Category Archives: Faith

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

quote-Vince-Lombardi-practice-does-not-make-perfect-only-perfect-41781Practice makes perfect? No, perfect practice makes perfect. The longer one practices something the wrong way, the harder it is to correct. This is what I believe happened with the church at Ephesus in Revelation chapter two…

“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

The Problem

The Ephesians had abandoned the love they had at first, their first love. They had works, toil, patient endurance, couldn’t bear evildoers, tested and exposed false teachers and were bearing up for Christ’s name sake and hadn’t grown weary. But without love, this was all meaningless. John, who wrote the book of Revelation, also wrote 1 John where he says, “We love because He first loved us.” When a church has abandoned the love they had at first, they have actually forgotten God’s love for them. The root is probably more along the lines of them being so focused on doing good works, that they failed to pass the actual gospel of God’s amazing love and grace on to the next generation. Notice, the messages to the churches of Revelation are not addressed to individuals, but to whole congregations. (ie. “you have some there who…” Rev. 2:14) Much like today’s church, the previous generations haven’t passed the gospel down. I grew up thinking that my salvation depended on my efforts. “Jesus died for my sins, but now its up to me to stay saved. – Faith without works you know…

The Solution

Remember from where they had fallen, repent, and do the works they did at first.
The first step is to remember. Do you remember when you first believed? Do you remember the hope and the love you had, that overflowed from you like a gushing fresh spring when you first believed on Christ? What changed? We took our focus off of Jesus and put them on ourselves and our works. So remember, and repent which simply means, change your mind/thinking.

Next, do the works you did at first. Wait a second, do the works…? So many times, I’ve heard the “return to your first love” messages but the end hook was always, remember to love more, do more works, but with love. They are always passionate, but lack any lasting power, because they reset the cycle; Feel bad, apologize, receive “new” forgiveness, try harder and remember to love this time. But in the end, the focus remains the same, you.

“Do the works you did at first.”
What works did you do at first? Obviously we are saved by grace through faith, not of works, so what gives? Well, John the author, also wrote the Gospel of John. Imagine that. In John chapter 6, he records, “Then [a crowd] said to [Jesus], “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He has sent.

Jesus defined believing in Him as a work, and not just “a” work, but “the” work of God. Believing in Jesus is literally “the” work we did at first. Jesus’ message hasn’t changed, “Repent and believe the good news!” The key to returning to your first love, is to stop trusting in your own works and to throw yourself fully into the loving arms of Jesus, period.

The One Who Conquers

To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life…” Funny thing, all the messages to the seven churches contain this phrase, “To the one who conquers…” The word for conquer each time is the same as the word used in 1 John 5 for the word “overcomes.”

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God… For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 

So the one who overcomes/conquers is the one who believes in Jesus. If you study the messages to all seven churches in Revelation you will see one consistent theme; “Believe in Jesus! Believe in Jesus! Believe in Jesus!”

Romans-8_37_BW

So if we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us, let’s abide in His love and let it overflow through us to others. Because after all, its love that fulfills the law.

 

 

Advertisements

Deny Yourself

deny_yourself

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

Many people who mean well will use this verse out of context as a means to control and bully people(it would seem) and put them back under some type of law(trying to earn God’s favor). They inadvertently take the focus off of Christ and His finished work, and put it on self and self efforts.

However, context shines light into this error.

Jesus foretells of His death, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” – Luke 9:22

Then after, 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it…”

26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My Words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

In the context of this passage, “deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me,” means to be prepared to be rejected and killed for the message of Christ, the Gospel.

“Deny himself” is not talking (in context) about denying “a sinful self,” but denying your own will to live as Christ did in the garden of Gethsemane. By the way, our sinful self is dead with Christ, and we have a new self that is sinless. Anyways, Jesus’ will was to live, nevertheless, He submitted and said “Not My will, but Your will be done.”

So a simply explanation of this passage is, “Be willing lay down your life to die and be rejected every day for the Gospel, if it comes to that, and follow Jesus’ example of laying His life down on the cross.”

Take_up_Your_Cross

“Not my will, but Your will be done.”

Again, it’s not about us, it’s about Jesus. We only love because He first loved us.

God has made us new creations in Christ, the old has passed, behold the new has come. And if you have Christ Jesus you are righteousness, sanctified, and redeemed according to 1 Corinthians 1:30. And just to hammer the point that we are completely new, we have what Ephesians calls, a new self, created like God, truly righteous and holy.

Be blessed, and be transformed by the renewing of your mind in the Living Word!


Starting the New Year Off Right

Can we really live a righteous life?

As Christians, we know that we are supposed to live a righteous life. Yet many Christians today seem to be missing it. I for one am someone who constantly struggled with this issue. I’d try and try to live righteous and sinless, but I always seemed to fail. I still slip-up from time to time, but there is one truth that totally changed my life. It set me free from addiction and bondage. Here’s a clue;

“Righteous living starts not with right doing, but with right believing.”

Let me unpack that a bit for you. Many Christians I see today are getting the “cart before the horse”, so-to-speak.

Here’s an example. Let’s say a drunk comes in off the street into a church service. Christians will go to him and tell him of God’s wonderful grace. They’ll tell him of Ephesians 2:8, “for by grace you have been saved, not of works…” Let’s say the man has a genuine conversion, repents and believes in Christ. But the next week, he stumbles in off the street, drunk again. These same church people spoke of grace will likely go to him and condemn him, and tell the man that he’s not right with God unless he is “living right.” They’ll even say he’s not really saved if he isn’t “living right.”

Do you see the problem here? We say that we are saved by grace through faith, but then we turn around and say that it really depends on our own works. That’s the mentality I see in a lot of the Church today—A “works” mentality. A “works gospel,” if you will.

Get it Right

But please look at what the Bible says about the true gospel in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

So the biblical description is that the gospel is the power of salvation for everyone who *believes,* and it reveals the righteousness of God by *faith.*

And then in Romans 3:21-22, “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed…even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.

The righteousness of God comes only through faith and believing in Jesus Christ. One of my favorite verses in the Bible, 2 Corinthians 5:21, sums up how the gospel relates to us in this way,

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

That’s called being justified, being made right with God. And it doesn’t depend on your effort. Period. That’s good news!

Romans 3:28 says, “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”

Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,”

And then a few verses later, Romans 5:8 & 9 has this awesome thing to say,

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.”

I hope you’re getting the message, We are justified by faith, based on Jesus’ work. Not our own work. We didn’t earn it, we didn’t deserve it, we can’t deserve to keep it, so we can’t lose it. Its not based on us! We just believe.

Get Right or Get Out

If I just shocked you, then read this shocking letter from the Apostle Paul.

“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.”Galatians 1:6-9

“This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?”Galatians 3:2

“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.””Galatians 3:10

Right On

“I want you to see that by faith in

Jesus Christ, you have become

the righteousness of God in Him!”

I want you to see that by faith in Jesus Christ, you have become the righteousness of God in him.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”2 Corinthians 5:17

The old sinful you is gone. The old sinful me is gone. All that’s left is the new righteous spirit man that “wars against the flesh, and vice verse.

“But pastor Chris, are you saying you never sin anymore?”

No, I’m not saying that. But I am saying that when you feel the urge to sin, if you remind yourself of the Good News, you’ll see what the Apostle Paul talked about in Romans 6:14 when he said, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”

You will see that you do have the power to overcome sin, and that power is called GRACE! Not only that, but when you declare what the Word of God says about you, sin will actually flee from you!

Go ahead now and declare what the Bible says about you as a believer. “I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus!” “I am the temple of the Holy Spirit.” “I am the temple of God.” “I am a child of God.”

Don’t get caught up in the religiosity of religion—Don’t try to clean the fish before you catch it. Faith comes first, then sanctification, which simply means, putting into practice what you already are positionally with God. I want you to live righteous, and that can only come from knowing that you already are because of Christ.

The more you focus on God, and what He has done for you, the holier your life will become. That’s the secret. Use it well.

-Chris Esparza

 


Greasy Grace and False Converts

The Dangers of Grace

The other day, I was thinking about the Grace of God and how this grace is actually kind of “dangerous.” What do I mean? Well, grace is given freely without any strings attached, ever. So, because of that, I used to find it difficult to preach on grace simply because, “it would be easy for the hearers to “take advantage” of the grace of God.” “I mean, if I tell people that they are really free, then they might abuse that freedom.” And its true. So in my mind I’d rationalize it, I’d warn myself not to preach “too much” grace, or I wouldn’t be able to use “scare tactics” on them to live a moral, upright and obedient life through fear. In essence, they’d be free to abuse grace based on God’s own design. They might say something like, “Well, its okay to sin now because God already paid for all my sins” or something wacky like that. But that was based on my shallow understanding of God’s Grace. I didn’t understand how the absolute goodness and grace of God would actually enable, and lead them to repentance and right living.

“Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” – Romans 2:4

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” – Titus 2:11-12

Just look at what the apostle Paul said;

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” – 1 Corinthians 15:10

I was talking with my best friend Ben the other day about this so-called “dangerous grace,” and what i should do. He said, “Well, I’m not to sure what I think about all that, its hard. But I’m going to believe God’s Word over my brain any day.” So then I figured, “If I’m gonna preach the truth of God’s Word and His Grace, I’ve got to understand that its in His Hands,” because in reality, all grace is “greasy grace.” And no matter what religious-types might try to “add” to the free gift, it is completely unmerited, undeserved and not dependent on our own self-righteous works. Its Jesus plus nothing. Grace is free, but it wasn’t cheap.

Grace Abuse

In all truth, however, Grace is still very dangerous, mainly because of the nature of Grace, it’s “greasy.” And if Grace isn’t “greasy,” then its not really Grace. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the term, “greasy grace” but it came up here and there a little while back. I’m not exactly sure what people mean by it, but I assume, its referring to grace-abusers. (You know the types, “I can do what ever I want, and can sin all I want because I’m not under law, I’m under grace, so stop judging me!…” and so on.) Basically, greasy grace is a term used to describe those people that take the concept of the Grace of God and then “live like the devil.” They come to God when they have a need, but live far from Him when their life seems good. So the term “greasy grace” is when someone abuses the liberties that we have in Christ. They’re “libertines” (freedom abusers). However, I think the root goes deeper, back to when they first heard the gospel(if they ever even heard it). People who abuse Grace simply don’t understand it(or Him) at all. If they did, they’d never abuse it, but instead, like Paul in the verse above, it would push them to labor for the Kingdom. Lets go back to what Jesus said about hearing and understanding the word.

“But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” – Matthew 13:23

Obviously, a person who abuses Grace doesn’t understand Grace, or they wouldn’t abuse it. It seems to me that its more about their own life-fulfillment and “what Jesus can do for them now,” instead what Jesus has already done for them. I personally think that its because they never were told or never understood why they need(ed) Grace in the first place. Its not just a get out of jail free card, fire insurance or a free ticket to eternal life. Its much much more than that. We have to face God on Judgement Day after we die (Hebrews 9:24). And we don’t usually think of how we will stand before a holy and just Judge on that Day. We were bound by sin because we had broken God’s law(s) (namely the 10 Commandments), but the majority of people don’t understand that. They think that they are “good enough” and God will see their goodness and give them access to eternal life because of how they lived on earth. And that’s where the law comes in to play.

“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” – Romans 3:19

“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” – Romans 3:20

“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. – Romans 7:7

“Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” – Galatians 3:24

False Conversion

I believe that the reason people don’t understand the gospel of God’s Grace is because they haven’t been lead the right way. We we use life-fulfillment as a draw card for unbelievers, they come under false pretenses and for the wrong reason. They come because they see God somewhat as a good-luck charm. They don’t come humble, broken and repentant, they come greedy, self-seeking and proud.

“God resists the proud,
But gives grace to the humble.”James 4:6

Now I believe that there are many people who come to church and profess faith in Christ, are “sincere” in their heart, yet they are not even saved. Why? Because they aren’t really trusting in Christ’s Finished Work on the cross in their place to save them from justice and the righteous wrath of God. Their faith is in a Jesus that is going to be a “good-luck charm” for them and make them happy, healthy, blessed, and live forever because they accepted Him (ie; they repeated a prayer once in their life.) Of course, they never saw their sin as bad, and then never realized their dire need for Grace, they never repented, and thus they never really trusted in Christ because they thought/think that they were and are a good person, and good enough to get in to heaven, more or less. So Jesus is just a free ticket to heaven in-case, He’s a blessing-machine, a good luck charm, and an escape from hell (though it really doesn’t make since that God would send a “good person” like them to hell…), hence, the  gospel doesn’t make sense to them.

The Parachute

I’ve heard it said, that “any way that wins people to Christ is the right way,” but I have to disagree simply because of the MASSIVE fall-away rate in the churches these days. So, does that mean there is a wrong way? I think the answer is that there is a way that actually converts the soul and there is a way that gets a decision with no conversion.

“The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul;” – Psalm 19:7

Ray Comfort, of Way of the Master, uses an analogy lovingly known as “the parachute analogy.

Imagine you were flying on an airplane, 15,000 feet in the air. Then stewardesses start to pass out parachutes to the passengers. Now imagine a stewardess asking one of the passengers, “Would you like to have a parachute? It will improve your overall flight experience by giving you peace and joy, comfort, and security.” So the skeptical passenger agrees and takes the parachute. He puts it in his lap, but its heavy and clunky and it blocks his view of the on-board movie. Its also hinders his movement and now some of the other passengers start to look and laugh at him. After a few minutes of this, the passenger gets tired of the parachute and drops it to the floor. He’s disappointed and and feels lied to. He vows to never trust airline stewardesses again.

Now you see another stewardess passing out parachutes in another area of the plane. You over hear the conversation with another passenger. She says, “Sir, the plane’s engines have started started to fail because of a major leak in the fuel lines. At any moment, you will have to jump from the plane at 15,000 feet in the air. Please put this parachute on immediately!” Suddenly the passenger grabs the parachute and puts it on. He thanks the flight attendant hardily as she moves down the aisle. This passenger also notices that the parachute is large, bulky and heavy, but he has peace knowing that when the jump comes, he will be saved and not die. This also brings him joy, comfort and security. The parachute is limiting some of his movement and some of the other passengers that haven’t heard the news start to laugh at him, yet he only clings tighter to the parachute. He doesn’t take it off, because he didn’t put it on to improve his flight, he put it on because it’s “the only way” he will survive the jump to come.

Many times i’ve heard and even said myself, “Come to Jesus and make Him lord of your life and He will give you love, joy and peace. He will save you from hell, and bless you. You have God-shaped hole in your heart and Jesus is the only one who can fill it.” But that’s like the stewardess with the first passenger. People will sincerely come to Jesus, sincerely to get all those good things, but not for the right reason. And what happens next, exactly what the bible said would happen.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” – 1 Peter 1:6-7

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

“But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.” – Matthew 13:20-21

But when we use God’s law, we prepare the heart for Grace, the biblical way (Gal. 3:24). And once a person sees his or her sins and feels the weight their guilt before a just and holy God, then and only then are they are humbled and able understand the gospel, the good news of Christ’s perfect Finished Work in our place.

As Matthew 13:23 says, the “good ground” hearer is the one who understands. And then after understanding, it says that they produce fruit. And its so simple to understand the gospel after the law does its job (to crush us and lead us to Christ). Then its easy after that. Basically, they have to trust in Jesus like they would trust in a parachute. They don’t just believe in it, they have to put it on (trust that it all depends on Christ’s Work). When they understand the need for the parachute, we don’t have to keep following up to make sure they are keeping it on, you can focus on getting others to see the need to put their parachute on as well.

“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” – Philippians 1:6

The Grease of Grace

Here’s the thing about the free gift (Romans 5:15) of the Grace of God. In order for Grace to really be Grace, abuse and excessive living must be an option. I’m in no way saying believers should sin, on the contrary, they, as new creations, should according to their new nature, hate sin. But, again, in order for Grace to really be Grace, abuse and excessive living must be an option. Otherwise, it would just be a temporary stoppage from the penalty of the law and sin. Their consequences would be pardoned, only for a short time and then the other sentence drops and we would have to pay for our own sins.

“not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another— 26 He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.Hebrews 9:25-26

Just think about it: it’s not really Grace if you don’t get away with it. Its not really Grace if you get what you deserve. That’s the nature of grease, stuff slides off of it. Religious pharisees hate the idea of true Grace. True Grace leaves nothing to brag about (Romans 3:27, Ephesians 2:9), it robs us of any and all control and pride.

then He[The Holy Spirit] adds, Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.18 Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.” – Hebrews 10:17

Often, you see people living in sin with seemingly no repercussions. We all get away with all kinds of sins that no one ever sees or knows about(lying, lusting, coveting…), and rarely suffer any penalty. Sowing seeds of sinful behavior without seemingly reaping any negative results. A lot of the time the waters of grace and law seem muddied. Why isn’t God punishing us when we mess up? Its because Jesus took our punishment on the cross (propitiation).

And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” – 1 John 2:2

Pretty “greasy” stuff huh? And though it might seem correct that each should lead to the other, its not true. The law leads us to Grace, but it never can save us. Not that it trains us to make us good enough to receive Grace but the opposite; it shows us our utter need for something else. Although I’ve heard many messages and preaching and demanding holiness and moral perfection through the instruction of law for salvation or to keep your salvation (Learn the law, memorize it, love it, live it.) — The sad result of that teaching is an epic failure. The law merely points out our guilt and shows us as having fallen so far short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It shows us our utter hopelessness under God’s holy and perfect standard. The law cannot and will not ever save us nor keep us. It can only show us our complete need for Jesus, and that’s when we are truly humble and ready for Grace. The law does not bring us closer to God, that’s the job of Grace! We are saved by Grace, not a moral code.

Not that the law trains us to make us good enough to receive Grace but the opposite; it shows us our utter need for something else.

I have to say, that the more I understand Grace, the more I actually do love the law. It’s amazing. When I look at the 10 commandments, I see where I fall short, everyday. And everyday have to rely on God’s Grace through faith in Jesus Christ’s Finished Work on the cross in my place. Every time I fall, His Grace and mercy is that much more sufficient, His blood, that much more cleansing. I hate my sin, I wish and I try to live as sinless as possible, not to save myself or to keep myself saved, because that was already accomplished on the cross, but I want to live now only for His glory. I thank God that He became a man born of a virgin, who lived a perfect life, and died on the cross to pay the ultimate price for my sins. He, being sinless and never knowing sin became sin on the cross (in our place) so that you and I could become the righteousness of God by Grace through faith in Him(2 Cor. 5:21). So I hope that when talking of Grace, no one mistakes the free gift for cheap one, free Grace for cheap Grace. Grace is free, but it wasn’t cheap. And because if that Grace, you can live holy and blameless, not by trying to be good enough, but because, by His blood, He made you good enough. You are righteous because of Grace through faith in Jesus Christ! Righteousness doesn’t come through the law, it only ever comes by Grace. Please remember, no amount of “law-keeping” will ever make you or keep you righteous. Its living under Grace that produces righteousness.

“I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” – Galatians 2:21