Do you feel far away from God because of guilt? Have you made promises to God and others that you will do better, yet continue to struggle with sin? Do you feel like you could never be close to God because of sin in your life? If you do, you're not alone. Many people feel this way. One of these people was Ted.
Ted, who is a Christian, walked into my office and said, "I thought I could never be close to God again. But because of grace, I realize I can draw close to God. Thank you so much for teaching me about grace."
You see, Ted and I had been talking about grace for several weeks. He was having difficulty understanding and receiving grace. He could not imagine why or how God would ever desire to be close to him after the sins he had committed and the promises he had broken. In his mind, he believed God had rejected him and was right in doing so.
The lie he was believing was that closeness with God was based upon him not sinning and keeping his promises. Consequently, he found it impossible to draw close to God since he struggled with sin and continued to break his promises to God to stop sinning.
Ted had been a Christian for years, but had never come to understand the depths of God's grace revealed to us in the shed blood of Jesus for our sins. During these years, he walked with the Lord. He felt confident and close to God because of how well he was living. But, the bottom fell out. He found himself trapped in the depths of sin. As hard as he tried to escape his sins, he continued to be entrapped.
This led to overwhelming guilt and shame in Ted's life. With sincerity, he promised God and others he would do better, but his sin continued. And with sin, greater amounts of guilt and shame. And with greater amounts of guilt and shame, came more and more promises to God and others he would do better. And with more and more broken promises, and with more and more guilt and shame, he fell deeper and deeper into his sin.
As a result of all his broken promises to God that he would do better, he was convinced God was finally finished with him and no longer desired to draw close to him. He was sure that because of all his broken promises he would have to live in the condemnation of his sins and separation from God for the rest of his life.
But Ted deeply desired to experience closeness with God. However, he could not imagine that closeness with God would be possible again for him...that is until he received the revelation of grace.
As mentioned above, Ted was finding it difficult to understand and receive grace. It was difficult for him to believe that his sins and broken promises were not greater than God's grace. He could not wrap his mind around the truth that where his sin increased, grace increased all the more.
Where sin increases, grace increases all the more.
For Ted, this just did not seem to be right. It did not seem right to him that he could not out-sin God's grace. It did not seem right that he could continually break his promises to God to do better and still be able to draw close to God. In his mind, God's grace had to have a limit, a boundary. And he believed he had used up all his grace and crossed the boundary lines of grace.
I explained to him that if there is any sin or any amount of sin that is beyond grace, then there is really no such thing as grace.That is because grace is the unconditional love, undeserved kindness, and unlimited forgiveness of God poured out to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Anything that is unconditional, undeserved, and unlimited has no boundaries. Grace has no boundaries. Grace has no limits. This is why where sin increases, grace increases all the more.
Furthermore, if being close to God is dependent upon us keeping our promises to God that we will do better by being more religious and by not sinning, then there is no need for grace, there is no need for the cross, there is no need for Jesus. Paul says in Galatians 2:21:
If righteousness (innocence before God and closeness to God) could be gained through the law (our faithfulness to a set of religious activities and obedience to a set of moral standards), then Christ died for nothing!
The very reason we need grace is because we can't keep our promises to do better. We are sinful...full of sin.
As Ted and I met, I showed him several verses in Hebrews about drawing close to God through grace.
The former regulation (seeking to draw close to God through faithfulness to religious activities and obedience to a set of moral standards) is set aside because it is weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope (grace or the shed blood of Jesus for forgiveness and cleansing of our sins) is introduced, by which we draw near to God (in a close loving relationship confident of his acceptance and not fearing his rejection)...Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.
Ted had been seeking for years to draw close to God in a loving relationship by law, meaning by faithfulness to his own religious activities and obedience to moral standards. Unconsciously, he believed that his adherence to his religious activities and moral standards enabled him to draw close to God. So when he neglected his religious activities and violated his moral standards, he felt distant from God. Then he would promise to do better...only to fail again. And each time he failed, he felt further and further away from God.
This is what the above verses are talking about. The Hebrew people were seeking to draw close to God by adhering to the Law of Moses. They believed they drew close to God through their faithfulness to the religious activities and moral standards of the Mosaic Law. However, we see in the above verses that they were not able to draw close to God in this way. This is because striving to obey a set of religious laws, practicing religious activities, or seeking to behave morally never takes away sin.
No matter how faithful we are to our religious activities or moral values, we are still guilty or imperfect before God because of sin. And no faithfulness to religious activities or obedience to moral values can ever make us not guilty or perfect before God. So seeking to become close to God in these ways only give us a temporary and false sense of closeness with God. When we neglect our religious practices and violate our moral standards we feel distant from God because of our guilt. Consequently, we make promises to God that we will do better. Yet, we fail again...and again...and again. With each failure, we promise we will do better again...again...and again, but continue to fail.This leaves us feeling God is frustrated with us, tired of us, and has withdrawn from us. And, since we have promised we would do better so many times and failed, we feel we have finally gone beyond the limits and overstepped the boundaries of grace. Therefore, in our guilt, we are left believing we can never draw close to God again.
This was the same problem the Hebrew people had. Like us, they tried to draw close to God by having their guilty consciences cleared through religious activities and moral behavior.
...gift and sacrifices being offered (religious activities) were not able to clear the
consciences (remove the feeling of guilt) of the worshiper (the one seeking to draw close to God in an intimate loving relationship).
For this reason, it can never by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year (consistently practicing religious activities and endlessly promising to do better when we fail), make perfect (innocent before God) those who draw near to worship (draw close to God in an intimate and loving relationship). If it could, would they have not stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would have no longer felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Seeking to draw close to God in an intimate loving relationship through religious activities and moral behavior will ultimately leave us feeling broken and hopeless because we are unable to follow through on our promises and commitments to God. We see our sin daily.
Then, in this broken and seemingly hopeless condition, we are introduced to a better way to draw close to God. A way to draw close to God that is not based on our faithfulness to religious activities or obedience to moral standards, but on Jesus himself. And this better way is called grace. Grace is the new covenant of which Jesus is the guarantor. The new covenant of grace is guaranteed to us by Jesus. It is Jesus who guarantees for us closeness to and acceptance by God, not ourselves, not our promises, not our faithfulness, not our obedience, not our religious activities...not anything, only Jesus. And grace gives us hope. Remember the above verse:
...a better hope (grace) is introduced by which we draw near to God (drawing close to God in a loving relationship assured of his acceptance)...Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant (grace).
Let's look closer at this word guarantor. A guarantor is someone who promises to fulfill an obligation or pay a debt on behalf of someone else should that person fail in keeping his promise to fulfill an obligation or pay a debt. A guarantor guarantees that the obligation will be fulfilled or debt paid even if he has to fulfill the obligation or pay the debt in full himself.
We make promises to God that we will do better religiously and morally. And for a while, we do better. Temporarily, we feel closer to God. Then we fail, feel distant from God, and once again make more promises to do better, only to endlessly repeat the same cycle of promises...failure...guilt...distance from God...promises...failure...guilt...distance from God. We do this day after day after day...month after month after month...year after year after year. Eventually, in our guilt, we give up because we realize we can't keep our promises to God. We are left with an obligation to obey God because of our promises, which we have proven to ourselves we can't keep, and a responsibility to pay our debt from the promises to God we didn't keep. At this time in our lives we are left feeling rejected by God, feeling as if we can never draw close to God again. We feel miserable.
And then someone introduces us to the new covenant of grace of which Jesus is the guarantor on our behalf. They tell us the good news that it is not our obedience, faithfulness, promise-keeping, effort, religious activities, etc...that guarantees our ability to draw close to God in an intimate loving relationship, but Jesus himself who ushered in the new covenant of grace through his blood.
(Jesus said), "This cup is the new covenant in my blood poured out for you."
(Jesus said), "This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."
A covenant is the terms by which God draws close to people in a loving relationship. Before the death of Jesus, when he ushered in the new covenant of grace, we were under the old covenant of law. The law required perfect obedience for one to draw close to God, which no one could do. It required perfect obedience to religious activities and moral standards. Our inability to live in obedience to the religious and moral standards of God is called sin. Sin brings condemnation and distance from God. No matter how many times one may promise to do better, he still finds himself falling short and living under condemnation and separation from God.
However, the new covenant of grace, which Jesus is the guarantor, brings us close to God. Grace does for us what we could never do for ourselves. Grace, the blood of Jesus poured out for the forgiveness of all our sins, cleanses from all sin and enables us to draw close to God in a close intimate loving relationship. 1 John 1:7-9 says:
But if we walk in the light as he is in the light...the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin...If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all sin.
1 John 1:7-9
This forgiveness and cleansing from all sin through the blood of Jesus happens the day we place our faith in Jesus. But sadly, we try to stay forgiven and cleansed before God by practicing religious activities and through moral obedience. When we fail, we forget it is the blood of Jesus that has forgiven and cleansed us from all sin, and then we seek to make promises to God we will do better, only leading to guilt and shame when we are unable to keep our promises.
Remember, Jesus is the guarantor of the new covenant. He promises to fulfill our obligations and pay our debts should we default (default we did!). And that is just what he did! He died for our inability to keep our promises to God, obey the moral standards of God, and pay our debt to God.
But God demonstrates his own love toward us, while we were yet sinners (unable to keep our promises and failure to obey God's moral standards), Christ died for us.
It is through Jesus being our guarantor to fulfill our obligations and pay our debts when we failed in our religious activities and moral standards that we now draw close to God by grace, his shed blood. We no longer need to seek to draw close to God through our own religious and moral faithfulness, but now we draw close to God through the faithfulness of Jesus on our behalf as our guarantor. We no longer have to make endless promises to do better, now that the better way and better hope of grace has been introduced to us. We can tell the old covenant goodbye (our old ways of trying to draw close to God through religious activities and moral behavior where we lived in the constant fear of his rejection), along with the condemnation and separation from God it brings, and begin enjoying the new covenant of grace by which we draw near to God through the shed blood of Jesus.
(Jesus) entered The Most Holy Place (the very presence of God) once for all by his blood having obtained eternal redemption (eternal forgiveness and cleansing of sins for those who place their faith in his death and resurrection).
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God (draw close to God without fear of rejection but guaranteed of his love and acceptance)!
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter The Most Holy Place (enter the presence of God without fear of rejection but guaranteed of his love and acceptance) by the blood of Jesus (not through our promises, religious activities, or moral obedience), by a new and living way...let us draw near to God with a sincere heart (being totally honest about ourselves, no pretending, a real authentic relationship) in full assurance of faith (confidently knowing that he loves us, listens to us, and will not withdraw from us), having our hearts sprinkled (with Jesus' blood) to clear us from a guilty conscience (not seeking to remove our guilt through promising to be more faithful in our religious activities and obedient in our moral behavior, but through the blood of Jesus only), and having our bodies washed with pure water (symbolic of being washed completely clean and forgiven of all our sins
through faith in the blood of Jesus).
We now come into the very presence of God through his grace, the shed blood of Jesus which forgives us of and cleanses us from all sins.
For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.
Their sins (immoral behavior, religious failures, and broken promises) and lawless acts I will remember no more.
And where these (all our sins) have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin (because all of our sins have been forgiven and cleansed by God through the blood of Jesus, there is no need for us to seek to draw close to God by making endless promises to God that we will do better religiously and morally).
Let us approach the throne of grace (the presence of God's unconditional love, unmerited kindness, and unlimited forgiveness) with confidence (knowing he hasn't rejected us because of our sin, but draws us close to himself through the blood of Jesus which he poured out to forgive us of and cleanse us from all sin), so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
So, like Ted, if you are feeling like you can never draw close to God because of your repeated sins and broken promises, let me introduce you to grace...to Jesus, who is your guarantor of a new way to draw close to God through his blood, which forgives you of and cleanses you from all sin.
Because of grace, you no longer have to seek to draw close to God through your promises to do better and then fear his rejection when you fail to live up to your promises. Your confidence to draw close to God is no longer in yourself, but in Jesus who, by his grace, ushers you into the very presence of God where you enjoy a close loving and authentic relationship with the God who loves and accepts you and will never withdraw from you.
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