I’ve been greatly impacted by a book I’ve been reading called “Destined to Reign” by Joseph Prince, which expounds upon the message of grace, pointing out places where we’ve missed the message of grace and instead have made it about our own efforts. One of the applications of the book is not mixing law and grace together, illustrated by Paul’s writings in the book of Galatians and of Jesus in His parable of the wineskins.
Joseph shares a particularly profound insight regarding the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle (Hebrews 9:3-5). In this holy place was the ark of the covenant, where the manna, stone tablets, and Aaron’s rod were placed inside the box, representing the rebellion and failures of man (rejecting God’s provision, law, and leadership respectively). Above all of this is the mercy seat where the presence and glory of God rests. The sins have been covered and atoned for. The glory of God is to be found in focusing on what Christ has done (above), not focusing on man’s efforts, performance, or failures (below).
I’m beginning to see that all of scripture needs to be interpreted through the lens of grace. For example, how do we interpret these words?
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
Of course the Greek word for life is “psyche”, which is the life of the soul. The context of the text makes it clear that it’s about having God’s agenda instead of mans’. Without the lens of grace, we make it about man’s efforts and performance to live a selfless life. In charismatic circles, we make it somehow about “being on fire for God”. These words of Jesus were spoken directly to Peter. Was Peter able to deny himself out of his own effort? More importantly, can you save yourself? Peter thought he could. I think I thought I could, too. However, what if the application of these words takes on a larger swath?
What if taking up our cross is not about a religious discipline, but rather a recognition that we need a saviour? What if denying ourselves is about coming to the end of ourselves and recognizing it’s not about our efforts, our righteousness, or our performance? Isn’t that what being childlike is all about (being dependent)? What if the words that Jesus spoke were about a need to die (a cross) to self effort, and discover the grace of God, representing the unmerited, unearned favor and kindness of God?
We can only be saved (sozo – healed, saved, made whole, cleansed) by Grace in a place of believing. I’m beginning to realize how outrageous the gospel of grace actually is. It is not merely “mediocre” news. As the book of Isaiah asks, “who has believed our report?”
I’ve been struck by this message that Isaiah originally shared (Isaiah 6), and is explained by Jesus in Matthew 13:15, and John 12:37-40. Jesus explains that Isaiah saw Christ’s glory, and spoke about him (John 12:41).
The text from Isaiah 6 reads as follows:
“Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed.”
To paraphrase, I want to emphasize “Understand with their hearts, turn towards my grace and be healed.”
I believe that Isaiah recognized his own condition in the presence of the King (Isaiah 6:5). He turned towards grace (represented by the seraphim, an ambassador of grace). Grace forgave his sins, took away his uncleanness, and his iniquity. It was all unearned and unmerited, and initiated by an understanding of his own inability to save himself in the presence of grace (Isaiah 6:5-7). Remember that Jesus tells us that Isaiah saw Christ’s glory!
The context of the passage in John 12 is about those who rejected the message of grace (a light into the world). The context of the passage in Matthew 13 is about Jesus speaking in parables and that the message of the kingdom is about having a heart that can receive the unearned, unmerited message of grace.
Going back to the cross, the cross represented the death of the old covenant of law (referred to as the ministry of condemnation by Paul). Only those who understood their own inability were ready to receive the free gift of grace where they would find life. The cross represented a transition from an old covenant of law into a new covenant of grace.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
I believe the application to take up our cross is to die to our ability to perform to the laws of man including those we place on ourselves. There is no life to be found when we focus on ourselves or our performance. Freedom is found in focusing on Christ and the fullness of what He has purchased for us with his blood, his body, and his life. I believe a resurrected life looks like something. I believe it looks like being fully alive, and completely free. I believe it looks like the kingdom of heaven, walking in joy, peace, and His righteousness given to us. Can you imagine what the world would look like, with lots of people this free? This outrageous message can only be found in a place without mixture. Believing the message of pure grace.
My challenge to you today is to let the Holy Spirit help you to interpret scripture through the lens of grace, and to point you to what it means to be truly free.