Sunday, June 19, 2016

Grace Pt. 7: Grace DOES

I despised writing when I was younger. Not only did I dislike the process of writing papers for school, I felt incompetent when doing so. You can understand, then, what a surprise it was to me in 10th grade when the Assistant Principal walked into my English class to tell me that I had received the highest grade in the school on the writing portion of the TAAS test that year.

Though I received a significant amount of encouragement from my teacher to stop messing around, take her class seriously and tap into my potential as a writer, I scoffed at her pleas and considered the high score an anomaly.

My English from my first two semesters of college were so bad I needed to retake the classes, but I held off on doing so because I was so intimidated by the coursework. However, after receiving tutoring and scholastic mentoring from my sister for a year, I decided to give English another shot my first year at Houston Baptist University. My grades were so high that my composition professor told me that I needed to consider changing one of my majors to English.

Around the time I was getting ready to graduate, I began working full-time as a youth minister at a Baptist church in Houston. While there, I was asked to write a devotional for the weekly newsletter. I remember a few occasions when people encouraged me that one day I might want to consider writing a book. I’d thank them for their kind words, but then go back to whatever I was doing, thinking nothing of it.

And yet, here I am, the author of a new book, and a blogger who posts around 1,000 words a couple of times each week. I’ve learned a lot through this experience. For one, God knows me so much better than I do. Two, God’s plans are far more satisfying than my plans. And three, as a reminder, even though God has worked certain talents and skills in us, the more we work at developing those skills and talents, the more they can be used for God’s kingdom.

Have you ever heard someone say that when people get saved, they are given all the grace they can ever receive from God? You know, something similar to the message of many grace songs we hear on Christian radio saying there is no worth in a Christian’s works because Jesus’ grace has already done it all. That's an interesting and new way to interpret the Scriptures.

One of the best ways to interpret the writings of teachings of Jesus is through His actions in the Gospels. Similarly, one of the best ways to interpret Paul’s letters is through his story as told in the book of Acts.

Look at Paul conversion in Acts 9:1-22. Luke, the writer of Acts says in VS 22 that after being regenerated through the Holy Spirit, Paul was growing stronger and confounding the Jews, proving that Jesus is the Christ. The root word for growing stronger is endunamoo. It means to be empowered.

How did Paul grow spiritually and become empowered? By repeatedly sharing his faith.

The same root word for being empowered by God is used by Paul in 2 Timothy 2:1 when he tells Timothy to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

What are the strategies Paul gives Timothy to be empowered by the grace of Christ Jesus?

Vs 2 says that Timothy is to disciple others in the faith.
Vs 3 says that Timothy must suffer hardship for Christ.
Vs 4 says that Timothy must live to please God, not others.

If Timothy will DO these things, Paul says he will be empowered by grace.

But did any other Apostle write this way? In the last few lines of the last chapter of Peter’s second letter, he writes this: Be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:17-18).

OK, so Paul and Peter talk about growing in grace, but did the early Christians take that teaching seriously and simply? Actually, yes. Yes they did.

All our power is of God; I say, of God. From Him we have life, from Him we have strength. … But if you keep the way of innocence, the way of righteousness, if you walk with a firm and steady step, if, depending on God with your whole strength and with your whole heart, you only be what you have begun to be, liberty and power to do is given you in proportion to the increase of your spiritual grace. … Let our heart only be thirsty, and be ready to receive: in the degree in which we bring to it a capacious faith, in that measure we draw from it an overflowing grace. – Cyprian 250CE, Volume 5, p. 490-491 [CD-ROM]

Though Cyprian is not quoting or even referencing 2 Peter, he is drawing upon themes that jump off the pages of Peter’s letter. In addition to the verses we’ve already cited, consider this exhortation from 2 Peter 1:1-8.

Peter writes to people who, by grace, have received the same faith as Him. He says that God’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness, and that through acting upon God’s magnificent promises we can partake in God’s divine nature.

Peter then beautifully describes how to grow in grace.

He says that since God’s grace has given us the ability to partake in God’s divine nature, we need to work as hard as we can to add moral excellence to our faith. Then, we should strive diligently to add knowledge of God and self-control. Next, we should labor diligently to add perseverance and godliness. Then, we must work as hard as we can to add brotherly kindness and love to the list.

Finally, Peter gives this exhortation: IF these qualities are ours and are steadily increasing, they will render us neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Said another way, if we are working hard to steadily grow in grace, we will be tremendously useful and fruitful for Jesus and His kingdom! Simply put... grace DOES.

Don’t you want to grow in grace? I want that too! So may you grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and watch Him do exceedingly and abundantly more than you could ever ask or imagine! And as you grow in His grace, may you discover the amazing fulfillment of walking in His plan for your life.

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