Ephesians 2:4-9 (NLT)
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.
So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
I am a first-born, first-class rule follower. And sometimes I think I am raising first-class rule followers. Sound good? It brings me pause. Let me explain…
Here is the balancing act, as Proverbs puts it, in training my girls up in the way that they should go: I want them to understand what God’s Word says about sin and having a willing heart to obey God. I want them to understand and experience the consequences that come with sin. But I also want them to understand, no not just understand, I want them to experience grace. See, I have become deeply convinced we cannot show others grace and mercy unless we are receiving it ourselves. Not just learning about what grace and mercy mean in an idyllic fashion on a church pew. I mean realizing and personally receiving such amazing mercy and grace from the Father, every day!, that we are hungry and free to give it away.
Instead, I find as adults we still resemble my kitchen table at lunch yesterday. Our family is eating lunch and each of my girls wants to periodically report to us (as we are sitting right there at the same table!) what infractions the other is committing. Ughhhh!! If you have children you know exactly what I’m talking about…smile. Of course we tell them to worry about their own manners and eating habits but yesterday I finally just stopped eating, looked at one of my daughters and said, You know what? It’s not your job to keep track of what rules your sister breaks. I’m going to go ahead and lift that responsibility off your shoulders! It’s not your job.
Honestly, it’s annoying when little kids constantly tattle. But lately I keep thinking about how easily I can have this “tattletale spirit,” as well. I keep thinking about how as adults we are so ready sometimes to notice what we believe are broken rules in the lives of others. A movie someone mentions they watched and our eyes grow wide as we make a mental note of how we would never have watched that movie! An outfit we see another female wearing and we think, and often remark, about how inappropriate it looks. “What a lack of modesty!” The way others spend their money, the kind of church they attend, the way they raise their children, the books they read, the music they listen to, the beverages they do or do not consume, their doctrinal beliefs about worship, spiritual gifts, healing and faith, staying home with young children or working outside the home. And seriously, this is run-of-the-mill stuff among us Christians. Not to mention the judgement we hold toward non-believers and the choices they are making. What does it say about my heart if I relish my “better” choices?
Smile…even as I type the song playing on my iPod fills my kitchen with these lyrics: You can lay your burden down, You can lay your burden down, Oh maybe you’ve been kicked around…but you can lay your burden down. See, when we have a tattletale spirit it brings a very heavy and cumbersome weight to our lives. It becomes a burden to others but on our own hearts, as well. It is a burden God never, ever asks us to carry! Matter-of-fact, the Bible is very clear in telling us not to judge one another! Our only job is to love others and yet we so often live inversely. We make it our job to judge the perceived rule-breaking in others rather than just love them. I must realize the account I keep on others binds me to my own account. God doesn’t mean for me to live this way. It chokes out the joy and grace from my life.
I am struck by a couple of things in the scripture above this morning. First, it says God gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. Not when we behaved. Not when we followed the rules more often and with more fervor. Not because we had finally proven ourselves all the while disproving those around us. We received life as Christ was raised from the dead! Every now and then, more often that really, I need God to take a squeegee to my heart and wipe off the crud so I can once again have a crystal clear view of who does the saving…who paid the price. Jesus. Not me. Not ever. My relationship with Him has never been based on my rule-following ability and though I am pretty darn good at following the rules, in and of itself it means nothing. Being a good rule-follower with the wrong heart leads to pride and that tattletale spirit.
The second thing I noticed this morning was Paul (the author of Ephesians) telling us we are seated in heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. I am “seated” or positioned in the righteousness of Christ because I am united, through my belief in Him, in His victory over death and sin. Righteousness, a big spiritual word! Another way of reading it is “right standing with God.” I am in right standing with God because I am united with Jesus. I am united with Jesus because I believe in and trust Him. Oh I search my heart this morning for the right words! As I was driving to church yesterday morning, I was reminded of His immense grace. I am free! I am free from judging others because I am free from judgement myself! God laid all of my sin on Jesus as He hung on the Cross. All of my weakness, propensity to sin, wicked unbelief and human pride. Jesus took it upon Himself as He suffered those six hours. And as He neatly folded the grave-clothes and set them aside in that tomb…as He took those first steps into the early morning sunlight…as He watched Mary weep over His missing body…Jesus was full of supernatural rest. Rest from the work of fulfilling the judgement the law requires. Rest and Peace that He would leave to His followers as Jesus ascended to Heaven. Rest and peace meant to fill our hearts and lives as believers today. Every time my pride rises up and the tattletale spirit rears its ugly, judgemental head in my life I am telling Him it’s not enough. Jesus, your rest is not enough. I have to do more to find rest. Jesus, your peace is not enough. I have to prove my goodness is greater than the people around me to find peace. Maybe that will be enough.
You know what’s really good? His grace and kindness. We are not meant to be shining examples of exemplary rule-following all the while lacking the rich luster of supernatural love for others. We are meant to be people God can point to as examples of His incredible grace and kindness. I love that! Kindness! God is kind! Have we forgotten that God is kind?!! When, oh when, will we let Him lift the burden of judgement? When will we let God take care of that part and just do the one thing He clearly tells us to do…receive His love and grace and then give it away.
I want to live a life of yielded obedience to God. But I have come to realize I will not do it perfectly! I am learning I find rest and peace when my desire to obey God is born out of a deep gratitude for all He is rather than a compulsion to prove my goodness. His kindness and grace can move me to yield…to listen…to follow. I believe it gives Him more room to fill my life and spill out onto the people around me so they can see a real-life example of what His kindness looks like. And when my life is not that bright and shiny example of heart-felt obedience and kindness, then I rest still because it becomes an example of what God’s grace looks like. If I let it. If I stop to remember who paid the price. If I let the payment of His life laid down for me be enough.
Grace, big grace (the only real kind!), is unexpected. It goes against the grain. It seems ridiculous and it irritates that tattletale spirit in our lives. That tattletale wraps its tendrils around our lives and chokes out gratitude and supernatural rest. God’s grace is not a reward for our rule-following. It’s a gift that changes the deepest motives for the choices we make. Grace searches the places of earning and pride in our lives…the secret, and not so secret, judgements we make about others…and it whispers to our hearts of a love and favor from God we could never have earned and yet received right in the middle of our sin.
Like water overflowing its banks, grace rushes into every broken and cracked place in our lives to fill us and do in us what we can never do ourselves. Grace moves us to follow because we are thirsty for more of Jesus, not because we are attempting to prove our goodness or disprove the goodness in others. Free from the tattletale grip, we can live in amazing freedom, rest and peace.