It really IS finished!

Do you know that God holds nothing against you? Maybe this is old news to you. For me, this is a revolutionary idea.

For me, I was constantly trying to get back into God’s good graces, like I would any other relationship from childhood to adulthood. Addicted to the approval from others, I would always try to earn it. Do enough and I was good; not do enough (or worse, rebel), and I would have to work to get myself back into favor. This process carried over into my relationship with God, although I never really realized it until a few months ago. I talked about God’s grace and was certainly thankful for His forgiveness, but every time I screwed up, I would work at getting back to where I need to be. Pray more, read more, serve more. It was subtle, but it was – subconsciously – my mantra. “I really would need to put my spiritual life ‘on the front burner'” or feel like “I need ‘to step it up’ in my spiritual life.” These would be my thoughts. Maybe you’ve had them too.

Now, I have come to realize that Jesus’ words are really true. “It is finished” (John 19:30) applies not only to Jesus’ lifelong journey to the Cross, or to the fact that the requirements of the Law had been fulfilled, but also that all work has been finished to bring you and I back to God. We can now come to God without fear or worry of punishment. We don’t have to work to get back into God’s good graces. Listen to these words by the apostle Paul:

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, NO LONGER COUNTING PEOPLE’S SINS AGAINST THEM. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19, NLT, MY EMPHASIS)

James Bryan Smith, author of The Good and Beautiful Community says:

“This is a clear explanation of the finality of the cross. God – in Christ – is not counting our sins against us. God stopped counting and apparently never took it back up. God is no longer dealing with us on the basis of our sins but of our faith. Jesus died for all the sins of all the people for all time — and that means you.”

Do see why Paul calls it a “wonderful message of reconciliation”? Do you see why it’s called the Good News!?!

It really IS finished!

Deal-breakers?

In men’s group last night, we talked about what a loving community of Jesus-followers looks like. We talked extensively about the differences between denominations, and the pitiful, trivial reasons we aren’t unified as one Body of Christ. If it weren’t so sad, it would be laughable.

The question to ask when deciding to partner with others from another denomination is, “Do they believe in Jesus Christ and him crucified as the Son of God?” That is the “essential” question as author James Bryan Smith says in The Good and Beautiful Community.

Could all our others differences be “non-essentials?”

Smith goes on to say, “The essential is our identity as people in whom Christ dwells. Tolerance is not our primary aim; nor is equality. Our highest aim is love. Our primary focus is on Christ as Lord.”

We will always have differences in doctrine and methodology. We will always have differences in style, how we dress, what we sing, and how we worship our God. Yes, we have major differences. But as Pastor Brandon said last night, “Are they deal-breakers?”

James Bryan Smith says:

“I am not liberal and I am not conservative. I am an apprentice of Jesus. I am simply trying to discern that which that which is essential and that which is non-essential. For me, the basic teaching found in the creeds (the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed) is essential. Everything else is non-essential. Not unimportant, just not important enough for me to divide from those who share the same belief in the essentials.”

For me, this rocks my world. It has me re-examining my “essentials” and my “non-essentials.” I wonder how different the Body of Christ – The Church – would look if we all did the same. I wonder if the watching world would respond differently to the Good News.

There are important differences, to be sure. Each must decide what is essential and non-essential. But that shouldn’t stop us from our highest aim: love.

Love never fails.