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Showing posts with the label #Grace

“Efficacious grace”: When God’s grace turns dark.

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The sort of “grace” which turns you into a new creation… by reprogramming you.Because popular culture tends to define God by his power, not his character like the scriptures describe him, 1Jn 4.8a lot of Christians do it too. The result is a lot of bad theology, where God’s love, grace, and justice unintentionally (but hey, sometimes very intentionally) take a distant second to his might and glory.Take grace.Properly defined, grace is God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people. It’s what reaches out to people who totally don’t merit God’s attention whatsoever, loves us anyway, turns us into daughters and sons of the Most High, and grants us his kingdom. It’s amazing.But when you imagine God’s single most important attribute is his power… well, grace looks extremely different. It’s no longer an attitude. It’s a determination. You will receive God’s grace, become his child, and be on the track for heaven. Or none of these things will happen, because God’s gra…

Undoing God’s grace?

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No, seriously: We don’t earn it. We can’t.Before I started the bible-in-the-month thingy this month, I was reading a certain book (really, more of an extended rant) about holiness. Written by a guy I know; I won’t say who ’cause I’m gonna criticize him a little. We’ll call him Achard.Achard spent a chapter ranting about fake grace. Which he didn’t really bother to define… but from what I deduced, he basically means cheap grace.To recap: Cheap grace is when we take God’s amazing grace for granted: It’s meant to be our safety net for when we screw up and need forgiveness, but we treat it like a bounce house where we can spend hours in mindless fun, sinning away till we’re dizzy and kinda pukey. ’Cause grace!Now yeah, when we find the cheap-grace attitude among Christians, it’s deplorable. God’s grace may be granted to us freely, but it cost Jesus his life. Treating it with anything other than the deepest gratitude is bad enough. Ignoring how God feels about sin, because we can go on sin…

God’s unmerited favor.

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No, seriously: We don’t earn it. We can’t.When the LORD chose Avram ben Terah, renamed him Abraham, Ge 17.5 promised him the land of Kenahan/“Canaan” and had him relocate there, Ge 12.1-3 and promised him an uncountable number of descendants, Ge 13.16 it wasn't because Abraham was a good man.You might’ve known this, but in case you didn’t, go read Genesis again sometime. Most of the Abraham stories involve him screwing up one way or another. Abraham had loads of faith, but that was the product of his God-experiences; it came after God made all his promises. Abraham wasn't a particularly outstanding specimen of humanity.So why'd the LORD establish a relationship with him and his descendants? Grace. Pure grace.When the LORD sent Moses to rescue some of Abraham’s descendants from Egypt, patiently dealt with all these Hebrews’ misbehavior thereafter, and finally got their descendants to Canaan and helped them take the land, it again wasn’t because the Hebrews were good people.…

Graceless advice.

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Questions? Comments? Email. But remember, my feedback policy means I can post it. And include your name… but I likely won’t.I don’t really have to remind people that TXAB has an email link. I get questions on a fairly regular basis about all sorts of stuff. Usually asking my opinion about various Christian practices and movements, which I often wind up turning into TXAB articles on the subject.And sometimes people ask for personal advice, which I’m much less likely to turn into TXAB articles. ’Cause they’re dealing with particular specific things. If I just posted these emails for the whole of the internet to read, it feels like a huge invasion of privacy. Even if I heavily censored them. The rare times I’ve done it, I tend to rewrite them entirely, which is why they kinda sound like me.Not that this stops the various advice ladies from doing this on a daily or weekly basis. But then again, the people who send them questions know precisely what they’re getting into. If you send “Dear …

The ungracious “doctrines of grace.”

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DOCTRINES OF GRACE'dɒk.trɪnz əv greɪsnoun. The six points of Calvinist soteriology: Deterministic sovereignty, human depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, efficacious grace, and certainty in one’s eternal destiny.A number of Calvinists aren’t all that comfortable with the title “Calvinist.”For various reasons. Some of ’em don’t like being part of an “-ism.” They consider their theology part of a long, noble, five-century tradition. (Some of ’em try for longer, and claim the ancient Christians also believed just as they do. But good luck finding anyone other than St. Augustine who was comfortable with determinism.) In any event they want their tradition defined by something grander and longer than the reign and teachings of a solitary Genevan bishop, no matter how clever he was.Others concede not everything John Calvin taught is right on the money. They won’t go so far as I do, and insist Calvin’s fixation on God’s sovereignty undermines God’s character. But obvious…

Works righteousness: Salvation through good karma.

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Christians who try to merit salvation—and Christians who try to weasel out of good works. WORKS RIGHTEOUSNESS /'wərks raɪ.tʃəs.nəs/ n. A right standing (with God or others) achieved through good deeds.Works righteousness is how the world works. We tend to call it karma: If we want people to think of us as good, upstanding, and deserving, we’ve gotta publicly do good deeds. Like doing charity work, making big donations, rescuing needy people, doing stuff for the public good. Not just the stuff ordinary citizens do, and should do, like follow the laws and not be jerks. It’s gotta be actions which go above and beyond.Or (and this is the much harder way, although a number of people prefer it ’cause you can do it passively) we’ve gotta suffer some kind of catastrophic loss. One which totally doesn’t seem to fit our circumstances. You know, like Job being a really good guy, yet losing all his kids and stuff in a single day. Jb 1 Getting a deadly disease, getting your house flooded, gett…

Favor, grace, same thing.

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There are many words for “grace” in the scriptures.Grace is God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards us. And favor means a generous, forgiving, kind, gracious attitude. In other words, they mean the very same thing.This is some of the reason people don’t see grace in the bible as often as they oughta. They don’t realize grace and favor are synonyms.When God grants people favor—when he picks favorites, be they individuals or entire nations—he’s showing ’em grace. They don’t merit his favor; they don’t earn it. You don’t earn it. That’s the usual complaint about favor: It’s not fair. “Why do you keep playing favorites?” Because they’re favorites. It’s not deserved; it’s inherently unfair. Just like grace—which is kinda what makes it awesome.But I realize a lot of people use the term incorrectly. Such as when they insist, “You owe me a favor”—supposedly they’ve racked up enough karma points, and are hoping to draw from them.Or “Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.…

Punishing ourselves. (Don’t!)

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Stop it! Crack open a dictionary and the first definition you’ll find for penance is often “voluntary self-punishment as an expression of repentance.”Actually that’s not what penance is supposed to mean. Our word penance comes from the Latin verb pænitere/“be sorry.” That’s all penance means: We regret what we did, we apologize, we ask forgiveness, and we resolve to do better in future. Period. When Christians confess our sins to one another, that’s all penance, penitence, repentance, or whatever word we wanna use for it, ought to consist of.Problem is, the way Christians have historically demonstrated how sorry we are, is to prove it by making ourselves suffer. By undergoing punishment. Sometimes voluntarily. Sometimes not.So let me make this absolutely clear: God’s kingdom is about God’s grace. Christians punishing themselves, or punishing one another, is contrary to grace. It’s not a fruit of the Spirit.I won’t go so far as to call it a work of the flesh. That’s because there’s a t…

When Jesus says, “I don’t know you.”

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The words we never want to hear from our Lord. Matthew 7.21-23 • Luke 6.46, 13.23-27Evangelicals do actually quote the next teaching of Jesus a lot. But we tend to do this because we wanna nullify it.See, it’s scary. It implies there are people who want into God’s kingdom, who honestly think they’re headed there… but when they stand before Jesus at the End, they get the rug pulled out from under them. Turns out they have no relationship with Jesus. Never did. He never knew them. Psyche!It sounds like the dirtiest trick ever. How can a Christian go their whole life thinking they’re saved, only to find out no they’re not? And they’re not getting into the kingdom? And by process of elimination, they’re therefore going into the fire? Holy crap; shouldn’t this keep you awake nights?So like I said, Christians figure the solution to this quandary is to nullify it. “Chill out, people: This story isn’t about you. ’Cause you’re good! You said the sinner’s prayer and believe all the right things…

The age of accountability?

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How old are we before God decides to withdraw grace? Yes, that’s what we’re talking about.How old do we have to be for God to hold us responsible for our sins?Wait, doesn’t he always hold us responsible? Well, not according to certain Christians.See, from time to time a child dies. Which sucks, but this is life, and sometimes life sucks. It’s always sad, and grieving parents frequently look to their religious friends for some kind of comfort. ’Cause we know something about heaven, so they wanna confirm with us that heaven is precisely where their kid went. Mommy and Daddy’s little angel, happy and pain-free, will forevermore be looking down upon them.Yeah, it’s never fun breaking the news to them that we don’t become angels when we die. ’Cause it’s such a deeply-held pagan belief. Some of us never have the guts to tell ’em otherwise. Hey, we figure, they’re grieving; let ’em believe their kid’s an angel. What’s it hurt? (Well, them. The belief will just become even more deeply-held, a…

Confession: Breaking the chains of our secret sins.

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Granting God’s forgiveness to those who need it.Confess /kən'fɛs/ v. Admit or state one’s sins or failings to another (trustworthy) Christian.2. Admit or state what one believes.[Confession /kən'fɛs.ʃən/ n., confessor /kən'fɛs.sər/ n.]The practice of confession—heck, the very idea of confession—is controversial to a lot of Christians. ’Cause we don’t wanna.Partly it’s because we don’t find it all that easy to find a trustworthy Christian with whom we can talk about these things. Partly because those trustworthy Christians we do know… we’re entirely ashamed to tell them such things. We worry they’ll lecture us, condemn us, shun us, try to punish us, or we imagine some other worst-case scenario.So we pretend the scriptures never instruct us to confess our sins to one another—James 5.16 KWLSo confess these sins to one another:Make requests for one another, so you can be cured.A moral, energetic petition is very mighty.—that it’s just a Catholic thing, and that Christians in t…

What became of Judas Iscariot.

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Matthew 27.3-10 • Acts 1.15-26Technically Judas bar Simon of Kerioth, the renegade follower of Jesus whom we know as Judas Iscariot, isn’t part of the stations of the cross. Whether St. Francis or St. John Paul, neither of ’em figured his situation is specifically worthy of a meditation for Good Friday. Although we should study him some, ’cause he’s an example of an apostle gone wrong—an example we don’t wanna follow. Nor repeat. But Jesus was too busy going through his own suffering to really focus on what was happening with Judas.So Judas came up when he turned Jesus in to the cops… and in three of the gospels, that’s the last we hear of him. The exceptions are Matthew—and since the author of Luke also wrote Acts, it’s kinda in another gospel, ’cause Acts is about how the apostles started Jesus’s kingdom. But that’s a whole other discussion.Here’s the problem: For the most part, the Matthew and Acts stories contradict one another.Not that inerrantists haven’t tried their darnedest t…

God’s grace is sufficient: What we mean, what Paul meant.

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We use “sufficient” to mean God’s salvation or provision. Paul meant neither of those things.2 Corinthians 12.9One really good example of an out-of-context bible phrase is the idea God’s grace is sufficient. Sometimes phrased, “Your grace is enough for me,” or “His grace is sufficient” or if you wanna put the words in God’s mouth, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” People don’t even quote the entire verse; just the “grace is sufficient” bit.And when we quote it, we mean one of two things.Most of the time it’s used to state God’s grace is sufficient for salvation. It’s a reminder we humans can’t save ourselves from sin and death, no matter how many good deeds we do; and that’s fine ’cause God does all the saving. He applies Jesus’s atonement to our sins, takes care of it, forgives us utterly; all we need is God’s grace. It’s sufficient. It does the job.Great is your faithfulness oh GodYou wrestle with the sinner’s heartYou lead us by still waters into mercyAnd nothing can keep us apart…

Fake guilt, and where grace comes in.

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If you can’t shake your guilt, it’s because your conscience is defective.Guilt /gɪlt/ n. The culpability, and moral responsibility, attached to one who committed a deed. (Usually a misdeed.)2. A feeling one has committed a misdeed; often regretful or remorseful.3.v. Make someone feel remorse for wrongdoing.[Guilty /'gɪlt.i/ adj., guiltless /'gɪlt.lɪs/ adj.]Guilt is healthy. Fake guilt, not so much.If I do anything, good or bad, I’m guilty of that action. Most of the time we use “guilt” in a negative sense, like when we’re responsible for sins or crimes. But we can be guilty of good deeds, particularly ones we do in secret. Like if I slipped an extra $20 into the waiter’s tip, or turned in a lost backpack to the lost and found, or deleted all the Nickelback from your iPod. Guilty. You’re welcome.Being guilty of misdeeds—assuming you were raised with a properly-functioning conscience—tends to come with a negative emotional response. We feel bad about ourselves for what we did. E…

God can’t abide sin?

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If true, it means God has a boogeyman.“God can’t abide sin. It offends him so much, he simply can’t have it in his presence. He’s just that holy.”It’s an idea I’ve heard repeated by many a Christian. Evangelists in particular.It’s particularly popular among people who can’t abide sin. Certain sins offend us so much, we simply can’t have ’em in our presence. We’re just that pure.Well, self-righteous.You can see why Christians have found this concept so easy to adopt, and have been so quick to spread it around. It’s yet another instance of remaking God in our own image, then preaching our remake instead of the real God.Don’t get me wrong. ’Cause Christians do, regularly: I talk about grace, and they think I’m talking about compromise. Or justification. Or nullification. Or compromise. Whatever reason they can think of to ignore grace, skip forgiveness, disguise revenge as justice, and claim they only have those prejudices and offenses because God has ’em. You claim you practice grace? T…

Resisting God’s grace. (Don’t!)

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It’s sad. But it’s possible, and it happens.God dispenses his amazing grace to everybody, as Jesus pointed out in his Sermon on the Mount:Matthew 5.43-48 KWL43“You heard this said: ‘You’ll love your neighbor.’ Lv 19.18 And you’ll hate your enemy.44And I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.45Thus you can become your heavenly Father’s children,since he raises his sun over evil and good, and rains on moral and immoral.46When you love those who love you, why should you be rewarded?Don’t taxmen also do so themselves?47When you greet only your family, what did you do that was so great?Don’t the foreigners also do so themselves?48Therefore you will be egalitarian,like your heavenly Father is egalitarian.”Our Father doesn’t skimp on the grace. He provides it, in unlimited amounts, to everybody. To those who love him, and those who don’t—which is why Jesus instructs us to be like our Father, and love those who hate us. To those he considers family, and those he doesn’t co…

Be kind. For once.

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Christians know better than to pass off certain things as love… but we often overlook this thing.We Christians don’t have a reputation for being kind. More like a reputation for being easily outraged, quick to judge, holier than thou, shunning, condemning, impatient, unforgiving buttholes. And if you were immediately offended by my using that word, you just proved my point: Our bad reputation is totally deserved.What’s with all the Christian jerks? Largely it’s our lack of love. Love is kind, 1Co 13.4 but we Christians largely substitute the charitable, unconditional love of God, for the vastly inferior substitute: The sort of love which expects payback or reciprocity. We only love the worthy, not the undeserving; we only love good people, not sinners. Our so-called “love” has no real connection to grace.And that’s a huge problem. Hristótis, the Greek word we translate “kindness,” Ga 5.22 actually means “graciousness.” True, kindness involves being friendly, generous, and considerate,…

Taking God’s amazing grace for granted.

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Legalism is the opposite of grace. But we’re quick to cry legalism if it gets us out of stuff. CHEAP GRACE /tʃip greɪs/ n. Treatment of God’s forgiveness, generosity, and loving attitude, as if it’s nothing special; as if it cost him little.Whenever I bring up the subject of cheap grace, some Christian invariably objects: “Grace is not cheap.” Even if I’ve explained in advance what I mean by cheap grace; even if I’ve written an entire essay defining the idea.Every. Single. Time.’Cause some Christians don’t read. The title’s about cheap grace, so they skip to the comments and object: “Grace isn’t cheap!” They see a link to an article about cheap grace, so they respond to the link or the Tweet or the post, “Grace isn’t cheap!” While speaking, I use the words “cheap grace” in a sentence, and they wait for the first chance to interrupt: “Grace isn’t cheap!”YES. I KNOW. I’M TRYING TO MAKE THAT POINT. I WOULD IF YOU’D LISTEN. So can you please keep your knee from jerking just this once, and…

“If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

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Our misbegotten biblical justification to only help out the deserving needy—as we define deserving.2 Thessalonians 3.102 Thessalonians 3.10 KJVFor even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this verse quoted by people who don’t want to give to the needy.Till recently if you went to any of the grocery stores in my town, you’d find a beggar, holding a sign which generally said, “Help me,” sitting on the sidewalk at the edge of the parking lot, right where the customers drive in and out. I’m serious; any of the stores. They were everywhere. So the city council passed an ordinance moving the beggars 15 feet way. Last week I caught a cop ticketing a beggar who hadn’t been notified.I don’t know how much money they got from sitting there, but their existence really irritated people. Not because those people are outraged by the plight of the poor in this country. It’s solely because they were be…