A NEW YEAR
A NEW SERIES,
FILLED WITH THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL TO TRANSFORM OUR LIVES
Just as a caterpillar does not decide to take certain steps to become a butterfly, so the practice of religion has no power to transform us into women of beauty. Only God can do that — and He has one way of doing that, and that is through His gospel, the central theme of the Bible from Genesis through Revelation.
The gospel is the “good news” that Christ came to be our Savior. He died to take our sin on Himself and rescue us from the penalty of sin. That forgiveness happens the moment we truly believe. But the gospel doesn’t stop there. It can also deliver us from the daily power sin has over us.
Many Christians see the gospel as only overcoming the penalty of sin, but this guide will consider also how it can help us overcome sin’s power. The hymn, Rock of Ages, puts it like this:
Be of sin the double cure, save me from its guilt and power.
How we need the double cure! That is what we are going to be seeking to understand through this series. I think this study could be done with many books in the Bible, but I am going to see if it can be done primarily through portions of the fourth gospel account of Jesus: the book of John. I find value in staying primarily in one book, and I have always cherished John’s gospel. Some of you journeyed with us this during Advent, when we memorized the prologue to John. You will have rich insights, therefore, into this week’s study and I am eager for them. When a writer writes, he imitates his Creator by first hovering over the face of the deep, which is what I do before I write a guide or book — and I admit I often do it here on the blog with your wonderful input. I want to write the best guide that I possibly can on gospel transformation — and gear it particularly to women. You are a vital part of that. At the close of each week, I’d love input on what was clear or what was not — or any other input you have. I also so covet your prayers for quickening for all of us.
I’ve been hovering about this subject for years, so some of my stories will be repeats, but I will try to make them fresh. One of the blessings of an internet study is the input of media and the interaction of sisters from around the world. On this blog I can only give you excerpts of what I am actually writing, hopefully, for publication, because I want to include some wonderful media from others, and still not overwhelm you with homework.
Some of you have taken the challenge to read through the Bible chronologically in a year or two. While we won’t be discussing that here, you are free to make comments or questions concerning that if you like.
Let’s go with A Woman Transformed by the Gospel, beginning with Vicki’s story!
Vicki, sophisticated and silent, came to our Bible study, but she came guarded. She sat erect with her arms folded protectively across her, as if we were going to shoot her. But when I heard her story I understood. Only God could have wooed her back after being so wounded by religion. Vicki had grown up Catholic, though similar stories could be told by Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians or those of any denomination. Frank Barna’s research shows that most of the un-churched in America were once churched. Why did they leave? Instead of finding God, they found religion.
I wanted to meet God but they sold me religion!
(Bono was recently in a serious motorcycle accident and may not play guitar again — pray for him!)
Religion Versus the Gospel
Though many would think of Christianity as religion, the Bible doesn’t use that word, except somewhat sarcastically when James addresses the hypocrisy of those who claim to be religious but are not controlling their tongues, taking care of widows and orphans, or staying unpolluted from the world. (James 1:26-27) Indeed, what is repeatedly seen in the New Testament is Christ’s anger at religious leaders who thought they had made themselves right before God by following their man-made rules, but had hearts as cold as stone. If we think we can make ourselves right before God through our own efforts we have failed to see not only how sinful we are, but also how holy God is. The gulf between us is as wide as an ocean, and not even the best can swim across it.
Religion is man reaching up to God in his own effort.
The Gospel is God reaching down to man doing what man could never do in his own strength.
Matthew Henry explains that James refers to the gospel in James 1:18 when he talks about the “Word of truth” that brought us forth. New life comes from God — we cannot do it ourselves, anymore than a caterpillar can become a butterfly. The Gospel, indeed, has power we do not have — to rescue us from both the penalty and the power of sin.
The Gospel is also called “good news.” Religion sees the Bible as “good advice.” Good news is something that has been done. Advice is something we may follow or not, depending on what we think is right in our own minds.
That first Christmas Eve the angel of the Lord told the shepherds:
Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
God the Son came to be our Savior. He was perfect and chose to bear our punishment on the cross, throwing us a lifeline if we trust what He did on our behalf. That is the good news of the Gospel that should both humble us and fill us with joy. We obey, not to earn favor, because we already have it, but out of grateful love.
So many churches have lost their grip on the gospel, evidenced by either vanishing grace or vanishing truth.
Everyone who comes to church is broken in some way, and longing for grace, but too often, instead of drinking the pure healing water of Christ, they are given the polluted water of religion. Throughout the gospels, Jesus keeps warning of the poison, “the yeast,” of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of that day. With hearts as cold as stone, they twisted the truth and burdened their followers with man-made rules.
As a little child Vicki had experienced glimpses of grace and truth in the church. But just as an earthly flood destroys beauty, a swelling flood of ungrace swept over Vicki and crushed her budding faith. The final blow for her occurred as an adult, when her beloved stepson, tormented by depression, took his own life. Many “friends” from their church shunned the family, saying suicide was unpardonable. They didn’t rush to help bear their grief, nor did they come to the funeral.
Vicki felt like she’d fallen from a cliff into an icy lake. She cried for help and her church “family” ran the other way. One ran toward her, but he was a bully, and reached out not to rescue, but to push her under the icy water. With harsh words he condemned – and Vicki struggled to break free. When she did, she vowed never to go back. She said, “I was done.”
But God had not given up on Vicki, and somehow, He wooed her back. She’d ventured to our Bible study for seekers and skeptics, for we promised a safe place to ask questions. We were looking at the opening five chapters of John and early on I commented that they should watch for this repeated theme in every chapter: Jesus hates religion.
Vicki was sitting next to me and I saw her visibly stir. Then, through my peripheral vision, I saw her write in big letters in her notebook:
JESUS HATES RELIGION!!!
For Vicki it was the beginning of coming home – home to the One with outstretched arms, to the One who is full of grace and truth.
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
Optional: Why Seeing Suicide as Unpardonable is Religion and not The Gospel
2. Religion sees several sins as unpardonable, whereas Jesus says there is only one — rejecting Him, which is called “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” God has thrown out one lifeline through His Son — the Spirit woos — but all who reject that lifeline cannot be pardoned. There is not another lifeline. (See Matthew 12:31.) Two internet pieces on suicide are priceless. Look at one or both and comment:
The first was written by Ann Voskamp after Robin William’s suicide:
The second is an excerpt from the movie Luther, showing Luther’s reaction to the Catholic church’s belief that suicide is unpardonable:
Monday – Friday Bible Study and Media Interview
For people like Vicki, religion squelched the grace of the gospel. For others, religion, or some might call it irreligion. squelches the truth of the gospel.
One summer I was invited to a “Hymn Sing” at a nearby church. The church was packed and the hymns in the old hymnal were many of my favorites. They sang of the old rugged cross, of redeeming love, and of the power of the blood. But before we began, I had the breath knocked out of me when the minister of the church opened the evening by saying, “We love these great hymns – but I don’t want anyone to be concerned. We don’t believe the words. These songs are simply a part of our musical heritage.” I thought the floor beneath him might open up and swallow him alive, but it didn’t. For His own reasons, reasons I don’t understand, God gave this false teacher grace.
Stunned, I realized there was not just a disdain for the gospel, but a fear of it. So, on Sunday mornings, instead of the power of the gospel, the minister, like so many in pulpits today, was substituting platitudes and pep talks. One man told me, “I have better ways to spend my Sunday morning than to be told to “make lemonade when life gives me lemons.” I asked a member of one such church what the minister preached on Easter Sunday. She said that the fable of the resurrection was a metaphor for hope, that spring follows winter. These false teachers have robbed the Bible of its power. In such churches, hungry people, longing for the Bread of Life, are given cotton candy. No wonder they sicken of it and leave.
People come hungry for truth, hungry for the Bread of Life
but instead, people are fed the cotton candy of
pep talks and platitudes.
Many sicken of it and leave.
FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH
3. Jesus embodies the gospel. Read John’s description of Him in John 1:14. What do you discover?
4. Grace without truth enables sin. Truth without grace crushes. Give an example of each.
We had a stimulating discussion here on the blog concerning how we as believers should respond to the raging debate about the practice of homosexuality. Our own Jackie R referenced this interview of Rosaria Butterfield by Marvin Olasky. I think it is a splendid window on how we can approach this subject, and those in this lifestyle, with both grace and truth. I loved how she said that after she wrote her scathing article about Promise Keepers, that she received fan mail and hate mail — but it was the letter that she could not put in either pile, because if twas full of grace and truth, that began her transformation.
If you have time to watch (or listen), do so, and comment. Jackie says the first is better, though I haven’t had a chance to watch, but I do trust Jackie!
5. If you did watch the above, what did you learn about the importance of both grace and truth when it comes to the subject of the practice of homosexuality?
Read John 1:1-5
6. Write down everything you learn about Jesus in these first five verses. Then comment.
7.The rich Greek word translated “Word,” is “logos,” which, in part, is like the instruction manual that comes with a product, explaining the inventor’s purpose and direction for that product. Why would Jesus be the One, if this passage is true, to know the purpose and best use of your life?
From the very beginning Jesus was not understood or welcomed. The religious leaders didn’t want to give up control to Him. When I was confronted with the claims of Christ,I felt exactly the same way. I had an approach/avoidance conflict. I was drawn, and yet I feared giving up control of my life. I asked Sally: “Steve and I are planning to build our expensive dream home – if we gave our lives to Christ, would we have to give that up?”
My sister pondered and finally told me that, in my case, she thought the house should go, for it was a “god” in my life. Today, I appreciate that she gave me the truth, for though salvation is a free gift from God, when we come to Him, we must surrender to who He is, and and He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Since He made us and loves us, He knows what will make us soar, and what will take us down. Sally said:
If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.
And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?
Matthew 16:25-26 (TLB)
Again, Sally was giving me the truth. So I realized that if Jesus was who He claimed to be, it was sheer folly to resist Him.
I needed to either find out if He was a fairy tale or if I needed to fall on my knees and worship Him.
For the next month I studied the Scriptures and other books such as C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. I finally came to the point where I was 95% convinced Christ’s astonishing claims were true. I surrendered on a November morning, expecting to be relieved of fear, and I was, but I was also, as C. S. Lewis put it, “surprised by joy.”
I was soaring.
I am prone in my Christian life to want to take back the reins, and when I do, like a kite without wind, I dive. The Lord has been showing me, often through my studies on idolatry, what folly it is to cling to control when He loves me so, knows what is best, and longs for me to soar.
APPLYING TRUTH AND GRACE TO YOUR HEART ON A DAILY BASIS
One of the ways the gospel can free us from the power of sin, is to apply truth and grace on a daily basis by first, letting the truth of God search your heart and lead you to confession. Ask How have I failed today to live as You would have me live? Then repent, and receive, not His condemnation, but His grace. Let me share an example from my own life.
Truth: It has been so good for me to be in a Bible study with those who have a negative opinion of Christians — seeing them as judgmental, proud, and uncaring. I realize indeed, all those things have an element of truth about me. It is much easier for me to look at the sins of others instead of my own. It is not uncommon for me to judge someone’s lack of kindness without knowing their story. But a little time before the holy light of God, asking Him to search me, shows me that I have been so focused on the speck in the eyes of others than I have ignored logs in my own.
I exaggerate to make myself look better. I concentrate more on the sins of others than my own. I eat food I do not need instead of waiting on God. I am not broken over the sorrow in the world.
The truth is, my sin is so bad it meant Jesus had to be crucified.
Grace: The Lord is gracious to forgive and cleanse. I am so loved that Jesus did go to the cross. His mercies are new every morning.
8. Your turn. How could you apply truth and grace to your life today to help you overcome the power of sin?
Read John 1:9-12
9. How did the world and His own respond to Jesus, according to the above? Why, do you think?
10. What right (or some translations say power) is given to those who do receive Him? Meditate on this and share your questions and comments.
Contemplate the following difference between what the religious leaders of Jesus day gave and what Jesus and His gospel gives to those who receive Him:
…they are blind guides. And if the blind The people who walked in darkness
lead the blind, both will fall into a pit. have seen a great light…
Matthew 15:14 Isaiah 9:2
They crush people with unbearable Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden
religious demands… and I will give you rest.
Matthew 23:4 (TLB) Matthew 11:28
You serpents, you brood of vipers, …to all who did receive him, who
How are you to escape being believed in His name, he gave the
sentenced to hell? right to become children of God.
Matthew 23:33 John 1:12
11. What differences do you see in the above passages between the impact of religion versus the impact of the gospel of Christ? Find everything you can.
12. Read John 1:13. John is careful to differentiate religion from the gospel. Name the three ways that we are not given new life and try to explain what each might mean.
13. How are we given new life, according to this verse, and how is this different?
John 1:14 is a beautiful expression of the gospel. First, Christianity is a Person, a relationship with a Person, the only begotten Son of God. Jesus came to be our Savior, to save us not only from the penalty of sin, but also the power of sin. This week we’ve been concentrating on how that new life begins and rescues us from the penalty of sin. The words “truth and grace” describe the two vital elements that happened at the cross.
First, we must face the truth that our sin is so bad that Christ had to be crucified to pay our debt. Religion minimizes our depravity, for it says we can be good enough on our own, and we simply cannot. But not only are we depraved, we are also loved, so loved that Christ did go to the cross on our behalf. See the psalmist’s words in the shape of this cross:
have met together
14. How did truth and grace kiss at the cross? What bad news does the cross give you about yourself? What good news about God?
15. Any input you have on the above study is welcome.
16. What is your personal take-a-way and why?