When Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect: Biblical Garden of Love Intro, Part 1
Yesterday I was convicted by something. I’ve been attending a ladies Bible study and we just started a study on peacemaking put out by Peacemaker Ministries: Living the Gospel in Relationships with Tara Barthel. I can already tell this study will be life-changing and heart-convicting.
I have a confession to make. I am a kinesthetic learner, and because of that I really like lists. I get an amazing satisfaction checking things off my to-do lists. I like practical applications. I am a practice-makes-perfect kind-of gal, struggling with letting go of my perfectionism and turning things over to God. I like being able to do something in response to what I’m reading. This is why I include practical advice at the end of each of my posts and include a question or two in bold. But as Barthel said in the video we watched yesterday, “All the training on Biblical peacemaking in the world will never enable us to forgive. We must first remember who God is and what He has done before we ever try to change.”
There’s something I needed to remember, something we need to remember: all the marriage talks, conversations with friends, sermons we hear, self-help books we read, training we receive, singing, “Change my heart, oh God” a million times, blogs we glance through and five steps we complete aren’t going to enable us to love our spouses more, to seek God more, to get us over our depression and anxiety, or to change our hearts. God is!
“If we could be good enough, we would have no need for a Savior… We cannot add to God’s sacrifice. We deserve Hell and God gives us life – not because of what we do but because God is a saving God!” (Barthel).
“You were dead in your transgressions and sins…” (Ephesians 2:1)
Dead! Dead as a doornail! “Can’t get any more powerless than dead” (Barthel).
“…Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath…” (Ephesians 2:3)
God’s wrath and judgment poured out on us because of our sinful nature. We deserved Hell!
“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy (and grace), made us alive with Christ…” (Ephesians 2:4-5)
Because of who God is and what Christ has done – the Gospel – we are alive!
“…God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms…” (Ephesians 2:6)
We have been given a position of honor and glory; we are joint heirs with Christ [Romans 8:17].
“…in order that in the coming ages, He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God – not by works, so no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:7-9).
God’s grace cannot compare to anyone or anything else! It is His grace and kindness that saves us, nothing we do, nothing we can do, nothing we will ever be able to do. It’s all God-God-God!
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
Because of who God is and what God has done, we are able to respond to others with grace, mercy, and love. We are able to live lives of love and respect toward our spouses. We are able to be right with God! It is God that equips us to do good works in the name of Christ Jesus; it is Christ who has paid the penalty for our sins and taken our death upon Himself so that we might be in right standing with God again; it is the Holy Spirit who moves and works in our lives empowering us to respond to the world around us.
“What we ought to do, what we should do, how we ought to live our lives” – that’s the law of God and “...the law is good when it is used properly, but only the Gospel changes our hearts” (Barthel). Barthel defines Gospel as “the entire redemptive finished work of God,” not just the four gospels in the Bible, not just a nice little Easter story… God’s redemptive and completely finished work in its entirety.
I know that today was supposed to be Walk Down Memory Lane Wednesday, but I felt this message was most important. And it’s a good lead-in to the weeks to come. We can’t learn anything from the Biblical garden of love recap if God doesn’t change our hearts and thus inspire our actions. There’s nothing inherently wrong with check-lists, with practical applications, with the Law. But if our hearts aren’t in the right place, if we don’t truly change, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13, without love, everything is meaningless.
The only thing that I’d encourage you to do today is to spend time with your Savior and allow God to change your heart with His Gospel!
If nothing else, take this away from this post: We cannot do anything or change anything about and within ourselves without God who pours out His love upon us through the sacrifice of His Son, Christ Jesus, and through the healing power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives!