Grace: God’s Purposeful Presence

As Christians, we are always concerned with communicating the Good News of Jesus. The gospel is the message of grace for sinners, life eternal in Christ, and the transforming power of God that impacts every aspect of our lives.

The multidimensional nature of the Gospel is seen clearly in Clear Creek’s spiritual formation chart: our activities are rooted in our gospel identity. Or, said another way, because of who God is and what he has done, we have new identities that transform what we do in this world.

Despite this understanding, however, the gospel can sometimes be presented as the antithesis to good works.

While we may think this provides clarity to the unique and redeeming work of Christ, it can make us uneasy about emphasizing good works. We are afraid we might become legalistic or worse, undermine the grace of God, by preaching a gospel of works.

Neither Jesus nor the apostles are uneasy about emphasizing good works. Jesus says we are the light of the world called to faithfully let that light shine before others so they may see our good works (Matthew 5:14,16). Paul tells us we are to “be rich in good works” (1 Timothy 6:18), “a model of good works” (Titus 2:7), and “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). In fact, a key function of the Bible itself is to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).

So, where does the tension between grace and good works come from? Are good works optional? Are they ancillary? Or, are they essential to our faith?

A simple definition of grace is God’s unmerited favor. Because we are sinners, we rightly understand that we do not deserve God’s goodness. But, because of the reality of our sinfulness, it’s easy to think of grace as only being granted for our redemption. When God’s grace is only understood to be expressed toward humanity after the fall of the world in Genesis 3, it can cause us to think of grace in a static and transactional way.

Yet, grace for humanity does not originate in the response to the fall and our now sin-tainted life in this world. God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. He did not become gracious after human rebellion corrupted God’s creation.

Instead, we must learn to see God’s gracious will and purpose for humans as the first and defining expression of grace toward humanity.

The world that God created in the beginning was good! It was to be a dynamic place where good works and stewardship were at the heart of the plan. Energy, effort, discipline, growth, and change were essential parts of God’s purposes and gifts to humanity. It was a world full of potential with a story to be written and work to be done!

Yet, remember, Adam and Eve did not choose to be created, they did not earn their existence, and they didn’t deserve the delight of living in God’s good creation. So, we can see that grace was poured out on innocent, not condemned beings. This is the lens through which we must see and understand grace even in our post-fall existence.

Grace is a means not an end. God’s grace for humanity has a purpose — a God-sized purpose — where we exist to reflect his image throughout his creation. He allows us to participate in the greatest good of them all: a relationship with himself. God’s unmerited favor is, has always been and always will be his purposeful presence with us. Grace allows, enables and empowers us. Grace is not opposed to goodness, grit, or goals.

We need to understand this as believers of Christ not just so we do remember that effort is not the same as earning, and that doing is not the same as deserving, but also because it will enable us to fulfill our mission to lead unchurched people to become fully devoted followers of Christ.

We cannot fulfill our purpose apart from knowing and being known by God in Christ, but through him, we can and should do much good in his world.

Grace should energize us to engage in service projects in our community, so the presence of God is manifested for the people of the 4B area. Good works are essential to the Christian life. It’s no wonder that Paul not only says we are to be zealous for good works but that in Christ we were in fact created for good works (Ephesians 2:10).

Our call is to bring wholeness, peace, and justice to God’s creation. To do this, we must go beyond words. The world must see our good works in such a way that they give glory to our Father in Heaven and then are inspired to join us in our calling to reflect God’s grace to the world.


 

6 Reasons Why You Can Trust the Bible

Is the Bible reliable? How can we trust a book written thousands of years ago enough to change the way we live?

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Can All Religions Be True?

One of the great barriers to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is that Christianity is too exclusive. How can Christians really claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven? How can they say Christianity is the one true faith? And what about the millions of people all around the world who follow other religions?

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Did the Resurrection Really Happen?

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9

Have you ever wondered if the claims of Christianity are possibly true? Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

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077: Is Christianity the Only True Religion?

Can there really be one true religion? Are we all worshiping the same God, but in different ways? Can we embrace diversity and avoid relativism? Rachel Chester sits down with Dr. Timothy Yoder, an apologetics and philosophy professor, to discuss religious pluralism, Christian apologetics, and how to respectfully engage with those outside the Christian faith.

Resources: 

Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin

The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

What is the Gospel?

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Is the Bible Still Relevant?

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Did the Miracles of Jesus Really Happen?

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068: God With Us

How is it possible that a baby in a manger is the God who creates, saves, and reigns? Why does God’s presence with us even matter? Rachel Chester sits down with Jenna Kraft, Tiffany Ravedutti, and Mandy Turner to talk about our God who rules all and dwells among us, and why this changes everything.

Resources:

Christmas Eve Service Times & Locations

Interactive Advent Devotional

The Immanence and Transcendence of God

Christmas brings with it a “comfortable” view of Jesus. Like Ricky Bobby in the movie Talladega Nights, we love the image of “Dear tiny Jesus, in your golden-fleece diapers, with your tiny, little, fat, balled-up fists pawing at the air.” There’s a tender vulnerability in a baby that allows us to approach him without the fear usually inspired by the presence of God himself. This is the beauty of the incarnation – a God who has lowered himself to take on human frailty and dwell in our midst.

Unfortunately, there can be a danger in our Ricky Bobby thinking, picking and choosing the version of Jesus who most appeals to us while ignoring the aspects of his character that are more complicated or difficult. Despite the comfortable feelings that this minimization can bring, our concept of God can begin to feel inadequate to the difficulties we face. We need a God of power and might, one whose purpose is more significant than soothing us with warm, fuzzy feelings.

There is an increasing longing within our culture for something beyond ourselves – a spiritual desire for a greatness beyond our own achievements and effort and a power that can transform our lives. The human heart yearns for something more: more glorious, more grand, more worthy.

Only in Scripture can we find a picture of God who is both perfectly transcendent and truly immanent — infinitely beyond us and yet personally with us.

Transcendence is that aspect of God’s character that recognizes his position above and beyond all that he created. He is great, impenetrable, and matchless. His immanence recognizes that he graciously enters into his creation, working and acting within the world that he has made. The gospel message is most effective when we hold both attributes of God in balance, neither minimizing his transcendence to increase our comfort nor minimizing his personal nature to satisfy our reason. When we present both aspects of God’s character equally, his goodness is magnified.

The Lord is high above all nations,

and his glory above the heavens!

Who is like the Lord our God,

who is seated on high,

who looks far down

on the heavens and the earth?

– Psalm 113:4-6

Here the psalmist praises God for his transcendence — placing God in his rightful place “above all nations,” filled with authority, and independent from his creation. Unbound by space or time, he is infinite, omnipresent, and sovereign over all. Our God is above even the heavens themselves, beyond any need that we could fulfill, and past the limits of our finite understanding. This is no small God, able to be pacified or distracted. Our only right response is a posture of reverence, awe, and humility.

But the truth of God’s transcendence does not contradict his personal interactions with us. Rather, it increases the value of that relationship. The next verses in the same psalm paint a picture of an immanent God of love:

He raises the poor from the dust

and lifts the needy from the ash heap,

to make them sit with princes,

with the princes of his people.

He gives the barren woman a home,

making her the joyous mother of children.

Praise the Lord!

– Psalm 113:7-9

The mercy of God overflows from this passage. His consideration for the needy, his reversal of their suffering, his care for the childless all indicate that there is no suffering he cannot see. Even the most invisible and devalued in our society are treasured and sustained by the God who is present with us; the God revealed in the gospel of Matthew as Immanuel (1:23). Jesus displayed this same compassion in his earthly ministry as he healed the sick, touched the leper, and wiped the tears from women’s eyes.

But the mercy of God doesn’t negate his infinite nature, for only his complete freedom allows him to right these wrongs. God’s immanence gives him awareness of and compassion for our suffering and sin. God’s transcendence gives him the power to heal, rescue, and redeem. Because he is beyond the limits of all we understand, he can reverse the fortunes of those who seem inevitably downtrodden. And nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the incarnation and atoning work of Christ.

Though the Son of God was completely, utterly divine, he stepped down to earth and entered the womb of a woman. He took on a human nature in order to live among us. And in his death, he paid for our sins against an infinitely holy God as no mere human could have done, for his transcendent nature bore an infinite cost.

Our God is beautifully personal, and we should rejoice in his invitation to intimacy with him.

As we anticipate and celebrate Christmas this season, may we be reminded that the little babe in the manger was also our infinitely transcendent King lifted on high, who in humility descended to dwell with us.

God is both further from us, and nearer to us, than any other being.

– C.S. Lewis