When More Is Less

It was those darn Pharisees again, some of them now believers in Christ (yea!) but pushing some alloyed brand of righteousness: “grace-plus,” we might dub it—believe in Jesus as the Messiah, yes, but still earn God’s favor by keeping the law. It was a straddling of the fence, trusting God but not all the way, compromise when compromise was the worst possible option. Protecting liberty against oppression—and with all the boldness required to do so—Peter spoke up, “Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yolk that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved.”1 Thank you, Peter, it needed to be said.

How many times does God have to remind us of the emptiness of our own goodness? “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one,”2 lamented David in a psalm intoned by God’s people for centuries. Echoed Isaiah, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”3 So, do we now with “filthy rags” augment Jesus’ sacrificial atonement for our sin as though it were insufficient? Do we load again onto the backs of His people the law, a burden Christ so painfully, lovingly and completely removed at great cost? Peter, redux: “No!” What righteousness could we or anyone else possibly contribute to that which God himself has given to us in Christ Jesus? “Grace-plus” is grace-less!

We can do nothing more than what Christ has already done for us, for there is nothing more to be done. Paul explains: “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”4 This is the truth in which we rest, the promise in which we stand, and the strength in which we go. We are forever forgiven and free. Praise His name!

Father, thank you for sending your Son to do what we could not do—live a perfect life, die a perfect sacrifice, and rise to present us perfectly to you. Grace us to live as free people, blessing you and serving others in great confidence, peace and joy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Christ in me is freedom.

1 Acts 15:10, 11
2 Psalm 14:3
3 Isaiah 64:6
4 Romans 8:3, 4

Our Regatta Regalia

When I was frequenting a bakery cafe on Ohio State’s campus, there would often sit just a few feet from me the university’s women’s crew coaching staff and key leaders from the school’s national powerhouse rowing team. They met there regularly, seemingly to keep communications wide open in both directions and to minimize potential disruptions to team unity, focus and success. It was good leadership.

One morning, my attention tacked to “headwinds” at the table on my left. A younger member of this select group was wearing a t-shirt of another university, and seeing this, the coach kindly, but firmly took issue with the matter, emphasizing the student’s identity as a team member and educating her on the impact of the individual on the solidarity of the whole. I can’t say whether the rower learned anything that day, but I came away with a deeper appreciation of responsibility and resolve.

To be fair, it is easy to lose perspective in life, and course-corrections are often necessary. For instance, though the believers in Ephesus now belonged to the ultimate championship crew, the body of Christ, some still sported their old t-shirts of darkness—greed, impurity, and obscenity, in their case—inconsistent for the individual and confusing to the team. So, Paul reminded them of their new identity in Him whose jersey they now wore: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light …”1

What do we wear in their place when we remove the uniforms of our past? Again, we look to Paul. Steering the Thessalonians also from the depths of darkness into the lanes of light, he emphasized self-control, embracing who they were in Christ and aligning their actions with their identity in Him. How? By “putting on faith and love … and the hope of salvation.”2 For when we really grasp what Jesus has done for us, when we openly accept for ourselves the deep love He has for us, we are overwhelmed to the point we eagerly discard the old and put on the new. Faith, hope and love—these are the team regalia that bind us together as we represent Christ in a watching world.

Father, thank you for saving me and giving me new and eternal life in Christ. Grace me to truly understand who He’s made me to be, and inspire me to live and to give in faith, hope and love. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Christ in me is freedom.

1 Ephesians 5:8
2 1 Thessalonians 5:8

See today’s Scripture in 1 Thessalonians 5:4-11.

Rejecting Rejection

The older I get, the more I appreciate “throw away the mold” kinds of people. You know, the ones who are unlike anyone else you’ve ever met. They seem refreshingly unfettered by conformity, living instead in the uniqueness of who they are. If the opinions of others matter to them, it certainly doesn’t show through personal constraint! No, these gems stand out like pearls in a jeweler’s tray of rubies.

Most of us are more conventional, bending our appearance, our actions, and our speech to the unspoken expectations of others. Our desire for approval tempers our expression of individuality. For the Christian, the divide between who we are and the norms of society is even greater, for we have come to exalt God’s ways that are so different than our own. We are, as Peter observed, “strangers in the world.”1 Sadly, in order to “fit in,” then, we stifle our identity, in part concealing Christ who lives in us, which is a shame because, in so doing, we miss amazing opportunities to impact the world around us in profound and eternal ways. Deep down, it is not more sameness people want, but authenticity—they want “real.” People search for liberty in life and certainty in truth. They seek light in their darkness; they crave water for their dryness.

Aren’t all of these things found in Christ? Haven’t we discovered in Him the treasures we all dream about—goodness and kindness, fullness and hope, forgiveness and faithfulness, and mercy and grace? There is no “same old, same old” about Jesus, only fulfillment ever fresh.

How tragic it is when we, in faintness of heart, obscure Jesus before a people longing to behold Him in an unencumbered view. He lives in us not as one to be constrained in our weakness of character, but as one to be proclaimed in the freedom of rebirth in Christ.

When it comes down to it, binding ourselves to the expectations of others is one of the greatest obstacles to our effectiveness as Jesus’ followers. We are accepted, loved, and treasured by the God who knows everything there is to know about us, free to “shine like stars in the universe as [we] hold out the word of life.”2 Then overflowing in this grace, let us exude the life, truth, and love of Christ, not defensively or fearfully, but eagerly and gladly. Let us leave behind our timid pursuit of conditional approval and, instead, strive to show people the full and eternal acceptance they will find in Christ.

Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. (Proverbs 29:25)

1 1 Peter 1:1
2 Philippians 2:15, 16

Today’s post is an excerpt from Christ in Me. Copyright © 2016 Paul Nordman. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Click here to order a copy of Christ in Me by Paul Nordman.

See today’s Scripture in John 15:18-37.