Monday, August 27, 2012

Falling Short

Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears. (Hebrews 12:14-17, NKJV).

I am constantly amazed at what the modern world, versus the Bible, expects from each of us.

In this era and culture, at least, the world expects men to be almost androgynous, women to be powerful, and children to be unbridled containers of impulses and cascading hormones who are uncontrollable by any traditional means. Rather than abstinence based on morality, free contraceptives. Instead of self-control, prescription drugs.

When men fall short of this expectation and display inherent masculinity, protectiveness, and leadership they are deemed insensitive, Neandertalic, paternalistic, and oppressive.

When women value their inherent femininity, devote themselves to managing the home and raising children, serving God and their families sacrificially, and opposing barbaric reproductive rights, the world decries them as not real women, gender traitors, and brain-washed pawns of the patriarchal tyrants who rule the world.

Likewise, children who respect parental and civil authority, desire to obey, are self-controlled, moral, and seek the things above rather than the ephemeral goals of this world, are looked upon as hapless victims, throwbacks and damaged goods needing repair. Repressed. Brain-washed. Weird.

The world hates Christ and Christians, and whereas before this antipathy was largely covert, it is becoming increasingly open, contemptuous and bitter, culturally acceptable, widespread, and a hallmark of social "edginess" and popularity.

Condemn a Christian in a public, media influenced venue and you are a hero. Defend one, or worse yet, be vociferous in your own Christianity, and you are a villain. Or worse.

When not vilifying people of faith in films, books, and television, the idea-generators focus on the evils of capitalism, corporatism, and business as a whole, while the inhabitants of those profit-making spheres themselves expect undying effort on the part of their employees, ruthless dedication to success and income, and a devotion to the enterprise that leaves no room for anything else, including family and religious pursuits.

That is one summation of what the current version of the world expects.

Expectations in Scripture are nothing like that. Nothing like that at all.

For instance, it is often said that "God helps those who help themselves." Where this came from is a mystery, since nowhere in the tens of thousands of verses in the Bible are those word even remotely strung together.

In fact, the Bible proclaims the opposite - sinful humans are incapable of doing anything of value in and of themselves. We require a Savior of, well, Biblical proportions. We are so broken and ineffectual that to improve we need to be regenerated and become new creations with new hearts and renewed minds. None of that is DIY ("do it yourself"). 

It is all "of God" and comes not when we strive for self-improvement (as the world insists in various forms), but when we strive to enter His rest.

There is none good. No not one.That is the unequivocal proclamation of the Bible in regard to humanity. 

And without Christ, that depravity is eternally fatal.

So the Bible expects something very different than the world. It expects surrender, not conquest. It expects reliance on Christ, not self-reliance. It expects an acknowledgement, soul-deep, of our helplessly broken and sinful state so that we seek the only cure available - salvation through faith in Christ.

From Scripture's perspective, a Christian falls short not by not succeeding in worldly terms, but by rejecting the grace of God given to him or her through faith in Christ.

To understand what this means, two concepts need further discussion: grace, and being in Christ.

Technically, grace is unmerited favor, and the opposite of mercy, in that grace is being given those good things underserved, while mercy is reprieve from those bad things we do deserve.

Grace has been couched in the acronym God's-Riches-At-Christ's-Expense, and that is true, but hardly exhaustive. In reality, grace is an expression of God's love in seeing us not as we are now in time and space, but as we are in His precious Son. He looks at us in our vile brokenness and chooses by His grace to see us in the same light He sees Christ, with all the perfect fellowship and love that perspective entails.

He sees us as we are guaranteed to ultimately become, for He who has begun a good work in us will complete it.

Grace is that aspect of divine behavior that rewards even the slightest holiness with riches beyond conception. For a glass of water given to someone in need, we are given the entire Universe in return. For the slightest inkling of true faith mountains are moved, the world rearranged, eternal life in a new Heavens and a new Earth is bestowed.

Despite these pictures, the grace of God is beyond our ability to grasp because it is so…huge. All of Creation cannot contain it. Our finite minds would explode if shown its true extent, yet its benefits are promised for all eternity by a Creator who sacrificed His Son on our behalf to demonstrate the surety of His guarantee.

Grace is the foundation of forgiveness. It is the receiving of life when death would be more than just. It is light and love where darkness and hatred abound.

Consequently, failure in the eyes of God - the only failure that counts eternally, is to fall short of the grace of God. To continually and willfully ignore the goodness of God, to deliberately overlook, rather than looking carefully.

Now to be lawful recipients of that grace has one prerequisite: to be in Christ.

In turn, being in Christ  has one prerequisite, faith, even as small as a mustard seed. Faith that Christ is the Son of God who died as a sacrifice in your place and on your behalf, and rose again on the third day.

Faith that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Falling short of this grace is catastrophic. It is an irremediable act of stubborn, gritted-teeth, foot-stomping self-centeredness that denies the existence and goodness of God and in its place substitutes self-reliance.

And self-reliance, given who and what we are, is like attempting to circumnavigate the oceans of this planet without a vessel, chained to an anchor. 

There is NO chance of succeeding.

The world demands success on it own fallen terms that are largely antithetical to God.

The world's motto is "what have you done for me lately?"

In utter contrast, God implores us to seek His face and help and mercy in time of need. That is the access we are provided by faith through His inestimable grace.

‘Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’ (Jeremiah 33:3, NKJV).

As in all things regarding Christ our Lord and Savior, there is no comparison.