Think of what it would be like to actually stand before God. We’re all going to have to do it at some point. There you are, imperfect you, in front of the most ultimately perfect and majestic Lord of Glory! He is so pure and holy, and you are, well, you! Can you really stand before Him?
When Isaiah saw a vision of God’s glory, and all the seraphim crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” he cried out, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips!” (Isaiah 6:5). And when the apostle John saw a vision of Jesus in glory, he records, “And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead” (Revelation 1:17). Who can stand before Almighty God? And yet here is the good news: Jesus told John, “Fear not.” The good news of the gospel is that God, in all His fearsome wonder, is at His core merciful. And through Jesus Christ we have access by faith into this grace wherein WE STAND (Romans 5:2).
So many believers understand this to mean that all will be well in the end, but they don’t fully grasp that all is well now! I surely didn’t back in my early Christian life.
Married and Miserable
We were newlyweds. What typically comes to mind? Two young people, madly in love, and delighting in their new life together- ready to take on the world! It is a wonderful and romantic thought, but it was not reality for me and my new wife, Jennifer, back in 1995. In fact, our first two years of marriage was more like the clash of two fighting armies. Both of us found it difficult to lay down our independent ways and to yield in preference to one another.
We both struggled and we both were to blame, but if the truth be told, I was the more selfish half of the equation. Well, that’s putting it lightly. For lack of any better way of putting it, I was a jerk. While I understood that marriage should be a ‘giving’ venture, I still retained the idea that it was all about what I got. The arguments were plentiful, and there was no lack of hurtful sayings that were passionately spoken.
Then the demons would enter in. They would start whispering in my ears more hurtful words to say. I would stew after our fights. Then one night I had a terrible thought, and I realized that it was indeed demonic. I literally shooed the demons away from me, knowing that it was they who were injecting such thoughts into my head. It is easy to give in to wrong thinking, without ever realizing that it has been injected by the enemy.
During this time I had a very unpleasant recurring thought: “How can you be a Christian?” It was only five years earlier that I had an extraordinary encounter with God, and I deliberately invited Jesus Christ to become the Lord and Savior of my life. He literally changed me from the inside out! Yet it seemed as if the old me was resurfacing again and again in this marriage situation. So I would ask myself this question, “How can I be a Christian, after all the rotten things I had said or done?” And the devil would pipe in his two cents as well: “You call yourself a Christian! A true Christian would never do or say such things! God hates hypocrites, you hypocrite!” So I began to question my salvation, fear for my soul, despair of my situation, and mope about throughout the days.
And there I was, a new missionary in China! I had come to tell people all about the Lord, and how He sets us free, and how the Christian life works! I knew all the right things to say, but it sure wasn’t playing out in the privacy of my home.
Nonetheless, I had made up my mind that I would not let any of this keep me from approaching the Lord or His Word. I would sit down at my Bible and the accusations would continue in my mind: “Look at you! Hypocrite! You can’t even get your marriage right; you think God is going to speak to you through His Word?” I had no peace. But I kept reading.
Then at one point, I was reading through the book of Romans. When I came to chapter five, a familiar passage suddenly seemed to come alive in such a way as I had never known before:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have PEACE WITH GOD through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God (vs.1-2).
Could I really believe that God was at peace with me? That he wasn’t about ready to be through with me forever? Through this Scripture, I began to understand that all was well! Though I was acting like a rat, and failing consistently in my Christian walk, my peace with God did not depend on any of that. It was not my works that made everything OK with God, but it was through our Lord Jesus Christ. It was through Him and Him alone that I had access to God. And it was in grace that I stood, which meant that there was actually favor for me in spite of my actions. My burden was removed! I had peace with God, and I didn’t have to fear, because Jesus paid for my sins. God could smile at me even though I had just spoken rotten to my wife. That doesn’t mean that all my sin was acceptable. It doesn’t excuse speaking rotten to your wife. And it doesn’t mean that I didn’t have to change. But it did mean that I no longer had to question my salvation, or God’s love for me. My peace with God depended on Jesus, not on how good I was.
I would like to say that from that point I became the best husband in the world! However, the truth is that it took some time to change. After about two years, the marriage finally seemed to be getting better. The following years had troubles and setbacks to be sure, but we were adjusting. As the years have moved on, we have had many blessings come into our home, including our wonderful children. Today our marriage is stronger than ever, and I love my wife now more than I did when we first met. I’m not a jerk anymore either, because Jesus Christ has changed me. That does not mean that I am the greatest guy, or that I don’t mess up from time to time. But it does mean that the knowledge of who I am in Christ, or who He is in me, has made a genuine and practical difference in my life.
It was not a change that came overnight. And I am still in the process of changing, toward being a better husband and toward living in full Christian victory. But I have discovered that real and positive change takes place through the knowledge of something that doesn’t change. That is God’s unchangeable love. His love doesn’t go up and down toward you according to your actions.
The church readily admits to the fact that God’s love for us never changes. Yet the truth of the matter is that this idea has become separated from the experience and enjoyment of many Christian believers. Like myself, many fall into a performance oriented brand of faith. They believe all the right doctrines of grace, yet their emotions swing up and down according to their works. If they have had a successful day or two, they feel God’s smile; but the minute they mess up they curl beneath His frown. The Christian life becomes a hard life- confronting us daily with the high standards of holiness in the face of our miserable failures.
The late Christian artist, Rich Mullins, sang, “It’s Hard to be Like Jesus.” It is actually impossible in and of ourselves! Yet it seems the common notion is that the Christian life is all about trying and trying harder. Those who do better will be blessed and those who do worse will (hopefully) be tolerated. Thus it becomes a struggle, and the demons have a field day whispering things into our ears like I used to hear: “You blew it again! How can God love you?” How discouraging! Who wants to keep trying when all they experience is this?
There’s a Better Way
The good news of the gospel is that we don’t have to be like Jesus to be accepted and loved! If we have truly been born again, having put our faith in Him, the Scripture says that we are “accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). His love for us never changes, and it is a greater love than we can even imagine. So why struggle and work so hard to EARN it? You do not have to be like Jesus to be loved and accepted by God.
I have asked people what they would say to God if He asked them why they should be allowed into Heaven when they die. Some have answered, “Well, I’ve tried to be good. I’ve done the best I could.” Here is the bad news: there is no peace with God because you did some good. You could be the greatest person in your community or family and it won’t get you into heaven. You are not accepted in your works. Only in the Beloved! That is the good news! All the pressure is off. There’s great freedom in this. We get everything from God on Jesus’ ticket. It has nothing to do with us, except we must believe and receive it.
Quit thinking about your works and start thinking about His works! Then you will discover the secret: you will become more like Jesus when you rest in His love. Jesus is our Sabbath Rest. “For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His” (Heb.4:10). We have it all wrong when we work to gain His acceptance. It goes the other way around: God’s acceptance of us leads us to produce the works. It is God’s patience, His goodness that leads to repentance (Rom.2:4). When you truly taste and see that the Lord is good, it will be life changing.
As a young Christian, I sat in a fast food joint and ate a burger. Then a strange looking man walked in the door. There had recently been an outbreak of public shootings in the news, and I wondered if this guy was going to be a problem. He had beady eyes and had his arm stuck inside his long grey overcoat. I wondered if he was going to pull out a shotgun. Then he began to pull out from his overcoat…a newspaper!
Well, no problem here. But I did begin to think, if he had been a madman, would I be ready to meet and face God today? In my head, I knew the doctrines of grace and salvation by faith and said yes. But my heart began to pound. Deep within, I felt, “No! I can’t see Him yet. I need more time! I have so much garbage I still have to get rid of, and so much more good things to do!” I didn’t realize that the gospel had not really affected me then.
If you think you can ever “get more time” to fix yourself and do all the things that will make you acceptable for heaven, you are mistaken! You will never have enough. You will never make it, no matter how far you get. But here’s the good news: accepted in the beloved!
The good news gets even better. The Greek behind that word, accepted, is the same used by the angel when he addressed Mary as highly favored (Luke 1:28). Not only do you have a sure entrance into heaven, but even now you are highly favored, accepted in the beloved, not simply tolerated! This means you can expect every good thing from God. Not because you have been living well. How you live is not in consideration here, it is how Jesus lived on your behalf.
This doesn’t mean that it’s okay to sin. If you truly grasp the freedom you have in Christ, you won’t want to sin anyway.
This is where faith in Jesus differs from every other world religion. World religions are mostly about works, and then the possible acceptance by a somewhat distant god (or gods). The Bible, however, teaches that we receive God’s love and salvation by faith, and from the ground of His absolute acceptance of us, we go forward delighting in Him and doing His will.
Faith receives God’s kindness. Faith says, “Although I have sin, He will receive me if I come!” It is faith that pleases God (Hebrews 11:6), not how good you are. Think of someone you love very much. Would it please you if they were constantly trying to be perfect for you? That could get irritating, and certainly not bless you. You would much rather they just feel comfortable in your presence.
We bought a rescued poodle that had been badly mistreated. It was so frustrating wanting to lavish love on it and seeing it cower before me. God wants us to approach Him and believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb.11:6). That dog wouldn’t even come to me for a treat! But God wants to provide all our life needs. He wants to satisfy your soul. Too many are seeking their reward everywhere else but from God. Perhaps they feel they don’t deserve any. Well that’s true, but because of Jesus they can get it all! You don’t have to cower and keep from submitting your life to Him out of fear of continual discipline. Be smarter than my dog, and believe that He is a rewarder, not a mistreater.
Believe that He is! Many Christians act as if He isn’t. So many recite the Apostle’s Creed and say they believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and then when they receive a bad report from life, they act as if there is no Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to overcome. The truth is that He is waiting for you to delight in His love, and walk as one loved by none other than God.
You are highly favored in Christ, and if that’s true, you can expect God’s blessings and provisions on a daily basis.