the letter iconSo last week Ken really did a great job of helping us see something…Paul continues to unpack for us that we were a complete mess without God and the gift of grace.  He showed us the importance of that shift in focus that we keep coming back to.  It is not about what we do, our focus must stay on what God does.  If we can’t stay focused on God and what He does we can really end up in a mess.  I loved how Ken talked about the idea that we get “Christian busy.”  We work really hard on resting in the presence of God.  We work harder and harder doing lots and lots of good things, and we forget to do the most important thing.  We get so wrapped up in busyness that we can’t even comprehend getting out of it, slowing down, and resting in God’s grace.  The scary thing is, we are doing so many good things, we can’t see that anything is wrong with it.  You know what is really interesting in what Ken spoke on last week, Paul keeps pounding home this message of grace.  Grace, grace, grace…it is not what you do it is all about what God does, and then what did Paul do last week?  He has the nerve to tell us what we need to do!  How is this possible?  Think about what Ken read last week…

Romans 6:1  Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more kindness and forgiveness? 2 Of course not! (skipping to verse 12)Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to its lustful desires. 13 Do not let any part of your body become a tool of wickedness, to be used for sinning. NLT

Wait, Paul tells us that through Jesus and the cross all our sins are forgiven.  All of our past sins, all of our present sins and all of our sins to come, are washed away by the amazing work of Jesus and the cross, so isn’t this a complete contradiction?  I should be able to do whatever I want because of the amazing work of Jesus on the cross right?  I have grace on my side, surely I can do whatever I want because grace covers all…right?  It’s amazing how we swing so wildly from one extreme to the other.  So I come to MRC and I learn of God’s grace.  Here at MRC we try so hard to remove those barriers which keep us from experiencing that grace, we read 5 chapters of Romans and I am finally starting to rest in the idea of what this grace thing is all about.  And we come to the conclusion that I can now do whatever I want because of that grace…I like this place!  MRC rocks!  Well, grace is amazing, but all through scripture we are challenged to live a holy life…

1 Peter 1:13-16  So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. 14 Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. 15 As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. 16 God said, “I am holy; you be holy.”  (MSG)

Yes, you have been saved by grace, yes by simply believing in Jesus you have the gift of eternal life but there is still a way of life that leads to freedom, and a way of life that leads to death.  I love these words of Peter, work hard, do not lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing whatever you feel like.  You know better than this now!  And how intimidating is that last line…”God said I am holy; you be holy.”  Wow, is that even possible?  I can hear you know, “Sam you better get somewhere quick with this because I’m starting to feel the weight of expectations falling back on my shoulders!  This is the grace place right?”

It is funny how as a people we work so hard on labelling things.  We box things in and describe them to people in ways that make sense to us all.  People do this to me all the time, and it can be frustrating.  This is Sam, he is a passionate guy.  He is soft hearted, he cries sometimes, so he falls in the grace camp.  So I’m boxed up and labeled as a passionate guy with more heart than brains, here’s his limitations that we should watch out for…and you know who I am know without ever meeting me.  People do this all the time.  They do this with people and even with churches.  So MRC is a grace church, who is very passionate and very focused.  While this church over here it’s more about rules and religion.  So what can happen is that we end up almost having two camps of people and churches, hitting on the extremes that we people push towards.  This really makes it easy for us to box and label, and frankly both camps make the other nervous and they kind of judge each other in their own special way.  Here’s the two camps.

1st Camp-Rules and Regulations Camp.

We have some people that love the idea of rules and regulations who get terrified when a church brings up grace.  We hear things like, “You need to be careful when you teach on God’s grace because there are rules you know.”  These people are worried during the “grace talks” because one I have been labelled right (remember I’m the more passion the brains, heart guy) and two our church has been labeled…we are a passionate missional church who isn’t thinking through all the risks right?  Boxed and labelled.  They assume that we are giving people free reign to go rob banks, steal cars, do drugs and run through the streets with no rules…if you bring up grace, it will means you are giving people the invitation to revisit the Wild, Wild West!  It’s a big free for all!  So they don’t want to hear the message of grace, it makes them very nervous, and they would almost see the message of grace as reckless and dangerous.  They look at MRC as a church trying to take the weight of the spirit of religion off of people and say, MRC is very passionate and a little over the top when it comes to grace.  They need to be careful.  They can look at someone who is passionate about grace and love and forgiveness and really be frustrated by their lack of discipline and rule following, because as they will remind you…God does have some rules for us to live by.

2nd Camp- The Grace Camp.

Here’s what is really interesting.  Someone in the rules and regulations camp can really look down their nose at someone in the grace camp and guess what, someone in the grace camp can do the exact thing to someone in the rule and regulations camp.  Now they would never say that, because they aren’t judging people right…they are grace people!  (Remember – box and labelled) but they are concerned for their Christian brother who just don’t get it, and can’t have the awesome life they have, walking in freedom and joy.  We can swing so wildly from one extreme to the other that we can lose sight of some very important facts.  Yes we are saved by God’s grace.  Yes what Jesus did for us is a free gift, but what is interesting is if we swing too hard towards grace we can actually hide behind grace, and abuse grace as a way to keep living the way we want to live.   I know, I know I go to the cool church with the great band where we wear sneakers and jeans…we don’t judge and act like those people in that other camp!  Well, we need to talk.

So here’s what is funny, both camps are right and both camps are making good points.  One camp looks at the other as a crazy bunch of heart felt hippies, and the other camp looks back and sees a bunch of old school, people who are way too uptight and somewhere in the middle of these two camps is where Paul is trying to get us to land.  Listen to how he starts this portion of his letter out here…

Romans 6:14-15…you are free by God’s grace.  15 So since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does this mean we can go on sinning? Of course not!  NLT

So the question is since we now have this amazing freedom because of what Jesus did for us on the cross does that mean we live and do whatever we want because of God’s grace?  And the answer is very clear here…OF COURSE NOT!  See this is an important moment, Paul understands that we people have an amazing ability to swing wildly from one extreme to another.  Yes we have grace, but no we do not keep on sinning.  Then he explains why this is so important.

Romans 6:16-18 You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you’ve let sin tell you what to do. 17 But thank God you’ve started listening to a new master, 18 one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!  MSG

So here’s the deal, Paul would say that we now know from our own life experience that somethings we do just do not lead to life.  Some would actually lead you to death, imprisonment and pain.  So do you have the freedom in Christ to do whatever you like, sure…it doesn’t make it wise, or smart and it certainly doesn’t mean you are obeying God’s commands.  Yes I said that, in the middle of all the grace, love, and mercy there is a level of obedience for you and I to follow, and when we follow it, it leads to life.  You can do a lot of things but not all of them are going to lead you to true freedom, and a full life in Christ.  God loves us enough to explain that some will lead you to pain, death, and imprisonment.

Can I ask you something today?  When you hear that we are to obey God’s commands how does that hit your heart?  Does that discourage you?  Does that make you cringe?  Does that make you question grace and love and mercy?  See it’s amazing to me how many people think that becoming a Christian is the end of their life as they know it.  We are now not able to have any of the fun we used to have.  Gone are the good old days, now I’m stuck trying to live out all these rules.  The mentality is that now that I have Jesus in my life, my life is now over…that is such an amazing, ridiculous lie.  Paul would say think back to what you considered the good old days.  Was what you were experiencing really acts of freedom?  Think about that!  Was waking up on the hood of an Impala wondering what happened the day before really a good life?  Were those really the fun days?  Really?  Let’s think that through for a minute and really come to an honest conclusion as to what really would lead me to freedom.  Would God trying to lead me towards holiness really cause me more pain, then living in those old grooves of evil that Peter talked about earlier?  Come on, that shouldn’t even need an answer.  Life is not over when we ask Jesus into our life, it is the point where life begins!  Paul would say God’s commands set you free to live openly and in freedom…while sin leads to your last free act.  This is such a struggle for so many of us, and makes me really thing of something Solomon writes in Proverbs…

Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.  NIV

So we have got to understand something here today.  God does ask us to live holy lives, the scriptures challenge us, have a disciplined life in Christ.  What I think is really interesting is that God loves us enough to explain why that is so important!

Have you ever asked someone to do something, and they come back with this question; Why?  I can tell you that question has always frustrated me with my children, even as a soccer coach, or a General Superintendent at Lobar Inc. and I often come back with a really articulate answer of, “because I said so!”  It really makes me think through an experience I had with the youth group years ago.

I used to run the youth group around here and it was such a blast.  I really enjoyed the retreats that we would do.  They were awesome.  We would go to this one place called “The Loft” where we would have so much fun.  We would have free reign of this barn, with all kinds of stuff to do, sports, climbing walls, you name it, we could do it there and frankly there really weren’t a ton of rules…but there was one thing I told the kids that I wanted.  I want you to stay out of the tall weeds around the camp fire area.  You can be anywhere in the lawn, but stay out of the weeds.  Seemed like a pretty simple rule and sure enough that afternoon and evening where did some of the kids go to hide and crawl around in, and try and jump out and scare people?  The tall weeds that I asked them not to go in.  Well guess what happened.  I had four of my youth taken to the Emergency Room on Sunday and Monday with horrible cases of poison ivy.  I mean covered in poison from head to toe…and yes it was the four kids who crawled around in the weeds.  I felt horrible for them, but also was amazed.  There was really one thing you were asked not to do, and a million things you can continue to do on this retreat, and you had to do what I asked you not to…and here we are, with four youth who looked more like ET than human beings.  It was really interesting though, the one kid later told me that if I just would have told them WHY, they shouldn’t go in the weeds they wouldn’t have done it!  Which lead to a great lesson on authority, but you know what, I didn’t think I needed to explain myself.  But maybe it would have been more merciful for me to explain what could happen if they go in the weeds, but part of me wonders if they would have even heard that.  They were doing what they wanted to do, and the old youth guy, just didn’t get it right?

Here’s what is really interesting.  The scriptures do tell you what happens when you don’t obey God.  Paul tries hard to help you not just see the importance of obeying God’s commands but also the ramifications of it.  God loves us enough to explain the answer to the why question!  He doesn’t just give you the articulate parent answer of “because I said so!”  He loves us enough to answer the way question.

Romans 6:19 I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  NIV

So let’s go back to my story, would it really have mattered if the young man in the youth group knew why I didn’t want him in the weeds?  You know, under this context, I have to wonder if it would have.  Paul very clearly lets us see the answer to the why question when it comes to obeying God.  It’s very clear, there is no gray area here…

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  NIV

The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death.  We know the ramifications yet we continue to do what we want to do.  Pretty incredible when you think of it that way.  It’s amazing how many people walk through life believing that obeying the commands of God is so oppressive.  We look at the idea of living a holy life, as living a life that is boring, frustrating, and bland.  Ken has spent the last few weeks helping you see why that is…it is because the focus is on you, and what you do, rather than on God and what He does.  Today I really wanted to take some time and point out the extremes that we seem to fall into.

We can be so into the rules and regulations that we don’t want to hear about grace.  We are so focused on all we should do and need to do, that we lose sight of the fact that this is all about what Jesus did for us.  While some run to the rules and regulations and feel so spiritually constipated in them, we have others that hear of the grace of God and move that into this idea that freedom is about me doing whatever I want, whenever I want because the cross covers all!  What Paul is trying to do today is help you understand that somewhere in the middle of those wild extremes is where we need to be.  We need to understand that we have been saved by grace and by believing in Jesus we have the gift of eternal life.  This is an amazing thing!  But God also loves us enough to help us seek out truly holy lives.  It is in obeying God’s commands we find life, in obeying our fleshly desires there is death.

The irony is that as you seek God and continue to rest in His presence you also begin to rest in who you are, and you will begin to obey the commands of God.  It won’t be out of obligation, and it won’t be to earn anything from Him but it will be out of pure love, and adoration for who He is…and amazingly enough when you start to really rest in the gift of grace that we have in Jesus, when you can allow the focus to be on Him and not you…you would never dream of abusing God’s grace, IT JUST WOULD NOT HAPPEN, because you would grasp the loving gift that it is, you would stop hiding behind it to do what you want, and begin resting in the fact that you won’t get this right every day, but through Jesus you are more than ok, he took care of it all for you.

It’s amazing how deceived we can be, thinking that God loving us enough to give us rules on how to live is oppressive and exhausting and causes us to hate our new life in Christ.  How amazing is that…when our old life led to so much pain…yet we look back and wish we could live that life back as we busy ourselves in Christian Duty.

It’s also amazing how deceived we can be into thinking that the very grace we have been given means that we get to do whatever we want and there is no need to live a holy life for God.  What a slap in God’s face to live this way.  This is why we keep going back to the shift in focus from Easter and building back from there.

God said “I am holy, you be holy.”  Does that mean that you must be perfect? NO.  It means that each day of your life as you spend time with Him allowing the focus to shift off of you and onto Him…you get to rest in His love, in His grace, and His mercy.  Through that love you will begin to be drawn towards Holiness.  Yes there is rules.  Yes there is grace.  Yes there is danger in this world, and Your Heavenly Father loves you enough to give you guidelines to live your life well.  Think this through, is that oppressive?  Is that unloving?  Or do this guidelines show you just how much He cares?  He even loves you enough to answer the WHY question…the ramifications of disobedience is death.

Please stop hiding behind the rules and regulations and religion…and please stop using grace as an excuse to keep on living exactly the way you want to live.  It’s time to roll up our sleeves and live the kind of lives God called us to live…a life energetic and blazing with holiness.  That sounds pretty awesome to me.

Paul sees the wild extremes coming a mile away, he is standing in the middle of these two camps saying, please meet me here!