Grace and Addiction

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

You may listen to the podcast version here.

People often insinuate that we had the law in the Old Testament but found grace in the New Testament. Fact is, the law and grace co-exist in both the Old and New Testaments.

“And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.” Genesis‬ ‭15:6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

If we are saved by faith in the New Testament, why keep the law? For the same reason they kept the law in the Old Testament while they were saved by faith alone. We have the law in both the Old and New Testaments, while salvation is by faith alone in both the Old And New Testaments. Grace and faith were not new to the New Testament. And the law was not done away with in the New Testament.

“Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.” Romans‬ ‭3:31‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We cannot assume we can continue in sin just because we are saved by grace, any more than I can assume I can continue living under water without air after being saved from drowning. If I am saved from drowning, that means I am saved from being under water without air.

Grace saves us from sinful living.

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.  And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. Titus 2:11-14 NLT

I have heard statements condemning “cheap grace” and the idea that grace makes us free to continue willfully sinning. However I don’t think any of us wants “cheap grace.” I don’t believe we want to break God’s heart by continuing sinful addictions. I believe most of us want freedom from sinful addictions, because we love Jesus. Here is the good news. Grace breaks sinful addictions. Before I go into that, let me say this. A few years ago I went to my regular Bible study with a young man who had overcome a sinful addiction. He was very upset because after several good months he had a relapse. He was beyond discouraged, thinking he had out sinned God’s grace. I shared with him how Psalm 51:17 tells us God will never despise a broken and contrite heart. The number of times that heart has been broken or contrite before does not matter. God will never despise a broken and contrite heart, no matter how many times sin has broken that heart before. That is good news.

May I share some more Good news?  A few years ago I was walking in a nearby park. The park had a path for those fighting cancer. Every few feet there was a marker with an inspirational quote on how to cope with cancer. I remember one marker had a quote that simply read, “There are people who have survived every form of cancer.” Those simple words gives hope to everyone who has been diagnosed with any type of cancer. There are people who have survived the most deadly of cancers. Titus 2:14 reads, “He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin.” You may be struggling with an addiction that is overwhelmingly embarrassing to you. Don’t despair. Jesus has freed people from every kind of sin.

Grace produces obedience. 

Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience….Romans 1:5 NKJV

A preacher from the General Conference office (sorry I forget his name) was preaching years ago at an Oklahoma camp meeting. He told the story about how he was going to a breakfast diner before work one morning and saw an empty parking space close to the restaurant. He also saw a car coming from the other direction towards the same space. His first reaction was to step on the gas and get int here before the other car could. However, he explained that He had submitted himself to Jesus that morning. Instead he eased off the gas, let the other car take the space as he parked much farther away. When he entered the restaurant the man who got the closer space was waiting to be seated. He thanked the preacher for letting him have the closer parking space. The preacher told him, “That wasn’t me.”  The man inquired, “Then who was it?” The preacher replied, “It was Jesus. I would have taken the closer parking space!”  Galatians 2:20 tells us it is Jesus who lives in us and does all the good things. It is not us.  Salvation by grace is a practical salvation, where grace gives us real and practical obedience.

Grace gives us good works. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT

In the  90’s I watched a documentary by Oprah Winfrey on child abuse. Abuse victims gave their testimonies. In many cases their abuser had been abused as a child. In several cases the abuser was a “pillar” in the church. I observed that this epidemic was handed down from generation to generation even in the church. Around this time I had seen bumper stickers reading, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” I wondered if that alone was really good news. If Christians are only forgiven, that means the child abuse epidemic is doomed to continue from generation to generation in the church. But God’s grace can free us from the cycle of abuse. It does not have to continue from generation to generation in the church. The same documentary had a story about a girl who was abused by her father. The father had served his sentence and had been rehabilitated to the point that he and his daughter were enjoying a healthy relationship. Now I have to be honest. Even though I share this, I believe the vast majority of abuse victims will never be safe around their former abusers until we are inside the pearly gates. I discourage abuse victims from going back to their abusers, and I cringe when they do so. However, this one story in the documentary showed a young woman, who was abused as a little girl by her father, holding her father’s hands, smiling naturally and comfortably as they talked about his recovery and the total reconciliation of their relationship. By grace Christians are more than just forgiven. By grace we are saved from a sinful lifestyle. By grace Jesus lives His obedient life of Good works through us.

You can study today’s Sabbath School lesson here. 

Did the Repentant Thief get off Easy?

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Many Christians squirm and struggle with the story of the repentant thief being saved without “putting in his time” or “earning” it. This story alone makes salvation look too easy. My response is, where in Scripture does it say salvation is supposed to be hard? How hard did Adam and Eve work to be placed in paradise to begin with? How hard did the angels work to be created in heaven?

Sure Jesus said,

“Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life.” Matthew 7:14

But does narrow and strait have to be hard?

Against popular belief, the Bible actually says,

The way of the transgressors is hard. Proverbs 13:15

Why? Because God’s love has made it hard for sinners to destroy themselves.

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. Lamentations 3:22

At the beginning of my ministry I was working with a pastor who was very popular for his sound Adventist theology. He taught the importance of the law and obedience. He preached that Jesus saves us from sin not in sin. One night providence had us both at the bedside of a dying saint. An elderly woman who spent her entire life giving Bible studies, and baking pies to feed the needy. She was true to Bible doctrine. That night I watched while the pastor held this dear lady’s hand, and asked, “Do you love Jesus?” She would open her eyes long enough to smile and then quickly appear to fall asleep again. the pastor told her over and over, “Just rest in Jesus. He died for you and loves you.” What amazed me that night is what the pastor of righteous living did not say. He did not mention her avid Sabbath keeping, or Bible studies given, or how she fed the needy. I watched this lady die as the pastor encouraged her to cling to one thing, and one thing only-the cross!

Friends that  is how we are all saved, from the repentant thief to Methuselah with his 969 years of service, we are all saved by grace alone!

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Nicodemus was equivalent to a General Conference official today. In John 3 Jesus never flattered Nicodemus with his position, titles or accomplishments. In John 3:14-17 He pointed him straight to the cross, as his only hope. The same hope given to the thief on the cross. So General Conference presidents are saved the same way the repentant thief on the cross was saved. This explains why Ellen White, wife of early GC president James White, asked him over and over on his death bed, “Do you love Jesus? Is Jesus precious to you?” She never mentioned his positions, titles or accomplishments. She knew those were worth garbage. She presented to her dying husband what Jesus presented to Nicodemus- the cross and the cross alone!

Sure it is important to point out that the repentant thief showed his repentance, not by saying he was sorry. He actually never said he was sorry. He did something drastically more important. He changed his attitude! He addressed Jesus not only as Savior but as Lord of his life. He made a confession that was backed up by the way he behaved in front of an unbelieving multitude.  That is exactly how we all are saved.

If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

This is exactly what the repentant thief did on the cross. And we all have the promise,

For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Romans 10:13

It is worth pointing out that the thief was not playing games. He was not thinking to live as he pleased and then just repent at the last second. That of course is not genuine repentance. Because his repentance was sincere, he was saved the exact same way every repentant sinner is saved.

The dying thief rejoiced to see That fountain in his day; And there may I, though vile as he, Wash all my sins away: Wash all my sins away, Wash all my sins away; And there may I, though vile as he, Wash all my sins away. -There is a Fountain, William Cowper 1772.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.