Sunday, November 10, 2013
The Natural and Ongoing Graces of God! #JesusFollowers
To stand in a swimming pool and help a child swim for the first time is entirely reasonable and natural.
To attach floats to their arms and legs, to stand with them, to hold them up, and to even move their arms for them the first times they get into the water is expected.
But to expect to be doing this forever - to stand next to them and even move their arms when the child has entered the pool dozens of times and can swim on their own - is silly, and would be acknowledged as bad parenting by everyone.
And yet, many expect God to be just such a bad parent. "Stand behind me and move my arms or I cannot do any of the Good Works you require of me," the child - or adult - says, in effect, to their God. "Give me the ability, the GRACE, to do Good Works, or I cannot do them."
This teaching is deeply ingrained in Christendom. Once, in a sermon, Augustine of Hippo said just this, impudently praying to our Creator, "God, grant what you command, then you can command whatever you want."
Later, Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, said of God's commandments and our (in)ability to obey them, "Although the commandments teach things that are good, the things taught are not done as they are taught, for the commandments show us what we ought to do but do not give us the power to do it. They are intended to teach man to know himself, that through them he may recognize his inability to do good and may despair of his own ability."
This is an affront to God, and misunderstands not only the commands of God but also the very Nature as human beings. Just as God has granted us a certain amount of wisdom and knowledge and physical abilities from our birth - a "starter kit" of sorts - God has given us the ability to recognize what is right, and tells us that we must do what is Righteous and Good. In fact, we will be judged by it, says God's spokesman, Christ Jesus.
Grace is thought of far too narrowly by many churchmen, and it's come from centuries of misuse and misunderstanding of the term, and in bold defiance of the words of Jesus himself, who said his words will never pass away, and that his teaching that we must do Good Works and pursue Righteousness must be followed by those who claim to be his disciples.
Ongoing Grace is the strength God gives us to bolster our already innate, God-given strengths - our Natural Grace - with which we are born. From a young age, we understand the concept of shame, which usefully educates us that we have done wrong. When we learn about Jesus' teachings and lifelong example, we more fully come to understand that there is right and wrong, good and evil, and we are directed more completely towards the good, repenting of any acts that lead us to that which is evil and separates us from God, our Father.
Like any parent, God never forsakes us, and clearly, a parent will dive into a pool to save us from drowning, even after we've learned the rudimentary skills of swimming. But a good parent knows when a child can be accountable for their own actions, just as they know that is no longer necessary to stand behind a child who has long ago learned to swim. Like a coach who can speak from the poolside and give tips on who to better swim, when we ask God in prayer, God grants us the strength, wisdom and courage to become better and accomplish all that He asks of us - and all that He KNOWS we are capable of doing.
This Jesus, God's Anointed Prophet, challenges us to rise up higher and higher in our Righteousness, performing Good Works and acts that please God, all the while relying on God for forgiveness when we fail to live up to God's high standards, and relying on God's Grace to strengthen us and help us become complete.
"You shall be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect," says Jesus. He says this not because he is teasing us or mocking our weakness, because he knows God believes we are fully capable of becoming morally strong enough to become exactly what God wishes us to become, and stands ready to help us achieve Godliness!