God’s Work For Us Versus In Us

In the grade exchange, Jesus does the work and we get the credit. He studies; we succeed. This is called justifying grace, where God works for us. However, there is another kind of grace that takes place when God begins to work in us. This is called sanctifying grace, where God indwells his people in the person of the Holy Spirit and produces from within them the fruit of new life.

In Galatians 5 we read about what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” He is referring to the virtues that begin to be displayed in the lives of those who have experienced the grade exchange—fruit such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, etc. This fruit is evidence that these folks now have the indwelling presence of God in their lives, the Holy Spirit. As they continue to believe who they are in Jesus (newly minted A+ students), the Spirit flows like sap in their lives to produce fruit, as if from a vine into a branch. This is how God works in us. We could say that as grace becomes the internal, spiritual life-blood of the believer, fruit begins to grow. That is the dynamic of grace.

If someone wants to intentionally reject following Jesus in practical ways, he reveals that he really has not understood grace in the first place. He probably has experienced nothing more than religion, which doesn’t have the power to transform anyone at a deep level, especially not the motives of the heart.

If someone intentionally rejects following Jesus in practical ways, he really has not understood grace in the first place.

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This is because there are essentially two ways to motivate change—one is by fear and shame, the other is by love and grace. When I have been loved, it compels love in return. So, if I have no desire to love Jesus through following his ways and will, it reveals that I really do not know what it means to be loved by Jesus.

In 2 Corinthians 5:14, Paul said that he had a new motivation that was driving his life. No longer was he compelled to follow God out of fear or shame, but rather because of the love and grace of Jesus. Paul now wanted to serve and love the Savior—not out of guilt or duty, but out of gladness and joy. As John said, “We love him because he first loved us.”

Therefore, the way to experience life change is not to beat the horse harder in order to get more obedience out of it. The solution is to go back to understanding how God has worked for us. When we begin to get it and believe it, God will begin to work in us. Not only will we see new fruit, but also, we will begin craving it. In this light, both justification and sanctification are all of grace, and both serve to magnify the greatness and glory of God.

The Gospel is Not a Second Chance nor a Clean Slate

After we have made the grade exchange through repentance and faith, what now? This is where true Christianity often gets derailed. If you have ever heard anyone say that in salvation God “gives you a clean slate” or “a second chance” then you know what I am talking about.

When we experience the grade exchange, God does not give us a clean slate or a second chance. I cannot be more emphatic about this. What he gives us is far better!

      Get A+ for an F as a FREE Download       Just click on the image

Remember, the grade exchange does not just wipe away our bad score (ie, forgive our sins). It gives us a new score—a perfect score (i.e., the righteousness of Jesus). This means that our “slate” is not clean—it is full of the righteous obedience and moral merit of Jesus that he has credited to us through faith.  It is a slate that can never be erased. God has written his indelible grace in the indelible ink of Jesus’ blood.

When folks speak of God giving us a second chance, the idea is that he has forgiven us for failing the exam the first time, but now requires us to retake the exam. In this model of Christianity, we essentially are told to try harder and do better the next time. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to need more that a second try. In fact, there is no chance for me if all I get is a second chance—or even a third, or fourth, or fifth, etc.

“Second Chance Theology” leads to either self-righteous pride for those who are able to look religiously respectable on the outside (Phariseeism), self-righteous despair for those who keep failing to keep the rules, or flat out rebellion. The problem with second chance Christianity is that it leaves grace at the door like an umbrella on a rainy day. But grace is not just for initial the grade exchange. It is for living every moment after the exchange takes place.

This means that the “what now” of the grade exchange is to keep living in the shadow of the cross where I can be perpetually mindful of my new status as an A+ student in the eyes of God.

The problem with second chance Christianity is that it leaves grace at the door like an umbrella on a rainy day.

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Did I earn that status? No. Do I deserve that status? No. Do I have it? YES! This is to the glory of God’s grace. For He is praised not by my abilities, but by His gifts. And the ultimate gift is the new status before God that I possess through the person of Jesus that leads to knowing God as Father.

Some people have compared the Christian life to a dance. It is really a simple dance. Not easy, just simple. Kinda like a two-step.

The first step is to take the step of repentance. Keep taking your failures to Jesus.

The second step is faith. Keep receiving his record of righteousness as your own by faith. Then keep it going. Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right, etc. But as you dance, don’t look at your feet. Keep your eyes on Jesus!

At this point, many will ask, “Okay, if I am saved by sheer grace, then why should I now obey God? If I no longer must take the exam for my grade, why not skip class?” These are great questions! To answer them, it will help us to distinguish between the work of God for us and the work of God in us.

We'll address that in the next post.

The 70 Million Dollar Word

Good interpretation matters.

In 1980, 18-year-old Willie Ramirez was admitted to a Florida hospital in a comatose state. His friends and family attempted to describe his condition to the paramedics and doctors who treated him, but Willie's family didn't speak English.  They spoke Spanish and told the hospital staff with great urgency that Willie was intoxicado.

The word is what professional translators like Nataly Kelly call a "false friend," as the word doesn't mean what you'd assume it means.

The doctors asked a hospital staff person to translate for the Ramirez family. The staff worker told the physicians that Willie was "intoxicated." 

Assuming the problem was alcohol or drug related, the doctors treated him as if he were suffering from a drug overdose.

It is so dangerous to assume.

In Spanish, to be intoxicado is to be poisoned.  

Tragically, Willie was misdiagnosed and, because of the wrong course of treatment, became a quadriplegic. The hospital finally settled in court with the Ramirez family for $71 million.

Yep, good interpretation matters. 

It matters in the hospital and when reading and teaching the Bible.

If you'd like to learn more about biblical interpretation, you may access the one-page Rules of the Road guide to 12 essential principles of interpretation that will help you and others better understand how to understand and apply the Scriptures.

Good interpretation matters. In 1980, 18-year-old Willie Ramirez was admitted to a Florida hospital in a comatose state. His friends and family attempted to describe his condition to the paramedics and doctors who treated him, but Willie's family didn't speak English.  They spoke Spanish and told the hospital staff with great urgency that Willie was … Continue reading The 70 Million Dollar Word

The Grade Exchange

In our last post, we discovered that God requires perfection. But we have all failed the test... and miserably.

But there is hope!

This hope is what I call grade exchange.

Here is how it works.

I fail the exam and Jesus makes a perfect score. As the grades are being handed out, Jesus stands up and makes an offer to the class.


Anyone who made an F is invited to come forward and exchange that grade for the perfect score achieved by Jesus. If I will make the exchange, in God’s record book, my grade will be changed forever. The result is that my status changes from unrighteous to righteous, from condemned to justified[1], from an object of wrath, to an object of mercy, from an orphan to a son. I will no longer have to live in fear of God as a judge, but can know him as a good, wise, trustworthy, strong and loving Father. 

This Father’s love for his children is such that he cannot love me more, even if I do good things, and He will not love me less, even if I do bad things. It is a perfect, complete, eternal love that will not ever, ever let me go—regardless of my past, present or future performance.

So how do we make this exchange? There are only two steps in the process.

First, we take our F to Jesus. This is what we call repentance. We simply admit our failing grade and acknowledge the consequences that it deserves. We confess not only our rebellious sins (the stuff we know is wrong), but also our religious sins (the stuff that think is good and feeds our prideful self-righteousness).  

Second, we receive Jesus’ perfect score as our own. This is what we call faith. Faith is not just believing that there is a God or that Jesus was a real person who lived, died and rose again. Gospel faith believes that Jesus‘ record is now my record.

This exchange is what we call a gift, or grace. It is not deserved and cannot be earned. We can think of it as charity (after all, our English word charity comes from the Greek word that means grace, charis). In that light, we can say that every Christian is a charity case! This is because, in the gospel, rather than achieve for God, we receive from God. Period.

Of course, this entire picture defies religion. That is why Christianity is not religion in the sense that we expect it to be. We are not saved by our works and effort, but by the works and effort of Jesus for us, and now can affirm Romans 8:1 with full confidence, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!”

After we have made the grade exchange through repentance and faith, what now? This is where true Christianity often gets derailed. If you have ever heard anyone say that in salvation God “gives you a clean slate” or “a second chance,” then you know what I am talking about.

We'll address that hot potato tomorrow in the next post. 

[1]  To be justified is to be declared by God, as if in a court of law, to be seen “just as if I’d” never sinned and “just as if I’d” done everything right. It is a legal term that denotes a new legal status.  

Hope for Disconnected Disciples

With the virtual extinction of telephone land lines, the most common form of communication now is via cell phone. While certain cell service providers are more reliable than others, everyone has experienced the dreaded “dropped call.”

To get disconnected is so frustrating.

But it also can be dangerous. In a health emergency. A serious traffic accident. A dropped call can be a life or death situation.

In 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Paul is addressing the danger of being a disconnected disciple. Not disconnected on a phone call, but the danger of the disconnection we may experience between what we say we believe and how we actually live.

For example:

  • I may say that God is my Father, but I live fearful and anxious, like an orphan.
  • I may say my Father is sovereign, wise, and good, but I worry, effectively denying his sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness.
  • I may say I am saved by grace, but live like I have to keep myself in good standing in the Kingdom. I live by own striving to perform well enough rather than by the performance of Jesus for me.
  • I may say I’m free but live under the feeling of condemnation.
  • I may say that Jesus is my Lord and Leader whom I follow, but I live as if my peers, the love of money, a need for success or the taste of sinful, soul destroying lusts are my true Lord… my true love.

It is this last disconnect that was pervasive in Corinth.

Before we go further, I want to be clear about something fundamental. According to the Bible, it is not our morality that puts a sinner in a right, reconciled relationship with God as Father. It is a right, reconciled relationship with God as Father that influences our morality. We may be saved unto a new life; but we are not saved by living a new life. We are saved by the life Jesus lived for us.

We may be saved unto a new life, but we are not saved by living a new life. We are saved by the life Jesus lived for us.

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Consequently, if there is a moral disconnect in my life, the problem is a faith disconnect.

Maybe that describes you. You don’t need me to convince you that your life is largely disconnected from God. The good news is that there is hope for the disconnected disciple. There is a light at the end of the tunnel of this post.

Paul reveals this light first by diagnosing the Corinthian’s disconnect with a history lesson, going back to the time of Moses around 1,450 B.C.

The first thing he shows us is that mere participation in religious activities does not equal heart transformation.

1 Cor. 10:1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.[1]  

 Moses is the Old Testament Christ-figure through whom the Lord delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt through the parting of the Red Sea and across the Sinai peninsula to the promised land in Palestine. The cloud was representative of God’s presence to lead the people. When the cloud stopped, they stopped. When the cloud moved on, they moved on with it.

They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

Paul is setting us up for a shocking revelation. The Israelites had eaten the manna in the desert and witnessed the miracle of water gushing from a rock to quench the thirst of thousands upon thousands. Here is the shocker.

Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.


Just because they had participated in these events did not mean that their hearts—their true affections—had been changed from sin-lovers to God-lovers. They actually loved comfort and security more than what the Lord had planned for them. They didn’t want to endure the difficulty of the desert and didn’t believe that the Lord had something better planned if they would just trust him.[2]

They were spiritually disconnected.[3]

Paul now applies the lessons from Israel’s past to the present.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they didDo not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.”

The “pagan revelry” of which Paul speaks refers to the infamous Golden Calf incident in Exodus 32.  While Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving instructions for how to lead the people and shape them as a community, the Israelites broke out into pagan worship, which often was characterized by drunkenness and sexual immorality, much like the fertility religions of the people surrounding them.

When Moses came down from the presence of the Lord on the mountain to witness the party that was going on in the valley, Moses’s brother Aaron explained, “You know the people, that they are set on evil.”[4]

Not much has changed.

The same sexual temptations were present in Corinth. In fact, Corinth was home to the Temple of Aphrodite, which housed a large number of female prostitutes. Visiting the temple for “religious services” was not only commonplace but  socially acceptable.

Yet we no longer need temples to access sexual immorality and experience the damage it does to the self, the one abused, and to the families impacted.

Paul is teaching the Corinthians and us that how I actually live reveals what I truly believe. How I actually live shows me what my true god is—where I truly find the source of my life. That is what an idol is. Not a statute, but anything we believe will satisfy the soul apart from Jesus.

However, the satisfaction temptation offers does not lead to life. It leads to death.

Therefore, because Paul loves this church, he exhorts them in verses 8-10.

8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.  9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.  10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

This sounds so severe, until we realize that the opposite of love is to let someone continue down a path that will destroy themselves, their family, or others. This is why the discipline the Lord enforced upon this generation of Israelites was severe but purposeful. Because there wasn’t only one generation.

They older generation had children. To protect the next generation, the Lord had to eradicate the influence of the first generation in order to teach the next generation critical lessons about the dangers of setting our hearts on things that look like they will satisfy us, but in reality will poison us.

Again, these events were not just for the Israelites, but for future generations of believers, like the Corinthians and like us.

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!  

If we are presuming that because we are on the roll or participate in a church activity that our hearts are transformed, we may be deceiving ourselves.

13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. But God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.

Here is why you can bear it.

13b But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

Resistance is not about my strength to withstand the temptation, but the opportunity God gives to put me in a place where I am protected from temptation.

The issue is not whether or not I will face the dangerous, poison barbed lure of temptation, but whether I will trust the Father enough to take the way out and stand upon the rock of safety and protection that we read about in  Romans 5:1-2, where Paul writes,

"1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand."

HERE IS THE POINT. No temptation can reach me or overpower me when I’m standing in that place of grace, consciously believing that I have been declared by God to be right with God, reconciled, forgiven and beloved—all through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. When I am standing there, temptation cannot overpower me because I am protected as the Spirit fills me, establishing my feet on the rock of God’s mercy.

So, what have we learned?

  1. We’ve learned that mere participation in religious activities does not equal heart transformation. Sunday gatherings, Bible studies, discipleship groups are all valuable and vital means of grace. But do not be deceived into thinking that mere participation without faith connected equals heart transformation. Heart transformation is demonstrated by the second take-away.
  2. We’ve learned that how I actually live reveals what I truly believe. You’ve heard it said that actions are louder than words. I suppose that is true. With our spiritual lives. In marriage. In the workplace. Wherever. How I actually live reveals what I truly believe.
  3. Finally, we have learned that discipleship is not about one big decision, but involves 1,000 mini-decisions… as we are faced with temptation after temptation. While there is a first time that we actually become a disciple of Jesus by receiving the forgiving grace of God and we say “Yes, Jesus, I receive you as my Savior and Lord!” It is at that point we receive justification, where we have a new status and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. That we cannot lose. We are a disciple  of Jesus and connected with God through union with Christ. But it is that union that we continue to live out of moment by moment, day by day so that discipleship is not something that we primarily look back upon for a decision we made, but we look right now where we are, taking the next step, and the next and the next as we follow Jesus’s lead—his Lordship. Not just in a first decision, but in thousands of mini-decisions that follow.

Jana Goetz had one of those mini-decisions to make. But the implications were anything but mini. It was her first day on the job as a nurse at a new clinic. One of her patients was an 18-month old little boy who had been brought in by his mother for a routine immunization.

After administering the injection, the doctor came in to discuss the next steps with the mother. As Jana recorded the vaccination on the file, she realized a mistake. She had given the infant the wrong vaccine.

A mistake like this could potentially harm her career. But worse, it could harm the child! Or maybe the child would be okay. But if the error were discovered, the physician would think her incompetent. She may never work as a nurse again.

Jana was facing just one of a thousand mini-discipleship decisions. The deeper issue wasn’t, could she get away with it, but what would Jesus have her do in this moment? As his disciple, her calling was to love well. To love this little boy and his mother well. Even if it meant denying herself and revealing the mistake.

In that moment, she decided to abide in Jesus as her righteousness rather than her reputation or career… and walked back in the room and informed the physician.

Thankfully, the vaccine posed no threat to the child. He would be okay. And she would keep her job, having learned a valuable lesson about living what she truly believed. [5] In that moment, she was living a connected life, and it made all the difference. 

But she still could have lost her job. 

Like Jana’s experience shows us, everyday discipleship decisions can be brutally difficult.

This certainly was true for Jesus.

If you remember, right out of the gate after the inauguration of his earthly ministry, while in the midst of a 40-day fast in the desert by himself, Jesus faced intensive temptations by Satan. Throughout his life on earth Jesus faced a variety of tests over and over again, culminating in the final decision to willingly be executed as a sin-substitute.

We are just like the Israelites in the desert. We deserve the judgment that came upon them.

But rather than suffering judgement for our own sins, Jesus suffered it for us on a tree, which we know as the cross. This is the gospel we are called to believe.

Being spiritually disconnected from God is the result of my failure to believe this gospel. If that is the case, then being reconnected is about re-believing the gospel—re-believing that I am connected because Jesus was disconnected in my place.

As far as God is concerned, he will never drop the call.

As Hebrews 4:14-16 says,

14   Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. [Hold firmly to our connection to the Father through Jesus15   For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16   Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. [In our time of temptation

If now is your time of need, then go now, in prayer to that throne of grace, believing that, because of the shed blood of Jesus, his mercy and his grace awaits.

[1] To be baptized into Moses was to be identified with Moses and included in the rescued community.

[2] Eventually, they would rebel against Moses, demanding to go back to Egypt, because there they could have Danishes for breakfast and Pizza for dinner.

[3] Richard L. Pratt Jr, I & II Corinthians, vol. 7, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 163. “Five times in four verses (10:1–4) he mentioned that “all” of the Israelites shared these common experiences. All the Israelites were joined together in their experiences of God’s grace, just as all the Corinthians were joined together in their experiences of Christian baptism and the Lord’s supper.”

[4] Gen 32:22

[5] Dave Goetz,