Sunday, April 19, 2015

The True Grace of God

What is the grace of God anyway?

Growing up, I associated “grace” with Mary, the mother of Jesus. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women...” The repeated prayer convinced me grace was something extraordinary Mary had. She was favored by God, unique, perfect, something I could never live up to.

Later I discovered the Bible revealed Mary was surprised and afraid when the angel Gabriel came to her and announced she would give birth to the Messiah. It was Mary’s cousin Elizabeth who greeted her with those words when she went to visit her for understanding and comfort. While Mary was a good woman of great faith, she was not chosen because she was flawless.

When we accept Jesus as our Savior we all receive this blessing called the “grace of God.” It is a free gift. Like Mary, none of us receive it because we deserve anything from God. Grace is “the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.” I found this definition on Google just now, so it must be true, right?

Peter gives us a more complete definition of grace.

Peter’s purpose for writing is reveals in this last chapter: I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. God’s grace is not merely a free gift to us. It is a gift we receive to give to others. Throughout the book Peter explains how to use grace:

  • Have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. (1 Peter 1:22)
  • Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:17)
  • All of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing (1: Peter 3:8-9)
  • Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
  • Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter 4:9)
  • Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)
  • Those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (1 Peter 4:19)
This is not easy. Therefore Peter reminds us to be diligent and watchful. Be alert and of sober mind, he repeats three times (see 1 Peter 1:13, 4:7, 5:8). As we continue to pay attention and grow in our faith, the Lord will empower us to use the gift of grace He gave us for others. When we stay close to Jesus as we walk through life, the fruit of love will bloom.

Saturday’s sunshine enticed hundreds of people to walk, bike, and lounge under the blossoming trees in Branch Brook Park. The trees were graced with gorgeous flowers, but not for the trees. Everyone nearby enjoyed the beauty. So it should be with our lives. God gives grace to us and surely we are blessed, joyful, to be envied. But it’s not for merely for us. Everyone nearby should enjoy the beauty of God’s grace manifested in our lives.

This is the true grace of God.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

If they do not believe

1 Peter Chapters 2 and 3

How do you draw an unbelieving husband towards faith?

This is a question heavy on my heart, not only because it is an issue for many of my friends, but also because it was my concern for years. I came to faith and then waited 18 years for my husband to make a commitment to Christ. During that time, I read and re-read these words from Peter as if he had written them especially for me.

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.

Note Peter does not recommend a straight-on Evangelical technique. He does not urge wives to share the four spiritual laws or the ABC’s of faith. Peter does not tell us to sign our husbands up for ALPHA or some other spiritual activity. I tried all those things with my husband Al with no immediate success. No, Peter’s advice is to love our husbands by submitting to them.

As we continue to read his letter, Peter is consistent, no matter who he is talking to:
  • Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives (1 Peter 3:7)
  • Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters (1 Peter 2:18)
  • Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors (1 Peter 2:13-14)
  • Be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil … repay evil with blessing (1 Peter 3:9)

Submit - be considerate - repay even evil with blessing. Why would Peter say that? What about when the husband is dead wrong? When he is doing something clearly hurtful to his wife or to his children? Surely we are to speak up then? He’s the one who’s the unbeliever! Hello?

No offense, ok, but why are we convinced we are always the one in the right and they are the one who needs to change? Honestly, I am talking to myself here as well. Why can’t we allow them to make their own choices (which they will anyway!) and choose to do right ourselves, no matter what they are doing?

Let me repeat: our response is our responsibility. Are there ways we can serve our man with integrity? Are there areas where we can defer to them and say “I don’t want to but because you want to, I will”? Can we put his needs before our needs? Can we forgive the hurts? Can we consider how he must feel? Can we stop judging him, repeatedly pointing where he is wrong?

Peter pulls out the trump card with the example of Jesus’ life.

Photo by Caroline Pierce
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps... When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.

Jesus was able to submit to the cross because He trusted God the Father to vindicate Him.
  • He did not trust His disciples to stand by Him – they did not.
  • He did not trust the religious leaders to give Him a fair trial – they did not.
  • He did not trust the Roman governor to see through the schemes of the Jewish leaders and release Him because He was innocent – he did not.
  • He did not trust the Roman soldiers to be gentle with Him because He was not rude to them – they did not.

EVERYONE did wrong to Jesus, and not just a little wrong. They betrayed Him, beat Him, spit on Him, mocked Him, and nailed Him to a tree.

Jesus submitted because He trusted God.

Peter invites us to do that too.

Sure, if there are people being hurt, there need to be boundaries. And sure, we are to use words to share the gospel…

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…

Love people by serving them with humbleness and kindness. Trust God because He’s got this. That is the bottom line. I think this works with not only husbands but also teens, co-workers, neighbors, and extended family members.

“He himself bore our sins” in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness… the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer…

How do we die to sin and live for righteousness? Submit to others. Even our husbands. Even when they can’t be trusted. Because we can trust God.

For how it turned out for me and my husband, click here.