His Without Reserve

 Flying from the East Coast of the United States to the West Coast, we can look down on an unscrolling landscape. Green gradually gives way to the tans of the plains and the grayish tones of the open prairies. Suddenly mountains appear, then desert, then more mountains. Finally the descent. Most air travelers don't give much time to gazing out their windows. They nap, nibble on peanuts, read, visit, or watch a movie. The ground beneath them holds no interest.

Tourists traveling west in the United States in the mid-20th century usually traveled by car. The children could see the transition from the corn fields of Illinois and Iowa to the large cattle ranches and wheat fields of Nebraska and Kansas. As miles passed, and the landscape became more boring, father would say, "Who's going to be first to see the mountains?" After a while, if weather conditions were right, someone in the car would announce, "I see them!" and sure enough, those 14,000-foot peaks of Colorado were coming into view, stretching like a marching army from south to north.

A silent feature of this part of the trip was the imperceptible rise in elevation from 500-600 feet at the Mississippi River to about 4,500 feet as the mountains came into sight.

The Highway of Holiness Slopes Upward

How like the Christian's travel on the Highway of Holiness! As we commit our ways to the Lord and make Him our Guide in all things, we and He set out on our journey "west," beginning where we are and growing in grace day by day, seeking to become complete in Christ. His completeness is found in the upper reaches of that tall mountain in the distance. We learn from our Guide that every step along the way contributes to our character development. We are not to concern ourselves with other Christians who are ahead of us and have attained higher elevations. And we certainly must not entertain the idea of renting a limousine to speed us on to higher ground. Why not? Because we learn all along the way. We gain experience in handling temptations and trials that we would miss if we rush ahead of our Guide to the Front Range. We are growing. And we help those around us who are faint-hearted and discouraged with the trip over nearly empty land.

Growth Occurs by Imitating Christ

Our growing in Christ begins with commitment-holiness. This is a desire and a choice to set ourselves apart from the philosophies of the world in order to be wholly at God's disposal. In such an environment we gain knowledge about God and his ways. This day-by-day nourishment, which produces the characteristics of Christ within, is also called holiness. In this way the Highway of Holiness leads us from the banks of the "Mississippi River," where we were baptized and arose to walk in newness of life, on westward toward the high elevations described in Scripture as "Christ in you, the hope of glory."

In our kingdom life we heard Jesus say: Do you see how I pray for My enemies? I want you to imitate Me. Pray for your enemies as I pray for mine.

Jesus has also directed us to forgive those who have wronged us as He forgives us. This is much harder than praying for them. Just the same, He says, If you don't forgive those who have wronged you, your Father in heaven will not forgive you. Harsh as this sounds, it is simply a natural consequence of our new citizenship. We will think and behave as the King does. Forgiving is a family trait.

Traveling westward on the Highway of Holiness, we obey His commands to add many new virtues to our developing Christian characters: "love mercy," "do justly," "walk humbly." And He asks our permission: Let Me replace your aggressiveness with meekness and your hunger for pleasure with a hunger for righteousness. Before long we can notice a difference in our mood, for joy unbounded is lifting our spirits.

As we proceed at a speed-a growth rate-just right for us, we notice that from time to time a small white sign with black lettering appears beside the road: "Elevation 1,000 feet," then, a hundred miles or so farther along "Elevation 2,000 feet." And so on. We are climbing, aren't we? Our Guide interrupts our musings: "As I have loved you, love one another," He says. We practice and we grow, becoming more and more like Him through the combination of our daily consecration and His gifts of grace and power.

As we compare notes with others in our company, we discover that a transformation (Romans 12:2) is taking place in all of us. Our seasons of prayer together contain fewer requests for what we want our Heavenly Father to do for us and more for divine direction about what we can do for Him. We do not pray now solely "Give us this day our daily bread," but "Teach us how to take Jesus, the Bread of Life, and feed others." Among ourselves we do not hear each other pray "Guide me on my career path" but rather "Lead me in paths of righteousness for Your name's sake." We see happily that we are becoming like Christ, Who did not look for ease or prestige but only that each day He would carry out His Father's will and in so doing, glorify Him.

Energizers of Our Salvation-Love, Mercy, and Grace

Our aim, as recipients of salvation, is first to allow God to work out His will for us so that His nature is restored in us. Second, we are to share the qualities, the characteristics, of His nature in society in order to vindicate His government and to increase the territory of His kingdom. Of course, we cannot share what we don't have.

Among the many personal character traits of our heavenly Redeemer, three stand out: love, mercy, and grace. They differ from such traits as steadfastness and self-control (2 Peter 1:5-7) in that they are directly involved in our salvation. Paul brought these three together as he described the plan for our salvation:

"God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:4-8, emphasis supplied).

"Mercy" means pity, compassion, a readiness to relieve pain or ill fortune. Jesus told the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35) to illustrate sinful mankind's refusal to grant mercy to another and God's gracious mercy toward us who deserve punishment. At the end of this story the servant was cast into jail. This parable closes with another of the kingdom's "as" statements: "So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart" (vs. 35). Without mercy there is no redemption.

"Love" (agape) means possessing a mind-set that honors others above oneself and that desires what is best for them, regardless of the personal cost. God wants what is best for us so much that He gave His only Son to restore our connection to Himself. The cost-He emptied heaven-was immeasurable. Without love there is no sacrifice.

"Grace" is a motivating force founded in God's mind-set of love and mercy. It is His "unlimited, all-inclusive, transforming love toward sinful men and women; and the good news" about this force. "It is not merely God's mercy and willingness to forgive, it is an active, energizing, transforming power to save." (1) Without grace there is no salvation,

Grace means two things. It means God's attitude of mercy, and it means what He did because of His attitude. In mercy and love, He pitied our lost condition and decided to do something about it. That was grace in His heart. And what He did was dramatic-He gave us His Son. That was grace, the gift of salvation. That was grace in action. We not only have received the news of His decision to freely save us; we have received the glorious gift of redemption and re-instatement. "Grace" (charis) means "gift."

'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home." (2)

To know these spiritual facts is to increase in the knowledge of God. As Paul was praying for the saints at Philippi, he underlined the significance of having such knowledge: "This is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God" (Phil. 1:9-11; see also Eph. 4:13-15). To assimilate these spiritual facts is to possess the gift of salvation.

Freely You Have Received; Freely Give

Like the swimmer delivered from the angry surf by a watchful life guard, we often are so glad to be rescued from the steely arms of Satan that we, like the rescued swimmer, rush to warmth and safety never thinking to thank the guard, and certainly we don't think to enroll in the Red Cross Lifeguarding Course so we can rescue others.

We have received the gift of grace. God through Christ has graced us. It's a family trait, so it becomes our trait too.

Often God is not able to deliver a gift to someone who does not know Him. That unreached neighbor doesn't recognize God when He arrives at her heart's door, and she turns Him away. But she knows us. So God gives us the care package that He has prepared for her. To give to another person what God has for her sends holy pleasure coursing through our whole being. This spiritual transaction- using our gift of perceptive grace to know and to do-is the highest of all human privileges. It employs the gift of love that God has given us. It demonstrates that we have assimilated the godly concept that every gift is to be used to bless others. It keeps us from becoming bloated with spiritual benefits. It models God's character.

When we receive and employ this amazing gift of grace, we are able to see more clearly the condition of people around us. As God saw our condition and acted, so we are to act to benefit others, giving them our "unmerited favor," that is, what they do not deserve. For us to use the gift of grace is to demonstrate that we have the heart of Christ. We observe needs that others do not see. We press forward to serve those who lack, despite their unawareness of their need. Acting toward others as God in Christ has acted toward us demonstrates that grace is a pass-through virtue, flowing from God to us and then on to others. It demonstrates that we have chosen to be complete in Christ.

What we have received we are to give. "Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received" (1 Peter 4:10). In this text both "grace" and "gift" are from chairo). It could read: "Like good stewards of the manifold free gift of God, serve one another with whatever free gift each of you has received." We delight in sharing the grace of God with others because such Christlikeness brings glory to God. And from us the delight spreads. "Yes, everything is for your sake," wrote Paul, "so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God (2 Cor. 4:15).

By now, in our trek westward, we have reached the Front Range of the mighty Rocky Mountains. Elevation: 5,280 feet. There's a climb ahead. We have been prepared for the climb by developing the characteristics God has recommended and the strength training we have received. Each of us has his or her own mountain to climb. (Colorado alone has 55 mountains with elevations of more than 14,000 feet.) (4) We may choose whichever one we want. After all, it's not reaching the summit that matters. It's how well we climb-how well we emulate our Savior.

Holiness Hungers for Grace; Holiness Longs to Glorify God

The call to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy has taught us to surrender ourselves completely to Him daily as a living sacrifice. Holiness has taught us that we may be transformed by the remodeling of our inner sanctuary. Holiness has taught us consecration and purity. Now holiness is teaching us that giving what we receive from Heaven is more blessed than to receive, for when we give as God has given to us, we become like Him. We are actually partakers of the His divine nature. Christ is in us, and we are in Him.

"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ [by His grace], and has given us the ministry of reconciliation [gracing others]; . . .and [is] entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors ["gracers"] for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:18-21).

All this so our Heavenly Father's reputation may be enhanced and His kingdom advanced until Christ comes to take us home!

Glory to God!