July 1, 2010

Living By Grace as Disciples and Disciple Makers

By Jonathan MusvosviFor if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10).* In this verse Paul reminds us that all of us at one time were enemies with God. We were born alienated from Him, without hope, antagonistic toward God. But God, through His grace, made reconciliation possible.

This grace, which God poured out to rebellious, undeserving sinners, restores broken relationships and transforms the relationship of hostile parties into relationships of peace. God was willing to come down to our level, and now we are at peace with Him again.

How Did God Do It?
In Romans 5:9 Paul tells us that we have been justified. What does that mean? It means that He dismissed all our wrongs. He declared us innocent by absorbing all our sins. Now we can stand in His sight as though we had never sinned. It’s a solemn thought to know that in spite of our past, God holds nothing against us. He holds no lingering grudges.

2010 1524 page18Grace restores broken relationships. What makes God’s grace so amazing is that God initiated this process while we were still enemies with Him.

The concept of grace was known in ancient Greek culture. Yet grace was never given to an enemy, only to friends. “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

One of the reasons grace is so amazing is that it targets God’s enemies. It embraces those who undermine His purposes. In fact, God’s deepest desire is to be reconciled with His foes. God is willing to go to any length to achieve this reconciliation. Isn’t that what Christ demonstrated when He died on the cross for our sins?

Once we have been touched by grace, this Christlike thinking takes possession of us. Our deepest desire will be to be reconciled, not just with God but with our fellow humans.

Patti Davis, daughter of the former United States president Ronald Reagan, explained how her father impressed her with this Christlike thinking. After the attempt on his life in 1981, Reagan told his daughter while he was recovering in the hospital that he believed his physical healing was directly related to his ability to forgive John Hinckley, Jr., the would-be assassin.

I don’t know how much Christian experience controlled Reagan’s life. But I have a question: Doesn’t Christ demand the same spirit from His disciples? What should be our attitude toward our enemies?

GC link devotionalsListen to the words of Jesus to His disciples: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). This is a difficult thing to do.

But first, who is my enemy? My enemy is that individual who undermines my purposes and authority, one who plots my downfall, spreads false allegations, and brings my name into disrepute. My natural reaction is that of hostility. Yet Christ says I must pray for my enemy.

Let me speak from personal experience: Many times after praying for someone I have a difficult relationship with, I find myself picking up the phone and initiating a conversation with that person. When you pray for your enemy, be ready for God to tell you He wants you to initiate the process of reconciliation. Prayer changes me. It allows the Spirit of God to work on my attitudes. Don’t look for changes in the other person; look for changes within yourself. If no change seems to come, keep praying.

Who Takes the Initiative?
This brings us to another important question: Who should take the initiative?

What happened when Onesimus heard the gospel of salvation preached by Paul? Didn’t he take the initiative and travel a journey of 1,000 miles to reconcile with his former master, Philemon? Some of us don’t have to take such a long journey. It may be just a phone call away.

But there must be willingness to come down—come down from pride, come down from thinking we are right, abandoning our desire to get even. This can be costly to our egos, but we can come down because Christ came down to His enemies.

Christ demands that those who seek His grace, those who have tasted His goodness and mercy, should take the initiative to reconcile with their foes. Notice Christ’s words: “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23, 24).

Notice who takes the initiative: It is those who are seeking God’s grace, those who are reconciled to Him.

Let’s Make It Personal
If the Spirit of God is at work in your life, He places the burden of responsibility on you to extend that reconciliation to others.

2010 1524 page18On the eve of my wedding in 1984, just two days before the event, I traveled by bus to my fiancée’s home, where the wedding was to take place. The gentleman sitting next to me on the bus lit up a cigarette and began to smoke. There were no laws against smoking in public then. I kindly asked the man to refrain from smoking.

“Who are you to tell me not to smoke?” he challenged me.

I stood up and moved to the aisle. The guy stood up and blew smoke into my face. “I’m going to fix you,” he said. I felt like punching him, but I restrained myself.

When the bus arrived at my destination, I disembarked and went to my fiancée’s house. A few minutes after I arrived, there was a knock at the door. When the door was opened, guess who came in?

My wife’s sisters jumped up in excitement. “Welcome, cousin! Thanks for coming to the wedding.”

I pretended I didn’t remember that he was the guy I almost fought on the bus. He also pretended that he didn’t remember me. Who was right and who was wrong didn’t really matter. More important was the relationship between us. With both of us related to someone we both loved, we forgot the past. We hugged each other and began a new relationship.

Is there someone you need to embrace? Someone you need to make peace with?

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9).

*Verses in this article are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright ” 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.

Jonathan Musvosvi, pastor, Chiremba East District (with 8 churches), Harare, Zimbabwe