The recipient in the Book of Revelation picked up this message and passed it onto the inhabitants of the world:
“Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” (Revelation 14:12-13).
Faith and Deeds go hand in hand to reach the Promised Land
Grace has two shoes: faith and deeds that helped me believe and serve Christ for over ninety-one plus years. I learned that grace is a human characteristic, when practiced, grace will result in gracious reciprocations. Man is not heartless, even sinners tend to be gracious to those in need. The grace in man is the evidence that God the Spirit is still present and active in the world. Deeds of grace practiced in this life earn rewards in this life and beyond. Jesus gave us some profound examples how Grace shall be rewarded.
John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name; and we forbade him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward” (Mark 9:38-41).
Then the King will say to those at his right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we do all these things?” And the king will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:34-40).
The nobleman recognized and rewarded the productive servants with higher tasks turned his attention to the one who did nothing with his pound. He too came to the nobleman and said, “Lord,here is your pound, which I kept laid away in a napkin; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man; you take up what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow.” He (the Lord) said to him, “I condemn you out of your own mouth, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? Why did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I should have collected it with interest?” And the nobleman said to those who stood by, “Take the pound from him, and give it to him who has the ten pounds.” And the bystanders said to him, “Lord, he has ten pounds!” The Lord answered, “I tell you, that to every one who has will be given more; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me” (Luke 19:20-27).
Living in Grace is living in the care of Christ
Grace is best seen in the fruits of the Spirit we need to live in this world (Galatians 5:23-24). That means to me, that I lived constantly under the tutelage and pruning of the Spirit of Christ. I have been a lifelong disciple and student of Jesus my Lord and my Teacher. Yet, I still feel that I am only a beginner. The field of grace in which we live, move, and have our being is far too huge to finish the smallest task in a lifetime of one person. I am immeasurably grateful for having had a chance to serve my Savior, who has repeatedly added years to my life and kept in His Vineyard. There is no greater privilege than being a dispenser of grace.
“I am the true vine, and my Father the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that bears fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already made clean by the world which I have spoken to you. Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy be in you, and that your joy may be full.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another” (John 15:1-17).
To keep up with Christ requires much pruning
We have a row of grapes that looked great but not in the eyes of pruners. Friends, who know how to treat vine plants, came and cut off everything that was in the way of bearing grapes and left standing bare skeletons. A year later, the vine was beautiful, healthy, and productive. In a way, my spiritual life has been like that. I too tried to look impressive in the eyes of men. To do so, I let unnecessary foliage and dry wood cover me up and cut off the good branches, which I needed to carry my own cross and not be an extra burden to our Lord ( Matthew 10:38; 16;24; Luke 9:23; 14:27). While Jesus was a human being, He too required help from Simon of Cyrene to carry His Cross (Mark 15:21). I too had many people assist me in carrying my cross and so must I be on hand for them. We are cross-burden bearers and administers of God’s Redemptive Grace to our fellow human beings. The apostle Paul offered these words to guide us:
“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if any one thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each man will have to bear his own load. Let him whois taught the word share all good things with him who teaches.
“Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from his flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:1-10).
Grace as a Burden Bearer was not appealing
Most of my fellow ministers were sold on being “saved by grace” without human efforts. But in their sermons, they turned their people into burden bearers and do gooders. I felt that I was not understanding Jesus and his followers right, who were told that they would face harsh and violent opposition in the world (John 15:18-27). To build a treasury fit for heaven here on earth was extremely difficult (Matthew 6:19-21; Luke 12:32-34). Luke and Mark understood what Jesus expected his servant would do to earn merits in heaven. The parables do remind me of my life and my family’s life. We lost everything earthly during World War II, and then when we had built a nest-egg for our old age, and when our children were in trouble, we gave up everything without being paid to help them. Their lives and needs were more important to us than our own.
And Jesus told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! Tonight your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21).
And as Jesus was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And the man said to Jesus, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell all that you have, and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions (Mark 10:17-22)
What was Jesus looking for in Peter, and in all his servants?
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Did Peter understand what Jesus wanted? I do not think he did and it took me a lifetime to realize it. The lectures and sermons I listened to and preached myself were about loving God and not about putting the disciples first. Would Peter have understood if Jesus would have said, “Peter, do you love these (ten disciples) more than me?” I think that Peter would still have answered, “Lord, you know that I love you”, and Jesus still would have said, “Feed my lambs, Tend my sheep, Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-19). Like Peter, we too try to love God and Christ more than our fellowmen and even ourselves. It sounds noble and religious but it deters us from helping other human beings in need. The apostles James and John had that problem.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if any one is a hearer of the world and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and preserves, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doling. If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the father is this: to visiting orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:22-27).
“By this we know love, that he (Christ) laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for our brethren. But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in words or speech but indeed and in truth” (I John 3:16-18).
We love, because he (Christ) first loved us. If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him (Jesus), that nhe who loves God should love his brother also (first) (I John 4:19-21).
Luke gave us a glimpse of what Peter was like when Jesus was about to hand over his disciple to him. It was at Jesus last meal that He told his followers one of them would hand him over to be killed. The disciple quarreled over who would run the new kingdom and Jesus had to warn Peter (Luke 22:14-34).
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen my brethren.” And Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you three times deny that you know me” (Luke 22:31-34).
Peter did deny three times that he knew Jesus, he did repent, and briefly led the believers in Jerusalem (Luke 22:54-62; Acts 1-6). James, brother of Jesus, took over the leadership and Peter was sent out to places where the new way was gaining converts. The Lord had a serious bout with Peter over admitting Nicodemus and people into the kingdom of heaven, and forced him to walk in the “Shoes of Grace” to open the doors of the kingdom to the Gentiles (Acts 10, 15). When Peter stepped into the “Shoes of Grace,” he lost his narrow eyesight and saw other nationalities and races as God’s children. That has happened to many of Jesus’ followers, and I have been handed over ninety-one years to become one of them. I do remember the words of Paul:
“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we are imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (I Corinthians 9:25-27).