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  1. A steward is one who is given something provided by another for the purpose of management and use, a fiduciary who keeps the best interests and goals of the owner in mind at all times. As His redeemed child, I am expected to implement His gifts of the Spirit that have been entrusted to me to be used for His benefit, His purposes, His glory in building His kingdom and ministering to His people. They are not meant for my benefits, purposes, or glory – although proper use of them will powerfully enhance my own life. To employ them wisely and profitably, we can't rely on our own judgment, but have to rely on the Spirit's leading and power...Holy Spirit wisdom, not human wisdom!
  2. All gifts from God share the common denominator of originating from His love. Charis and charisma particularly share the concept of grace gifts of favor. I loosely see charis as His grace freely given for my benefit of redemption, salvation, and eternal security. That differs from the specific spiritual gifts of charisma freely bestowed on me for the benefit of others as He builds the Body of Christ. We reflect our love for Him and His love for all people as we follow His example of being generous with grace. As we obey the Spirit’s lead, God uses our spiritual gifts as conduits, or channels, to pour out His grace on others. It all boils down to love!
  3. I think the idea of boldly approaching the LORD’s very throne is intimidating because we truly know we aren’t worthy and this is a place of uncompromising truth. We may see His throne as a place of legal sentencing rather than the place of compassion. We expect judgment because we don’t understand how He sees the redeemed through the worthiness of Christ and welcomes us into His presence with open arms when we come with simple honest faith. Or perhaps we just can’t grasp that it is a personal individual promise from our Father who profoundly cares. Maybe we struggle to believe and fully trust that this invitation is for “me”, not just a general one for “the whole world”. And then, we experience so much judgment and failure of human character (including our own) in the natural world that it can be difficult to trust this invitation to expect mercy. I think I’ve wrestled with all of these barriers at some point. God’s throne is where we come to the King with our praises and our petitions, our confessions and our concerns. So this is the place where grace and mercy reside and are poured out. We are invited to come boldly, not in a timid or unbelieving way. We are assured in His Word that we can come with confidence that Father wants us to run to Him with our needs in full confidence that He cares and longs to help, trusting His perfect wisdom to know exactly the right thing to do for our ultimate good. “Father, let Your will be done on earth as in heaven”. Just as our Father's will to dispense mercy and grace is done from His throne, His home, our homes should be places to pour out grace on others as we reflect His character with wisdom and mercy.
  4. One of my "anchor Scriptures" is I am sure of this, the He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). And Romans 8:38-39 has always given me strength and assurance that there is absolutely nothing in all creation that can separate me from the love of God. That love is the wellspring of His grace, mercy, favor, kindness, and every promise He has made. I am grateful for the multitude of assurances in the New Testament that He has provided to constantly remind our weak, wandering, doubtful hearts that He will see us through all the difficulties of this life and the challenges of growing in Christ to reach the glorious end when all His promises are fully manifested. This includes the security of salvation. Nothing we face can change the hope of His Word!
  5. Maintaining and strengthening our faith in who Christ is and in all the promises and provisions God has made for us is our part in the miracle of salvation. God does everything else required, from start to finish. We don’t deserve such generous love and mercy. There is nothing we can do to qualify for it with our self-efforts and works. And yet He has held nothing back and offers redemption and relationship freely to all humanity. That is the very definition of grace.
  6. The heart and mind of natural man has no understanding of the degenerate corruption and deceit that is innate to us. We are spiritually dead in our trespasses (Ephesians 2:1), unable to make spiritual decisions. It is impossible for humanity to comprehend our unrighteousness before holy God without the work of the Spirit when He enlightens our mind to truth. He alone is capable of convincing us of sin and our guilt before God that requires humble repentance. He alone has the power to tug the heart toward truth and lead a person toward conviction that leads to salvation and spiritual life (Ephesians 2:5). For me, the mystery is how He alone can accomplish this, yet every human has been given the responsibility of making the choice. The Body of Christ is called to do our part in living out the grace of the gospel before others and sharing the message of salvation. But the Holy Spirit alone is capable bestowing that glorious undeserved and unmerited favor on the human soul.
  7. It is because of God’s grace to mankind that He predetermined (predestined) the certain outcome for those who place their faith in His plan of redemption. Humanity does not deserve and cannot earn a single blessing named in Ephesians 1:3-14 : every spiritual blessing in heavenly places chosen by God to be made holy and blameless before Him adoption by the Father through Christ redemption and forgiveness of our trespasses an eternal inheritance seal of the Holy Spirit to guarantee our inheritance until we acquire possession of it These are promises of grace, not worth or works. In love He predestined us...to the praise of His glorious grace with which He has blessed us in the Beloved. [Ephesians 1:6] The Greek word meaning indicates something divine and splendid that is worthy of glory, honor, and praise. Such grace as this can be called nothing less than glorious!
  8. I believe that God predestined the outcome for all who respond to the gift of redemption with faith and, conversely, the outcome for all who reject that gift of grace. As Alpha and Omega, God has full omniscience and foreknowledge of the entire timeline of humanity’s existence past, present, and future. He knows reality before it becomes real. With that knowledge, He foreordained these resulting outcomes of the 2 choices every person must decide between. But I don’t find anything in Scripture to say that He forces either choice on anyone through His knowledge or predestination of the outcome of that choice. It certainly is a profound mystery to us, but what I can understand from 1Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9b is that God longs that all people would come to repentance and be saved. He doesn’t create anyone apart from His desire that each be saved from sin’s consequences. Ezekiel 18:23,32; and 33:11 describe His heartbreak over the spiritual death of every person who does not turn to Him. He is always at work through His Spirit to draw people to Him. Every person has the responsibility to willingly respond to His calling with faith in His grace. That choice of authentic faith is then followed by growing into and living out the good works of the new life in Christ that He predestined and intends for His children on our new journey through this life. There are so many concepts here that relate to each other and have connections that I don’t pretend to have one nice, tidy answer. I simply trust the Lord’s expressed desire that all would be saved and continue to pray for those who haven’t yet responded to His grace. KRISSI, I want to offer encouragement for your statement I want to know if God answers prayers for the salvation of others. 1Timothy2:1,3-4 holds an answer for us. Paul urged believers to pray for all people with supplications and intercessions. He said "This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth". Keep praying!
  9. God is at work within His children (sanctification), and we are to yield and work that out into our lives. The Spirit’s presence within me as a believer is constantly at work to develop the character of Christ in me. My responsibility is to submit to His work and starve out my carnal nature so that Christ lives in an ever greater way that is manifested in the way I think, speak, and behave – to outwardly work out the new character He has put within me. We aren’t called to works for securing our salvation, which is clearly something only God can accomplish. We’re called to the work of living out that salvation in doing the good works God has prepared for all His children as a Body and for each individual child within that Body. It’s a lifelong process that is mostly painful and slow because it's hard to die to self, but a process filled with rich purpose! Only God can judge the heart, but if there is never discernible outward evidence of this process, then there is no evidence of a genuine faith in Christ that is required to receive the grace of redemption and salvation. Sadly, such a person is living in deadly deception.
  10. I like Pastor Ralph’s phrasing that God is always reaching out to sinful man to “influence without coercion”. The entire miracle of conversion from unbelief to faith involves His outreach. He uses the circumstances of our lives, orchestrates encounters with Truth, sends people into a life at just the right time with a message of conviction or hope - to show us our need and draw us to Him. His Spirit is always at work to convict us of our sin and reveal its consequences (John 16:8). That revelation is key to receiving the faith to put one’s complete trust in Christ for salvation. And yet that decision can only be made by individual free-will choice, never by compulsion.
  11. The central message of the gospel is that there is no way for sinful humanity to make ourselves acceptable to God with attempts to be righteous through our works and self-effort rather than through faith in what He has already done to provide a righteous cover and pardon for us. That cover and pardon were eternally secured on the cross, as the innocent blood of Jesus was offered in our place for atonement and redemption. This truth is distorted by the worldly view of humanism (from subtle satanic influence) that elevates man to supremacy over God at its core, thinking that we are capable of defining what is virtuous and guiltless as well as how to attain it. (I like Pastor Ralph’s labels of “works-righteousness” and “gift-righteousness”.) I think our God-given responsibility to choose (or, as most people say, our “right to choose”) has been corrupted into a self-centered mindset that elevates mankind into his own god who thinks we can define our own version and method of securing righteousness by our works, which is humanistic and utterly futile. Our pride in self is a barrier to the humility required to acknowledge our sin and transgression before God, confess our need for redemption, and accept the gift of the righteousness of Christ that God has provided for us through the cross and empty tomb of Jesus. Understanding grace changes everything. Once we grasp the truth that we are corrupt and unholy by nature with no capacity to make ourselves good enough for God’s forgiveness, we are finally in a position to discern the truth and value of His merciful grace. He provided what is impossible for us to do – pardon and redemption – and it is freely given but can only be gained by faith. Thank You, thank You Jesus!
  12. The grace and favor of God has secured rescue for humanity from the consequences of our rebellion and rejection of Him - our transgressions, iniquities, and sins that separate us from Him. Like every other person in this world, I was born with a deadened spirit that is naturally set on what I think and want and feel. The mind, will, and emotions are all components of human make-up where, by default, we're all completely susceptible to the influences of the current ruler of the earth, the enemy of God, satan. So I could not be accepted by God in that state of unholiness and impurity. I was personally doomed to stand before Him one day to answer for my life without a shred of acceptable defense that would set aside the rightful judgment and sentence that I was due. A death sentence was hanging over me with a situation that was hopeless and impossible for me to change. BUT GOD, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved me, even when I was dead in my trespasses, made me alive together with Christ – by grace. (from Eph.2:4-5) God sent the only One who was worthy and capable of standing in my place, taking all of my sin upon Himself and bearing my spiritual death sentence of judgment – but with the purity to conquer it. Jesus came to redeem and rescue me. Before I came to understand and fully accept that, I was doomed to eternal separation from God. But the very moment I made this decision, I was fully pardoned for eternity! There’s nothing in me that deserves that or could have earned it. This miracle is truly an outright gift of God’s love and merciful grace.
  13. Jesus bled out His sinless innocent blood as the final and complete sacrifice for our sin and guilt. He was and is the only One qualified to stand in the place of another in the face of the Father’s rightful judgment of sin. Jesus came as our spotless perfect Lamb for the very purpose of this sacrifice. This act was the fulfillment of the picture of animal sacrifice prescribed in detail by Yahweh when He ordained the rituals of atonement in His covenant with the Jewish people, where blameless blood was shed in place of the guilty. As individuals, man had to repeatedly offer the innocent blood of a lamb to symbolically cover personal sin. But God sent His own pure innocent Lamb to accept that responsibility for us in a way we never could – once for all, the final comprehensive atonement. (And I think this ritual of atonement was a picture for man that was entirely modeled on what Jesus already knew He would come to do in the future to permanently make atonement for humanity.) The Father accepted this willing sacrifice made by His Lamb to stand in our place of punishment and conquer the penalty of death. And now He mercifully offers that holy sacrifice to all humanity as the one and only way to be redeemed from the consequences of our sins and transgressions, both on earth and for eternity. What incomprehensible love and amazing grace! “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain; He washed it white as snow.... Oh praise the One who paid my debt, And raised this life up from the dead!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWPC4clWLbQ
  14. From the very beginning of Scripture, the record is clear that after the fall of Adam and Eve into rebellion and rejection of God’s Word to them, all humanity has inherited the resulting corruption of God’s image in us. God is certainly not corrupt, but His image in mankind is now utterly distorted and tainted with our depravity. We’re born with a spiritual deadness to Him, which can only leave us with deceitful hearts and a wretched sinful inner nature. Sin is our natural default, and there is no rescue or deliverance apart from the loving grace of God manifested in our Redeemer.
  15. No one can be rich enough to buy or earn your way into salvation and the reward of heaven. This extremely rich ruler looked like he had it all and should deserve such reward because of that. He had certainly been blessed according to earthly terms, and he was very pious in keeping Jewish law. He was surely the envy of many people. But like the religious leaders of the day, he completely missed the true path to salvation that required faith. He never grasped a main purpose of the Law - to reveal God's perfect character and the utter lack of human ability to live up to it, thus leading one to humility and recognition of the need for a Savior. His heart and reliance were set on worldly treasures, positions, and piety. To those listening to Jesus’ answer to such a man, the frightful question arose that if he wasn’t guaranteed heaven then who could expect to get there? Jesus’ answer was simple and to the point – heaven is an impossible goal though human effort and can only be gained by the absolute miracle of God’s grace and mercy. And that grace at work in our lives will change our desires and perspectives. Worldly possessions and comforts will not be our primary treasure and hope for heaven any more. Jesus exposed the ruler’s superficial carnal heart with the suggestion that he sell all his possessions and give it to the poor. But he was completely reliant on position, possessions, and self-effort in keeping the law.
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