but grace

Posted: February 18th, 2011 | Filed under: book, God, life | Tags: | 23 Comments »

Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. -1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV

Even though they are not supposed to, people have a scale for sins. Anyone can look at that list and categorize them from least to greatest. People who cheat on their spouses and people involved in homosexual relationships seem worse than people who vilify (revile, condemn) them.  The girl who got drunk would not be kicked out of her church like the boy who had sex with another boy. The materialistic (greed, idolatry) woman would not be shunned like the woman who cheated on her husband. The man who lied about (swindled) another man in order to take his possessions would not be questioned if he were convincing enough. The girl who had an abortion to hide her pregnancy gets to stay in the youth group while the other girl who kept her baby is called “a bad influence.”

“Don’t be deceived…”

They all have the same weight. Everyone is guilty. Everyone is equal.

“And such were some of you.”

You may not have done all of these things, but you are guilty of some of them.  Depending on where your journey has taken you, you may feel relief or your skin may be crawling. Is your pride welling up or do you feel hope? Do you feel cornered or do you feel free?

“There comes a point in the game of tit-for-tat where you are just comparing stench of excrement.” – Grace Is For Sinners, Chapter Four: Lamb Lost

The only way out of the ping-pong hell is to drop the paddle and run to Jesus. After the list of sins, there is a ‘but’. But grace.

Scripture is used way too often to condemn the failure. However, if you actually read it, scripture holds the key to setting the condemned free.

Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. –Romans 14:13

It is easy to get caught up in your idea of what it is to be a good Christian and completely miss the opportunities to learn from someone who is not like you. What can the man, who is attracted to men, teach the one who condemn people like him? What can the greedy woman learn from the pregnant teenager? …more than you can imagine.

Communities need to rise up and create a place for the girl who had an abortion to escape the hell of guilt she is trapped in. They need to learn how to nurture the faith of the failure, not for the outcome they want, but for the sake of that person’s faith. People may never do what you want them to do. You have to find a way to go beyond the sin and focus on the message of salvation. Salvation changes the person, not the other way around. The things you would say to an unbeliever you are trying to convert are still true for the believer who messed up. Christianity is not a bait-and-switch operation.

“But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

splv


23 Comments »


23 Comments on “but grace”

  1. 1 Jason said at 6:37 am on February 18th, 2011:

    You're so right, Serena. It's all the same. I cringe when I see churches that condemn one thing and excuse another. Then I see another church that condemns nothing at all as if sin doesn't exist because they don't want to risk being hypocritical!

    Jesus was truth and grace in perfect balance. Striving to be like Him means we need to strive for the same. And it's not easy.

  2. 2 Mel @ Trailing After said at 6:52 am on February 18th, 2011:

    I agree. It's such a slippery slope. We really get into the sin of pride when we decide that "our" way is the "right" way to believe in Jesus and to be a Christian, and that goes for both sides. I've seen some lately preach grace and then turn the other cheek and attack a group of believers that don't believe how they do. It's not up to us what is right, just or otherwise. That is God's domain and we're wise to stay out of it.

    I see the same weird behavior when Christians find out you suffer from depression. Instead of being kind and loving, some will look at you like you have a third eyeball or a contagious disease and not want to come near. "Oh she might kill herself?!" they think. Oh yes, those thoughts traipse across my mind which means, I NEED folks to come NEAR not run away. So many stigmas when we deal with human beings. Thank God, someday we will all be made perfect!!

    Blessings,

    Mel

    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

  3. 3 Julie R. said at 8:26 am on February 18th, 2011:

    Grace….meets us where we are. In turn we are to point others in the direction of meeting grace…

  4. 4 Warren Baldwin said at 1:48 pm on February 18th, 2011:

    Another good one. Categorizing sin makes the one doing the categorizing feel safe!

    I had an invite up on your fb page to write a guest post on marriage for my blog. Did you see it? I took your no response as a no.

  5. 5 Serena Woods said at 2:13 pm on February 18th, 2011:

    Warren: I'll shoot you an email. 🙂

  6. 6 sarah said at 6:08 pm on February 18th, 2011:

    Serena…….what are you going to write about marriage? I would be very interested in Warren's blog.

    Here's something for you….what would you feel like if your husband fell in love with another woman and left you for her…..oh and he had a child with her.

  7. 7 Serena Woods said at 6:22 pm on February 18th, 2011:

    Sarah: Classy.

    To answer your question: I would be absolutely and inexplicably devastated. I would murder them a million times in my head. I would be ripped to pieces for several reasons: Scripture would tell me that my anger made me a murderer, that I'm supposed to turn the other cheek, that I have to forgive with no record of wrongs, and show them grace. It would appear that God was on their side and I would feel betrayed by Him, too. The more I thought about it, the more it would bury me in the never-ending depths of betrayal and deceit.

    Feeling abandoned by God is the most terrifying and horrible thing a person can feel. It is the ultimate sense of hopelessness and abandonment that no physical experience, no person, and no words can ease. I would think: "God is supposed to be on my side and nobody on my side would seemingly disregard my feelings, my pain. Is there no Gospel for the betrayed? Is it all for the one's who get to be forgiven and restored and go on with their lives? What about me?! I didn't do anything wrong. And grace is saying that He left me to go rescue them. I believe in grace and I believe in Jesus. And because of that, I am absolutely shredded."

    I have read your emails, Sarah. Yours and a couple of others who have been betrayed by their spouses and are disgusted with me because I remind (you) them of the other woman. There are people who hate what I'm doing. They are turned off by how much I talk about grace…especially because of what I did. They think I shouldn't be allowed to push the message of grace because the message of grace sets me free.

    At the same time, I am receiving emails from women who tell me that they turned away from the man they were having an affair with because of my message. I make sure to tell people how devastating the aftermath of my sin was. I make it as graphic and transparent as I can. I do this because I want women who are in affairs, and thinking about doing what I did, to run. And it's working. Women are running. While I am hearing these amazing stories, I am getting a few people who will tell me that talking about the pain of failure is only me trying to get sympathy and they are disgusted.

    Most of what I write is directed toward the Christian who is devastated by their sin, feeling hopeless, and destroyed. I want them to know that God still loves them and that He can redeem them and rebuild them into something new. I want them to know that God will never give up on them and that what Jesus did is bigger than what they did. Their faith is failing. They are dying. The enemy of God knows that getting His babies to doubt God's love and reject His sacrifice would be the most effective way to hurt Him and spit in the face of His Son. In trying to get them to remember grace, and using scripture to unravel some confusion and counteract their fear, I also deliver a double fisted message to the Body of Christ to get them to snap out of their self-rightious blindness and look at what they're doing. It's one thing for Satan to attack God's children, but for him to use His children against one another? That makes my blood boil. Satan is cunning and he can make it sounds so godly. "You're standing up for purity and righteousness when you stand against them. Even more, you're standing up for Jesus."

    This is what gets me riled up. I have written and said, more times than I can count: What do you think was the most important thing Jesus did? It was Him being our sacrifice for our sins and creating a way for us to get to God. When you're standing up for Jesus, you are standing up for forgiveness, and grace, and mercy. If you are standing against a sinner, you have to wonder what or who you're standing up for.

    On my blog, I try to create a place where the broken and spiritually dying can feel safe and can find the hope of grace. I want them to know that even they can be forgiven. When I get comments like the one you just left, I have to really question whether I should post it because you are doing exactly what is keeping them away from God. I am not a fan of blocking comments because I believe that everyone has a right to be heard, even if they're attacking, condemning, or disagreeing with me. These kinds of comments, instead of being a blow to me personally or to the message of grace, are actually the perfect way for me to pound that message home. The hope is that others recognize your voice as their own and, because they're on the outside looking in, can see how divisive and mean it is. Then I want them to think about the message of grace I have been sharing and know that it's for them, too.

    Grace is for everybody, because of Jesus. I don't have to tell people that they have to believe because, if I tell them that what Jesus did was for them, too, and they believe it, then they have met the requirement: they believe it. It's very simple to me.

    The betrayed feel abandoned by God and the betrayer believes they are separated from God. The betrayed feel like God doesn't love them, but they know that He says He does. The betrayer feels like God wouldn't love them, but they know the Bible says He does. Can't you see? What a twist of the mind when you realize they are in the same place being tormented by the same enemy and they both think the "enemy" is the other person. The real enemy doesn't have to do a thing because the two are doing it to each other.

    I write about grace, I write about the mistakes believers make, and I write about forgiveness for the sake of community. If you are not ready to see your own mistakes, then my message will seem divisive. If it is divisive, it's in me saying: you're either for the finished work of Jesus (grace) or you are against it.

    After all of the accusations and the fighting, where do you go from there? It's all said and it's all done, now what? Grace for both of you. That's what. There is always an out and it's always going to be Jesus.

  8. 8 Heather said at 6:33 pm on February 18th, 2011:

    Serena-When I read your post I feel humbled. I know I don't understand it all. I just pray that it will stick in my spirit. It's as though I am hearing some of these truths for the first time. Maybe it truly is the first time, or maybe its the right time.

  9. 9 Serena Woods said at 6:45 pm on February 18th, 2011:

    Heather, I guess if I had to sum it up, it would just be that we are all guilty, none worse or better than the other, but grace gets the last word.

    Romans 14 is awesome. It's basically saying that you should be concerned about what God is saying to you about you and when you try to play God to someone else, you end up becoming a stumbling block to them.

    I have to practice what I preach. Often times I will read something in scripture and people who are not doing what the scriptures are saying pop in my mind. Then I have this little tug in my spirit that says, "Hey, I'm talking to you. I know how to talk to them."

    Humbling and balancing.

  10. 10 Rebecca said at 6:49 pm on February 18th, 2011:

    Serena……I was directed to your blog by a friend…….I've been reading it for a couple of weeks….as well as finding out about your background…..I must admit it is QUITE a story!

    I am very disturbed by this latest post….you are twisting scripture in a way that is quite dangerous……are you implying that people engaged in open, active sin (practicing homosexuality) are in the GRACE of Christ?? And that we weak minded christians could learn something from them?? That is certainly what you seem to be saying!

    The scripture says "and such WERE some of you"….

    I am concerned about your message….It seems you have had to "create" a version of the gospel message and the grace of God to suit your particular circumstance….You see….I am well aware of the fact that you married the man you had an affair with…I must put this bluntly….that does not seem like true repentance!

    You have "embraced" your sin if you will…..To use an analogy….it's as if you stole a car….you said you were VERY sorry….BUT you are going to KEEP the car! It truly defies logic…..I also think your message is TRIVIALIZING sin……Your message seems to be- we all sin….some AWFULLY….so what! Grace and love, if you say your sorry…it's all good……

    What about consequences?? What about sanctification??

    I would challenge you to read this article…..it expresses my feelings better than I do……

    [link removed]

    And this one is a great follow up!

    [link removed]

  11. 11 Serena Woods said at 1:04 am on February 19th, 2011:

    Rebecca:

    "are you implying that people engaged in open, active sin (practicing homosexuality) are in the GRACE of Christ??"

    No. I asked, "What can a man, who is attracted to men, teach the man who condemn people like him?" And followed it up with, "…more than you can imagine."

    I did not mention someone "practicing" (and I understand that to mean having sex) "homosexuality." There is no one who is spiritually superior to another. Having homosexual sex, having unmarried sex, having adulterous sex… are ALL wrong. Defining "wrong" was not my point because it's a given. But, now that we're on the subject: I say: Even so, they are real people with real experiences and real thoughts. They are going through a walk of life that some are not. Therefore, those who know nothing about their struggles and pain would have something to learn from them, and visa versa for that matter.

    There are people who struggle with homosexuality within the Body of Christ. There are people who are sexually attracted to the same sex who are Christians. They are not "practicing" it because, by the grace of God, they can deny their flesh in that particular area and give credit to God. There are people who have had sex with the opposite sex out of wedlock. There are people who are sexually attracted to the opposite sex who are Christians. They are not acting on it because, by the grace of God, they can deny their flesh in that particular area and give credit to God.

    No one is better than or spiritually superior than another. As I said originally, "Even though they are not supposed to, people have a scale for sins." My hope is that if I share the scripture that levels the scales, then people will realize what they are doing and stop.

    "And that we weak minded christians could learn something from them??"

    I don't know where you got "weak minded", but yes. I am saying that we can learn from each other.

    "The scripture says “and such WERE some of you”…."

    Yes, the word "were" is why I posted that sentence twice. Any one who is guilty of sin (contextually in this blog, the sins listed in the scripture I quoted) and has called out to Jesus to be rescued from it receive grace. They are washed clean, sanctified, and justified. They can believe it and be free. It doesn't mean that they will not still struggle, it means that God will never give up on them, no matter what.

    "It seems you have had to “create” a version of the gospel message and the grace of God to suit your particular circumstance…."

    The message of the Gospel is Jesus. He came to die for every single sin. Because of Him, God freely forgives sin and sets sin's 'captives free.' Those who believe in Jesus have eternal life. It absolutely suits my circumstance because I have sinned horribly and desperately need what He offers.

    You see….I am well aware of the fact that you married the man you had an affair with…I must put this bluntly….that does not seem like true repentance!

    It's not hard not to know every detail of my failure. I spelled it all out in a book.

    Is it not possible to be forgiven after you sin? If forgiveness is only for those who don't go through with the selfishness of sin, then what is forgiveness for? The title of my book came from logic like you are using. My response is: Grace isn't reserved for those who don't need it. Grace is for sinners.

    "You have “embraced” your sin if you will…"

    I have embraced grace and am no longer defined by my sin. Because of Jesus, my sin has no hold on me.

    Would you prefer that people who sin be refused grace? What does that do to your own sin? Were you forgiven your debt so that you could walk out into the street and not forgive the debts of others? You're hauled back inside for another lesson from the One who forgives. You don't get to cancel people off of God's invite list.

    "To use an analogy….it’s as if you stole a car….you said you were VERY sorry….BUT you are going to KEEP the car! It truly defies logic."

    Grace does defy logic. It's scandalous even.

    To use your analogy: Someone steals a car and then has to face the One he stole it from. Somebody has to pay for the vehicle. It's not free. The one who stole the car wants to pay, but doesn't have the ability. The One he stole it from says, "Yes, I know you can't pay for it. I paid for it for you and there is nothing you can do about it because I paid for it long before you stole it. I care more about my relationship with you than I do about the car or the fact that you stole it." The car becomes a source of humility. It is a constant reminder that he is in debt to the One who did not make him pay. The one who stole the car does not feel ownership, he feels a burden to use the car for the purposes of the One who paid for it. It is a vehicle put into service for a greater purpose than what evil intended it to be. The car is grace. Blatantly and uncomfortably undeserved.

    "I also think your message is TRIVIALIZING sin."

    My message is that all sins are equal. If you think some are trivial, then the "major" ones get brought down to that level. I do not see sin as trivial, therefore the ones that seem "trivial" are brought up to the level of "major." They all become equally "major".

    "Your message seems to be- we all sin….some AWFULLY….so what!"

    We all do sin. it's all "awful". And there is no "so what!" about it. It's '….but grace'.

    "Grace and love, if you say your sorry…it’s all good……"

    "Grace and love" and He doesn't even wait for the "sorry". In the story of the Prodigal Son, the Father didn't even let the son finish the apology speech he had prepared. (Luke 15:17-24) So there is no "if you say you're sorry." And yes, what Satan intended for evil, God intended for good. (Genesis 50:20)

    Forgiveness ushers sorrow. There is a difference between "being sorry" and "Godly sorrow." Simply being sorry actually drives you away from God. Godly sorrow drives you to God. (2 Corinthians 7:10) If God keeps His love from you, you can be sorry, but not feel like it's okay to go to Him. We only go to Him when He tells us that He will love us no matter what. We have to hear grace, love, mercy before we experience the kind of sorrow that sends us running like children into His lap to soak His neck with our sobs. All the while He has His arms wrapped around us, telling us that He's already taken care of it.

    "What about consequences??"

    There are always consequences. Not because enough consequences will make it even, but because when you throw something up in the air, it's going to come back down.

    "What about sanctification??"

    Sanctification is a free gift. It's something we do nothing for, but are mercifully declared.

    "I would challenge you to read this article…..it expresses my feelings better than I do……

    [link removed]"

    The difference, as the author noted, is that he was not sure of Profumo was a Christian, but that Haggard was. That is why people don't remember Profumo for anything other than his sin. People like Haggard (and me, as you are getting at) have had an unbelievable experience with grace. I can only speak for myself (however, I have heard what Haggard has to say and believe he is saying the same), but I write to share my eye-witness account of the life changing power of grace. I have to put my sin out there to serve only as a contrast to God's love. I (my reputation, name, identity) died in my sin, but God took my life, transformed it and gave it back to me. I give every part of my life to sharing what He did because it brings hope to others. At the same time, it also brings people who can only focus on the sin, but I am not worried about them. I do not hide in shame because I don't have to. I have been set free. We're in a fierce spiritual battle, so of course the message of the Gospel is going to be opposed.

    "And this one is a great follow up!

    [link removed]"

    The author said that he does not believe that we get a clean slate and he does not believe in a God of second chances. I do, so there is really no conversation to be had regarding that. If I am wrong and the author is right, then we are all doomed. He says that we can be forgiven, but not given a second chance. That says more about Jesus than it does anything else.

    I will say that he seems to have an issue with people not suffering consequences for their actions. I can understand where his is coming from. However, I know what it's like to have done something horrible and there is no way I could look at another in their own sin-aftermath and assume they are not suffering consequences. He is making assumptions largely based on a blind view into the personal thoughts, the spiritual warfare, the silent prayers, the voice of God personally within, and the private conversations of another person.

    (I removed the links in your comment because I wish to have no connection with the other site.)

  12. 12 Nora said at 10:56 am on February 19th, 2011:

    I am blown away by how biting people can be. The fact that you allowed their comments says a lot, but your response to them has me standing on my desk and clapping.

    Be encouraged, Serena. By opening yourself up for others, you're changing lives. But, by opening up to others to are also a target.

    You're changing my life. I am closer to God now. I'm not afraid anymore. Keep it up!

  13. 13 Sisterlisa said at 3:23 pm on February 19th, 2011:

    Serena, your blog post is so timely for us right now. Great comparisons here. Might I also add one? The college student who keeps her mouth quiet in a church of legalism is accepted for her silence and the other student is rejected for openly speaking about grace.

    🙁

  14. 14 Serena Woods said at 3:59 pm on February 19th, 2011:

    Thanks, Nora and Lisa. 🙂

  15. 15 Steph said at 4:12 pm on February 19th, 2011:

    Great one, SisterLisa. 🙂 how about the writer who talks about her experience with grace gets publicly attacked? So uncomfortable to watch. Serena did a great job, but it's still so heartbreaking to see my sisters in Christ try to tear down another because they don't think she's good enough. It completely detracts from the message of Jesus, which is what Serena's writing is all about.

    Didn't she say as much? Something to the effect of: "Satan doesn't have to do anything TO God's children when God's children do it for him?"

    That needed to be said. Disagreeing is fine, but being mean and intentionally hurtful is not.

    I needed to say that last part. I don't want to be negative, but I feel my pride welling up, so I'm going to step away and listen to some worship music. Here I come HIllsongs!! LOL!!

  16. 16 Serena Woods said at 4:53 pm on February 19th, 2011:

    Oh, Steph. I am so sorry.

    I really debated over letting those comments go live. I have only had to be in that position once before, but it was for other reasons. I let them post because I really wanted to answer their questions and get them to think. But, when you have a dialogue about matters of faith, emotions become elevated. Some can have a conversation without vilifying the other and some cannot.

    I took a lot of time in writing them back. I studied and cited scriptures, I read the articles that one wanted me to read, and I opened myself up to hear what they were saying because I believe that I could learn something from them if there were something to learn. I did all of this at the expense of all of my other responsibilities, which only makes the other areas of my life suffer.

    They both wrote back and it was evident that all of my words fell on deaf ears. All of my time was wasted and I have little time as it is.

    I cannot stand bickering and mean-spirited exchanges. I have moderated their reply comments out and I hate it, but I refuse to have this website reduced to a place of debate and heckling. Of course that adds fuel to their fiery accusations, but at least the fire is out of my "living room."

    I think some changes need to be made so that I can focus on my writing and on what God wants me to do.

    I ask that everyone keep their comments respectful and full of grace. I don't need to be stood up for because, though they were meant to be personally hurtful, I did not take them that way.

    Thanks. 🙂

  17. 17 Heather said at 10:48 am on February 20th, 2011:

    Serena-I read everyone's comments and am thankful for your responses. I have learned even through them. First, I can SO easily get focused on the sin, people's past. It is very distracting. And then I am reminded, that is not the message. Grace is the message. God's redemption and restoration is His purpose. When we focus on other's sin, past, we are not apart of His purpose. Let God deal with others sin. And lastly, your grace and ability to keep going is a huge blessing to me. I struggle with trying to be a pleaser. I do take situations or negative comments as personally hurtful, and I want to change. I want to be able to focus on God's grace and lay the people pleasing goal aside for good.

  18. 18 Serena Woods said at 11:26 am on February 20th, 2011:

    I think that focusing on people's past sin is a defense mechanism. They are obviously capable of doing what they did, why would you open yourself up to having them do it, (and who knows what else?!) again? However, as Christians, we are supposed to turn the other cheek trusting that God is in control. We are not supposed to keep a record of wrongs, and that can be fueled by the faith that God doesn't (the Sea of Forgetfulness). The problem with turning the other cheek is, God doesn't protect the other cheek and the way around acknowledging the Sea of Forgetfulness is by finding some way to prove they were not repentant enough to get forgiven.

    All of that is a very human way of getting around doing what God has asked us to do when dealing with another's sin.

    The key to not taking attacks personally is to know what God's voice sounds like. Has God ever attacked you by calling you names and throwing your past in your face to get you to change? Not me. Therefore, when someone does, know that it's just them, not God through them.

  19. 19 you know who said at 2:17 pm on February 20th, 2011:

    Dad has been in jail since Thursday.

    I know that there will be some in our lives who will point their fingers of hatred and shame at him and possibly at my family and this scares me. I pray daily that God reminds my dad that WHAT he did, does NOT define WHO he is. Mom told me that he was in a way, "happy" to go to jail, so that maybe when others look at him and his sin, they will be able to also see that he has "paid" in some small way for what he has done… But there is nothing that anyone can do to make him "pay" for his sin…to suffer any more than he already suffers in his own mind. He knows what he traded for his sin. Some things he cannot regain…

    (Exactly what would be an appropriate punishment for a sinner so that the self righteous people could feel like it was ok to look upon sinners and still feel clean…)

    Continue to pray for me. I want God to show me what He wants me to do with what I am learning now in the midst of all this.

  20. 20 Serena Woods said at 4:00 pm on February 20th, 2011:

    "(Exactly what would be an appropriate punishment for a sinner so that the self righteous people could feel like it was ok to look upon sinners and still feel clean…)"

    Ugh. I recognize that question. I use to have it inside my own chest. The thing you have to keep reminding yourself of is that those people have lost sight of Jesus. That's why they are still waiting for restitution. There is nothing that can be done, even if they put your dad to death. It wouldn't be payment because it would be deemed deserved. The only payment is one that is not deserved. If anyone rejects that, then nothing can be done. It's a faith issue.

  21. 21 Lindsey @ A New Life said at 4:02 am on February 22nd, 2011:

    I feel so much for the the pain of the woman above- I can only imagine a small portion of the hurt she must feel. I hate how sin warps and degrades the very fiber of our beings, and creates situations where it is hard to live as brothers and sisters in Christ.

    I love you Serena- crying at your responses in the comments- such beautiful explanations of grace and such an ever present reminder of what He's done for me.

  22. 22 Genevieve Thul said at 4:33 pm on February 22nd, 2011:

    My heart goes out to the woman who came in with guns blazing…you only start firing if you think the bullets are coming your way, too. And Serena, you are a champion of grace and I can't wait to see your reunion with Christ in heaven when He lauds you "good and faithful servant". You get what so many miss.

  23. 23 Justin said at 8:22 am on February 23rd, 2011:

    Wow. I didn't plan on reading for the last 30 minutes – powerful discussion. Praying for all who posted. Serena, keep pointing them to Christ. Much love.


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