Last week I wrote a post about how to stop sinful behaviours. In truth, I only gave half the answer.
I wrote about recognizing how wretched we are and continuously dying to self. I focused on that because as Christians, we tend to skip that part. Most of us are extremely grace-focused, to the point of forgetting why we need grace. But, if we don’t spend some time realizing just how doomed we are, just how sinful, just how self-destructive … well, then the grace is cheapened and the second step loses power. So, if you haven’t read the first part, I highly suggest you do so. Eventually I will combine these two posts into one larger post I think, but for now, I’ll keep them separate.
So, as I was saying
7. What we deserve
In the Old Testament, the Israelites were very aware of what they deserved. It was a part of their regular life. Every time they, or someone in their household, sinned, that sin needed to be paid for. They needed to take an animal to the tabernacle, it would be killed in front of them, and the sin would be carried away to be collected for the full year on the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place.
And I think this is often misunderstood by Christians. We think that this was the “old system” for dealing with sin. That everything changed when Christ came. I don’t believe that’s the case. Rather, I think this was God’s way of teaching us what Christ was going to do, what He did do, what He’s doing, and what He’s still going to do.
So, let me propose this to you:
Nothing changed when Christ came. The Sanctuary was simply a living metaphor for what was already happening.
So, in the Tabernacle, you would come, with your sin. That sin would be transferred to the sacrifice. The sacrifice would be killed in your presence for your sin. Its blood would be taken as a symbol of your sin and that sin would then be transferred to a curtain that separated God from His people. Then, once a year, that sin that separated God from man would be cleansed and there would be nothing separating God from His people.
Is that not a microcosm of what is still happening? Every year the Israelites enacted the plan of salvation. It wasn’t just for them to understand, it was for us. Because a guy coming to die on a cross, be reborn and then disappear for 2000 years isn’t very clear, even with all the explanations He gave in the short time He was here. And I think because Christians are taught that “that is all done away with” that we don’t get that same experience that the Israelites did.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we need to bring back the sacrifices. But, I think we do need to focus on them a bit more. After all, Jesus died to pay our sin. Each of our sins. My sins. No, each of my sins. He would have done it for one of my sins. That is the lesson of the sacrifice in the tabernacle. Every time I sin, I, in essence, place Him on that cross. Every single time.
When we focus on grace alone, we skip that part. We just go “oh, it’s covered by grace”, but do we really understand what that means? Do we think about it? Do we realize what we did? I know I don’t most of the time.
Because it should be me. I’m who should have been killed. Every time I sin, it should be me. I deserve destruction with every minor sin, every time I tell God “My way is better.” Because ever sin is spitting in God’s face, our Creator(!), and saying “Yeah, I know you made all this, but I know better.” We constantly tell God “You should not have made me because you don’t know what you’re doing.”
8. We don’t get what we deserve.
But we don’t get what we deserve. Instead, we get grace. What does that mean? I mean, we throw around this term “grace” so much that it’s lost almost all meaning. It’s become the canned answer to sin for Christians. How often do we just say “Oh you have to show grace” or “Well, thanks to God’s grace” or “We are saved by grace”. Do we get what that means?
Last week, I mentioned in a comment that “grace itself doesn’t do anything”. Because grace isn’t a thing. Grace is an attitude. It has no action, it’s not a behaviour. Grace did nothing. Jesus did something because He felt gracious. So, what did He do?
Jesus decided that He’d rather be separated from God than have me separated from God. Or you. Or anyone. That’s what Jesus did. That’s the grace. And I don’t think we can fully understand what that means. Because we aren’t God. Jesus, who is God, came down as a human, He stepped into time, losing his eternal perspective, His memory of everything, including what it’s like to be in full communion with God, and He set aside the very power that created our universe.
During His life here, He decided “I’m going to live like them”. He did nothing of His own power but instead asked Our Father to grant His requests. In truth, Jesus didn’t do any miracles. God the Father did, through Jesus. The same way God does through us. Jesus walked the Earth for 33 years like one of us, with one exception: Remember that blood splattered curtain in the tabernacle? He didn’t have that. There was no sin separating Jesus from the Father. Not until the end.
And that’s what we often don’t understand I think. Dying was not really the sacrifice. He’s God. He can survive death. He exists outside of time and created us all. Let’s face it, Ressurection is not a major feat for him.
You know what was?
9. Being separated from God was the sacrifice
Imagine you’re Jesus. You have co-existed for all eternity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Together, you are God. You create a universe together, fill it with life, create humans, and fall in love with them. Then these children choose destruction. A choice needs to be made: do we lose all of them, or do we lose one of us.
And Jesus chose to be separated from God. To be removed from the Trinity temporarily. And if that’s not amazing enough, He stuck with that choice, while He was human, while He lost that eternal perspective. When He was on the cross and separated from God, He still wanted to move forward with this sacrifice. And that is something I’m not sure anyone else would have the stomach for, even if they had the power. That, I believe, was the torture. After being together for eternity, and then 33 years of being so distant because you’re human (which probably felt like an eternity), now you’re completely separated. You feel abandoned, alone, rejected. You feel the weight of a world’s sin for all the generations that came and will come because now you experience that separation from God, that bloody curtain, for the first time.
That was the moment. When Jesus could have at any moment decided “This is too hard”, ditched His humanity and gone back in perfect communion with God as a full partner in that Trinity again. He literally went through hell. An utter removal from God, and only continued to exist because He was immortal.
10. This is what “grace” is
Jesus’ decision to take on our sin, our separation. To be removed from God, if only temporarily, so we wouldn’t be removed permanently. Because we are not immortal. We can’t exist beyond removal from God.
While that grace is important, it’s the follow through that’s the real gift. That is God’s forgiveness. Jesus decided, right there, that He would take on all of that for all of us. Not just for the past, but for the future as well. Those sacrifices in the tabernacle didn’t remove the Israelite’s sin. That was only symbolic. Jesus took it all on that cross. In fact, He took it for all of us, whether we believe or not. He took it on in the hope that we would accept the gift. Our sins have been paid whether we asked for it or not.
That is God’s forgiveness. He forgave us, while we were still sinners.
11. We need to accept that gift and keep it
But that’s not the end. There has been an offer of a gift. It’s already paid for, and the offer is extended, but we need to accept it. If you find you’re having trouble accepting this gift, perhaps check out my devotional Seeking Forgiveness which was created for one of my coaching clients who was struggling with accepting God’s forgiveness as well.
This gift of forgiveness isn’t a “thing”, it’s a relationship. It’s a continuing gift, an invitation to live with God. And I think this often gets confused as well. People see salvation as a “thing” instead of a relationship. This gives rise to conflicts between “once saved always saved” and “you have to confess and ask for forgiveness for every sin or you’re not saved”. They’re both right, and they’re both wrong. They’re two extremes on a spectrum where the truth is in the middle.
The relationship is the acceptance of the gift. And so, yes, you only have to accept it once. But, you can also reject it at any time, like any relationship. I think this is why marriage is used as a metaphor for this relationship. It should be forever … but God allows divorce in the case of hard hearts.
And some people’s hearts get hard. Because relationships don’t grow together naturally with our sinful natures. We drift apart by default. This is how “if you love me, keep my commandments” comes into play, and “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.” It leads to confusion between “salvation by grace” and “salvation by works”, which again, I think are two extremes on a spectrum with Truth in the middle.
It is that acceptance of grace that allows us to have a relationship. But, it is the keeping of God’s laws that keeps our hearts attuned to Him. When we stop keeping His commandments, we stop being focused on God and start to drift. We start thinking “I know better than God”, and the relationship gets damaged. At some point, we might decide we no longer want that relationship. Then we reject the gift. Does it happen every time we sin? I don’t think so. It’s a relationship. You don’t get divorced just because you have conflict in your marriage. But, have enough unresolved conflict, or let contempt settle in, and you’re on the way to rejecting the relationship.
I think it’s the same with God. So, what does this have to do with stopping sinful behaviours?
12. Recognize the whole picture of forgiveness
Look words like “grace” are helpful for shortcuts when we all know what we’re talking about. The problem is, it gets so overused that most of us don’t recognize the weight of a phrase like “God’s grace”. We throw it around like it’s nothing, but that simple phrase has a huge concept attached to it that should not be taken lightly.
And when we sin, we shouldn’t flippantly say “Thank God for His grace”. We need to stop, reflect on what Jesus did to pay for that sin we just did, decide to continue in a relationship with Him, which means following His commandments.
I think that if every time we said a simple “God forgive me”, we actually reflected on what that means, we’d be able to give God a lot more power in our lives. I think with that deepened relationship, we’d be more willing to let God dig some of these behaviours out.
What do you think?