I wrote a post back in 2013 that has been my most-read post to date. In it I set out to answer the question, “What, exactly, is God’s grace sufficient for?”
Apparently, a lot of you have asked that question, because over 57,000 of you have taken to the Google, entered a form of that question, and wound up reading my post on the subject.
Yesterday, I turned that post into a 2-part sermon and preached it to about 80 women at a conference at Slayden Baptist Church in Slayden, MS.
(Side note: they misspelled my name on the poster for the retreat, and I could not love that fact more. I see it as God’s way of saying, “This ain’t about you.”)
And, let me tell you something, brother [read that in a Hulk Hogan voice], they were a sweet bunch of ladies who encouraged me to no end. We had women in their 20’s to their 70’s, most of whom had been born in that country church, who knew how to love one another across generations and make a stranger like me feel welcome.
I’m thinking of starting a series called, “Stuff Jesus Did that We Label Sin but Shouldn’t Because Jesus Did that Stuff”.
(It’s a working title.)
As I read through the gospels, I see a lot of things that fall into this category. I am often scratching my head (not literally though; my dandruff is under control. But if yours isn’t, no judgment here. Scratch away).
Many of the things Jesus says seem harsh and unloving at times. I wrestle with how to reconcile those statements with His sinlessness when if I said the same words today, everyone would think I’m a big fat impatient jerk.
This morning I was reading in Mark about Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, and, again, I found myself wondering, “Is He sinning?”
Now, of course, He isn’t sinning anywhere ever in the Bible (or out of the Bible, for that matter), but you get my point: as I read I had to open up my mind a little bit and try to figure out why what appeared to be sin wasn’t actually sin and what that means for us.
At this point, details would be helpful.
Jesus is in the Garden, full of sorrow, presumably regarding His impending arrest, mauling, and crucifixion. So Jesus did the best thing He could think of when He was “full of sorrow to the point of death”: He got alone and prayed (Mark 14:34-36).
(That’s a whole different post, but it’s a pretty short one, so let me sum it up: when we feel that way, we should do what Jesus did, too.)
On we go.
This post wants to focus on the content of the prayer (I asked it; it told me).
“[Jesus] fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’”
What is Jesus really saying here?
Jesus is telling/asking God to change the plan.
To me, that communicates Jesus doesn’t trust or agree with the plan. And not trusting God seems like a sin. Disagreeing with God is unwise, at best. It smells of rebellion.
Maybe I am reading my own life into this situation: when I ask God to change the plan, I know it comes from a place of not trusting Him.
But that can’t be so with Jesus because He is sinless. He is not distrusting or disagreeable with the Father or unwise or rebellious in any cell of His body.
So what’s the difference? How can Jesus tell God to change the plan and not sin, but when I tell God to change the plan, it’s usually rooted in sin?
I think the answer is two-fold.
First, Jesus had the correct understanding of what asking God to do things differently is: not a sin. Asking God to change the plan is simply not a sin in and of itself. We may have been brought up to think it is, but, apparently, it’s not because of the sheer fact that Jesus did it. It is perfectly acceptable to God for us to suggest alternate ways of doing things when His ways scare the crap out of us. But I think most of us wrongly assume it is always a sin to “help” God brainstorm options that are more palatable to us.
(For more on this, go read all the times Moses petitioned God to change His mind/plan. It happened a lot, and God didn’t ever call it sin or dole out a punishment to Moses for objecting to God’s plan. This, logically, does not guarantee God didn’t consider Moses’ objecting sinful, but it makes a pretty good case.)
The second difference is how Jesus couched His request that God do things differently.
Before He told God to change it up, Jesus said, “Everything is possible for you.” Jesus acknowledged God’s omnipotence. Jesus was saying, “I know, Father, that You have the ability to change the way this thing is going to go down. I wouldn’t bother to ask if I didn’t believe that with My whole heart.”
In my estimation, Jesus’ prefacing His request with this admission is an expression of trust. It’s also an acknowledgement that Jesus can’t change things Himself; He is under the Father’s sovereignty and is letting God know He accepts that.
After Jesus told God to take His cup, He ended His prayer with, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “I realize the fact that whatever You decide to do – go ahead with Your original plan or adapt things at my request – it will be the best choice.”
Again, Jesus is showing complete trust in God and deferral to the Father’s ultimate authority. Jesus is expressing that while His mind might believe a different plan would be better, His heart’s true desire is to do what the Father wants done.
And I think Jesus’ framing His request this way is what determines He is not sinning for desiring a different course of action.
Where the rest of us get tripped up is we either don’t believe God can truly change things or our hearts don’t truly want what He wants. Or, worse, both are true of us.
After a brief consultation with His disciples, Jesus prayed one more time. He determined His job was to get on with things, and if God wanted to answer His prayer and change the plan along the way, that was up to the Father.
So that’s just what Jesus did. “Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14:42). He embraced the path God had set before Him head on and trusted God to make it lead exactly where the Father wanted it to.
All this to say desiring things to go differently than how God appears to be making them go is not the sin. Doing things differently than how you know God wants them to be done is the sin. It’s in the doing things our own way that we express disregard for His omnipotence and sovereignty. It’s in the doing things against His orders that we show Him we really don’t care about His will at all; we want our will to be done no matter what.
As usual, it’s about the heart. If our hearts are right, like Jesus’ heart was – yielded to God’s wisdom, love, and ultimate authority – we can ask Him to change anything without sinning in the process.
In Mark 4 Jesus asks His disciples two questions I think He asks you and me pretty regularly, too.
His inquiries are made to the disciples at the end of the story of how He speaks to the wind and the waves in a “furious squall” and they immediately die down.
After calming the storm with just three words, “Quiet! Be still!” Jesus says to His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:39-40).
It struck me that what Jesus is implying is that if they had faith, they wouldn’t have fear. Faith and fear, then, are opposites.
If we find ourselves fearful about something, the best prayer we can pray, it seems, is, “Lord, increase my faith!”
How does God increase our faith?
First John 4:18 reads, “…perfect love drives out fear…” And this description of what love does comes right after John’s defining what love is: God. “God is love,” (1 John 4:16).
So, God is love – perfect love, of course – and perfect love drives out fear. Logic tells me, then, that God drives out fear. But it’s a particular aspect of who He is that removes fear from our hearts: Love.
If you’re still with me, I believe God increases our faith in Him by driving out the fear in our hearts via His making us more and more aware of His perfect love.
The better we understand His love for us, the calmer we are and the more easily we trust Him, whatever may come.
I think it’s worth noting Jesus’ second question is, “Do you still have no faith?” He didn’t expect the disciples to have perfect faith, just some faith. But, apparently, they didn’t have any at all.
It would make sense to me that fear and faith are inversely proportional: the more we have of one, the less we have of the other.
I was tempted at first to write they cannot coexist, that when we feel or have one, we cannot feel or have the other. But I don’t think that’s true.
We are fallen and will never have perfect or complete faith in God about anything. Our flesh and Satan whisper doubt to us all the time, scaring us. But the more we focus on God’s love, the louder our faith will be and the quieter our fear will get.
The last part of these questions that caught my eye is the word still. “Do you still have no faith?” I can sense Jesus’ exasperation that after all the disciples had seen Him do, all they’d heard Him say, all they’d experienced with Him, they still didn’t believe Jesus knew what He was doing when He told them to set sail that night? They still didn’t believe Jesus would protect them no matter how terrible the storm got or how soundly He slept?
Why didn’t they have faith in their teacher who was obviously divinely anointed?
Because in the moment they forgot everything they knew about Him. They forgot the miracles they’d witnessed Him perform, the healings they’d seen Him do, the wise teachings they’d heard from His mouth, and the hints He’d been dropping that He was the Messiah.
Instead of recalling the truths about Jesus – the things that would have given them faith – the disciples focused on the wind and the waves threatening their lives. They focused on the fear.
We have to train our minds to remember all the ways Jesus has been faithful to us throughout our lives. We have to think about all we’ve been through with Him, how He has blessed us and protected us in the past. Especially in the middle of a fear-inducing storm, we have to focus our thoughts on His impeccable character and unfailing love for us.
To reduce fear and increase faith in our lives, we need to study His perfect love and remember all He has brought us through.
The other day I read the account of poor Thomas (dude doubted ONE TIME, and he’s never lived it down… maybe we ought to have a little grace and stop calling him Doubting Thomas? Or start calling ALL Christians Doubting <insert name here>? I digress.), and something new popped out at me.
If you’ll recall, Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples when the resurrected Christ appeared to them. But when Thomas returned to the group, they filled him in.
“So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe,'” (John 20:25).
Those last four words reverberated in my head.
I. will. not. believe.
I was convicted for Thomas.
“Lord… may we never be so brazen as to dictate to You what we will and will not accept as adequate proof of who You are,” I prayed.
Jesus had some how entered a locked room and shown the other disciples His hands and side, and their response was great joy (John 20:19-20). They didn’t tell Jesus, “Nope. Not good enough. You’re gonna have to do better than that. In fact, You’re gonna have to do exactly what we say, or we aren’t going to believe it’s really You.”
But that’s how Thomas reacted…
The disciples told him they had seen the Lord, but he didn’t believe them.
(Although the text doesn’t say it, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to assume the disciples told Thomas more than, “We have seen the Lord!” I think they probably also told him exactly what happened because it was all so miraculous – Jesus magically entered the locked room and showed them his wounds, spoke to them, breathed the Spirit on them, and gave them marching orders (John 20:19-23)).
True, it’s not an apples to apples comparison. The disciples saw and heard Jesus and believed. Thomas only heard about Jesus… but he was hearing ten of his closest friends all tell him Jesus was resurrected, something Thomas knew Jesus had told them was going to happen (Mark 8:31), and Thomas still chose not to believe.
Thomas had enough evidence. But it wasn’t the type of evidence he wanted. He refused to believe the truth about Jesus – namely, that He had risen from the dead – because it wasn’t on his terms.
How often do we do that?
How often do we tell God how to speak to us or what to do for us and then doubt His goodness, power or love when He doesn’t conform to our demands?
Conversely, how often do we miss God speaking to us or doing things for us because He does so in a way that is outside of our box?
Lord, help us change our hearts from “I will not believe unless…” to “I will believe always.”
I love Peter. He’s not afraid to say what everyone else is thinking, and he wears his heart on his sleeve, for better or for worse. I think we’ll be good friends in heaven. (Until we call each other out and get into a fist fight…)
Anyway, I read an interaction between Peter and Jesus last night in Mark. Jesus was telling the disciples it’s basically impossible for man to get into heaven on his own merit. (Mark 10:23)
And Peter didn’t care for that.
Peter was pretty sure people ought to be able to earn their way into eternal life, and, as Jesus repeated himself, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!”, Peter blew up. (Mark 10:24)
Peter yelled incredulously, “We have left everything to follow you!” (Mark 10:28)
To be fair, I am reading intonation into the text, which probably says more about me than about Peter, but I can hear Peter’s tone inflect in a manner bordering on the line of being disrespectful to the Messiah. (Okay, running clear over the line at breakneck speed…)
Peter was hacked. He had left his family, his livelihood, and the comfort of home to follow Jesus, and now he felt like Jesus was telling him that wasn’t enough to get into heaven… “We have left everything to follow you!” I think Peter was totally exasperated.
I’m not sure if Jesus responded calmly or heightened his emotion to match Peter’s frenzied speech because that’s all Peter would understand in the moment… either way, Jesus responded, “Truly, I tell you…no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–along with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)
Jesus spoke to Peter’s concern: those who give things up for the gospel will have eternal life, for it’s by that very gospel that man is saved.
But that’s not what garnered my attention in this passage.
I found it peculiar that Jesus promised one hundred times as much of what we give up in this present age. In other words, He will provide now above and beyond what we lost or gave up when we became followers of Christ. God will meet those needs this side of heaven, perhaps in different ways than when we were unbelievers, but He will meet those needs nonetheless and in a much more abundant fashion.
My pastor postulated last night that God meets those relational and felt needs through the body of Christ. I think that’s true.
The relationships are most intriguing to me. When we accept Christ, sometimes the people around us don’t understand it. So they distance themselves from us. Or sometimes we distance ourselves from them because we no longer feel like we have anything in common with them. Or sometimes God calls us away physically to be a witness for Him in another town or state or country. We lose relationships for the gospel.
But Jesus doesn’t leave us hanging. He created us; He knows we are relational. He knows we need emotional intimacy to thrive. He promises to supplement those lost relationships 100 fold in this lifetime.
That’s a little bit exciting.
We don’t lose relationships and spend the rest of our lives alone when we become Christians. We get to have a whole bunch of new relationships – relationships that are truer than the ones we had before because both parties are their fullest selves – most actualized, to borrow a term from the world of psychology – when they are Christians.
Paul and Timothy are examples of this. Without taking too much time to elaborate, they both literally left their homes and families and day jobs to take the gospel all over Eurasia (there’s a word I want to start using more often…). No doubt they felt lonely at times… but the Lord blessed them with each other. On more than one occasion Paul refers to Timothy as his son or son in the faith, and Paul even tells the Philippians he has no one else like Timothy. They had a special relationship they wouldn’t have had if they hadn’t given up other relationships for the gospel.
I’m thankful I have a handful of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and children in the faith. They get me better than any of the people I had to leave behind when I became a Christian. I’m nowhere near 100 yet, but if I’m willing to open my heart to a few more people and invest some time in a few more relationships, maybe I’ll get there.
“Jesus looked at him and loved him.”
This sentence stole my breath yesterday.
I came across it in the Gospel of Mark, where an account of Jesus’ interaction with a rich man is detailed.
Mark 10:17-22 reads like this,
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Some things strike me about this account.
The rich man obviously respected and revered Jesus, falling on his knees and calling Jesus “good teacher”. The man appeared to be a devout Jew, upholding these major commandments Jesus mentions. And, yet, the man was very concerned that he might need to do even more to inherit eternal life… It seems this guy wanted Jesus, a leading Rabbi, to confirm that he had dotted his i’s and crossed his t’s when it came to his salvation. He wanted assurance, something, ironically, he would not find in doing anything more.
There he was, pleading his case to Jesus that he had done everything required of him by Jewish law (or at least the “important” things as expressed in the 10 commandments), but he didn’t get it. He didn’t understand that his eternal destiny didn’t depend upon him doing anything…
Instead of wringing the man’s neck in anger… instead of shaking His head in disappointment… instead of throwing His hands up in frustration… Jesus looked at him and loved him.
Jesus validated this man’s worth by looking at him instead of away from him, and Jesus loved him in spite of his failure to understand what Jesus was saying to him.
Jesus continued, explaining to the man that what he really needed to gain eternal life was to place his faith in Jesus, by way of selling his possessions and following Christ. Unfortunately, this man wasn’t willing to do that.
Two thoughts cross my mind.
One, do we approach the lost this way? When we share the Gospel and people don’t get it, do we look at them and love them anyway? Do we treat them with dignity and respect? Do we continue to care for them in our hearts?
The second thought I have is far more personal. I am often the rich man in this story; I don’t get what Jesus is saying to me, or, worse, I get it and choose not to follow Him. But just as He did with this man, Jesus looks at me and loves me anyway. His is a beautiful compassion that does not waver in response to my behaviors or short-comings.
And He feels the same way about you. No matter where you are in your journey with Him, He is looking at you with the loving, healing, calming, faithful gaze that only our perfect Savior can sustain. May your heart be steadied by His look and His love today.