This was a session given at the Tres Dias retreat March/April 2011 by Pat Mollan.
LIFE IN GRACE
There is a story which tells that Jesus has just returned to heaven after finishing his work on earth. He sat down at the right hand of God and the angels welcomed him.
They said to him, ‘Is your work finished?’
He said, ‘It is finished.’
‘What happens now?’
‘Well I have given my word to my disciples, those whom God gave me.’
‘What happens then?’
‘They will give the word to others.’
‘And what happens after that?’
‘I have no other plan.’
This story is apocryphal, but it draws our minds to the parable of the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) which demonstrates God’s prerogative as Sovereign, to give the same wages to the newest Christian as to the oldest. It is a sign of God’s grace; that those who are Christians for a much shorter period can also stand side by side with the most mature saints at the Judgement Seat of Christ.
What people say about us really doesn’t matter, but what is said about us at the Judgement Seat of Christ does.
We need to live this life with the Judgement Seat of Christ in mind.
One of the reasons that we have this teaching in the Bible is that the future can have an effect on the present.
Do you know for sure that, if you were to die today, you would go to heaven?
It isn’t arrogance to know for sure that you will go to heaven. It is simply trust in Christ’s infallible promise, which is offered to everybody. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
But there is a judgement.
St Paul clearly taught that we are justified (i.e. made righteous) before God, by faith alone (Romans 4:5). This assures us that we go to heaven when we die, but at the Judgement Seat our motives and injustices will be revealed.
That is our obedience and our unconfessed sins will be revealed.
So much of what we have to do is in building up the body of Christ; that is those who believe in Jesus. We all have gifts, but it is using them for the common good. It is about team work, and teams only work well when we are all prepared to surrender our ego.
It is all the ‘I’ words!
And I have 7 of them.
It is in surrendering identity, independence, individuality, in-flexibility, indifference, inequality, and personal interest.
The test is, am I willing to be a small fish in a big pond?
Am I willing to be obedient to God’s calling on my life?
Listen to the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, (Matt 5:11,12a)
People only begin to persecute us falsely when we are working to enlarge the Kingdom of God. We are in a spiritual battle field and the enemy uses painful tactics against us, but Jesus says:
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.
Psalm 115:3 tells us:
Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.
St Paul tells us that we are God’s fellow workers.
Therefore God has chosen to use us.
He turns things over to us as though it is entirely left to us, although he remains independent and sovereign.
God chooses to use us in the work of ministry to others, but he could have saved people directly without involving us at all.
When we think about it we realise that ALL of us were converted because someone witnessed to us.
Someone brought us to church.
Someone handed us a tract, or we heard preaching.
(Both of these happened to me.)
God did not stop you in your tracks without the Gospel and reveal himself to you by the power of the Holy Spirit. He could have given you a vision, but his method is as St Paul says when he writes to the church at Corinth:
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Cor 1:21)
Because we are fellow workers with God, we start to ask:
‘What is it that we do?’
‘What is it that God does?’
But here we come to mystery.
It is like the story of Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai.
Moses had been there many, many times, but one particular day he noticed what appeared to be a brush fire,
and when he went closer he saw a bush on fire,
but it wasn’t being consumed.
He went to see what it was, but he heard the voice of God saying: “Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)
The mystery we are talking about is the sovereignty of God.
St Paul understood this well for he wrote to the church at Rome:
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?” (Romans 11:33,34)
I don’t want to complicate it, but there are two parts to this.
The first is our Christian ministry –
– that is, we are trying to reach the lost.
The second is our Christian discipleship –
– our response to the Gospel and Christian teaching.
1. We are God’s fellow workers
2. We are God’s building, his field.
My former Vicar, Jimmy Monroe, who was such an influence on my life, would often say to mourners at funerals:
“We were put on earth to get to know God better, and to help one another.”
He would then refer to the deceased and say something like, “Johnny was very good at helping his neighbour.”
That often was a great help to the bereaved.
However Jimmy did not elaborate that Johnny had only grasped part of the story.
Jimmy understood about GRACE, and was an example of Living in Grace.
That sort of sums up the two parts of what we are meant to do.
Helping one another; and getting to know God better.
For the first we preach, teach, or are involved in pastoral care – In other words, we answer God’s call.
Before you say: ‘…but I don’t preach’, let me tell you about Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
Spurgeon lived in the 19th century and was probably the most famous preacher of his time.
He regularly preached to gatherings of over 10,000, and that without any of our modern electronic aids. (This was from his early 20s.)
He is still much revered in many churches today.
He would say to his students:
‘Preach all the time. Use words only if really necessary.’
In other words we answer God’s call; we prepare ourselves for service; we get knowledge and/or training; we walk in the light; we remain available; we go when he says go.
What does God do?
He tells us what to say. He equips us.
He sends people to us whom he has chosen that we might help.
He works at both ends when we are obedient.
What do I mean by that?
If I am faithful in preaching, God will help me to speak, and he will work at the other end, by dealing with the hearts of those who hear what I say.
It is then that the work of the Holy Spirit cannot be stopped and the person hearing becomes a believer.
We, who have believed, are ALL God’s field,
i.e. that is the place where much can be produced for his kingdom.
You are redeemed. You have been bought at a price. That price was the blood of God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
That is GRACE.
It is a mystery that God, who chose me in Christ,
before the foundation of the world,
works for my growth.
I have a phrase of a hymn running round in my head:
And every virtue I possess
And every victory won
And every thought of holiness
Are His alone.
John’s Gospel 15:1-2
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
We can see that it is a process, but we must be willing to progress in this process.
I live beside Strangford Lough, just where the Quoile River enters the Lough. The tide comes and goes on the edge of our garden.
At certain times I am able to observe the white trout and salmon pressing up stream through the fish-pass on the water barrage.
It is a tough journey for the fish.
For us it is such a vivid picture of life.
Often when we come to faith we move forward, and then hit an obstacle. It hurts, and we go to God telling him about and effectively say: ‘I’ve done enough. I cannot cope anymore. I’ll just stay here.’ But we do not realise that we CANNOT stay where we are.
We are like that fish swimming against the tide, or against the flow of the river. If we chose to stop, then the force of the river flowing will push us backwards, and we will no longer remain where we are. Therefore we CANNOT BE SATISIFIED WITH WHERE WE ARE. We must press forward.
It is an awesome privilege to be called to faith by God.
It is not something to be taken lightly.
We are also called to obedience.
James 3:1 says ‘… we who teach will be judged more strictly.’
Why would I choose to be judged more strictly?
Why would I choose to have a tougher time than perhaps you?
It is a scary thing, but I had to be obedient to the call.
I can live with what I preach or teach, but what you do with it is up to you.
Each one of us will have to stand on our own and give an account.
I used to worry about witnessing to others concerning my faith in Jesus Christ.
I have now learned to ask God for opportunities that I can use, and I have also asked him to help me recognise those opportunities when they come.
I am going to give you an example of seizing opportunities,
Over a year ago I was asked if I was interested in joining a Christian organisation. I had to be honest and say that I did not know anything about that group. There were a number of meetings with me over coffee and I don’t know how the situation arose, but for a laugh I said,
‘I know nothing.’
You should know that I am a fan of Faulty Towers with Basil and Manuel. Manuel was frequently trapped by Basil and interrogated. Poor Manuel. He would frequently plead: ‘I know nothing.’
So I had said it: ‘I know nothing.’
Before I knew it, one of the group had seized the opportunity and quickly took my hand.
She said, ‘My dear, do you know Jesus?’
I was surprised, but replied, ‘He is my Saviour and Lord.’
She smiled and responded, ‘Then, never say you know nothing.’
We all must seize the opportunities for Jesus.
That is what LIFE IN GRACE is about.