October 13: No More Shame

Romans 1:16-17. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

For those of us that are united to Christ, the gospel is everything. It is central. The gospel is the very power of God – something that Paul had already fleshed out with the church in Corinth earlier:

1 Corinthians 1:18. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 

And, paradoxically, it is power found in weakness. This is why there is such a danger of being ashamed of it.

The gospel is not glorious in the earthly sense. It is not honoring as people judge honor. It is not elevating, it is lowering. It is not self-help, it is self-denial. The gospel, by its very nature, will bring shame from the world’s point of view. The gospel is literally the story of Christ’s shame upon the cross. The cross reveals our shame, our need, our filth and unworthiness. It exposes us to the very core.

Shame is our great enemy. It is the original result of the original sin. If pride was the first sin, that pride has been producing shame ever since. We can’t live up to any standards – God’s, parent’s, teacher’s, boss’s, girlfriend’s, boyfriend’s, spouse’s, our own. Our desire to control and maintain our own lives just produces an endless cycle of this shame. Think about Adam and Eve for a minute. Their pride produced a nakedness and a shame that nearly destroyed them and all of humanity if not for the shame conquering power of the gospel. If not for the robes of God’s love and grace.

Shame expert Brene Brown defines shame this way: “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging” (Daring Greatly).

Take a minute and watch Brown’s TED talk. The truths she speaks are so close to the truths of the gospel: grace, strength in weakness, redemption and reconciliation. Shame is rooted in a fear of rejection. Vulnerability and empathy destroy shame.

But Brown leaves us one step short. What is my ultimate source of power that will allow my heart to embrace the vulnerability needed to overcome shame? For her it is “daring greatly,” or finding the inner strength and courage to be honest and real, and finding connection. All good things. But also all from within. It is a self-healing that she calls for. It is not an imputed righteousness. It is not a voice from outside of us. It is not an alien power that invades. It is all from me and for me.

The gospel’s answer is different and unique. The gospel is the good news for the self from outside of the self. The self that has been battling shame forever. The self that always feels less than, or unworthy. The self that fears being exposed as a fraud. The self that fears rejection. What is the real cure for this? For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith.

In our lives the one thing that we don’t ever have to be ashamed of is our union with Christ (the gospel). Why? because in it we will never be found lacking, never flawed, never unworthy. That IS the good news. That this righteousness of God has been imputed to us. An alien righteousness, from Christ himself, given to us by our simple faith.

No matter how much we try to be vulnerable, and real, and authentic, and no matter how much we “listen to our shame” or “dare greatly,” we will still even fail at this. We will fail at failing. The power that comes from vulnerability and openness will always come and go because it is self-generated. The power to kill shame must be received. Not figured out on our own. It must be declared over us.

“To live is Christ” means that you have been given the righteousness of Christ. His holiness. His sainthood. His standing. His acceptance. His perfection. His belonging. His worthiness. Now our weakness is no longer shaming. It has been absorbed into the death of Christ and resurrected as a new power – the power to love. To empathize, and care, and be real, and be vulnerable, and dare greatly.

We are not ashamed of the gospel because the gospel has removed our shame.

Do you see your life as full of shame? Does your weakness bring you shame? Have you been ashamed of the gospel? How can knowing that you have the righteousness of God by faith cause you to embrace the gospel as power in weakness? What about declaring that gospel?

And now this awesomeness…

October 12: You’re A Saint

Romans.

Ahhhh.

Paul’s magnum opus. The most intense, in depth, in Christ declaration of the gospel that exists.

If today is your first day joining us at To Live Is Christ, then welcome, and you have picked a good day to jump in, as we will begin walking through this amazing letter together. At To Live is Christ we explore what our union with Christ means, while walking through the New Testament epistles chronologically (Galatians- 1 Corinthians- 2 Corinthians- and now Romans). So let’s jump in!

Romans 1:1-6. Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

See what I mean? Paul’s still saying hello and we already get some of the greatest statements about who Christ is and who we are in him.

Called to be saints.

BE not BECOME.

We are not called to become saints. We are made saints by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. There is no earning your sainthood. You don’t have to wait five years after you die. There’s no miracle count. No life of virtue discussion before it can happen. Why? Because it is all of grace. It is all of Christ. Are you saved? Then your a saint? A sinning saint I might add – even more grace!

There is truly nothing better in this world than to be under the grace of God. Union with Christ is what allows this eternal reality to seal your life with his. We belong to Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus that we have received grace. Because of this we are saints, recipients of the grace and peace of God by the gospel of God.

What is a saint? A saint is someone that has been sanctified or set apart by God and for God. In Catholicism, sainthood is about what you have done. But not in Paul’s gospel of God. It is about what God has done in Christ. Christ, the Son of David and the Son of God. Man and Deity. Raised in power by the Spirit of holiness. The Lord of all the earth. Giver of grace and peace.

In Jewish thinking in Paul’s day, they alone were God’s saints. The Hebrews were called by God, set apart to God, and made holy by God. But now Paul is calling this whole church (ALL) saints. Even Gentiles! Is that possible? It is in Christ.

So sainthood is our identity now. We are saints (set apart) because Jesus was a saint. He was set apart for the purpose of the salvation of creation, starting with humanity. He was set apart to be our substitute. He was set apart to become a flesh and blood man. He was set apart to be the firstborn of creation. He was set apart to be raised to new life.

And so now, in Christ, you are set apart. For what? To belong to Jesus, to receive his grace and peace, and to exercise the obedience of faith? Obedience that flows from faith. Faith that flows from grace.

And with that we have just summarized this whole letter and we have summarized “to live is Christ.”

 

October 11: Don’t Give Up on the Church

2 Corinthians 13:11-14. Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you.

14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

And so 2 Corinthians comes to an end with this glorious farewell statement. It is a summation of all that is in this letter. Paul wraps up the letter with some imperatives wrapped up in the ultimate indicative – our union with the Trinity.

The imperatives he gives here reflect all that he has struggled through in this letter, and all that we struggle through as Christians in a church. Be restored to each other, encourage each other, agree with each other, live peacefully with each other.

Paul is both describing and calling for a unified, caring, and forgiving church. When you read this letter, you may be tempted to think there is no hope for them. But Paul thinks there is. He calls them brothers and sisters. They are in the faith. They have Jesus Christ in them (13:9). They are letters of the New Covenant (ch.3); they are the New Creation and Ambassadors for Christ (ch.5).

I don’t know where you are today, but maybe you have given up on the church. Maybe your church, or the church that hurt you is a lot like Corinth. Maybe it’s full of disputes, and disagreements. Don’t give up on the church. Aim for restoration. Take the first step. I know you’ve been hurt. But I also know that your issues with the church are actually rooted in your issues with God. Reconciliation with God never comes apart from restoration with the Church of God. And restoration at church never comes apart from being reconciled to God.

Notice what Paul says in verse 11 – and the God of peace will be with you. Isn’t that what we’re all looking for? Peace? Shalom? But it only comes through right relating with the church – other Christians. So I say again, don’t give up on the church.

Claim the promise of verse 11. It’s not law, it’s promise. A promise of the experience of God’s presence as we by grace, through faith, obey. Remember, this is addressed to brothers (and sisters). That is, to those who are already children of promise, placed within the New Covenant by grace, with nothing to lose and everything to gain.

In Paul’s mind (and mine) it is simply impossible for a Christian to not be being transformed (3:18). Therefore, New Covenant imperatives are not legalistic commands simply to be obeyed or else. They are promises to be enjoyed. Are you enjoying the peace of God today? If not, could it have anything to do with your relationship with the church? Just asking. 

But how? How do I begin to even want to be restored to the church? By your union with the Trinity.

Union with Christ is union with the Trinity. There is no greater thought, no greater truth than this. No other religion espouses or proposes this, that you can find yourself in a union with the deity who created you. That you can experience his grace, love, and fellowship. This is the greatest of loves – union with Christ.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ – Jesus is grace embodied. He is the grace of God within a single human life. A life that is in you. Trusting in Jesus as God’s indwelling grace is the test of faith. Christ as grace will allow you to see past the people of your church and see Jesus instead.

The love of God – The love of God comes from a God who is love. He doesn’t just love sometimes. All that he does is love. This love of God, like the grace of Jesus, also indwells you. When we trust in his love for us we can risk it all in church, in relating. If the church fails to love us, God won’t. Is that enough for you?

The fellowship of the Holy Spirit – The indwelling Spirit brings us into participation with God and with the Body of Christ. What an amazing and humbling thought, that the Trinity would want to do life alongside of us, in participation with us. A Christian without church is simply not living up to his or her purpose. We were saved to participate, to fellowship, to share a common mission. Are you on mission?

v. 14 is what makes v 11-12 possible. v. 14 is “to live is Christ.”

What is your relationship to church? Have you sought restoration, peace, agreement and comfort? How does union with Christ, and the whole Trinity, empower you to selflessly love the church and seek restoration?

October 10: Test Your Faith

2 Corinthians 13:3-5. since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. 4 For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!

Self evaluation is a pretty important thing. Gaining self awareness, understanding yourself. Why do you do what you do? And even more important, what do you believe?

Paul’s opponents in Corinth have been evaluating him. That is the backdrop of this whole letter. Paul is planning his third visit to Corinth. He will be there soon. His opponents have been critical of his apostleship. They have asked for letters of reference and claimed that his gospel is false. Their logic? His weakness proves that Christ is not with him. They served a triumphalistic Christ. A Jesus of miracles and power in strength. But Paul served a Christ of power in weakness. A Christ whose greatest display of power was actually his greatest display of weakness – the cross.

These opponents have put Paul to the test. But now Paul asks the church to put themselves to the test – examine yourselves…test yourselves.

For what? What are we testing ourselves for? To see if we are in the faith, to see if Jesus Christ is living in us.

Is Jesus Christ in you? Are you in the faith?

You might be thinking, “wait there’s a test?” “Nobody said there was going to be a test!” Maybe you thought you just said the prayer and then that was it. Or maybe you thought that once you’re saved there is no actual proof of that salvation.

Paul doesn’t use this language of a test anywhere else in his writing. It is unique to 2 Corinthians. For the Corinthians, “passing the test” means repenting for the way they treated Paul and recommitting to his gospel, the true gospel. He’s going to want to hear it from their mouths when he gets there. This gospel will manifest itself in love, peace, and an understanding of grace in weakness. Not accusations and rebellion, much less believing a false gospel.

How do we pass the test? We examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith.

The answer is NOT to simply have faith. Rather, it is to be in THE faith. The faith that Paul speaks of is a unique faith. A faith that by the death and resurrection of Christ we can be found to be in Christ. It is faith that includes specifically our union with Christ.

So look closely at what Paul says:

Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?

Realizing that Jesus Christ is in you is the test. Trusting in the indwelling Christ is the test of faith. It’s faith in God’s grace. Faith in union with Christ. This is not meant to be too simplistic. It is the ultimate question, eternity hinges upon it. Are you in Christ?

But it is also not meant to produce doubt. It is meant to be assuring. Are you in the faith? How do we know who is in the faith? Those who believe that Jesus Christ is in them. Those who trust in union with Christ are in the faith and have passed the test.

Ok, are you looking for something a bit more tangible? Well then ask yourself this series of questions to see if you are actually saved:

Do you believe that Christ took your sin so that you could have his righteousness (5:21)?

Do you believe that transformation comes from the faith of beholding and not by self righteous efforts (3:18)?

Do you believe that your inner self is being renewed day by day (4:16)?

Are you able to open wide your heart to others in love (6:11-13)?

Do you feel godly grief over sin (7:10)?

Do you believe that the power of grace is found in weakness (12:9-10)?

If you answer NO to any of these is your heart able to receive God’s grace? Can you trust in your union with Christ in the midst of your NO answers? Oops, we’re right back where we started.

October 9: Grace in Weakness Part 9: The Contentment

2 Corinthians 12:10. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

We’ve spent the last 9 days looking at God’s grace in our weakness. For Paul this meant living with a “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan.” God used this thorn to keep Paul from conceit, and to teach him to receive grace and the power to love.

The final result in Paul’s heart is contentment.

This is a word that is stronger than what we think of when we think content. It means to be preferable, to be chosen, to take pleasure in. Wow. Paul isn’t just living in stoic acceptance of his “God given plight.” This isn’t a “well this is just how it’s meant to be,” or “time to move on” mentality. This is a much deeper delight in sharing the suffering of Christ himself. It is delighting in the opportunity to experience God’s grace and power.

Discontentment has been the great sin of humanity since the beginning. Weren’t Adam and Eve ultimately looking for something more? Something beyond what God was offering? And isn’t that what Paul was looking for in his prayer for thorn removal? Discontentment then can take us in one of two directions. We can live in a world where we spend our whole relationship with God asking him to change everything, every circumstance, every situation (think about your prayer requests). Or, in contentment, we can live a life where our discontentment, our unmet desires, drive us towards God’s grace, rather than just God’s solutions.

This is what contentment is – it is the receiving of grace. It is not achieved through success or comfort.

Nor is it a form of apathy. It is actually the power of God at work in us. It is the opposite of living under countless expectations – those placed on the self and those placed on God.

Without the mindset of godly contentment, rooted in the receiving of grace, the sorrows and successes of life will become unbearable burdens. The thorns will destroy us. But so will the abundance. Rather than simply enjoying seasons of abundance, we allow them to create an expectation that, when unmet, will bring despair. Our prayer requests will then simply be for a return to abundance (I mean doesn’t God want us to have these things?).

Contentment is so important because it allows us to navigate the extremes of life. Here’s how Paul says it a bit later in his life:

Philippians 4:11-13. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Living in contentment is done in Christ. Our union with Christ is what allows us to trust that whatever comes our way it is actually God’s grace that is allowing it. God would never seek to destroy his son or daughter. He is a good Father. Contentment in the midst of weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities can only come from the security of son-ship. Faith in Christ’s work, his strength, his respect, his acceptance, his comfort.

“To live is Christ” is to live within the contentment that comes by faith in God’s secure love and grace. Our union with Christ alone is the source of all contentment, not the movement into abundance or fleshly comfort. Not the pursuit of happiness. The power of embracing weakness is found in the power of the content life. A life free from the constant disappointment of expectations. A life free of conceit. A life free to love and live in the power of grace.

In general, are you content? Do your prayers reflect contentment or expectations? How does union with Christ allow us to be content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities?

October 8: Grace in Weakness Part 8: The Power

2 Corinthians 12:9-10. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Who doesn’t want to tap into the power of God? Isn’t this what we’re all looking for? We sing about it, and pray for it, and seek demonstrations of it. Paul says that he will boast in his weakness so that he can experience the power of Christ. From this we can assume that if Paul’s thorn in the flesh had been removed, he would have missed out on this power.

But what is the power of God?

First we must, like Paul, connect God’s power to weakness. There is a power in power, a power in strength. And I wonder how often are we asking God for this kind of natural power, rather than the spiritual power that comes by weakness? The power we often seek is the power of the flesh. It is not the power of the cross. It is human power, not God’s power. We desire the power of the exalted Christ, not the power of the crucified Christ. We falsely believe that the power of God comes in overcoming our difficulties, our trials, our sufferings, our thorns. Not in accepting the thorns and trusting God in a weakness that may never be overcome until the next life. We tend to be theologians of glory rather than theologians of the cross. We go looking for the power of the next life today. We want Heaven now. But what if God wants you, in this life, to be closer to weakness, and more aware of your own sin, so that you stay closer to his grace?

So we must also connect God’s power to grace. In the structure of verse 9, Paul places grace and power side by side as near synonyms. God’s power comes by his grace. There is no power without weakness because God’s power comes by his grace. Without weakness we will always resist the grace of God. But receiving grace allows God’s power to operate in our lives.

To answer the question of “what is God’s power” we must turn now to the most powerful force in the universe: God’s love. God’s power is his love.

Ephesians 3:14-19. For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Paul’s prayer is for an infusion of power that comes from being rooted and grounded in love.

Immediately we might ask, “If love is power, then why didn’t God remove Paul’s thorn in the flesh? Wouldn’t that have been the loving thing to do?”

The answer is that yes, ultimately, removing all of our thorns, all of our curses, all of our sorrow will be the loving thing to do. And God’s power will do it. But for now, today, the permanence of the thorn is more loving. Why? Because it will make Paul more loving, for without it, he would be conceited. Uncaring. Self-serving. With it, however, he will continue to grow in love. Love embraces the weakness, and weakness purifies the love.

“To live is Christ” is the power of love. A true, pure, unconditional love that has been born within us. This love alone has the power to change the world. A love that gives and gives and forgives and forgives. A love that moves towards and never away. A love that seeks what is best for the other, even at one’s own expense, or one’s own weakness if you will. This is the love that powerfully defeated sin, death, and hell on a Sunday morning 2000 years ago. It is the love that will powerfully resurrect your heart every day that you allow your weakness to receive the grace of God, freeing you to move forward powerfully in love towards others.

How would you define God’s power? Is it connected to the weakness of the cross? How do weakness, grace, and love work together to bring God’s power of love into our lives? How does our union with Christ produce this powerful love in our lives?

October 7: Grace in Weakness Part 7: The Grace

2 Corinthians 12:9. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 

Grace can sometimes seem so abstract can’t it? What does it even mean when God tells Paul my grace is sufficient for you? We talk about grace all the time in this blog, but what does it actually look like? Are we just blowing smoke? Is it just some sort of pop psychology? The opiate of the masses to keep us all from complaining?

The problem for many of us as Christians is that we use the word grace so much that it can just become white noise after a while. Even in writing this blog sometimes if I can’t think of what to write next I just think “throw the word grace in, it covers everything.” Hey, I’m just being honest.

Paul’s problem, like ours, was pride. Conceit.

2 Corinthians 12:7. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 

Conceit is rooted in the concept of deservedness. “I deserve success, blessing, comfort” – conceit. “I don’t deserve anything, freedom, love, acceptance” – also conceit. Grace comes to destroy deservedness. To humble us out of our pride, and lift us out of our self-loathing.

What is grace exactly? In the words of theologian Paul Zahl:

“What is grace? Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. The cliché definition of grace is ‘unconditional love’. It is a true cliché, for it is a good description of the thing…Let’s go a little further. Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures. It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so-called ‘gifts’ (whatever they may be). It reflects a decision on the part of the giver, the one who loves, in relation to the receiver, the one who is love, that negates any qualifications the receiver may personally hold…Grace is one-way love.”

So how does grace work? Is it just a subjective feeling? Or is it an objective reality?

We know grace is an objective truth because it has to begin from outside of us. It is not self-manufactured. This is the very nature of grace, that the one offended (yes, our conceit offends the holiness and supremacy of God) responds to us with a grace that forgives and accepts us regardless of our sin. When the grace leaves God and travels toward us it becomes objective. It becomes a reality.

But for grace to be objective, it must also have a physical manifestation as part of it. Grace can’t just be meaningless words or thoughts. It can’t just be words on the page of a holy book. Grace must also be put into practice. Therefore, Grace is an actual objective reaction manifested in the life and death of Christ. The cross is grace in practice. The indwelling Christ is the manifestation of the work of the cross. We know the gospel worked because the Spirit indwells us giving us the crucified yet resurrected life of Christ.

What about subjective? Is grace also subjective? Yes. We experience it subjectively in our spirit, in our life, our heart and mind. We feel grace. We rest in grace. We rejoice in grace. The ancient truth of Christ’s death and resurrection, and our union with that death and resurrection become our ever present source of power. This is objectively true, but also subjectively true as we trust in it more and more. The subjective flows from the objective.

For Paul grace was enough. Enough to end the prayer for thorn removal. Enough to cause him to boast in weakness. Enough for him to have the strength to move forward in this ministry. It was enough to know that God loved him. That he was accepted in Christ. That he had a future with the Trinity. He needed no other proof. No other answered prayer. Grace was sufficient.

“To live is Christ” is to live daily relying on the reality of grace. The objective truth of Christ’s death and resurrection and your union with him. And the subjective truth of your experience of that grace in Christ by your faith in your union with Christ.

Are you relying on grace today? Do you believe that God loves you no matter what? Do you believe that everything he allows, he allows for your benefit and his glory? That this is also his grace?