God’s New Years Resolutions

I understand that God never changes, and that his plan dates back to eternity past. In that sense, the turning of our earthly year means nothing to “the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity” (Isaiah 57:15). However, I also understand that God is gracious enough to stoop down and describe himself in human terms; this helps our puny brains keep up with him.

In that spirit, I humbly offer a dozen of God’s New Years Resolutions, followed by my single New Years Resolution at the end.

God says… “During this coming year…

  1. I RESOLVE to bless you better than you deserve. I don’t give paychecks for your good behavior; I give blessings because of Christ’s perfect behavior. You didn’t earn it; he did. My hand will supply more than you’ll ever realize.
  2. I RESOLVE to continue seeing you just as I see my son, Jesus. You’ve been joined to Christ, and as I label him, so I label you: beautiful, accepted, holy, pure, my child, spiritual royalty, complete.
  3. I RESOLVE to carry you safely through another year. I didn’t bring you this far to let you down now. Great is my faithfulness. I’ve got your hand and won’t let go.
  4. I RESOLVE to never throw your sins and failures back in your face. All your sin and shame was washed away once for all in the flood of Calvary Love. There’s no going back.
  5. I RESOLVE to continue loving you, even when you don’t love me back. I never loved you because of who and what you are or do anyway; my love flows for you because I AM love. I’m glad if you love me back, but never forget the biggest deal of all is that I love you and sent my Son for you (1 John 4:10).
  6. I RESOLVE to keep you safely wrapped in the bubble of eternal salvation. You may see a swarm of worrisome giants on the horizon in this coming year; but losing your salvation shouldn’t be one of them. You are mine. Bank on it.
  7. I RESOLVE to punch the devil and his minions in their ugly little noses as soon as they try to get close to you. You have no idea how many times I shield you each and every day — don’t worry, I won’t stop. And I will “crush Satan under your foot shortly” (Romans 16:20).
  8. I RESOLVE to surprise you with goodness you never saw coming. Your joy is my delight. If a fallen, broken-down race like yours finds joy in surprising your kids with good things, how much more does your Heavenly Father love to give good gifts to his children too!
  9. I RESOLVE to remain the same, yesterday, today, and forever, so you never have to wonder who you’re dealing with. I’m unchanging, and never fickle. As I loved my son, Jesus, so also I will love you forever and ever. You can count on me.
  10. I RESOLVE to keep furnishing your mansion in heaven. Even the tiniest faith in time creates extravagant supply in eternity. Your deepest heartaches will one day fade into oblivion, in the light of eternal joys.  You should see the design I have for you… you’re going to love it!
  11. I RESOLVE to draw close to you in your tough times. You never walk alone. No matter where you turn or what you do this year, I’ll be right there with you. You can’t shake me. I’m happily stuck with you.
  12. I RESOLVE to never shut off the lavish flow of grace coming your way. Even if you’re an idiot. Even if you turn your back on me. Even if anything. Trust me… This is going to be a great year!

So here’s my one and only New Resolution:

I say… “During this coming year…

  1. I RESOLVE to rest my heart and life more fully in the wonderful, infinite, matchless grace of God. “For it is good that the heart be established by grace…” (Hebrews 13:9).[Using the share buttons below makes you extra awesome! Thanks.]

 

GR Combo reduced[If you want to dig more deeply into the wonderful, infinite, matchless grace of God, check out Grace Rehab: The Power of Labeling Yourself the Way God Labels You, with a companion STUDY GUIDE, both on Amazon at www.GraceRehab.net ]

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Fear Keeps the Faithful Faithful? pt. 2

Today’s post is part 2 of a BONUS CHAPTER from Grace Intervention on Fear. There is a growing supply of free resources for you to do a Grace Intervention with your church, small group, or retreat: Click here.

If you missed it, here’s part one of today’s blog.


 

Breaking Bondage

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)

You’re always running on one of two operating systems, legalism or grace. The spirit of bondage or the Spirit of adoption. You need to switch operating systems. Make the change from legalism to grace. And as often as you fall into to legalism – either neo- or traditional – you need to switch back again. The burden of this book’s intervention is to motivate, hasten, enable, persuade, instruct, and celebrate that far-reaching switch.

To use a biblical term, you need to repent.

Biblical repentance is never a legalistic addition to the gospel. It is not the super-imposition of behavioral demands on the Walking Dead who are incapable of doing good. It does not consist of self-effort, self-will, or self-improvement.

Repentance is a radical change of mind – swapping out one worldview for another. Changing operating systems. Repentance is the work of God, by the Spirit of God, applying the Word of God to the child of God.

By it, you undergo a radical transformation of your whole way of looking at God, yourself, and your relationship with him. By it, you change your mind – your perspective on reality. It’s time to swap out your old, tired, self-serving worldview for God’s holy, life-giving worldview.

  • Do you harbor the delusion you are good enough for God? That if you are a sinner, you are only a sinner-lite? Repent.
  • Do you grade yourself on the curve? Do you justify yourself by comparing yourself to someone else – say a serial killer, or a “Bridezilla,” or a serial-killing Bridezilla – and conclude you’re just not that bad? Repent.
  • Have you swallowed “doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1), or have you suppressed the truth (Romans 1:18), elevating your own definitions of reality above the revealed declarations of God in the Scriptures? Repent.
  • Do you diminish the value and efficacy of the death of Christ on the Cross as sufficient payment for your sin? Have you pursued the demented fallacy of self-atonement? Or denied you need atonement at all? Repent.
  • Are you chasing the happiness-butterfly through activities the Bible calls sin? Or worldliness? Or foolishness? Or evil? Repent.
  • Do you honestly think you can reach God by climbing a latter of perfection? Do you have a solution for your sins apart from the finished work of Christ? Repent.

You can’t just add the grace app to legalism’s operating system and call it good. The whole thing is going to crash.

You need a whole new system, a grace-centric outlook on everything that matters.

Enter the most beautiful, coherent, logical, generous, all-encompassing Theory of Everything ever revealed in this cosmos or any other, humbly titled the Grace of God. There is nothing like it in the annals of world religion. Take history’s smartest philosophers, the world’s greatest religious leaders, and society’s most noble women and men, throw them in a room together for a thousand years with the directive to concoct a religion, and the smartest people in the room would never come up with a system of grace. They’d come up with yet another variation on the same old theme: humans by human effort seeking to merit the approval of God.

Legalism owns the human instinct. That’s because the Fall hardwired a lie into the soul. So Grace Deficit Disorder spreads like black mold beneath life’s happy exterior.

You need to swap out the old system for the new one. The old covenant for the new covenant. Legalism for grace.

That swap is surgical. It’s transformative. It’s repentance.

Always More To Do

Legalism is “a spirit of bondage” which produces “fear.” Under legalism, you can never be confident. You can never breathe easy. There’s always another law to obey, sin to conquer, good work to perform. Under the Old Testament system of sacrifices, there was no end to the blood flowing from the altar, as sacrifice followed upon sacrifice with no end in sight. You could never just sit down and rest in the abiding love of God. Fear of God. Fear of man. Fear of final judgment. Fear of exposure. Fear of people’s opinions. Fear of the disapproving frown. Fear of outsider status. Fear of death, hell, the devil, and the corruptions ever ready to erupt from your own lunatic heart.

The legalistic operating system is built on this fear. It’s what keeps the faithful faithful.

Thank God for the Cross.

And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. (Hebrews 10:11,12)

He sat down because his work was complete. The age of bondage was over. Fear no longer owned mankind’s instinct. A new age had been inaugurated.

The Spirit of adoption. You are no longer a slave, but a son or a daughter in the royal household of God.

Under grace, the cry of your heart is no longer, “I’m scared,” but “Abba, Father.” Dad, I’m home.

Love now keeps the faithful faithful. Gratitude. Grace. The great mystery of Christ in you.

Repentance is that eye-opening moment of realization in which you finally get what a dummy you’ve been, trying to work your way to heaven instead of receiving a gift purchased by the blood of Christ.

It is the epiphany that your happiness lies in the hand of a Father who every day reaches toward you with a compassion that knows no bounds.

It is the discovery life’s anxieties are wasted in the presence of a throne of grace.

It is the stark realization of the stench rising up from your sins, and an urgent turning and returning unto the sufficiency of Christ’s blood to wash you white as snow.

Repentance switches operating systems from legalism to grace.

It’s epic.

Monumental.

By it, you switch from works to faith.

From earning it to receiving it.

From sweating over it to resting in it.

From earning a paycheck to accepting a gift.

From your efforts to Christ’s efforts.

From your dedication to Christ’s dedication.

From your sacrifice to Christ’s sacrifice.

From shadow to substance.

From image to reality.

From religion to relationship.

From despair to hope.

From fear to faith.

From hell to heaven.

And from self to God.

You can’t change your ways until you change your mind, and repentance is that change of mind.

Under grace, God has pre-positioned all your blessings for just-in-time delivery. There’s nothing you face that God hasn’t already seen, and having seen, provided for. If God is for you, who can be against you?

When God delivered me from my fear of judgment, he delivered me into a tremendous sense of peace. Whatever turmoil swirls around my life, whatever storms batter my ship of faith, I know my anchor holds, and one day, I’ll sail into the haven of rest and step into that glorious realm where fears are no more.

Bill Giovannetti, step forward.

I’m here, Father.

Welcome home, Son.

 

Fear Keeps the Faithful Faithful? pt. 1

Today’s post is a BONUS CHAPTER from Grace Intervention on Fear. There is a growing supply of free resources for you to do a Grace Intervention with your church, small group, or retreat. Click here.


Chapter 7

Fear

Even the Christian must fear God. But it is another kind of fear. It is a fear rather of what might have been than of what is; it is a fear of what would come were we not in Christ. Without such fear there can be no true love; for love of the Saviour is proportioned to one’s horror of that from which man has been saved. And how strong are the lives that are suffused with such a love! They are lives brave, not because the realities of life have been ignored, but because they have first been faced – lives that are founded upon the solid foundation of God’s grace. May such lives be ours! ~J. Gresham Machen

Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. No one was there. ~Author Unknown

Bill Giovannetti, step forward.

I stood there naked, in plain sight, head hanging down, mortified at the exposure. I faced humiliation as public as any I could imagine.

I am speaking of my fear of Judgment Day.

This fear defined me for decades. It lurked in the shadows of everything I did.

The legalist mantra says, “Fear helps keep the faithful faithful.”

Worked for me. I feared final judgment. I feared loss of salvation. I feared God’s disapproving frown. I feared the loss of status with my spiritual peers. I feared a remarkably unenthusiastic welcome into the heavenly realms. I feared failure. I feared I hadn’t done it right in the first place, and wasn’t really saved.

There was a Bible verse I heard a thousand times as a kid growing up: “What a man does in secret, he will one day shout from the rooftops.” No doubt, this was the Death Star spawning my last-days’ phobia.

It wasn’t till I was much older that I made a startling discovery: there’s no such verse in the Bible. Yes, some come close, but those words simply aren’t biblical, not, at least, when it comes to the believer’s final judgment.

Here’s the closest to it I can find:

Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. (Matthew 10:26,27)

Even if we apply this verse to the last judgment, it’s still debatable whether it applies to believers in Jesus or not. Otherwise, why would Jesus begin this saying with an exhortation not to fear? At any rate, this is certainly a far cry from the frightening prospect that a naked little me would be shouting my secret sins from any rooftops throughout this life or the next. That discovery blew my mind. Like an addict’s intervention, it changed the course of my life.

Here’s how God’s grace intervention took the stinger out of my life’s greatest fears.

The Guilt Trip

God used a book. The setting was my cavernous high school gym. I was a senior at Chicago’s massive Lane Technical High School, student body over 5,000 at the time. My gym coach was absent for the day, so we sat on hard wooden bleachers and used the hour as a study hall.

I’d brought a book with me about Satan.[i] Little did I know that the last quarter of that book shined a spotlight on guilt and the Cross of Christ. Growing up fundamentalist, as I did, I’d heard about the Cross a million times. But this time was different. It was the first time the death of Christ really clicked with me.

I suspect the reason is because the author framed the Cross within the topic of guilt – which happened to be my middle name. He explained how the devil’s favorite tool was guilt. And how the devil screwed guilt into our backs to slam us around every once in a while.

Who told this guy about me?

My little high school heart was pounding. Pick-up basketball games echoed in the background. The smell of old gym shoes, rubber basketballs, and sweat permeated my senses. My world narrowed to a single point – words on a page illuminated by God’s own Spirit. There, the message of the Cross pierced my guilt and shame. I learned how my sins were lifted out of me that they might be transferred to Christ. I discovered how this transfer was comprehensive – encompassing every moral failure, past, present, and future. I read in wonder how the hammer of heaven heaped justice on the head of Christ, punishing him for my sins instead of punishing me.

And then I read about those wonderful words, IT IS FINISHED, the best words ever uttered on planet earth.

What was finished?

Everything that ever had to happen to bring my sorry soul to heaven without the slightest whisper of my secret sin or shame.

Suddenly, the cosmic plasma screen shattered in a million pieces.

Behind it, I saw the smiling face of God, my Father, who approved of me, and delighted in me more than words could tell.

Grace was real.

It was stronger, far more beautiful, and infinitely more effective than I’d ever thought it was before.

That day, God converted a gym into a sanctuary, as he settled a stupendous promise into my dysfunctional soul: “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; / And I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).

What an epiphany!

I didn’t need to fear the face of God for even one more nanosecond. He was eternally satisfied with me, just as I was.

I wanted to shout Hallelujah, but it felt weird in that setting.

Legalism’s germs proliferate in the dank cellars of fear. They thrive in the moisture of an implacable deity – a God who simply can’t be satisfied with a worm like me.

And yet, that day, God’s sun shined down into the cellars of my heart, and my fear and shame withered away.

I do not count that day as the day of my salvation; I was saved before that, and I’m convinced it “took” and it “stuck” with me forever. God is that faithful.

I do, however, count that day as the day of my assurance. A major healing of much of my Grace Deficit Disorder. I have never seriously doubted my salvation since then, and I have never again stooped beneath the burdensome anticipation of a humiliating entrance to God’s everlasting kingdom.

My guilt was gone, and with it the fear of judgment that fueled so much dysfunction in my life.


 

[i] Hal Lindsey. Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1972).

Thank you for reading. Please share using the buttons below. Thanks.
Part 2 tomorrow.

 

God’s New Years Resolutions

I like New Years resolutions as much as I enjoy having my gums scraped. By mid-January, those resolutions mock me. The Bible-reading plan goes sideways, the bathroom scales audibly groan, and the personal organization collapses into chaos. So, rather than slogging through yet another depressing list of ways I will fail, I decided to flip this year’s resolutions on their head.

What if I shifted the focus from my resolve to God’s? What if instead of starting the year with my bound-to-fail determination, I instead recalibrated my heart to his never-failing grace? I think that’s a great way to start a new year.

A resolution is “a firm decision to do or not to do something,” and God’s resolve to lavish grace upon me is new every morning. So here are my top five divine resolutions for 2015. I will write them as God’s words to me.

GOD’S NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS

1. I will provide all your need. 

“And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19, NKJV.

Yes, that’s my promise to you. And I always deliver right on time. Don’t be anxious. And don’t fear. Oh, one more thing. Be sure not to confuse your wants with your needs. There’s a difference you know. I am resolved with a infinite determination to meet all your need right on time. 

2. I will never throw your sins in your face. 

“Then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”” Hebrews 10:17, NKJV.

That’s the power of my Son’s Cross. His death cleansed you of every guilt, every shame, every condemnation, and every stain. He left nothing out. You have total forgiveness. Your record is clean; I have washed you white as snow, and that is how you shall stay. I promise. 

3. I will treat you better than you treat yourself. 

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28, NKJV.

All things. Nothing is too small, nothing too big. You matter to me. If I gave you the most costly gift imaginable when I gave you my Son, you can be confident I will care for the small things too. Trust me. Rest in my love. Grace means I will always set you at the convergence of your highest good and my highest glory. 

4. I will keep on keeping you saved. handofgrace

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38, 39, NKJV.

You are secure in the arms of my love. I will see you safely home. You may feel you have much to worry about (not true), but please cross your eternal salvation off your list. Once you’re saved, you’re always saved. No matter what. Even if you fail. Even if you do something incredibly stupid. Even if anything. I promise. It’s my eternal resolution to you. 

5. I will protect you from more than you know. 

“The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him.” Nahum 1:7, NKJV.

Do not be afraid. I never sleep. I never slumber. I never let down my guard. I am watching over your like a hawk. No weapon formed against you will prosper. All those who rise against you will fall. That’s the power of my amazing grace. 

I’m glad my God can keep his resolutions. I’m feeling good about 2015. With God and his grace, it’s going to be a very good year.

Happy New Year! I hope and pray a richer, fuller, deeper experience of the matchless grace of God for you!


Grace Intervention Cover

Grace Intervention on Amazon.

You can start your New Year with your own personal grace reset. Grace Intervention is now available online and wherever books are sold. Click here for a downloadable study guide for small groups, classes, and personal reflection. Here are some snippets from early reviews:

  • Bill Giovannetti has given the church a fantastic treasure! On most every page I found myself vacillating between a heart-humbling gratitude for God’s total embrace and a heart-pounding desire to stand up and cheer! ~Jeremy White, Author of Grace unCut and senior pastor Valley Church, Vacaville, CA. 
  • In every church there’s usually some guy who’s been around the block long enough that he is no longer intimidated by the games religious people play. This is the guy you love to hang out with because he’s real and because he loves people the way Jesus loves people. Bill Giovannetti reminds me of that guy! In this insightful and daring analysis of the modern church, he sees through the hash-tagging, hipster appeal of neo-legalism and identifies the symptoms of Christianity’s worst disease: Grace Deficit Disorder. Grace Intervention is a breath of fresh air for Christians who are tired of playing games and doing their duty. It is an emphatic declaration of God’s good and gracious commitment to you! ~Paul Ellis, best selling author of The Big House and The Gospel in Twenty Questions
  • Bill addresses the various forms of legalism that destroy our freedom in Christ.  It is not dumbed-down or politically correct; it is written to help us talk with one another about our great God and his grace upon us — after all, isn’t that what theology is? To talk about God!  Take your time reading and reflecting on these fifteen chapters — They may just change your life addressing that “Grace Deficit Disorder” that so many of us have experienced! ~Rev. Patrick A. Blewett, D.Min., Ph.D., Dean, A.W. Tozer Theological Seminary
  • So often the “shoulds” and “should nots” in life threaten to overwhelm my joy and I get lost in a sea of guilt and hopelessness.  But God never intended that for us– and Bill Giovannetti’s beautiful look at grace empowered me to look to Him– instead of to a hopeless world– for the grace I so desperately need. Every person who has ever felt burdened by a legalistic Christian world, by hopelessness or guilt or even by the pain of feeling unforgiven will find hope and healing in Grace Intervention. ~Erin MacPherson, author of The Christian Mama’s Guide series

Legalism’s Knockout Blow, pt 2

[This is part two of a two-part entry. Click here for Legalism’s Knockout Blow, part 1]

Mural, St. Sulprice, Price

The Encounter: Wrestling with God

Jacob prepares for dawn’s showdown with his fraternal Grim Reaper. He splits his family into two caravans, hoping one will survive. He sends forth his bribe. He waits in solitude by a brook.

Enter an Unnamed Somebody who picks a fight with dispirited Jacob. Later, he will worship that Somebody, identifying him as God (v. 28). God comes down to wrestle Jacob.

Why would God kick a guy when he’s down? Isn’t he supposed to be loving and kind? Why would he pick on Jacob at the lowest point in his life? Is he that uncaring?

Or could it be that he’s lovingly trying to condense a lifetime of legalism into a single encounter that he might uproot it once for all?

Verse 25 makes the stupefying claim that puny, frightened Jacob prevailed against infinite, Almighty God. What’s going on? These Scriptures present an acted parable—depicting how legalism stretches its tentacles into every area of life with God.

First tentacle: the idea that we are on equal footing with God. Legalism, by nature, demotes God to our own mercenary level and imagines we can go nose-to-nose with him. Was Jacob indeed on equal footing with God? Of course not. God wrestled him the way a father wrestles his five-year old. And, like the five-year old, legalists don’t get it. Like Jacob, they imagine themselves “winners” in the eyes of God; they believe they can, by human effort, merit his approval. Continue reading

Legalism’s Knockout Blow, pt 1

An Unusual Interpretation of the Day Jacob Wrestled God

Jacob-Wrestles-with-God

“We tried to get into your church, but the ushers wouldn’t let us in.” Two high school girls from my youth group berated themselves for not following my church’s unspoken rules. “Some men at the door told us we couldn’t wear shorts in church. We’re soooo sorry!”

The vein in my left temple throbbed as I told them I was the one who should be sorry. Our youth group had been praying for two seventeen-year old girls who had just joined the group and had never attended church anywhere. They came—on a hot, muggy Chicago Sunday. Two ushers-turned-bouncers stopped them dead. “Oh no. You can’t come into church looking like that.”

The girls turned away crestfallen, and told me their story at youth group. They blamed themselves. They felt guilty for not measuring up to God’s standards.

Score one for legalism.

Anthony snorted and laughed out loud during my sermon, and later apologized for disrupting the service. He reacted to my mention of a chapel in Italy that contained the Scala Sancta. The “Sacred Stairs” were reported to be the very steps on which Jesus climbed to stand trial before Pilate. As the story goes, St. Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine, commanded them dismantled, shipped to Italy, and reassembled in Rome.

I explained that, for centuries, faithful pilgrims climbed up those stone stairs on aching knees, pausing to pray on each of twenty-eight marble steps. To this day, no one may stand on the Scala Sancta. Pilgrims climb up on their knees, and exit via another stairway on their feet. For this act of contrition, penitents are promised a plenary indulgence—full pardon from the temporal punishments due all unrecompensed sins to date.

That’s when Anthony snorted. He later explained that he’d grown up in Italy, and his grandmother made him climb the Scala Sancta every week. He told how she stood by weeping, wringing her hands, and praying for his eternal soul.

I admire her dedication, but can’t agree with her theology. Score another one for legalism.

Every Christian is a recovering legalist. We come from a long line of legalists, all the way back to Adam and Eve who sewed fig leaves to cover their shame. Instead of approaching God as empty-handed charity-cases, legalists approach him as religious success-stories who, through their hard work and sacrifice, have earned a spiritual paycheck. “Come on, God. Pay up.”

God has a way of knocking the legalism right out of us.

Case in point, Jacob. Genesis 32 tells the strange story of his wrestling match with God. Is it true that we must win a contest with God before he gives us what we need and want? Or is this story a biblical case-study on God’s way of delivering a knock-out blow to legalism? Let’s see.

The Context: A Personal Judgment Day

Jacob is about to collide with the brother he cheated years ago. He’s frantic, thinking Esau is out for blood. He dreads the heavy hammer of retributive justice – well-deserved – and scrambles for a solution.

He does so in a schizophrenic way. His first approach to deliverance is through grace. In v. 9, he appeals to the goodness of God, who “promised to prosper” him. The Hebrew word tob, translated “prosper” refers to God’s settled disposition to do good this his people.  Then, in v. 10, he confesses, “I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness [hesed] and the faithfulness you have shown your servant…” The word hesed refers to God’s policy of bestowing benefits on those who don’t deserve them and haven’t earned them. Hesed is a part of the Hebrew vocabulary of grace. Jacob prays a grace-based prayer.

Too bad he didn’t stick with grace. Jacob immediately shifted into legalism mode and, by his actions, undercut everything he just prayed.

The Human Solution: Paying the Price Ourselves

Jacob’s second approach to deliverance is through blatant bribery. He sent ahead treasure-laden caravans to buy his brother’s forgiveness. He offered goats, camels, rams, bulls, and donkeys.

We might laugh now, but how many times have we done the same thing? How many times have we sought divine deliverance through caravans of offerings, rituals, good behaviors, self-sacrifice, and religiosity? How many times have we expected God to answer our prayers on account of a week’s good behavior? Every time we try to pay our way out of judgment or into a blessing, haven’t we stepped into Jacob’s dusty sandals?

Legalism thrives in the dank atmosphere of self-atonement. We may not climb up stairs on our knees, and we may not believe in religious penance, but legalism degrades our Christian walk into a moment-by-moment penance. We so easily take onto our shoulders the hulking burden of paying for guilt—a burden than only Jesus Christ can and did bear in full on Calvary’s cross.

I’ve been a Christian for decades, yet still I catch myself undercutting the all-sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work. I know it’s stupid, but I have a mental closet crammed with fig-leaf garments I’ve sewn together to cover my guilt and shame. The essence of legalism is humans by human effort seeking to merit the blessing of God.

It’s time for God’s loving whack upside Jacob’s legalistic head.

The Encounter: Wrestling with God

Jacob prepares for dawn’s showdown with his fraternal Grim Reaper. He splits his family into two caravans, hoping one will survive. He sends forth his bribe. He waits in solitude by a brook.

Enter an Unnamed Somebody who picks a fight with dispirited Jacob. Later, he will worship that Somebody, identifying him as God (v. 28). God comes down to wrestle Jacob.

Should we wrestle God for answers to our prayers? What was Jacob thinking? What do you think God was thinking? What have you heard about this story? How has it been interpreted for you? 

(Click here for Legalism’s Knockout Blow, part 2)

Boxing’s Main Event

jacobwrestlegodFor today’s post, I’d like to interrupt the series on the Fundamentals.  I want to invite you check out my article in this month’s In Touch Magazine, a publication from Charles Stanley’s ministries.

It’s about legalism.

It’s an unconventional approach to Jacob’s wrestling match with God.

Click here to read it.  If if you like the article, please share it with your friends, your blog, your twitter, and your facebook.

Thanks.