Grace Upon Grace

“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16 ESV)

Many think Grace has limits, that there’s a line we can cross into no more Grace-land. Not so! We never run out of grace. When we exit one season of Grace, we simply enter the next season of Grace. His Grace is forever! It’s not… “Grace, but…” It’s… “But Grace!” Goodness and mercy constantly pursue us, sweeping away the littered trail of our mistakes (Psalms 23:6). I believe we can have a truly happy new year when we stop reliving the past year and move forward with hope and expectation.

At the turn of this new year, I have been reflecting on the many times God’s grace was greater than my flubs, dubs, stubs, scrubs, and snubs…

The Flubs - For fumbling the ball. For allowing myself to take on more than what God called me to. For embracing drama not intended for me. For the times I wasted not investing in things of true value. For all the mess-ups and mishaps… There was Grace.

The Dubs - For trusting in my own intuition and ingenuity. For taking something simple and complicating it, spoiling the outcome. For thinking I had all the answers. For believing I could do all things through Tony who strengthens me… There was Grace.

The Stubs - For the obstacles I stumbled over. For wrong decisions and broken relationships. For the hurt I caused others and myself. For holding onto offenses and refusing to forgive. For all the bumps and bruises, scrapes and scratches… There was Grace

The Scrubs - For trying to clean up the mess and only making it worse. For not giving God time and space to work things out for my good. For trying to manipulate the situation in my favor. For trying to fix things and instead they “fixed” me… There was Grace

The Snubs - For my pride. For sneering at opportunities God gave me because they didn’t look like the ones I asked Him for. For refusing to listen to wisdom. For my know-it-all attitude. For devaluing others and being devalued. For being rejected… There was Grace

Prayer… Thank you Lord for taking my hangups and bang-ups and turning them around for my good. Your Grace has even used my failures to promote me (Romans 8:28). Your undeserved favor has brought me into high and wide open spaces. Your Grace is greater than all my sin. I will not fear what my mistakes have caused. I’m grateful that ALL is forgiven! When I am faithless You remain faithful (2 Timothy 2:13). My future is bright! My successes are not because of my hard work, striving, networking, or politicking. They are all because of You… and Grace upon Grace.

Grace Solves

“So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ." (Romans 10:17 NLT)

Over the years I've often quoted the King James Version of the scripture above... "Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of God." Unfortunately, the KJV is not the most accurate translation of Romans 10:17. Actually, in most authorized translations the word "God" is rendered as "Christ." Reading the scriptures from a New-Covenant perspective changes everything. Once I discovered the powerful revelation of the Grace of God, the scriptures opened up to me like never before. When we believe and receive the Good News of God's grace into our lives, the Holy Spirit will reveal hidden strategies and solutions to our dilemmas. Read the passage above again. Our faith is renewed, refreshed, and revived when we hear the GOOD NEWS about JESUS.  Amazing!

Jesus' words are like a sword that “cuts to the chase” (Ephesians 6:17). A sword is a symbol of delegated authority. It tears down religious mindsets and establishes the truth of His Kingdom in our hearts. By the way, God's Kingdom = the free gift of RIGHTEOUSNESS, satisfying PEACE, and infectious JOY in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). Don't we all need a clearer perspective on things? As we position ourselves to hear from the Holy Spirit, He discloses secret information crucial to our success. The Holy Spirit never shouts His secrets; He only whispers them. We need to take full advantage of the His assistance. He is our Helper especially in the time of confusion, trouble, and need (John 14:26; Hebrews 4:16).

Christ Himself is the very wisdom of God inside of us… “God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself.” (1 Corinthians 1:30 NLT). So, take a moment to still your heart today long enough to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit bringing clarity to your calamity (John 6:13). If you feel the impending pressures of today’s concerns, don’t be overwhelmed. Look to Jesus. His voice will set you on your feet and firmly establish you (Hebrews 12:1). Andy Stanley once said, "Grace is pretty much the answer to everything." So, whatever you’re facing this season, Christ's words bring abundant grace, discernment, wisdom, and solutions. Grace solves!

The Dark Room

“Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure.” (Psalms 16:9 NIV)

Before the reign of the digital age, the negative of a photo had to be developed in a dark room. Many people dwell in the "dark room," a place where negative thoughts are constantly being developed and even overdeveloped. A negative of a photo is always seen in reverse spectrum. In other words, it is not viewed in its correct perspective. Negativity is simply a matter of skewed perspective.

According to its definition, negativity includes statements or acts that express contradiction, denial, or refusal. Negativity is void of affirmation or encouragement and is constantly in direct opposition to approval or acceptance. In biology, the word negative involves anything that moves or turns away from a stimulus of light. This is also true in life. Negative people often turn away or disregard anything that has to do with the light.

A few years ago, my daughter and I were coming home from the airport after a ministry trip. An ice storm had hit Atlanta the night before causing the roads to suddenly freeze over. What usually takes 45-minutes to get home took us 6-hours. As I was driving through the hazardous conditions, my fear and frustration mounted. After about an hour or so, my daughter non-chalantly said, "Well, at least we're not stranded on the side of the road like these other cars.” Being the man of faith that I was supposed to be, I replied, "You're right. Let's pray for those people," as I grabbed her hand and offered a “prayer."

Negativity is a choice: a choice to see the worst in people, places, and situations. Negative people create a tragic ending before the "movie" actually starts. Negativity spews cynicism, doubt, gloom, suspicion, and a constant sense of foreboding. Grumpy people maintain a negative point of view. A negative person feels bad even when he feels good for fear that he’ll only feel worse when he feels better. Unfortunately, medical studies seem to suggest that our bodies can even reap harmful results from a negative and gloomy outlook.

When we speak, our inflection and tone reveals our attitude and exposes our perspective. For example, we could say, “I wonder what’s going to happen today?” with a tone of expectancy or dread. Our outlook can determine our outcome. "As a man thinks in his heart so is he." (Proverbs 23:7). A pessimist should never be disappointed; because that which he believes will come true usually does. Job himself said, "What I always feared has happened to me. What I dreaded has come true." (Job 3:25 NLT). Sadly, we eventually become what we behold.

According to our key passage in Psalms 16:9, when we choose to be positive, our body will naturally reap the benefits. When we choose to have a happy heart, especially in difficult circumstances, it can work like medicine to soothe our troubled mind. Conversely, a broken, depressed, and hopeless spirit actually "dries the bones." (Proverbs 17:22). It’s never worth the worry and stress it takes to maintain a negative outlook.

With all that's going on in our world (publicly or privately), it's easy and even justifiable to be negative on a daily basis. However, we must resist the natural urge to be negative. It takes faith and resolve to be a positive person. When we realize that God's GRACE has secured our salvation, that His presence is ALWAYS with us, and that He is FOR us and not against us, we should be above all the most happy people on Earth (Psalms 118:6). 

So come out of the dark room. Know that even the negative things that happen to us are being developed and transformed into God's full-color, picture-perfect plan for our life. God takes what was meant to harm us and miraculously transforms it for our good and ultimate blessing (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28).

What's Right About You

“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment...” (John 16:8 ESV)

The devil loves to make a detailed inventory of your failures. His job is to constantly remind you of all that’s wrong about you. Yet, no matter where you are falling short, the Holy Spirit will always remind you of what’s right about you.

The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin (John 16:8). The world includes all who are lawless, the unregenerate, non-believers, and unrepentant sinners (John 16:9). However, while the world is convicted of sin, we as believers are not of this world. Keep reading...

When you trusted in Jesus for your salvation, you were snatched out of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of His light (Colossians 1:13). You are an official citizen of Heaven and are subject to a totally different jurisdiction than those who are of the world.

We are not of this world (John 15:19). In Christ, there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). There is nothing but light all around you. You will never hear harsh words from the Holy Spirit when you fail or fall short. Condemnation, guilt, and convicting words come from the darkness.

The word convict means to pronounce guilty. The Holy Spirit definitely convicts sinners of their sin. Yet, the Holy Spirit constantly convinces believers (you and me) of His presence and righteousness, especially when we feel abandoned or rejected (John 16:10).

Before Jesus ascended to Heaven, He promised His disciples to send the Holy Spirit (the Helper) to comfort them from feeling alone, abandoned, and rejected. They would need to be constantly reminded that He would always be with them (John 15:26).

The Holy Spirit is our helper (advocate). He comforts us when we hurt, strengthens us in weakness, and defends us against satan's accusations. He is not against us; He is for us (Romans 8:31) He never puts condemnation on us (Romans 8:1), but always convinces us of Christ’s unshakable love (John 15:26).

Hear me clearly... SATAN is the accuser (Revelation 12:20). He seeks to harass those who belong to God, but we are dead to his lies. We must learn through the truth of God’s grace to rightly discern whose voice is accusing us when we fail.

You may say, “But I still have issues and shortcomings." No worries. Jesus will finish what He started in you (Philippians 1:6). Besides, God doesn’t see you for what you’ve done (good or bad) but for what Christ has done. He sees you through the finished work of His Son.

You are the righteousness of God in Christ. You are just as holy and blameless as He is. In Christ, you are complete and lacking nothing. You are hidden deep in the love of Jesus. (1 John 4:17, 1 Corinthians 1:8, 2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 2:10; 3:3)

That's what's right about you!

You Might Be Self Righteous If

“But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags…” (Isaiah 64:6 NKJV)

In order to fully understand what Isaiah meant in our key passage, we must carefully examine his unorthodox choice of word pictures. The words “filthy rags” come from two Hebrew words: ed and beged (Strongs #899 and #5708). These two words combined connote a primitive piece of cloth used to shield a woman’s menstruation cycle. We should contemplate Isaiah's crude comparison of the Hebraic Law concerning regulations on personal hygiene to vividly illustrate the worth of our self-righteousness. Trying to earn righteousness through works is like trying to clean yourself with a dirty rag. The more you try to wash yourself, the dirtier you become. We cannot cleanse ourselves nor maintain cleanliness before God in our own efforts. Therefore, we must receive the free gift of righteousness by faith, trust in the finished work of Christ, accept the full forgiveness of God, and believe we are finally righteous once and for all (Hebrews 10:10). Along with this, we must become aware of our tendency towards self-righteousness and fall full into the Grace of God. How do we know if we're self-righteous? Here are a few indicators...

You Might Be Self-Righteous If...

…you think you’re better than someone because of something you’ve done.

…you constantly obsess about your spiritual growth instead of Jesus.

…your success stories always start with “I...”

…the faults of others dominate your conversations.

…you can’t forgive someone who hurt you.

…your freedom in worship is contingent on how holy you’re living.

…you get nervous, irritated, or angry when grace is mentioned or taught.

…you are uncomfortable around unsaved or immature Christians.

…your definition of “godliness” is based on the frequency of spiritual discipline.

…you find yourself more often judging others instead of loving them.

...you focus on the faults of others instead of receiving grace for yourself.

…you sneer at grace for someone else’s failures, but love grace when you need it.

…you believe you have something to do with your salvation.

…you think Jesus' finished work isn’t enough and that you must add your works to it.

…your definition of “good o'l gospel preaching” is being hard on people.

…you say (or sing) that Jesus will never let you go, but subliminally you don’t believe it.

…you feel that getting to Heaven ultimately depends on you.

…you think that salvation is Jesus' job but maintaining it is your job.

…you believe Jesus saved you from your past sins but not your present and future ones.

…you're trying more instead of trusting more.

…YOUR love for God is the focus instead of HIS love for you.

…you’re racing to finish Christ’s work instead of resting in His finished work.

Irrevocable Righteousness

"For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." (Romans 11:29 NASB)

Keeping in context with the entire book of Romans, the above verse means that God's FREE GIFT of righteousness and His SURE CALLING cannot be returned, revoked, rescinded, cancelled, terminated, reconsidered, refunded, ratified, or forfeited. All praise to God’s for our irrevocable righteousness that is only found in Jesus Christ!

Other places in the New Covenant reiterate this truth. Jesus will never leave us (Hebrews 13:5-6). Jesus is always with us (Matthew 28:20). We will never be separated from His love (Romans 8:35-39). Nothing can snatch us out of His hand (John 10:28). Jesus didn't die for a salvation that was temporal based on our limited ability to live according to the Law. His atoning sacrifice was totally sufficient and efficacious. Thus, our salvation is satisfactory and complete, lacking nothing. It's a salvation that lasts forever for those who receive it!

Some think if we teach people they are too secure in Christ they will go out and freely sin. This is nothing more than religious fear. Self-righteous people think too much grace gives people a license to sin. The truth is, people sin without license anyway. We don't need a license to commit sin. Grace produces after its own kind. Grace doesn't produce sin, it produces the life of God within us. The scriptures tell us that when LUST is conceived it brings forth sin (James 1:15). Grace brings freedom. Lust brings bondage.

Grace in no way gives us license to sin; it gives us license to live free. I’ve never had anyone come to me and say, "Wow Tony! Thanks for teaching all this Grace stuff. I think I'll go out and really live it up, party like there's no tomorrow, and sin without restraints!” Never! People usually exclaim, "Tony, your teaching on Grace has set me free from condemnation and the fear of losing my salvation. I've never felt more relieved. I love Jesus even more!"

Whenever people say, "Don’t teach too much grace to folks or they'll go out and sin," in essence they’re saying, “Careful now, we don't want people to be too sure of themselves.” Ridiculous! Our salvation is SURE and we should be overwhelming confident and secure in our salvation. Friends, sin isn't birthed from too much security; it's birthed from INSECURITY. Sin is a result of the lie we believe that sin is more satisfying than Jesus' love.

When we get a grasp of just how secure in Christ we are, sin will lose its power over us (Romans 6:14). We must come out of a Law biding mindset in order to experience the abundant life and overcoming power that comes though the Grace that is found only in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:17). When we receive the FREE GIFT of God's Grace and remind ourselves continually that we are 100% secure in Christ (in this life and the next) the shackles of bondage will begin to break off of our lives and we will know the freedom wherein Christ has truly set us free INDEED! (John 8:36).

Live On Accident

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us…” (1 John 4:10 NKJV)

In my ministry travels, I have met some of the most precious and sincere people in the world. Their heart is so pure and they desperately want to honor God. Yet, I can see it in their faces and hear it in their voices... Disappointment! Disappointment in themselves... Disappointment in their commitment... Disappointment in the way they have proven their love for Jesus. They feel accepted by God when they do well and rejected when they do bad.

The reason for this is we've been taught from the time we are very young to obsess about our spiritual growth and religious progress. Religion tells us to work hard to earn God’s favor by adhering to Biblical formulas and prescriptions. Yet, at the end of the day our love level for God seems to rise and fall depending on the season of our lives and our unpredictable emotions. A life of religion is based on behavior and performance.

Yet, the Gospel is not the bad news about us. It’s the good news about JESUS! Jesus came bringing a new perspective on the commandment of love. 1 John 4:10 redefines Love… “In this is love, NOT that we loved God, but that HE LOVED US.” It’s not what bad sinners we are. It’s what a good savior Jesus is. God doesn’t love us because we are lovable. He loves us because He is love (1 John 4:16). God's love doesn’t rise and fall based upon our performance. His love is steady because of his PROMISE. God loves us perfectly outside of our ability to love Him or perform for Him. After all, Christ died for us even while we were sinners (Romans 5:8). 

Our best love for Jesus will only and ever be a response to our growing revelation of His great love for us. When we learn to steadily focus on Jesus’ perfect love for us rather than our weak love for him, we will naturally live for God better on accident than we ever could on purpose.

Social Media Grace

"I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace." (Acts 20:24 NIV)

As of late I felt the need to post this explanation regarding my social media presence. I don't post tweets, upcoming  ministry events, videos, pictures, follow-up thanks, music and promos of my ministry resources to get validation from anyone. I do it to BRING VALUE and encourage people with the revelation of the gospel of Grace. I take social media very seriously as it presents a powerful ministry forum for me to declare the good news of Jesus Christ and what He has done in my life. I want to share it with you and hopefully it will continue to create inroads for Jesus to truly bless your life.

As many of you know, I have been serving at Free Chapel under Pastor Jentezen Franklin as a worship leader for the past 14 years. It has been an honor to be a part of this phenomenal ministry. However, the other significant part of my income and vital support comes from Tony Sutherland Ministries, Inc. and my travels abroad. Social media has created a powerful pathway for me to minister in churches and events around the world. For this I am truly grateful and because of it I will continue to post regularly on social media.

Social media has presented many open doors of ministry for me. In fact, many pastors and leaders have found great value in my posts and as a result invite me to speak and minister in their churches on a continual basis. This has been a tremendous blessing to my family for our necessary income as well as regular ongoing support for my growing non-for profit ministry. Social media has presented a creative way for me to continue to step out in obedience to God's call and further advance the message of Hope in Jesus Christ.

FYI... My commendation comes from God alone. He is my only source of acceptance and approval. I am grounded in this truth. However, I must share this message of God's acceptance with as many as I can, and thus make as many vital connections as possible. Some presume that I should just sit back and wait patiently for God to do everything. This is an assumption based on ignorance, inexperience, and immaturity. True Faith requires trust AND action. Therefore, I take advantage of every opportunity to present my ministry before others in an appropriate and sincere manner.

For those of you who receive from my insights and updates, I am grateful that God is touching your life through my ministry. For those of you who misunderstand my intentions and do not benefit from my posts, that's OK. However, it is for those who do find value and encouragement from my posts that I will continue to use this powerful medium to bring honor and glory to Jesus Christ and testify of what He is doing through my life for His kingdom. Grace and Peace!

The Old Man is Dead

“For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband.” (Romans 7:2 NKJV)

Many think this passage is a doctrine on marriage. However we must remember that the book of Romans is Paul’s methodical and meticulous argument for the gospel of grace. In Romans 7, Paul uses the illustration of marriage to further explain our relationship to the Law and grace. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, The Gospel of grace tells us that if any man is in Christ, He is a new creation. The Old covenant has become null and void and the New covenant has now been enacted. In effect we have entered into a new marriage covenant: one of grace and acceptance.

Some wives refer to their abusive husbands as their "Old Man." Paul uses this same illustration here (Romans 7:2) that if your old man, your abusive husband (the Law) is still alive (lording over you) you cannot marry your new loving and gentle husband (grace). Once your old husband (The Law) dies, you are free to marry your new Husband (grace). Paul used this illustration to show that the Law and grace can’t live together under the same roof. You either live by the Law or live by God’s grace. The new Husband (grace) is loving, kind, patient, gentle, forgiving, generous, etc. The old husband (the Law) is a ruthless, abusive, demanding, harsh, rude, brutal, unbending, unyielding, obsessive-compulsive perfectionist (Galatians 3:24). Satan is our abuser and acuser. He uses the law cruelly to beat so many down into bondage. Way too many Christians have a bad case of the abused-woman-syndrome. In other words, even after marrying their new Husband (grace) they find it hard to believe that He is a gracious and loving Husband.

This is why your mind must be retrained in the perfect law of LIBERTY (James 1:25) so you will be able to accept and fully trust your new Husband (grace). Through Christ’s finished work, the Law has lost its dominance over you. In effect the Law (your old husband) is dead. Grace is your new Husband. Once you have revelation knowledge that your new Husband (grace) is nothing like the rude, abusive husband (the Law) you were once so used to living under, only then you will learn to break free from all types of behavior patterns, ungodly temperaments and insecurities and be able to enjoy the freedom of love that your new Husband (grace) has for you. It may take awhile, but there is plenty of time to learn to be free as you enjoy your newfound relationship with your new Husband (grace). This is a beautiful picture of the awesome work of grace in our lives. While we may be righteous before God, we will still have the tendency to think and perform in those old mindsets. That is why we must be transformed in our thinking (Romans 12:1-2). We must first believe we are made holy apart from good works or self-effort to attain to righteousness. From this new mindset will flow the life of Christ and the power of God. We are free to run, free to dance, free to live in the forgiveness of Christ. That’s why Paul said, “IN HIM (Christ) we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28).”

The Law demands. Grace accepts. Now under our new Husband (grace) we can live in the constant light of His love, never to fear if we are unacceptable. God doesn’t require that we serve Him to please Him. Rather OUT of His heart of love for us we are free to live and serve IN His good pleasure for us.

Mind Over Matter

"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2 NASB)

At first this may sound ludicrous but did you know there is no such thing as spiritual growth? Look carefully at the passage above. Romans 12:2 does not tell us that we are transformed by the renewing of our spirit, but rather by the renewing of our MIND thus proving (living out in vital display) God’s good, acceptable and perfect will. This is literally how we successfully apply the mind over all of life’s matters. Proverbs 23:7 tells us that we are a product of what we think of ourselves. Therefore, having a radically renewed mindset to all we are, all we have, and all we can do through Christ (Philippians 4:13) is the vital key to radical transformation. It is also absolutely essential to breaking the cycle of defeat from incessant frustration over our failures.

When we are saved our Spirit is born of incorruptible seed without one single strand of sin’s DNA. It never grows old and never dies. Upon the moment of salvation our spirit is Heaven-conceived, totally regenerated, wholly constituted, completely mature and fully loaded with all the make-up of Christ. We are partakers of the righteous nature of God Himself (Colossians 1:27, 2 Peter 1:4). A fully resurrected Christ lives inside of us. However, our flesh has yet to be contended with. This is the process of sanctification and rest assured it is a life long process. Our flesh has the same sinful human tendencies it had before receiving Christ. The outer man will struggle a lifetime, awaiting its glorification (the Kingdom come). However, when we see ourselves in Christ and surrender ourselves to Christ we will naturally begin to break habits and compulsions that hold us captive. Grace awakens the holiness of God inside of us! Once our mind is awakened to who we are in Christ (repentance) then the fruits of holiness and righteousness will assuredly follow (transformation). Holiness is a byproduct of a changed mind. Through the miracle of repentance, precipitated by grace, transformation is not just possible… It is IMMINENT!

Our total salvation in Christ involves three things: justification, sanctification and glorification. Our justification is immediate, our sanctification is life long and our glorification is in the Kingdom to come. Christ is involved in all three and all three are fully promised. As believers when we struggle with sin we must remember that the Holy Spirit is still powerfully at work in us. We shouldn’t worry whether or not He will be successful in that work. Know for certain that the Holy Spirit is exceedingly efficient in purifying us. He will not fail. The very notion that our inner man is struggling for freedom in the outer man is a sure sign that Godly sorrow is producing the desire to change  (2 Corinthians 7:10).

God calls us to more than just moralism. The worldly mind comprehends and even practices morality. But repentance leads to a true change of heart with an authentic desire to live in the fullness of God’s purpose. Repentance is the powerful work of God’s grace to bring us to a place of total freedom. Repentance isn’t mentally flogging ourselves for our failures until we feel some sense of penitence. Grace doesn’t lead us to feel guilty. It leads us to live Godly lives in this present world (Titus 2:12). Repentance isn’t wallowing in the sorrow of our sin. Rather it’s the power to walk away from it.

…From an adaptation of my book GRACE WORKS (pages 119-121).

But Grace

"For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully." (2 Corinthians 11:4 NASB)

The following excerpt is from my foundational book GRACE WORKS.

Two very important distinctions in the grace message are legalism and libertarianism. We must understand these opposing viewpoints to better embrace the gospel. When you preach the pure gospel that says we are saved by grace through faith, not of works (without boundaries, exceptions or controls) that is called Libertarianism. When it is taught that we are saved by grace but also must maintain our salvation by good works and sinless living, that is called legalism. Legalism advocates that we must not sin or we jeopardize our righteous standing with God. This is not the New Testament gospel (Paul called it preaching “another Jesus”). Legalism is accompanied by the fear that unless we preach grace with stipulations, then we are throwing everything out of balance. It’s, “Yes grace BUT we must also…” or “Yes, grace BUT we must be careful…” Fear causes us to attach warnings to the message of grace. Simply stated: Legalism says, “Grace, but…” Libertarianism says, “But GRACE!”

When we try to coerce others into adhering to the standard of holy living out of fear that they will take license to sin, we fall into the tireless cycle of fear and control. Why? Control is a by-product of fear. We fear losing control of people so we impose extra addendums to keep them out of sin. Fear is the mother of all confusion. When we operate out of fear and control it only brings envy and strife. Envy and strife are the co-conspirators of confusion and evil, and where confusion and evil exists, sin will surely abound… (James 3:16 KJV).

Enforcing religious controls on people will prove ineffective to produce true holiness in them. People will comply with legalism to a point but will eventually rebel because the flesh can’t keep up with the Law. The Law eventually runs the flesh down. That’s the way God designed it. He created the Law to drive us to utter exhaustion in our own strength (Galatians 3:24). It is God’s Grace alone that totally extricates us from the harsh domination of the Law. Legalism is based on manipulation and control, which ultimately brings people back into bondage. Libertarianism however, liberates the believer to hear from God and respond to God’s power. Living in this way leads the believer towards true life-transformation.

Mirrors

"For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20 NKJV)

This passage is taken from the famous "Sermon on the Mount" (Matthew 5-7). It wasn't a mountain though. It was actually a small hill called Mt. Eremon located between Caperneum and Tabgha. The natural landscape of this hillside surrounded by a small valley created an amphitheater of sorts, perfect for the word of grace to reverberate into the gathering crowd. It was here that Jesus tells the people that unless their righteousness exceeded (surpassed) the righteousness of the Pharisees they would not be able to enter the kingdom of Heaven. To the typical, self-righteous mindset of their time this was impossible. The Pharisees were supposedly the most righteous on the face of the earth. Who then could enter Heaven? God's standard of righteousness was to be perfect as God Himself was perfect (Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2; Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:16). Even the Pharisees knew they weren't as perfect as God. OUR answer to Jesus' question also lies in our concept of righteousness. If making it to Heaven is based on our righteousness (our goodness, godliness, devoutness, etc.) then none of us can make it. The Bible tells us there is no one on the face of earth who is righteous, NO NOT ONE (Psalms 14:3; 53:3; Romans 3:10-12).

At no point in our own efforts are we righteous (in any part, even to the minute level). Only Jesus meets every requirement and standard of God. We must completely get this revelation! Our reliance must not be on perfect performance but But prove yourselves doers of the word and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25 NASB)

The reason we don't produce fruit is because we too often stare into the wrong mirror: the mirror of the Old Covenant, which reminds us of everything we USED TO BE. The Bible tells us the old has passed away and the new is becoming (2 Corinthians 5:17). However, when we look into the right mirror (the mirror of God's grace) We see who we really are in Him and the more intently we gaze into the right mirror, our focus becomes more clear and we see who we really look like: Jesus! Today during my teaching, my German translator rendered it as… “If we remain in the law of liberty (grace) we will enact the ability to change” WOW!

God wants us to be doers of the Word but this is totally contingent on what mirror we look into. The mirror of the old covenant will always reveal imperfection and no matter how hard we try to fix the flaws it will never reveal perfection. The mirror of grace says I’m forgiven, acceptable, holy, free, loved, sinless, complete and perfect. How? Because I am in Christ. This image of who we are in Christ is the only thing that will deeply change us and produce in us the overcoming life. Simply put, when we place our focus and faith on the legal degree of God's grace over our lives (the PERFECT law of LIBERTY) we will become much more effectual doers.

The reason why we can’t grow spiritually is because our born again spirit cannot grow. It is already perfect. We are the righteousness OF GOD (2 Corinthians 5:21). In other words, our spirit is as righteous AS GOD. The implications of this are staggering. As a believer our spirit was born in Heaven and therefore is completely perfect in every way. The facts are, spiritual growth is impossible. However, our mind is what needs the changing. The scripture doesn’t say our spirit needs renewed. It says we are transformed by the renewing of our MIND (Romans 12:1-2). The reason why we don’t grow is because we obsess about growing. But when we live in the right environment (grace) we naturally mature because the conditions are right.

Similar to the mirror of the old Covenant, The Holy Spirit doesn’t remind us about what’s wrong with us. He reminds us constantly about what’s right with us. Therefore, when we stop expending necessary energy through self-effort to make ourselves better, we allow God’s power to put to death the old deeds and bring about effective change compatible to the work of Grace in our life.

Meditate on this until it becomes revelation… You will NEVER be the same again!

Exceedingly Righteous

"For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20 NKJV)

This passage is taken from the famous "Sermon on the Mount" (Matthew 5-7). It wasn't a mountain though. It was actually a small hill called Mt. Eremon located between Caperneum and Tabgha. The natural landscape of this hillside surrounded by a small valley created an amphitheater of sorts, perfect for the word of grace to reverberate into the gathering crowd. It was here that Jesus tells the people that unless their righteousness exceeded (surpassed) the righteousness of the Pharisees they would not be able to enter the kingdom of Heaven. To the typical, self-righteous mindset of their time this was impossible. The Pharisees were supposedly the most righteous on the face of the earth. Who then could enter Heaven? God's standard of righteousness was to be perfect as God Himself was perfect (Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2; Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:16). Even the Pharisees knew they weren't as perfect as God. OUR answer to Jesus' question also lies in our concept of righteousness. If making it to Heaven is based on our righteousness (our goodness, godliness, devoutness, etc.) then none of us can make it. The Bible tells us there is no one on the face of earth who is righteous, NO NOT ONE (Psalms 14:3; 53:3; Romans 3:10-12).

At no point in our own efforts are we righteous (in any part, even to the minute level). Only Jesus meets every requirement and standard of God. We must completely get this revelation! Our reliance must not be on perfect performance but on the perfect performance of Jesus. IN CHRIST we are as perfect as God Himself is perfect (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9). We are recipients of God's perfect nature and completely clothed in His ultimate divinity (2 Peter 1:4). Jesus is perfection personified. In fact, Jesus surpasses perfection and in Him we also far surpass God's perfect standard. Through Christ we are EXCEEDINGLY RIGHTEOUS! Amazing!

Trying or Trusting

"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15 NASB)

We’ve all failed at loving God in our thoughts, words and actions. Just read 1 Corinthians 13 (The ‘love chapter’) and you will quickly realize how you have failed at love. But just because we fail at loving perfectly doesn’t mean we don’t love God at all. Only God’s love is perfect. Many of us don’t really believe God loves us in spite of… Grace teaches us that God loves us without conditions or reservations. When we truly grasp this we will end up living better for God accidentally than we ever could on purpose.

We will never love God perfectly this side of Heaven. That's why we need to stop trying and start trusting. In other words, our focus shouldn’t be on our love for God but on His great love for us. It’s the only way we can fulfill the great commandment, which is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Our love has limits. God’s love knows NO LIMITS! It isn’t what terrible sinners we are but in what a wonderful Savior He is. Religion says you must do things to get to God. Grace says Jesus already did all that was necessary to get to you. We don’t do good to get God. We get God to do good!

Obedience is inspired by true love and awe. When we dwell on the love of God for us, true reverence, devotion, admiration and awe-inspiring wonder is the by-product. We must understand John 14:15 from a grace perspective. John is not saying that we love God BY keeping His commandments. He is saying if we truly love God, we WILL keep His commandments. In other words as we allow God’s love to fill us, nothing will be able to stop us from obeying Him. Obedience is a result of God’s Love working in us and loving through us. His love ignites the flame of our obedience!

So how do we increase our Love for God? It is certainly not in trying to obey Him more. That only wears us out. Our love is deficient. God’s love is ALL SUFFICIENT! Therefore, the only way to truly obey God is to allow His love to minister to us. Faith works by love (Galatians 5:6). In other words, as our understanding of God’s love increases so does our ability to live out our faith for Him. This is what John meant when he spoke of God’s love being perfected in us (1 John 2:5; 4:12-18). It’s like the old song says, “O how I love Jesus, BECAUSE He first loved me.” Our love grows for God only to the extent that we grow in our concept of HIS LOVE FOR US!

Are you trying or trusting? 

Be Narrow Minded

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13-14 NIV)

In this passage "wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction" defines the many Old Covenant laws and practices that ultimately led to futility and were ineffective in producing true heart change and life. The Old covenant is full of rituals that were never intended to bring people closer to God but only leave them more frustrated at the end of the day. None of the Old Covenant practices truly brought people into intimate relationship with God. The system of the Law did not give people access to God's heart and covenant love. These laws only made people tolerable to God and forebodingly approachable to Him.

"Enter the narrow gate" is not an illustration of walking a tightrope of perfection or carefully following a prescribed formula that get us closer to God (as so many believe and teach). "Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" means that few discover the simplicity of trusting JESUS! Receiving God's Grace and walking in the joy of relationship with Him is the ONLY way to know life as God intended (John 10:10 & 14:6).

While so many are prescribing formulas and methods to draw near to God, remember to be narrow minded. Simply enjoy your relationship with Jesus (that only He provided) and delight in the total love and acceptance of God through Christ. This is the way that we truly draw near to God.

Reversing Failure

"For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again..." (Proverbs 24:16 NASB)

The following is an excerpt from my book GRACE WORKS.

If you’re facing failure it is most likely because you are facing your failure! To live in God’s grace is to face forward - looking away from your failure and focusing on God's irreversible love for you. You must also understand that there are no formulas in grace. Simply embracing God's grace is the key to getting past your failures. However, overcoming failure is a process and often takes awhile to learn to apply grace. Yet, as you grow in your understanding of grace and are quicker to receive it, you will be more successful in overcoming failure. Here are seven steps involved in the process of turning failure around. (I use the acronym F.A.I.L.U.R.E.)

1. Forget the past. Release all regret. It is the final chain to be broken. To be strong is to let go of yesterday. Therefore, take one last look over your shoulder and say to your past, “I’m letting you go forever. You cannot follow me into my future!” (Philippians 3:13-14)

2. Accept the consequences. You cannot re-write the past but you can start a whole new book. Your yesterday does not have to determine your tomorrow. Remember, no matter what happened or how terrible it was, God is working everything out for your good. (Romans 8:28)

3. Invite correction. Only fools despise instruction but honor belongs to those who embrace correction. Every mistake you’ve made serves as a stepping-stone for your success. And remember: to use a stepping-stone it has to be firmly under your feet. (Proverbs 13:18)

4. Learn the lesson. As we grow in grace, we often take the test first then learn the lesson afterwards. Truth is, God knew you were going to fail. But no matter what the failure, the number one lesson Jesus wants you to learn is to rest in His love for you. (Matthew 11:29)

5. Understand the process. Accept that failure happens. In fact, failure is as vital a part of the growing process as succeeding. Our failures remind us of our dependence on God’s grace and give us courage to keep moving forward at a steady pace. (Proverbs 24:16)

6. Receive forgiveness. God has already forgiven you. It does you no good to punish yourself. The problem isn’t that God hasn’t forgiven you but that you haven’t forgiven yourself. You’ll just have to accept that God loves you no matter what! (Ephesians 1:7-8)

7. Expect to succeed. No matter how many times you may have lost you are not a loser. God sees you as a total success story. Your failures don’t define you; they refine you into the image of Jesus. The good news is in Christ you are undefeatable! (Romans 8:37)

Gravity of Grace

"Now which of them will love Him more…" (Luke 7:42 ESV)

To Love Jesus more... This is a lifelong pursuit. Yet, even more important is the life long quest to simply be loved (1 John 4:10). After seeing the movie Gravity win so many Oscars last night, it reminded me of the compelling power of God's Grace. It is astonishing that some persist if we preach grace too liberally it will result in loose living and sinful behavior. There is nothing more false. Grace is the force that pulls us deeper into the love of God and His holiness. The gravity of grace keeps us grounded in God's love. Nothing but good can come of this.

"That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith that you, being rooted and grounded in love may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:16-19 NASB)

In Luke 7 we're introduced to a prostitute whom Jesus delivered of seven demons. Later, He is invited to a Pharisees house for dinner. As they recline at the table, the former prostitute barges into the gathering and begins to wash Jesus feet with her tears and anoint them with a very costly perfume. Such extravagant acts of worship could only be motivated by Grace. The appalled religious man thinks, "If Jesus knew her ill repute, He would stop her." Religious people refuse to see the redeemed for who they are but rather dwell on who they were.

Jesus tells the Pharisee a story of two men who were forgiven of a debt. One was released from a much greater debt than the other. He asks the Pharisee a question, “Which do you think will love his benefactor more?” The Pharisee states the obvious, “Of course the man who had the greater debt.” When we accept that our sin debt is completely cancelled we will cease serving Him out of duty, fear and obligation. Rather, Grace inspires unceasing and liberal acts of obedience and devotion (verse 45).

Religious people guard themselves from too lavish a display of adoration, judging others for their liberality (verse 39). However, notice that Jesus does not condemn His friend. Likewise, we must not hasten to judge or disassociate with those who do not yet have the full revelation of God’s grace. The greatest evidence of a life marked by grace is not how we respond to those who agree with us, but to those who disagree with us.

Faith Works By Love

"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love." (Galatians 5:6 NKJV)

Faith works by Love. For years I believed this to mean that if I labored diligently to love God and love others then my faith would work and God would hear and answer my prayers. I was always trying to figure out how to make my faith operable. I thought this was just another formula for success. Not so! This is the endless cycle of legalism. I believed that my faith was dependent upon how well I served, gave and loved. I believed that my faith was a work to please God. Yes, I know the Bible says, “the just shall live by faith” and “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6; 10:38). However, these scriptures mean that it makes God happy when we simply believe we are justified before Him through Jesus’ finished work. Simple. Not complicated at all.

We don’t become just by our doing, but by our BELIEVING. Faith is not a work. It is a result of RESTING on what Christ has done for us. So often we get caught up in our love for God instead of getting caught away in God's love for us. 1 John 4:10 tells us that true love is not based on how much we love God but on how much He loves us. The Greek word for love in our key passage (Galatians 5:6) is agape (God’s unconditional love). Our Faith in God works effortlessly when we know we are unconditionally loved. When we settle the issue once and for all that God loves us UNCONDITIONALLY, no matter what, our faith will work UNINHIBITEDLY because it’s based on God’s perfect love for us not on our imperfect love for Him!

Our prayers flow easier because our faith is based on what Jesus has done not what we have or haven’t done. When we pray based on Jesus accomplishment we can ask in faith and it shall be DONE (Matthew 7:7)! And that my friend is how faith works!

What Is That To You?

"Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?" (John 21:23)

Here the disciples asked Jesus why they were going to be martyred but John wasn’t. Jesus responded to their quibbling, “What is that to you?” All too often we feel the same when we don’t seem to get a fair shake. The same is true of judging others by their deeds. But don’t we have enough of our own issues to deal with, let alone worry about the sins of others? When it comes to asking about other’s sins, we need to hear Jesus asking us the same question he asked the disciples… “What is that to you?”

Regarding the shortcomings of others, we must have a hands-off-policy and let the Holy Spirit do the dealing. He is exceedingly efficient at His job. He well knows how to bring revelation truth to those who are in error and turn them from their path to misfortune. And He will do so lovingly in order to bring them to maturity not to call them out or cast them out. Jesus never calls the sinner out. He always calls them home. Our responsibility is not to point out the faults of others but to point them to Jesus. I’m amazed at how easy it is to expose sin instead of exposing Jesus. Sin loses its luster in the light of Jesus so let’s point to HIM!

Instead of asking, “What about the adulterer, fornicator and murderer?” we need to be asking, “What about when I scream in traffic, snap at my wife, think lustful thoughts or cheat on my taxes?” God does not judge us based on the standard of the Law. The Law cannot nor ever has saved anyone. The Bible calls the Law the ministry of death and condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:7-9). When we emphasize the Law and living up to it’s standard, it strengthens people’s resolve to sin even more (1 Corinthians 15:16). We will never get people free by emphasizing their condition. We must offer the remedy. Grace is that remedy (Romans 6:14).

God is not a fair judge but He is a just and good judge. Through grace, we got what Jesus deserved and He got what we deserved. That’s doesn’t seem fair but it certainly is good. As believers, God does not judge us based on the good we have done. He judges us based on the good JESUS has done. Now… What is THAT to you?

Receive

"Those who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life." (Romans 5:17 NASB)

Have you ever questioned why we don’t reign over certain situations, circumstances, the "stuff" of life? It's simple really... The way we reign in life is to receive God's grace. Too simple? That's the point! We complicate things with religious formulas. Here's a couple of thoughts on receiving God's grace. 

First… We must receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness. Grace is a gift that is freely given. It cannot be deserved, earned or merited. We qualify for God's favor and blessings not because we work hard to live righteously; but because we are already made righteous by Christ's finished work. The religious mindset that prevails in so many circles is that we must achieve the blessings and favor of God by self-effort or good behavior. However, the favor of God is unmerited. It isn't how we behave but how we believe. The moment we try to balance grace with our own efforts to be righteous we neutralize grace (Galatians 5:4). Reigning in life is not about achieving but receiving the abundance of God's grace! Abundance can be defined as never running out, never sparse, having excess and overflowing. We never teeter on the brink of running out of God’s grace. Whenever we sin God’s grace is greater (1 John 3:20) and where sin abounds grace does much more abound to overflowing and swallows up our sin (Romans 5:20, 6:24).

Secondly… How do we receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness? By simply believing in Christ’s finished work. That’s it! We don’t have to be experts on grace. We just simply have to be recipients. We don’t have to comprehend it; we only need to receive it! We must believe in God’s grace without doubt and go on living life in that belief. We have to consistently believe the truth that we are righteous apart from our own works (Ephesians 2:7-9) and that nothing we do or don’t do will separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35-39). I have news for you… You will never be able to fully wrap your mind around the awesome Grace of God! God’s grace is too amazing to comprehend. So what do we do when we don’t understand it? We believe it anyway! Leaning on our own understanding of the things of God causes us to question God’s Word and thus prevents us from entering into the benefits of all that His finished work has provided for us. Quit trying to understand it and simply trust it (Proverbs 3:5).

Romans 5:19 goes on to say that we weren't made sinners by anything we did but by what Adam did. The same is also true of our righteousness. We weren't made righteous by anything we did but by what Jesus did. The moment we believe that we are totally acceptable before God based on what Jesus did, not what we did or continue to do. And that same grace will do it's work in our lives to save us and keep on saving us (in every area of our life). The blood of Jesus is not only all sufficient it is all efficient. Once we begin to receive God's grace in our lives we will start experiencing the power to reign in life just like Jesus reigns in life (1 John 4:17).