Discussion questions for your family, running partners, or life group.
Listen to the message I shared at Gateway South here:
Here are notes from the message we shared:
Christianity at the Core cuts against the grain of the way things normally work. Normally, you get what you deserve, no more, no less. Normally, justice says you should pay for your own wrongdoing. Normally, we understand that in the Ballgame of life, if you keep missing the ball and screwing up, eventually – You’re outta there! You strike out and the game’s over for you.
God’s ways are counterintuitive to our ways.
So many of us live out our lives trying to earn our way into God’s favor. I spent many years of my life doing what seemed normal. I reasoned, “When I do the right thing, I please people. When I don’t do what they want, they get angry with me and eventually may even give up on me.” What I work for is what I get paid back. When I work hard in school, I get good grades. When I practice hard in athletics and get to start, I make the team. So I guess it’s the same way with God. If I do the right thing, and if I work hard at being good in the moral game of life—maybe on that day when I meet God face to face, maybe it’ll be “Good enough.”
But you know what I realized, that doesn’t bring much assurance, because I do things that I know are wrong…all the time! So How do I know if I’m “Good enough?” Who’s to say who is good enough or bad enough? I mean, we can all agree that some people are clearly bad, the Timothy McVeys, the Hitlers, the terrorists.
All of us have regrets from our past. Even in our present, we constantly violate our own conscience many times. If we can’t even keep from violating our own moral standards, do we really think we live up to God’s moral standards? So Maybe we try harder to do good, but soon you feel like you’re climbing up an icy slope—slip once and you’re sliding all the way back to the bottom. And if you try this long enough, eventually people just give up and say: “Maybe there is no God. Or like I did, we say “Well, if I’m dammed, then I’m gonna have a damn good time getting there.” So we give up and we turn from God. But that doesn’t really change us.
So God says, I have another Proposal. Yes, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 [Death just means separation—physical death separates the soul from the body. Spiritual death separates the person from God.] The reason we keep going astray is we disconnect from the Source of Life and Love. Grace is God’s solution: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” I Timothy 2:5-6 So God says to us. You turned from the Giver of Life, you’ve gone your own way. And in doing that, you’ve hurt me and you’ve hurt others—whether you realize it or not. But I’m gonna pay your ransom myself. I’m gonna give you a gift that will set you free and that will allow you to live a new life—no longer disconnected from the God who made you—no longer disconnected from the Source of real life and lasting love. “You no longer belong to evil, I’ve ransomed you back.” It’s a gift you and I don’t deserve—that’s Grace.
I remember when I first heard about God’s Amazing Grace—it made no sense to me—I thought, “That’s not right—that’s not fair. Someone who does wrong could just pray a simple prayer of faith, and God would forgive and accept them—yet someone who is a much better person than them, just because they reject God’s proposal would be out? That makes no sense.” But the problem is we think bad behavior is the root problem, God says the root problem is relational—we don’t love or trust God relationally. So the solution is not trying harder, the solution is relationship with God.
Instead of giving us what we deserve, He gives us the gift of forgiveness–Grace. Scripture says, “[God did this] so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:26
Mark Twain understood this: He said, “Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out, and your dog would go in.” – Mark Twain That’s true – My dog has been more obedient to me than I have been to God. He offers to pay all our moral debts for us, past, present, and even the one’s you will go and commit this week. And why would he make such a ridiculous, risky proposal? Well, so you can know you’re safe with God. So you can have assurance that you’re right with God, and you don’t have to live in fear. And in the hope that you and I will follow God into a new life—that His Grace will change us.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works. Ephesians 2:8-10
Our deeds, our works, do not earn us favor with God—right-standing with God is a gift you either accept or reject by faith. In other words, we don’t have to prove our worth to God—He proved our worth to us…through Christ. What he wants is our faith, our trust in him, our wills, our love, our whole-hearted alliegance to follow Him. But you can accept or reject this gift—that’s why it’s “through faith” you’re made right with God.
So on the one hand, the Scriptures teach we don’t have to always worry and wonder, have I done enough good, or avoided enough wrong to be accepted and adopted as God’s very own—the answer is simple—if you’ve put your faith, your trust in God, in his Grace offered for you in Christ, you belong to Him and nothing will change that. Have you told God “I want what Jesus did to count for me—I want assurance of your forgiveness, I want your leadership?” That’s all it takes—a decision of the heart. God knows the heart. Tell him if you never have.
But some people may say “But if a person prays a prayer to receive God’s Grace, God’s forgiveness andwe are saved—or set right—then can they live like hell and it’s all good?” The answer is not a simple “yes or no”. Let me explain why, and why this question stretches our mind’s understanding of God. God draws us close, God assures us of his acceptance and love—so we will follow him and do the good works he created us to do. But just because someone claims to have faith, just because someone says, “I’m a Christian, or I believe in Jesus” that doesn’t mean it’s authentic faith. There are plenty of people historically who said they were Christians, yet didn’t follow Jesus at all. So there’s this tension James (Jesus brother) talks about: What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:14-17
Authentic faith—a trust in God that’s alive, grows daily, and really changes us, and over the years people start to see a difference. It motivates new responses—God-inspired responses. It motivates new engagement with people’s needs—God-directed engagement. It motivates a heart of compassion and love and desire for justice. It motivates a willingness to respond morally, ethically, financially in new ways—because God’s Spirit is leading us and we’re trusting more and more that His ways are in our best interest. But sometimes, true faith/trust is difficult—it’s demanding, it’s not just business as usual with a little sprinkling of Jesus to add flavor.
So James goes on to say: 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. James 2:18-19
In other words, true faith or trust in God is not just believing God exists—James says the demons believe God exists, and they shudder, but they don’t trust God or follow Jesus. True faith produces good deeds and a change over time.
So that’s confusing—is it that we’re set right with God (or saved) by faith or by deeds? It’s by faith—not as a result of works, it’s a gift remember? But you haven’t really received a gift if you take it but never use it. If you gave me the gift of a new Ford Mustang—I’d like that very much—If it’s a gift, all I have to do is receive it. I don’t have to work for a gift. I just receive or reject it. But what if you parked it at my house. I said, “Thanks,” and I took title to it but never once drove or let anyone else drive it. Did I really receive your gift? No—because you gave it to me to drive, to use, to benefit me. I said verbally I receive it, but in practice I rejected your gift.
That’s why Jesus once said Just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. Matt 7:20-21
Wait—what? I thought you said it was a gift, received by faith, not dependent on what we do. Didn’t Paul say “All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved?” Yes, and if you truly trust God to be God of your life, and truly receive His gift of forgiveness and restored Relationship—it will change you! Maybe not right away, not in every way all at once, but year by year you’ll start to see the fruit of God’s Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self control, care for others, obedience to God—you’ll start to see evidence of these things growing from within. You can’t relate to God with a willing spirit and not see fruit ever—it’s impossible. But it’s not a matter of trying to do good works, it’s a matter of loving God and wanting to trust him more and more. Relationship with God is the solution.
That’s why Jesus says “many will say to me, didn’t I do this and do that in Your name, but Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:23 Don’t miss this—the issue wasn’t what they did or didn’t do, the issue was “I never knew you.” You didn’t really give your heart and life to me—You didn’t really open up to relationship with God, you were just doing a religious game in my name. And that’s not God’s solution to the human problem. In fact, that produces the religious game-playing that gives Jesus a bad name at best and and at worst produces the killing fields of Rawanda, the Crusades of the middle ages, the massaquere of Native Americans, and the Crucifixion of Jesus—all in the name of God!
So can we really know that we know that we know we are forgiven, adopted as God’s children, He will never cast us out? Yes! Jesus promised, My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” John 10:27-30
God wants you to be secure, and trust and follow Him. That produces good fruit and changes us to be more like Jesus. So if you’ve trusted in Christ for your salvation—trust Him with everything—don’t hold back. He has good plans for you, good deeds for you to do—produce good fruit. That’s why God makes you Safe, so you’ll trust the Father’s hand to lead you through this life.
Every day that you and I wake up and face a new day, we face risk. We face dangers – some known, most unknown. We face the challenges of the workplace, the perils of parenthood, the insecurities of singleness, the frailties of good fortune, a world that doesn’t forgive many failures. And we fail—we fail ourselves, each other, even God. On our own, it’s not safe. The world can be a very dangerous, UNSAFE place. Where stock markets can crash, businesses can reverse, relationships can end, friends can turn their backs, we do wrong. And in a world of uncertainty, deep down we all want to know – Is this Universe ultimately safe? Can we really know that we are safely held by the arm of the Father? Can we know that even though we face the unsafe perils of mountainous slopes, even though our feet may slip, but the Father is with us and we are His beloved children, and he’ll never let go—we ARE safe? Can we really know that?
The message of scripture is a resounding “YES”–we can be assured we are eternally safe. Secure in the grip of the Father. “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. I John 5:11-13
That you may “KNOW”. If you believe, if you have put your trust in Christ, the message of scripture over and over is that This Universe IS a safe place for you. God wants you to know that. If you’re not sure you’re right with God—safe for all eternity—he said All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. John 6:37
If you want to be sure–come to Him, he will never drive you away—he will never push you out or reject you. But he also want force you to come to Him. You must choose.
God wants you to know you’re safe, because knowing the Universe is a safe place makes all the difference in the world.
Just think for a second how God wants you to live life because you know that you know—I’m safe, right with God, nothing can change that. Shouldn’t that be the most freeing feeling in the world? When you screw up, you wouldn’t fear God or turn from God, you’re safe—so you’d turn back to Him immediately so He could help you grow to not screw up again and again—so you’d change. You’d take risks you might otherwise be afraid to take because you’d know that ultimately, you’d be safe. So you’d experience more life than you’d ever imagined – you’d have no need to fear. You wouldn’t be anxious about losing everything because you’d know that ultimately, you were safe, protected against catastrophic loss. You’d see so much more of life because your mind would be free to experience moments and beauty rather than worrying about what might happen – you wouldn’t even need to worry– ultimately, I’m safe. You’d find new freedom to love and to take relational risk because you would not fear being hurt – because you’d know ultimately your safe.
Today we’re celebrating Baptism. Why baptism? Believe it or not, it’s not just a church tradition—it’s a command of Jesus. That all those who receive his gift of Grace, as a first act of obedience to God, would mark their faith with baptism. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples [followers] of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:18-20 Baptism is the outward sign of an inward reality—I can’t see your faith or trust in Christ, you can’t see mine. That’s a spiritual transaction between you and God. God’s will is that the first sign, or fruit, is to publicly declare that faith in baptism.
Remember God’s solution is relationship. It helps me to understand baptism and why it’s so important to God by analogy. A marriage is two people pledging their love by faith—they’re trusting in each other to uphold their marriage covenant—for better or worse, never leave you or forsake you. That’s actually a mirror of God’s covenant love—we may go back on our word, God can never go back on His. So when we say “I do” to God’s proposal of Grace, and the gift of relationship—he declares “I will never leave you or forsake you.” You can count on it. He’s God—he never goes back on his Word. Baptism is us declaring our love for God. It’s a public symbol of receiving His gift—when you go down in the water, it’s saying “Jesus died and was buried for me—it should have been me. When you come up, you’re saying “As Jesus was raised to new life, I’m washed clean, so I too can live a new life with Christ.” If you’ve never marked your faith publicly in baptism, or only as an infant, which wasn’t your decision—that was your parent’s decision, make that decision and get baptized today. We have towels you can take home—it’s okay to get your clothes wet—he got bloodied for us…we can get our clothes wet for him. So as this song plays—if you’ve received his gift of assurance thank Him, and tell Him—I want to live all out in that assurance. If never received that gift—do so today—and decide to mark it with Baptism.