Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: grace

Amazing grace

That saved a wretch like me
I am not wretched because of things others have done to me, even though those things may have been horribly wretched. I am wretched because of the things I have done, the choices I have made.

God is not a sadistic puppet master who made me do bad things, then condemned me to eternal punishment for doing them. There were always better choices available to me, but I always wanted to blame someone else for my wrong choices.

Eve did not force Adam to eat of the fruit. The serpent did not force Eve to pluck the fruit and bite into it. God did not force Satan to rebel against Him. None of these things were pre-determined. Neither were the bad choices that I made. I am wretched because I deliberately made those bad choices.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
It was hard to see that it was grace that brought me face to face with my wretchedness, that made me feel the crushing weight of my guilt and fear the utter hopelessness of my situation. Yet without that I would never have made the next step.

I admitted to myself and to God that all my problems were of my own doing, nobody had pushed me, all my problems were caused by choices I had made.

And grace my fears relieved
Suddenly, unexpectedly, that crushing weight of guilt, and the fear of God’s judgement were gone. God’s grace had come down and I was forgiven and free.

That is why grace is so amazing.

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Flee temptation

Why do evangelical Christian leaders get ensnared in sex scandals? It’s because they so easily forget that they are still flesh and blood and that the tendencies of the flesh are contrary to their high spiritual ideals.

I wouldn’t call it hypocrisy; at least not deliberate hypocrisy. It is a tragedy when a man with high moral ideals come to believe that the power of the Holy Spirit has made him immune to the baser desires of his humanity.

We dare not forget that we never stop being sinners by nature. Yes, we cn have victory over those base desires. Yes, we can live without fear of being ensnared at any moment by some horrible sin. But we need to live every day with the reality of what we are made of and what we could do, but for the grace of God.

Some may boast of all the great works the Lord has done by them; others may abase themselves and say that they are nothing. Such voluntary, self-made humility is just as boastful as the first. It’s all pride, leading to the thought that I can do it by myself. We do need to acknowledge our failings. If we can be specific in admitting small failings, we have a better chance to avoid falling into the great temptations.

Most of all, we just need to walk with the Lord. When He is close beside us we will know when to go boldly forth into the unknown, and when to flee from temptation.

The inward and spiritual grace

The following are statements from the Catechism found in the Book of Common Prayer, which was used for centuries by Anglicans around the world.

Catechist. What do you mean by the word Sacrament?

Answer. I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given to us by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive this grace, and a pledge to assure us thereof.

Catechist. What is the inward and spiritual grace in Baptism?

Answer. A death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness; for being by nature born into man’s sinful state, we are hereby made the children of grace by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Catechist, What is required of persons to be baptized?

Answer. Repentance; whereby they forsake sin, which separates them from God; and faith; whereby they steadfastly believe the promises of God made to them in that Sacrament.

Catechist. Why then are infants baptized?

Answer. Infants are baptized so that, being received into Christ’s Church, they may grow in grace and be trained in the household of faith.

There is much truth in these words written by Thomas Cranmer more than 500 years ago. And I do believe that many Anglicans down through the centuries did repent and were born again.

I also believe that a great many were not – including myself. And I do not believe that those who experienced a new birth did so as a result of the outward sign of baptism. There is much in Anglicanism that is good and beneficial, I remember especially the emphasis on reading the Scriptures in every service. But the teaching that the sacraments are a means of grace has let  many people down.

I agree fully that the sacraments are an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. But it is confusion to teach that these inward and spiritual graces are received by means of the sacraments. I was baptized, confirmed, became an altar boy, took communion often, and never experienced the inward and spiritual graces that the catechism promised.

I abandoned the Anglican Church and the whole idea of there being any meaning in church and Christianity. Some years later, not having found satisfactory answers to the questions of life elsewhere, I began again to read the Bible. Finally, the Holy Spirit let me see my sinfulness; I repented and was born again.

A few years later I was baptized and became a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, which teaches that the inward and spiritual grace is the qualification for baptism. Likewise, spiritual unity in a congregation is the qualification for communion. Outward signs can produce neither spiritual life nor spiritual unity.

This is the historic position of the Anabaptists. The inward and spiritual graces are essential to being a Christian and must precede the outward and visible signs.

Stewards of the grace of God

“As every man has received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as faithful stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).

I don’t recall ever hearing much discussion of this topic. When we talk of stewardship, we are generally thinking of our possessions and financial affairs, and too often it comes out sounding like “what’s good for my pocketbook is good for God.”

I wonder if we don’t tend to look on the grace of God in the same individualistic, self-centred way. I am so thankful for what God has done for me in forgiving my sins and setting me free from condemnation. Is that enough? Isn’t the grace of God supposed to be shared?

In the verses immediately before and after the verse quoted, Peter admonishes us to have fervent charity among ourselves, to be hospitable and to speak and serve, all by using the gifts that God has given us.

“Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Clossians 4:6). “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).

Paul tells us that whenever we speak, our words should be motivated by the gift of grace that we have received, in such a way that we share that grace with others.

Giving reproof is a special case of serving others by the grace of God. If I see a brother do something wrong and say nothing, I am doing him no service. If I call him up and blast him for the wicked and disgraceful thing he has done, what are the chances that he will detect some trace of grace in my tirade? There is a way that I can minister grace in such a setting, but I must see myself as merely a servant and trust that the Holy Spirit is also speaking.

The parable of the talents should be considered in the sense of being stewards of the grace of God. When we serve others with the grace that God has given us, that grace is multiplied many times over. When we dig a hole in the backyard to protect that gift of grace from prying eyes, it is as if we had never received the gift of grace from God.

Sitting around the fire

We were in a small mission congregation in a major Canadian city. A middle-aged single lady, I’ll call her Anne, had been attending for a year or more. One day she said to me, “It seems like there is a warm fire burning here and you are all gathered around to warm yourselves by that fire, but you won’t let me get close.” “No,” I answered, “we want you to join us around the fire, the problem is that you are afraid of the fire.”

We all struggle with that fear from time to time, some more than others, and some never seem to overcome that fear. To enter into the presence of God, to warm ourselves in His love and the love of fellow believers, requires that we let go of some things. Things like pride, lust, materialism, envy, anger and so on.

The problem is that we don’t want to call them by their proper names. We create a mask for ourselves, depicting the person that we want to be, the kind of person that we think will be admired and respected by those around us. We want to believe that this is our true identity. Yet as soon as we approach that warm bonfire of God’s love that mask starts to melt and we hasten back to the cool shadows.

This is futility, and deep down we know it. Still, we are afraid to take off the mask and let others see what we are really like. The plain truth is that God cannot do anything for the person we are pretending to be. It’s only when we drop the mask and all pretense that we can become the person God wants us to be. And that will be far better than the person we were pretending to be.

We can’t develop warm and lasting friendships with others either if we don’t allow them to see who we really are. When we stop trying to protect ourselves from the warmth of God’s love, there is nothing left to inhibit the warmth of our fellowship as we gather around the fire.

Anne died a few years ago. Those who visited with her in her last days say that near the end she seemed to grasp the reality that we must come to God on His terms, holding nothing back. There is hope that she finally did enter into the warmth of His love. God is gracious and full of mercy, but why would any of us want to wait until the last minute to discover that?

The importance of being weak

Maria Braun was arrested in 1966 for teaching a foreign ideology to young children in the Kirghiz Soviet Republic. She had organized classes for preschool and older children to teach about faith in Jesus Christ. Another lady was arrested with her and at their trial the judge sentenced the other lady to five years in prison, but gave Maria only three years because of her young age. Maria demanded the same sentence as her friend, declaring that she was able to bear it.

In prison, Maria continued to be a zealous witness of Jesus Christ — for three years. Then she suddenly declared that she had been rescued from faith in Jesus Christ and now believed in herself.

What happened? Some have blamed prison conditions and the relentless Soviet propaganda. Fellow believers saw that she had been faithful during the three years of her original sentence and believed that her pride had led her outside of the shelter of God’s protecting hand.

When we express a desire to be strong Christians, do we understand what we are asking for? Do we realize the danger of believing that we are strong Christians? “I could never do what so-and-so has done. My faith is strong, I have had so much good teaching, I could never fall like that.”

In saying this we step out from under God’s protective canopy and dare Satan to do his worst. He will, and we will fall.

The apostle Paul understood this. “ For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). He got the message when God told him that His strength was made perfect in weakness. “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

We cannot do great things for God. Yet when we acknowledge our weakness, He is able to do surprising things through us. May we be humble enough to allow God to surprise us.

The worthy poor, and other heresies

Charity, with all its shades of meaning, is one of the chief virtues of Christianity. We know that one way to exercise charity is to help those who are unable to buy the necessities of life. But we don’t want to be too profligate with our largesse, so we decide to limit our giving to the “worthy poor.” Let’s stop a minute and think about that. If they are worthy, if they deserve our charity, then our charity is no longer charity, we are simply giving them what they deserve. That is justice, not charity.

The giving of material help, in the form of money or otherwise, is only a small part of what is meant by charity. But that thought of restricting our charity to those who are worthy tends to worm its way into all our human relationships. So and so doesn’t understand me so there’s no point even trying to visit with her. Someone else has such a contrary attitude that it’s a waste of time trying to explain anything to him. Thus we limit our friendship to a select circle. If it’s all about me and my feelings, that is not charity.

Jesus promised a blessing to those who are poor in spirit, so we want to be poor in spirit in order to receive the blessing. But is there a conviction deep inside, that we almost succeed in hiding from ourselves, that we are one of the “worthy” poor in spirit? We deserve the blessing because . . .  Because of what? Good blood lines? Because we never did anything that was very wrong? Or perhaps we have led an outstandingly, spectacularly sinful life and we have become worthy by turning around. Again, it is all about me. Grace that is deserved because I am “worthy” is not grace at all.

I need to come to God and confess that everything that has ever turned out wrong in my life has been my own doing. Nobody helped me, I did it all by myself. And I need to hold on to that truth the rest of my life. I am still capable of all the things I once did, and far more besides. Then the grace of God is truly grace, and I can be charitable to all those who don’t seem to like me very much, because I am not worthy that anyone should like me. Everything good that comes my way in life is an unmerited blessing.

Getting along with difficult people

Go into any bookstore, secular or Christian, mortar and bricks or online, and you will find at least a couple book titles that offer to teach you how to get along with difficult people.  There is a management training organization which holds seminars across the country, year after year, to teach managers how to deal with the difficult people at work.  Evidently there are enough difficult people out there to make  a steady revenue stream available to those who write these books and teach these seminars.

How come there are no books and courses to teach the difficult people how to stop being difficult?

I don’t suppose there would be any market.  After all, I am not the difficult one, it’s the people around me who are difficult.  And even if I do come across as a little difficult at times, it’s only because I have to constantly put up with all these other people who are causing me so much difficulty.

There is a deeper problem, how can you teach someone not to be difficult?  There is a form of courtesy and good manners that can be taught, and should be taught much more than  it is.  Yet the best that good manners can do is produce a person who is difficult in a very courteous way.

I believe most of my readers are Christians, so you already know the answer.  It is not within the scope of human ability to cease being difficult, it has to come from God.  It is found in the changed heart produced by the new birth and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.  And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace (James 3:17-18).

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the difficult people around me could be like that?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could be like that?

Ah, there is the rub.  How can it be that others still find me difficult to get along with if I am a Christian?  It must be that I am somehow quenching the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.

How do I look at other people?  Can I see the life of Christ in fellow believers, despite the outward quirks that I find annoying?  Which do I see more clearly?  Which do I look for?

Can I see every person that I meet, saved or unsaved, as being created in the image of God, despite the ways this image may be distorted?   Do I see the unsaved as being someone for whom Christ died?  Do I believe they are part of the “all men, everywhere” whom God is calling to repentance today?

Finally, I am left to wonder if the thing that makes me difficult to others isn’t directly related to what I am seeing when I look at them.  Lord, may I have the grace to see what you are seeing.

The soul that sinneth, it shall die

Both the Old and New Testaments teach clearly that God welcomes all sinners who repent, granting them forgiveness and salvation.  Both Testaments also teach that one who has been forgiven and wilfully and deliberately forsakes God and returns to a life of sin is lost.

There is much confusion in our time about this.  Much is said about the love of God and His compassion, which is all true, but what is not mentioned is that the person who forsakes God separates himself from the love and compassion of God.

We are sinful by nature and all unrighteousness is sin, but sins that are not willful and deliberate are covered by the canopy of grace.  We will not be lost every time we react with impatience or anger in the stresses of life.  We will not be lost every time that we neglect to do something that we should have done.  These things are sin, because they are unrighteous.  Yet God “knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14) and is merciful.

In the Old Testament there was provision for one who sinned in ignorance to offer a sacrifice for such a sin once he became aware of it and be forgiven.  Such sins do not separate us from God, or cause spiritual death.  The apostle John instructs us to pray for a brother or sister who does something that is not a death sin.  We have the privilege to act as a priest on behalf of our brother or sister and pray that the shed blood of our Saviour will atone for such a sin.

But we cannot pray that God would forgive a deliberate sin, a sin unto death.  This does not mean that those who commit such a sin have no possibility of forgiveness, or that we should not pray for them at all.  We certainly can, and must, pray that God would call them once again to repentance.  We also have a responsibility to speak to our brother and sister about their need to repent and to point them once more to the cross of Calvary.

As born again Christians, we are covered by the blood and sheltered under God’s canopy of grace.  Under that canopy we are free and can rejoice in the love and peace of God.  But we dare not pretend that this canopy will extend far enough to cover deliberate, willful sin.

Neither salvation nor damnation are hereditary
Ezekiel 18:4 Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.

Ezekiel 18:20-21 The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.  But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.

God desires the salvation of the wicked, yet willful sin separates us from God
Ezekiel 18:23-24  Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live? But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.

Ezekiel 18:30-32  Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.

If we sin wilfully after we are converted, the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ no longer covers our sin.
Hebrews 10:26-27  For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.

Hebrews 6:4-6  For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

2 Peter 2:20-21  For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.

Sins done through human weakness do not separate us from God
Numbers 15:28 And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the LORD, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him.
1 John 5:16-17  If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.  All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.

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