Unmerited Favor for You
If you are a Christian then you have been saved by grace (unmerited favor) through faith without any personal works. Does that make your heart sing? As a Christian you now have a relationship with God based on unmerited favor. That ought to make your heart sing, too.
Satan is Real and a Liar
Do you believe that Satan is real? I do. I think that his big lie is all about persuading and deceiving me to think that there is somehow still some merit that I need to bring to my relationship with God. I consider that to be a lie and keep alert for it, but freely admit that I have swallowed it more times than I realize. How about you? Do you agree that it is a lie? Are you alert to avoid buying it? Have you like me been tricked at times?
The Big Identity Change
I became a Christian 37 years ago. Like everyone else, I started life with an identity under the elementary principles of the world (Galatians 4:3), under the merit system of my conscience, under the law. My conscience told me to always do the right thing. I didn't; I made excuses; I blamed others; I tried to feel good about myself by comparing myself to others; I became rather proficient at looking down on others; and I saw Jesus as a lawgiver who needed to be obeyed or placated in order to obtain forgiveness from him. Can you relate to my experience? One day a Christian knocked on my door at university and told me that forgiveness was a free gift paid for by the death of Christ and offered to helpless sinners. I couldn't believe my ears. That guy was really wrong and I told him so. "You have to be good to get forgiveness, and if I am not good enough then the line behind me is really long." I laugh at that statement now as it seems rather self-righteous, but on that day I was dead serious about it. I had quit a Protestant church and become an agnostic, but still my mind and my identity were all about merit. I resisted that guy, but went with him and his friends to Bible study and church for months to prove to myself that religion was a waste of time. But they were clean cut like I was, and they liked me, in spite of my very self-righteous attitude. I was intrigued. Watching them and reading the words of Jesus for myself for the first time slowly sensitized me to the truth that Jesus is a grace-giver, not a law-giver, and won't cheapen perfection for anyone. It is like I woke up one day rejoicing that forgiveness was a gift and I had it. My identity suddenly changed; one day I was under a relationship of merit with God and life, and the next day I knew that I was free in Christ from God requiring merit from me. My testimony of God changed from one of merited favor to unmerited favor.
The reason my testimony changed is that my identity changed. In 37 years I have never had the thought that merit was required to be with God forever. But before I was a Christian I never had the thought that such was unmerited. I have asked Mormon students if they could remember the last time that they told someone that full exaltation (being forever with God) was a free gift that didn't require any personal works. As I have pushed them to try harder to remember, they have replied in this vain: "Why would I say that since I have never even had the thought that it was free." Their testimony is merited favor because their identity is merited favor. Which is your testimony?
The Surprise of Grace as Community
When I became a Christian, my identity changed. This was personal but it was not merely personal. In the universe there are two identities as Romans 6:14 declares, "For sin shall not have dominion over you because you are not under law [merited favor] but under grace [unmerited favor]." Because of the way God created the universe, every person is born in the world under the authority of law; doing good is obligatory to avoid judgement; and favor is merited. At the creation of the universe unmerited favor existed in the heart of God but did not exist in the created universe--not until Jesus died on the cross. The conscience knew about unmerited favor but had no authority to grant it. Until the cross God had passed over sin, He had not technically forgiven it yet. (See Romans 3:25) The substitutionary death of Christ opened the door to unmerited favor, to redemption from law, which is the forgiveness of sins. (See Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14) Fifty days later at Pentecost, God poured out His promised Spirit of righteousness on Israel, freeing it from the Old Covenant of pure merited favor and giving it the New Covenant of pure unmerited favor. Sins and transgressions would be remembered no more by God. A new community was born within the old and all in Israel were commanded to change their minds, abandon confidence in merited favor, and enter this new community of the authority of unmerited favor. Then the Samaritans were welcomed in, (See Acts 8) and finally the Gentiles were welcomed in. (See Acts 10) God intended this new community to fill the whole earth. All are born in the world, and all are called, invited, commanded, and welcomed to turn from merited favor and come into the Community of grace, of unmerited favor.
Unmerited Favor For All Other People
Do you see these two communities and their authority--the world (merited favor) and the New Covenant gathering (unmerited favor)? Every individual is in the world, but those who God has adopted into His royal family have entered the community of unmerited favor and are not of the world because they are dead to merit with God. Satan and the world hate this new community of freedom from merit, but God delights in it as it is His community built on His love and His righteousness alone. As you relate to the people around you, do you seek to notice the identity of each and relate to each based on their identity? Or do you tend to view people based on their behavior? Are you attracted to broken people as Jesus was, longing to show them the door into the community of grace? Do you see each of those still trapped under the authority of merit as hopeless no matter how much they improve? Do you see them all--the most evil ones even--as invited into the celebration of unmerited favor? You may say that you see identity clearly, but let me offer a test of your optimism.
Jesus saw people perfectly through their identity. He was never distracted. He saw evil behavior but always saw it in light of identity. So when He was hanging on the cross naked and in great pain, He cried out to the Father for the Father to free His persecutors from their guilt by giving it all to Him: "Father forgive them, give me all their shame and guilt." So when a fellow saint--one delighted in by God, free from all shame and guilt, and free from the pressure of merit--mistreats you in some way, what is your reaction? Have you thanked the Father for the privilege you have of carrying that burden for the other person? Think over the past years and seek to remember times of great betrayal, pain, abuse, criticism, or financial deception you suffered at the hands of another Christian. How did you respond? Did you see that person as free from the pressure of merit while he was mistreating you? If so, do you think that violator sensed a warm welcome from you to a closer relationship? Did you give that violator a piece of your mind or did you give him the peace of the cross? Contact me, give me the name of the person who badly hurt you, and let me ask that person if he felt a warm welcome from you while he was criticizing you. What do you think he will say? If you gave him a warm welcome while he was criticizing you, then he will remember it--at least in general. Why? It is very rare among us Christians to welcome criticism gladly. If you did it, it will be note worthy. Let's stop pretending and admit that good behavior on the part of other Christians is what we really care about.
Thinking of Real Life Brings Understanding
John: Brad, I know that God always smiles on me even in the middle of me being an idiot and not treating others kindly. When my attitude is awful and my action towards others is hurtful God still looks fondly upon me. Even through all my badness God still likes me. The work of Jesus on the cross is all I need for God to be pleased with me.
Brad: I am glad that is true for you and me, for your wife and mine, for your children and mine, as well as for all other Christians.
John: As hard as it is to understand I am learning to see the truth of it and usually only get depressed when I fail and in the middle of my failure forget what Christ did for me. It is sometimes easy to forget that even at my worst God always likes me because of His Son. The really hard part for me is seeing how it works for others who are unkind to me. I know this sounds hypocritical, but when someone sins against me I really want God to avenge.
Brad: Don't all Christians have the same grace relationship with God that you have?
John: Of course they do, but how do I see that for them when they are mistreating me?
Brad: So while you are upset at your wife and speaking rudely to her, are you totally free and God is smiling on you and likes you?
Brad: The same applies to other people. Let's say you do something wrong and your wife gets really upset with you and not only speaks rudely to you, but in revenge donates your expensive golf clubs to the thrift store. She has done a terrible thing, but while she was doing all that to you God was smiling on her and likes her all because of Christ.
John: I understand it, but that it doesn’t mean it’s easy. I’m forgetful. However, remembering this one thing would be a game changer. It would mean never getting upset with anyone again.
Do You Want to See Grace for Others?
- God what I really want is for other people to behave properly and stop making my life difficult.
- God, you want them to remember what Jesus did for them so that they will change and do good things out of thankfulness.
- But God I don't want to wait. I am tired of carrying burdens for lazy Christians. I want them to change now.
- I am glad that you have forgiven me freely and completely because of the cross, but salvation changes people and that Christian (name him or her) isn't serious about changing.
- God, you call me to rejoice always, but do you really mean for me to rejoice while other Christians are mistreating me?
- God, you do tell me to do everything without complaining, but certainly that does't apply when I feel hurt by other Christians, does it?
- God, you do tell me to give thanks always, but you don't know how frustrating my wife and children can be at times.
- God I am really angry that my husband gives me almost no tenderness and understanding. He treats me like his servant. He is making my life miserable. He says that he is a Christian, and so why don't you fix him?
- God, don't you realize that M_____ keeps hurting me and deserves a piece of my mind?
- God, I am not as bad a Christian as M_____, at least I am trying to do right. Of course compared to Jesus we are both failures, but do you really want me to think so negatively?
- God, thank you for not giving me what I deserve, but giving all my guilt, shame, and condemnation to Christ. Thank you that the finished work of Christ is all I need for life. Thank you that all the Christians, especially M_____, who hurt me are completely free from condemnation, even while they are hurting me. Thank you for rejoicing over me with singing and for rejoicing in song over those who bother me. Thank you that you really like those Christians who hurt me and even like them as much as you like me. Thank you that even though M_____ can't stand me, you fully welcome him in Christ. Thank you that Jesus was glad to carry all M____'s sin. Thank you for giving me the privilege of knowing M____ and carrying all the burdens M_____ chooses to give me. Help me remind him of how much you love him. Thank your for making all my troubles, afflictions, weaknesses, and critics to be a blessing to me. Please bring them to me whenever you think I need them. Thank you for being a tender Father and for bringing into my life only what is good for me and brings you glory. Thank you for adopting us all into your royal family and promising never to cast us out. Thank you for putting me with all the saints in your kingdom of unmerited favor where we all are free from all condemnation and all have all the treasures of heaven.
Make your prayers practical about other Christians (name them individually) you perceive to be troubling you and watch your heart open toward them. You might begin to like and enjoy them while they are mistreating you. You might even feel compassion toward them for the pain they are feeling for forgetting the cross--a forgetfulness that is the cause of their mistreatment of you. You might begin to notice their failings as God does--as hell-deserving--and notice them as God does--as righteous in Christ, fully covered by the blood, and a source of joy. Wouldn't that be a novel way to think?