I belong

Belonging to Christ, not the Law

So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.

Romans 7:4 NIV

“I just can’t do anything right!  I can’t please you!”  Have you ever yelled those words? Screamed them in your head?  Usually, they are directed at a person whose expectations are just too much for you to meet, but whom you desperately want to make happy.

A father.  A mother.  A husband.  A child. “I love you.  I want you to be pleased with me. I keep trying, this way and that way, with new techniques, new resolve, with effort overflowing, and yet … I fail.  I can’t keep all your rules and follow all your directions perfectly enough to win your favor.”

That’s the position the Israelites were in with the Old Testament law.  They had a gazillion rules to keep, and they kept breaking them, because those Israelites were as human and broken and sinful as you and me.  They had become slaves to the law.  It had become miserable.

And then Jesus came, offering a new way to find God.  Not through rules, but through grace.  This verse describes the turning point.  Before, you were married to the law.  You belonged to it.   But you died to it.  And you have a new life now, one in which you belong to someone utterly unlike the law – Jesus.

Instead of offering us a list of rules and a grumpy face because He knows we’ll break them, Jesus says … Come, be mine.  Let me love you. Give your life to me and let me mold you. Let me point out your sins, not to wear you down but to help you live more freely without their chains. Let me accept you despite all your faults.  You please me, just because … you belong to me.

When we live under that kind of freedom, when we are cherished by God, the good fruits (good works) grow out of grateful hearts transformed, not enslaved hearts striving to try to get it right.

Belonging. Freedom. Joy.  Mine in Christ.

I am Invited to Live

On Life and Grace

I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life. John 5:24 HCSB

I’ve been a Christian since I was 8 years old.  That’s a mighty long time, and you’d think I’d have this Christian-living thing down pat by now. Decades of practice should have already made me perfect.

Except that it hasn’t.  Daily, I make mistakes.  I sometimes act selfishly.  Just last week, I messed up big time and hurt people I love.  Let’s just call it what it was – sin.  If anyone deserves judgment, if anyone has her punishment “coming to her,” it’s me.

And yet, what I got was grace – undeserved favor.  God forgave me. My family forgave me. All is restored and well, and I am a wiser woman because of the ordeal.  Last week, I felt the weight of the yuckiness upon me. This week, I am praising God for the fresh breath of life He’s given.

How can this be?  How can I deserve one thing and receive another?  Because John 5:24 is active in my life.  I have heard Jesus’ words, and I believe them.  I believe God sent Jesus to earth to become my sacrifice, to take my punishment for me.  He died – so I don’t have to.

I will not come under judgment, now or later. While I walk on this planet, I am forgiven and free.  When I step off of it, I will still be forgiven and free.  I have life here.  I’ll have life there.  Eternally.

But this grace didn’t come cheaply.  Christ gave his very life to win it for me.  So, I’m not saying a person can just live however she wants to live, sin as much as she desires, and in the end it’s all ok.  No.  Becoming a Christian means giving your life to Christ, making him Lord and boss.  There is a difference between living your life in willful rebellion and in living it while striving to please Him but tripping over your own humanness every now and then.  I’m in the latter category.

I have passed from death to life.  My sins are paid for.  Christ was judged in my place.

I am free to live.

I am a trophy of grace

Not Left on the Shelf

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. ~Philippians 1:6-7 NASB

Partakers of grace. That’s a different kind of trophy. Not the kind that is won, set up on the shelf, and left to collect dust. We, the prize of Christ, the proof of His power and of His grace, are also instruments of that very grace. Commissioned to participate in His Kingdom not only as jewels to His crown, but as citizens and ambassadors of His love.

I received a dictionary about twenty years ago—a nice one. Hardback, embossed with my name and everything. It was a prize, a trophy of sorts, for an academic achievement. It’s the only trophy from my high school days I still keep on the shelf. Not because I use it to brag about accomplishments long since won, which is not the point of this post, but because it’s useful. It doesn’t serve merely as a decorative dust-collector. It has a commission in my life and continues to be useful.

Jesus didn’t win us to His kingdom simply to put us on His display shelf. His love and good intentions go so far beyond that. We have been called to display His character to the world. Called to bring Him praise with everything we do. We’re a unique kind of trophy. Won for His glory and commissioned with purpose.

Has the dust begun to gather? Seek His kingdom. Participate in His gospel. Approve the things that are excellent. Let Him fill you with the fruit of His righteousness. Partake in His grace.

There is much to do. Praise God, His grace does not leave us on the shelf.

I am a trophy of grace

Trophy Wife

Husbands, love your wives, just as also Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her, to make her holy, cleansing her in the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and blameless. Ephesians 5:25-27

As hard as it is to imagine one single human (myself) being presented a trophy of grace, it is harder still to image a whole group of humans (my church and yours) presented as the spotless Bride of Christ. I myself am deeply flawed. Add me to a few hundred other folks, and you have more flaws than I’d care to count.

Yet Christ grouped us together into churches on purpose, every sinful one of us, and commanded us to love one another. He’ll one day gather all those local congregations into one beautiful Church, and he’ll present her to Himself in “splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and blameless.”

Do we deserve it? We Christians have fractured ourselves into denominations, and denominations square off against themselves in opposite political camps. Individual congregations bicker. It’s a common malady. American Christians singing in varnished pews, Chinese Christians whispering in darkened houses, and African Christians banging drums under mango trees – all of us sin. And the answer is no, we don’t deserve to be the Bride of Christ.

And that brings us right back to grace. Why is the Church, the bride of Christ, spotless and wrinkle free? Why can we be presented in splendor? Because of Jesus’ death for us. He made us holy. And because he keeps washing us, urging us to follow his word, perfecting us until the day we are perfect – our wedding day.

Once again, his work, not ours.

I am a trophy of grace

Escaping the Performance Trap

 He (God) presented Him (Jesus) to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.  Were then is boasting? It is excluded.  By what kind of law?  By one of works? No, on the contrary, by a law of faith.  For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.  Romans 3:26-28 HCSB (parentheses mine)

Sometime when I still lived in Africa, I underlined these verses and wrote in big block letters to the side, “No guilt.” Why that, next a verse that is talking about the evils of boasting? Because I tend to get tangled in the performance trap – feeling as though I’m never quite doing “enough.”  There I was, a missionary, who knew in my heart that too often I’d rather hide in my house rather than share the gospel with an African.  I knew that instead of loving those hungry little village children, I was too often annoyed with them. I knew all the myriad of inadequacies in my sinful heart.  I fell short.  I was guilty.

And one day, sitting in the heat and reading my Bible, I came upon this verse.  “Don’t boast,” it said.  And the Holy Spirit?  He said something like, “No matter how good of a job you did as a missionary, no matter how many people you lead to Christ, or how many languages you learned, or how many little kids you loved, you’d still fall short.  You’d still have nothing to brag about.  And you’d still be guilty. 

I did the work, not you.

I declared you righteous.  Because you weren’t righteous on your own. And you can’t be. No matter how hard you try.

You can’t do anything to be good enough.

But that’s okay.  Because I’m good enough for you.”

I needed to remember that today.  If I am to be His trophy of grace, I’ve got to remember the grace part.  Certainly, I am unworthy to be a trophy. 

And that’s the point of grace.