God’s Grace ~ Part 16

“Perhaps there is no word in the Bible more precious than Grace.”
~ Rick Countryman, Senior Pastor, Big Valley Grace Community Kehilah
Modesto, Ca.

“The Sufficiency of God’s Grace ~ Part A”

So far in this series we have explored what is God’s Grace; how we appropriate God’s Grace and the associated stumbling block I called the performance trap; how amazing God’s Grace really is; how we are compelled to live in God’s Grace by love; and, the proof of our love for God. Over the next several posts, I want us to understand the sufficiency of God’s Grace to get us through our life on planet earth.

“But He [Yeshua] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Yeshua’s power may reside in me.” ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9

We live in a fallen and sin-cursed world and Believers are not immune from the frustrating and often overwhelming circumstances of life resulting from that curse. Start your day reading the morning newspaper or your favorite news outlet on the internet or turn on the evening news and it doesn’t take but a few seconds to realize the time of Yeshua’s return appears to be approaching at warp speed.

But for almost two thousand years, multiplied thousands of Believers have found comfort, encouragement, and the strength to endure from God’s words to Sha’ul, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

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God’s Grace ~ Part 15

“Perhaps there is no word in the Bible more precious than Grace.”
~ Rick Countryman, Senior Pastor, Big Valley Grace Community Kehilah
Modesto, Ca.

“The Proof of Our Love for God ~ Part B”

In my last post, we began to look at the topic of the proof of our love for God with respect to the impact of the Law and God’s Grace. I want to continue that discussion by looking at the impact of the Law and Love and contrasting the Law of the Tanakh with the freedom found in the Besorah.

Law and Love

Some people maintain that the “law of love” has replaced even the moral commands of Yeshua and that our only rule is to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” They quote Sha’ul, who said, “Don’t owe anyone anything — except to love one another; for whoever loves his fellow human being has fulfilled Torah. For the commandments, ‘Don’t commit adultery,’ ‘Don’t murder,’ ‘Don’t steal,’ ‘Don’t covet,’ and any others are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does not do harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fullness of Torah.” (Romans 13:8-10)

Some people understand Sha’ul to say that the Brit Hadashah principle of love has replaced the Tanakh principle of law. That is, whereas the Jewish nation in the Tanakh lived under a number of specific moral laws, the Kehilah in the Brit Hadashah has “come of age” and now lives by the higher principle of love.  Since love must be voluntary and cannot be compelled, so the thinking goes, love and law are mutually exclusive.

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God’s Grace ~ Part 14

“Perhaps there is no word in the Bible more precious than Grace.”
~ Rick Countryman, Senior Pastor, Big Valley Grace Community Church
Modesto, Ca.

“The Proof of Our Love for God ~ Part A”

In my last two posts, we looked at how we are compelled to live in God’s Grace by love. Now let’s turn to the topic of the proof of our love for God.  How do you love God?  Is your answer similar to one or more of these?  Daily reading the Bible; constantly in prayer; faithfully attending church and tithing – not to mention giving up your favorite sins.

Amazingly, one answer that you may not have given was Yeshua’s own response to the question of how to love God. In fact, few things in the Bible are clearer than Yeshua’s precise answer: obey His commands.  In just the short space of nine verses, Yeshua reiterates this thought three times:  “If you love me, you will keep my commands.”  “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.”  “If someone loves me, he will keep my word.” (Yochanan 14:15, 21, 23)  In his first letter to the saints, Yochanan writes: “For loving God means obeying his commands. Moreover, his commands are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)

One issue Believers frequently struggle with is the relationship between living by grace and obedience to God’s commands. I stated in a previous post that nothing you do will ever make God love or bless you anymore than He already does.  God accepts us strictly by His grace through the merit of Yeshua alone.  Such an unqualified statement about the love of God sounds exceedingly dangerous, leaving me open to the charge of saying in effect that God doesn’t care whether you sin or not.

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God’s Grace ~ Part 13

“Perhaps there is no word in the Bible more precious than Grace.”
~ Rick Countryman, Senior Pastor, Big Valley Grace Community Church
Modesto, Ca.

“Compelled to Live in God’s Grace by Love ~ Part B”

In my last post, we began to consider how we are compelled to live in God’s Grace by love. We will continue to explore this topic.

Compelled by Love

In 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, Sha’ul states: “For the Messiah’s love has hold of us, because we are convinced that one man died on behalf of all mankind (which implies that all mankind was already dead), and that he died on behalf of all in order that those who live should not live any longer for themselves but for the one who on their behalf died and was raised.” While there is a lot of spiritual truth in this passage, the essential teaching is that Yeshua’s love compels us to live no longer for ourselves but for Him who died for us and was raised again.

We are called to be committed to the Lordship of Yeshua in every area of our lives. We are to live no longer for ourselves, but for Him.  We are to make His will the rule of our lives and His glory the goal for which we live.

While the Complete Jewish Bible uses the phrase “has hold of us” in verse 14, many other translations render it ‘controls us,’ ‘constraineth’ or ‘compels us.’ For ease of discussion, I will use compel.  Sha’ul said the love of Yeshua compels us to make this kind of commitment and to carry it out day by day. Compel is a strong word and often has a negative association with force or coercion.  But here its meaning is positive.  It is not a fear of consequences or expectation of reward that motivates Sha’ul.  Rather, the love of Yeshua manifested in dying for us is the driving force of our lives.

I believe that, in most instances where people apparently abuse the reality of grace, they have not heard a message on grace but on freedom from the law. Freedom from the law is a result of grace and is an important application of the truth of grace, but it is not the same as grace.  To teach freedom from the law without first teaching grace is like trying to build a house without laying the foundation.  That approach can indeed lead to abuse.  But when a person truly understands the grace of God in Yeshua, he or she will not abuse that grace.

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God’s Grace ~ Part 12

“Perhaps there is no word in the Bible more precious than Grace.”
~ Rick Countryman, Senior Pastor, Big Valley Grace Community Church
Modesto, Ca.

“Compelled to Live in God’s Grace by Love ~ Part A”

In my last post, we learned how amazing God’s Grace really is. Today, we will consider how we are compelled to live in God’s Grace by love.

In encouraging us to be ministers of reconciliation, Rabbi Sha’ul explains his motivation in proclaiming the Besorah this way: “For Messiah’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (NIV adapted)

We have learned that living by grace instead of by works means we are free from the performance treadmill. It means we don’t have to perform certain spiritual disciplines to earn God’s approval.  Yeshua has already done that for us.  We are loved and accepted by God through the merit of Yeshua and we are blessed by God through the merit of Yeshua.  Nothing we ever do will cause Him to love us any more or any less.  He loves us strictly by His grace.

How does this emphasis on God’s free and sovereign grace make you feel? Does it make you a little nervous?  Does it seem a bit scary to know that nothing you do will ever make God love or bless you anymore than He already does?  Do you think, “Well, if you take the pressure off like that and tell me all of my effort will never earn me one blessing, then I’m afraid I’ll slack off and stop doing the things I need to do to live a disciplined Messianic life?”

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God’s Grace ~ Part 11

“Perhaps there is no word in the Bible more precious than Grace.”
~ Rick Countryman, Senior Pastor, Big Valley Grace Community Church
Modesto, Ca.

“God’s Grace – It Really Is Amazing – Part B”

In my last post, we began to look at how amazing God’s Grace is from the Tanakh. Today, we will consider God’s gracious provision for our desperate plight from the Brit Hadashah.

As Sha’ul said, “Therefore, there is no longer any condemnation awaiting those who are in union with the Messiah Yeshua.” (Romans 8:1)  We are no longer estranged from God.  God is no longer against us; He is now for us.  Sha’ul also said, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)  Both of these wonderful changes occurred because of God’s Grace and despite our sin and guilt: “Where sin proliferated, grace proliferated even more.” (Romans 5:20)

Free From Accusation

The Brit Hadashah is replete with assurances of God’s forgiveness to those who have trusted in Yeshua. Just one Scripture will suffice to show again the contrast between our dreadful condition and God’s love, mercy, and grace in reaching out to us.  “You, who at one time were separated from God and had a hostile attitude towards him because of your wicked deeds, He has now reconciled in the Son’s physical body through his death; in order to present you holy and without defect or reproach before himself.” (Colossians 1:21-22)

Let me call your attention to the last phrase of this passage, “without defect or reproach.”  Does this phrase describe the way you think about yourself?  Or do you often, in your mind, find yourself standing in God’s courtroom hearing His pronouncement, “Guilty?”  If the latter is true, you are not living by grace.

If you have never received the free gift of salvation by trusting in Yeshua, then of course you are guilty. You certainly are not living by grace; rather, you are under the wrath of God, and you will eventually experience the full force of His wrath.  Your greatest need is to trust in Yeshua for your salvation, for the forgiveness of your sins, and for the free gift of eternal life.

On the other hand, if you have trusted Yeshua as your Savior, then all the expressions of God’s forgiveness are true of you. As we saw in my last post:  He has removed your sins as far as the east is from the west; He has put them behind His back and thrown them into the depths of the sea; and, He has blotted them out of His record book and promised never to bring them up again.  You are free from accusation, not because of anything you have done, but because of His grace alone through Yeshua.  God’s Grace is really amazing.

Grace to Others

Grace is not only to be received by us; it is also to be extended to others. However, our relationship to others is different from God’s relationship to us.  He is the infinitely superior Judge and moral Governor of the universe.  We are all sinners and are on an equal plane with one another.  So we cannot exercise grace as God does, but we can relate to one another as those who have received grace and who wish to operate on the principles of grace.

In fact, we will not experience the peace with God and the joy of God if we are not willing to extend grace to others. This is the point of Yeshua’ parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:23-34.  He told the story of a man who was forgiven a debt of ten thousand talents (millions of dollars), but who was unwilling to forgive a fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii (a few dollars).  The unstated truth in the parable, of course, is that our debt of sin to God is “millions of dollars,” whereas the debt of others to us is, by comparison, only a few dollars.

In this parable, the king is God the Father. As the hugeness of the first debt illustrates the enormity of our sin, so its cancellation attests to and celebrates God’s amazing grace.

The person who is living by grace sees this vast contrast between his own sins against God and the offenses of others against him. He forgives others because he himself has been so graciously forgiven.  He realizes that, by receiving God’s forgiveness through Yeshua, he has forfeited the right to be offended when others hurt him.  He practices the admonition of Sha’ul, in Ephesians 4:32: “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted; and forgive each other, just as in the Messiah God has also forgiven you.”  God’s Grace is really amazing.

God’s Blessing and Grace

 Sha’ul wrote: “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Yeshua. We have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because Gods love has been poured out in our hearts through the Ruach who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Yeshua died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person – though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Yeshua died for us! Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life! And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Yeshua. We have now received this reconciliation through Him.” (Romans 5:1-11 HSCB adapted)

One benefit of our salvation is the full experience of God’s blessing and grace (verse 2). As His forgiven people, we have the indescribable privilege of living day-by-day in fellowship with God Himself as the blessed recipients of His forgiving grace and love.  Freed from slavery to sin and the law, we can now delight in the undeserved experience of God’s Grace.  We live and die, Sha’ul emphasizes, only by the mercy and kindness of God.  Everything good that we have and are, both in this life and in the life beyond, is a gift of God’s Grace. As a result, the Messianic life is to be understood not as a heavy, burdensome obligation but as a joyful, free response to God’s Grace and goodness to us.

As with the peace we have with God, the grace of God must never be taken for granted. We must never forget that God’s kindness is wholly undeserved – that we merit nothing but punishment for our sins.  When we appreciate grace for what it really is, it will always be understood as genuinely amazing grace – undeserved kindness.  Grace is no longer grace if we cease to think of it as amazing.  If we are fully to appreciate God’s Grace for what it is, then, we must never forget the terrible nature of our sin in God’s sight and God’s holy judgment on it.  Grace is perceived as grace only by those who take God’s judgment seriously.  This is why Sha’ul devoted so much attention to emphasizing the judgment of God on human sin in chapters 1-3 of Romans; he knew that it is crucial for us to feel the full weight of divine judgment if we are to feel the full greatness of divine grace.  In Romans, God’s holiness and judgment serve as the backdrop against which the Good News of God’s Grace is magnificently highlighted.  Truly, God’s Grace is amazing.

In my next post in this series of “God’s Grace” we will begin to explore how we are compelled by love to grow in grace.

 

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God’s Grace ~ Part 10

“Perhaps there is no word in the Bible more precious than Grace.”
~ Rick Countryman, Senior Pastor, Big Valley Grace Community Church
Modesto, Ca.

“God’s Grace – It Really Is Amazing – Part A”

In my last three blogs, we have been looking at the issue of the performance trap that we can get ourselves into when we attempt to earn our way into Heaven. Today, I want us to explore “God’s Grace – It Really Is Amazing.” We will consider God’s gracious provision for our desperate plight.

Our Ruin, God’s Remedy

Sha’ul used a contrasting background when he described God’s gracious remedy for our ruin in Ephesians 2:1-5: “You were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!” (HCSB)

We see the contrast drawn so sharply between our ruin and God’s remedy. In verses 1-3, Sha’ul described us as dead in our trespasses and sins, under the sway of Satan, captivated by the world, prisoners of our own sinful lusts, and objects of God’s holy wrath.  Could any picture be more dark, any background more contrasting?  But against this dark background Sha’ul once again presented the flawless diamond of God’s Grace.

But God intervened! We were dead in our transgressions, but God intervened. We were in bondage to sin, but God intervened.  We were objects of wrath, but God intervened.  God who is rich in mercy intervened.  Because of His great love for us, God intervened and made us alive with Yeshua, even when we were dead in our transgressions and sins. All this is summed up in one succinct statement:  Our condition was hopeless, but God intervened with His Grace.

God’s Grace does not supplement our good works. Instead, His grace overcomes our bad works, which are our sins.  God did this by placing our sins on Yeshua and by letting fall on Him the wrath we so richly deserved.  Because Yeshua completely paid the awful penalty of our sins, God could extend His grace to us through complete and total forgiveness of our sins.  God’s Grace really is amazing.

The extent of His forgiveness is vividly portrayed to us in four picturesque expressions in the Tanakh.

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God’s Grace – Part 9

 

“Perhaps there is no word in the Bible more precious than Grace.”
~ Rick Countryman, Senior Pastor, Big Valley Grace Community Church
Modesto, Ca.

The Performance Trap – C

In my last two blogs, we have been looking at the issue of the performance trap that we can get ourselves into when we attempt to earn our way into Heaven. Today, I want us to look at the questions of “Do we deserve God’s Grace” and “How can we relax in God’s Grace?”

Do We Deserve God’s Grace?

The simplest answer is: NO!! However, that’s not what most of us believe.  We think that we deserve God’s grace because of our sacrificial service to the cause.  Let’s look at the story of the Roman centurion in Luke 7: 1-10.  The man sent some of the Jewish elders to Yeshua asking Him to come and heal his sick servant.  “The elders came to Yeshua and pleaded earnestly with Him, ‘He really deserves to have you do this, for he loves our people – in fact, he built the synagogue for us!” (verses 4-5).  Notice the Jewish elders’ emphasis on deserving.

The centurion surely was a remarkable, God-fearing man. He was an officer in the Roman occupation army, yet he served the occupied people by building a synagogue for them.  Think of an occupying army in today’s culture and ask yourself how many “enemy” officers would do such a thing.

But the centurion’s attitude about himself is even more remarkable than his deeds. Instead of thinking of what he should receive because of what he deserved, he freely confessed he didn’t deserve anything.  He sent word to Yeshua, saying, “Sir, don’t trouble yourself. I’m not worthy to have you come under my roof – this is why I didn’t presume to approach you myself.” (verses 6-7)  Because of this he not only experienced the joy of having his request granted, but also the added joy of knowing he had received what he did not deserve.

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God’s Grace – Part 8

 

 

“Perhaps there is no word in the Bible more precious than Grace.”
~ Rick Countryman, Senior Pastor, Big Valley Grace Community Church
Modesto, Ca.

The Performance Trap – B

In my last blog, we began to look at the issue of the performance trap that we can get ourselves into when we attempt to earn our way into Heaven. Today, I want us to look at the problems we can get into with our perfectionism or what I like to think of as our fear of failure.

The Problem with Perfectionism and the Fear of Failure

Perfectionists usually base their self-worth on their ability to accomplish a goal. Therefore, failure is a threat and is totally unacceptable to them.   Perfectionists can be quite vulnerable to serious mood disorders and often anticipate rejection when they believe they haven’t met the standards they are trying so hard to attain.  Therefore, perfectionists tend to react defensively to criticism and demand to be in control of most situations they encounter.  The focus of the Messianic life should be on Yeshua, not on self-imposed regulations.  Our experience of Yeshua’s Lordship is dependent on our moment-by-moment attention to His instruction, not on our own regimented schedule.

When we learn how to relax in God’s liberating grace and break out of the prison of perfectionism, we find a new level of joy and freedom in our life. This is because perfectionism is destructive to your life in several ways.

I know from personal experience that being a perfectionist is a dysfunctional character trait. As far back as I can remember I have always been concerned with the fear of failure.  I had to get everything just right to feel good about myself.  I had to be in control.  With God’s help and my spouse’s insight, I am now a recovering perfectionist.

According to Robert S. McGee in his book “The Search for Significance: Seeing Your True Worth Through God’s Eyes,” the false belief that we must meet certain standards – for example, perfectionism – in order to feel good about ourselves results in a fear of failure.  He then goes on to list several effects of this fear of failure.

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God’s Grace – Part 7

“Perhaps there is no word in the Bible more precious than Grace.”
~ Rick Countryman, Senior Pastor, Big Valley Grace Community Church
Modesto, Ca.

The Performance Trap – A

So far in this series on God’s Grace, we have looked at What Is God’s Grace and How Do We Appropriate God’s Grace. Before digging deeper into other aspects of God’s Grace, I want to cover what I consider is the primary stumbling block to appropriating God’s Grace ~ perfectionism.  I confess that this has been a major stumbling block for me and an issue that I still struggle with from time to time.  In his book “The Search for Significance: Seeing Your True Worth Through God’s Eyes,” Robert S. McGee labeled this stumbling block as the “Performance Trap.”

You may recall that in Part 1 of this series I quoted from Rabbi Sha’ul’s statement to the Believers in Ephesus: “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast” Ephesians 2:8-9 (HCSB).  As Believers, we know in our knowers that we can’t earn our way into God’s Kingdom; we can’t be saved by trying to obey all His commands – no one but Yeshua has been able to accomplish that; we can’t even do good all the time (see Romans 7:13-24), so why do we think that we have to be perfect this side of Glory?  Many of us strive to be perfectionists.  We delude ourselves into thinking that success in whatever we do will bring us fulfillment and happiness.  We usually base our self-worth on our ability to accomplish the goals we have set out for ourselves in our own strengths.  However, we eventually figure out that as Believers we should focus our walk on Yeshua, not on self-imposed regulations.  Our experience of His Lordship is dependent on our moment-by-moment attention to His instructions, not on our own regimented schedule or activity.  Our goal is to endeavor to become more and more like Yeshua in everything we think and do, recognizing that we will stumble and fall on the way.  But, we will always fall into His waiting arms.

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