Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Glorious Nature of God's Grace

Wow, it's been nearly a year since I blogged. I think its time I got back into it slowly!
Check out this document courtesy of World Harvest Mission, I believe. It talks about how the grace of God transforms us inwardly and propels us outward to love and serve others. I have had to cut and paste it onto here, well worth a read!

The Gospel Propels Us Outward

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)

When we truly understand the depth and richness of the gospel, we naturally feel joy and delight and freedom because of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. But as this verse teaches, it’s possible to use even our freedom as ‘an opportunity for the flesh’. Our sinful hearts can take the good benefits of the gospel and use them for selfish purposes.

Nowhere is this more evident than in our tendency to make the gospel a private reality. When we hear words like transformation, renewal, or growth, we conceive of those benefits as being primarily personal and internal – my transformation, my growth, the gospel’s renewal of my heart. And the gospel is personal and internal. But it’s also much more than that. When God’s grace is working on us and in us, it will also work itself out through us. The internal renewal of our minds and hearts creates external propulsion that moves us out in love and service to others. The following diagram is helpful in illustrating this concept.

God’s grace is the driving force of all change. The chart reminds us that God’s grace has both an inward and an outward movement that mirror each other. Internally, the grace of God moves me to see my sin, respond in repentance and faith, and then experience the joy of transformation.

Externally, the grace of God moves me to see opportunities for love and service, respond in repentance and faith, and experience joy as I see God work through me.

In other words, the gospel is not just the answer to your internal sins and struggles and heart-idols. It is also the answer to your failure to love others and to engage the culture and to live missionally. If the gospel is renewing you internally, it will also be propelling you externally. It must do so, for it is “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 9:35). And the kingdom of God is not personal and private! Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). When we pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, we are praying both that Jesus would reign in the hearts of people (internal) and that his will would be done everywhere just like it is in heaven (external).

What does this external movement of the gospel look like in practice? Let me give an example. I know that I should love my neighbours. Jesus commanded it. In fact, he said it was the fulfilment of the law (Galatians 5:14). But my next-door neighbour and I just don’t have a lot in common. He is much older and has different taste in everything – music, movies, food, cars, lifestyle. While I enjoy talking about a new musician I’ve discovered or a good book I’ve read recently, he’d rather reminisce about the old days when he served with the marines in Vietnam.

For months I laboured under guilt in my relationship with my neighbour. I knew I should reach out and befriend him. But that sense of ‘should’ had no motivational power. It was law, not gospel. It could show me what I ought to be doing, but it could not change my heart so that I actually wanted to. I was faced with a dilemma: either force myself to love and serve my neighbour even though I didn’t want to, or ignore him and do nothing at all. I knew that ignoring him was sin, but the first option didn’t feel much better. Was joyless, mechanical obedience really honouring to Jesus? Did God intend his commands to feel like drudgery?

When faced with this dilemma, most people settle for either legalism (evangelise even though you don’t feel like it) or license (don’t bother evangelising at all). But neither of these is the gospel! The gospel of God’s grace is the fuel for mission, and when we run low on that fuel, our love and service to others grinds to a halt.

The answer to my dilemma with my neighbour came through the gospel. As God’s grace began to renew my heart, I saw that the root problem was my own selfishness and lack of love. My love for my neighbour was conditional – if he were younger, or smarter, or had more in common with me, I would have appreciated him more. I began to repent of this sin and renew my mind by the promises of the gospel – especially the fact that God loved me while I was still a sinner (Romans 5:8). God had graciously moved toward me when I had nothing in common with him. Certainly, by God’s grace, I could love my neighbour in the same way! As the gospel renewed my heart, a strange thing happened. My attitude toward my neighbour began to change. I began to feel a true love and appreciation for him. And it wasn’t a feeling I had mustered up, but one that came naturally. The internal renewal of the gospel propelled me outward in love and service toward my neighbour. Mission became not a burden, but a joy.

Grasping the external propulsion of God’s grace is crucial to our understanding of mission. It means that mission is not a duty (something we ‘should do’) but rather a natural overflow of the gospel’s work inside us. If you aren’t motivated to love, serve, and speak the gospel to people, the answer isn’t to ‘just do it’. The answer is to examine your heart, repent of your sin, and discern where your unbelief is short-circuiting the natural outward movement of the gospel. As the gospel renews your heart, it will also renew your desire to move out in faith into the relationships and opportunities God places in your path.

To put it simply, the grace of God is always going somewhere – moving forward, extending his kingdom, propelling his people toward love and service to others. As we learn to live in light of the gospel, mission should be the natural overflow. God’s grace brings renewal internally (in us) so that it might bring renewal externally (through us).

Examining your heart for mission:

1. Identify a missional opportunity in your life in which you do not want to do what you ‘should’ do. Here are some categories to jumpstart your thinking: neighbours, co-workers, social justice, family, leadership, etc.

2. What keeps you from rightly motivated action in this situation? The barriers can be emotional (for example, fear), physical (for example, proximity), intellectual (for example, you don’t know what to say), or spiritual (for example, not feeling motivated). Be as specific and exhaustive as you can concerning the things that keep you from expressing gospel-centred love toward others.

3. What do you need to pray as a result of considering these questions? What do you need to receive from the gospel?

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