Jump Start # 1985
Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
Recently I had a discussion with an older Christian. I baptized her more than twenty years ago. She’s scared. She doesn’t say that, but you can tell. It’s not death that she is afraid of. She is afraid of dying with sins. She is worried, literally, because of sins in her life. We talked. I tried to assure her. I tried to comfort her. I don’t know if I was very helpful. I felt that she is putting herself through the ringer. Augustine expressed similar feelings. The reformer Luther also had similar thoughts. I expect that many of us do.
How can I go to Heaven when there is sin in my life? Perfection, although never openly admitted, is what lies behind most of this. We have preached so hard against sin and the need to be like Christ, that we can leave the impression that 100% and only 100% will get any of us into Heaven. Our sins have crippled us and ruined that chance. And for my older friend, it leaves her scared and even unable to sleep at night.
We sin. That’s not a news flash. We know that. John wrote in his first letter that if we deny that fact, we are a liar and the truth is not in us. We sin. How can I stand before a pure and righteous God, in whom there is no darkness, when I have sin in my life? What if I have forgotten to name every sin? What if I did things and I did not even know that they were wrong? What about those secret sins that David talks about in Psalms?
There are times when anger gets the best of us. There are days when we are not where we should be. There are times when we know what we ought to do, but we simply do not feel like it. How can there be any hope when we at our best are not very good? How could Paul be so certain that there was a crown of righteousness awaiting him, and not just for him, but for all those who loved His appearing? How can they know? How can they be so sure?
I wonder if we view coming before God much like Dorothy and her Wizard of Oz friends did the first time they appeared before the Great and Mighty Oz. They were shaking and scared and Oz was loud, demanding and full of fire. They ran when they got the chance. Is that going to be us before God?
The answer I shared with my friend the other day is the same answer and hope for all of us, and that is grace. Without Grace, we best be scared. Without grace, we are sunk. Without grace, there is no hope. We simply cannot be perfect. John’s letter stresses three aspects that are the key here.
First, is to walk in truth. Obey God. Love truth. Know truth. And follow it. We try, you say, but we still mess up. Walk in the light is what John said.
Second, is to practice righteousness. Practice. That word is found often in John’s letter. There is a difference between my wife sitting down and practicing the piano and me walking by the piano and hitting one key. Practice involves intention, purpose. No one accidently practices football. They plan for it. They strive for it. Don’t practice sin. Practice righteousness. Try to be righteous. Make that your goal. Desire that.
Thirdly, love one another. John stresses that often. Love is demonstrated by actions. Love is care and concern. Love is putting others before self.
But with all three of these, we will not be perfect. Our faith and God’s grace is what makes it all possible. We are saved by grace. We are not saved because we are perfect. We are not saved because we scored 100% on the test. We are saved by a loving God who knows us and knows our hearts. He knows how serious we are. He knows how hard we are trying. We knows how much we love Him. Grace is a gift. It’s not earned. It’s not deserved. It’s not expected. It’s not something that God has to do. It’s His choice. Faith and grace—that’s the key.
Now, misunderstanding this leads to abuse and error. If I’m saved by grace, one might think, then it doesn’t matter what I do. Yes, it does matter. Grace is connected to faith. Faith is connected to action. Practice righteousness. Love brethren. Walk in truth. Others wrongly think that only grace is necessary. We don’t have to do a thing. God does it all. It’s like sitting down on a roller coaster. We just enjoy the ride. If that were the case, then everyone ought to be saved. They are not. More are lost than will be saved, is what Jesus said. Grace is connected, once again, to our faith. We are saved by grace through faith.
Now how does any of this give us hope for a people that are slipping and sliding along life’s journey? You will not be perfect. You sin and will sin. That ought to bother you, because it bothers God. However, keep walking with the Lord. Keep believing. Keep practicing. God’s grace is what will save you. Our hope is not in swimming to the rescue boat. Our hope is in being pulled by the life preserver. But if we let go of the preserver, we’ll sink.
Scared, unsure and doubting Christians is not where God wants us to be. We love Him. We love Him for who He is and what He has done. We owe our salvation to Him. His grace compels us to be closer to Him. His grace makes us want to strive harder. His grace makes us realize what a wonderful God we have.
God wants a relationship with you. God wants you in Heaven. On your own, you won’t make it. Ignoring His way, and you won’t make it. Leaving it all up to Him, and you won’t make it. We are saved by grace through faith. His grace, my faith. Without His grace, I’m sunk. Without my faith, I won’t turn to Him.
Our assurance of Heaven is not because we are so good, but rather, because He is so good. Don’t be scared. Love. Believe. Trust. Follow.
We sing, “God will take care of you,” and that He will.