Last week I spoke at the Atlanta Mission for the Wednesday night chapel service. There were about 40 people in attendance, including my girlfriend and the guys from my small group.
You can listen to my talk here: “Living in the Freedom of God’s Grace”
Or, if you’re like me, and are repulsed by the sound of my voice, here’s a brief summary of my talk…
I begin with a reading and discussion of the story of “Jesus and the Adulterous Woman,” as recorded in John 8. (For the past few weeks – months, really, at this point – this story keeps coming in discussions I’m part of, so I kind of figured God wanted me to use this somehow.)
Jesus’ words from that story are well-known, even if you didn’t know they are from this story:
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
“Neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”
The first phrase is common rhetorical currency, even among non-Christians. The second phrase, which ends the story, is (in my opinion) widely preached though little practiced among Christ-followers. (I place myself in both categories – Christ-follower and non-practitioner of Jesus’ teaching here.)
I do not condemn you. I do not judge you. You’re free to go. And free to stop sinning.
You see, I am the adulterous woman. You are, as well. So is each and every one of us. The faces change, the sin is different, but the forgiveness is the same.
But here’s the thing, to my mind: WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?? The chapter ends with Jesus’ words. On one hand, what else do you, I, or anyone else need to say? Jesus’ words are the ultimate summation: “I do not condemn you.”
On the other, God’s grace and forgiveness requires that we accept it. Freedom from sin is a blessing, and a responsibility. It is serious. In fact, what could be more serious?
The remainder of the talk – which I called “The Application” – I used to discuss three things I believe are necessary to truly Live in the Freedom of God’s Grace. These are the things each of us must “do” after we have our “go and sin no more” moment.
1. Acknowledge – Psalm 32
This Psalm of David is, in my opinion and that of many people much more qualified to judge such things, perhaps the best scripture on the necessity and power of confession and forgiveness.
Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
3 When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.[b]
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.
My choice of the word “acknowledge” comes from verse 5, as you can see. But how perfect and powerful a word and an action. Acknowledge. Or “admit,” if you prefer. Own up to.
You don’t have to be a Christian to recognize and even feel the power of confession. “I’ve got to get something off my chest,” you might say to someone you have wronged. Doing so frees you from a burden.
Keeping silent only makes us waste away internally – morally – and the depression that often results from that has physical consequences as well.
Acknowledging our sin – saying “Yes, God. You’re right. I am wrong,” when He says “Go and sin no more.” That’s what He desires of us. Not in a “Let Me hear you say it, let Me see you beg” kind of way. Why would He? He’s already said “Neither do I condemn you.” Really, acknowledging sin is more for me, for you, for each of us as human beings as much or more as it is part of the act of forgiveness. (You can challenge me on this theologically…I admit I haven’t done lots and lots of hard thinking about that. So I might be partially right on this, at best.)
2. Accept – John 21: 15-19
My second point is drawn from the passage of scripture entitled “Jesus Reinstates Peter.”
Recall that, during Jesus “trial” and the events leading up to His crucifixion, Peter denied even knowing Jesus three times, as Jesus predicted he (Peter) would.
I don’t know if the word “sin” even begins to touch on what Peter did. Try to imagine…Jesus is raised from the dead – as He said He would, as you, Peter, did not believe – and now you’ve got to, well, you’ve got to try to live down that whole denial thing. Maybe you’re hoping Jesus just doesn’t bring it up.
But He does. And He does so in the most personal way. It’s at once the most painful and most powerfully liberating way possible.
He asks Peter not once, not twice, but three times: “Peter, do you love me?”
Each time, in response, Peter says “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.”
The three times, of course, mirrors Peter’s denial, a fact that John records for us. But more than that – and this is something I do not mention in my talk because it has just now occurred to me – Peter acknowledges Jesus’ omniscience (all knowing-ness).
When Jesus told Peter he (Peter) would deny Him (Jesus), what was Peter’s response? “Never, Lord!”
He was so insistent. He could not believe that Jesus could be right about that.
So Peter saying here “Lord, you know that I love you,” is Peter’s admission – or is it his recognition? – that Jesus, as the Son of God, truly knows all things.
I think in the same way that we must acknowledge our sin, to own to it, so must we perform an act of acceptance of it. It must be an ACTIVE acceptance, which brings me to the final point…
3. Act – Philippians 3:12-14
The final thing that we must do – not once and for all but constantly and consistently – is to Act, or take action.
I take this third point from two sources. The first is some thinking/writing that I did about Gratitude, back in a Thanksgiving blog post at the end of last year. In that I quote John Piper, from whom I first learned about the etymological relation of the words Grace and Gratitude. Apparently, writes Piper, they have the same root word in the ancient Greek.
Why do I think this matters? This means that the proper response to Grace is a life of Gratitude, or grateful action. We demonstrate our freedom in God’s grace by showing that same “Go and sin no more” spirit to others who have not yet heard it or experienced it.
The apostle Paul, in Philippians 3, writes:
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Both here and elsewhere, Paul acknowledges his sin, he accepts God’s grace, and he acts. He is “straining forward,” which I think is a recognition of the reality that God’s grace is never perfectly realized in any of us, same as he says “Not that I have already obtained this…”
Grace and forgiveness was purchased for us by Jesus’ death on the cross. And while our salvation can be assured through faith, I, for one, believe I have daily need to Acknowledge my sin, Accept that God’s grace is real and all-sufficient, and to then Act – boldly and consistently – from that spirit and attitude of gratitude.
God is working to make these things real for me, in spite of my best efforts to ignore Him many days.