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March 24, 2017
by Danny Stimson
“If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Lately, I have learned some new lessons about grace. This trinity of sources has steered me toward the unmerited favor of God: Scripture, Redemption Groups at PCPC, and Anne Lamott. The main thing I have learned about grace in recent months is that grace comes to us through means that we may not always want, but that God knows we need: confession and prayer.
When I first started working on the youth staff at PCPC in 2014, Mark Davis said at our first All Staff meeting, “If any of you are struggling with a sin pattern and you have had the thought, ‘I can settle this between me and God and I don’t need to tell anyone else,’ then you are believing a lie from the pit of hell.” Those words are not minced. They are also Scripture’s words. As Christians, we love the “already-ness” of God’s grace and forgiveness. But the “not-yet-ness” can be harder to bear. If we are not careful, this lopsided view of grace can lead us down two very slippery slopes: perfectionism or antinonmianism (anti-law). Perfectionism says God’s grace has already made me perfect in Christ, therefore I won’t struggle with sin anymore. Antinomianism says that God is perfect; I am not yet. God’s grace is sufficient to cover all my sin no matter what I do, so I can, in a sense, do whatever I want and still be forgiven. The truth in these two paths are: God IS perfect,
and He HAS made us perfect in Christ. However, we will always struggle with our sin, and we need the grace-infused power of Christ and His Word to be able to battle as victors over sin rather than be victims of it.
Anne Lamott says in her book Traveling Mercies that “Grace is having a commitment to—or at least an acceptance of—being ineffective and foolish.” But she does not stop there. It would be easy to take a statement like that or a verse like “by grace I have been saved” and either give up because we are ineffective in living for Christ or become prideful to think, “I’ve got this.” Anne goes on to say, “I do not at all understand the mysteries of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” God’s grace is not a mystical cloak of perfection nor is it a “get out of hell free” card. God’s grace seeks us out. And when it finds us, it grabs us by the collar, points our eyes to Christ, and fills us with Gospel power to want to move from one degree of glory to the next as we become more and more like Christ each day.
Grace is more than two tickets to paradise. It changes us. But how? Through confession and prayer. This is where Scripture and Redemption Groups come in. 1 John says, “If we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is a loaded verse. In fact, up until a day ago, I think I misunderstood what it meant. I always thought it made God’s grace and forgiveness conditional upon my confession. And ultimately, this is what some Christians believe. It is important to consider verse nine fully connected to verse eight which says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Miraslov Volf says in his book Free of Charge, “Without confession, I will remain unforgiven, not because God doesn’t forgive, but because a refusal to confess is a rejection of forgiveness.” This confession is, of course, to the Lord, but it is also to others.
Being in Redemption Groups has taught me the glorious means of grace that is confession. When we profess faith in Christ for the first time, we enter into God’s grace and forgiveness of sin by the power of His Spirit. And when we confess our sin in an ongoing way, to God and others, we actually take hold of grace day after day, struggle after struggle. We grasp it, use it, and consume it; it changes us through the community that is created by that confession. Confession is one aspect of something bigger, namely prayer. Prayer is a summoning of God’s grace by coming out of ourselves to encounter God on his terms. And John tells us that the result of confession and prayer is a cleansing and a clothing. We are cleansed from our unrighteousness and clothed with Christ as our propitiation, our wrath-absorber. George Herbert describes prayer as our “Christ-side-piercing spear.” What an image! Our prayers, like the centurion’s spear that poured out Christ’s blood to confirm His
death, summon the Gospel of Jesus Christ and pour it into our lives.
God’s grace in Christ, applied by His Holy Spirit, is indeed a mystery. It is summoned by prayer and taken hold of through confession in the midst of community with fellow believers. May God’s grace cover you as you confess and spill out of you as you pray today and in the days to come.
About the Author
Middle School Director
Park Cities Presbyterian Church
"...I grew up in the greatest city in North America and the rest of the Earth, College Station, Texas. I attended Texas A&M University (insert key exclamatory word here) where I met my future wife, Andrea. After graduating from TAMU in 2008, we got married and spent a year in college ministry together before moving to Philadelphia, PA where Andrea pursued a Master’s Degree in Biblical Counseling at Westminster Seminary while I did youth and young adult ministry at a church there. We moved back to Dallas in 2012 where I continued in high school ministry. Our daughter, Stella, was born in September of that year. I started attending Redeemer Seminary last fall and absolutely love it! My favorite past times include: Jesus, drinking coffee, growing beards, reading theology, dating my wife, going to the park with my daughter, and drinking more coffee. I love youth ministry, selfies, ultimate Frisbee, and coffee. Yes, I said coffee again."
"I feel so blessed to be a part of such an awesome church and youth ministry that love the gospel and people so well. We are looking forward to our time here at PCPC!"
They [the apostles] told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God's Spirit in them.
Having the Holy Spirit dwelling within us is the litmus test of whether we belong to Christ or not (Romans 8:9; Act 19:1-7). Without the Spirit of God within us — enabling us to overcome our sinful nature (Romans 8:12-13), transforming us to be like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18), and producing the fruit of the Spirit in us (Galatians 5:22-23) — we live by our "natural instincts." This way of life is called living by the flesh or living by our sinful nature (Romans 8:5-8) and is full of corruption, division, and hostility toward God, toward goodness, and toward God's people. Avoiding these things is why conversion to Christ and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit are so important. Living by our "natural instincts" means living in rebellion to God (Ephesians 2:1-3). No one can live for Christ without the Spirit of God. The Spirit empowers us with "supernatural instincts" from God to live for Christ!
Glorious and gracious God, thank you for sending your Son to die for my sins and then sending your Spirit to live within me to help me live to honor you. In Jesus' name, I offer you my thanks, my praise, and my heart. Amen.
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If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
What an incredible phrase: "the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you." Jesus reminded us that we are blessed when people insult and persecute us because we have a great reward in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12). In today's verse, Peter plugs into this theme. In doing so, he also reminds us of an immediate reality as we await our reward in heaven. No matter what others say about us, God claims us and lives in us through the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of glory! Rather than being ashamed for our suffering, we need to remain faithful because we know that we are claimed by the almighty God!
Father, may I never be ashamed of my faith in Jesus. Through the power of your glorious Holy Spirit, empower me to remain faithful through every circumstance and trial of life. I know you claim me as your child and that your Spirit lives in me and rests on me as I live to your glory. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.
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