Saturday, February 21, 2015

Pastoral Ponderings ~ The Ins and Outs of Grace, Love, and Fellowship

          This morning I was considering what it means to, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure,”[1] along with, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”[2]
          The real-life context is that I have been watching someone cause significant heartache to a child, and haven’t been able to do much about it except comfort the child. However, this morning, God confronted my attitude towards this person in a surprising, difficult, comforting, only-God-could-do-it kind of way. Since I have heard many stories of people causing heartache and pain in the can’t-do-anything-about-it kind of way, perhaps this work of God is for more than just me!
          I began my morning by telling God how I was feeling about things that were taking place. Let’s just say that tears come easily these past few days. If you know what that feels like, we’re on the same page.
          The question is, how do we see the people who are the primary cause of the heartaches we experience in life? It doesn’t matter whether we watch terrorists killing innocent victims, mother’s killing their babies, or children living with preventable pain. There are always those people who do the inflicting, and who remain after the harm is done. What do we do?
          The strange and transforming thing that happened to me was that, as I described to God what this person was like, I could not escape the fact that I was describing someone who was a captive of sin, and showing the self-protective strategies of someone carrying many heartaches of their own.
          In my experience of the gospel, this meant I had to see the person as a victim of sin. The question now changed from the very personal, what do I think about this one person and the harm they have caused, to the very general, what do I think about people who are still living in bondage to sin, death, and the devil.
          At the same time, in my experience of the effects of unresolved trauma, I knew that I had to see this person as a human being who had experienced enough pain that hiding behind walls of self-protection was the only thing they could do. With no connection to Jesus Christ, the sark does what it does. It creates self-based systems for handling pain, which always requires shutting down the potential attachment to levels of relationship that can cause more pain.
          This reminded me of what Jesus spoke from the cross. In reference to all the people who had called for his crucifixion, he cried out to the Father, “Father, forgive them…”[3]As he had taught us to pray for our enemies,[4]he prayed for his enemies even in the most cruel and wicked thing anyone had ever done.
          However, he included a clarification of what these people were like that was not only important to the way he was praying, but also connects us to anyone who fits the same description in our lives. His full prayer was, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
          Now we have to be honest. When dealing with people who are both spiritually “dead in their trespasses and sins,”[5]and hiding behind walls of self-protection, it will always be true that they are behaving in ways that “they know not what they do.” While I firmly believe that we are not to tell God, “Father, I forgive them, for they know not what they do,” there is something that happens to us when we can pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
          The primary thing that liberates the heart from bitterness towards sinful and self-protective people is not something that we do, but something we trust God to do. In the same way as the gospel itself is not about what we do for God, but what we find that God has done for us, so, when dealing with sinful, sarky, and self-protective people, we do not think in terms of what we must do, but what we must trust God to do.
          In other words, we are not released from sarky responses to sinful people by forgiving them while they are sinning against us. We are released from sarky responses to such people when we experientially put our trust in God by praying for them. When we can pray for people to be forgiven, and can pray for those who curse us to be blessed,[6] and can pray for ways to do good to those who set out to abuse us, we are not putting the focus on our own ability to do these things, but on our awareness that God must do something in us and in them.
          When the issue is that we have faith in God, we can then look at things that are clearly impossible for us to do, and ask him to do them. We can pray that God would forgive people, knowing that he will bring that about however he chooses. It will happen when he does it, not when we do it. The apostle Paul was such an answer to Jesus’ prayer. The answer came when God decided, and to whom it was ordained.
          When this comes to applying the two Scriptures I listed above, God is not telling me about “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,” just so that I can know these things for myself, and encourage our little home church with what he is doing for us.
          This is not only[7] about God working in us to have the will to receive the grace so freely given in the intercessory work of Jesus Christ our Lord,[8] and to work the things in our lives that will bring us to stand in this grace,[9] and rest in this grace.[10]
          This isn’t only about God working in us to have the will to receive the love of God, and rest in the love of God, and accept the wonders of our beloved state in God.[11] This isn’t only about us working out with fear and trembling how much God loves us,[12] and God working in us to work out the beloved realities of who we are in Jesus Christ our Lord.
          And, this isn’t only about God working in us to have the will for fellowship with the Holy Spirit of the Living God, and to pursue the fellowship of the Holy Spirit in the church through the bond of peace we have in Jesus Christ.[13] This isn’t only about God working in us to do the work of receiving this fellowship, and letting this fellowship with the Spirit heal us, and restore us. This isn’t just about us working out our salvation with fear and trembling so that we will keep putting off the sark, and keep choosing the Spirit.[14]
          This is also about God working in us to have the will to show the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord to everyone we meet, and to work out the real relational experiences where we can show the grace of Jesus Christ to the most undeserving, even the people who have come to mind while reading (and writing) this post.
          This is about God working in us to have the will to show the love of God to people, to love them the way that God loves us,[15] to love sinners while they are sinners.[16] And God is working in us to work out the demonstration of the love of God in people’s lives as clearly as God demonstrated his love to the world.
          This is about God working in us to have the will to bring people into fellowship with the Spirit in his church,[17] the kind of fellowship that John talked about so beautifully.[18] And, this is about God working in us to work out real, tangible ways of sharing this fellowship with people. Obviously this means sharing such fellowship with other brothers and sisters in Christ, but it also means seeking the salvation of everyone we meet so they can come into this fellowship as well.
          The way God wants me to think and feel about hurtful people is that he wants to show these people grace through us who are his children. He wants to show these specific people love through us. He wants to use people like us to show hurtful people the kind of fellowship they could have in the Holy Spirit.
          This is what God is working into us, that we would will this grace, love, and fellowship, and work this grace, love, and fellowship. We are to work this out with fear and trembling, not seeking our sarks, and not trying to figure out how to do this. It is all about setting our minds on God’s Spirit, and paying close attention to anything God is working into us individually, and into his church corporately, and into our marriages, and families, and friendships. Everything is about waiting on God to show what he is working into us, so we know what to work out in each situation.
          What we cannot do is decide the things we cannot do! We cannot decide that the Spirit can only work with certain people in certain ways. We cannot decide that certain people are beyond the scope of the gospel, or are the wrong kind of people for our church. At any given moment, what could happen is about what God has in mind to do for his good pleasure, not what I feel ready to do, or what I feel strong enough to do.
          When Goliath came against the Israelites, the Israelite army could not say that the impossibility of the situation was really bad timing on God’s part, since the situation was not impossible to God. It is never bad timing on God’s part when he puts us in situations that can only be accomplished by faith in him, rather than by human ability, ingenuity, or achievement.
          The truly Spirit-filled lifestyle is to always seek to work out what God is working in. God is working in the grace of Jesus Christ, so we are to work out the grace of Jesus Christ. He is working in the love of God, so we are to work out the love of God. He is working in the fellowship of the Spirit, so we are to work out the fellowship of the Spirit.
          It is fairly easy to put my focus on how to work these things out in the life of a hurting child. Showing God’s grace, love, and fellowship to children is a wonderful gift. However, people who hurt others, even children, are in as much need of this grace, love, and fellowship, as those they have wounded. It is to be like Jesus to seek the opportunity to show these things to our enemies, as well as our friends.
          Now, instead of thinking how you can do this for God, ask God to show you who you can share this with, and then ask him how he is already doing this. All you will need to do is work out with fear and trembling what he is working in you to will and to work for his good pleasure.

© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Philippians 2:12-13
[2] II Corinthians 13:14
[3] Luke 23:34
[4] Matthew 5:44
[5] Ephesians 2:1
[6] Luke 6:27-28
[7] Please note that the “only” in these paragraphs does not preclude that God is working in the ways listed, but that we cannot limit our view to these things as though that were the “only” things God was doing.
[8] Hebrews 7:25
[9] Romans 5:2; Ephesians 6:I Peter 5:12
[10] Matthew 11:28-30
[11] Ephesians 5:1-2
[12] John 3:16; I John 3:1
[13] Ephesians 4:3
[14] Romans 8:5-6
[15] John 13:34; 15:12
[16] Romans 5:6-8
[17] Acts 2:38-39
[18] I John 1:3-4

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