Without Him

O Lord God,

Teach me to know that grace precedes, accompanies, and follows my salvation, that it sustains the redeemed soul, that not one link of its chain can ever break.

From Calvary’s cross wave upon wave of grace reaches me, deals with my sin, washes me clean, renews my heart, strengthens my will, draws out my affection, kindles a flame in my soul, rules throughout my inner man, consecrates my every thought, word, work, teaches me your immeasurable love.

How great are my privileges in Christ Jesus! Without him I stand far off, a stranger, an outcast; in him I draw near and touch his kingly scepter.

Without him I dare not lift up my guilty eyes; in him I gaze upon my Father-God and Friend.

Without him I hide my lips in trembling shame; in him I open my mouth in petition and praise.

Without him all is wrath and consuming fire; in him is all love, and the repose of my soul.

Without him is gaping hell below me, and eternal anguish; in him its gates are barred to me by his precious blood.

Without him darkness spreads its horrors in front; in him an eternity of glory is my boundless horizon.

Without him all within me is terror and dismay, in him every accusation is charmed into joy and peace.

Without him all things external call for my condemnation; in him they minister to my comfort, and are to be enjoyed with thanksgiving.

Praise be to thee for grace, and for the unspeakable gift of Jesus.

From The Valley of Vision (a book of Puritan prayers)

An Inside Job

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:24-25 ESV)

Freedom is found in relationship, not rules. (7:24-25) “Who will set me free”, Notice that Paul does not ask, “What” will set me free. He is not espousing a new technique. He is not suggesting that the 12 steps will free someone from the abuse of alcohol. No! His very question reveals his beginning point: freedom comes from a relationship, not a set of rules. “Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The one who can set us free is Jesus. He is not a program, He is a person. He is not a new technique, He is a new life giver.

Freedom is an inside job. Your environment does not determine your freedom. Circumstances do not bring you freedom, nor do they take freedom away. You can recite Bible verses, cut off every influence from the outside world possible, but unless Jesus comes and cuts the cords of sin away, you will stand there face to face with your own stinking sin nature and be a miserable wretch. The answer is found in a person, not a program.

In January, 2008, a story made the rounds about a 15-year-old girl in Australia named Demi-Lee Brennan. Brennan became the world’s first known transplant patient to change blood types from O negative to O positive, taking on the immune system of her organ donor. At first the doctors assumed someone had made a mistake, because it’s always been assumed that a change like that can’t happen. Now they say she’s a “one-in-six-billion miracle.”

The blood stem cells in Brennan’s new liver invaded her body’s bone marrow, taking over her entire immune system. She now has an entirely different kind of blood—blood that welcomes life, rather than carrying death. “It’s like my second chance at life,” Brennan says.

Jesus Christ is the second chance on life that will change your life. When you put your faith in Him, He will change you from the inside out!  In other words, it’s who you know, not what you know that counts. Freedom is found in relationship. Our Father-God is the creator of the universe. He made us. He knows our hearts better than we. And he longs for us to live lives of freedom. He longs for us to be free.

Go Bananas

Put five monkeys in a cage. Put a ladder in the cage with a bunch of bananas at the top. As soon as one momonkey-bananav2nkey starts to climb the ladder, spray cold water on all the monkeys. When another tries to climb, spray cold water on all the monkeys again. Soon, no monkey will attempt to climb the ladder.

Now, remove one monkey and put a new monkey in the cage. The new monkey will see the bananas and try to climb the ladder. Not wanting to be sprayed with cold water again, the other monkeys will quickly pull him down. Remove a second monkey and put a new monkey in the cage. Again, the new monkey will see the bananas and try to climb the ladder. Not wanting to be sprayed with cold water, the other monkeys will quickly pull him down.

Repeat this process until all five original monkeys are gone, and five new monkeys are in the cage. None will try to climb the ladder, and none will understand why. Now, remove all five monkeys and put a brand new monkey in the cage. The monkey will quickly climb the ladder and eat the bananas. Don’t spray any cold water. Put the five original monkeys back in the cage with the one brand new monkey who has tasted the delicious bananas. Replenish the bananas.

The brand new monkey will again climb up the ladder. Despite the efforts of the older monkeys to hold him down, the brand new monkey has tasted the bananas, he will strive again until he succeeds. When he succeeds, the other five monkeys will realize that bananas are worth the climb, and worth the risk of some cold water. They, too, will climb the ladder and enjoy the delicious bananas.

And so it is with grace. God’s grace is attractive, we want grace but many of us have spent years being sprayed by the cold waters of performance. Robert McGhee calls it Satan’s big lie:

My performance + The opinions of others = My value.

Corporate America is built around this idea. If you perform you advance. If you don’t you’re fired. This is so ingrained in us that God’s grace catches us by surprise. At the core of one’s value as an athlete is this idea: If I perform I’ll keep my position. If not, I’m fired.

We are in a performance-driven society. And when we come face to face with the grace of God, we’re like the proverbial monkeys who’ve been sprayed with water. Thoughts like, “you mean I just get something for free?” go through our minds. “It’s too good to be true.” “Nothing good is free.” “Don’t I have to do something to earn God’s favor?”

Romans 8 says no. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Let that sink in…and enjoy the banana. If you are in Christ Jesus, you’re free.

Sin: An Enemy Worthy of A Savior

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.  Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV)

When God first promised Ahaz that he would give him a sign that his enemies would no longer threaten him, the sign came through a baby whose name would be Immanuel. God’s answer for Ahaz’s enemies wasn’t a military attack or even a military leader. His plan was the promise of His presence.

When God told Joseph to marry Mary, God informed Joseph of his tactical assault on sin: “She will bear a son, and they shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The first immanuel was born to remind Ahaz that God could handle his most dreaded enemies; the second Immanuel was born to show Joseph (and us) that God can handle our most threatening enemy–sin.

How does God do it? Immanuel. God could have blown sin off the map from His vantage point in Heaven. Rather, he came down and became one of us, walked among us, and now lives in us to daily eradicate sin in our lives. He is Immanuel.

What is your most significant sin struggle today? If you’ve trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, He’s Immanuel. He is with you and He is for you. Turn to Him today. When sin comes knocking at the door of your heart, send Jesus to answer the door!