Grace that saves a wretch like me

grace1My heart darkened for a moment and I let critical words slip out, words of judgment about another that were not kind or generous. Thinking about it later, prayerfully, I realized that I was confusing perfection with the pursuit of the Holy. If someone placed me under the same magnifying glass that I used in my criticism of my friend, I wonder how I would fare? I sin against God and others too easily.  Doubt and fear steal up and tackle my faith and I shrink into a ball of defensiveness. Occasionally envy comes to visit and robs me of the ability to rejoice in the success of others.  Yes, I let myself descend into anger that is not righteous sometimes, too. Greed pops up replacing the generosity of the Spirit. Pride struts and vanity overtakes me that obscures the beauty of Jesus.

I have a long way to go on the highway of holiness. Knowing that I am a work in progress, is a source of comfort and hope. But, I am not ready to settle down too comfortably in my sins. I want to be a true worshiper described by Jesus this way– those who “worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” John 4:24

The Scripture is filled with stories of people who were imperfect yet in pursuit of God.  David was capable of being a terrible rogue and yet he was beloved of God. Peter was an impulsive man who could rise to heights of faith at one moment and be rebuked as a tool in Satan’s hands the next.

Abram heard the voice of God and was graciously blessed by Him.  In his life, he failed miserably and spectacularly yet is still called ‘the father of the faithful!’  On a trip to Egypt, we see the dark side of this man. Sarah, his wife, was a beautiful woman and Abram assumed that Pharaoh would want her for his harem. This man who trusted God with his whole life developed a bad case of fear and paranoia that turned him into a selfish, sinful fool!  He told Sarah, “When the Egyptians see you, they will say, `This is his wife. Let’s kill him; then we can have her!’ So please tell them you are my sister. Then they will spare my life and treat me well because of their interest in you.” (Genesis 12:12-13, NLT)

This righteous man was willing to compromise his wife’s honor and integrity to save his own skin! His scheme temporarily succeeded. Sarah was noticed, taken into the harem, and Abram got showered with wealth. But, God was not pleased and judged the household of Pharaoh. “Pharaoh called for Abram, “What’s this that you’ve done to me? Why didn’t you tell me that she’s your wife? Why did you say, `She’s my sister’ so that I’d take her as my wife? Here’s your wife back—take her and get out!”  (Genesis 12:18-19, The Message) Abram did not escape God’s anger either. The very next story in the saga of the patriarch involves his nephew, Lot, who became greedy and selfish, destroying the relationship with his uncle and choosing the best part of the land with no consideration for the needs of the man who had loved and saved him.  Though the text is not explicit in making a connection, I cannot help but think that the model of Abram’s self-serving behavior in Egypt taught the younger man to look after himself, no matter the cost to others.

Though we should not become obsessed with perfection, we must pursue God with our whole heart, keeping sin on a short leash, responding quickly to the Spirit, as we ‘keep in step with Him.’  We cannot let ourselves forget that choosing our own way over God’s way (the Bible calls this sin) always has consequences, often unseen and unanticipated, down the road.  Our failures are forgiven because our Father is merciful and gracious. However, the seeds that get sown while we wander will produce a harvest, sooner or later.  God’s grace does not make Him deaf, blind, or ignorant. The Word says, “Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.” (Galatians 6:6-8, NLT) The principle is both comforting and sobering.

Perfection waits for the completion of our salvation.  We cannot use that as an excuse to indulge the sinful nature. We must keep growing in grace. If we fall, and we will, we can recover with repentance and confession.  Important in our pursuit of God and holiness is the vision of our Home. Peter says, “We are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight. And remember, the Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved. … you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen.” (2 Peter 3:13-15, 18, NLT)

Give Him your life today. Lean hard on Him. Refuse to pretend you are better than you are and hang onto the promise that His grace is greater than your sin. Let the ‘beauty of holiness’ shine from your words and actions. Here is a word from the Word – “Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted. Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you. Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents.” (Ephesians 4:30-5:1, The Message)

_______________

Father, fill me with the Spirit.
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,”
I pray as You taught, for I know, all too well, the power of temptation.

Make me a grace-filled man today.
Teach me to leave the failures behind,
To anticipate new growth of character.

Help me to accept Your discipline which comes my way
`for my good, that I may share Your holiness.’

Be honored in my thoughts, words, and actions
As is fitting for a graced sinner.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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