“Grace will expose things you want to deny but won’t leave you in despair, filling you with new found hope and courage. When we hide and deny our sin, we’re not defending the gospel. No, we’re contradicting its central message. Our sin and weakness don’t mock the message of the gospel. No, they confirm the necessity of the gospel….Grace will require you to face your wrongs but won’t leave you condemned, granting you complete forgiveness; complete and eternal forgiveness… Grace will show you what a mess you are, then clean up your mess with divine, transforming power.” Paul David Tripp
Not too long ago, my daughter and I stripped some furniture of its old tired paint, sanding it down and getting below the surface. It was a slow process, scraping and peeling away layers built up over time. But once done, the wood beneath was exposed and the process of transforming a worn-out piece of furniture into a fresh, new creation was underway. The end result brought great delight!
Our hearts and lives are sometimes like that. While there are various experiences, choices, and decisions that create beauty, richness, and strength that increases with time, there are also those that create layer upon layer of pain, weariness, and self focused striving and choices that wear upon our souls. What is really needed is a tearing away, stripping down to the core to restore the loveliness of life and the strong beauty found in one grounded in Christ and living according to His will not our own.
When, in the course of making decisions in our lives, we base them on our deceitful hearts, choosing what “seems right” to us and what we allow ourselves to believe will enhance us and fulfill the longings we crave, we begin to form layers that detract from delight. Rather than enrich and develop the God designed beauty for our lives, the consequences will start to bleed out and that which we found so attractive in the beginning will lead to lives faded, cracked, chipped, and in dire need of a restoration.
Our choices have also, at times, led to an infection of our souls leaving us drained and afraid. Continuing in the same pattern with an occasional cessation is like putting a band aid on a injury that is highly infected and needs to be cut away. At those times, there is much pain in opening those wounds and allowing the contamination to seep out so healing can begin; but to get to the root so that our souls and relationships can be restored, sometimes pain is a necessary part of the heart repair.
So, too, there are times the Lord must bring pain to our lives in order to open our eyes to the truth of what our choices are doing to us and to those around us. Out of His great love for His children, He chips away at our layers and even, at times, must lance the destructive contagion warring on our hearts. It is not comfortable and we can sometimes assume that it is an external force causing our pain rather than the loving hand of the Father disciplining and calling us to return.
It is His grace – so rich and so full, so much more than we often allow to penetrate our deepest sins and injuries. Yes, it is the gift undeserved freeing us from the penalty of sin, paid for by the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and by His resurrection, defeating ultimate death! But, if we stop there, we miss out on so much. It is as if we open a gift bag, take out the first thing we see, and never look below the paper to the myriad of treasures beneath.
His grace “exposes us” and allows us to see the depth of need so we can truly understand the great gift we, who are in Christ, have received. But it goes beyond a mere exchange of guilt to empowering us and freeing us, with the “same power that raised Jesus from the dead” (Ephesians 1:18-20, Romans 8:11-14), to live new lives, to give “hope and courage,” to walk not according to our sin-layered desires but according to the will and heart of God where true joy and true freedom are found.
Hidden sin gains power over our soul in darkness, but it is not benign. It does far more damage than we dare to believe for we begin to think deeds done in secret have no consequences.
The enemy of our souls wants to keep our “layers” out of the light of truth and transparency; to make us fear that if we are “known” we will not be loved. That same enemy, the “roaring lion (who is) ready to devour” (I Peter 5:8), tells us that we either can’t change or don’t need to, that we are able to “handle” our rebellion against God’s design; and he perverts grace by telling us that, because of it, we are free to choose and do as we please without consequences. He seeks to convince us that we are free to step outside God’s protective boundaries also known as His wisdom and His commands. It is the same lie spoken long ago in the garden; the lie that says we can “be like God” and lures us to question without seeking the true answer to: “Did God really say…?”
But, if we grab hold of His grace, we can know what God has spoken! And if we trust God, who knows us intimately and has called us by name, we realize that He has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) and we have the Truth found by abiding in Him and in His Word alone! Not long before His time on earth was done, Jesus asked the Father to “Sanctify them (that would include His redeemed children today) by the Truth; Your Word is truth.” (John 17:17) His Word is part of His grace to us – His gift so that we can know!
For the follower of Christ to say we are unable to break free, to exercise self-control, to act apart from our sin nature is to call God a liar and deny the power that raised Jesus from the dead. For if He has set commands before us for His praise, the good of those we love, and our own good, then He has also provided all we need to increasingly live them out faithfully including taking steps towards mutual accountability.
We may choose to ignore it or distort it to fit our purposes or desires, but if we are a child of God, His Spirit will not allow us to stay layered in darkness. By His grace, He will confront us, making us restless and uncomfortable in order to bring light into the dark places, causing us to relinquish control and follow His design. If necessary, He may remove something that blocks our view of Him and of His truth. He delights to see His children, even if we come limping home; He runs to us and embraces us as we are, in humility setting our brokenness before Him.
But, if we choose to ignore His promptings or seek to stay in the shadows of our choices, out of His great love for us, He may allow further pain or cause another to see our need for change and repentance, prompting them to “speak the truth in love” for the purpose of restoration. Whatever it takes to peel away the layers of sin that are hiding the magnificence of His design for us, He will do. He loves us that much. He desires an undivided heart and relationship with Him and He will accomplish it!
His pursuit is His tender mercy! His intent is to re-establish our footsteps and again set us on the course He designed for us, that we might boldly and securely live out and reflect Him not only in our outward lives that people see but in the secret places of our hearts, in the hidden places where we have, at times, compromised truth. It is for His glory and our greatest joy!
“God is working on something deep, necessary, and eternal. If he was not working on this, He would not be faithful to His promises to you…Because He loves you, He will willingly interrupt or compromise your momentary happiness in order to accomplish one more step in the process of rescue and transformation, which He is unshakably committed to.” (Paul David Tripp)
“Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For He wounds, but He also binds up; He injures, but His hands also heal.” Job 5:17-18
And grace heals relationships as well; it teaches us and equips us to love and forgive and it allows us to receive that same love and forgiveness. Grace enables us to know and be known so that in this journey we travel – one sinner among a world of sinners – we can give that healing and transforming grace. We can forgive where others have wounded us, intentionally or unintentionally, because we know we have been forgiven much by the Savior. We can speak into lives that are being crushed by the deceitfulness of sin and unwise choices because we know His grace is more than able to heal, bringing much needed transformation and the peace that is so deeply desired because we have been lifted up by that grace!
And, even more deeply, in marriage, where two sinners have chosen to live as one both in body and soul, by grace we can each remove the protective veil over our hearts and lives and the layers that at times obscure transparency, allowing the very depth of who we are and what we do to be seen. In God’s grace and in humble growing reliance on His control, we can be vulnerable with one another, knowing we will still be loved and, through Him, we will walk together and grow in the strength and unity of that grace that is still in the process of forgiving, healing, and transforming us as individuals and as a couple into the likeness of Himself. We grow in our delight of each other as we grow in our delight of His grace!
We can bend our knee. We can lay down our layers unafraid and unashamed because His grace is far more amazing than we realize and exceedingly more powerful than we can imagine! His tender mercies expose us so that His love can transform us and the joy that comes from that transparent fresh start will be delightfully palpable!
“But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that becomes visible is light. This is why it is said:“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:13,14