Grace Space: A Place of to Meet with Truth and Fall into the Loving Arms of Jesus
This is the final chapter of the book; unashamed – candid conversations about dating, love, nakedness & faith by racy levinson (www.tracylevinson.com) chapter six God and the New Covenant.
This is the last mile of our journey together in this book. I hope with all my heart, that you will stay with me through this final chapter. I promise it will be worth it. Many years ago, I remember playing laser tag for the first time with another mom and our young kids. We went into the game without a strategy. The bell sounded and the festivities began. Everyone immediately filled their guns with bullets from our team’s station. As they soon disappeared into the sea of neon and black, I noticed that no one was guarding our base, so I found myself spontaneously positioned to protect our turf. While I was there, I always made sure to keep my gun full, even if it was less than half empty. I never ran out of ammunition. I was in a wonderful position to protect base and help brave wounded, bullet-depleted teammates make it back to our resource. Once they were re-armed, off they went into the madness to make those risky and all-important shots for the team. And there I was, at base, almost the entire game. Afterward, I wondered, what does the way I played the game say about me? I have often thought about that moment throughout the years. Here is what I have come to discover: the Gospel is home base for me. I have placed all my hope in Jesus. For me, as a former atheist, I just can’t get over this salvation and life I have in Christ. Although I have been a Christian since 1996, since 2009 I have been steadily meditating on the love, grace, and the finished work of Jesus. This is the New Covenant and I want to write a whole chapter on it. I pray God can allow me to remind my brothers and sisters of the completed work of Jesus in the midst of the battles of life. Let’s fill up and rediscover together what God has to say about His Son and what that means for you. The first Bible verse I ever learned was: “In the multitude of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14, NKJV). As I share my understanding of the New Covenant, I will apply this verse by providing a tapestry of wisdom from several of my favorite Bible teachers. Let me tell you why. Remember Lazarus? He was Jesus’ dear friend who had died and was sealed in a tomb for four days. When he died, his family and friends dressed him, as was customary, in white linen cloths wrapping and binding his body. These were called grave clothes. When Jesus brought Lazarus to life, he was alive! But he still had these clothes binding him. I find it fascinating that Jesus Himself didn’t take off the grave clothes. Jesus said to His family and friends, “Unbind him, and let him go” (John 11:44, NASB). As believers we are like Lazarus, alive at the core. God often uses words of truth from other believers to unravel us from the grave-clothes of beliefs that bind us. New Covenant teaching undressed me of the shame I had carried around for so long. Therefore, in this chapter there will be many wise thinkers I have brought along for this discussion. Anyway, can I really do a better job than the Apostles Paul, Peter, John, or the writer of Hebrews? Q: How does a person become a Christian? A: I just had a sweet friend in my living room this week who was wrestling with feeling unworthy of the love of God. Her struggle to believe she had value from God’s perspective was intense. She needed to know that God proved how much He treasures us by sending His son, Jesus, to die for each one of us. God values nothing more than His son, therefore, you must be worth a high price. That action displayed God’s immense love and value for you personally. Yes, God loves and treasures you. Can you accept and agree with that? I never want to reduce my life in Christ to a list or a formula. When I said, “yes” to Jesus, my life began to change forever. A relationship began. The word gospel means “good news.” Good news is meant to be shared. I want to describe for you how I came into a relationship with Christ: • I realized that I had sin in my life and wanted intimacy with God (Romans 3:23; 5:13-21). • I came to believe that Jesus Christ was a real person and had lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15). • By the encouragement of God’s Spirit, I turned my heart toward Christ and agreed that He loved me and had really died on the cross for all my sins–past, present, and future (1 John 2:2; Hebrews 7:27). • I received Jesus Christ and my old life was exchanged for His (Romans 6:5-11; Galatians 2:20). • My eternity is secure in Christ (John 3:36). Sometimes I wish I could see God and give Him a big hug. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see . . .” (AMP). If you want to experience Christ, turn my list above into a prayer to God. Believe like a child–and be saved. Q: As a Christian, I know I am forgiven, but why do I still feel bad about myself sometimes? A: There were times in my earlier days of Christianity when I had this lingering sense of fear that I was not quite in God’s good graces. It was like having a low-grade fever or melancholy spiritual hangover. I understand that you might feel “bad” about yourself from time to time. I believe the problem stems from basing our beliefs about our state of righteousness on our most recent behavior or perhaps our feelings. What we need to do is base our righteousness on what Christ has given believers permanently as a gift. Many Christians I have known believe their sins are forgiven and they will become righteous– one day, when they finally reach heaven. By believing we are still a little dirty, we assume we still need some level of self clean up. This all seems like the “normal Christian life.” We are seduced into believing that God’s presence and blessings are conditional. In our attempt to reach God, we make lists, read our Bibles, go to church, do some good deeds, and try to sin less. We often judge our worthiness and closeness to God by comparing the times we felt most holy and close to Him, to whatever behavioral and emotional state we currently find ourselves in. We are also tempted to evaluate ourselves in light of our perceptions of other believers. If they sin less than we do or have a job in a church building, surely, they must be on a higher spiritual level with God. We think we suck. Or, we look at our lives in comparison to people who are involved in lifestyles of intense sin. We conclude, perhaps, that we are doing pretty well compared to those guys. Either way, we are judging ourselves and others. Such comparisons only produce pride or shame. In the end we lose (1 Corinthians 4:4). I thought the Gospel was good news? This kind of thinking appears to be humble, but in reality it is “bad news.” Ironically, this pathetic clean-thyself-up gospel makes a believer super self focused as opposed to “thank you, Jesus” focused. The question was: “As a Christian, I know I am forgiven, but why do I still feel bad about myself sometimes?” I am severely dyslexic. I still couldn’t read when I was in the third grade. Later, I became an actress. Then I met Jesus and discovered the Bible. Shakespeare sincerely didn’t do it for me anymore. I had been looking for truth my whole life and had finally found it. God gave me a supernatural hunger and non-dyslexic ability to meditate and know Scripture. I pondered and memorized large portions of the Bible and hid much of the Word in my heart. As I applied Scripture, I experienced so many cool shifts in my life. Some of it was incredibly sweet, fulfilling, and life-giving. I encountered some healing from past wounds and much needed wisdom as I parented. I am grateful for that. But the deeper I went, the more I began to misunderstand passages that were not really written to me. You see, I used to read all the Bible with the same lens, as if somehow, all of it applied directly or indirectly to me. As you can imagine, I was inconsistent. But I tried. It didn’t matter if a passage was in the Old Testament or the New Testament. I thought I should, at some level, obey it all. It was the Bible after all. God never changes. In my quest to “go big for God,” it was a mixed bag; I had Spirit-filled moments of intimacy, revelation, and deep fellowship with God. Yet, I would break one “rule,” make one “mistake,” or sin, and that would catapult me into devastating deep disappointment or despair over my imperfection. My grace friends and I like to call that a “schizophrenic gospel.” Some call that legalism. I was like the foolish Galatians who had come to Christ by faith, but believed I needed to do works of righteousness to justify myself for daily living. Galatians 3:2-3 says, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (NLT). Pastor Paul White says, “If we don’t know we are righteous, we will think we will become righteous by what we do…Our preoccupation is mostly with sin. We have actually defined spiritual growth in the church as the ability to avoid sin. The better you are at avoiding sin, the more mature we say you are in Christ…Absolutely wrong, our preoccupation with sin has kept us from being occupied with our righteousness” (www.paulwhiteministries.com) Over time, I became more religious. I am using the word religious here in a burdensome way. You might say I was striving for self-righteousness, as opposed to trusting in Christ’s righteousness. In rule-focused religion, people often trade enjoying their relationship with God for works (Galatians 5:1-13). This mindset increasingly stole a level of assurance and joy that I had experienced when I first came into Christ. John 10:10 says, “. . . I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)” (AMP). I wish I had understood the New Covenant all those years. Then I would have believed what Christ accomplished on the cross makes me forever close to Him and completely, permanently clean. Never accept anything less than the complete perfection of Christ. The Mosaic Law might be what you’re struggling with. The Jewish law is not for me and was never instituted to produce righteousness or life. Its function relied ultimately on its ability to point people to Christ. Galatians 3:24 says, “So that the Law served [to us Jews] as our trainer [our guardian, our guide to Christ, to lead us] until Christ [came], that we might be justified (declared righteous, put in right standing with God) by and through faith” (AMP). I am not throwing out the Old Testament or the law. The Mosaic Covenant is a beautiful shadow intended to direct us into the arms of our Savior. Although I respect the Jewish law, it does not apply to me as a Christian. Jesus fulfilled it (Romans 10:4). Let’s look at Romans 7:6: “But now we are discharged from the Law and have terminated all intercourse with it, having died to what once restrained and held us captive. So now we serve not under [obedience to] the old code of written regulations, but [under obedience to the promptings] of the Spirit in newness [of life]” (AMP). Pay close attention to this next verse. Look for a word that is repeated twice. Hebrews 8:13: “When God speaks of a new [covenant or agreement], He makes the first one obsolete (out of use). And what is obsolete (out of use and annulled because of age) is ripe for disappearance and to be dispensed with altogether” (AMP). Obsolete. Did you notice that word used twice in the scripture above? I remember when I first got a hold of that word. Webster’s Dictionary says it means: “no longer used because something newer exists: replaced by something newer”. Merriam Webster, Merriamwebster.com, accessed December 2015, www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/obsolete. I used to believe I needed to submit, fulfill, and obey rules I perceived from Old Covenant passages. Don’t get me wrong; there was nothing evil about my intentions. There were no bad motives when I searched my church world for modern day pseudo-laws (quiet time, church attendance, avoiding bad words, etc.) I just wanted to do Christianity “right.” And there certainly was no lack of teachers out there telling me all the things I needed to do to please God. I was sincere and full of love in my attempts to improve myself and others. I was putting myself under laws and had no understanding of how Jesus had made the Old Covenant obsolete by fulfilling it (Luke 22:20, Hebrews 8:13). I was sincere when it came to interpreting Scripture; however, in some instances I was sincerely wrong. Here is the worst part: I began to put a religious burden and expectation on my lighthearted Christian husband. He began to believe he was unworthy of being my spiritual equal. The enemy took advantage of this opportunity (Ephesians 6:12). Bruce’s doubts became so profound, that at one point, he considered leaving the marriage. Which was totally not cool, and definitely not God’s heart. But, you see, my husband naturally has no tolerance for legalism. My confusion and misapplication of scripture almost contributed to the downfall of my marriage (Galatians 5:9). I am not exaggerating. The schizophrenic gospel almost cost me the most precious person in my life. It was something I struggled with for years, until my spiritual mentor, John Sheasby, taught me I was “mixing covenants” (Galatians 3:1-14). People like me ultimately want truth at all costs. Even if it means they need to reconsider their view on something. N. T. Wright writes, “True wisdom is both bold and humble. It is never afraid to say what it thinks it has seen, but will always covet other angles of vision” (N.T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture). N.T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture, (New York: HarperCollins. 2014), 226. Q: Explain what you mean by the word covenants? A: Remember Scripture is written on our behalf, but not all of it was written directly to us. In submitting to a passage, it is crucial to correctly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). We need to know the context of a passage, who is being addressed and which covenant these individuals are under. A covenant is a binding promise between two or more parties. For our purposes, we will talk about three covenants found in the Bible. 1. The Abrahamic Covenant Remember Abraham? He was actually asleep when God created this covenant. He had a covenant of faith, not works. Abraham committed adultery and lied. God calls Abraham His friend and righteous. The Lord promises to greatly and miraculously bless him, not counting his sins against him (James 2:23). I’ll elaborate more on Abraham’s covenant later in this chapter. 2. The Mosaic Covenant This covenant with Israel was ushered in by Moses on tablets of stone, the Ten Commandments. In addition to that, consider more than 600 commands—roughly 300 positive and 300 negative. Yikes! The law demanded that Jewish people perform rituals and sacrifices. Those sacrifices were an annual reminder of sins. Under these conditions, God blesses obedience and curses disobedience. Unlike Abraham’s covenant, the Mosaic covenant promises are conditional. Hebrews 7:19 says, “…the law made nothing perfect” (NKJV). 3. The New Covenant Hebrews 8:7 says: “For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another” (NLT). Clarification: when the Book of Hebrews refers to the first covenant here, it is referring to the Law of Moses. The prophet, Jeremiah, predicted that there would be a time when God would make a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-33) This New Covenant would someday be written in believers’ hearts. Hebrews 8:10-12, NKJV, says: For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, “Know the Lord” for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more. Let’s be careful when we read the word law here. I have seen many believers and teachers, including myself, assume the word law means the same thing in every case in the Bible. Law is not a one-word-fits-all term. Many might say, “The Lord writes the law of Moses on your heart in the New Covenant.” He does not. Each Covenant has its own terms of agreement. The Mosaic Covenant has its own separate terms. The Mosaic Law under the Old Covenant required Jewish women on their period to move into a separate tent. It also required women to keep their hair kempt or “you will die” (Leviticus 10:6). It forbade the eating of pork or shell fish and banned touching an unclean animal. (Leviticus 5:2). Jews were not allowed to mix fabrics in clothing (Leviticus 19:19). The Jewish law outlawed the crossbreeding of animals (Leviticus 19:19). The Mosaic Law even barred tattoos (Leviticus 19:28). Oops! Bruce is in trouble!! He has a really cool tattoo on his ankle. Since I mentioned it, we have asked our kids to wait on that issue until they are off the payroll. A tattoo is a pretty long-term commitment. I digress. Anyway… Well actually, one more rabbit trail. I was explaining that I see a distinction between the two biblical Covenants, the Old and New, to my darling, inquisitive friend Kerrie, just last night. I said, “Let’s take a look at both of our marriages. Your marriage and my marriage are two separate covenants. There are certain benefits exclusive to my covenant with my husband. You don’t get the benefits of being married to Bruce. My man does not provide for you or sleep with you, and he has made no promise to you. Nor has your husband to me. Legally, you do not have any rights in my covenant, neither do I have any rights to yours.” My hope with that analogy was to begin to demonstrate a distinction between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Just like the separate marriage promises, we have no obligations under the first covenant, and furthermore have all the benefits and rights that belong to those within this New Covenant. Hebrews 8:6 says: “But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises” (NLT). The author of Hebrews here is describing better terms under a better covenant than the Law of Moses. Check out what Pastor Paul White says about the good news of this New Covenant, as written in Hebrews: “Read it slowly and soak it in believer: no more offering for sin (Hebrews 10:18). No more lambs need be killed; no more priests need to work the altars. Jesus has paid our sin debt and now no more blood must be shed… Rest against the backbone of the New Covenant; the fact that God chooses to remember your sins no more. Hallelujah!” www.paulwhiteministries.wordpress.com Hebrews 7:27 says: “Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins” (NLT). Under the New Covenant, Christ dwells in believers, so He is always close. Also, in this New Covenant, believers are declared permanently clean because of Christ’s blood. We are not just covered in righteousness; we are made new. Like I said, I can’t say it better than the writer of Hebrews. I am a daughter of the New Covenant. Q: When did the New Covenant begin? A: Great question! Hebrews 9:16 says, “For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it” (NASB). Notice the word death in the sentence above. You see, the New Covenant does not really begin on that first New Testament page of your Bible. It does not begin on Jesus’ birthday. The New Covenant is brought about by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Pay special attention to what Jesus did and says at the Last Supper: “He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.” (Luke 22:19-20, NLT). It matters when the New Covenant began. With a New Covenant comes a new set of promises. In this case, better promises. Hebrews 8:6 says,“. . . He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (NKJV). There are many things Jesus says to His Jewish audience before He dies. Remember, they were under the Mosaic Law with its promises of blessings and curses based on obedience. Christ had not died yet in passages like the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Under a New Covenant, if we assume those teachings are for Christians to apply, we will end up in bondage. I must consider the audience He is speaking to and correctly divide between covenants. For instance, before the cross, Jesus says: “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14, NLT). Or how about the prayer Jesus taught to the Jews before He went to the cross: “and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12, NLT). That’s pretty scary. Under that teaching to the Jews, before the cross, my forgiveness is dependent on me, not on Christ. Yikes! What if I forget one? That is not good news. Wait a minute, what ever happened to Hebrews 8:12? “For I will be merciful and gracious toward their sins and I will remember their deeds of unrighteousness no more” (AMP). Now we are back to a schizophrenic gospel. Are we forgiven or not? Here is the key: Ask yourself how and when we are forgiven? Romans 6:10 says, “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all . . . ” (NASB) and Colossians 2:13 says, “. . . he forgave all our sins” (NLT). How did we get forgiven? By the blood of Christ. When does He remember no more? Each time we ask? No! It was once and for all. It is finished (John 19:30). No morsel of forgiveness is withheld from Christians. You do not have to do anything to be more forgiven. Let’s say I have a conversation with a friend. And at some point in the discussion, I find myself talking about another believer who did something I didn’t like. And let’s assume I am not seeking counsel from this friend, but I am acting ugly, and I find myself gossiping. Assume I have no real peace about my diarrhea of the mouth. I know that is gross, but sin isn’t pretty. Afterwards, I can sense that I have grieved the Holy Spirit by gossiping in that moment (Ephesians 4:20). When I am driving home in my car and reflecting on the conversation, I might say something like this to the Lord: “Lord, I just gossiped about one of your kids. Why did I do that? I could sense a lack of peace about what I was saying, but I just kept on going. I know I have self-control, but I didn’t use it. I’m really sorry Lord. I know I am a forgiven person and what I did does not make me bad. You are fine with me. You love me. I am still just as clean now as I was the moment you saved me. Lord, would you help me to not do that again?” Confession is agreeing with God. Here, I am simply concurring with God that sin is stupid and not who I am in Christ. I am coming into agreement with the truth. Agreeing with God is renewing your mind in what is true. I do not believe I receive an ounce of new righteousness or forgiveness by agreeing with God about the fact that sin makes me sad and is not what I am made for. But I do agree and celebrate His total and “once for all” forgiveness for me that occurred long ago. And if I don’t confess, I am still forgiven. I am still clean. He is still as close as ever. God is still dwelling in me. I am about to share more Scripture and longer quotes. I want to prove to you that you really can rest in the finished work of Jesus. I don’t want you to believe for one more second that God is far from you. I long for you to agree with God that He has made you permanently clean. Q: Why does Abraham matter? A: Now, let’s go back to Abraham and his covenant. You know, he was around before the old Mosaic Covenant. His was a covenant of unconditional promises. Galatians 3:7-14, NLT says: The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God. What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would declare the Gentiles to be righteous because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith. But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says, “It is through obeying the law that a person has life.” But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith. Notice again, that in the Abrahamic Covenant, the blessings of God come by faith, not works. And notice that one of the blessings is the Holy Spirit. That is the key to the next question. Q: What do we do about sin in light of the New Covenant? A: “The obstacle to experiencing victory over temptation is the way in which we’ve gone about the battle. When we arm ourselves with the law, we set ourselves up for failure every time. We may call it self-discipline or accountability – or plug in some other inventive term. But when it’s anything but dependency on Christ within us, it’ll inevitably put the wheels of human effort in motion” (Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel). Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel (Michigan: Zondervan, 2009), 56. Romans 8:1-2 says, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death” (NLT). As a Christian, I will never believe that you or I are void of power over sin. That is such good news. The problem usually occurs when believers don’t believe they possess power over sin. Power is not the problem. What you believe is the issue. Do you believe that the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead has freed you from the power of sin? I do. I want you to know what another one of my favorite Bible teachers, Frank Viola has to say about sin in light of the New Covenant: “Hebrews exhorts us to come boldly to the ‘throne of grace’ (4:16). Where God’s people are concerned, Jesus Christ sits on a throne of grace, not a throne of judgment…When you feel condemned for something you’ve done wrong, you are essentially making yourself an idol. Why? Because you’re setting your opinion over God’s opinion” (Frank Viola, Jesus Now). Frank Viola, Jesus Now (Colorado: David C. Cook, 2014), 41. “Many Christians just do not grasp the Father’s mercy and grace. We are unable to see ourselves as God sees us. We are so self-conscious; the recorded memories of the past and the misunderstanding of the gospel combine to blind our eyes to the truth….‘Behold the Lamb,’… Not once did the priest examine the worshiper! Not once!… Where is your focus? The Lamb or yourself?” (John Sheasby, The Birthright) John Sheasby, The Birthright ( Michigan: Zondervan, 2010), 131. I love the point John makes here. I remember when I first grasped this concept. The Jews needed a blood sacrifice for sins. They didn’t try to clean themselves up. They believed that God accepted an animal sacrifice for sins. It wasn’t about their behavior. They were counting on the sacrifice. I find it interesting that we, as Christians tend to think it’s up to us to satisfy God’s righteousness. If we followed the sacrificial line of thinking we would realize that Christ, once for all, died as a sacrifice for our sins. We also would be able to rest. People who don’t really understand the New Covenant often misunderstand it as a license to sin. I have heard others criticize the message of grace in their ignorance. New Covenant is not pro-sin. The Spirit never leads a believer to sin. Let’s settle it now. If you’re a Christian, you are a daughter of the New Covenant. God isn’t mad at you. God is near. Your sins are forgiven. Q: What about the Ten Commandments? A: The Ten Commandments are under the Law of Moses, not under the New Covenant. Acts 13:38-39 says, “Brothers, listen! We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Everyone who believes in him is declared right with God—something the law of Moses could never do” (NLT). All Scripture is God-breathed, yes (2 Timothy 3:16). But it can bring death to areas of your life if you mix covenants. Take a look at these comments from Andrew Farley: “How do we live upright lives if we don’t use the Ten Commandments as our guide?…Principles, rules, standards – no matter how “Christian” we believe they are – are poor substitutes for a life animated by God himself”(Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel). Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel (Michigan: Zondervan, 2009). 58. And from Andrew Farley’s Facebook page on October 29, 2013: We can’t divide God’s law into categories and then pick the parts we want. If we want to be under the Law, then we are cursed for not keeping all of it. James and Paul do not speak merely of 10 things or of 9 things as we choose to exclude the Sabbath. No, the apostles speak of 613 commands of the Law…It’s a death trap. I’m not against the Law, and I don’t disrespect the Law. I don’t even teach that the Law is dead or abolished. But we Christians are dead to the Law. Big difference. Hang in there, girls. Take a break if you need to. When you’re ready, read the Scripture passages below. I wrote them on our chalkboard in our home more than five years ago… Second Corinthians 3:16-17: “Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it!” (The Message). That is a beautiful verse. One more. Galatians 2:16, (AMP): Yet we know that a man is justified or reckoned righteous and in right standing with God not by works of the Law, but [only] through faith and [absolute] reliance on and adherence to and trust in Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One). [Therefore] even we [ourselves] have believed on Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the Law [for we cannot be justified by any observance of the ritual of the Law given by Moses], because by keeping legal rituals and by works no human being can ever be justified (declared righteous and put in right standing with God). The Ten Commandments are not your guide for righteousness. The Ten Commandments were written after Abraham and to Jews exclusively. The Law of Moses put the Jewish nation into a binding agreement with God. Back in the day, no Jew would ever look at a Gentile (a non-Jewish person) and expect him or her to submit to the laws of the Old Covenant. Why do we so often do that now? Guess what? Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:17). Romans 10:3 says: “For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law” (NLT). Andrew Farley writes: “Once we are placed in Christ at salvation, we completely die to the law and resurrect in Christ, led by the Spirit, with no need for the law in our lives” (Andrew Farley, Relaxing with God). Andrew Farley, Relaxing with God (Michigan: Baker Books, 2014), 38. Romans 10:4 says: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (NKJV). Christians are now under a very freeing and different law in the New Covenant. And it is not one of free-wheeling chaos where you hurt yourself and others. It is called “the law of the Spirit of life.” As a believer, you have the Holy Spirit now as your guide. God has lavishly poured His love into your heart (Romans 5:5) and provided for you to love Him back, and love others well. He has great plans for you, child of God. Q: How do we live under the New Covenant? A: There are at least four ways: believe, rest, enjoy, and walk in Spirit-led good works. Believe Believe that God loves you. Let’s pause at the thought of that. I pray this truth might go beyond your human capacity for understanding. How about right now, take time to meditate on God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s love for you being higher than you can conceptualize the galaxies above you. Take a moment to pause on that thought….Picture God’s love for you being profoundly deep. Take your time . . . Next, know His love is endlessly wide for you; can you see it? . . . Finally, imagine His love like a path laid out before you; this path is outrageously long, like a road that never ends… (Ephesians 3:14 -21) Here is more “good news” to believe. Galatians 2:20 says: “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (NLT). Colossians 3:3 says: “For [as far as this world is concerned] you have died, and your [new, real] life is hidden with Christ in God” (AMP). Do you believe you can be naked and unashamed before the Lord? Naked in every sense, that you are free to be yourself and at ease with no shame. Galatians 3:27 says: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (NASB). Ladies, a secret has been revealed: You are not even naked now after all. You are hidden and clothed in Christ, dressed in His righteousness alone. Our son, Josh, is a songwriter and he put this truth into a recent song: “Let me hide in your promise That I am found in you And just in case I’ve forgotten That you’re found in me too ‘Cause there is just no space between I’m your friend and you love me So as I’m found in your promise It gives me joy to sing You’re reaching out to me with arms stretched wide I finally see the plan in your great design That every little part of me, is drenched in the water that says I’m free Drowning as I feast, on the river that gives me peace I can rest in the unchanging, inside a love that’s so amazing It is finished and you have saved me, a holy child is what you’ve named me You gave me peace like a river, you’ve shown me wings that soar You covered me with your mercy, now all my debt’s paid for.” Josh Levinson, Peace Like a River, signed permission, 2015. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (NLT). My daughter Caroline recently reminded me that, “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people alive.” Andrew Farley teaches: “The phrase ‘die to self’ is nowhere to be found in the Scripture. The closest thing we find is that “our old self was crucified” (Romans 6:6). It’s happened. We are new creations.” “Interview with Pastor, Professor and Author of God without Religion: Andrew Farley” Mattlitton.com, accessed December 2015, http://mattlitton.com/2011/06/24/. Here is a promise from Ephesians 1:13: “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (NASB). I was at the gym early yesterday. There was an attractive man who kept trying to have a conversation with me. You see, I forgot to wear my wedding ring. That ring symbolizes that I am taken, that I belong to Bruce. If you are a Christian, you have a ring too. His name is the Holy Spirit and He has put a ring around you, a seal. The Spirit dwells in you. You are taken. Even better, you cannot take your ring off or forget to put it on. Acts 7:48 says: “However, the Most High does not dwell in houses and temples made with hands; as the prophet says” (AMP). You get to live freely by the Spirit that indwells you. Ezekiel 36:26 says: “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” (NLT). How do we make decisions by the Spirit? We pay attention to His peace and His promptings (Colossians 3:15). You are equipped (Philippians 2:13) Second Peter 1:3 says: “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (NLT). Here are some fun, practical suggestions for the renewing of your mind in the truth of the New Covenant (Romans 12:2). Consider these, as God leads you. • Meditate on the goodness of God. • Study Galatians and Hebrews. • Listen to the song “The Well,” by Casting Crowns. • Listen to the album Welcome to the New by Mercy Me. • Read The Naked Gospel and Resting with God, by Andrew Farley. • Read The Birthright by John Sheasby. • I dare you to watch www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0KRj3TH1oA (by John Lynch). • Listen to the podcasts of Andrew Farley, Paul White, Judah Smith (our son Josh’s favorite). • Listen to John Sheasby’s podcasts on the New Covenant at www.liberatedliving.com • Listen to the series on www.city.org, “Jesus is Bringing Sexy Back” by Judah Smith (incredible). • Most importantly, meditate on the love of God. This is my prayer for you, from Ephesians 3:14-18: “I fall to my knees and pray…Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.” (NLT). Rest I so long for you to know you can trust in the finished work of Jesus and let your soul finally rest. Acts 17:28 says: “For in Him we live and move and have our being…” (AMP). We are in Him; He is in us. I love how the writer of Hebrews says to be “diligent” to enter the Lord’s rest (Hebrews 4:1-16). John Sheasby writes: “The pattern of Jesus’ life on earth gives insight into God’s method of transformation. He knows that you, like Zacchaeus, will not be changed by performance, but by his presence. The power of his love, the joy of his presence, and the peace coming from his acceptance are far more capable of changing the human heart than rebuke, censure, condemnation, and rejection” (John Sheasby, The Birthright ). John Sheasby, The Birthright (Michigan: Zondervan, 2010), 4. The Lord will do the work of transforming our lives to reflect His goodness. First Thessalonians 5:24 says: “God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful (NLT). Pastor Paul White writes: “The message of grace holds up nothing but Jesus and His finished work…The single most important thing that you will do from now until the day you die is to labor to stay in His rest” (Paul White, Revelation to Transformation). Paul White, Revelation to Transformation ( Indiana: WestBow Press. 2011),74-124. I have kept this quote from seminary Professor Howard Hendricks on my bulletin board for 12 years now. I am finally beginning to understand it: “The Holy Spirit has developed in me an incurable confidence in His ability to transform people.” “The Life of Howard G. “Prof’ Hendricks,” www.dts.edu, DTS Magazine, Febuary 20, 2013, accessed December 2015, http://www.dts.edu/read/howard-hendricks-prof. As I rest in God, I have learned to pray and worship Him without turning it into a work. I don’t want to do anything under compulsion or because I think I have to, so, I pray as I feel led, not under pressure. When prayer becomes an obligation or a work instead of a conversation with my Abba/Daddy I am missing the point (Romans 8:15). When people around me sing songs to God, I might join in, if I feel inspired. But often, you will find me quietly sitting before the Lord…because I want to worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). I never sing lyrics of songs that ask God to rain down His presence. I also tend to remain silent on choruses that tell God I am running after Him, because I spend my thoughts believing that He is already present and that I am lacking nothing. I can’t run after Him, because He would just travel with me, since He never leaves me. This is New Covenant thinking. This thinking has set me free. Enjoy Jesus came to bring you life. You are meant to richly enjoy life. This includes healthy relationships with your brothers in Christ and your future spouse. Jesus said in John 10:10: “I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)” (AMP). A few years ago I really started meditating on the concept of enjoying life. One of my favorite restaurants in New York City is called Serendipity3. On their website they joyfully write, “ser.en.dip.i.ty (n) the art of making happy discoveries, or finding the unexpectedly pleasant, by chance or sagacity” Serendipity3, accessed on the homepage December, 2015, www.serendipity3.com. Here are a few phrases I still keep on my bulletin board from that season of learning how to embrace life: • “Because life is short make it lovely.” • “Live Well“ • “Every man dies, but not every man really lives” (Mel Gibson as William Wallace in the movie Brave Heart). As my understanding of the New Covenant evolved, I finally started enjoying my life in Christ and allowed myself to really “live.” The funny thing is, as I began to relax and have more fun and be a more joyful person, God surprised me. Some incredible moments involved the wonder of leading people to Christ, like a painter named Joe and a plumber named Thomas. I found myself doing things I would have previously judged as shallow or unspiritual. And yet, God placed me perfectly in a position to do good, exactly where He wanted me, as I relaxed and enjoyed life. This understanding also brought great delight to my marriage. My husband found this joyful, fun, peaceful, free person much more attractive. Bruce isn’t afraid to celebrate life and is really big on making bucket-lists, or some might say goal lists. But his dreams are not full of “shoulds,” they are specific goals that would bring him great joy. In typical Bruce fashion, his bucket list is hilarious and fun. He has actually done many items on his agenda, such as throwing out the first pitch in a baseball stadium. I stopped doing New Year’s resolutions about ten years ago based on the reality that I ended up feeling bad about not measuring up to my own list. I have noticed, especially when it comes to concepts like losing weight, that I personally don’t know anyone who has kept the weight off, long-term by following “rules”. So, I wondered, is there a more gentle, positive, delightful, and more winsome approach to discovering and creating an enjoyable life? Several years ago I was sitting on our porch with a friend of mine and two college students. I began to ask each of the women about their hopes and desires. Then I had an idea! So I ran inside and got some extra large note cards and pencils so we could play a game. Do you want to play? If so, go grab a pencil, and some paper, a journal or some note cards. Here’s what I asked: “If you were free to dream without fear or judging your own desires as silly, shallow, unattainable, selfish–truly free to dream—what would make your heart happy, if it occurred in your life? Realistic or not, just dream.” Now write down the top ten things for this current season that would make you happy, in any order. So we all sat there with our big note cards and began to scribble down our secret longings. (This exercise can also be great in creating a “wish” list for character traits you want to look for in a guy or a job). Then I asked them to circle their top three. So if you’re playing along, will you circle your top three? Next, I told them to, “Put a 1, 2, 3 next to their top three in order of strongest desire, with 1 being the top one.” Again, stressing no judgment or shoulds, I discouraged thoughts like: “Well, I should want this one over that one.” I encouraged them to simply allow what would make their heart happy lead the order. Then we began to go around and share each number one with each other. It was like we were giving the dreams a chance to breath and come out to play. It was fascinating. Some dreams were completely out of our control, like those concerning someone else’s health. Or, unrealistic, like the secret that I have always wanted to be a tiny fairy. That’s not going to happen. But, if applicable, we began to brainstorm about steps each person could possibly take on a journey towards their hopes and goals. Often ideas were said that were something the writer of the goal wouldn’t have thought of on her own. This spontaneous exercise has grown into several years of bucket-list parties. Something profound happens when we share our top things on our pieces of paper. You get a tiny glimpse into a person’s heart, and you begin to care about what they care about. It’s fun to celebrate when change occurs for a person in an area. We have seen some amazing results over the years. Sadly, I am not a fairy…yet. Walk in Spirit-Led Good Works Ephesians 2:10 says: “For we are God’s [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand)” (AMP). My prayer is that you are believing, resting in, and enjoying God. From that position, there are some pretty cool people He wants you to enjoy, love, and perhaps serve. Opportunities will arise for you to use some of the difficulties of your life for good. You can be a great encouragement to others as the Lord leads you. Second Corinthians 1:3-4 says: “. . . God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (NLT). There are certainly fulfilling, good things God will want to involve you in. But it is His job to reveal them to you. Philippians 2:13 says: “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (NKJV). Here is a verse I would like you to read with New Covenant glasses. With no condemnation or pressure. See if you can’t discover a clue about knowing where God is at work in your life: “Let each one [give] as he has made up his own mind and purposed in his heart, not reluctantly or sorrowfully or under compulsion, for God loves…a cheerful (joyous . . .), giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7, AMP). This verse is not God telling you to do anything. It is not a verse written so you can judge your giving and say to yourself “I should be more cheerful; what is wrong with me?” It is a great verse to see where God is at work in your life. When it sounds fun and/or desirable to give your resources or time to someone or something, being cheerful is a great clue that God might be leading you. There will always be needs. You are not to fulfill them all just because they show up on your doorstep. Jesus did not go to every town. He just did what the Father instructed Him to do (John 5:19). And don’t forget Peace. Peace is a person. His name is Jesus. He is the Prince of Peace. And He dwells in you. What if someone asks you to do something or you see a need, but have an icky feeling about it? I say, don’t do it. Wait. Remember, Colossians 3:15 says: “And let the peace (soul harmony which comes) from Christ rule (act as umpire continually) in your hearts [deciding and settling with finality all questions that arise in your minds, in that peaceful state] to which as [members of Christ’s] one body you were also called [to live] . . .” (AMP). Remember this verse. Be still. Fear is not in charge. Wait for peace in your decisions. The Prince of Peace reigns. Let Him guide you. Believe Him. Rest in Him. Enjoy Him. Wait with Him. Then, move as the Spirit leads you. the end ************************** Okay girls, I’m feeling a little sad just now. Because I am drawing near to the end of the page. I didn’t even know I was going to write a book until my Pastor friend Alan Smith gently challenged me to consider it. So one day, I began to type–and I couldn’t stop. Who knew I had so much to share? I suppose God did. It must have been a good work He planned in advance for me to walk in. So here you have it; A collection of questions, Scriptures, stories, quotes, ponderings, and words of protective love. I am a child of God, a wife, and a mother, but in the end, I’m a girl just like you. Thanks for hanging out with me for the journey of this book. I am unashamed; I am profoundly moved; I am deeply blessed. I miss you already… Tracy
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