The Passionate Human Response that God’s Grace Deserves

cower

When I first read Radical by David Platt I thought “YES, THIS GUYS NAILS IT.” And in many places he does make some very good points and provides as a jolt to the system for our need for Christ.  But I am hoping I am not the only one who tried to do the radical challenge and ended up feeling like a failure.  I couldn’t successfully do the radical challenge and quite honestly got burned out by it.

I believe I may have mentioned this in an earlier post but I wanted to revisit something that haunted me for some time.  I am free of the story I am about to give, and all has been forgiven  but I believe that my experience may help someone else who has, is currently, or will go through something like this.  I pray that God will use this to help you in however way He chooses.

I had to write a review of “Radical” in school and I explained in the review that I submitted how God’s grace has set me free from the feeling that I “need” to live a radical life for Christ because He offers me His radical life through the gift of God’s grace.

Quick Disclaimer:  I admire the work of my professor.  He has done wonderful things in teaching the word of the Lord.  This is not a bash on him and it is not my intent to cast judgment on him.  This is not what this post is about.  End of disclaimer.

In the class there seemed to be an underlying theme different than what I had recently discovered, devoured  in the teachings of that Liberate Crowd.  You know, people like Tullian Tchividjian, Steve Brown, Elyse Fitzpatrick and so many others.  I received an A on my paper, but when reading the comments on what I had submitted, a lump in my throat formed and I felt cold all over as I read these words:

“Your paper is well-written with careful critical analysis . . . as I have come to expect from you.  I am glad that on your personal journey you have come to experience God’s grace rather than be caught up in trying to somehow please God.  But, perhaps in your freedom you can now examine the passionate human response that God’s grace deserves.  Yes, His grace is completely amazing and freely given.  We stand and rest in His grace every day.  Our surrender and service are a response to this grace which is so great.  I believe that a true experience and response to God’s grace, and an intimate relationship with Him, will lead us to Romans 12:1,2 where we are commanded to offer our lives as living sacrifices to God.  Not to earn His grace, but to respond to it.  I also believe this is what Platt is saying in his book.”

Lub dub

Lub dub

The sound of my heart beating out of my chest.

The dark room that I am in just got darker.  No doors.  No windows.  Just the pitch blackness of my ability and my performance.

The thought of delivering “the passionate human response that God’s grace deserves.”

The loss of breath.  Fear permeates the air.

The realization that I am not able to deliver such a response.  The realization that such a response means perfection which I am laughably incapable of. I literally laugh at the thought of it.  I can never nor will I ever be able to provide the response that God’s grace deserves.

I find myself backed into a corner in my cell.  Like a wretch I cower at such a demand of perfection.  What do I do?  What can I do?  Is there anything I can say, is there anything I can promise, is there anything I can try other than beg?  Broken by this demand of perfection I cry out;

“Woe is me!  I am a man of unclean lips!  I am undone!  Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

Thanks be to God, Jesus enters the room finding me huddled in a heap in my corner.  I beat my chest and with tears streaming down my face look into his and say “I am a sinner…have mercy on me!”  Jesus rushes towards me and clings to me greater than the fear of hopelessness in my lackluster performance.  Jesus liberates me from the slavery of Sin and the Law.  My body no longer feels the chains of either but the air of grace.  My joy is in knowing that I can put my hope in Who Jesus is and what He has done and not in the hopeless slack effort of failing any and every attempt at providing the human response that God’s grace deserves.

I can never hope to offer up a response worthy of such a gift.

The deserving 100% passionate human response to this gift of grace was given by a man who was also 100% God.

It wasn’t me and it wasn’t you.

Not the passion of Zack but the passion of Christ.

My response to God’s grace is a victory shout and a 10th Leper offering of thanks.

I have always had an intimate relationship with Christ.  He is in me and I am in Him.  This intimate relationship never loses its intimacy because of who I am and what I can’t do.  This intimate relationship is fixed because of who Jesus is and what He has done.

A living sacrifice does not struggle to earn the grace that it has been given.  A sacrifice is dead.  I believe Paul’s follow up to Romans 12:1, 2 would be found in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

I need to offer myself as a living sacrifice.  That means letting go of the hope that I had in ever performing at the level of surrender, the level of service, the level of gratitude that grace deserves.   My only hope in responding to the demand of the law is in Christ Alone.  Christ Alone is your only hope too.  My new nature in Christ does indeed lead me to want to obey.  But my hope is not in those moments when I obey.  My hope is in Christ who has already obeyed and fulfilled the law for me.

God’s love for me was never dependent on how I would respond to His gift of grace.  God’s love for me is eternal and without conditions.  He pours out His grace over sin zombie me without asking and without expectations.

Grace is grace not because of what we have, are, or will do but simply because God loves those whom He pours His grace on.

Salvation comes to sinners by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone all done for the glory of God alone.

You see, it was never about your glory, effort, or response in the first place.

Show me a sinner who has been drowned by God’s grace and I will show you a sinner whose response is “wow” and “thank you.”

Our failure is not in failing to give a deserving response to God’s grace.  Our failure is in not resting in the hope that we have in the person and finished work of Christ Alone.

It Is Finished.

Funny…grace that demands a response is no longer grace.

Reference

Isaiah 6:5

Romans 7:24-25

Luke 18:9-14

Luke 17:11-19

Ephesians 2:8-9

Galatians 2:20

Matthew 11:25-30

Ephesians 1:3-14

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What Is A Child Of God?

A lot of my past and future posts may refer to a particular topic or condition that is contingent upon being a child of God.  For example I may write something along the lines of, “if you are a child of God.”  I even referenced in a previous post that I would create a post that answered the question “what is a child of God?”  First and foremost, I am not referring to the Son of God, Jesus.  Nor am I suggesting that people can one day become divine or God-like with God-like creative capabilities, that is completely different from Christianity and I would put this litmus test in front of anyone who would suggest that you can be a follower of Christ, a Christian, and believe that man can one day become gods or demigods (son of god like Hercules):

Litmus Test

  • What do you believe about the Person and Work of Jesus?
  • What do you believe about the Trinity?
  • Do you believe in justification by faith alone?
  • What do you believe about the authority of scripture?

How that individual answers these questions will give you a pretty good idea whether or not they are following the Jesus of the New Testament.  There are many different versions of Jesus that try to mislead people to believe a false version or anti version of Him…Biblical Eschatology refers to these false Jesus’s as anti-christs (not to be confused with THE anti-christ).

To help clear up any further understanding when I refer to a “child of God” in the remainder of this post I will be referring to what the Bible defines it to be, just to make sure that we are all on the same page.

Where were we…ah yes “What is a Child of God?”   Maybe it would first help to list some scripture, place some Bible down as the foundation that we play on top of in this post.   In no way is this an exhaustive or complete referencing of what the Bible says about what a child of God is but it is just a snipit.

John 1:12:  “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” 

To be honest that was pretty straight forward and more direct than I had previously thought.  Of course the “he” in this passage is referring to Jesus.  If you need more Bible (who doesn’t?) here are some more verses that help in understanding what or who is a child of God:

Galatians 3:25 “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”

1 John 3:10 “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”

Romans 8:14-17 “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

Hopefully that helps…now here is a follow up question to the question that this post is featuring…how do I become a child of God?  That will be for another post….

Why another post?  Because there is a quick answer and then a really deep, deep, heavy (Marty McFly voice) answer….but it has given me such comfort and joy….and peace in knowing how I became a child of God…I have truly been set free and liberated by knowing how it all happened…

As a teaser into the future post that answers the question “How do I become a child of God?”  take a look at this to prepare you for what lies ahead.  I pray that the Lord will bless you and guide you in His will and His purpose for you and your life:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.  In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

Ephesians 1:3-14

Reference List

All Bible references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

No Longer I

I thought I would take the time to introduce myself with a little more detail than what my profile says.  I am a rare native of Georgia and an even rarer native of Atlanta (statistics in 2008 said that roughly 60% of people living in Georgia were born in Georgia and just 30% of people living in Atlanta are actually from Atlanta). I currently live in Sugar Hill, GA which is in Gwinnett county just NE of Atlanta.  I am a fan of all Atlanta sports teams, which proves that I have to be a subscriber to grace, mercy, hope, loyalty, love and long suffering.  I am unashamed to admit that I am a fan of the Falcons, Hawks, the 2017Atlanta MLS team and I am a fan of the Braves who can remember when Dale Murphy was the only reason to go to a game. I grew up watching NASCAR with my grandfather back when Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott were the names to beat. I currently root for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and up and coming son of Bill Elliott, Chase Elliott. I am also an avid supporter of the USA Men’s soccer team. My father went to the University of Georgia so I have been barking like a Georgia Bulldawg all my life and believe it is no coincidence that the Bible is written in red and black (humor). I graduated from Kennesaw State University with a B.A. in History and I am looking forward to their first football season in 2015.  I currently have only 4 classes left of my Masters of Divinity degree in Theological Studies at Liberty Theological Seminary and I am a huge Liberty Flames fan! I enjoy sports but I have learned not to allow them to rule and run my life or become so emotionally entangled with my fandom that it jeopardizes or harms my relationship with God.

I was raised in a Christian home and realized that Jesus had claimed me as “His”, repented of my sins and believed in Christ at a young age in 1989. I thank my parents often for the foundation that they laid for my life. In April of 2003, I joined the United States Marine Corps and served for five years. During those five years I made many mistakes and rebelled against all that I knew was right and pleasing to God. There were many times where God made it crystal clear to me that He had a plan for my life and that He was protecting me in a mighty way. One of the sparks that helped my spiritual awakening from my sinful coma was a radio program by Ravi Zacharias that I would listen to inside a small Barracks room in North Carolina. The seed of an obsessive desire to draw closer to God, share with others the Gospel and an interest in apologetics kindled in me in late 2007.

In 2012 I knew that I had the desire to pursue a M.Div. at Liberty University but I had no further direction than that. I struggled for months with the thought of “wasting” my military service benefits on higher education other than a discipline that would better prepare me for the business world or something more “stable” according to the world. The closer I sought the Lord, the more push back I got from these thoughts and I stepped out in peaceful faith that I was doing the right thing. Not only have I for the first time in my life been able to now live with such peace and freedom out of total surrender to Christ, I have been so incredibly blessed for attending Liberty. Once I surrendered my plans to Christ, He is revealing His plans for me. My thirst for apologetics has increased over the years from that seed that was planted in 2007 in my Marine barracks room.

What really plunged me forward in this were the questions that one college age young man had for me. Some of the questions I was able to answer with confidence, the others not so much. This motivated me to pursue studying the answers or how to answer. It has opened my realization to loving the Lord with not only with all my heart, soul, and strength but MIND as well. As I surrender to Christ daily, the more I realize that He is all that I need and that He is worthy of all that I am. Knowing that He is in control is a type of relief that I cannot fully explain and I am confident that only the one who experiences it for themselves can fully understand. I am now in a place where I not only love Jesus because all that He has done for me, but because of Who He is.

The Lord has blessed me so much through all of this to draw me closer to Him and I am so excited to see what He has planned.  I am not sure where exactly He plans to take me, but knowing that He will be with me is all the confidence that I need.  I have 0% confidence in me but I have 100% confidence in Christ!  My favorite Bible verse is Galatians 2:20; “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  This is where the name of this blog comes from, “No Longer I.”  The more I press into the reality of who I am in Christ, the more I realize that it is truly, “no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  This has helped me to understand the true freedom, liberty and joy in Christ that comes from saving faith in Him.  It has helped me to see that when I examine myself to see if I am in the faith, if I am looking to see how I am growing, how I am doing better spiritually, then I do not understand spiritual growth, do not understand grace, and do not understand what Jesus meant when He said, “it is finished.”  Whenever I or anyone else examines ourselves to see if we are in the faith, if we do not think of Jesus and what He has done as the source for our faith and examination then our hope is placed in our “doing better” “trying harder” “living righter” attempt at life than Jesus’s conquering and fulfilling of it.  Salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.

I yearn for and desire the growing bond and cooperation between followers of Christ, no matter denomination, geographical location, cultural difference, barriers to language or personal Biblical convictions that are not essentials in order to be considered a follower of Christ.  I yearn for a united Church who is united by a belief in the person and work of Jesus Christ, justification by faith alone, the Trinity and the authority of Scripture.

I believe that America is in need of and is on the verge of another Great Awakening or potentially another Reformation.  Yet instead of the Protestant Reformation that was ignited by Martin Luther in 1517 in response to the Catholic Church, I believe that if a Reformation occurs it will be in response to the American Western Evangelical Church.  None of this will be achieved without a serious repentance and return to a church life of prayer.  I have an amazing wife and 3 year old little boy who are both showing me a kind of love that is beyond what I deserve. Every time I am around my wife I am reminded how God likes to show off. Every time I am around my son, I am reminded how much it cost God to send His Son to the cross and how much God loves me.

I have recently been capture by God’s amazing grace.  More so than I ever have before.  I have always enjoyed God’s grace but not at the level that I am right now.  I am currently soaking up material that is being presented by individuals like Tullian Tchividjian, Steve Brown, ministries like Liberate and Key Life.  If the American Western Evangelical Church experiences a Reformation it will again be because we have uncovered the joy of God’s grace once again.  To give a better idea of what I am referring to, please allow this illustration that I found in Tullian Tchividjian’s book, “One Way Love.”

“As Robert Capon writes:

The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace—bottle after bottle of pure distilate of Scriputre, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly.  The word of the Gospel—after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps–suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started (Tchividjian 2013, 24).”

May you be overwhelmed and in awe of God’s glory and grace where you cannot help but desire to worship Him and enjoy in the joy that comes from doing so.

Because He Lives,

Zachary James Cole (a sinner who Jesus loved and died for)

Reference List

Tchividjian, Tullian.  2013.  “One Way Love.” Colorado Springs: David C. Cook.

Challenging the Idea That it is All Up to You

It is so easy, especially for someone who has grown up in the modern evangelical American church their whole life, to think that there is something that you have to improve upon in order for you and God to be on good terms.  It is an all too similar message of “do better, try harder and God will be happy with you” and that is simply not what the Gospel teaches.  To know that I am justified and redeemed when everything inside of me and everything according to God’s law says that I am not, changes everything.  In life we have something inside of us that craves justification, from people and from God.  Many followers of religion will live their life on a gospel of works mentality (including many Christians) where they believe it is up to their blood, sweat, tears and effort that gets them into heaven, into the good graces of God.  To read verses like Romans 3:22-26; 28-30 causes one to realize that being justified has nothing to do with me but everything to do with God.  It was the blood, sweat and tears of Jesus who got us into Heaven, what could we possibly offer that is worth more than the blood of the Son of God (See Below Reference List)?  Why do we always seem to revert back to the mindset that we must do something to make us worthy of His love and gift of grace?  There is peace in knowing and accepting that I am weak and He is strong which helps understand fully what Jesus was saying in Matthew 11:29-30: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

To read Romans 8:31-39 and know that nothing can separate me from God’s love frees me to be weak for Christ, it frees me to be able to lose everything for Him because I have received everything from Him.  What is in existence that is more valuable than the love of God?  Knowing that God loves me and that He will never stop loving Me, that His Son has already consumed all of God’s wrath that was meant for me (for sins I did are doing and will do) does not birth in my heart the thought “now I can do whatever I want” but instead brings forth cries that sound like “Abba, Father” or “here am I send me.”  I am reading and watching sermons by people like Tullian Tchividjian, Elyse Fitzpatrick  and Steve Brown who teach that if you are a child of God, nothing can remove you from His love and He will never stop loving you.

To have joy in the Lord changes everything.  To experience joy in the Lord changes your mood, how you interact with others, how you handle life’s situations and how you see your life.  I can remember reading and hearing sermons by John Piper who show us that in worshiping God we receive joy in God as the result of worshiping Him.  As our worship of Him increases our joy in Him increases.  This is how God created us that our greatest joy would be in Him.  This is not just a point of creation but a point of reality, there is no greater joy in existence than the joy that anything and anyone gets in the worship and praise of God and His glory.  When I have joy and it is as a result of worshiping God, it is a testimony to His glory.  When my greatest joy is not in possessions, power, health or earthly relationships but in God I am pointing to God as being the greatest thing in existence and God’s greatness is revealed to those who witness the joy that I have in Him.  “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him (Piper 2014, under “2. Christian Hedonism is the biblical solution to this problem).”

To know that I have been enriched with God’s grace falls in to the same category as the rest.  It is an empowering peace, a knowing that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).”  Not that God will give me the power to do whatever I want to do in my life but knowing that whatever God asks of me, no matter how painful or how much personal suffering it may cause that His grace will be sufficient and that having His grace is liberating.  To be captured by His grace and know that you are under the protection of God literally, “if God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?”  They may be able to kill our body, but “to be absent from our body is to be present with God (2 Corinthians 5:8)” and there is no fear in that because “to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).”

Reference List

From “See below Reference List” First heard a similar question to this asked by Elyse Fitzpatrick on a video of the Liberate 2014 Conference.  Link to her video here:  http://vimeo.com/88183103

Piper, John. 2014. God Is Most Glorified in Us When We Are Most Satisfied in Him. Desiring God.  http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/god-is-most-glorified-in-us-when-we-are-most-satisfied-in-him.  Accessed November 26, 2014.