“I fight from victory, not for victory.
(Lysa TerKeurst, Uninvited)
“I fight from victory, not for victory.
(Lysa TerKeurst, Uninvited)
People hurt each other all the time. Sometimes it’s intentional. Most times it’s not, and it just happens because nobody is perfect. Communication breaks down. Misunderstandings happen. Maybe you do something you aren’t supposed to do, and you lie to cover it up. Then you have to lie more to keep it covered. And you can’t lie that long without there being consequences, whether you get caught in your lie or not.
In any case, you end up at odds with people. But you forgive them. Of course, you forgive them. Maybe it’s not the strong, independent thing to say, but I usually forgive people pretty quickly, especially if it’s only my feelings that have been hurt. If I’m the only one who has been wronged, it doesn’t bother me that much. But there’s forgiveness and then there’s restoration. And there’s a big, big difference between them.
Unless you’re God.
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.
I love how God approaches forgiveness. When you come to God with a true view of your sin and your dependency on Him, He doesn’t push you away. He doesn’t scorn you or make you feel guilty. He sees you from a far-off distance and runs to meet you. He wraps you up in His arms and welcomes you home.
There’s nothing in this passage that discusses how we have to prove ourselves to God so that He will restore us to a right relationship with Him. We don’t have to prove anything to God. We can’t. All we are capable of doing is turning our hearts, our wills, over to Him. And He knows full well that we might turn away from Him again (we probably will), but He doesn’t let that stop Him from showering us with blessings and making us feel loved and wanted.
God is a God of second chances. And third chances. A fiftieth chances. And two-hundredth chances. I know that’s been said to death, but it’s true. God doesn’t push anyone away. Not ever. Nobody who ever came to God seeking help has been turned away.
I need that. I need someone who will forgive me when I screw up, because I screw up a lot. Do I think it’s wise to instantly restore another human being to a place of ultimate trust after they’ve betrayed me? No. We can’t prove anything to God, but when it comes to our relationships with each other, trust needs to be earned again after it’s lost.
But still… how often are we too harsh on someone who has let us down? How often do we feel the need to punish those who have hurt the people we love? And is that really what God has for us to do? Are we supposed to make it harder for someone to earn our trust after they’ve failed us?
Jesus says in Matthew that people with vulnerable hearts are happy. Sure, that guy hurt you. Yeah, that gal might take advantage of your kind spirit and stomp all over your heart again. But isn’t God’s grace strong enough to withstand the failings of other people? I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt. When someone you love stabs you in the back, it hurts. When someone you trust turns out to be different than you thought, it’s like your insides twist all up. But who are you trusting for your happiness?
God’s grace is enough.
It’s enough to free me from slavery to my own sin. It’s enough to help me forgive people who’ve hurt me. It’s enough to help me forgive people who will keep hurting me. And if God loves me enough to give me second chances over and over and over again, can’t I afford to do the same for someone else?
I don’t really like rules. I understand why we need laws. Without them, everyone would just do whatever they felt like, and everything would be completely chaotic. And that being said, some rules are okay. The rules that are things I would have done anyway–driving safely or not taking illegal food into the movie theater or paying my taxes. But what about God’s rules?
God’s rules are significantly harder to obey. I don’t want to be kind to people who are unkind to me. I don’t want to forgive people who hurt me. I don’t want to do what God says is right instead of what I think is right. That’s hard. That takes faith and trust that God’s rules are superior to our own understanding, and I rarely have the strength to do that.
So what happens? I fail God. I can’t meet His expectations. And I end up feeling like a loser. And that’s the point, right?
God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
While it’s true that the purpose of the law is to point out our imperfection, that’s not what God is trying to communicate. Yes, we need to understand that we can’t keep the law. We can try and try with all our strength, and we’ll still fail. You have to be perfect to keep God’s Laws, and only Jesus has those credentials.
But the point of the law isn’t to make us feel like losers. The point of the law is to help us realize that we need a Savior.
God gave the law as an example of His perfection. If you could keep His commandments, you could be worthy of Heaven. You could stand in His presence without shame. But nobody could do it. Not one single human He created. We all screw up. We all focus on ourselves more than God. We want what we want, and we don’t care what God says about it. Or we listen to what God says and then do our own thing anyway, knowing full well that there will be consequences. And then we beg and plead for help to escape the consequences we fully deserve.
Seriously. People are a mess.
But God knows that.
Jesus came and lived His perfect life and gave it up freely as a sacrifice to pay for our broken souls. Because Jesus died for us, we don’t have to fear the Law. Yes, the Law is still true, and if you break the Law, there are consequences. That much hasn’t changed. But the Law can’t condemn us. Not as long as we believe in what Jesus did for us.
So when you screw up, don’t sink into a pit of self-loathing. Don’t sit there and hate on yourself and call yourself names or give into that horrible little voice at the back of your brain that always says nasty things. Yes, recognize that you broke the Law, but instead of wallowing in your guilt, take action. Change your mind. Don’t do it again. Ask forgiveness. Move on.
Without Jesus, you’d be doomed. So would I. So it’s a good thing we have Jesus, because I screw up all the time.
Don’t fear the Law. The Law can’t hurt you. It doesn’t exist to hurt you or to shame you or to guilt you into submission. The Law is there to help us understand that we can’t ever be perfect. We can’t ever be good enough. That’s not a statement intended to hurt you. That’s a statement of fact.
If it were up to the Law, we’d all be condemned. But for those who believe in Jesus, the Law has no say. Grace is our anthem. Jesus’ sacrifice made us right with God, made us right with the Law. We don’t deserve it. We could never earn it. It’s a gift, pure and simple. Free, open to everyone, no strings attached.
The Law isn’t a sledgehammer to beat people down with. The Law is a ruler that helps us see we can never measure up. And Grace is the still, small voice that whispers we don’t have to.
I love stories. It doesn’t matter what kind of stories they are, though I do prefer stories with happy endings (some people may doubt that if they’ve read my latest novel, Namesake, but I promise it’s true!). Stories entertain us. They make us laugh. They help us dream. They allows us to imagine a different life or different worlds. But that’s not all they do.
The best stories, the ones that stick with us, always contain a morsel of truth. The stories that resonate in our hearts are the ones that God can use to speak to us in ways normal conversation can’t. So, in a way, it’s fitting to see the Bible and one big storybook.
Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises. And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous. And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that they’d read the Bible more often if it were more relevant to their lives. On one hand, I can understand that the Bible can be confusing, especially if you’re reading a translation that requires a lot of study. But it’s not that the Bible isn’t relevant. It’s that we aren’t actively applying its lessons to our lives.
It’s the same way we apply the truth of stories in our lives, and that’s not a new thing. Remember Aesop’s Fables? People have been telling stories since language was invented, to entertain and to educate. Oral histories of people and culture are all we have left of some civilizations. And in every story, there’s a lesson.
Not much has changed throughout history, though. Our movies, our television shows, our books–they’re all stories. They’re all lessons.
What’s different about the Bible is that it was written by God for us. It’s His Word, the only truth, and it’s intended to show us the meaning of life, our purpose on earth, and to show us who God is and how much He loves us. What I love is how He does it.
God could have written: “Hey, humans. I made you. I made everything. You screwed me over, but because I love you, I’ve made a way for you to be saved. The End.” But He didn’t. Instead, He moved through dozens of authors over hundreds of years to write a collection of stories about how He shows up in our daily lives. God shows Himself through stories. Those moments where something impossible happens? Those moments where everything works out just perfectly? That’s not coincidence. That’s design. That’s God.
We can relate to stories. So that’s why God tells us stories.
So the next time you’re tempted to think that the Bible is confusing or irrelevant to your life, just stop. Take a moment to actually read one of the stories (use a translation you understand), and don’t see it as some ancient historical document. See it as a story that you’d tell around a campfire. See if the lesson doesn’t jump out at you. You might be surprised what you learn.
What’s great about God’s stories is that there’s always something to learn. And those lessons you learn grow and change with you as you get older, because God is always exactly what you need when you need Him. So a story may mean something to you today, but read it again in ten years, and you’ll get something new out of it. That’s real truth, and that’s who God is.
I don’t have a good feeling about politicians. It doesn’t matter what side they take, what party lines they walk, what policies they promote, I just have a hard time trusting them. But you know what? I don’t know any politicians. I’ve never met one, not really. Never spent time with one. Never shaken hands with one. I had lunch at the governor’s mansion in Topeka once while I was in college. We were visiting for Associated Press Day in my beat reporting class, and I saw the governor across the room, but I didn’t speak to her.
So how can I say that I don’t trust politicians when I don’t know any? Well, I know of them. I hear them speak. I see the damage they do. I watch them break their word over and over again. So in my distant, third-person perspective of politicians, they can’t be trusted. But is that any way to rate someone’s trustworthiness? Just because other people “like” them aren’t trustworthy, does that make them untrustworthy too?
True, some of them were unfaithful; but just because they were unfaithful, does that mean God will be unfaithful? Of course not! Even if everyone else is a liar, God is true. As the Scriptures say about him, “You will be proved right in what you say, and you will win your case in court.”
People seemed to be running into this same conundrum when it comes to God during the writing of the Book of Romans. Paul addresses the unfaithfulness of people who’d been trusted with God’s Word, how they hadn’t done what they were supposed to do. But Paul’s statement is that just because people let you down, you should assume God will too.
I can’t speak for politicians, and maybe that’s a silly example. But I tend to lump people into groups. Maybe I stereotype them. Legalistic Christians. Good Church People. Mac Lovers. Engineers. Homeschoolers. Bad Influences.
Stop laughing at me. You do it too. Maybe your labels are different, but we all are guilty of categorizing people.
But just because one Legalistic Christian hurt your feelings doesn’t mean that the next Legalistic Christian you meet will do the same. Just because one Mac Lover annoys the crap out of you doesn’t mean the next Mac Lover you encounter will too.
The same principle is true with God. There are a lot of people who claim to follow God, but they go around hurting people, making life difficult, causing conflict at home, in the workplace, at school. Some folks who claim to be Christians lie and cheat and steal. They don’t respect authorities. They are bad influences on people. And they’re unrepentant about it.
But you know what? Just because a Christian acts that way doesn’t mean God is pleased with him or her. God has a specific list of traits that He expects His children to live by, and just because someone calls themselves a Christian doesn’t mean they’re actually living like one.
Many people have been hurt by Christians, and that’s a sad thing. But just because a Christian fouls up doesn’t mean that Jesus will too. An ambassador can be a poor representative of his country. So too a Christian can be a poor representative of Christ.
So the next time you are tempted to give up on God because you had a bad experience with one of His followers, think twice. People are people, and God is God. People will let you down, but God never will.