A TASTE OF CHRISTIAN UNIVERSALISM

Romans 10:9

“..if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” ESV

Many Christians use the above verse as a text for evidential proof that a person is saved and going to heaven when he or she dies.

I DON’T THINK SO.

The text is an affirmation for newer Christians, especially Gentiles, who were divided by grace and law to know that their confession was a confirmation of God’s sovereign grace for the entire world. It was not a ‘bar code’ to be scanned by God for entrance into the Kingdom.

And while the statement is itself true, it does not MAKE one a Christian. It was written by Paul as a challenge to the Jews and Gentiles who depended on the Law for salvation. And in the context of Gentile Christianity Paul is simply declaring that Christ is the END of the Law (10:4) and that anyone who puts their trust in Christ alone can know with certainty that they are reconciled to God.

Salvation is simply trusting to Christ to do for us in his faithfulness to God what we could never do for ourselves. Then we can assuredly know where we stand with God and find much peace and new ways to live with God. But remember, God is blessing the whole creation and pouring out God’s Spirit on all flesh as stated in Acts 2.

This includes all who HAVE YET TO BELIEVE. And it includes the Israelites who to this point have held out from such trust in their stubbornness. (Vs. 21)

Paul will go on in chapter 11 to write that mysterious sentence about all Israel being saved. (11:26-27)

And then there is that wonderful phrase of hopefulness for the whole creation.

“God has bound all people over to disobedience that God may have mercy on them all. (11:32)

The word ‘all’ contained at the beginning is the same ‘all’ at the end of the sentence. Something akin to ‘in Adam all died and in Christ all shall be made alive.’ (See 1Cor. 15:22) From the MSG version we read, “everybody dies in Adam and everybody comes alive in Christ.”

Everyone receives God’s mercy. Blessed are those who know it right now.

Therein lies a taste of Christian Universalism.

 

THE BICYCLE LESSON. LOVE AND GRACE. A DISTINCTION.

In the Bible the words love and grace are perhaps used interchangeably as in 2Cor. 13:14 ‘May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’ Here we get the sense of the all-encompassing presence of God.

BUT in Biblical Theology grace and love are different. Here’s an example. I love my children very much and want the good for them in their lives. When they were little they wanted to learn how to ride their bikes without the training wheels. Now, I could express my love by saying to them, ‘Oh, I want very much for you to be able to ride your bike. And here, here is your new bike. I wish you well. Go for it.’ That’s love. On the other hand my best move would be to assist them in this training exercise. And so I did. I got them on their bikes, and held the bike for them and went even further by running along side of them as they got the hang of it. And there were times when I let them go that they fell. I was right there to pick them up, dry a couple of tears, maybe apply a band aid and sent them on their way again until they said to me, ‘You can go, dad.’ That is the meaning of grace; love in action, the influence of love, the direction and empowering of love.

In Biblical Theology the grace of God is God’s action. The trinity of God doesn’t need to express grace among themselves. Grace is for those who have fallen from God and who don’t have the ability to get up and get back to God. Grace is God’s moving in their lives to give them that ability.

In the example of the bike lesson my children, by their very connection to me, somehow merited my helping them. But with God, humanity was dead to God until God, by God’s own love, decided to do something to help the creation and us. See, the Bible tells us that while we were sinners and helpless Christ died for us to fulfill the covenant promise of God to bless the whole creation.

I hope this helps to distinguish between love and grace because for a long time I have misused the terms and thus loss much of the meaning of how God in God’s loving character relates to God’s world.

Finally, take a look at this verse from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (good to read the whole chapter for the best context).

Chapter 2:

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through 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 ages to come 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 the result of works, so that no one may boast. (NRSV)-Bold and underlines are mine.

 

 

 

 

GRACE MISUNDERSTOOD

If Grace is God’s unconditional, no strings attached, freely given favor without any expectation of return, then how is it that God’s grace as explained most frequently in evangelical circles carries the expectation of faith and obedience?

Grace brought creation into existence and placed us here with all of God’s favor. Adam and Eve weren’t even offered the idea of faith. They just lived in union with their creator. The tree represented their desire to break away on their own, as is the case with all free will. And it had to be there if there was to be any kind of choice. And so God warns them advisedly not to choose the tree but as we all know they do.

And so begins the LAW with many expectations made most manifest in the 10 commandments. And then comes in Christ the fullness of grace. No expectations or caveats which makes it hard to understand why evangelicals say things like ‘you have to believe’ or ‘you have to be obedient’.

See God’s grace has expectancy of all the good rather than expectation of the ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’. I read this great ‘knots prayer’ online, the author of which is unknown. Pretty awesome.

 

Dear God:
Please untie the knots
that are in my mind,
my heart and my life.
Remove the have nots,
the can nots and the do nots
that I have in my mind.

Erase the will nots,
may nots,
might nots that may find
a home in my heart.

Release me from the could nots,
would nots and
should nots that obstruct my life.

And most of all,
Dear God,
I ask that you remove from my mind,
my heart and my life all of the ‘am nots’
that I have allowed to hold me back,
especially the thought
that I ‘am not’ good enough.
AMEN

The realization of the true meaning of grace will bring us all to a place where God is just incredibly in love with us because that’s his nature. And joyfully we may come to appreciate this grace and make our response out of gratitude.

God doesn’t need us as a lover might need another. God is free within himself with the Trinity to love and extend grace.

So we have no chains attached to us. If we want to be servants of God then fine. If we want to obey and be trained by God then great. But those are all free choices we make out of our own love with and for God.

Grace has no conditions or expectations although humanity being loved will most likely respond with gratitude and obedience.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO GRACE? MY WIFE SAYS SHE MOVED TO MINNESOTA.

Really?!

My point is that often we evangelical types forget the magnitude, the outrageousness and the wideness of God’s Amazing Grace. I would love to explore this with any of you who would like to respond. I begin with a passage from Ephesians chapter 2.

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. (ESV)

In the Voice Version this is how it reads:

But God, with the unfathomable richness of His love and mercy focused on us, united us with the Anointed One and infused our lifeless souls with life—even though we were buried under mountains of sin—and saved us by His grace. He raised us up with Him and seated us in the heavenly realms with our beloved Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King. He did this for a reason: so that for all eternity we will stand as a living testimony to the incredible riches of His grace and kindness that He freely gives to us by uniting us with Jesus the Anointed.

Words like unfathomable, indescribable, and even incomprehensible are not too extreme to describe God’s grace.

And this passage goes further to say that we have been saved by grace through faith and none of it is our doing, none of it. (Not even the faith part)

So where in any of the above passage do we see anything of our own doing in this salvation grace of God? Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end.

The only ‘work’ that we might be able to do is to leave, walk out of that relationship with God. Let’s put it this way: we are in until we opt out. This is one of the premises of Christian universalism. Now don’t stop reading. This universalism idea has much to offer in the conversation about Grace.

Let’s consider this analogy. We are all in the river together being carried along in God’s love. Some choose to make the leap out of that flowing water. I had a tropical fish that once jumped out of the tank. It’s not long before it realizes the need for water. And so it is with us. After a season God will place the wandering fish back where it belongs. Some fish will see the error of their ways and struggle to get back home by themselves. Kind of like the prodigal son. Ok, maybe it’s not the best analogy but I like it.

But here’s the thing. God’s salvation is through the faithfulness of Christ to show the incomparable riches of his grace. (Verse 7)

How can those riches be displayed, and how can the glory of God be known when we take credit for somehow making salvation possible by our belief? Remember that in the Bible we are looking at a microcosm of salvation encounters over a period of say 100 years in the New Testament narratives. But God’s incredible grace is at work through all eternity and everywhere in all God’s creation.

When we talk about belief, faith or trust we are simply recognizing that there are people who do acknowledge that Christ is the author of our salvation.It is Christ’s faithfulness and his alone that brings salvation to the world. Recognition of Christ and obedience to Christ are essential to the Christian walk but God is up to something quite astounding in bringing the whole creation back to God.

I realize that we can ‘find’ other scriptures to ‘prove’ other than what I have written but let’s do this; let’s consider them all and see what kind of picture they present of the incredible riches of God’s kindness.

 

 

 

 

THE TRAIN AND THE PATH: A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE FOR ALL

In John 1:14 we are told that everything about God, his presence, being and most of all his love became a human being in Jesus and lived with us.

This is the message of Christ for everybody. It’s a message of grace to the world made evident in Christ. God, we are told, was pleased to have all his fullness in Christ. (See Colossians 1:17)

Grace is God’s initiative in bringing salvation to the world through Christ.

Not that grace was missing in the Old Testament. Certainly it is evident through creation, covenant, kindness, mercy and forgiveness on the part of God. But in the Old Testament it was the LAW that held the covenant people together. The law was the boundary, the wall, or the custodian, all set in the context of rules and regulations for the safety of society.

Let’s compare LAW AND GRACE this way.

The LAW is a passenger train with God as the conductor. If in disobedience you jump off the train you are on your own. Oh, every once in a while you will hear the whistle blow and if you are strong enough and fast enough you might catch up with the train and pray the conductor to let you back on.

GRACE is the pathway through the wilderness. (See Isaiah 43:19) Jesus is at the front, at the back, and by the side of each traveler. If you should wander off the path, Jesus goes with you wherever you are and finds you another way with him to the goal of everlasting life with God.

Grace is the drawing influence of God upon the whole world. (That means you and me wherever we are.) You can get off the TRAIN at the next stop, which would be RIGHT NOW, and begin the journey with Christ.

Christmas is the word of God to the world that the grace of God has been revealed bring salvation to ALL PEOPLE.

So …a Blessed Christmas to all.

 

 

I CHOOSE GRACE

Why does God choose to work in our weaknesses rather than in our strengths? Does God want to show us who is boss? Does God have a pride problem? Does God perhaps want to humiliate us for our sin? Is God himself weak?

No. It’s because God cannot develop a relationship with his creation if we think we are strong enough to succeed by ourselves. That’s what happened in the Garden a long time ago. And it’s what happens whenever and wherever humans build their own egos (their territorial walls) against the love of another, in this case God.

God wants to love us and love is best enjoyed when neither lover is a bully or egotist.

God has already demonstrated his own weakness and vulnerability in Jesus. That’s what the incarnation is all about. Not only does God live with us but God loves with us and suffers with us in order to give love a fertile ground in which to thrive. See, God’s grace can only flourish in weakness. It’s the law of God’s universe and God’s salvation and restoration of humankind. And while much suffering is unthinkable and unbearable it is the only path of love in this world and God wants love enough that God gives freedom even to evil and greed on this journey. Certainly God can work all things to the good for those who understand this but unfortunately not many do. And God will not force his love on us or coerce us to love him. That would be abusive and meaningless.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9 God tells Paul that God’s love is sufficient/enough for Paul’s needs in the midst of Paul’s own suffering. And through it Paul will develop more understanding of God’s love in this world. It will be the kind of love that will develop community and form a bride for the living Christ. And through Paul’s own suffering God will develop a character that God can trust with his powerful love and restoration of this creation.

It’s as though God is letting the EGO of this world be ‘lost’ in order to be ‘found’ again.

There are a great many trees in our contemporary Gardens of Eden. And if we could we would choose them over God and make our own way. But creation doesn’t work that way. It is been arranged that we NEED each other. We love each other. We care for each other. And without suffering there would be only self-sufficiency.

Fortunately the tree is now inaccessible and unavailable try as we might to find it or grow our own.

Before the tree there was only love. Now through Christ love, eternal love, has been restored. Through the poverty of Christ our lives have been enriched. There is a choice now: self-sufficiency or grace. I CHOOSE GRACE.

I CHOOSE LOVE-the slippery slope of grace.

Some good folks I know are leaving the more conservative Presbyterian churches for communities more accepting of the LGBT way of life. I get that. People want to be with folks who are more accommodating to their particular understanding of God’s will in this matter. It is a most difficult issue for the Christian churches that are known by ‘what they are against’ than ‘what they are for’.

I am of the more conservative ilk myself and dislike very much that there are winners and losers in these matters. I think the only ‘losers’ in the time of Jesus were the people who were self-righteous, proud, and law/rule oriented.

So here’s what I want to suggest-A SLIPPERY SLOPE OF GRACE. Most people when they use that term are thinking of the negative connotations. They might suggest that a person who accepts unorthodox behaviors is going down the slippery slope of liberalism and even licentiousness. But that’s not how I take it to mean. The slippery slope of grace suggests a slide into the most loving way of Jesus. Think about it. Jesus left his status as God, took on the form of a servant and even to the point of dying on a cross. (See Phil. 2) That’s the slippery slope of grace to which I refer. It means that once we understand the love of Christ and start thinking in terms of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, well there is just no end to how far we can go in loving the people around us. Look. Once Martin Luther encountered grace, for all his faults, he started a revolution that shook the conservative status quo world of religion.

So, and here’s the subject that has changed in my life, I want to say yes to any monogamous relationship and that includes people who are heterosexual or homosexual.

We live in a ‘fallen’ world into which Jesus came to redeem us, all of us. The condition of our condition is such that all of us have wandered away from God in our thinking and living in many ways. Bitterness, anger, envy, hatred and greed are just a few ways that we see our departure from God’s love.

But here’s the thing- lest I stretch this blog too thin. We as believers in God and Christ want to be obedient to our consciences as best we understand God word and will and the ‘thing’ is that we may be WRONG. Yes, that’s right. We might have misinterpreted the Scriptures in these matters. Some theologians and pastors and lay-folk have admitted to such. And for conservative churches to give up that ‘territory’ is Bible Inerrancy Suicide. That’s unfortunate. It’s humbling. And it makes folks insecure that what they have known all along might be a wrong understanding.

That’s what love is about in my ‘trying to be humble’ estimation.

Now I know we need to be true to our consciences as guided by the word of God and that’s a good thing even though we might just not have the corner on truth that we think we have.

But if I have to choose between an understanding of truth and love I will choose love. At least as I am writing that’s that I believe to be the correct choice. I mean this when it comes to the way we live with one another and extend grace to one another. Perhaps that’s why the Bible says that ‘love covers a multitude of sins’, ours as well as other peoples’. (See 1Peter 4:8) And in this matter of LGBT I want to choose love. My wife says that “Love IS truth”. There are folks of different sexual persuasion than me who believe with all their hearts that they are within God’s will. They have my ‘amen’.

When I stand one day, by grace, before my Lord in glory I want to be judged (in this matter) not by how correct my doctrine was but rather how accurate my understanding of the love of Christ is. I remember that for all of us Jesus didn’t wait ‘til we had it all together. He died for us while every one of us was in the act of sinning against him. And if he did that for me then can I love anyone any less. And as Martin Luther was alleged to say, ‘Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.’ Though I do not pretend in any way to ascend to the status of Father Martin.

One final thought. The law, which was truth, came through Moses, and became a badge of honor for the Jews in the Covenant. But now that Christ has come, grace outmaneuvers the law to reconcile ALL of us to God.

Now some folks are going to cite several scriptures and I know them all and have used them in my own arguments. But there are many scriptures we can USE to our own interest without looking deeper into context, milieu and such. And I might be wrong in my own understandings but I choose love. See that’s what Jesus chose when he came to us. And it’s why many religious folks wouldn’t accept him as the Messiah. Jesus is the only truth that matters to me and his life represents the fullness of God’s love.

 

 

 

 

 

NAKED

In order to understand grace we need to understand our own predicament and for that to happen a basic requirement must be satisfied. I get to it by way of two examples from my own life.

These are instances of what I call ‘naked humility’. The first happened in Haiti back in the 1990’s. After a long sweaty day our team was invited for showers. ‘Showers?’ I wondered. ‘How is that possible here up in the mountains?’ Well, we were led to an area behind a family’s home, given large buckets filled with water; a towel and some soap and then told, ‘Go ahead, be our guests.’ Several women watched over us in anticipation of any needs we might have. Privacy would have been on the top of my list. So the team of men looked at one another, felt the sweat dripping down our dirt laden bodies and said, ‘Let’s get on with it.” There we were, buck naked, as the expression goes, in front of each other, which isn’t such a big deal if you know anything about gang showers back in high school days. What was different was being observed, wondering how to cover our manhood discreetly and wash at the same time. It took all of a minute to adapt to our situation and just get refreshed, and laugh at ourselves and our situation while all the time being a bit sensitive to our hostesses who most graciously came and filled up our buckets at a moments notice. Who was it who said, ‘naked I came into this world and naked I shall return.’

It was necessary to be naked in order to get clean. I think of the whole experience in terms of standing before God with the desire to hide part of ourselves, to keep something within ourselves a secret, to be in some regard a bit like Adam and Eve hoping to find some tree leaves to cover ourselves.

But no, there we are before God with everything laid bare, all our thoughts (see Hebrews 4:13) and everything about our lives exposed to God. Not only can’t we hide but also we learn eventually that we don’t want to hide our fears, doubts, wonderings, anger and things that could cause us shame. Before God they are the welcomed thoughts of God’s child who is growing closer to God because of God’s gracious acceptance of all that we are.

Like the prodigal son (Luke 15), who, to some extent, ruined his life and pretty much mad his family distraught; when he returns the Father is waiting to clothe his naked child in the finest apparel. In the same way, God sought out Adam and Eve and clothed them, graciously looking out for them.

The second example of ‘naked humility’ happened in my physician’s office. The doctor needed to perform a digital prostate exam. I expected this as part of the physical. But then he asked if his female student doctor could also perform the procedure. ‘Whoa, hold on there,’ I thought, but what could I say? Well, I survived but all modesty went out the window. There is nothing hidden from a good doctor.

God, I was caused to remember, is the most gracious of physicians and even forgiving our habits that may wound our own spiritual health. God will take the best care of us. And if he inflicts any pain we know it is all to a good purpose.

We bring our naked thoughts before him and he is attentive to us. We bring our sin and he forgives. We convey the best and worst of ourselves to him and discover anew the meaning of grace before our God.

I love this verse: For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12) NIV

And when all is said and done by God we learn again the meaning of grace.

‘There is nothing we have done to make God love us less and nothing we can do to make God love us more.’ –quote attributed to Phil Yancey.

One more final word on this subject is an old saying: ‘God loves us just as we are but never leaves us there.’

 

And…..there is no co-pay.

 

 

CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG

So I have been contemplating how we Christians have affronted God’s graciousness by the divisiveness of our denominations, at least within the United States. But first let me share two important scriptures that address this concern. There are more but these two highlight the problem.

The first is from the mouth of Jesus in his wonderful prayer to his Father as recorded in John 17. “I do not ask for these only but also for those who will believe in me through their word (he is speaking of the disciples) that they may all be one, just as you Father, are in me and I in you, that they may be in us that the world may believe you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them so they may be on as we are one, I in them and you in me that they may become perfectly one so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (Verses 20-23)

In the U.S. there are 217 protestant denominations and 35,000 independent or non-denominational churches. Separate from these is the Roman Catholic Church that has 68 million adherents.

Oh, and the other Scripture? In Philippians 2:2 Paul writes “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love being in full accord and of one mind.”

All the disharmony and disunity within the Christian church seems to be in complete disobedience to what the Scripture calls for. At the very least we can say that it is not within the most revealed word of God. Jesus asks for unity and Paul is often encouraging his established communities towards unity, towards a place where they might just get along with one another.

If there are differences they would be in the matter of gifts given by the Holy Spirit, not in walls of ‘truth’ and ‘doctrine’ and ‘practice’ we have built against each other. And while in past days there maybe have appeared good reasons to divide, there is even greater reasons now to come together as one as a witness to our oneness in Jesus Christ, not just in name, but in the way we love one another. I confess my own part in this divisiveness desiring to stand my ground on the basis of what I believe to be the will of God in certain doctrines and ethics rather than making the effort towards graciousness and love.

Consider for a moment just some of our differences, things that keep us apart.

Baptism: believer or infant, immersion or sprinkling, age of accountability and the like.

Communion: symbolic, real presence, consubstantiation, transubstantiation, memorial, qualification for participation, and probably more.

Mary: reverence, veneration, worship, prayer to, life virginity, mother of God.

The Bible: inerrancy, literalness, good advice, infallibility.

Then there are the disagreements and divisions about faith and works, about justification and sanctification and the return of Christ, war, abortion, pro-life, social justice, republican and democrat. Fine, let’s have conversations about such and let’s reason together but we don’t have to walk away from one another. Love is sacrificed for truth.

There was a time when the churches used the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed as a common expression of faith. Now there are so many different creeds it would make your head spin. At least mine does. I recall from the scripture the most original confession, JESUS IS LORD. There you have it.

Then there are the different expressions that divide us. Charismatics, Pentecostals, Traditionalists, Fundamentalist, music in worship, no music in worship, raising hands, speaking in tongues, and so forth.

I am not sure how I or anyone else has a corner on truth. I think it is more the war between our fleshly selves than a desire for right worship and love for God and one another. I am not saying we should not strive to better understand the will of God revealed in the Bible and particularly in Jesus but for heaven’s sake let us be loving towards one another and be one family again like the early church. I realized that even then there were problems but they were addressed and Paul once wrote, ‘put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony.’ Colossians 3:14.

I really believe that protestants and Roman catholic should come back together and give way to one another, to bear with one another, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13.

Oh there may be actual differences that have to divide the church such as the confessing movement in Germany during Nazi Germany or when the abuses of the Roman church brought Martin Luther to the forefront in the 1500’s let these be the great exceptions and not the norm and when they are resolved in some form let us get back together in oneness and love and as a witness to the world of Christ’s life in us.

Let’s look to something like the Sermon on the Mount as a confession of life, or 1 Corinthians 13. Let’s help the poor. Let’s do all we can that people don’t have to choose to end any life. Well, enough said for now but I think you get the idea. I do.

I want to choose graciousness and love to be the central doctrines of my life in Christ.
 

Grace in Imperfection

 

No one who is born of God continues to sin (1 John 3:18).

Matthew 5:48 ‘Be perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.’

We don’t strive for imperfection. It is a natural occurrence. Imperfection is our failure to succeed in our goals or it may be the undesirable qualities in our character such as flaws or inadequacies or such.

When I buy reading material online I sometimes look for Christian books or bibles that are ‘slightly imperfect’ meaning there is something wrong somehow but whatever is flawed doesn’t change the content. It might alter the cover or something about the book that is not essential.

We tend to think of our imperfections as failings or even sin but in truth they are part of the maturation process that God is working in our lives. We made be made righteous in God’s judgment when we are in Christ but for the rest of our lives remains the process of sanctification or becoming more like the God in whose image we are made.

The image of God is not completely erased in humanity though it has been defaced even sometimes to the point of being unrecognizable. It is under the shadow of sin whereby we see dimly as in a dirty mirror. Yet in Christ, by placing our confidence in Christ, we are ‘new creations.’ (2 Cor. 5:17) Accordingly the letter to the Hebrews reminds us that God remembers our sin no more under the new covenant. (Hebrews 8:12)

Creation in the Fall of humankind has distanced itself from the creator but through Christ we are finding our way back. And the way back is sustained by the Grace of God in Christ.

I think of Christians as slightly imperfect in their walk, in that sin is still a part of our lives though God doesn’t see us as our sin but through the work, the sacrifice of his Son Jesus. Slightly imperfect means we don’t have it all together, we are not as mature as we could be. We are a work, God’s work, in progress, ever moving forward. In some respects our lives might even be a mess but we are God’s mess delivered from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s son. (Colossians 1)

While some people might even not find value in us, God does. He loves us immensely even to the point where the hairs on our head are numbered indicating his intimate value and knowledge of us.

But here’s the think. Our flesh, our ego, that natural part of us still sometimes affects deeply our relationship with God. We say we trust God but we worry. We are greedy. We are fearful and rebellious. But by God’s grace we are ever more steadily making our way into the rightful Kingdom. Luther once wrote that we are sinners and saints at the same time. Jesus tells us to be perfect and our life’s work is in understanding that perfection and living into it.

Let’s take a modern example to illustrate what this all means. If we have an addiction problem we go to the ‘rooms’ where others are dealing with the same struggle. And the only requirement to be there is the desire to stop the addiction, the behavior that is ruining us. One can actually go to an A.A. meeting intoxicated if he or she really wants to stop drinking.

Now I figure it is not less meaningful for the sinner who goes before God, most especially at worship to be able to say, ‘I want to stop sinning and follow Jesus more closely. That’s my greatest wish. I desire forgiveness and new life’. That is an imperfect Christian on the right path to perfection. Much as Paul meant when he wrote ‘work out your salvation in fear and trembling because God is at work in you to bring about the best according to God’s will.’ (Philippians 2:12,13)

The imperfect Christian is allowed by GRACE to struggle without shame and doubt but is transparent about these issues before other trustworthy brothers and sisters. They believe their sins are forgiven but their memory of their sins is better than God’s memory of their sins.

The imperfect Christian is willing to engage in the disciplines of the Christ life. Prayer, reading scripture, worship, helping others and more are exercises that will help the follower f Jesus strengthen his or her faith, trust and confidence. The imperfect Christian will seek knowledge not for its own sake but so that such wisdom will help them grow.

Christ’s gracious call is to take his yoke upon ourselves for the purpose of training us to live our lives with him, by him and through him.

There is a bumper sticker, which proclaims ‘Not perfect just forgiven’. That is a loophole for not trying our best. It is a statement that we are forgiven and going to heaven; but there is a lot of life to be lived in the meantime.

Recall Jesus words in Matthew 5:48. ‘Be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ Jesus spoke those words with regards to loving our enemies; those who annoy irritate or even abuse us. Being perfect means being the best we can be. For example if you are a carpenter just starting out you want to frame a house as best you can. Taking shortcuts is not an option. And while you may not be as good as a 30 veteran you still do your best. That is if you are going to stay in business. The same would go for a teacher, a mom or a dad or anyone with any integrity. And as Christians we strive for our best but do not feel shame when our best might not on par with say, wait for it, ‘Jesus’.

We are on a path of following the Son of God who has called us to place our confidence in him. It was late Christian songwriter, Keith Green, who sang the words, ‘you give God your best and he’ll take care of the rest’. The Christian is called to strive for the prize. (Philippians 3:14) We are urged to press on. And when we fall we pick ourselves up and get back in the race. (Thank you Frank Sinatra)

But we don’t beat ourselves up. We don’t live in guilt and wallow in shame. And if our fall is, in our own mind, a sin- then we confess that to God and know, really know that we are forgiven and thus freed to live for Christ.

I want you to imagine a relationship between two people in love where neither has expectations for the other, where neither keeps score of any wrongs that occur. This is the state of the person who is ‘in Christ’ and thereby in union with God. And this position of salvation and life is sustained and maintained by the grace of the Father. The bible says that we are already seated with Christ in the heavenly place. (Ephesians 2:6) which I take to mean, ‘out of harms way’ in terms of any kind of judgment and so we are truly freed from having to ‘feel’ like we should be better than we are trying our best to be.

Or let’s consider the analogy of an electrician who is mentoring an apprentice. The mentor states that all that is needed is the apprentices’ trust and best effort. At their first meeting it is agreed that the degree and job are guaranteed. Of course there will be direction and even correction and warnings here and there but the covenant has been established and will not be broken. So too God is not breaking his covenant with us because it is Jesus who has sealed that covenant in his own blood.

All this gives us the freedom to live for Christ because at the heart of it all is the truth that it is not we who are living this life as Paul writes but it is Christ who is living it in us. (Galatians 2:20)