The Sinlessness of Jesus = Grace

The other night, my She Reads Truth Bible reading plan had me in Hebrews, specifically the following verses from chapter 4:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16

It’s a relatively common verse among Christian circles, highlighting the humanity of the Savior and the encouragement to draw near to what is described as the Throne of Grace. Yet, as I approached this passage, acutely aware of my shortcomings that day, something struck a different chord in my heart.

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This passage mentions that Jesus was tempted in every way but never sinned. It goes on to give us a prescription for our lives based on this truth. We can’t miss the significance of this pretense, which is perhaps more easily done by looking at what this passage does not say. This passage could offer condemnation. It wouldn’t just be fitting but completely justified; Jesus was temped and yet remained sinless, so we too should strive for the same.

Therefore, run from sin. Pursue righteousness like Christ. Strive towards holiness. Be better, try harder. If He can do it, so can you, right? After all, His very Spirit indwells us. At the very least, the Author would be justified in telling us to try – For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then . . . strive towards the same perfection that was demonstrated in Christ. 

Maybe that would be the American version, and perhaps more terrifying, the version we often preach to ourselves. Yet this verse offers nothing of the sort. After describing the sinlessness of Christ, we don’t get condemnation or conviction; we see grace. We aren’t told that we need to approach the Throne to receive assistance in our obedience; we, with confidence, approach the throne of God Almighty to to receive grace and mercy.

What is this, that our holy, perfect, omnipotent, Creator and Sustainer God

who became incarnate and lived among us

tempted and tried in every way

gives us, not only permission,

but a confidence to approach Him

for unmerited, unearned, pervasive, infinite grace?

Christ’s sinlessness leads us to grace, not a litmus test by which we must face scrutiny and failure in measuring up to. Yes, grace is active and we must holistically engage with our ongoing sanctification. Yet, how often do I reject the Throne of Grace, in favor of approaching some self-sufficient standard of goodness that I’ll never ultimately measure up to?

The question I ask myself in this is: am I clinging to grace with the same authority that this passage describes it as having? Or do I find myself more concerned with judging myself by some impossible standard of holiness and obedience (often one that I’ve created myself or perceive others as having created for me) that I’m striving to measure up to? What would change if I approached the Throne of Grace, instead of my throne of self-righteousness?

Things I’ve Learned From Refugees

“I think about the trees, the flowers, the brown grass in the fields.

They can all be patient, Certain that spring will return.

They don’t have to hope, They can be sure.

Hope is a thing made only for people,

A scrap to hold into

In darkness and in light” Home of the Brave, 246

I'm standing in "the cage," which is where we put together Good Neighbor Kits for newly arriving refugee family. I'm holding a welcome card made by a little girl.
Here, I’m standing in what we call “the cage,” which is where World Relief puts together Good Neighbor Kits for newly arriving refugee families. I’m holding a welcome card made by a little girl; welcome cards are included in every GNK that we leave in their apartments.

The other day, I wrote about things I’ve learned about refugees from my work at World Relief. There’s been a lot of new information circling regarding resettlement, refugees, and statistics regarding the growing displacement crisis. While facts are important, especially true ones and ones written from a personal connection, ultimately I wrote down things that you could find elsewhere on the internet.

At the end of the day, they’re still just the facts.

And these people are so much more than facts.

Interacting with people who have literally been forced to leave everything they know and arrive in a foreign land, often alone and not speaking the language, has done more than just teach me a few important tidbits about the refugee crisis. They have taught me about bravery, resilience, humility, hope, and hospitality. The people, not the facts, have chipped away at hardened pieces of my soul and shown me more of the grace and love of Christ.

They aren’t just numbers, pieces of the resettlement system, or the faces supporting the new refugee olympic team. They are some of the strongest, most courageous, most genuine people I’ve ever met. And here’s just a brief glimpse of some of the things they taught me this summer:

 

• Our presence is always communicating something – through our smile, our eyes, our body language, and the emotional state of our hearts. 

I couldn’t speak to most of the people I’ve picked up from the airport. I couldn’t tell them how to buckle their child in the carseat or that it’ll probably take an hour until we get to their new apartment. The point of translators is to help fill in those gaps and make the experience, at least on some level, a little less overwhelming. While it can be frustrating to have so much you want to say and find yourself unable to, especially as someone who likes using words to communicate, it has given me a new and profound appreciation for the presence we carry simply in our being.

Eye contact. Smiling. Nodding. Whether we like it or not, how we carry ourselves genuinely reflects our emotions. And when our emotions are overwhelming love and care for these people we’ve just met, it makes it easier to submit each encounter to the Lord and trust that His Spirit is saying more than you ever could. However, when emotions harbor a little more frustration, distraction, or selfishness, then spending ten minutes with the Lord before you step out of the car to greet a U.S. tie can be the most worthwhile thing you do all day. Because, like it or not, our very presence carries something with it – safety, welcome, warmth, compassion, annoyance, apathy. The question is, do we emanate the love of Christ, or something else? Because we’re always communicating something.

• There’s a resilience, bravery, and courage that we bear in our human spirit; it’s our choice to embrace it or not.

As part of my internship, I wrote weekly reflection papers. Week 4, I picked up two large families from the airport, accompanied only by a U.S. Tie. It was my first solo airport pick-up and the size alone was a little daunting. I agreed, but my mind was not without hesitation. Are we sure I was capable of getting these families to their new homes and making sure they would be safe for the night? What if something went wrong? Despite preemptive fears, the pick-up was incredible. After I got home, I wrote the following:

“Not only did I navigate the whole evening successfully and alone – getting everyone safety to their respective locations, including their luggage and food – but I had the humbling privilege of hearing pieces of their story through the U.S. Tie. Knowing that his wife came to the US alone, as a refugee, empowered me in some small way. Watching the older couple try to figure out seatbelts, knowing they couldn’t understand anything I was saying, as I helped pull the band across their bodies, I saw a bravery and resilience in their eyes. Everyone that World Relief resettles knows they are coming into a place that is literally worlds different than what they’ve known. Yet, they chose to do it  – for safety, for a better life, for a future, for protection, for hope. If my motivation is the love of Christ, literally the Hope of the world, what fear could hold me back from choosing all the plans He has for me, no matter how different, distant, or daunting?”

Because of the a lot of the built-in comforts of our American life, and our innate desire to run from situations that are uncomfortable or uproot deep seated fears of loss, loneliness, or failure, it’s easy to forget that there is strength available to us. Comfort doesn’t breed growth; challenge does. The thing about challenge is that while it may feel like it’s killing us, most of the time, it’s not. We have strength in who we are as human beings – we were created to be resilient, for bravery and the ability to grow. As Christians, we also have a strength that is inbred into our relationship with the King of Kings. It’s no wonder He continually reminds: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). Do we tap into that power and resilience on a daily basis?

• Don’t underestimate the small things and the need for flexibility when it comes to hospitality.

The more I think about it, the more I think that hospitality isn’t the kind of thing that makes up best-selling biographies. No one really wants to read about people washing dishes, sending emails, or spending extra time to pick out matching blankets for a family. Acts of hospitality typically aren’t the documentary-worthy moments of serving others. Hospitality often looks more like Jesus washing feet or the woman on the side of the road wiping Christ’s brow. It’s small, insignificant, things that put you in a place of submission and humility as you choose others over yourself. The moments that don’t gain accolades, or may not even be noticed or remembered, but plant the seeds of love and care upon every place you tread.

Because, at the end of the day, people may not remember you and they may not remember the little things you did for them, but they’ll remember the feeling of being loved, served, and cared for. Isn’t that ultimately what Jesus did. To serve with humility; to love without pretense?

Things like welcome cards made by elementary school classes, picking out matching blankets for a family, or being willing to cut your lunch break short to drop a DVD player off for a family, so they can watch ESL videos with a volunteer. These are the things of hospitality. These are the things that make life a little more beautiful for someone else and when done with a heart of humility and love, ultimately please the Father’s heart.

When God says Wait

Wait.

How about now, I mutter.

Wait.

Now.

There’s demand in my voice.

I can hear the whine of a two year old

In my prayer

But sometimes I feel obligated

To use a more mature voice when I pray

As if I can hide

All the vulnerable pulses of my heart.

I trust you, Lord

I’ll surrender everything

I only want what You want

I’m being honest, but…

But it’s just this waiting,

It’s hard.

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Daughter, beloved,

Wait.

There’s a such tension

In this thing we call waiting,

Because the Holy Spirit is still moving

Exciting places, unexpected ways.

Through open doors and illuminated circumstances

Except not in this.

Why not this, I cry

If this isn’t your dream, Lord

Then let it die.

I don’t want it if it’s not Jesus.

 

Not yet, He whispers

Except I don’t want not yet

I want now,

I’d even prefer never, I think.

I’d rather have to surrender the dream completely

Then give up my timetable for it

Then to wait,

Continuing a daily surrender of my perceptions,

A liturgy with a grinding, uninvited, glorious trust.

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Was it as hard for Abraham and Sarah

To wait for one hundred years

Without a child?

To live their lives

Pursuing God,

Embracing other answered prayers,

As the clock ticked on?

Waiting.

As hard as it was to carrying him up to that altar?

I wonder.

 

I sigh,

Today, that’s my surrender.

Whatever you want, Lord

I trust you.

Wait, He says again.

So I’ll wait.

A Deeper Kind of Trust

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I love the book of Daniel.

I’m not really sure when it started or how I ended up in a book that is full of end times graphics and mysterious prophecies, but somewhere along the line I came to love the stories and truth in this particular book of the Bible.

Also, as you’ve probably gathered, trust has been an overarching, preeminent theme in my life. Even just looking through old blog posts, it’s clear that trust is something that the Lord continues to put his finger on over and over again (see when I trust from the stroller, do you trust me?, something about trust). This post is just some recent prayer-time revelations about a deeper level of trust that Christ is calling us into.

One of my favorite stories in Daniel comes at the end of Daniel 3. It’s not about Daniel, but his fellow Jewish bro’s, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Long story short, Nebuchadnezzar erects a massive, golden statue of himself that he puts in the center of Dura. Then he asks everyone to bow down to it.

Naturally, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse, knowing the king is going to have them thrown into a fiery furnace as punishment. But that’s not even the part of the story that my soul finds so captivating and convicting.

Before sending the men to what should be their certain death, he asks them why – why didn’t they bow down? Who do they think is going to save them?

“If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18

It’s one thing to trust that God is mighty enough to save you. To believe that He can heal and provide and show up in amazing, unexpected, supernatural ways is to trust who He is as God.

It’s another thing, a deeper thing, to trust in a God who can, but may not.

What’s amazing to me is that Jesus demonstrates this same kind of trust Jesus demonstrates on the cross. In Matthew 27, Jesus is hanging disfigured, bruised, and bloodied on the cross for our sins. The crowd and Pharisees begin jeering, asking Jesus to jump down and save Himself.

The thing is – they weren’t wrong. He could have saved Himself. If I were one of his disciples at the cross, I wonder if I wouldn’t be pleading for Him to jump down too. Show everyone who He is. Shut them up once and for all. End the grotesque torture and pain. Be the God He knows that He is.

“He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” Matthew 27:42-43

Jesus did trust God. He was God; His trust in the Father went beyond anything we could ever comprehend or imagine. It wasn’t merely the kind of trust that believes He could get off the cross. It was the kind of trust that knew He would still be God, would still be good, and would still be able, even if the plan said this was better.

I don’t just want the kind of trust that says “my God can do this.” I want my trust to be so deep, my relationship with Him to be so intimate, my love and reception of His love to be so penetrating, that my soul proclaims, “He can – but even if He does not, still I will praise Him. Still I will love Him. Still I will believe He is faithful.”

It doesn’t mean getting to that place in my soul is ever easy. Honestly, I wish trusting weren’t this hard. I wish this deeper level of trust didn’t require so much nitty gritty soul work. I almost wish trust wasn’t such a necessary part of walking with the Lord. I almost wish – because I’ve seen, at the end of the day, that trusting Him who is worthy of it leads to so many beautiful stories, souls, and an unparalleled closeness with our Savior. It’s more than the place of trusting His might – it’s trusting that His might can, even if His providence says no. We know He can save us, we know He is good, regardless of what the outcome is.

It’s the sacrifice of whatever it is that we are so hesitant to let go of. Because we know we may not get it back (or get it in the first place). It’s trusting that His plan is better because He is God and we are not. It doesn’t mean we always like the plan or are in full support of the outcome. Jesus Himself wasn’t the biggest fan of the whole crucifixion plan (Matthew 26:39). I’m sure Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not voting for the “die in the fiery furnace” option when they said that they’d never bow to Nebuchadnezzer. But this deeper level of trust seems to grasp more fully at what it means to truly trust Him with our lives.

Here are some of the questions I’ve been asking myself (and the Lord’s been asking me) for several months now: what are the things that I am sure about when it comes to the Lord? The promises I’m willing to bet my life on, whether or not I actually see them come to fruition? The unwavering places of trust that proclaim who God is, regardless of whether or not He meets my expectations and desires with what He allows to happen?