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Spiritual Training Cycle: Surrender (wk. 1/13)

Happy New Year! No doubt, many of you have already begun to put plans into action for some new things this year. Whether that’s a new eating program, gym rhythm, or Bible plan, January is the perfect time to start something new. And our Building Spiritual Fitness devotional is getting an upgrade as well, beginning with our spiritual training cycles. Just like strength cycles help you grow physically, this year you’ll have four training cycles to help you grow spiritually, one each quarter. A Building Spiritual fitness training cycle is made up of three key components. The first is a spiritual concept. This is where you grow in your understanding of major concepts taught in Scripture. Next is a spiritual exercise. Here, you’ll learn how to apply practices which have been around since the early church. Finally, is a spiritual need. These are the kinds of real-world things you need to do to experience the most life has to offer. We’re kicking off the year with our first training cycle on surrender, beginning with the spiritual concept of grace.

“God’s grace is repulsive.” I’ll be honest with you, the first time I heard my seminary professor utter those words, I was bewildered. Given that they’ve provided the same shock value for you they did for me, let me explain. Let’s begin with American culture. Whether you realize it or not, you live in a performance reward society. Trust fund babies aside, the way people earn a living is by working for it. Your performance brings rewards, and it also brings merits. In our gym, we use a software platform that tracks performance over time. When the system recognizes an athlete’s performance is better than it was, they are rewarded with a trophy. I’m not gonna lie, I love getting those trophies. That silly little digital icon is the result of sometimes more than a year of consistent hard work. Like the Smith Barney commercial from the 80’s slightly paraphrased, we get trophies the old-fashioned way – we earn them.

But not God’s grace. Grace isn’t a trophy to be earned, it’s a gift from God to be enjoyed. It’s not based on performance; it’s simply given through God’s presence. And I’ll prove it to you. In the Gospel of Luke is an account of Jesus’ crucifixion. On each side of Jesus hung a criminal, who were both being crucified. Just before Jesus dies, one criminal says to Him, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43). This is the grace of God.

When Jesus spoke those words, God’s grace saved the thief from a lifetime of eternal separation and instead welcomed him home into Heaven. This is what’s known as salvation or redemption. The very grace saving missionaries into Heaven is the same grace saving murderers. See why it might feel repulsive? Because that’s not really fair, is it? Not in our performance reward culture it isn’t. A murderer’s reward couldn’t be spending a life with Jesus. And yet it is. God’s redeeming grace is a mystery I don’t think we’ll ever fully understand until we’re reunited with Jesus, and He explains it to us.

But the thief missed out. Because God’s grace isn’t just redeeming, it’s refining. It’s how we live our best life here and now. I have a good friend who’s been through some difficult things in his life, things he brought upon himself by his actions. But when he received God’s gift of grace, it changed him from the inside out. He became a completely new person, full of life and truth. In fact, it’s hard to believe he could have ever been such a bad person. The thief missed his chance to have God refine His life. This is why grace is hardly repulsive. In fact, I think it’s incredibly attractive. The closer we grow to God the more we want to know who He is. It’s His grace that draws us in. And we need that grace don’t we. Because the truth is the more God refines us, the more painful the process becomes. Those deep seeded feelings of jealousy or bitterness or inadequacy or fear don’t just rise to the top on their own. God draws them out as He draws us in. But His grace is sufficient, even if we’re never able to fully let those things go.

Questions for Reflection:

Do you think God’s grace is a free gift with nothing expected in return?

Does it seem fair to you that a murderer and a missionary can both go to Heaven by the same grace of God? How would you explain that to someone else?

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