Grace is not simply leniency when we've sinned. Grace is the enabling gift of God not to sin. Grace is power, not just pardon.
If my whole entire blog, all my rants and lamenting could be summed up in two sentences, it would be those words. If I could, I would have this summary tattooed, painted on billboards, and written on every church letterhead in the world.
When God put in my heart the deep desire to know what He said and wrote and thought about the way things are in my world, I'm sure this was written on the front of the bus he took me on as He drove me through His word.
You must realize, this didn't occur over night, or in a day a week or a month or even one year. This has been a journey, since my first conscious thought of wanting my own Bible at around age 8. God, I'm sure now, put me on the bus long before that. But I know I became aware of that seed planted in my heart around eight years of age.
I asked for a Bible for Christmas, and at that time, the only translation anyone was using was good old King James. I remember lying in bed at night, with my yellow mushroom lamp glowing next to my bed. The soft glow shining light on words I couldn't understand and made no sense. I started in Genesis, and because I knew the stories from Sunday School, it made some sense. But once I passed the story of Noah and the flood, I began to quickly be frustrated with the vernacular.
But it kept calling me even when I used it to press a pretty flower, or hold a special memento. The words still called to me, intriguing me to look, to read, to taste.
Flash forward about 17 years. The NIV (New International Version) is out and the Bible is being translated in language this girl could understand. I dedicated a full year to reading it, in its entirety. Although the translation was understandable, the concepts, the stories, and the context were not. But even though I only understand about 5% of what I was reading, words started to jump off the page, pulling me in, showing me phrasing and words I had never heard while sitting in the pews of church growing up. (They may have been said, I personally don't recall hearing them).
You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.
You? Who is you?
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.
I believe. Does that mean me? What power?
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance: perseverance, character; and character, 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 us.
Us? We? Suffering? Does this apply to me, God?
....offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
Wait a minute. Wait just a cotton pickin minute here. I am a sinner. I will sin. What do you mean, sin shall not be my master? Is that really talking to me?
And on and on and on and on it went. The words of scripture, even though I would never attend seminary, or sit in a Hebrew or Greek class, study ancient history in depth, or even imagine dreaming of wanting to - these words were jumping off the page and embedding themselves into my soul.
For almost ten years I just read the Bible and used no other resources but the Bible to understand the Bible.
And the bus ride was beautiful!
But God had so much more to show me, and he started placing people in my path who could feed the hunger that was beginning to develop in my heart and soul. I have not stopped craving the Bread of Life since.
So, what does that mean to you? I don't know. Only you know what God is trying to say to you right now through my testimony.
Have you had the same hunger? Have you had the desire since you were a child to read, and not only read, but understand the Word, but didn't have he opportunities to learn?
I wish I could tell you each story behind the verses as I highlighted them in my Bible. Over and over through my life they confirmed the quote at the top. God's word works like that. You don't have to have a seminary degree or a teaching certificate or any formal training to understand what God wants you to understand about His word.
You simply just need the desire. And if you don't have the desire, ask for it. If you had it and lost it, ask for it back. You need this in your life. You need Him! You need His word, today. While it's available to have in your hands. You need it.
There is soooooooo much more to the story than you have ever been taught or heard via a third, fourth or twenty fourth party.
You are a smart, sound, able to understand person. God has made you that way. He would not give you something if He also wouldn't give you the ability to understand what it's for.
Don't put yourself on a time table. Don't compare yourself to me or your pastor or your so spiritual friend or relative. Just open it up and let it fall open. Scan, page, jump around - it doesn't matter where or how you start! Just start!
The time is now. The bus is gassed up, the Driver is in His seat, the engine is roaring - get on the bus!
Here's a few more highlights of passages that I knew no theological background about or anything else the professionals could explain better than me, but they still spoke. Loudly.
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.
(This one tends to get missed because the professionals like to use the one immediately after - For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord).
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.
(Gulp. This doesn't seem to be a sentence of living the life of a sinner with no hope until heaven, does it?)
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.
Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation - but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
(That's a whopper!)
No, in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Next to this I have written - "This is the winner's circle!" If someone is telling you you are "made that way," you've always had a temper, you will always be an alcoholic an addict a worrier or any of the other sins you have believed to be true about you, then this verse in itself should give you great hope and show you who the true liars are).
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
(Guess what? Everyone means everyone. And it doesn't say, "Only those who have been going to church their entire life or have memorized the ten commandments. Everyone means - EVERYONE!)
Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God's mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.
(Wondering what God's will is for your life - this about sums it up, I'd say. Stop conforming so you can be transformed).
That's just a taste from Romans. I hope you've got your fork and knife out and are digging in!