Categories
forgiveness

Like It Never Even Happened

Do we still feel guilt for sins God has forgiven?

Have you ever heard of Wite-Out™? I’m pretty old, so I remember it well. In a world with no word-processing software, Wite-Out™ allowed you to cover a mistake with correction fluid and then type over it instead of throwing away the document and starting over.

Of course, it didn’t make the mistake go away. The mistake was still there—it was just hidden. With word processing, one keystroke erased the mistake forever.

Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now and let’s deliberate over the next steps to take together…” The word translated as, “deliberate,” means to judge, to convict or clear. It is a judicial word and implies deliberation in a court with a decision pending as to whether the defendant is guilty or innocent.

In God’s courtroom, we all stood guilty. We couldn’t even make a case to defend ourselves. Our only hope was to throw ourselves on the mercy of the court.

The verse goes on to say, “Yahweh promises you over and over: ‘Though your sins stain you like scarlet, I will whiten them like bright, new-fallen snow! Even though they are deep red like crimson, they will be made white like wool!’”

Instead of the guilty verdict we deserved, he offered us grace, mercy, and complete forgiveness of our sins.

The word “scarlet” referred to a cloth that had been dyed twice, making the stain permanent. Washing wouldn’t get rid of the stain. No amount of scrubbing could budge it. It would take a miracle to return the twice-dyed scarlet cloth to its original white color.

A miracle is exactly what we received. Our sins aren’t just hidden or covered over with Wite-Out™. Our sins are completely removed, just like someone pushed the “delete” button. Through the blood of Jesus, the permanent stains of our sins are gone and we are returned to our original stain-free condition, beautiful and glittering like new-fallen snow.

When our sins are forgiven, our record is expunged. In God’s eyes, our sins disappear. It’s as though they never even happened.

Sometimes we bring those sins back up and rehearse the guilt and shame in our minds. We beat ourselves up for something God has declared forgiven and dismissed. Maybe God knew we would do this, because he reminds us again in Isaiah 43:25, “I, yes I, am the One and Only, who completely erases your sins, never to be seen again. I will not remember them again. Freely I do this because of who I am!”

Our sins, our mistakes, our regrets—God doesn’t see them any longer. He doesn’t even remember them. Why do we feel guilt about that which God has forgiven? We are no longer condemned. We are righteous. The past belongs in the past. We can move our focus off the mistakes in our past and place our focus on the glorious future God has prepared for us.

Dear God, thank you for forgiving my sins. It’s so awesome that you don’t even remember them. You aren’t holding a grudge against me. You aren’t angry with me. You love me so deeply. Help me forgive myself just as you have forgiven me. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Categories
identity

But God Says You Are Wise

“I’m so stupid.” “I can’t do anything right.”

Have you ever heard those words whirl in your mind or come out of your mouth? If you are a child of God, those words are untrue.

James 1:5 says, “And if anyone longs to be wise, ask God for wisdom and he will give it! He won’t see your lack of wisdom as an opportunity to scold you over your failures, but he will overwhelm your failures with his generous grace.”

This is a remarkable promise. The conditions are few and simple: We must want to be wise and we must ask God for wisdom. That’s it. How many things in life are that easy? How many things can be received merely by wanting and asking? We can want and ask for a million dollars, but it won’t get us very far. Wisdom is worth far more to us than a million dollars, and it’s ours just for the asking. Wow!

The rest of this verse explains how God looks at what we think of as our foolish, stupid failures. We may imagine God is terribly disappointed in our lack of wisdom or angry about our failures. Nothing could be further from the truth. When we come to God with our failures and our need for his wisdom, he doesn’t see an opportunity to scold us and make us feel bad. He’s such a good God that he overwhelms our failures with grace.

It’s dangerous to listen to the voices in our head that call us stupid and foolish when we can listen to the voice of God that tells us we are wise.

 It’s also dangerous to think we know it all and don’t need any wisdom from God. Our wisdom will always come up short. The wisdom we receive from God will always bring good results.

James 3:13-18 gives us a picture of the differences between worldly, human “wisdom,” and spiritual wisdom from God. Worldly wisdom results in jealousy, boasting, phoniness, selfishness, and is actually called, “devilish.” Some versions of the Bible call it, “earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.”

In stark contrast, wisdom from above is, “pure, peaceful, considerate, and teachable.” It never displays prejudice or hypocrisy. Godly wisdom produces a fruitful and righteous harvest.

We are not who our parents, our friends, or our own opinion tells us we are. We are who God says we are. And God says we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). We aren’t foolish. We aren’t stupid. We are filled with wisdom from a never-ending source. All we have to do is ask.

Dear God, I want spiritual wisdom. My human wisdom is lame and limited. Your wisdom is from above and brings blessings and fruitfulness. I ask for your wisdom today, and I receive it in the name of Jesus. Amen.  

Categories
grace

A Word for the Weary

“So, no one will ever be able to boast, for salvation is never a reward for good works or human striving.” (Ephesians 2:9)

Remember the story of Sleeping Beauty? She was cursed and put into a deep sleep. What did she do to wake herself up? Trick question: She did nothing! Eventually she was awakened by, “true love’s kiss,” given to her by a prince. The curse wasn’t lifted through Sleeping Beauty’s effort, but because of what the prince did for her.

Just like Sleeping Beauty, we were under a curse, spiritually lifeless, with no ability to save ourselves. And, like Sleeping Beauty, we were rescued by the action of someone else. But, unlike Sleeping Beauty, we often fall into the sticky trap of striving—trying to earn God’s favor by good deeds and hard work.

Striving wearies us but gets us nowhere. We can never do enough to earn our salvation, but we can wear ourselves out trying to do more and more, hoping for approval from people or from God.

Why do we keep striving to earn the grace we have been given as a gift? Here are three possible reasons:

  1. We compare ourselves to others. “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else” (Galatians 6:4). Since everyone’s journey is unique, with unique experiences, gifting, and calling, comparison is impossible. The Bible tells us to focus on our own lives and take pride in our journey, instead of comparing ourselves to someone else.
  • We won approval in the past by performance. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Many people “earned” love and approval by obeying rules and performing well. We may be tempted to apply that attitude to our relationship with God. But God loves us just as much when we when we mess up big time as he does when we execute flawlessly.
  • It’s easier to keep a set of rules than to do what God really wants from us. “I give you a new commandment: Love each other just as much as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Y’all, loving people is hard! Following a set of rules is sometimes easier than loving everybody unconditionally, the way God loves us. But God is more interested in our hearts than our actions. He wants to change us from the inside out.

God has given us permission to cease striving. We can stop trying to earn his favor, and we don’t have to impress one another or try to make ourselves feel more valuable because of our accomplishments.

Jesus promised his yoke would be easy and his burden light. He said we would find refreshment and rest in him. If you’re feeling the weight of earning God’s love, set that burden down. Rest confidently in his love. You don’t have to earn your place at his table. Your seat is already reserved. Take a deep breath…and relax!

Dear God, I know my salvation is a gift from your heart of mercy and grace. When I think I’m not doing enough to please you, remind me of your unconditional love. I don’t have to earn your love. Regardless of how well I think I’m doing or how badly I think I have messed up, you just keep on loving me. Help me rest in your love. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Categories
grace

Glorious Grace

“But God still loved us with such great love. He is so rich in compassion and mercy. Even when we were dead and doomed in our many sins, he united us into the very life of Christ and saved us by his wonderful grace! (Ephesians 2:4-5)

I am not naturally a good person. Nobody, by nature, is good. Sure, we try to make ourselves think we are good compared to the “bad people” we see around us. We have an unrealistic view of our goodness, like a drove of pigs in a filthy pigpen comparing themselves to each other and feeling clean because some other pig is dirtier.

Psalm 36:1-2 says, “They have no fear of God at all. In their blind conceit, they cannot see how wicked they really are.” When we think we’re pretty good, we’re still wicked at heart. The money we give to the homeless doesn’t change it. Working with underprivileged children doesn’t change it. No effort of our own can make us “good.”

 “You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil …All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature…” (Ephesians 2:2-3). Two forces push us toward sin—the influence of the devil and our own natural inclinations.

Whether we make a wreck of our lives, leaving pain and problems everywhere we turn, or live so-called moral lives, making good decisions and helping other people, we are still tainted by sinfulness.  Unless we turn to God it doesn’t matter if we live a “bad” life or a “good” life. Either way, we are spiritually dead, headed for trouble in this life and doom in the next. Nothing we do on our own remedies our plight.

We are born with terminal sinfulness. That’s the bad news. The good news is—there’s a cure.

Ephesians 2:4 begins, “But God…” Don’t you love those two words? But God…did not leave us spiritually dead and doomed in our sin.

In his book, “Ephesians for You,” Richard Coekin gives this illustration of our dramatic rescue:

Imagine yourself as a decaying corpse…trussed up in chains inside a coffin…headed inexorably to the flames of the crematorium. Suddenly, as your coffin is engulfed by flames, someone leaps into the flames, smashes open the coffin, and despite the horrific burns that scar him forever, retrieves your corpse, breathes life into your body, washes you and clothes you in his own clothes, tenderly carries you to his chauffeur-driven Bentley and takes you home to his father’s presidential palace to stay in his rooms and feast at his table, enjoying the hospitality of his father forever.

That’s our story—the story of glorious grace. Those of us who have been so gloriously rescued should never view it as mundane or ordinary. We should never live a day without expressing sincere gratitude for what God did for us. I am so humbled and thankful for his grace. Isn’t it absolutely glorious?

Heavenly Father, I cannot express how thankful I am for your glorious grace. Forgive me for any time I thought I was good enough on my own. I know that my so-called righteousness is like filthy rags in your sight. I didn’t deserve your love and mercy, but you wrapped me in them anyway. Your grace still amazes me. Thank you for saving me. In Jesus’s name, amen.

(Today’s Reading: Ephesians 2:1-6)

Two Sides of the Same Coin

“Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ…” (2 John 1:3)

Some things just seem to go together. Peanut butter and jelly. Macaroni and cheese. Grace and mercy.

Grace and mercy are like heads and tails—two sides of the same coin. Grace is receiving a blessing we did not deserve. Mercy is deserving a punishment, but not receiving it. When we were saved, our sins were forgiven. We deserved punishment, but instead received mercy. Also, when we were saved, we became a child of God, joint heirs with Jesus, and were given eternal life—which we in no way deserved but received by grace.

We certainly enjoy receiving grace and mercy for ourselves, but sometimes we find it hard to extend grace and mercy to others.

David found himself in just that situation in 1 Samuel, chapter 24. As you may remember, Saul was on a blood-thirsty quest to murder David. One day, Saul went into a cave to “relieve himself.” In a weird coincidence, David and his men were hiding in that very same cave.

When David’s men saw Saul in the cave, they urged David to kill Saul, saying this chance to defeat his enemy was an opportunity sent from God.

Put yourself in David’s shoes for just a minute. David knew Saul would certainly kill him if given a chance. Surely, justice would permit him to kill Saul. Surely, Saul deserved it. But David didn’t do it. Instead of justice, David extended mercy.

David cut off a piece of Saul’s robe. As Saul left the cave, David shouted for Saul, and bowed before him. In this vulnerable position, David showed Saul the piece of cloth cut from his robe. Saul realized David could have killed him…but didn’t. Saul began to cry and thanked David for his kindness. Saul asked David not to kill his family when David became king, and David extended grace by agreeing to his request.

Reconciliation flows out of mercy and grace.

Our sense of justice sometimes blocks our expression of grace and mercy. We sometimes think, “serves them right,” or, “I can’t believe they did that.” We treat people harshly when we only look at what they deserve. Justice may scream for retaliation, but grace and mercy remind us the many times we were given something much different than what we deserved.

When tempted to hold a grudge, write someone off, or think less of someone because of their actions, stop and listen to grace and mercy. Remember how we were forgiven, our debt paid, and our soul saved when we were totally undeserving. God treats us with grace and mercy. Let’s demonstrate his character by showing grace and mercy to others.

Father God, Thank you for grace and mercy. You saw me when I was lost, forgave my sins, and gave me your peace. I was so undeserving. Thank you for not giving me what I deserved, but instead giving me grace and mercy. Help me remember to treat others the same way—not necessarily what they deserve, but what grace and mercy demands. Let me live in a way that shows your character to a lost world that they may come to know you. In Jesus’s name, amen.