I am currently re-reading The Grace Awakening by Charles Swindoll. I first read this book probably 13 years ago. I referenced it several times in my first posts on this blog. I recommend it to everyone. I know that several of the readers of this blog have also read it because you have mentioned it in your comments. I find myself wanting to comment on page after page here because the author writes so many important truths. I am, however, going to have to comment on some!
“Many (dare I say, most?) Christians live their lives as though they’re going to be graded once a year by a God who stands there frowning, with his hands stuck in the pockets of his robe. (I don’t know why, but probably most people usually think of God with a robe on…He’s always wearing a beard and this white robe). Glaring, He says, “Well, Johnson, that gets a C-“ And, “Dorothy, you ought to be ashamed!” And, “Smith? Not bad. Could’ve been better though.” What heretical imaginations we have.
Why do we think like that? Who is responsible for such horror-images of the Almighty? Where did we pick up the idea that God is mad or irritated? Knowing that all of God’s wrath was poured out on His Son at His death on the cross, how can we think like that? As a matter of fact, the reason He brought Jesus back from the grave is that He was satisfied with His Son. Ponder this: If the Father is satisfied with His Son’s full payment for sin, and we are in His Son, by grace through faith, then He is satisfied with you and me. How long must Christians live before we finally believe that? Perhaps our problem is that we will forever have bosses and fiends and pastors and parents who will give us lists. There will always be those who will give us more and more and more to live up to. These are grace killers whether they know it or not. By using guilt trips, shame techniques, and sneaky manipulations, they virtually drive us to distraction! But never God. He’s the One who assures that if we are anything, it is by His marvelous, infinite, matchless grace.
Later he writes,
“Let me ask you a question about Jesus, the One who was ‘full of grace and truth’. Do you know what was the most often repeated command from His lips? ….Our Lord issued numerous commands, but He made this one more than any other. ….. It was this: “Fear not.” Isn’t that great? “Do not fear.” Naturally, the most common reaction when someone stood before the perfect Son of God would have been fear. And yet Jesus, great in grace, repeatedly said, “Do not be afraid.” He didn’t meet people with a deep frown, looking down on them and swinging a club. He met them with open arms and reassuring words “Don’t be afraid.” “
When I first read the portion about God’s wrath being satisfied in Jesus death on the cross, it was like wow! I guess I knew that but I didn’t know it. What a wonderful thought though. When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and we believe in Christ’s death and resurrection, then because of what He accomplished at Calvary, we as believers, will not ever have to experience God’s wrath. He’s not mad at us. Accepting and believing this is very freeing. Yes, it seems too good to be true but the whole message of grace seems too good to be true….but it is true.
I keep coming back to Philippians 3:12-16:
“12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”
The process of unlearning and relearning what truth really is, is vital. It can take a long time. It took Paul at least 3 years. It’s taken me longer than that. We have to forget what is behind and lean into what is ahead. That is very hard to do for us with the background we have. The past invades our thoughts and our dreams for years.
I had such an erroneous picture of God. I used to say I had an Old Testament picture of God in my mind, not a New Testament God. That was partly true. However, even my pictures of the OT God were not correct. I saw Him as vengeful and angry most of the time. But I forgot about all the beautiful pictures the Old Testament offers of His heart, love, mercy, patience and grace. It is everywhere.
The New Testament God was, of course, Jesus. He came and settled forever what God was like because He was God in the flesh. Everything Jesus was, God is. (I’ve already written about this on the blog in a previous post) A side note that I did not mention before, is the question that always arises from those with a meeting church background on this subject, how could Jesus be God because Jesus prayed to His Father when He was here on the earth. Was He praying to Himself? In a sense, yes. but we forget one huge important fact: God is omnipresent. He, and only He, has the ability to be everywhere all at the same time. We, as humans, simply cannot wrap our minds around that fact and how it works. We just can’t, but news flash: We aren’t supposed to be able to! We are not God! He cannot be fully explained or figured out. His is past finding out. (Romans 11:33) That is where faith and trust comes in.
Back to the subject of the wrath of God. What about Revelation 15 when it talks about the 7 plagues yet to come that will be God’s wrath let loose? I pondered that a lot. Revelation 15 is talking about God’s wrath let loose on the earth for all the things that enemies of God have done through the ages. He will have the final word. But between the time of Jesus death and resurrection and those final days, God will not display His wrath. That is at least how I see it.
I found such comfort in the paragraph about Jesus most repeated command being to not fear. Oh, we need to lay hold on that often. He does not want us to be afraid of Him or afraid of life. He wants us to trust Him, have faith in Him. It is a conscious decision.
In the meeting system, there is so much fear. Fear of God, fear of the workers, fear of what others think, fear of what God’s will might be, fear of tomorrow, fear of the future, fear of death. Fear of not doing enough to be saved, fear of not being good enough, fear of others expectations for us, fear of the world, fear of taking risks, fear of getting involved, fear of sharing what we believe, fear of failure, fear of reaching out, fear of reaching in, fear of being vulnerable and honest, fear of other people who claim to be Christians, fear of other Christians books other than the King James Version of the Bible. I can hear some saying those are all “godly fears”. But I don’t think there is such a thing. We need fear Him only if we reject Him. We respect Him, honor Him, worship Him, love Him, and are in awe of Him. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, yes, but just the beginning! Many of us professed at young ages because we were afraid of going to hell. I think of that as the fear that was the beginning of wisdom. We were intended then to move on from that place. Not stay stuck in that fear.
I love the fact that Jesus repeatedly said to not fear. He loves us so much and he never intended that we live in fear; not at all. He begs us to just trust Him with everything.
I hope we get a refined picture of who God is and what He longs for us so that we can be freer than ever before.