we drinking water?"  I have to ask, if we have fallen from grace, why are we trying to replace it with anything less than grace?  Just some food for thought today.