What is distressing to you right now? What is causing you stress? It could be a lingering illness, the shaky economy, joblessness, or spending the holidays with your extended family. How easy it is to succumb to discouragement and depression and to lose hope. How does the Lord strengthen us to face the distressing and discouraging moments and events of our lives?
John Calvin counsels us: “Let us learn to be so delighted with Jesus Christ alone, that the perception of His grace may overcome, and at length remove from us all the distresses of the flesh.”
One way of delighting in Jesus like this is to know and experience the riches of His grace. Let us attempt to parse out in more detail the riches of God’s grace that are set forth in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.
First of all, we have been given new hearts and new lives. II Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” God takes away our hard, stony, and darkened hearts. He then replaces it with a heart of flesh, a heart that is soft and tender towards the Lord.
Secondly, we have received a new record. 2 Corinthians 5:21 states, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Yet some of you may continue to be distressed over a pervasive sense of guilt that you still have about your past or present sin. A guilty conscience can be a terrifying horror.
When you are in distress over your sin, call to mind the counsel of Martin Luther to a monk in distress over his sins: “Learn to know Christ and him crucified. Learn to sing to him and say ‘Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours. You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not’” (Letters of Spiritual Counsel).
Thirdly, we have received new power. 2 Corinthians 1:22 reminds us what God has done for us: He has sealed us and “given us the Spirit as a pledge” (5:5).
We all struggle with a sense of loneliness and powerlessness. Listen to how Martin Luther in his commentary on Galatians shows how the Spirit empowers us to face all that threatens us: “The Law scolds us, sin screams at us, death thunders at us, the devil roars at us. In the midst of the clamor, the Spirit of Christ cries in our hearts: ‘Abba, Father.’” (Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians).
Fourthly, we have received new peace. 2 Corinthians 5:18 tells us, “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” Reconciliation implies a broken relationship. Reconciliation takes place when two estranged parties are brought back into a harmonious relationship through the efforts of a mediator.
Have you ever felt the sting of being rejected, alienated or estranged? Because of sin, we were alienated and estranged from God. We were God’s enemies and now we are His friends because of the work of our mediator. We are no longer separated, but are restored to full fellowship with our King and Lord.
The next time you find yourself distressing over a disappointment or adverse circumstance, heed Calvin’s counsel and deliberately choose to delight in Jesus by recalling the riches of His amazing grace: a new life, a new record, a new power, and a new peace.