What I'm Not by Nature, I Am by Grace Part 1

I want to focus on the reality of an important part of our Salvation--being adopted in Christ--and what it really means to be called children of God.

Not all human beings are granted this privilege, though you hear it tossed around quite frequently by unbelievers. All of mankind is His beloved creation, nurtured under grace; however, only those people who receive by faith the finished work of Christ are adopted by God and legally--in terms of inheritance--called His children.

"How blessed is God! And what a blessing He is! He's the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in Him. Long before he laid down
earth's foundations, He had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of His love, to be made whole and holy by his love.

"Long, long ago He decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure He took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of His lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son." (Ephesians 1:4-6 Message Bible)

Imagine standing in a courtroom, ready to hear the verdict against you. This is unlike any other court:  it is the court of the Most High God. His decisions are final. There is no appeal.

You never contested your guilt. In fact, you eventually turned yourself in, unable to live under the escalating torment.

The prosecutor is alarmingly accurate in profiling you. He gleefully points a finger in your direction. With embarrassing, relentless evidence, the accuser demands the death penalty. His twisted eloquence surely has everyone convinced there's no hope for you. Remarkably, your defense attorney makes no effort to counteract the claims of the devil. Well, you are guilty. Yet, you expect him to mount some arguments in your favor.

The verdict rings throughout the courtroom. "Guilty as charged!"

Suddenly, your attorney stands before the judge and asks that the sentence that's about to be imposed upon you be transferred to him instead. What? Is he playing a cruel joke? Why would someone do such a thing for a stranger?

You are so astonished that you stagger and reach for the table to steady yourself just as the judge drops His gavel and says, "Done!" You watch horrified as they handcuff your advocate and take him away to be executed in your place.

He looks back with piercing eyes that slice through every pretense you've ever had. No one has ever been able to look that deeply, that truthfully into you before. Yet strangely, you feel no condemnation from his gaze.

"Do not fear, "he says, "I make all things new."

Your heart is breaking. A muffled cry escapes your lips.  "Please...wait!"

Your savior, your substitute never looks back. The door slams behind him, then locks...sending a dreadful echo through the room.

There's an uneasy silence. Enveloped in a confusing swirl of emotions, you turn to face the bench. The judge speaks. "This decree was settled before the foundation of the world. Your debt, as far as I'm concerned, is paid. You and this court are at peace. You are free to go."

God could have ended the matter right there.

In the Salvation process, this astonishing legal declaration of "not guilty" is called Justification. The Judge of the Universe declares you cleared of all charges. But how, if you're still clearly guilty?

God can't go against His own principles or He'd be unjust. Therefore, His Son Jesus willingly took the sins that estranged you from your Creator and paid for them with His own life. But that's not all. He also left you something wonderful in its place so you wouldn't stand empty before God--the benefits of His having lived a pleasing life on earth before His Heavenly Father.
"...being justified FREELY by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:24 KJV)

Therefore, we see that the obedience of Jesus in life AND death secured justice, AND restored the possibility of a relationship with God for all humanity. All of this...and you never really knew Him!

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8 NIV)

Now, back to the courtroom.

Trembling, you gasp. "How could you allow that?"

The judge was straightforward. "He was insistent. He wouldn't have it any other way."

"But...but he doesn't even know me!"

The judge steps down from the bench. "Yes, yes he does. And he loves you...always have."

"Loves me?"

"Even before you were born, dear. The judge comes over and puts his arm around you. "By the way," he asks, "do you have anywhere to go?"

You're fumbling for words as he continues. "Out there, you'll wander like an orphan. You're pardoned, but now you need a home--a family. I've arranged for you to come live in my house...that is, if you want to."

Your head is spinning in disbelief. "Wha...Why would you do all this for me?"

With a warm smile, the judge whispers. "The man who took your place was my only son. I, too, have known and loved you before you were born. I want you to join our family. Through My son's sacrifice, you can receive a fresh start in life with a new name, identity, and a secure home."

But what about your son," you stammer through tears, "your only son?"

The Judge smiles as he walks you out of the courtroom and into the fresh air of a beautiful day.

"Everything will work out for good," he confidently replies.

You ask, "What did your son mean about making all things new?"

"I'll explain along the way," he replies.

It's the beginning of a long and fruitful journey home.

Salvation has several components: Conversion (faith and repentance), then Regeneration (better known as being "born again").

In conversion, you surrender to the conviction of the Holy Spirit of your need for Christ. With His enabling grace, you then make a decision. He awakens faith in your heart and you are able to believe and turn around (repent).

I believe that conversion and regeneration happens simultaneously. Being born again means that because of your repentance from sin and faith in Christ, God transfers you out of the Adamic life with its consequences, and into Christ's life and benefits.

"But how many ever received him, he gave to them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name." (John 1:12-Wycliffe)

But you can't enter the Kingdom (or be "born anew") with the sins of your Adamic nature still on the books; that is, the sin nature you inherited from him as part of the the human race, along with your personal acts of sin that followed.

Consequently, Jesus offers you the gift of His passive obedience (a life lived on earth without sin and thereby righteous), and His active obedience (His death) as the payment to settle the accounts and eternally clear the evidence against you.

Based on what Christ did, God declares you fully justified. It's the Great Exchange! It's a wonderful feeling to know that you are at peace with God because of Christ's extraordinary gift, but is that all Salvation means?

Sadly, many Christians live as if it is...truly thankful for the justification based on Christ's substitution, but devoid of the intimate relationship that comes with it. It's like settling a legal dispute with a neighbor, but never reconciling the previous friendship

There's another part of the Salvation experience that we don't hear too much about--adoption. If we did, we would enjoy God and each other a lot more, and be better able to grow under Father's nurturing as royal siblings.

Adoption is becoming by grace what you could not become in your fallen nature--a son or daughter of God. Justification gives us right legal standing before God that the devil cannot dispute.

Adoption, however, is having a personal relationship with God. Yet in this area, the devil has done a good job at keeping us at arm's length from the Father. He comes to us with all kind of lies about how bad we are. He puts our sins smack dab in our face when we try to pray. He even convinces us that Father God is like our fallen, earthly father. He baits us with myriads of offenses that keep us injured and unwilling to forgive one another.

I have always believed that the world mirrors the Church, not the other way around. In other words, if it's happening in the world, look for the principle behind the behavior to have first run unchecked through the church.

We have head but not "heart" religionists; kids have all kinds of sex that does not require face-to-face "I can look you in the eyes without shame" unions. We are a society that lacks intimacy. I've heard some post-modernists insist David and Jonathan were gay, along with such characters as Frodo and Sam in "Lord of the Rings". No they weren't. We live in a time where such depth of commitment between two people of the same sex seems strange unless it's also sexual.

Believers want to praise God, but grow restless when the worship gets intense and the atmosphere changes. God is too near for comfort. We read in the New Testament of the love and unity within the primitive Church, yet we struggle to recreate that same reality in our modern churches and fellowships.

Our Christian marriages, which are supposed to refract the love, unity and intimacy that exists within the Trinity, thereby giving the unsaved a small, but tangible example of life within the Godhead's family, fall so desperately short of that glory. We go as often as unbelievers into divorce courts.

Many believers live like orphans--wandering from church to church, relationship to relationship--broken, sad, fearful. They seem continually offended and stay out of sorts with their brethren over small matters. They live far beneath their status as God's adopted royalty.

I was adopted here on earth. An older couple welcomed me into their lives after the dad of my underage birth mother signed me away.They gave me a new name, a new identity, and a loving home.

I met my birth mother twenty-eight years later, and we remain good friends today. However, I am aware that if I had stayed in her environment, I would not be a writer today nor would I have entered the broadcasting profession. Please don't misunderstand; I'm not belittling my natural mother's situation. From her genes, I have an inner strength to persevere and survive.

God orchestrated my adoption, placing me into the home of a woman who had a great love for the English language and theater. Early on, she introduced me to many activities that thrust me in front of the public. As much as I dreaded piano and dance recitals, God was shaping me for my calling. In school, I served on the newspaper staff and joined the journalism and drama clubs.

Being transferred out of Adam and into Christ removes the limitations of the natural man; living in the Kingdom gives us the right opportunities and cultivation to fulfill our potential in character and Christian service.

My first mother named me April because I was born in that month. My adoptive mother changed it to Mary Diane. We are all given earthly names that define something about us, honor someone important in the family tree, or represent a favorite of the parents--from celebrities, athletes or creation. (I had friends named "Sky" and "Star".)

On the other hand, when we finally see our Heavenly Father face to face, the Bible says each of us will have a new name known only to us...so perfectly suited because no one knows us like Father God. (Revelation 2:17)

Not all earthly adoptions in this fallen world have happy endings, but God cannot be anything but a good parent.

"Don't bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn't a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate?

"As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing. You're at least decent to your own children. So don't you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?" (Matthew 7:9-11 Message Bible)

God neither abuses nor abandons His children. He is not unpredictable or moody. He keeps His promises.

Understand that He chose to create you before the foundation of the world. God--who sees the past, present, and future simultaneously--saw you in Christ (Ephesians 1:4). He did not favor you based on your earthly appearance, performance, or value to man--you had yet to be born! You were just passionately, extravagantly, unconditionally loved.

Man, however, decides there is something about you to love (usually fleeting), and then chooses to want you. God's love is just the opposite--He chose you without you doing anything to earn His love.

I was placed into the arms of a couple that already loved me. Actually, they said "yes" over the phone. They were good friends with the doctor who delivered me. My birth mother's father wanted to take care of the matter quickly and quietly, so the doctor personally placed the call and the paperwork followed days later.

Blessed to grow up in an affirming, affectionate home, I was never made to feel different or inferior. God won't do that to you, either. He will never bring up your background and use it against you! There is always a forward-facing seat around His table.

Let's say you're running late for a much-anticipated family reunion at a restaurant. You walk in to a hearty reception and discover an empty seat waiting just for you. You didn't have to call ahead and beg your father to save you a place; you didn't journey anxiously to the restaurant wondering if there will really be a seat. You are secure in your relationship with your Father. Unfeigned love assures you that what was promised will be done.

"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" (Romans 8:14-15 NLT)

The Aramaic word "Abba" is translated best as "Daddy". Does the thought of this kind of closeness with God seem strange and uncomfortable to you? Yet, this is the kind of relationship He desires.

Take a few moments and honestly confront yourself. What has robbed you of this remarkable closeness with your Heavenly Father? He is eager to heal and deliver you from whatever keeps Him at a painful distance from all aspects of your life.

"The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ...: (Romans 8:16, 17a KJV)

A joint-heir doesn't split the inheritance 50/50; it's shared together as One-without keeping score, without counting. Whatever Christ has is also fully yours!

"But when the right time came, God sent his Son who was born of a woman and lived under the law. God did this so he could buy freedom for those who were under the law and so we could become his children.

"Since you are God's children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and the Spirit cries out, "Father (Abba)". "So now you are not a slave; you are God's child, and God will give you the blessing he promised, because you are his child." (Galatians 4:4-7)

In the second grade, our assignment was to learn how to tell time. I just wasn't grasping the concept. Our teacher informed us that we had a week to review. By Friday, each student would be required to stand up and tell time based on where she moved the big and little hands on the teaching clock.

Such fear gripped me that I just shut down and didn't try to learn. Mom put me to bed on Thursday night as usual, but I tossed as the thought of the test loomed over me. Finally, I crept out of bed and noticed the light still on in daddy's makeshift office. I heard his old hand-pulled calculator cranking away as he worked on the bills for his business. I slowly made my way up the steps and stood there for a long time. Stopping for a moment, he caught me out of the corner of his eye.

"Doodles, what are you doing up? It's way past your bedtime."

I burst into tears. "Daddy," I cried, "I can't tell time! I can't tell time!"

It was already late. Daddy had worked all day as an electrician and still had a batch of statements on his desk. Nevertheless, he called me over and swept the paperwork to the side. I guess maybe an hour passed...I'm not sure (Remember, I couldn't tell). However, when I crawled out of his lap, I knew how to tell time.

Please continue with Part 2

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