Fight the good fight, with all your might.
I walk in danger all the way.
Let us ever walk with Jesus, let us ever die with Jesus.
It sounds almost like the Christian’s life is one of constant peril, constant danger, regular and daily battle.
And it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if you ever had the impression, the thought, that maybe…maybe the pastors you’ve heard and seen were just a little crazy.
And not just crazy, [air quotes] “All Packer fans are crazy” crazy.
No, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if this one thought crossed your mind during a pause in the sermon, a quiet moment in Bible class:
“Maybe all that Hebrew & Greek really DOES make someone crazy.”
Because, chances are, you’ve heard at least one pastor stand here or in a similar pulpit and talk very forcefully about the inherent danger of the Christian life. But then, when you walk out the door at the end of the worship service, you encounter an average week. No one tries to kill you for your faith, you don’t see yourself treading this very narrow path between life and death, you don’t see the devil’s flaming arrows landing all around you…
…and there was a disconnect.
You heard about the danger, the fight, the peril inherent in the fibre of the Christian life; you hear today that Jesus says if you want to follow him, you must take up your cross and follow him - that heavy, ugly, painful cross; and that this cross is the necessary consequence of life with Christ, this cross that is the constant call to deny our own wants or needs or desires in favour of serving one another in love.
But when you go about your week, perhaps – maybe – the spiritual battle seems forgotten until the next Sunday. When you step out the church doors, what GOD wants seems so very different from what I want…and there is no apparent danger in simply following what I want, perhaps even acknowledging that I know what God wants…but what is the danger now, today? What is the peril now, today, in simply doing what I want, when I want? Surely I can repent in a week or a year or a decade from now.
We know and hear the danger; but we don’t see it, feel it, sense it. And seeing the disconnect, hearing how pastor, or Christian friends, – or Jesus! – speak about the difficulty, the danger of the Christian life…perhaps you sense a bit of disconnect between the imminent peril that you hear about IN HERE, and the seeming lack of peril once you set foot outside.
And seeing that disconnect, I could understand wondering if perhaps pastor was a bit overdramatic, off kilter, had a few screws loose. Because it seems that the two options are either that pastor is a little nuts, or what pastor says is right and we are DO walk in danger all the way, with Satan stalking his prey seeking to devour us – even though we do not see or sense this danger.
Because, it seems, Christianity is either portrayed as a perilous, dangerous, hazardous journey – as though our life with God is one foot ahead of the other on some creaking, swaying, fraying rope bridge, waiting for a foot to plunge through the rotted boards as the enemies unleash flaming arrows your way…as though your Christian life is like the latest Indiana Jones adventure, dodging the devil’s poisoned darts and getting away with the treasure for one more day.
But surely that CANNOT be the real nature of the Christian life; because IF IT WERE, we would scour the pages of Scripture daily, searching for further proof and promise that we will not be overcome by the enemies massed against God and his Church.
The question before us suddenly comes a little closer to home, a little closer into focus:
Where do you stand? Don’t answer that question yourself. Let your calendar, your schedule, your daily activities, your personal and corporate worship life (meaning, your private devotional life and your attendance at worship) answer that question for you.
Where do you stand? Do you stand among those who coast through life ignorant of their spiritual condition? Do you stand with those who walked away from Christ when his teaching was too difficult, too challenging?
Where do you stand?
And on top of it all, if we look at what we can see in order to find where we stand with God…we would feel lost indeed. The suffering that Jesus speaks of in Mark chapter 8 seems to disprove any notion that we are standing in grace; what good is standing in God’s grace, what good is following Christ if it means a life that is characterized by pain, suffering, and cross?
Paul directly addresses those fears Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ – through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
In other words: You stand in grace! Not because of what you’ve done, or what a kind and wonderful person you’ve been; you stand in grace because Jesus died for you, and he has given his perfect life to you.
This is a unique way of describing faith: that you stand in the throne room of God Almighty, the exact place where Isaiah pictures the angels of heaven covering their faces and their feet and crying out to one another Holy! Holy! Holy! And you stand there, just like Isaiah did, perhaps trembling as the doorposts and thresholds shook….and God smiles at you.
Status and standing conferred and confirmed with that simple, kind smile from your heavenly Father. You stand in grace, because the blood of Jesus has covered you and washed you. You stand in grace, because your sin has been forgiven; and you have direct access to God, without needing to tremble or fear.
Sin & repentance isn’t stepping outside this throne-room of grace; the only thing that can drive you from this room is deliberate sin, deliberately turning your back on God’s grace. You stand in grace! You have access in that room to a God who smiles upon you, Father who delights to hear his children.
This changes everything! Because you stand in grace, and that fact is based on what Jesus has done for you – even the painful, the fearful, the worrisome, the dangerous, the aches and pains and emotional emptiness of life in this world reaches you as you stand within the Father smile. And God takes all of that pain, worry, doubt, suffering – and changes it. He turns it into his divine gift! Paul explains:
We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings.
Remember that you stand in grace! And when you’re standing in grace, God uses even our suffering as a blessing; as one songwriter put it, each thread of pain woven into the tapestry of grace. As you stand in grace - wherever you go as a Christian - everything that comes into your life first passes through the loving hands of your Savior.
Paul goes on: We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character produces hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out HIS LOVE into our hearts…by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given to us.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
If you were ever doubting God’s goodness…or worried that perhaps you have fallen off God’s schedule, God’s agenda, and that your concerns have gone unanswered: gather your concerns, your worries, your regrets, your frustrations in your arms – and drop them here. If you’ve haven’t given your spiritual life the sort of care that you’ve given your physical life – remember where you stand. You stand in grace, because you’ve been washed by Christ in the waters of baptism.
So take up the battle. Yes, it’s real. Yes, the devil stalks his prey and tempts God’s Christians. Yes, if we were to see the reality of our daily spiritual danger, none of us would want to get out of bed in the morning.
But you stand in grace. Please, especially during Lent, open your Bible and let the Holy Spirit remind you of that fact!
Because you are standing in grace, standing in the throne room of God himself simply by virtue of Jesus’s life in your place; and now, regardless of where you stood yesterday or where you thought you stood last week – YOU STAND IN GRACE. Amen!