the back porch – God’s work

As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. ~Galatians 1:9

Over the next few weeks and hopefully as a filter for a lifetime, we will walk together looking for the truths of the Gospel in scripture and asking questions to deepen our understanding of different parts of His truth. You can find the introduction to the Back Porch here and four portions or areas to look for in your time in God’s Word here

“One of the tasks of the church is to reexamine the gospel we preach and believe, alert to ways it has been reshaped by the idols of our culture” ~Bill Hull.  The gospel we believe leads to the disciples we make.  As we walk out the next few times, we are going to stay on a gospel hunt.

Hopefully by now you have a few pages with the beginnings of a collection looking at the different portions of the Gospel. You may be excited to see how God’s Word consistently points to one or more of these areas or perhaps you fell in love with a passage that spoke to your heart this week about who Jesus is, who God is, or what has been given to you as a result of Christ. One other concept you may want to add as you study is what I call road mapping. Simply described ~ as you note portions of scripture that point to God’s holiness or your sinfulness for example, tag the last place you saw this concept beside this passage (remember you have been writing them down in your journal). So perhaps Ephesians 2:1 which talks about who we are before Christ gets tagged with Romans 3:23 in the margin. You will slowly create “roads” in your Word that can lead you through as you study. You will begin to understand or remember where concepts sit in different books, see themes emerge, and see the consistency of God’s truth. When you run to the Word for hope or comfort, you will find it more easily.

As we walk together, one of the first conversations we must have is understanding the work in our relationship with God. Who contributes and how? God is holy, just, powerful, sovereign, maker of all things, all knowing and eternal. Many more attributes comprise Him. Mankind is not any of these. Colossians says we are alienated, hostile in our minds, doing evil deeds, living in a domain of darkness. Ephesians 2 says we are dead in sin, Galatians declares we are held captive and enslaved, 1 Peter calls us unrighteous, and Romans 1-3 clearly lays out the unrighteousness and depravity of all man. No one is without sin and thus separated from God. These are foundation truths of the Gospel.

How then is the gap between holiness and slavery/alienation bridged? God sent His son Jesus Christ as the payment for the debt of sin that traps mankind (Romans 3, Galatians 3, Ephesians 2) . While this may seem basic, it is imperative to understand the important concept that God does all the work of salvation. We do nothing to earn the payment for sin that Jesus paid. We do nothing to deserve it; there is no way to merit the grace and mercy given.

Works and performance are worthless foundations, but many people carry a concept of being good or doing good as necessary for God’s forgiveness. Do you? Do you take the portions of scripture such as in Ephesians 4, Colossians 3 or 1 Thessalonians 4 that speak to our response to God’s unmerited grace (way our life will look as we respond to the life we have been given) and place them ahead of your salvation? Do you struggle with thoughts that God may be mad at you or disappointed in you? Do you fear messing up or not walking well? Do you hear thoughts that say you aren’t good enough for God to help you or listen to your prayers? We will talk in following weeks about the lies of shame, fear, and guilt, but I want you to know today that while you were a sinner, Christ died for you (Rom. 5:8). He saved you, not because of works done by you in righteousness, but according to his own mercy (Titus 3:5). He has given Himself and all the blessings of being redeemed to you from the start – you have life abundantly (John 10:10), you have the fullness of Him (Col. 2:9-10), you have the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), you have been given His divine power (2 Peter 1:4-5) – You are His child (Rom. 8:16), secure in His love (1 John 4:9-10), and nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).

We will talk next week about our response to Jesus Christ and the lies we believe. But for this week, begin to respond to some of these or other scriptures that speak to what God has given you in salvation. If you are unsure of your salvation, please message me and I would be happy to share with you how you can be certain. Make a running list of these truths and allow Him to sink His blessings and His truth deep within your heart.

You are beloved, not because of you but because of Jesus.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. ~ Romans 3:21-25a

It’s Not How Good You Are

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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 2:4-9

“Have you been good this year?” “Are you on Santa’s nice list?” “What’s Santa going to bring you?” Words spoken with kindness but layered with threat and repercussion. The questions rang out with a fierceness, and my heart wanted to stop that moment and run. My little 4 year old turned to me, eyes wide open, searching my face, and I quickly covered the moment with assurances to all involved that presents would be under her tree.

We walked away from the exchange, and the moment we were quietly alone, I kneeled down and looked into her precious eyes and asked her, “What do you think about those questions? Are you good this year?” Her answer tore at my heart, exposed her doubts, and opened the door for the truth of the Gospel. She quietly replied, “Maybe. But I don’t really know.” And so for a little while, sitting in a parking lot, we talked about the truth of Christmas in a language that she can understand and that I pray planted seeds of truth to combat the wicked evil that seeps out of every part of those questions.

Caraline, I want you to understand something very important and foundational. It doesn’t matter What you have done; it matters Whose you are. You see, sweetie, we celebrate Christmas why? because Jesus came as a baby with one purpose in mind – to die on the cross for your sins and mine. He was our special present that day because He would make a way for you to have a relationship with God, have peace in your life, and have hope for when you die that you will live with Him forever. That is why we celebrate Christmas. But do you have to do anything for Jesus to be your Savior? Do you have to be good for Him? Ever? No, baby girl.

There is no performing needed, you get to mess up and sin. He will lead you to repentance and forgiveness every single time. So we may be sad that we have sinned, but we never have to be afraid or worry that God will not forgive us or take us off his list. Because you are His, and He loves you no matter what. It is by grace you have been saved.

So at Christmas, we celebrate this great gift of Jesus by learning about His birth, learning about his names, singing songs that celebrate Him. And we give gifts to one another. But you will have gifts under the Christmas tree whether you have been good or naughty. Even if you have had many days of getting in trouble, you will still have all your presents under the tree. Why? Because you are my child, and I love you no matter what. Your presents on Christmas Day are because you belong to our family and you will be richly blessed with gifts given in great grace.

As believers we cannot just sit by and let culture dictate and pervert one of our holy days. And we certainly cannot allow our young children to be taken captive by a belief system utterly in opposition to the true meaning of Christmas. Yet we do. We allow these questions of goodness, performance, behavior to be asked of our children as if they are benign questions when really they have the fire of hell steaming off of them. We welcome a performance mentality for our little ones who believe as if that may provide some relief and keep them in line in a time full of excitement and craziness.

There is no performance needed for the greatest gift ever given, the reason for Christmas.

Jesus Christ came while we were all completely lost, sinful, full of all wickedness, and He came to freely give salvation to all who believe.

So while in our household we may decorate with Santa Claus, he doesn’t wield any power. We love the Christmas movies about elves, Santa’s workshop, reindeer, and snowmen. But he is never exalted as the giver of our gifts. There are no lists made, no hopeful yearnings in letters to the north pole. He certainly is not omniscient or omnipresent. His elves do not live in our house to check on behavior because again behavior is simply a symptom of a heart that needs the truth of the Gospel applied. So we purpose to direct the hearts of our children to the One who can and does save and work change in their lives because He loves them unconditionally and calls them to Himself.

I will do battle on this point against an enemy that wants nothing less than to convince my children that their performance factors into the equation. Because if he can convince them of that condemning thought, then grace is lost and bondage results around a day that is full of God’s rich, redeeming grace. I want my children’s hearts to sing that God’s gift of Jesus is their greatest gift.