Grace breaks the chains (by Gert Botha)

I don’t know where to start cause there’s so much that’s happened during my journey and in reality, I don’t actually want to talk about myself, I’d rather talk about elephants and addicts, so I guess its sufficient to say: I was born some time ago, a cute blue eyed bouncing baby with rosy cheeks and curly blonde hair. Hard to believe it but, I’ve got a photo to prove it, of course its yellow from age

My parents called me GERT PIETER. Can u imagine that? This cute little baby. I once asked my mother, “HOW COULD YOU DO IT?” I learnt that it was a family name; my Oupa had it, and his dad had it. Tradition? Don’t rock the boat. That’s how it always has been, no need to change it. It’s safe to stick to what you’ve done in the past.

That’s enough about me, OK! Now about elephants and addicts …

When I wore the clothes of a younger man I worked in the Wankie National Game Park (Zimbabwe), and saw animals do amazing and strange things. One of those incidents reminds me of how ‘once free’ creatures can be held prisoner in captivity, even by imaginary chains. One day we heard a call on our walkie talkie (a two way radio – there were no mobile phones in those days – can you imagine that?) that a rogue elephant had to be culled because he had gone on a rampage and destroyed a number of huts in the area, but fortunately no one was injured. Of course this was something exciting to see so we packed up our tools and took off in the Land Rover to witness the event. We arrive at the camp where the damage had been done and saw, to our amazement, a huge tree that the elephant had partially uprooted and pulled across the railway line, so we proceeded to help the game ranger to pull the tree off with the Land Rover, but without success. We radioed to the station to send an engine to do the job and some hours later the tree was removed. We proceeded to track the elephant, at a respectable distance behind the game ranger, and saw the bull elephant that only had one tusk and was well known to the locals as a mean old guy. The game ranger went down on one knee, took aim at the charging elephant, let off a shot and dropped the animal a few metres in front of him. The hole where his tusk once was burst open expelling a pile of maggots and the game ranger explained that the elephant went rogue because of the excruciating pain. We were amazed at the incredible power of the “old” elephant that pulled down a tree which we couldn’t move with a Land Rover and gained a new respect for free animals in the wild.

In contrast: Elephant trainers in a circus attach a chain which is a few metres long to one leg of a young elephant and peg the other end into the ground, and in time the animal realises that it can’t wander too far from the peg in the ground. When the elephant is older, the chain is removed but the peg is still driven into the ground so it won’t go further from the peg than the length of the ‘imaginary chain’. Like the elephant, we are inclined to follow the same patterns: it’s safe in the comfort zone, even if it holds you back; it’s safe to stick to what you’ve done in the past. The unknown is scary and threatening. It’s dangerous to challenge authority, our culture and programming. At every town where the circus performs, the trainer drives a stake into the ground and the elephant is controlled and stays in that space. The elephant has to be rehabilitated before he can really break free from that bondage, and that can take a life time, patience and care (unless a miracle happens).

Even when the prison gates are opened and we are set free, the invisible chains of religion and legalism won’t let us go beyond a certain comfortable or even painful point. It’s safe to stick to what you’ve done in the past.

When I first met Jesus, it was a gentle deep encounter and my introduction was beautiful. I joined a congregation and did all the churchy things. It was good and I learnt commitment, obedience and servanthood. That was all part of my journey. For many years we were flowing in the river of life and it was wonderful, and we were contented, and safe. But then one day, and suddenly, a side stream flowed into the river from behind us and it became a powerful force to the extent that we felt threatened and had to decide to either allow the rising water to take us out of our comfort zone and engulf us, or get out up on to the river bank where it’s safe, to avoid the flood. This was the beginning of the end; the end of life as I knew it; the end of yesterday; the death of my past.

This was the grace message. Was I ready for it? Did it make sense? Could I understand it? Could I get my head around it? Was my heart able to receive it? No, no, no, no and no. Up until this time, the message of the cross had always been the ‘Show Stopper’; the core of my belief. Nothing has changed since the flood but I have had a paradigm shift in my spirit, and sometimes my head and heart have to catch up. Life is a journey, which is inevitable, and the only sure thing that is constant is change, and it’s the thing we often resist the most for whatever reason. We fear the unknown. We feel safe in our comfort zone, even if it’s not that comfortable. And the big one, the fear of man’s opinion, and rejection if we admit that we were wrong. Especially so if it’s been like that for a lifetime, and for most of us these fears are giants in our lives. Now, since the flood, many of these fears have become secondary considerations for me, although sometimes they still raise their ugly heads.

There’s always been head knowledge, and even a heart acknowledgement, of what Jesus did on the cross at Calvary to save the world. He died for me; that’s true. Suffered and took the punishment for me. Looking back now, I realise that deep down inside my spirit, I actually felt guilty and even responsible for His death 2000 years ago, and felt that I had to do stuff to make up for it. It was the same feeling that we got when our parents said things like, “Is that the thanks I get after all I’ve done for you”.

So what has changed?

Pre-flood I knew that Jesus suffered and died a horrific death to set me free, but the reason why he was prepared to do that has deeply impacted my spirit since the flood. It’s moved from head and heart to spirit. He died for me because He loves me, and I don’t even have to say the word unconditionally, because that’s what real love is. I know I’ve heard this 1000 times before, but since the flood, my spirit leaps up every time I say or think it as if it’s the first time I’ve heard it. I can’t explain it.

Grace has enabled me to be at peace with myself and others (most of the time). The chains have been broken and I am free, although some stakes in the ground still exist, and like the elephant, I’m on the journey of rehabilitation. The end of yesterday has begun.

Then there’s the addict …

In the churchy world of rules and religion, it’s OK if an alcoholic belongs to another church, or if he or she is the unconverted spouse of a member of the congregation. We will pray for deliverance; doesn’t he know that his body is a temple? It’s a sin, and somewhere it is written that thou shalt not, etc. But if it’s a church member who has an addiction of any sort, the guilt and shame associated with not being perfect and having feet of clay is overwhelming and so it’s kept under wraps, behind closed doors. The fear of exposure and condemnation from fellow Christians is sometimes too much to bear, so the sinner leaves the church and no one knows why and he is labelled a back slider. He goes to AA for help, knowing full well that only 14% of addicts who try to quit actually make it, and he introduces himself to the group nervous and embarrassed. He stands up and says, “Hello, my name is Joe, and I’m an alcoholic”, and then slinks back to his seat and sits down.

Then there’s the addict that has had a paradigm shift in his spirit and no longer fears man’s opinions, because the grace of God and the amazing unconditional love of the king has set him free. He doesn’t feel unclean and condemned anymore. He has received in his spirit the fact that his worth is not determined by the value that others place on him or his past, but by the king’s value of him. He goes to AA and stands up to introduce himself, and says, “Hello, my name is Joe, I am an amazing artist and I can’t keep up with the demand for my work. I have two beautiful children and a wonderful wife who I care for and who love me intensely. I am always busy with DIY around the house, I love gardening, and I’m an alcoholic”, and then he crosses the room and shakes hands with everyone in the group. So what’s the difference. He still has an addiction but the chains of condemnation and the fear of man have been broken, and he knows that he is loved and forgiven, because Jesus says so.

In a word, it’s Grace, Grace, Amazing Grace! The idea that grace allows you to do anything is an attempt by the enemy to deceive us again. Don’t fall for it. Pre-grace, what happened in public was important, and what took place behind closed doors stayed behind closed doors. Since Grace, what happens when no one is watching does count, and that’s freedom.

So what have I been set free from? Here are a few things. For me, this is freedom. People who used to bug me appear different and I find myself wanting to hug them (crazy), so if I hug you then you know. Car guards used to bug me. No, I don’t hug them, but now I give silver, not brass . That’s freedom. Waiters tip? They need it more than me now. That’s freedom. ESKOM? Remembering that others have no electricity; that’s freedom. Apologise when wrong; keep quiet when right. That’s freedom. Surrender the TV remote. Now that’s freedom!

Some time after the flood, I wrote this note: “Free at Last, thank God, I’m free at last”. Way back in the day, I recall that one of the songs we sang in was, “My soul escaped, like a bird, out of the snare of the fowler”. At the time, to me it meant that I had escaped from the power and influence of sin and temptation in my life, and indeed this was true to a point. However, it wasn’t complete freedom because unbeknownst to me, although the snare had been broken, I was unable to escape and run free. There were still chains that prevented me from moving too far from that which had kept me bound, not unlike house arrest. My journey as a Christian had begun, I was told, and I was now able to “earn” my crown in heaven, and everything would be fine. I just had to follow the rules that God had made, and if I failed I could repent and go on. If I tithed 10%, He would multiply it, and if I attended church and looked holy, this was all to my benefit. My status in heaven would be enhanced. Terms like “bless you brother”, “hallelujah” and “praise the Lord” were special holy code words to gain acceptance from fellow Christians. The leaders of the church were my heroes, and I followed them faithfully, and defended them when non-members challenged their teachings.

I recall those 3 and 4 hour sessions on Sundays where we sat glued to our chairs learning under our guru. Then there were the 4.30 am prayer meetings for the men and the 30 day fasts, and I genuinely believed that these rituals were requirements to really be accepted by God. If one couldn’t reach those heights, you needed to work harder, and the guilt would creep in if you didn’t. My conscience was driven by performance and reward for achievement. In hindsight, this was all good character building and I learnt commitment, servanthood, obedience and faithfulness. These leaders were pivotal in my growth and they set the foundations on which to build, and I am forever grateful for them and their input. But something has happened. Because of grace my spirit has had a revelation, which, quite honestly, my head doesn’t always grasp. The most effective enemy is the one you can’t see, or the one you think doesn’t exist. That’s why we use camouflage in war. The enemy has deceived the church through religion and legalism for centuries, and at last the snare is indeed broken and I am truly escaped. Now, because of grace, I can recognise these in my life.

There is absolutely nothing I can do to earn my way in to heaven. I would love to be able to obey all the Ten Commandments all the time if that’s what’s required to get me there, but temptation will always be around. I know, you know, and He knows, that its impossible for me, and that’s why the only way is by His grace. Because of grace, my conscience has been reborn, so to speak, and I have become so sensitive to the truth of His unconditional love. This has me in a place where I don’t want to offend Him, and even ‘small sins’ like road rage raise a check in me immediately. I end up apologizing in the middle of the rage.

In the same vein, those dedicated men and woman who gave their all in establishing and laying down solid foundations in my life, I love and honour you. Thank God that you were obedient and willing to impart that which He had given you, which was right for that season. Now, please don’t take offence, but since the flood, He has reminded me that He is a jealous God, and that He is the only hero in my life. I’m sorry guys, you have been relieved of the title of hero, because I only have one hero to worship: King Jesus. and no other.

As for the 10% tithe, there was always the inner debate as to whether it’s before tax or not. Oh, what religious garbage that was. You can’t out give God so let’s stop the non-sense. Of course there always had to be the multiplication sermon on tithe day, just to rub in the law a little bit more. Well, now I find that giving has become a joy, and I find myself just increasing the ‘legal’ amount, just because.

HE BREAKS EVERY CHAIN! Fear, anger, unforgiveness, prejudices, negativity, addictions, religion, legalism.

Grace.

Free!

Our Braveheart

Who can forget Mel Gibson’s epic performance in Braveheart? The 1995 blockbuster tells the tale of legendary thirteenth century Scottish hero William Wallace, who rallied the Scottish against the English monarch and Edward I.

Movies in this genre will always be popular because our hearts will always be moved by courageous leaders who rally common men like us to live and die for great and noble causes. And there is nothing amiss with the sentiments evoked, for they have been programmed into us by our Creator. This is how our hearts should be, making leadership a first-order issue of immense importance, no matter the context.

That said, recognising, rallying around, adoring and following our True Braveheart, Jesus, will go a long way towards injecting a greater level of health into the church. Following Him is something we all do together in the church, leaders and congregation alike. There are most certainly differences in gifts and callings, anointings and authority, roles and placements within the church. Yet we must remain emphatic regarding our all having received a faith of equal standing. It is Jesus who is our Braveheart, and only Jesus.

Thank God for every hero of the faith, ancient and modern, in whom Jesus resonates. The louder the echo of His greatness the better. Let’s be inspired and encouraged; even grateful. But let’s never be confused. It’s all about Jesus!

Plotting the learning curve

Something entirely practical this time round! Our family is currently in the process of birthing a new business venture. Times like these can overwhelm as it’s sink or swim in the worst of the white water. Fortunately there are numerous handy little think-tools that can help us stay orientated in the rapids. Here is one such tool that I picked up along the way decades ago, and which has served me well through the years. It’s purpose is to help us plot ourselves against the learning curve for our particular journey.

The learning curve starts at Unconscious Incompetence. This is the place of total ignorance. You don’t even know what you don’t know!

Conscious Incompetence. This represents a giant leap forward for the learner, as at CI you’re staring to get a handle on what you don’t know. At this point Google is your friend like never before as you go looking for info and experts. There is stuff to learn, and the challenge is finding where and how to source and digest what you need to acquire.

The midpoint on the learning curve is Unconscious Competence. UC calls for a cool nerve, a clear head, and a steady hand. Breath deeply and slowly. You’ve learnt a great deal and begun to get a handle on things, but you’re untried and untested, and therefore unsure. This is the time for careful decision making. Think things through. Adopt a unified approach from amongst the many options. Yoke yourself to a clear direction, keep detailed records, and commit to follow through. You’re no expert, but you’re also no longer clueless. A blend of caution and courage and a carefully construed plan and you’ll be fine.

Stop four on the learning curve celebrates achievement. This is Conscious Competence turf. CC is the place where you know what to do and how to do it, but it still absorbs a great deal of concentration and energy. You’re still living off notes, and thinking and planning in careful steps, but you’re doing the stuff. At this point you can raise a glass to having acquired a new skill or successfully launched a new venture. At this pint you’re honing skills, refining approaches, establishing systems and documenting essentials. You’re writing the manual.

Subconscious Competence. You can do without thinking about what you’re doing. What once demanded your all is now a part of your life. It’s become second nature. When you’re here it’s said about you that you’ve already forgotten what others have yet to learn.

There it is! Chart yourself on the curve in any process of learning and you can pinpoint how to best direct your time and energy.

Faith is patient

Faith is patient. The Bible makes this clear. It encourages us to “be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12).

Many of us have unfortunately been rather poorly taught regarding faith. We come to think that faith is for things, rather than in someone. Think that way and faith becomes some sort of magic ingredient in the prayer equation guaranteeing the desired outcome. He’s believing for healing, she for finances, or they for a bigger apartment.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that there is anything wrong with trusting God to meet our needs. It’s just that believing for things defaults to faith in faith, which is never a good idea. When this is the case, if things don’t quite work out as anticipated, we end up in all kinds of doubt and insecurity.

Adjust the paradigm and see how things shift for the better. Trust God for healing, finances and accommodation, but place your faith in Him. After all, He is Healer, Provider, Altogether Good, Saviour and Loving Father. Now rest. Be as patient as necessary. Everything will be fine. Your hope is in the Immutability of our God, and not in the strength of your faith.

 

 

 

 

What is that in your hand?

“What it that in your hand?” What a profound question! When the Lord asked it of Moses, he was in the wilderness after comprehensively missing out on his destiny. Or so it seemed.

His answer was nothing unusual for a rural shepherd – a staff. But that staff went on to do some amazing things. Amongst other things, that staff went on to provoke Pharaoh and his conjurers, part the Red Sea, and bring water from a rock. Not too shabby for the old stick of an old stick.

Here’s the deal: The ordinary things in our hands are able to accomplish extraordinary things, not because we are extraordinary, but because in turn are in His hand. To then build on the thought: The burning bush was Heaven’s initiative, and Moses’ simple response in taking a closer look saw his life turned right-way-up. How much more, then, will our response to the death and resurrection of Jesus turn our lives right-way-up.

Truth is, none of us are empty handed in the ultimate sense. In fact, in Christ all things are ours! That is why understanding these things opens an endless fountain of gratitude, hope, opportunity and wisdom. We are those who can always find the way forward, for the death and resurrection of Jesus is our perennial burning bush, and God’s question to Moses is as pertinent to us as it ever was to him.

So, what is that in your hand?

The Gospel redeems

The Gospel is the continuous application of God’s once-for-all solution in Christ Jesus. There is nowhere it cannot go, no one it cannot save, and no situation that it cannot redeem. It is the yeast in the dough; the smallest of seeds that becomes the biggest of trees; literally Heaven invading earth.

This sweet Pauline one-liner – “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:22) – is a concluding comment in his letter to the church in Philippi. What gets it jumping off the page is realising that Paul was writing from prison in Rome. Rome, epicentre of the mighty Roman Empire. Rome, which in the person of Pontius Pilate had literally issued Jesus’ death warrant. Rome, home to the Empire’s supreme commander, Caesar. Caesar, whose household had been infiltrated by the Gospel. Those of Caesar’s household greet you!

This Gospel is God’s strategy for the redemption of rebel planet earth. The way it all works is quite sublime. It is God who makes Christians. Each and every one is His workmanship, and so inherently witness to Him. This is self-evident. The newborn are testimony to the new birth. As trophies of the cross, we testify by our very existence, even if we never do a single thing for the fame of His Name. Yet we are not just static trophies of grace on the mantelpiece of heaven. Rather, we are living trophies, the workmanship of God, and engineered to partner with Him. In an action of extraordinary condescension, the Lord invites us to co-labour with Him in the very Gospel that is our salvation. We, witnesses to His work, get to testify in addition to His grace in words, works, ways and wonders. And, rather unsurprisingly, the effectiveness of our witness is dependent on His efforts and not ours.

Good works have been prepared in advance for us to do. Works that are perfectly suited to our unique blend of abilities and circumstances. In Christ, living in God and living for God are one and the same thing. There is absolute congruence between who God has made us to be and what He has called us to do. The enabling baptism in the Holy Spirit empowers our witness significantly, but does not create it. The new birth does that. John the baptiser, under the Old Covenant, declared that he needed to decrease in order for Christ to increase. Jesus later stated emphatically that the least in the kingdom (born again) was greater than John. That is so because those who are in Christ have been co-crucified with Christ; His story is our story. We do not decrease for Him to increase. On the contrary, He increases as we grow into all that He has made and called us to be. He must increase, therefore we must increase also! Any theology that insists that true piety is achieved by dying to self denies that those in Christ are new creations. Acknowledging that the new has come is what frees us to live in freedom and fullness, veritable oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord.

The Gospel gifts us comfort in our own skins, and in Christ “authentic us” will always be infinitely more fruitful than “imitation someone else”. Learn of others, but be yourself. World evangelism is the job description of every believer. Many are the good works prepared in advance for each of us to do. The parameters of our daily lives are what describe the scope of our respective mission-fields. Our world is our parish, literally, even if not exclusive to us. The parishes of those around us overlap with ours, but in the great condescension of God, we are each invited to play our part. Accepting that invitation is our privilege, knowing full well that only one part really matters, and that’s His part. We are no one’s saviour; He is everyone’s Saviour. Our story might seem to have little value, except that in Christ our story is His story, and therefore invaluable. Thinking this way moves our paradigms beyond the restrictive confines of our vision, church or ministry, and encourages us to take our place in His vision, His church and His ministry.

A few will be called to leave their families for the sake of the Gospel; most will be called to love their families for the sake of the Gospel. Understanding this is life changing. The single mom, struggling to survive, learns that surviving and raising her child unto, for and in the Lord, is her ministry. Her life in God is her life for God. As such, she has the comprehensive backing of heaven, not one iota less than the television evangelist reaching multitudes. In Christ, everything we do, everywhere we go, and everyone we know, are all beneficiaries of our witness, if for no other reason than their being in our lives. As the Spirit leads and empowers, they are also likely beneficiaries of our witnessing, be it in words, works, ways or wonders. Think this way and our jobs are vocations (callings), no matter how menial they might seem to others, for we comprehend that we are strategically placed representatives, just because we’re us. It is a small step from there to becoming fully functioning ambassadors of the kingdom of heaven in our thinking, inviting those around us to be reconciled to God, just as we are.

The Gospel knows no great sacred-secular divide. That gulf is of dead religion’s making – a gulf which causes us to have Christian friends and non-Christian friends, sacred spaces and secular spaces. The Gospel corrects our thinking and teaches us that God loves His world; that we have only one life, and it is in Christ, with Christ in it. There we realise that we simply have friends, some of whom are believers, and some of whom are not (yet). There we know that any giving in response to the Spirit’s prompting is worship, whether in a church meeting on Sunday or to a beggar at the roadside on Monday. The Gospel unites our fragmented psyche and brings congruence to the many varied facets of our lives. It teaches us that living in the Lord is living for the Lord, and that the single important point of accountability for all of life is the will of God – His will as expressed in Christ Jesus, and His will in follow-ship of Him.

How we’ve diluted and domesticated the church by holding believers accountable to her vision and values. Christianity has become a diminished churchianity as accountability has centered on church – attendance, involvement, giving and service. This is small thinking, and will at best produce seemingly impressive local churches. The Gospel’s point of accountability is towards something far greater – global redemption. It is found in the glorious invitation that comes to us from Christ Himself. Having done all for us, “Come follow me”, He invites. If we’re going to ask each other anything by means of accountability, let’s ask each other whether we’re doing what God wants us to do. That question might harness fewer resources for the local church, but will unleash much more for the kingdom of heaven.

Local churches are wonderful things. It is my strong conviction that every believer should be a contributing member of one. But I also regard local churches to be the products of the Gospel, as well as essential conduits of the Gospel to those around them. Each local church will inevitably have its own distinctives, these in both strengths and weaknesses, but no matter what, the local church’s core business remains the same – the Gospel. Let’s hear far less about vision, values and ethos – about us and what we’re doing. Let’s keep things about the Gospel – about who He is and what He has done! Thinking this way releases believers and churches into glorious synergy with what the Lord is doing in our day. Local churches need not be controlling or confining. They can be givers rather than takers, and entities that believers live their Christian lives out of and from, rather than towards and into.

The redemption of the planet is in the Gospel. Local churches either tend to facilitate this flow or dam the river. Those who dam it most will produce temporary verdant oases that will inevitably tend towards stagnation over time. The church is not the power of God for salvation; the Gospel is. Myriad are the testimonies of just how much Jesus loves His world. Innumerable others await, and increase and acceleration will be logarithmic as Christians get clear on the Gospel, and are liberated and encouraged to be and to do, twenty-four-seven, anywhere and everywhere, as per the glory of the Good News. On every street in every village, and in every suburb in every city, are soul, situation and circumstance aplenty perfectly poised for redemption. Let it be. Amen!


This is the last in a series of posts adapted from the e-book “Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever!” by Gavin Cox. Go to the first post in the series by clicking here.

The Gospel empowers

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31a–39).

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

More than conquerors! Do all things! The prophet Zechariah declared Christians to be prisoners of hope. Jesus Himself said that we would do even greater things than He did. Christianity’s history is that it often thrives most vibrantly in the face of vehement opposition. Something indomitable is going on here, and the Gospel is the cause of that.

It is right-standing with God that sets Christians up for risk-taking, because although a righteous man may fail, he can never be a failure. Right-standing grants glorious immunity for it is apart from the Law. As such, it is divorced from performance, and is defining, constant, unchanging, irrevocable and inviolable. God says that we are not guilty. He says that we are not guilty even when we are guilty. Even when sinning – literally busy sinning – Christians are still justified (not guilty before God), for they are in Christ.

The Gospel doesn’t just tell people that they are new; it actually makes them new! Sin appeals to the flesh, but it cannot satisfy. Sooner or later, with our righteousness a settled conclusion, the desire to live significant lives arises. And since failing cannot turn us into failures, we have every reason to be bold, risk-taking adventurers in our pilgrimage. Someone with nothing to lose has everything to gain, and with the promises of God factored in, all things are possible! Why pray small prayers when you can pray big ones? Why aim low when you can aim high? If it really is all by grace alone through faith alone (which it is), and if it is all to Christ’s account, and already paid (which it is), and if He really is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we could ask or imagine (which He is), then why not go for it!

The Gospel is clear. The gifts and callings of God are without repentance. The freedom and fullness of our salvation are irrevocable gifts. Why then settle at any point, or ever take no for an answer? A squandered inheritance is not irreplaceable, because God does not have to reallocate slices of pie; He simply makes more pie! (The Lord does not have to take from the older brother in order to reinstate a returning prodigal’s inheritance). Christ is as much Healer of the sick Christian as of the healthy one. This never changes, even on one’s death-bed. Christ is as much Provider to rich as to poor, in bull markets and in bear. His riches in glory are the measure of our supply. No matter how much has been squandered, for whatever reason, Zechariah is right – we are prisoners of hope.

The gleanings of recent years have included in their yield four magnificent illustrations that illustrate our point. None is original to me, but I’ve used them all repeatedly. I can’t recall where they came from (best guess Rob Rufus on most), or else I’d give credit where due. They’re just too good to exclude, though, and so if it’s you I’m plagiarising, please forgive.

Life in Christ is like walking on the high-wire, with His perfect work our safety net. We might slip and fall, but are guaranteed to remain safely suspended in the lofty context of His victory. When we lose our footing, there is no devastating plunge to destruction. Instead, all that needs to be done is for us to regain our equilibrium and get walking again. We’re righteous in Christ, and in that all-important regard, nothing’s changed. Consequently, when we walk, we do so confidently, sans anxiety or fear, for no matter how tetchy things might get on the wind-buffeted high-wire of life from time to time, we cannot fall. So let’s go for it!

For those who love the game of cricket, life in Christ is an innings at the crease with an umpire who will never give us out. The bales scatter; we’re not out. Caught playing the shot; not out. Plumb LBW; a shake of the head from the umpire. We can’t even be run out. That’s because every ball that life or devil bowls is effectively a no-ball. The cross has rendered every ball a free hit. Each and every one remains a scoring opportunity, but none can take our wicket. So, spinner or seamer, it matters not. Simply take a stroll down the wicket and have a go!

Our life in Christ is a ride on an up-escalator. The inexorable upward momentum makes it well-nigh impossible for us to lose ground. Serious regression takes concerted, sustained effort, for He wills and works for our salvation at all times. Stumble we might, but as we do, the escalator of His loving-kindness continues to carry us into our preferable future. He works for our good in all things, even if the things themselves are not of Him and not good. We can rest in Christ and enjoy the blessings and privileges that are ours by unmerited favour, for it is He at work to will and to do in and through us. Forwards, upwards, glory to glory – that’s the doing of this Gospel in which we stand. Let’s live large, and go for it!

Ours is the privileged life of the adopted child. (This is Biblical fact. Indeed, we are His four times over. He created us; He redeemed (purchased) us; we are born again of Him; and He has adopted us). He has taken us into His family and given us His name. We are His, and all our stuff is His! He is our protector and provider, wills the best for us, and plans and follows through accordingly. And so, out there on the giant school playground of life, there’s no need to submit to the bullies of anxiety, fear, guilt, manipulation, oppression, condemnation and shame, and no need to inflict their pain on others. On the contrary, there’s every reason to suck the stuffing out of the marrow bone of life – who is your Daddy!

Nothing is more empowering than the inability to fail. Temporary setbacks are inevitable, but in Christ we have been placed out of defeat’s reach. We might yet disappoint ourselves and others, but our relationship with God is disappointment-proof in any ultimate sense. We are in Christ, and the perfection of His performance has been imputed to us. The most natural thing in the world now is for us to embrace the advantage and live well.

The Biblical accounts of Abraham of old illustrate the potential we’ve been presented with magnificently. Read the descriptive account of his life and times in the Old Testament, and it’s the story of a typical human being. There are moments of extraordinary faith, and there are times of sin and unbelief. He reads just like us. Then read Heaven’s record of that same life and times in the New Testament, and what you find is a fully sanitised account. Post the cross, Abraham suddenly presents as a super-saint, who never doubted for a moment, nor put a foot wrong. Can you see it? The same life and the identical events, when viewed through the gift of righteousness, is flawless. It’s failure-proof. Right-standing with God ensures that there is nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

The righteous live by faith, and that life has every reason to be an abundant one, for there is no other kind of life in Christ!

This is one of a series of posts adapted from the e-book “Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever!” by Gavin Cox. Go to the first post in the series by clicking here.

The Gospel transforms

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16–17).

Quoted above is the paragraph that Paul used to set up his theological magnum opus (we call it Romans). Its final phrase launched the Reformation in the heart of Martin Luther, and makes the heart of every Gospel-believer sing. Amidst its awesome virtues nestles this great insight – we can no more change ourselves than save ourselves. Fortunately, the righteousness of God is by faith from beginning to end, which declares a Gospel as able to change us as to save us. The same dynamics of grace and faith that save are those that transform.

Before pursuing our opening line of thought, three matters are best borne in mind regarding Christians and their behaviour. Firstly, Christians are not under Law, but they are also not lawless. Under grace, they belong to Christ, and are under His governance. As such, our actions should rather obviously bear appropriate witness to our faith. None of us can represent Christ perfectly, but licentious or lawless living is simply not concomitant with those who are His.

Secondly, although Christians have a new nature and are indwelt by the Spirit, personal transformation towards godliness is not automatic. If that were so, then the New Testament would carry no instruction on behaviour appropriate to the faith, and no discipleship would be necessary in the church. While new nature and indwelling Spirit inevitably work towards Christlikeness, the flesh (the remnant of our in-Adam-ness) leans towards sin. Christians are left with choices to make and allegiances to decide, and should be encouraged and instructed in order to facilitate their choosing wisely.

Thirdly, the most common error regarding behaviour and personal change is for believers to come to the conclusion that it is all up to them. The Galatian churches had fallen into this by-our-own-efforts trap. Having started in the Spirit, they were continuing in the flesh. This migration from grace to law has remained a perennial problem amongst believers throughout church history, and is strongly in evidence in the twenty-first century church also. Programmes proliferate, be it in the name of vision, growth or change. Meanwhile, the saints become busier and busier, and more and more tired. This continues despite the fact that the whole treadmill of self-effort is doomed to fail. Yet many believers blindly forge on, trying harder and doing more, until they grind to a disillusioned, burnt out halt. The lesson in it all: we cannot change ourselves, and we cannot change others.

It’s the Gospel that is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. This salvation, Biblically speaking, is a broad, all-encompassing notion. It certainly includes salvation from sin, but also includes healing, deliverance and provision. It is even used in reference to resurrection on occasion. In other words, any kind of saving we could ever possibly need is part and parcel of our salvation, including the wherewithal to save us from ourselves. In it is all of the grace we could possibly need for personal transformation. There is grace to forgive the unforgivable, love the unlovable, and endure the unendurable. In the Gospel is the answer to every dilemma, strength for every weakness, wisdom for every occasion, and freedom from all bondage. The Gospel is the power of God for freedom and fullness in Christ. Period!

All God’s promises are “yes” in Christ Jesus (in Christ we qualify), and it is through these that we receive that which God has provided for us through the cross. As the Gospel produces faith in us, so that faith unlocks the deluge of God’s goodness, already stored up and just waiting for us to receive. As we believe, in rushes the Lord, Word and Spirit, to do in us and for us, just as He said He would. Here’s the key! The Gospel is not only the news of salvation, but by the Holy Spirit’s power, it is the power of God that works that salvation in us. The news believed is its benefits received. This is how God has decreed it to be; the Spirit and Word are inextricably linked. Creation demonstrated this magnificently – God (Father) willed, and the Spirit wrought as the Word (Jesus) spoke the world into being. In the same way, the Spirit and the Gospel are inextricably linked. It was the Spirit who revealed Christ to us when we first heard the Good News. It was the Spirit who immersed us in Christ when we believed, and who made us alive in Him. Everything else that the Gospel does is accomplished in this same way. It is all by the Spirit. Christians are therefore by definition spiritual people – of the Spirit, indwelt by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit and led by the Spirit.

Word and Spirit working in tandem transform us from glory to glory. Finding this counterintuitive, our greatest temptation remains reverting to our own efforts, earnestly seeking the Spirit’s enabling on those. Obedience to the Scriptures, Christlikeness in all things, and a lifestyle marked by the disciplines of the faith – these are virtuous notions all – but pursuing them carries the danger of attempting to transform ourselves. The dynamic is entirely different when we put our focus on the perfect, finished work of Christ, and unleash its power to work within us. From His work within emerge obedience, Christlikeness, and disciplined living. These things might sound similar, but they could not be more different.

Repentance is how the Bible describes our aligning of our thoughts with the Gospel. A lifestyle of so doing equates to the renewal of the mind. As we repent (change our minds) and align our thinking (belief-systems) with the Gospel, the Gospel effects transformation from within. The obedience of faith is a fruit of the Gospel, and not its precursor, or its requirement. Scripture consistently distinguishes between our own efforts and Christ’s work. Salvation is by the latter; self-righteousness, disillusionment and bondage by the former. These are lessons well relearned in our day, for too many church activities are focused on what we should do, and too few celebrate what Christ has done. If we gave the focus to celebrating Him, so much more would be accomplished, for it is His working we need, and not our own. There are no limitations in the equation from God’s side. The restrictions are with us. We are finite, temporal creatures, independent of will, and of limited capacity. Imagine for a moment a vast ocean and a tiny bucket. Toss the bucket into the ocean and it is instantly surrounded and filled. That’s us and God. We are in Him and He in us. And our hope is in the ocean, not in the bucket.

It is this that the Scriptures seek to convey through what have become somewhat clichéd phrases. “Fix your eyes on Jesus.” “Put Jesus first.” “Seek first the kingdom.” “Fix your eyes on things above.” We’re people of the Spirit, so let’s live by the Spirit, walk in the Spirit, be filled with the Spirit, sing in the Spirit, pray in the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit, and live one-with-another in the unity of the Spirit. This is the way of salvation; the way of righteousness that is by faith from beginning to end.

This is one of a series of posts adapted from the e-book “Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever!” by Gavin Cox. Go to the first post in the series by clicking here.

The Gospel liberates

The freedoms granted us in Christ are Christ’s victories won, but couched in liberty’s language.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

The freedom the Gospel brings is a wonderful thing. It is not dangerous, wild, or boundary-less. The Gospel’s gift is freedom in Christ, not freedom apart from Him. True freedom is not licentiousness or lawlessness. Those who live without restraint are not free, but prisoners of sin, satan and flesh. Freedoms in Christ are His victories appropriated, and appropriating these will always move us towards Christlikeness, and never away. The opening line of Freedom for Dummies would be, “It’s freedom from sin, not freedom to sin, silly!”

Like everything else the Gospel brings, it grants freedom unconditionally. No strings attached. The freedom that is ours in Christ is without rules and regulations. It is unmerited, and it can be squandered. For this reason the Bible wisely cautions us against using our freedoms to indulge our flesh. Why? Because, if we do so, we will once again find ourselves in bondage to our carnality. And why run back to that from which the goodness of God has delivered us?

freedom-001Those who are in the know tell us that most addicts require more than one attempt at rehabilitation before they’re able to break the cycle. This is because they typically misuse their early freedoms, flirt with temptation, and get themselves back into bondage that first time round. The fact is that the addict is only truly free when he or she uses his or her freedom to stay free. So it is in Christ. True freedom values freedom. In Him we are unfettered; free; no strings attached, and soon learn that to misuse that freedom is to relinquish it. The younger son in the parable ended in the pigpen thanks to the exercising of his rights and freedoms. Not the freest of outcomes, that. This is why Paul tells us that all things are lawful, but not all are helpful; all things are lawful, but not all edify. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should, and maturity can tell the difference between the two. Walking in this distinction – now that’s freedom!

The mechanism by which we are free in Christ is the same by which any of the other benefits of salvation become ours – death and resurrection. In the moment we believed, His story became ours, and we were placed in Him. Faith is confidence in this exchange, which in turn enables us to appropriate the richness of the salvation-package in its fullness. In the moment that we believe into Jesus, His victories become ours. All of them. Instantly. But it is believing that is receiving, and so it is in the day-to-day of our Christian living that the Gospel imparts revelation and faith, both of which work within us for the appropriation of these freedoms a little at a time. As we shall see in a later chapter (The Gospel Empowers), freedom from condemnation is the linchpin around which all of the many benefits of salvation are appropriated. This is so because it is impossible for a righteous man to be powerless. Increasingly the full assurance of our right-standing with God becomes the beachhead from which we possess our inheritance on an experiential level. The gift of righteousness persuades us that we indeed qualify, without exception, for everything that God has promised. On that foundation, believing is receiving.

hurdv4Then, in Christ, we are the justified. We are not guilty. We are righteous. We are condemnation-free. In Christ we are free from sin, and from its dominion. We have been forgiven, cleansed, and delivered from sin. We are saints (holy ones). Grace teaches us to say no to sin, for grace has loosened us from sin’s grip. Christ has also freed us from our past. We are no longer in Adam. Our baptism served as the funeral service for that old life of ours. We might still carry its scars, but not its wounds. Even Jesus carries scars, and they do not make Him ugly; on the contrary, His scars are medals all; veritable trophies of grace and mercy. We no longer have a sinful nature. Our old man was co-crucified with Christ. We are not who we once were. What freedom! In Christ, we are no longer subject to the dictates of our flesh. We are Spirit-born, Spirit-indwelt, Spirit led and Spirit-empowered people. By the Spirit, we put to death the deeds of the flesh. Our vestigial in-Adam-ness does not provide the drumbeat to which we march; we keep in step with the Spirit and are moved by the rhythms of Heaven.

The pressure is off. No more striving. No one left to impress, including God! We are free from trying to be and trying to do, for God has made us to be, and has prepared good works for us to do. The righteous requirements of the Law have been met in us. We are free from the Law’s demands (we are not under it), and we have been delivered from its curse (its accusation, condemnation and disqualification). Satan is a defeated foe. Christ has triumphed over Him. In Jesus’ name, demonic strongholds yield and demons flee. His power over us has been broken, and to us has been granted authority over him, in Jesus’ name. The world no longer fools us. We are no longer ensnared in the system that surrounds us. Its way of thinking is not ours; its value system no longer ours either. We are citizens of a kingdom that is not of this world, and our worth and ways are determined there. We are no longer ashamed. We are the forgiven, loved, accepted and affirmed – no matter what has transpired. God is not ashamed of us, nor is He embarrassed to be associated with us. He proudly, publicly, takes full responsibility for us. We’re His kith and kin now. He is the lifter of our heads, says the Bible.

Last but not least, we are free from fear. Even death, the last enemy to be conquered, has lost its sting. No judgement awaits us; only the consummation of our salvation. The Lord has promised that He will never leave or forsake us, and He reassures us constantly that there is no need for us to be anxious about anything. He is well able to take care of us; and He will; and He does.

csa-bron-freedomThis chapter could be amplified exponentially. For instance, all sickness, war and poverty has its source in satan and sin. Jesus is Healer, Prince of Peace, and Providence Himself. The will of God is clear – Jesus taught us to pray heaven to earth – and there is no sickness, war or lack in heaven. Having couched the benefits of believing in the language of liberty, let’s not short-change the Gospel by misrepresenting its richness in any way. The truth is, the benefits of our salvation are a two-sided coin – freedom and fullness – which can and should be described, understood and received in abundance. Freedom and fullness in Christ, that’s the Gospel, and the Gospel believed is its benefits received.

A well-proclaimed Gospel will leave no room for an orphan spirit. Our God is our Father, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of His Son, the Spirit of sonship. Anyone who is in Christ is God’s child in God’s family, and is blessed. The old has gone; the new has come. The bad has gone; the good has come. Paul’s words help us to conclude the thought: “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).

This is one of a series of posts adapted from the e-book “Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever!” by Gavin Cox. Go to the first post in the series by clicking here.

The Gospel defines

70099c4f97f7370a1ee45adf222abdb2“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:16–17).

The Gospel believed is salvation received. In our moment of faith, Holy Spirit plunged us into Christ. Simultaneously, the Spirit birthed new life in us: God-life. Spiritual life. Eternal life. Suddenly everything had changed. The old had gone; the new had come!

Perhaps not everyone noticed the change. I came into this world with my mother’s nose and my father’s ears. These remained the same after I was born again. In other words, while absolutely everything had changed, to the casual observer nothing had changed. This is Paul’s point in the passage quoted above. Many people even looked at Jesus and saw just their neighbour, another Galilean; nobody special at all. They knew Him according to the flesh, or according to outward appearances. And outward appearance is not the business end of the Gospel.

That’s not to say that the Gospel doesn’t impact outwardly. Countenances change. Postures do too. Behaviour should make a quantum shift. But the issue here is that Christians are judged by the work of Christ, and not by their outward appearance, or even their behaviour. For Christians, the old has gone and the new has come. This is so because of what the Lord has done for them and to/in them. Therein lies the defining measure.

399635879We all continue to live in our Adam-suits after we are born again. The Bible calls these vestigial components of our old lives our flesh. This flesh refers to a little more than just our physical bodies, for it encompasses the remnants of our in-Adam-ness. Thanks to our flesh, our lives have the propensity to be reduced to some kind of war zone. Our mortal bodies are subject to sickness and disease, deterioration and decay; even death. In Christ is health and resurrection. Unhelpful views, attitudes, memories and beliefs flood our hearts and minds. In Christ is a lifestyle of repentance and mind-renewal. Our flesh is by its very nature godless, rebellious, selfish and sinful. Our new life in Christ is anything but.

The result can be an unhelpful religious schizophrenia. Sinner sometimes; saint sometimes. Saved today; unsaved tomorrow. Passages of Scriptures, unhelpfully applied out of context, all too easily reinforce the confusion. Into this malaise comes the Gospel with glorious clarity. Our flesh does not define us; the work of Christ does. Our freedom from any confusion is wrapped up in the once-for-all-ness of the Gospel. The Gospel is definitive news, and as such the Gospel defines us unambiguously. Christians are righteous. They belong to God. The Holy Spirit is in them. Period! The Christian with a hand in the cookie jar is just as justified (not guilty) as the Christian piously praying in the pew. There is no difference at all between the two according to the Gospel plumbline. Both are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone.

imagesGrasping this becomes the God-given foundation for all behavioural change. It takes us off the horns of dilemma and settles once-for-all who and what we are. Christianity is identity-driven. Christians learn to live righteously because they are righteous; to do good because they are good; to do what pleases God because they are pleasing to Him! Christians “do” because they “are”. That’s the mystery of the Gospel.

By way of illustration: The early church was being prepared to disseminate the Gospel cross-culturally. At the time, while not all Jews were Christians, nearly all Christians were Jews. Consequently, the distinction between Judaism and Christianity was not all that clear.
One morning, as lunchtime approached, Peter, the leader of the Christians at the time, went up onto the rooftop to pray. At that moment, Peter the apostle was Peter the hungry, and the Lord made magnificent use of the opportunity. Peter was induced into a trance-like state, and in the ensuing vision a huge tablecloth of sorts descended in front of him. In it were birds and animals of all kinds, and they all shared one thing in common – by the standards of Law of Moses, they were unclean or common. Three times the Lord instructed Peter to kill and eat. Three times he declined. Each time his reason was the same – he’d never eaten anything unclean, and he didn’t propose to do so now. Each time the Lord’s response was the same. “What God has made clean, do not call common”.

From there the Gospel went to the Gentiles. From then on Peter and the Christians understood that only one thing defined clean and unclean, and that was the Gospel! Anyone in Christ had been fundamentally redefined. It did not matter what they once were, or even what they looked like, for nothing was to be judged by its flesh. Anyone who was in Christ was a new creation. The old was gone; the new had come. To be in Christ is to be clean!

2-corinthians-5-17Many of the Jewish brothers and sisters of the day struggled enormously in coming to terms with that, Peter included. So do we, because it takes us so firmly into counterintuitive territory. We all agree that God does not judge the book by its cover, but we’re also painfully aware that everybody else does. Perhaps in the church, this is especially so. After all, if it walks like a sinner, talks like a sinner, sounds like a sinner and smells like a sinner, well, it must be a sinner. And if it walks like a saint, talks like a saint, sounds like a saint, and smells like a saint, well, the probability is that it’s a saint. Not true, bellows the Gospel! Saints who walk and talk like sinners may well be wayward saints, and on other days they might be you and me. Sinners who walk and talk like saints are a blessing to have as neighbours, but their self-righteousness falls short of Heaven’s Perfections.

It’s not unusual for things not to be as they appear in the religious arena. The church is consistently embroiled in scandal, and unhelpfully so. But even more scandalous is the Gospel, our God-given plumbline. Outside of Christ, and apart from the righteousness that is by grace alone through faith alone – everyone is leprously unrighteous. And in Christ, even the most Peter-repelling, creepy-crawly-esque individual, who evokes our immediate no-thank-you is perfectly righteous. Perfectly righteous, and mercifully, undeservedly, completely so! There is nothing fair about the Gospel. There is nothing fair about sinners being made righteous. But then, there is also nothing fair about sinless Jesus becoming a sin offering for our sake. It’s not fair, but in Christ, the old has gone, and the new has come!

Best News Ever 3DThis is one of a series of posts adapted from the e-book, “Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever!” by Gavin Cox. Go to the first post in the series by clicking here, or on the icon to go to the book’s page.