What’s the combination that opens God’s safe?

There’s that moment of hesitation and then triumph when a safecracker gets the combination right and the safe door swings open to reveal the contents. When it comes to cracking God’s safe, however, there is so much disappointment. People try all kinds of combinations, think they’ve got the right one and give a tug on the handle – but the door doesn’t open.

The prize inside the safe is peace with God, peace that comes from knowing we’re just fine in his book and eternal life is ours. What greater prize could there be? But what’s the right sequence of numbers that clicks the lock open? And who knows the combination for certain, too? Religion, of course, jumps in at this point yelling, “We know, we know, we’ve got the combination,” but the numbers offered by each religion are different. No two religions offer the same combination.

None of their numbers would work anyway, because they all involve something that we must do. God, meanwhile, gave us the combination of numbers years ago to a man called Abraham, and it doesn’t involve anything that we must do: “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about – but not before God,” Romans 4:2. If Abraham thought he could open the safe by doing all kinds of good works, or good deeds, he too would have been sadly disappointed when he pulled on the safe door. It wouldn’t have opened, because it wasn’t his righteousness that hit the right combination, it was faith (verse 3).

It had to be faith, though, because God made absolutely sure Abraham couldn’t produce the works necessary to open the door. Look what God did to the man. He promises Abraham he’s going to make him and his offspring heirs of the world, when Abraham has no heirs – and no way of producing one, either. There is nothing Abraham can do, therefore, to get the prize God is offering him. But that’s exactly how God wanted it to be, “so that it may be by grace,” verse 16that the door to his safe swings open.  

It isn’t by our works that the safe door swings open, it’s by faith in his grace, Romans 5:1. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God.” Cracking God’s safe isn’t complicated. Peace with him doesn’t involve a difficult combination lock full of rules, rituals and religious duties. All it needs is faith in God’s grace. That’s when the doors to God swing open. But the shocking thing about this grace is that we already had it before we even tried the lock….    

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Bridging the chasm between us and God

God stands on the other side of a great abyss, a huge chasm between himself and us. He stands there holding an incredible gift for us, the best we could ever wish for. He then has to watch us trying to leap across the chasm to get it. It’s a pathetic sight, as human after beloved human falls desperately short.

Give them credit, though, some of them do quite well. They take what’s said in the Bible and try to do it. “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments,” Jesus said, so they try to obey all the commandments, and some do a really good job of it. But not quite good enough, unfortunately, because only perfect obedience will do. One mistake, one moment of weakness, and that’s it, game over, down to the bottom of the abyss they go. 

Some also read what Paul wrote, that “God will give to each person according to what he has done.” So they try to live a good life helping people out, raising money for worthy causes, being utterly honest, working hard, sacrificing for their kids, being upright, moral citizens in every way, and pillars in their community. The only problem is they sometimes get rather proud of their accomplishments. They like hearing how good they are. They may even think they’re superior, a cut above others, and even worthy of the accolades they get from people. Only the humble make it across the abyss, though.

Who can make it, then? How can anyone bridge this mighty chasm if one fault or one moment of pride sends you screaming downward, arms flailing in open space with no trees on the side to grab onto, and no handholds to clamber back up again? But that’s when God peers over his side of the chasm and shouts to the pile of broken, exhausted, frustrated humanity below: “Hey, folks, It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.” 

“What was that God said?” someone yells. “It’s by faith,” someone yells back, “we get God’s gift by faith.” And then someone remembers. “Yes, that’s right, Romans 4:16, ‘the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace.'”

A murmur of many voices mumbling “By grace, eh?” rumbles through the abyss. “But,” one voice cries out, “what do we do to get this grace? We must have to do something to get it, surely?” And that’s when the voice of God echoes down from above, “You’ve already got it – have a peek while you’re down there at Romans 5:2….”     

Universalism, Annihilationism, Eternal Torment, or what?…

I’ve been all three, a Universalist, an Annihilationist, and a believer in Eternal Torment. Eternal Torment was my favourite to start with, chucking the likes of Hitler into the flames to pay for what he did. The wretched man deserved eternal punishment, so do child abusers and those who pervert the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-9). Let them suffer in public humiliation forever.

But what good would it do? It satisfied an inner need in me, I suppose, knowing that horrible people got horrible punishment, but now we’d be stuck with these horrible people forever, and stuck with the memory of what they did too. Far better, surely, would be getting rid of them. Burn them up like Sodom and Gomorrah, so all memory of them vanishes. It made a lot more sense to me, and it was less embarrassing too, wishing a person dead forever rather than wishing him flailing in agony forever. So I became an Annihilationist instead.

But I didn’t annihilate my children when they messed up, did I? Instead, my hope sprang eternal that life, the school of hard knocks, and punishment when needed, would translate into lessons learned, wisdom gained, and a real desire in my children to be good people. Punishment wasn’t meant to be final, in other words, it was meant to be corrective resulting in change, and isn’t that what God wants for his children too? Rather than hell being eternal torment or annihilation, therefore, I saw it in the same light as sending my children to their rooms to change their attitudes.

But if that was the purpose of hell instead, then God could save everybody, couldn’t he? He could isolate them in hell to stew in their own juice for as long as was needed to soften up their attitude, and when they were ready they could come out and join the rest of us. And if I’m like that with my children, it made perfect sense that God’s like that with his children, so I became a Universalist, believing God could, and would, save everybody in the end.

But then I discovered that scriptures can be found that support or refute all three views, so now what?

Well, there was still Paul, “the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:16), and look what happened to him. “The grace of our Lord was poured out” on him (verse 14). It was grace, that marvellous mixture of mercy and justice that only God is perfectly capable of, that saved Paul.

So with that in mind I became a Gracist, a believer in “God’s abundant provision of grace” (Romans 5:17) as the only and final solution in every human life.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ

Two words bounce out in that statement above from 2 Corinthians 13:14, the first being that Jesus is “Lord,” and the second that the Lord is all about “grace.”

So over this earth right now we have a Lord, a King, Jesus Christ, who will continue to “reign until he has put all enemies under his feet,” 1 Corinthians 15:25, and “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power,” verse 24. Scripture is clear that Jesus is in charge, and he has been ever since he was “raised from the dead” by the Father and “seated at (the Father’s) right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age, but also in the one to come,” Ephesians 1:20-21. He is “the LORD” Jesus Christ all right.

But where does “grace” fit in with that? It sounds like Christ is a violent Lord, throwing his weight around until all challengers are crushed to pulp. And how is that different to the rulers of the earth right now, who try to preserve their power and office by belittling their opponents in parliament and in vicious attack ads leading up to elections, or by killing off the opposition literally by assassinations and brutal violence?

But the enemies Christ is crushing aren’t people, or even opposition by people. The enemy is the influence of evil that so easily turns the human heart against God. Evil caused “sin to enter the world, and death through sin,” Romans 5:12, bringing with it “condemnation for all men,” verse 18, and an era when “Sin reigned in death,” verse 21. From Adam to Christ humanity lay helpless under the vicious reign of evil that ruled by the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).

At the resurrection of Christ, however, the reign of grace began, that did a real number on King Evil, because “where sin increased, grace increased all the more,” Romans 5:20. Every time evil condemned someone to death, the person was immediately released from all charges against him. The only hold King Evil now had was blinding people to the all powerful reign of “God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness” bringing “eternal life” to humanity “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” verses 17 and 21. So Christ has his church out there in the world ripping the blinders off so people can see that because of “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” King Evil has been dethroned, so that humans not only escape condemnation by King Evil, they can also escape evil’s influence.

Does God solve everything in this life now too?

In 2 Peter 1:3 Peter writes that God has “given us everything we need for life and godliness.” God’s already sorted out our salvation and eternal future for us, which is wonderful, but what about life now? We’ve got all sorts of problems now – physical, emotional, family and financial – so does God fix those things for us too?

Well, when Paul had a health problem he wanted God to fix in 2 Corinthians 12:7-8, God’s answer in verse 9 was, “My grace is sufficient for you,” or – as ‘The Message’ translates it – “My grace is enough; it’s all you need,” which sounds like God is saying, “You’ve got all you need for life and godliness, Paul, so don’t bother me with all that physical stuff too.” But is that what “grace” meant here, that it only covered Paul’s eternal life, and that’s what counted, not his physical life too?

There’s a bit more God has to say in verse 9, however, that suggests “grace” here isn’t just talking about the salvation Christ has procured for us forever, it’s about the power he provides for us now. It’s there in the second part of God’s reply in verse 9, when he says, “My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” 

“My grace” in the first part of verse 9 becomes “My strength” in the second part. In context grace means strength, and it means strength right now too, in our desperate times of “weakness” (verse 9). This is when Christ really pulls through for us and makes himself real, as we discover again and again that his grace, in the shape of his strength, is sufficient for every situation we come up against in this life now.

And “Once I heard that,” Paul writes in verse 9 (The Message), “I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift.” What gift? The gift of “Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness,” enabling Paul to function and carry on in THIS life, no matter what hit him.

It changed Paul’s attitude to his problems, verse 10: “Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size – abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”

Paul literally experienced Christ lifting him out of the doldrums, out of his fears and desperation, and out of his worries that his handicaps would reduce his effectiveness. Paul learnt from experience that God solves everything in this life too, by “moving in on his weakness” and involving himself intimately in every problem Paul faced to get him through it.

Sufficient for today is his grace thereof

“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” says the King James Version in Matthew 6:34. In other words, don’t even think about tomorrow, we’ve got enough troubles to deal with today. But in the previous nine verses Jesus is also saying, “Sufficient for each day is God’s grace thereof.” So each day has its troubles, yes, but each day Jesus provides the grace to deal with them. Trust him to take care of us and “You’ll find your everyday human concerns will be met,” says The Message translation in verse 33.

Jesus is saying there isn’t any need or worry we’ve got that his grace doesn’t cover. He knows exactly what needs and worries we have, because he lived in our world as one of us. So, I ask myself, what need do I have, or what worry do I face, today? Because Paul’s answer to me in Philippians 4:19 is, “My God will meet ALL your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

All of them? Yes, says Paul, God’s “blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ,” Ephesians 1:3, and in 1 Corinthians 1:7, “you do not lack any spiritual gift” – meaning, we’ve got more than we need to take care of us, because the help we’ve got is “spiritual.” It’s from God, and God “is able to do far more abundantly BEYOND all that we ask or think, according to his power which works mightily in us,” Ephesians 3:20-21. He’s got power a billion times sufficient for anything I face, with power left over. How stupid of me to worry, then.

But let’s get practical. I face today. My mind whirred into action the moment I awoke. I started thinking about what needs to be done. I immediately felt weak at the prospect of some things I had to face and do, and there wasn’t much in my day I was looking forward to either, because most of it involved effort of some sort and I’d woken up tired. So, for my day to be filled with peace and joy and love – and all those other lovely “spiritual” things mentioned in Galatians 5 – I clearly needed help, because I was in no mood or state of mind to come up with those things myself.

But I don’t have to come up with them myself, because they’re spiritual. They’re from God, because he’s my sufficiency, not me. He, therefore, will fill my day with peace, love and joy, and wisdom, and calm, and laughter, and positive thinking, and whatever else I need, because sufficient for my day is his grace, thereof. HIS power working within me is BEYOND what I need.

Getting BOLD with God

Following on from “Would you please leave your problem with me?” (July 13/12), Jesus can say that because he can turn any desperate need, or overwhelming problem, or debilitating weakness we have, into a demonstration of his power and love for us, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

That’s because “Jesus the Son of God is our great High Priest who has gone to heaven itself to help us,” Hebrews 4:14 (Living Bible). Jesus is in God’s presence on our behalf all the time – as a human being too – because as a human he “understands our weaknesses.” If anyone knows how we react to the pressures of life, he does, because he was (and is) just as human as we are. So he knows we don’t react well! Neither did he. When he “was here on earth he pleaded with God, praying with tears and agony of soul to the only one who would save him from death,” Hebrews 5:7.

Jesus learnt from suffering that a human mind and spirit can only take so much. Anguish can kill, and Jesus experienced that. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he cried in Matthew 26:38. When pressures built, the strength went right out of him, to the point there was nothing he could do to pull himself out of his death spiral of anxiety. His mind was turning against him and killing him. Emotionally he was beyond the end of his rope.

But that’s when he yelled out to his Father for help, meaning “HELP – NOW.” Jesus was bold, because if his Father didn’t help him, there was no other help that could “save him from death.” But because he trusted his Father he got the help he needed, every time. When Jesus, in “reverent submission” to his Father (Hebrews 5:7), came to the Father as the Son that he was, recognizing he was utterly dependent on the love and power of his Father to see him through, he always got the power and strength he needed.

Jesus’ boldness was out of desperation, yes, but it was also because he recognized who he was. He was a son who needed his Dad. And having experienced what his Father did for him, Jesus is now the “source of (our) eternal salvation,” Hebrews 5:9. He now does for us for what his Father did for him. He is with the Father at all times as our High Priest, fully understanding our coming to him boldly for “grace to help us in our time of need,” Hebrews 4:16, and because we’re the Father’s children too, he’ll make sure we get the help we need exactly and perfectly when and how we need it.