The turning point: Learning to receive what God has given.

“If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, “Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.”                                                                      Romans 4:1-3

We were not made, we were not designed, to live apart from God. The original lie remains a lie; we cannot be like God by merely taking the knowledge of what good is and trying to be good. No matter how hard I try, I cannot be good as God is good. I cannot make myself “as good as new”. This may come as a shock, but God doesn’t try to be good, He just is! God is good because God is love. Goodness is His nature and in Him there is no evil at all. The apostle John declared God to be “full of light and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1John 1:5). God’s nature never changes and this unchanging goodness of God is described as His “Immutability”. This means that God’s character cannot have changed between the Old Testament and the New. The God of the New Testament; the God of Peter and John, was the same God as that of the Old Testament; the God of Moses and Elijah. Yet it was precisely this belief, that God does not change, that was used by Jesus’ opponents again and again as the reason they would not believe in Him. To them, the God of Moses was a God who brought death and destruction, sickness and disease, on those disobedient to His commands. (Deut.28:21,22) Even to Jesus’ own disciples it seemed obvious that those afflicted with disease or poverty must have done something to deserve it (John 9:2) It also appeared obvious in that day, that if someone was caught in the very act of adultery then God wanted them stoned to death. They could point to the very scripture to prove it (Lev.20:10). Yet Jesus appeared to go out of His way to show mercy and grace to the very people the religious saw as the enemies of God. He healed all the sick who came to Him, without exception and declared God’s forgiveness for notorious sinners and did all this not from a respectable distance, but living His life in the midst of them, in genuine love. Again and again both from Jesus’ own lips (John. 5:19, 14:9) and from the writings of the apostles (John 1:18, Col.1:15, Heb.1:3), Jesus was declared to be God incarnate. Now if God is immutable and doesn’t change, how do we explain this? Is He angry at sinners or full of compassion for them? Does He bless some and curse others, based on their obedience to His commands, or does He bless all who come to Him, irrespective of their righteousness? (Matt.15:30, Luke 4:40, 6:19) You see if God really is immutable, unchanging, then His thinking and His character has not ‘evolved’ from one attitude into another. His nature, His heart, His character, His judgement, view and opinion (glory) has always been the same and always will be. So which is it? Does God inspect our righteousness, our prayer life, the level of sin in our lives or some other aspect of our performance and decide whether He will bless or heal us based on that? Or did Jesus really do what the Gospel declares that He did; reveal the way God has always felt about us, from even before the world was made? (2Tim.1:9). Did He not reveal that God is a God who never wanted the limits of our obedience to be the limits of His blessing, no more than we ever wanted our children to think that we only care for them for the obedience that we can get out of them? Is He a Father who cares about us, or one who only cares about our behaviour?  Is He not the God who came and set us right with Himself, by freely giving us His Spirit, His life, because He knew that apart from giving Himself to us, there was no way we could ever be good like Him, new like Him? Is it true that all we have to do, like Abraham, is enter into what God has done for us and trust that He has set us right with Himself, rather than trying to be right on our own? Can we really trust in Jesus’s life as the only reason why we can receive freely from God (Eph 2:8,9), or should we keep trying to add our righteousness to His?

The more we are hoping that our lives are holy enough for God to bless or heal us, the more we will have difficulty receiving from God (James 1:6-8), for we have not yet made up our mind that Jesus is our new life before God (Col.3:4). The reason many of us have struggled for years to receive from God is that we have not grown in the Spirit to see ourselves as God sees us, to see that our old “try harder” life died (Col.3:2,3) and has been replaced by an entirely new life (2Cor.5;17) The Spirit leads us into this life by showing us just how much God has already given to us; everything in Christ! (Rom.8:32, Eph.1:3). This revelation leads us into rest and peace with God. It enables me to keep both eyes on His finished work, not one eye on His work and one on mine. That’s a recipe for going around in circles! Do we have a God who waits to see what we are like before He gives, or do we have a God who revealed His true nature by giving us everything when we didn’t deserve anything (Rom.5:8). Am I still spending my Christian life waiting for God to bless me because He is a God who has yet to make up His mind whether to give, or because I have yet to make up my mind that He has given?

Don’t wait till another year to receive what God has done. Make your life a story about God’s generosity, not your religiosity. Let the Gospel of God’s grace make up your mind, once and for all, about who this God is. Let Him be the God that came, the God that set you right. Don’t live as if Christ never came and God is waiting for you to be right, be good, be new, on your own. Rather let the generosity of God lead you to change your thinking (repent) of trying to impress God.

Christian, how much of your life you spend trying to impress God, is the measure of how little impression you think Christ made on your behalf. God is immutable, unchanging. Don’t waste another day of your life trying to change His mind about you. Instead hear the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit change your mind, so that your days of waiting, your days of living merely by your natural senses can end and your days of living in the Spirit can begin (1Cor.2:12 I believe the Holy Spirit comes to change our mind and give us God’s mind, to lead us into the truth of how much God has shared His life with us. I don’t believe God has given us His life, half-heartedly, hesitantly or conditionally, but fully, freely and unconditionally. But I have had a problem down the years in learning to receive freely. I have lived double-minded, one moment thanking God that things are going well, the next wondering what I have done to deserve all my troubles. One moment living as if Jesus’ life and God’s Spirit, has been given to me unreservedly, the next wondering what I have to do to get more out of Him. I believe such double-mindedness about God’s character hinders my ability to freely receive, for He has given on the basis of Jesus life and I am attempting to receive on the basis of my life. What is the postman to do when confronted with a man who only has to sign his name to receive, but insists on paying for what has already been paid for? Why do we struggle so much to receive freely? Because we have been conformed to this world and the elementary principle of this world, which is that everyone gets what they deserve, so get busy deserving (Col.2:20). Through the revelation of the true immutable character of God, revealed in Jesus, my thinking is being renewed and my life transformed, from anxiety to peace, from self-centredness to generosity, from self-life to Christ-life. Jesus said to His disciples, “Freely you have received, freely give.” In terms of being able to fully freely receive the forgiveness and healing that is in Christ, I am not there yet. I still struggle at times to receive. As a result I am not fully able to minister (give) what has been placed in me to give; the same Spirit that rose Christ from the dead. But this one thing I know; I am not where I was. My thinking is being changed and I am growing in the revelation that the immutable unchanging nature of God means that I can stop striving to impress a God whose love and good purpose for my life never will change. I can learn to enter more fully into what God has done for me (sonship in Christ), rather than continue to try and be right on my own (religion). The Holy Spirit is teaching us to daily sign our name, to freely receive the parcel of sonship that is being presented to us, so that we may open up the real story of our lives, the story of His life given to me, not my life given for Him!