Monday, August 25, 2014

God's Mission of Grace

Grace is a word that is often used, and misused, in our Christian society.  Most of the time, our church definition is "unmerited favor from God".  In other words, my individual sin condition, from birth, and by choice, is so grossly repulsive to a holy God, that there is no way I should ever deserve His favor.  And, yet, His great love for me, shown through the violent sacrifice of His only Son, outweighs the burden of my rebellion, and gains me favor, where there should have been wrath.  This is a good working definition, consistent with HCA's Biblical worldview. 

Where we have misused the term "grace" over the years has been in our tendency to redefine it to mean, "don't judge me" or "let me just be whomever I choose".  These terms are usually followed by the phrase, "Jesus never judged anyone.  He just loved them".  We see evidence that supports this type of statement in John 12:47, where Jesus says, "If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world."  John 3:17 similarly states that Jesus' mission to earth was not one of judgment, but of salvation. 

So, is it true that Jesus was a "be your own person and feel free to live life however you wish" type of guy?  Not so fast.  While getting caught up in what Jesus did not come to do, we can miss the whole point of why He did come.  He came to save the people of the world from the snare of our own sins, which had caused an impassible gulf between God and man.  He says this over and over in the gospel narratives.  He came because He is our only hope.  No other plan would work, and we surely couldn't save ourselves.  A quick 30  minute newscast is evidence enough that left to ourselves, we are a mess.  Jesus came to rescue us from our sins before we were judged for them.

While Jesus' first coming to earth in human flesh was not a mission of judgment, it was a mission of loving correction.  Mankind has lived in falsehoods since creation, believing that we can accomplish great things on our own, regardless of whether God exists or not.  After all, isn't that the mantra of government education these days?  "If you set your mind to do something, there is no limit to what you can accomplish."  And since our school kids are forbidden to hear from God, or to speak with Him, then they must arrive at the conclusion that any great thing they accomplish in life is by their own effort.  In the process, God becomes an irrelevant option that you can take or leave at your own discretion. 

The problem is that while humans are accomplishing their "great things", they are in outright rebellion against their creator (Tower of Babel sound familiar?), Who amazingly sent His Son to die for the penalty of that rebellion.  For believers, Jesus' excruciating death on a cross removes the consequences of our sins.  If there is any truth that we must know, this is it.  Jesus said, "If you continue in my word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31-32).  Jesus' mission was one of setting captives free.  It was a mission of grace. 

So, why is it so important that we accept this grace from the Savior?  I mean, can't everyone choose his own path if it makes him happy?  Absolutely.  However, it is important to understand that while Jesus' first coming was a mission of grace, the second time will be a mission of judgment.  "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead" (2 Tim. 4:1).  This is the same Jesus both times, which emphasizes the nature of our great God.  He is perfectly loving and grace-filled, while simultaneously being a perfectly holy judge of sin.  

You see, God in His infinite foreknowledge and wisdom, was able to see the coming judgment of all humanity.  Because He purposely created mankind for His own glory and for intimate fellowship, He chose to send a Savior before the judgment, Who would share the truth, and Who would offer grace so that we would not have to endure that awful event, and so that we could restore fellowship with our Creator.  It is the greatest display of love the world will ever know.  The sinless for the sinful.  The righteous for the unrighteous.  Free of charge, no strings attached.  Our only hope. 

So, while I do believe that people can do amazing things, I also believe the words of Christ when He said,
I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.  Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.    -  John 15:5-9
What I need to realize is that the amazing things that I am capable of doing are all temporary and bear no eternal fruit, unless they are under the grace of my Savior. 
At HCA, our goals for children are WAY bigger than a good quality modern academic education.  We are not in the business of "learning" as much as we are in the business of "truth".  After all, if any school has any goals, shouldn't truth be at the top of the list?  Whether the world likes it or not, Jesus is truth (John 14:6).  We can choose to believe this or not, but nothing can change the fact of this statement.  If He is the truth, then whatever we do should be grounded in Him.  Any other "learning" is based on man's own opinions and experiences, which again, were fundamentally flawed from the beginning. 
So, as we peruse through the next nine months together, I hope that you see the strong undercurrent of grace at HCA.  Not in slacking off on standards and rules (quite the opposite), but in sharing with students that there is no hope in this world apart from the person of Jesus Christ, and that the true beginning of knowledge is the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7).  We don't want our students to just learn lots of stuff that achieves an acceptance letter from a university (nothing inherently wrong with that, by the way).  But, in addition, we want them to learn to bear fruit that will have an impact on the world around them, and that will lead others to the knowledge of the truth of the Savior.  If Jesus really is the only hope for all of humanity, then shouldn't we teach our kids about Him, and have them teach others about Him?  Shouldn't our graduates carry Christ to the college campus, as well as Calculus and Chemistry?  I say 'yes'. And, by the way, while Jesus' earthly mission was not to judge, he was known to tell people to "go and sin no more" on a few occasions, so He did establish a standard by which we should live outside the bonds of sin (John 5:14; 8:11) and in the grace of His marvelous presence. 
God has promised good things to those who are called according to His purpose
I am so thrilled to begin a new school year.  As we prepared for this year, especially over the past two weeks since our teachers have returned, there has been a presence of the Spirit of God here in a greater manifestation than I have seen in a while.  He is up to something big, and by His wonderful grace, He has allowed you and I to participate in His work this year.  One of the great benefits of grace is "new beginnings".  Ready or not, here we go...
p.s. - Our entire faculty read a book together this summer that I would like to recommend to every parent reading this blog.  The title is Give them Grace by authors Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson.  Check it out when you get a chance.  It will revolutionize the way you approach Christian parenting.