Episode 61: Breakthroughs, Part 1- The Grace We Live By

Peace to Live By Episode 61: Breakthroughs, Part 1- The Grace We Live By - Daniel Litton
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[Transcript may not match broadcasted sermon word for word]

       Probably one of the greatest hindrances to an individual’s personal relationship with God is that of having an incorrect view of God. That is at the heart of the matter really. When a Christian is finding him or herself as feeling rejected by God, or having a negative view of God, he or she finds that the relationship with him isn’t as enjoyable as it should be. Obviously, though, it’s not because something is wrong with God—quite to the contrary. As hard as it may seem, as much as we don’t want to believe it, there must be something wrong with us. And today, that’s what we’re going to look at. We are going to consider some incorrect views we have about God and our relationship with him, and we are going to do this with the expectance of fixing some problems, some inaccurate perspectives, and hopefully feel better in the long run.

       In fact, today is not the only day that I want to spend talking about breakthroughs—things that can improve our lives dramatically as we pay attention and let them. No, over the course of the next five weeks, including today, I want to talk about five different breakthroughs that can help us in life, things that help us in our relationship with God—to love God better—and that will in turn help us in our daily lives. These things enable us to have healthier lives because you’ll find, relatively quickly, that by improving one thing, it will lead to improvements elsewhere. Indeed, it is a domino effect, and a good one at that. It’s always good and fun to improve ourselves to a greater degree, though, usually it is a difficult thing to do. It is tough because we are fighting against our flesh, our sinful natural desires. But, it is definitely worth the struggle as our hard work will pay off in the end.

       So, let’s get started today in discussing the first life-changing thing—the first breakthrough. Our first breakthrough is this: We never have to earn God’s acceptance; we have already been accepted by God.

       This sounds basic, but I think a lot of Christians don’t realize this essential truth. They don’t realize that at the moment they accepted Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior, at that very moment, they become approved by God. That is, God accepted this new person in his family as his own personal son or daughter, much like parents accept a child born into their family or accept an adopted child. When parents accept the child, that child is part of the family, is given the family name, and has all the privileges of a member of that family. Namely, what’s most important is the love that child gets from his or her mother and father. The Apostle Paul told the Romans, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father”” (Romans 8:15, ESV). You see, God not only adopted us into his own personal family, but we have such a relationship with him that we are not to fear him, but rather address him as Daddy.

       Certainly, God doesn’t like it when we believe incorrect things about his character, like that he is against at us most of the time, or that he doesn’t want to give us good things that we want. He doesn’t like the bad reputation and criticism that many of us give him in our minds. God the Holy Spirit is our Helper, our Comforter, and yet, often times we feel that God doesn’t help us with a lot of things, and we feel that God more often torments us as we fail from time to time, as we don’t feel we live up to his standard. It is really an amazing thing when you realize that you have someone who is with you all the time, who can help you with whatever you need in life, big or small. God will help us get groceries at the store, and he will help us be a light to our unsaved family member. He will help us be a comfort to someone else in a conversation, and he will help comfort us when we are very sick and need to be healed. Whatever it is, God will support us and comfort us.

       Unfortunately, I think often times we just have misperceptions of God. Perhaps we’ve spent too much time in the Old Testament versus the New Testament, or more likely we just don’t really believe that God is on our side. When something bad happens in our life, small, big, doesn’t matter—we believe it must be punishment from God. If we drop our lunch on the kitchen floor, we think, “Oh no. What have I done now. What is God upset about with me?” Or, if we get robbed on the street corner, we think, “Oh man, why didn’t God protect me? I must have sin in my life and he is trying to tell me something.” Not everyone thinks like this, for sure. But there are many Christians who do, many who are trapped with incorrect perceptions of God. And this hurts God’s feelings and he doesn’t like our incorrect perceptions. We forget the Psalm that says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Psalms 34:19, ESV). Yes, we who are righteous in God by Jesus will have problems just like anyone else. But a big difference is, we have God’s unlimited help.

       A key way to combat a belief that God doesn’t approve of us is to simply just ‘believe’ what the Bible says in ‘faith’ even when we don’t feel it. The Bible says a lot of things, and much of it contradicts the pattern we see in those in the world around us. We may see the Bible say one thing, but at the same time notice that most people practice something else—live by some other standard. But we are to believe the Bible’s ways are correct at all times, in all times, and are to follow what it says. If the Bible says that God loves us, we should believe he does. If it says he already accepted us as his personal children, we should believe that. If it says that God is with us at all times, we should be encouraged by that promise. We have to have faith in certain things that are true, even though we may feel in a moment’s time that something isn’t true for us. I may not feel like God is with me, but if the Bible says he always is, and it does, then I can know for sure that God is always with me.

       Another lie that we as Christians often believe is that we are accepted by God based on the good things we do, the good things we accomplish. It is definitely true that God is pleased by our good works, the things we do for him, or others—for the kingdom, but he has already accepted us as his children regardless of what we do. Whether or not we do a good work, each of us belong to him. Even if we sin, we still are his child. For we all know these verses: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2, 8, 9, ESV). So, God’s salvation for us, his acceptance of us, is a gift, and is not dependent upon any good works that we do in our lives. If it were, as the verse stated, we would be able to boost in our accomplishment of our good standing with God, that we were able to come into God’s acceptance by good things we did. That’s not the case. He chose us, and gave us the gift of acceptance.

       Sadly, people in our world most often operate the other way, whether it be people at church or unbelievers we are alongside. That is, people often treat us based on what we have accomplished or what we are currently accomplishing. Favoritism is shown to those we feel deserve our attention. Or, on the other side of the coin, people may not accept us unless we do things their way—follow their way or brand of Christianity, and how they think the Christian life should be lived, or how they think good works for God should be accomplished. And if we don’t do things a certain way, these people will not accept our work. They may not accept us if we don’t follow their rules, live by their standard. Slandering may occur if they feel others are doing wrong when in fact they are not. Criticism can become a big problem. Thankfully, though, our acceptance by God is not based on what we do or what we don’t do.

       Perhaps you’re one of those Christian individuals who feels that God wants you to enjoy life, to have a good life, but those around you are all about self-induced suffering. They may believe life is all about sacrifice and suffering, and there certainly is some of that in life. But if you don’t sacrifice and suffer as much as they do, or as much as they think you should, they tell you that you are living in a wrong way. They get jealous of you because you don’t live your life that way—you enjoy the life that God has given you, and you still keep the commands of God. A lot of times these pro-suffering brothers and sisters don’t follow all the motivational speeches that they themselves give for others. They get on emotional highs, wanting to sacrifice greatly for the kingdom of God, and they tell everyone listening that they should too. Then you go to their house the next night and find them watching the baseball game. This is unfortunate because surely they end up beating themselves up for not doing enough good, for not living up to their own personal standard—not God’s—and then they feel God doesn’t approve of them. But he never said they had to do all of those things they placed on themselves in the first place.

       You see, we are to live by the freedom of the Spirit versus having a sacrifice/suffering mindset. These brothers and sisters need to learn that we live by the grace of God, and not by our works. Our works don’t make us right before God anymore than going out on the baseball field makes you a pro-baseball player. It is written in John, “"For from his fullness [Jesus’ fullness] we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:16, 17, ESV). We live in the new era of grace, and we are not to live by works anymore like those who lived during the times of the Old Testament. We live out our Christian lives in the true freedom that Christ has given to us, and we don’t only follow rules from the pages of Scripture. It says in Romans, “"Through him [Jesus] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:2, ESV). Our rejoicing in hope of the glory of God—our hope in Heaven—comes by God’s grace, and not by our works. We are to stand, to live, in grace, through grace, and not stand, or live by works or rules we have created in order to be accepted by God.

       It certainly is true that God does get upset by our sin in our lives, but he doesn’t then choose not to love us. He may get annoyed about sin that has blossomed and not been dealt with, but he is not against us personally. God does want us to live holy lives, striving to become more and more like Jesus. He wants us to identify sin in our thoughts, the things we say, and what we do, and he wants us to improve ourselves. When we keep letting sin have it’s way in us, he gets upset. For one, it is because he is a holy and righteous God. Two, it is because he wants what is best for us. If we are sinning, we aren’t doing what is best, and we may be even preventing God from giving us the things he wants to give us because we are not mature enough. We are not displaying a mature character that he can count on. And in due course, we hurt ourselves by our sin. So God does discipline us for sin at times, just like a father and mother disciplines their child when the child misbehaves. The parents do this because they love the child and want what is best for him or her in the future. That’s why the discipline is occurring. And so it is with God. He disciplines us because he loves us.

       While it is true that we will mess up in our lives, we should not be thinking about our failures all the time, but rather our focus should be on good things. God’s mercy and grace wipes away our failures when we repent of them. Therefore, it makes no sense for us to go around with our head down and try to suffer enough in our grieving for our sin that we feel God is pleased and now accepts us again. That’s not the way it works. When we identify sin, or when the Holy Spirit points out our fault, we are to repent, and then move on. If we are living with guilt all the time for mistakes, we aren’t living like God wants us to. Remember what the Apostle Paul said? And it is a big verse. He said, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus who walk not according to the flesh (but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1, ESV). Well, if we have repented, we are not walking according to flesh, are we? We are walking according to the Spirit. And so, we should not walk around feeling condemned all the time. We are to make use of God’s grace when we fail.

       And God uses his grace to enable us to accomplish good things for him, for the kingdom. It is written in 2 Corinthians, “"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (9:8, ESV). See, by God’s grace he empowers us to do good works for the kingdom of God. In Romans, it says that we have “gifts that differ according to the grace given to us” (12:6, ESV). God empowers each of us to do different things. He gifts us each according to his grace toward us. And it is through these gifts that God gives us, that we show love for each other in the body of Christ. We show grace toward each other. We care about each other. We take care of each other.

       Speaking of love, the final point that I want to make is that our relationship with God, by grace, needs to be built on a foundation of love and not fear. Foundational to this is the fact that God has chosen to love us and to give us his grace; it is not that we chose God ourselves. 1 John 4:10 states, ““In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (ESV). So the mercy and grace we receive from God is because of what Christ has accomplished for us on the cross, and not because of anything we have done. But going further, there is a fundamental difference between having a reverent fear of God versus having a fear of what he might do to us if we don’t comply with whatever we feel he wants us to do. Consider this passage, again, from John. In 1 John 4, John again states the following:

““Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us” (15-19, ESV).

So, God’s view of us is that as Jesus is (who is perfect), so also are we living our lives in this world. He sees us as perfect. If we are going around fearing God all the time, we have not been perfected in love, as John tell us. So, if you are living in a state of fear of God in view of what he might do to you for sin, you have an incorrect view of God. We are not live in a state of this kind of fear. Remember, Jesus said in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (ESV). He choose us, as he just said, and loves us. Therefore, we love him in return.

       Now, in closing today, I want to take some time and talk to you out there who don’t know God yet—those of you who haven’t recognized his love. You may have been listening to what I have been talking about, and it may have sounded foreign to you. You may not have been familiar with anything I was saying. Or, perhaps, you’ve heard it many times, but you know, deep down, that you don’t have a personal relationship with God. You don’t feel his presence and acceptance, and you don’t feel he approves of you or your actions. You know you shouldn’t do the wrong things you do, your sins, and that you should turn to God, but you just haven’t yet made that decision. Well, today, I want to encourage you, whatever situation you are in, to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.

       God saves us, but he doesn’t just do that and leave us alone to live life ourselves. He doesn’t leave us to just follow a list of rules from the Bible, or from a church. God gives us his acceptance, when we believe in him, so we can confidently live out our lives before him, by his power working within us. Today you may feel very sinful, very separated from God. But, this is now your opportunity to come to know God. This is your time. God welcomes people into his arms who want to have a relationship with him. He is not a mean, stern, or resisting God. No, he wants more people to come to know him. He already knows you, and he wants you to know him and have life through him.

       When Jesus was here on the earth, quite a long time ago, he died on the cross to provide a way for you and for me to come to know God. See, our sin separates us from God, and the only way we can know him is to have a payment for our sin. We cannot make it good ourselves, we cannot provide a sacrifice for all of our sins that makes us acceptable to God. We cannot do enough good to outweigh our bad. Our bad is not erased by our good. So, the only way we can become acceptable to God, good in his sight, is by counting on Jesus’ sacrifice for us. His death on the cross provides an acceptable substitute for us to God. All of our sins are put on him, and he bore the penalty of death for our sins. Then, he rose from the dead into life. So, when you trust in Jesus today, you gain true life, real life. And he gives you his Spirit by whom you can live out the rest of your life.

       If you would like to accept Jesus today as your personal Savior, and personal Lord, then I want you to follow my lead in this prayer:

God, I am currently not in right relationship with you. I feel separated from you, distant from you. But today, God, am told I can come into a personal relationship with you, and I want to come into this relationship. I want to be on the right side; I want to live my life with your help. I realize that things I have done in the past have not made you happy, and I want to turn from doing those things, and I want your acceptance. I believe Jesus loves me, and showed this by dying for me so that I can be in relationship with you. I believe he rose from the dead, and that just as he has life now, so I can have life in you. So, God, I give you my life. Please change me, make me become a better person, more like Jesus. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

-Daniel Litton