It was this time of year five years ago that I stood before the church and proclaimed that from then on the eldership would lead and govern in ways consistent with the New Covenant. I admitted that we had little understanding of what that meant, but that we had resolved, as best we were able, to do all “by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone”. Christ and His perfect, complete, all-sufficient work was to be our only foundation.
Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what the result would be. From then on it felt as if we were lurching from crisis to crisis. Our lives were flung into disarray and peppered with conflict, difficulty, opposition and struggle. When we would conclude that we could not possibly cope with one more thing, another calamity would come crashing down on us. In the tumult we lost relationships which we had valued deeply, and in some of the darkest moments we despaired of all hope of ever exiting the storm.
That was then. This is now. Looking back, as often happens with hindsight, the story tells somewhat differently!
Looking back we can see that what felt like out-of-control lurching from crisis to crisis was in fact a loving Heavenly Father leading us from one suppurating sore to the next, graciously enabling us to deal with that which was awry. We felt out of control but He was in full control. Hindsight reveals that many of our relationships were abusive in nature, albeit in varying degrees. Our lives were accusation and condemnation riddled. Sometimes we were the intimidators; at other times we were the intimidated. The Lord had us visit wherever the destructive dynamics of manipulation, control, anxiety and fear were at work. Problems were faced and chains were broken. Amidst the carnage the guilt, condemnation, shame and accusation gave way to freedom, joy and peace. The kingdom of God had come!
Grace was doing what grace does. It disempowers our enemies and dismantles our own enmity. As our identity in Christ takes root and we are fully pursuaded by Word and Spirit that our debt has been paid, and as we become convinced that the tyranny of that unholy trinity of sin, satan and this world’s system has indeed been broken off our lives, so we walk into freedom. At the same time we begin to release others whom we have bound.
It has not been at all easy. As our enslaved lives began to come free from the toxic paralysis of religious effort that the mixture of law and grace brings (it’s also helpful to recognise that snake satan is all-at-once a fanged viper and a suffocating constrictor too), things seemed to get much, much worse before they got any better. This was not the Lord breaking us in order to mould us aright or anything of that ilk (as was suggested by more than a few well-meaning and sadly misguided folk). No! “He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). This was not the Lord fixing us but the Lord freeing us! As His life flooded our lives, the pain we experienced was more akin to the thaw of a frostbitten foot (apparently it’s excruciating) or the removal of a cancerous tumour. Bad stuff was leaving our lives and good stuff was flooding into them! The outcome is that today our hearts sing the songs of freedom and our relationships are substantially without obligatory entanglements. In the matters that matter we are indebted to no one, and no one is indebted to us!
Life is still not without it’s challenges. Perhaps it never will be (although I am deeply pursuaded on good authority that our inheritance in Christ is abundant life). Yet, through it all, we can see that we were preserved by an over-arching all-pervasive security (righteousness), peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. This was and is entirely supernatural, completely undeserved, and comes only from Good God.
We’ll not tell our story in any more detail than this. To do so would be to justify our own failings all the while naming and shaming others. This cannot be done as grace insists that we forgo vindication in thought, word and deed. Yet I do unapologetically write this much for the sake of the many saints who find themselves slowly dying in sickness of soul. The way out is the realisation that His (Jesus’) story is our story. Those who have believed have been co-crucified with Christ, and having died with Him, have been raised to new life in Him also. We are saints, not sinners. We have been made righteous; we have been forever put right with God. This is so because Jesus lived the sinless life we never could and died the sinner’s death we deserved. It was His life for ours, so that now His life is ours! Believe it and you’ll walk to liberty. Believe it and you’ll serve no master but Him. Believe it and you’ll open your heart and hands in emancipation of others.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1), and nothing begets freedom like freedom. One whiff and you’re ruined for anything else. Believing in Jesus truly is a new way of living!