The Shadow of Grace

Grace is the name of my late grandmother. And she was graceful. So is my mother. You might say that I was raised with grace. Yet, it’s the centerpiece of the war going on inside me these days.

I don’t think I really understand grace even after all these years. Oh sure I can tell you that it means “unmerited favor”. But where does it begin and where does it end? I suppose you could say that it began before the creation of the earth when God outlined the plan of redemption and salvation. “For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight.” – Ephesians 1:4.

So I guess I don’t really struggle with the beginning part. Really it’s the end. Does the grace of God have a final line that can be crossed? Does He finally get tired of my wicked and worldly heart?

In Romans 7:15-25, the Apostle Paul said:

For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.  So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

This is hitting me very hard lately. On the one hand I want to embrace the bountiful Scriptures that speak of grace and the atonement that takes away my sin. On the other hand, I know what a wicked and wretched man I am. I hate myself for the things that I am and I don’t want to gloss over it or brush it aside.

Some time ago I wrote one of several songs for my late grandmother, Grace.  One in particular focused on whether or not she would be disappointed in me.  Could she forgive me for what I am now that she can see?

It happened when I closed my eyes
One last time
Then the silence
I hope she can forgive me
I have fallen
I’m lost outside ~ Wasting Away (by Sombrance)

Obviously, it’s not grandma’s forgiveness that I need.  But this is an example of the guilt I live under most days.  My sin nature overpowers my desire to pursue Jesus too often.

Yesterday in Sunday School, we discussed the fruits of the spirit spoken of in Galatians 5:22-23. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As Mike Dockery read those words, I’m sure we all kept a mental checklist. As usual, I come up very short. But I came in strong on the next list. So if you back up a few verses to Galatians 5:19-21 you find the fruits of the flesh. Those are immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, and carousing. Yes, I scored much higher on this list.

It is because my heart is wicked. In Mark 7:21-23, Jesus said “For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a person.

I am defiled. My leaning and my nature is generally guilt. I see the outline of a Christian who has died to sin and been raised anew. I see the portrait of a person who has bathed in the grace of our savior, Jesus Christ, and become a new flesh. I see that beautiful image in the Bible, but not in me. Why does it feel that my heart is not dead to sin?

So I turn my attention to my heart. I genuinely want to be the man God wants me to be. I do want to be molded into His image. I want to be a man after His own heart. There was one who was called that exact name in the Bible. David. This man after God’s own heart was an adulterer who compounded his sin by sending the husband off to die in battle. This was a man after God’s own heart. So I explore further.

After David committed this horrible sin, he was visited by the prophet Nathan. Nathan spun him a tail about a rich man and a poor man. The poor man had only a small lamb. That lamb lived and ate with his family. It’s safe to say that he loved that lamb. Along comes a rich man who had many flocks, but took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it as a meal for a travelor.

The Bible says that David’s anger burned greatly and he determined that the rich man needed to die. Like the highest dramatic point of a movie the room probably grew silent and the air went still when Nathan replied to David, “You are the man!!”

That portion of Scripture always brings tears to my eyes. It’s simply a crushing blow. A family was destroyed, an innocent child lost and an innocent man’s life was lost. And those words hung in the air like a noose waiting for it’s victim. You are the man! I am the man…  We are the people…

God told David that He had given him everything. He went on to say that if he wanted more, He would have given him more. Oh sure, it’s easy enough to look at that sin and the things that God had done for David and cast our judgment. Sure it’s easy to think that we would take the high road. Oh, we would never fall into such a sin. Really? Are we so sure? My heart is heavy because I know that, left to myself, I could fall into that and all sin. My own morality, my own righteousness is filthy rags. In my own strength of moral character I cannot withstand the snares of the enemy. I cannot even withstand the small, unpleasant desires of my own heart.

So God pronounced judgment on David. The son that their affair had born would die and the sword would never depart from his house. But in that whole judgment, God also pronounced grace unto David. David immediately realized his sin and said “I have sinned against the Lord”. God’s grace said to David that “the Lord has taken away your sin, you shall not die”.

The aftermath of this sin is profound. When David realized the reality of his actions, he was crushed by the fact that he had sinned against God. His prayer of repentence is in the famous Psalm 51. I’ll post it here for you to read. While you read it, imagine the broken heart, the passion and the true and complete sorrow for his actions. Imagine all of that in his vice as he cried out to his God.

(1) For the choir director. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. (2) Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity And cleanse me from my sin. (3) For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. (4) Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge. (5) Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. (6) Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. (7) Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (8) Make me to hear joy and gladness, Let the bones which You have broken rejoice. (9) Hide Your face from my sins And blot out all my iniquities. (10) Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. (11) Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. (12) Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit. (13) Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You. (14) Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness. (15) O Lord, open my lips, That my mouth may declare Your praise. (16) For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. (17) The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (18) By Your favor do good to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem. (19) Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices, In burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then young bulls will be offered on Your altar. [Psa 51:1-19 NASB]

This story is amazingly powerful on so many levels. God is a just and holy God. He loves with a passion that I cannot grasp. He seeks restitution for humanity. But He doesn’t just let the consequences of our actions slide.

I am afraid for the consequences of my sinful heart. I don’t want to live with that nature within me. Yet, I cannot muster the strength or even the sustained desire to change it.

That’s just it isn’t it? I can’t break free of the wickedness. I suppose that is the law of sin. It is supposed to show us that we are hopelessly lost without Him. I know that on an academic basis. But I am seeing it on a ‘real’ basis now. My strength and my moral character are unable to change my own heart.

David’s prayer in Psalm 51 is full of that revelation. Create in me a clean heart O God! And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

My clean heart HAS to be created by God. I cannot build it. I take some comfort in that. But I need to have the desire to pursue Him. I feel like I fall short in that frequently.

Often the holes in my life and the pains form the desires in my heart. Those are the things that I tend to pursue. That way of life has left me with nothing but anxiety and worry. I simply chase after logical remedies instead of God. What’s worse is that I simply naturally hunger for those remedies instead of God. Most of the time, pursuing God for me is more about a discipline than a desire. There, I said it.

But the second part of that verse is intrigueing to me… “Renew a steadfast spirit in me“. David asks God to renew this spirit within him. So even David, the man after God’s own heart, struggled with this. He goes on to ask God to restore in him the joy of his salvation and to sustain him with a willing spirit.

Earlier this month I spoke at church about having a willing heart. I think maybe this is the work of God in my life right now. I do not doubt Him. I whole-heartedly believe in Him. My faith isn’t waivering in that sense. But I find that I am greatly disappointed in myself for what seems to be the natural me.

A long time ago I wrote that I wish God would make my first instinct to be love. I still wish for that.

I wonder if some of you out there can relate to this blog entry? As is the case for most of my writing, I point the finger at myself and hope it helps others. Let’s pray together that God forms clean hearts within us and renews a steadfast desire to pursue Him over all other things. This really is what I want for myself.