Just last week, I was elected resident of a retiree organization to which I belong. Actually the word “elected” is probably not the right word. It was more like nobody else wanted to do it, so I got stuck with the job.
Nevertheless, I am the new president and with that title comes some responsibilities. Perhaps the most important of those is that I will be the person who negotiates and signs the contracts for an annual event we hold each year.
Signing contracts has always been stressful for me. There are so many crucial details that can be missed. It is a legally binding agreement on both parties. The ultimate success of entire endeavors hinges explicitly on the details of the contract. And once it’s signed, it’s signed. No going back. It really doesn’t matter what I intended it to say. Once it’s signed, it’s a done deal.
So I can almost feel my blood pressure going up as I sign my name.
Whether you have been involved in church life or not, you may have heard the term covenant used in faith discussions. Covenant is just another word for a binding agreement. Although it may not be written out on a legal contract form, it is still a binding contract.
And whether we realize it or not, each of us is involved with that contract.
Our involvement may be that we accept it.
Or our involvement may be that we ignore or reject it.
But we are involved regardless.
The other party has already signed the contract. In fact, He signed it in blood. From His standpoint, it’s a done deal. It’s just up to you and me to accept it.
By now, you already know that I am talking about what we often refer to as “the new covenant”. It is the binding agreement accomplished by the death of Jesus on the cross. It is where he guarantees our salvation, forgiveness of sins, complete reconciliation, personal access to God, and eternal life.
Talk about a great deal!
It is the most gracious contract of all time. It is entirely one-sided. Jesus did it all. We just have to accept that as being true. His part is grace- our part is faith.
From the very beginning, there were those who couldn’t accept that such a one-sided contract could be valid. There are still those who just can’t quite accept that today. To be honest, there are times that I still struggle with the idea myself.
I still tend to gravitate at times toward rule-based religion instead of a grace-based relationship. But Jesus died on the cross to replace the former with the latter. My part of the contract is not based on me following the rules. It is based on me accepting the grace.
So am I proposing that we just ignore the rules?
No, but I am proposing that we put them in their place. The so-called rules are in place for our own benefit. We would be wise to follow them. Actually, I like to think of them more as instructions that will save me from undesirable consequences than as rules that I have to follow.
But regardless of what we call them, they are not meant to separate us from God. In fact, if a lack of adherence to rules can keep us from God, then the whole Jesus on the cross thing was a big waste.
Rule-based religion involves condemnation and punishment. Grace-based relationship provides just the opposite. And it is what Jesus offers.
“There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
But when we come to Christ, transformation does happen. Some may be sudden. Some will take time. And some will be ongoing as long as we live on this earth.
As part of God’s contract with us, His Spirit comes to live within us. And with that Spirit within us, we find two important things that God changes:
1. God changes our “want to”.
We begin to want to please God with our words, attitudes, and actions. We understand the tremendous sacrifice of the cross and begin to desire a life worthy of that sacrifice. Those things that we once saw as oppressive rules become instructions that we appreciate. We want to honor God, not because we have to, but because we want to. We see our former guilt, shame, and fear begin to dissipate and be replaced by a measure of love, grace, and peace that we had never imagined.
2. God changes our “able to”.
As we embrace the Spirit of God within our lives, we begin to find abilities that we never expected were possible. We can see habits, addictions, and weaknesses overcome that were impossible to overcome on our own. Not only does God give us the desire to improve our lives but He gives us the ability. It may happen abruptly, or it may take time. But God will be there to help us every step of the way. And His grace will be more than enough when we fall short.
So before we go, I hope you will take a moment to reflect on the contract that Jesus signed in blood for you long ago.
Maybe you have accepted that contract. But over time, maybe the preciousness and one-sidedness of that gift has lost some luster. Why don’t you ask God today to replenish your “want to”?
Or maybe, you’ve never accepted that contract. Maybe you have left all of those benefits on the table for way too long. There is nothing to lose and everything to be gained by just accepting what Jesus has already done. There are no negotiations needed. He has already done everything you could ever need. So just accept the contract.
Because the ultimate tragedy of life is waiting until it is too late to accept that winning deal.