“Grace to the Lowly”

kneeling in prayer

“Surely He scorneth the scorners; but he giveth grace unto the lowly” (Proverbs 3:34).

“…God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:6-7).

Scorners lift up themselves, refusing to yield to anyone else, always resisting them. They pay no attention to God, as if He did not exist, while boldly continuing in sin. But God will deal with them and their proud ambitions by holding them in everlasting contempt, while blessing those who humbly believe in Him. Humble people don’t mind lowering themselves and walking in the footsteps of Christ. But mockers and scorners are wise in their own thinking. They hate those who are humble and lowly. In our current era, love of self rules, with contempt for all that is good, noble, holy, and true. As we get ever closer to the end of this present age, scorning and mocking are increasing all the time.

“God resisteth the proud” ones who lift themselves up against Him, and whose self-esteem knows no limits. Their nature is having pride in what they own, or are part of, or of anything that applies to them. They have convinced themselves of their supreme excellence and importance. Yet they have nothing to justify their superior attitude. They truly hate others, and even despise the warnings and judgments from God. It is this very attitude that can provoke God to set Himself up to oppose them.

But God is also kind enough to allow those with a humble and contrite spirit into His presence. They don’t covet what others have, or envy them, nor are they consumed with worldly ambitions. But being humble does not come naturally to man. Left to his own ways, he would never have a single humble thought or holy desire on his own. Realizing this alone should be enough to bring us low before God and make us want to be humble.

True humility comes from receiving the grace of God—His unmerited favor—which makes a person humble in the first place. Only by the operation of God’s Holy Spirit in our life can we become humble.

And the humble and poor in spirit have the right to be part of the kingdom of Heaven, which they have been made fit to receive. They will enjoy being there in God’s presence, but the proud and scornful would not. No one who truly mourns for his sin will be turned away by God. And He will not refuse to exalt anyone who comes to Him in humility.

God cannot tolerate the exalting of ‘self’—which is the very nature of sin. Look at Christ as an example. He made Himself of no reputation while here on Earth, although He is the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. How can we justify elevating ourselves, when He did not? Proud people resist God’s laws, truths, and His provision. Do we wonder why God resists the proud? There is great danger in pride, which is why God “resists the proud” in every way. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).

The devil, who is naturally full of pride and completely the opposite of humility, makes it his job to get men swollen with pride in themselves. Then he can easily master and do what he pleases with them. But humble believers who have God living inside them receive more of His grace. Their lowliness doesn’t come from their own strength; it comes from His.

A humble believer knows very well that deep down he is vile and sinful. So he runs to God’s grace and Christ’s blood for his protection. And the devil, in all of his pride, doesn’t know what to think of people like this—how they puzzle and frustrate him!

He is not pleased by the power and strength that come from prayer and faith either. Humble believers like this he leaves alone—in fact, he flees from them!

Don’t go along with the devil’s proposals and temptations. Consider him an enemy and oppose him. How can the devil conquer someone who continually resists him? Even though he is stronger than man, God will never allow him to conquer His people who continually resist him. Stand therefore, by faith in God, and put all the spiritual armor of Ephesians 6 to use. Depend on the Lord to help you, and continue to resist the devil at all times. Remember that, to those who have faith, the devil is already defeated.

Fight against the devil by refusing to yield to him and the fleshly lusts he proposes. Submit to God instead, as Head and Ruler of us all. The devil will run if we continue to resist him. But he will also return again and again to try to tempt us to sin. We will not be conquered as long as we don’t give in. And our heavenly Father will not allow him to force the human will to give in to his temptations (if we continue to stand and resist his onslaughts). Continue to be ‘resistance-fighters’ and we will have the victory!

God favors the humble who feel the need for His help, welcome His teaching, and desire Him as a friend. He will give them the grace they need so they can be saved. But who can teach someone who is so full of himself that he thinks he knows it all? If he feels no need for grace, he will receive no grace. The heart has to be humble before it can be saved. God favors and honors those who are lowly in their own opinion. But He also gives them enough grace to overtake and destroy their worldly lusts and corruptions.

The heavenly Father invites all who are humble to come boldly before His throne, where they will find grace for help in time of need. But they must come with a lowly spirit, knowing that He resists the proud.

If we judge ourself first, He will freely give us His grace. He gives more grace to the humble because they recognize their need for it. We need to conduct ourselves in a way that will glorify God, the One we belong to and should always serve. He stands ready to give us the strength we need to resist and rise above the attraction of the world.

Why should we want to humble ourselves? Reflect for a moment on what our sin and failure cost God and His Son. He had to die on the cross to free us from both. He had to offer Himself up as a sacrifice to the judgment of God because of our iniquity. Is there really anything for any of us to boast about in comparison with what He had to go through to set us free? God calls us to humble ourself before Him; then He will exalt us. Do this once and for all, as a done-deed, not an ongoing process.

So continually watch and pray. Remain ready to submit to God, who will calm our spirit and give us His grace. If we humble ourselves before Him, we will never be left ashamed. We need to rid ourselves of the fighting attitude that is intent on putting other people down in order to lift itself up. The humble ones in the end will inherit true glory, long after worldly fame has tarnished. Let’s freely submit ourselves therefore to God, humbly obeying His commands, with a sense of how empty, weak, and in need of His grace we really are. Let’s bow ourselves before Him and yield totally to His will. Then we will find the path to peace and joy forevermore.

Ritual or Relationship?

 

 

Do you ever felt like you are making great efforts to do all of the right things (or at least what you were told were the right things) to please God, yet He still seems distant or unreachable to you? Do you feel like a sense of guilt comes over you if you don’t pray or read the Bible? Or have you stopped praying and reading the Bible because you can’t seem to get anywhere, and everything you did read seemed so confusing and dull? Maybe you go to church because this is what you were told do, but you have never felt any real enthusiasm in being there. Or, are you doing as much as you can for your church, yet you still don’t seem to have any reward from God—or even worse—you just feel used by your church? Have you often asked yourself, just where is the fulfillment, the satisfaction and the real joy in following Jesus that others have told you about?

On the other hand, maybe you are one who really does find excitement and satisfaction with God and what He has done for you, but only after you attend church or various religious events and entertainment, thereby necessitating repeat visits to maintain this enthusiasm. All of these are common ploys of Satan to prevent you from having true intimacy with God. He tries to keep you in a mindset where you feel that you have to continually do works to be right with, or accepted by, God. When you left Satan’s domain and entered the domain of Jesus by getting saved, it certainly did not go unnoticed by Satan. And, in revenge for leaving him, he will persist in trying to keep you from having complete peace in Jesus. His goal is to turn your focus off of Jesus Christ and onto yourself (and ultimately onto him alone).

He wants you to wear yourself out in trying to be right with God on your own, to the point where you become bitter or discouraged and turn back to him. Actually, Satan would really like for you to hate God just like he does, and to never want to even try to follow the Lord again.

Since he has had thousands of years to observe others like you, he knows just what technique works to keep you from truly following Jesus.

What Satan tries to do here is to turn all of these ‘good’ efforts into a ritual. Jesus does not want rituals or your ‘works’; He wants a personal relationship with you. He wants yourcross worship trust and faith in Him alone. Religions have rituals, but they add up to nothing in God’s view. When Jesus died on the cross on your behalf, it was a complete work. There are no works, no rituals—there is nothing that you can do to improve on this or make yourself more acceptable to God on your own. Every time you try to do something to make yourself more holy before God, you are, in essence, canceling out the sacrifice that His Son made on your behalf. He already did everything necessary to make you acceptable to God.

You may now be thinking that reading the Bible, praying, or attending church are wrong. Each of these in themselves is right, and God expects them of you. But when doing them becomes your motive behind being accepted or becoming right before God, then doing them becomes just as wrong as worshiping idols. And you also enter the area of self-righteousness, which is just as sinful before God as idolatry or any other sin.

couple on bench

When you accept Jesus Christ into your heart, you are entering into a personal relationship with Him. In our human relationships, one person does not work to make the other accept him or her; instead, each accepts the other for who he or she is, by faith in him or her. They no longer have to prove themselves; they now have established trust between them.

If you have just become married, and you constantly do things to make your spouse love you, then you have entered into marriage for all of the wrong motives (and your spouse will really begin to wonder about you).

Your marriage partner should love you for who you are, not so much for what you do. What you do is a by-product of love, a way of expressing it.

Similarly, Jesus wants you to have trust, and simple, child-like faith in Him. He never set up a complicated set of rules and requirements that you must follow to improve your standing with woman worshipingHim. These only lead to things like favoritism, jealousy, regression, and failure. If you yield your self (or will) to Him in a loving personal relationship, you will soon find that you will want to pray, you will want to read His Word, and you will want to be in a fellowship of other believers who also want to do the same thing. You will also find that that all of these efforts to please Him before will now be the by-product of a relationship with Him now. It is only in a true relationship, not in a ritual, that will you find real peace in God.

No Good Thing

“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing…” (Romans 7:18).

Once we give our life to God, we discover that inside of us there is both the ‘old man’ (that person we were before God saved us), and now the ‘new man’ (that God is making us into). The very nature of the ‘old man’ is rebellion against God. Slowly we discover that we are not able to carry out our earnest desires to be good or to do anything good. All too often we find ourselves going in the opposite direction of our new nature—the ‘new man’—even though we don’t want to anymore. Therefore, we can’t put any confidence in our flesh, our ‘old man,’ even after we become believers.

Before we were believers in Christ, many of us tried to prove that we were righteous and deserved to be saved by our righteous deeds (hoping they would outnumber our unrighteous deeds). After we became believers, at some point we (hopefully) learned that there was nothing righteous about our ‘old man,’ and we really deserve nothing good from God at all. Our real problem is our old self. Inside our ‘old man’ there is no good thing. He doesn’t want to pray or hear God’s Word because he hates both. He does no good thing, because nothing in his nature is truly good (according to God’s standards). Why? because the ‘old man’ (the “flesh”) has made us weak due to sin, while our spirit is now quite strong and willing to do good.

The moment eventually comes when we finally realize that no good thing is naturally in our flesh. This means that we can’t put anything in ourselves that is good—only God can.

And where do good things come from? They come from the grace of God, from Jesus Christ, and from the Holy Spirit’s influence. So God comes in and makes a way for us to be set apart unto Him.

The Apostle Paul thought he could keep the law perfectly after God saved him. Slowly he began to understand that the ‘old man’ was still there, interfering with his ability to do so. Then he realized that “…it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (Romans 7:17). When he saw that he would have to struggle all his life with this issue, he cried out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). He came to understand that it was not him linked to Christ who was failing. It was sin living within him which still controlled him and caused him to fail. He wrote “…For to will [to do good] is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not (Romans 7:18). He did not have the power necessary to overcome the old sin nature, the ‘old man.’

Paul discovered a law here. The ‘new man’ inside him delighted to do the law of God. But, in spite of all his determined hard effort, by doing this he did not become holy like he thought he would. God allowed Paul to try his own way until he finally learned that it was destined to failure. Then he learned that our flesh is no different from anyone else’s. We can try all we want by our own effort to overcome our flesh, but we will never succeed on our own, even after we become believers. But when we finally give up, then God’s Spirit can come in and work on us.

Think of it this way: Suppose an abnormal growth is inside of you, threatening your life if left to develop on its own. Your doctor says it must be removed. Do you go home and cut yourself open so you can pull that thing out of you? Hopefully not! You know you must have the doctor remove the abnormal growth. While lying on the operating table, do you reach out and grab his scalpel and say, “Let me have that. I can cut this thing out of me”? No, you know you have to submit to the doctor’s superior knowledge and ability in this area. You have to trust him to do what needs to be done to help you. You are not capable of operating on yourself, even though you very strongly desire to get rid of the abnormal growth.

surgery-1049588_640(https-::pixabay.com:en:users:scotth23-1661814:)

When we give our lives to God, we have to come to the point where we trust Him to do what must be done to remove the abnormalities caused by sin that are hindering our progress in becoming a true man or woman of God. When our heart as a believer becomes more holy and pure, we more earnestly desire to obey God as we grow in His grace. And the more holy we become, the more we want that abnormal growth of sin still deep inside us to be gone. But then we discover another law in us, which Paul called the “law of sin and death.”

The ‘old man’ is the carnal man who has not been delivered from the bondage of the law. The ‘new man’ is the spiritual man, filled with God’s Spirit, and Jesus has become the ruler of his life. Sin can no longer rule over the ‘new man’ when grace rules instead.

Grace comes from outside of us—from God Himself—to help us overcome the lusts of our carnal mind. He sets us free from their control while inspiring a love of holiness in us. God’s supernatural grace is strong enough to hold back the ‘old man,’ so he can no longer do all the evil things he wants to.

The carnal (fleshly or worldly) part of our mind is constantly at war with the renewed mind that Christ has given us. Should we fight with it? No—it will bring us down every time. Turn away instead and be totally done with it! No amount of self-effort can bring this conflict within us to an end. When we finally realize that, we then learn the way to reach our goal. We need to delight in Jesus Christ risen from the dead—the only One who can deliver from the power of sin. We should look away from our self and law, and look to the risen Christ instead. When we cry out in anguish, “Who shall deliver me?”, what is the proper response? God will deliver us, through His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:2-4).

This is our battle: to crucify this indwelling principle of evil in our flesh, as we wage war continually against it by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yield to God and obey Him; then we will be well pleasing to Him. We can’t live for God in our own strength. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit living inside us can we truly live for God as He wants us to.

Fine Castles Are Not Made With Wet Sand

sandcastle with wave

When I was a child, my family preferred to go to the beach whenever possible for vacations—not so much for the sun or to swim, but more to take in the refreshing air and relaxing sounds of the surf. I never cared to go swimming, never wanted to ride on the waves, or even to go wading in water higher than my waist. This is mostly due to one small detail—not being able to swim! My particular fondness was building sandcastles. I enjoyed creating grand structures in the sand, particularly in forming them dangerously close to the water’s edge. I doubt that any king would have wanted to reside in the ‘castles’ that I formed though! In fact, I think he would be in a constant state of fear, considering how close these ‘fortresses’ would be to the incoming waves.

I would naturally build some kind of retaining wall, perhaps even two or three, to help protect the ‘castle’ that would eventually rise up from the sand. (I’m using the word ‘castle’ loosely here, since the end result of my endeavors only vaguely resembled anything a self-respecting monarch would live in!) I have found that, no matter how carefully I would take handfuls of dripping wet sand and try to construct something with them, when I finished almost nothing resembling a building remained. It did not matter how hard or how fast I tried to use the sand. The mixture would soon just dissolve into the sand around it, if not first swept away by an incoming wave.

“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us [made us alive] together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might [show] the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9).

Have you ever thought about the fact that our own works we do for God are much like building fine castles with handfuls of wet sand? They ultimately prove to be futile, without any lasting merit. It doesn’t matter how much work we do on our own to try to make ourselves right before God. In His eyes, these efforts are worth nothing more than a pile of wet sand. If we decide that we are going to clean ourselves up before we come to Him, we are just wasting our time.

beach with person

At the beginning of each new calendar year, we have lots of great ambitions to lose pounds and pounds of weight, read numerous books, fix everything broken in our home or vehicle, visit places all over the world, maybe even clean up our lives and make ourselves right with God, as well as with everyone else. Yet, after just a few months (or even a few days), these great ambitions soon fizzle out. We find ourselves in the end not much better than we were the year before. Why does this happen? because we do it all by our own strength and effort. To put it bluntly, God does not need our help (or even us, for that matter). Whenever we try to do God’s work for Him, or try to help Him with His work, we are doing it without Him. Yet it is only by the grace of God that we can even be here today.

What is God’s grace? Many views and explanations have been put forth. But, in a nutshell, His grace is His perfect love (something we, as finite beings, can’t truly understand) and favor for us that makes Him willing to overlook our faults and shortfalls, even though we don’t really deserve anything but death eternally in Hell. Grace is continuously flowing from Him, but that does not mean that it automatically flows over or covers us. We need to first accept it, and then to be obedient to His commandments and His will.

We can only do this by accepting the sacrifice that His Son, Jesus Christ, made on the cross over two thousand years ago for our sins as our own, done for every man, woman and child who ever lived.

There is nothing we can do by ourselves to earn His grace or favor. No human being, or even the angels above, can earn His favor.

We need to come humbly before Him instead and yield our lives to Him. We need to turn completely in the opposite direction in our sinful ways, willing to totally forsake them. We can’t remain in their shadow  and also be successful with Him.

At the same time, this needs to be a continual effort. Whether you accepted Christ and became a believer decades ago, or only just recently, you need to come humbly before God, our Heavenly Father, daily, and yield to Him. For many, the act of surrender is considered a one-time event. But God expects it every day. “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23 emphasis mine).

This is not some type of asceticism, but rather, not allowing our old sinful self to continue to control us. If we are not surrendering ourself to God every day, we are operating on our own plan. Then all our efforts become just futile works, not worth much more than elaborate castles built of piles of wet sand. This ultimately will lead us to boasting about our works, thereby leaving God out of the picture.

Don’t try to please God with your own works, thereby nullifying the finished and complete work of Jesus at the cross. Yield to God instead, and trust Him do all of the works for you.

–James Pangburn

Jesus is Not a Washing Machine

“Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:20-21

I recently visited a historical village near where I was living. It had a nice arrangement of a house, church, courthouse, schoolhouse, boat-building barn, blacksmith building, and a general store, as well as a handful of additional accessory buildings, all located on a 6-8 acre plot of land. In each building, care had been taken to try to include period furnishings where possible. In the house, there were many objects connected to each representative member of a family of that day. It is amazing to think that this house and its contents were all that were needed to live in that time. They didn’t need an elaborate kitchen with granite countertops, track lighting, and stainless-steel appliances. No climate-control systems that can be monitored and regulated by a phone on another continent were needed. In fact, in the time of this village, phones were almost nonexistent. Yet everyone managed to get along somehow, through lean times or plenty.

But there was one aspect open for innovation and improvement—the washday. It was an all-day event and nobody really enjoyed it. It was, without a doubt, hard work. This house had the classic wash-bin, washboard, and wringer. An iron kettle of water had to be heated over an open fire. Each article had to be scrubbed clean on a washboard. Then everything had to be run through the wringer (watch your fingers!), rinsed, and back it went through the wringer. Next, they hung everything on the line to dry. And finally, they had to iron most of the items with an iron weighing almost as much as half of a bundle of clothes itself! As a result, the advent of the washing machine was generally a welcome sight.

How does Jesus fit in with all of this?

When we accept Jesus into our hearts and He cleanses us of our sins through His blood shed on the Cross, we are not given a blank check to start a life of wrongdoing all over again.

His sacrifice at the Cross atoned (made complete payment) for all of the sins of mankind (past, present and future). When we accept Him into our hearts, we are baptized with Him in His death. Our old sin-destined self dies with Him in the tomb, and our new self is born in connection with His resurrection. Therefore, old sinful self is now dead. To begin again right where we were before Christ set us free essentially makes us a dead person walking. You can’t be completely dead and completely alive at the same time! We can’t go back and live in sin again, and then take all of our sin-soiled garments to the ‘Heavenly Laundromat,’ and throw them into the ‘Jesus washing machine’ expecting Him to make us spotless all over again. You might ask, “Doesn’t God forgive us each time we sin and make us clean and whole inside?” Yes, He does, when we ask Him to. But He also expects us to repent of these sins (all of our sins, actually). That means we are to turn and go in the opposite direction, and not regularly continue to do them.

washing_machines_1

Many stand firmly on the ground that Jesus completely fulfilled the Law of God set forth in the early part of the Bible, and we are now free of the requirement to obey it. Therefore, we can now do what we want to, essentially meaning we can freely sin, because His grace will carry us through. In fact, today the whole concept of sin is even considered to have been eliminated through His sacrifice on the Cross. Sadly, this is where we give the Devil his ‘wiggle’ room. When Jesus fulfilled the Law, He did not abolish it.

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17).

His fulfillment of it made it possible for us to now fulfill the Law through Him. But it was (and is) impossible for us to fulfill the entire Law, which is what we would have to do in order to be right with God. Christ never eliminated the ability to sin or the penalty of our sin. This same group that stands firmly on fulfillment also believes that God’s grace enables us to freely sin, because His grace is always greater. Once again, the Devil uses this as leverage to keep us in bondage. God’s grace has to be greater than all of our sins, otherwise God would not be God, and the work Jesus did on the Cross would be nullified.

If even the tiniest fraction of sin could be greater than God’s grace, He would no longer be omnipotent (all-powerful) and holy. As a result, the Devil would win.

As the prince of this world, the Devil is definitely a tough taskmaster, but if he could be god of all, the horrible result would be totally unthinkable!

Our ultimate goal should be to stop thinking that Jesus Christ is our ticket to do whatever we want. We may think, “Hey, it’s okay. I might look dirty now, but I’ll just drop these dirty clothes in the ‘Jesus washing machine’ and everything will be all right!” Acting this way means that we don’t want to let go of our sins, that self is still in charge, not Jesus. We want all of the benefits of being in Christ’s care, and at the same time, all of the pleasures of being in the world, or in the Devil’s care.

The only way to have all of the benefits of being in Christ and to stay there is to place our faith totally in Jesus and the work He did on the Cross.

When we do that, our interests in the pleasures of this world will automatically begin to fade. What was ‘fun’ before will be appalling, and the things of God that seemed ‘boring’ before we’ll find enjoyable. When a couple gets married, they cannot then go their own separate ways as if they had never married, and expect their relationship to prosper. The same is applicable when we accept Jesus Christ into our hearts. We must yield to Him in our relationship with Him if we want complete victory and happiness.

–James Pangburn