All posts by dax

Grace. Dangerous Stuff.

I ran across a wonderful and relatively extensive (for an internet post) treatment of the grace of the Gospel today. Here’s a quote:

Christians at their worst–and I know some, because I am one–are constantly making excuses and explanations for grace, as if stories like the Prodigal Son, the Lost Sheep and the conversion of Saul could cause a lot of trouble if not balanced out with various lists of commandments and duties. When obedience is paraded around like the final point of the Bible–and in many churches of diverse persuasions, that is EXACTLY what happens–we’ve lost our way badly. Living out some evangelical version of what it means to be “good Christians,” we wind up not being floored by sovereign grace, and therefore, not resembling people who are “Jesus people” at all.

It’s by the late Michael Spencer, at The Internet Monk. Read the whole thing.


Well… ok, one post on Ecclesiastes.

What a marvelous train wreck of a Bible book! I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, but in a worshipful one. It is this way because it takes my life, and the things that I naturally and normally value, and it one by one rips them away from my grasping fingers.

Pleasure? Fleeting. Wisdom? Huh. Like it matters. Achievement? You’ll be forgotten, and soon. Time? Justice? Can’t control either one. Merit? Worth nothing. Riches? Rusting, and you’re a pauper anyway. Death? Certain and without escape, no matter how ‘good’ you’ve been. Fool? Yes, that’s you.

When I act in a certain way in order to get longer life, or reward outside of the deed itself… my self-righteousness is exposed, and my actions worthless.

Despair would rule supreme in this world of absurd meaninglessness… were it not for the reality of an outside meaning, an outside rescuer, a kingdom that was not this world.

“Who will save me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Thank you, Lord, for giving us this wise book that shatters our little dreams, to drive us to more in you. Thank you that Jesus is our everything, and that you love us even though we fill our lives with self-righteous striving. Forgive us, Father, and help us to grow up in Jesus Christ.

Garments of Joy

The heart of the Christian is a new heart, made that way by the Holy Spirit in union with Jesus Christ. Our lives are now about a response to that incredible grace that has spilled over onto our lives. That relationship births joy and freedom.

The reason that it births joy and freedom are not because joy and freedom are a duty, just as the way our relationship with Christ births good works are not because good works are a duty. The Christian life is internal heart change rather than conformity to a code; therefore our activities reflect this intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic reward.

Another way to say this is that there can be disobedient obedience. Jesus teaches this in Matthew 22. The king gives a wedding feast for his son (Hmm… who might that be?!)… and those invited wouldn’t come (or worse), so he had his servants invite all they could find.

Here’s what happened (Matthew 22:10-14):

10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

A couple of key observations: first, the bad and the good came. They all obeyed in an external sense. Second, the man singled out for destruction is not identified as ‘the bad;’ rather, he is singled out because he had no wedding garment.

This is not the lack of a tuxedo. You didn’t have to have an expensive garment on to celebrate a wedding. What you had to have was something celebratory… ribbon or flowers or something that reflected you were celebrating.

The king kicked out the one who didn’t have an intrinsic response to the wedding. Obedience without heart, if you will.

This is more important to Christianity than we often think. We are constantly bombarded by calls to “do.” And we are motivated often not by an intrinsic response to our relationship with God, but by an extrinsic reward/punishment concept. This is because we misunderstand righteousness – as if it were an external thing, some external behavior, instead of primarily a heart response that is reflected in action.

This is why justification and sanctification are so linked, why both are a daily walk, and both are upheld by our union with Jesus Christ. When I act in a way motivated by what it gets me… that’s self-interest… and it pulls me away from the Gospel.

When I act in a way that responds to what I’ve been given… that’s self-forgetfulness… and it shines forth the Gospel.

Bearing fruit includes… is perhaps primarily… heart motivation, where our bent towards self-orientation instead bends by the wonder of the Spirit to God- and other-orientation. Miraculous for such twisted creatures as we are.

That’s the wonder of the new creation… and the amazing truth that we are in a new kingdom, with a new heart, united to the only Savior.


What’s Grace?

From Mark Galli, editor of Christianity Today:

Grace is not a principle… making a new law. Grace is not a feeling or an experience… Grace is not a power, like electricity…

Grace is an eschatological reality.

Really like how we get glimpses of what will be as we see grace worked out in our lives.

The Hero

Jesus Christ is our Hero.

That’s the Gospel, really. We must not be ashamed of it.

Righteousness, holiness, blamelessness, life. All given by Jesus. Our life in union with Him.

We hear this and we leap for joy and we agree. And then we look at the world.

The world does work a certain way. If you would like to get better at free throws, shoot a thousand or two or ten. If you would like to be a better reader, read a lot. If you would like to know a lot about a subject, study it with diligence.

From there it is only a small leap to… if you want to be closer to God, work at it. If you want to have a relationship with God, spend time at it. Utilize means of grace – bible study, prayer, fasting, etc. – to increase your spiritual position, your spiritual relationship, your standing with God.

You even can give this work you do to improve your relationship with God a further spiritual veneer. You can say that you are empowered or enabled by the Holy Spirit, so that even though it is your work and effort, all the glory goes to God. And then you can go back to working to improve your standing.

Here’s the problem: saying that doesn’t make it true.

Know this: Christianity doesn’t work like the world. Your relationship with God is based on Jesus Christ’s faithfulness, not your own. We are united to Jesus Christ, given his righteousness, and stand only by trusting him.

Our entire Christian life is a growing awareness and impact of Jesus Christ as the hero. Not you, not me. If your prayer time or your bible study or your body buffeting helps that awareness… go for it. If you are instead centrally aimed at personal improvement, making yourself acceptable, or some other reason that keeps you at the center… you are missing the mark.

Since this is so unlike the world, we are constantly pressured to slip back into thinking that it is up to us (with some impersonal enabling) to keep our relationship strong with God. Yet our relationship with God is based on our trust in Christ, who he is and what he has done. Not on us.

If you are thankful to Jesus for conversion and think the goal of your life is now to make yourself better… come back and read Romans again. Read John. Read Ephesians. Read Galatians. Soak in the reality, echoed in page after page, that Jesus is the hero. The goal of your life is to believe it. You will improve, because he has given you the Holy Spirit, as you work to trust in the Gospel – the good news that insists you live and breathe only in His righteousness.

Even the last line of Romans echoes this thought: “to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” (Romans 16:27). See that? Through Jesus… not you.

The Bible does have much good instruction. You will be convicted to read and pray and wonder and worship… flowing from the humble, grateful reality that Jesus is the center, not you. Note that all that behavior is downstream from the settled reality that your relationship with God is solid, secure, and unbreakable through trust in Christ alone.

May God be glorified through Jesus. May we hide in Him. May we, in all our imperfections in this life, trust in His righteousness and rejoice in the fruit that we bear in the Spirit of Christ.

Jesus Christ is our Hero.

Hoping for what we have


“For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness” (Galatians 5:5).

Fantastic truth. I like how Tim Keller puts it, in Galatians For You:

Instead of striving for righteousness — an effort which is doomed to failure — Paul encourages the Galatians to simply ‘await… the righteousness for which we hope.’… Paul says that we simply await this righteousness. We don’t work or strive for it. We know it is coming, on its way. So we can wait eagerly, rather than anxiously.

What is it that we await? Righteousness means more than goodness; it is a completely right record and right relationship with God. Paul is saying that we can live today in light of our certain, guaranteed, future glorification and be welcomed by God into His arms, because we know that ‘since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.'”

It seems that in large part our spiritual discipline is to keep this righteousness at the forefront — the righteousness that is only in Christ, that is alien to us, that pushes us to live a life of hope in which we bear fruit. This is the gospel that frees us from both the guilt and slavery of sin, from both the condemnation and motivation to sin. May we daily, hourly, moment-by-moment be overwhelmed by it in gratitude and humility!

Well Put…

From a 2005 sermon by the inimitable John Piper:

“In all of its negative effects this is where the law was leading — to Christ. The law was not leading from self-dependent law-keeping to God-dependendent law-keeping as the way to life. No, no. The problem is far greater than that. We don’t just need a new motive. We need a Savior. The law was leading from all law-keeping (self-dependent or God-dependent) to Christ as the way of life.”

And again:

“Do you say, ‘Now I am forgiven by faith alone, and now I have the imputed righteousness of Christ by faith alone, and now I have the Holy Spirit within me by faith alone, so now I will go back ot the law – the ten commandments, and whatever other commandments there are (Romans 13:9) — and I will focus my new God-given ability on these commandments and fulfill them’?

No, I don’t think that is the way Paul guides us. I think he wants to speak rather like this: ‘Now I am forgiven by faith alone, and now I have the imputed righteousness of Christ by faith alone, and  now I have the Holy Spirit within my by faith alone, so now I will continue to make my focus Jesus Christ every day, and I will look to him for everything my soul craves. And from my union with Christ, nurtured hour by hour by focusing on Christ as my great Savior and mighty Lord and infinite Treasure, I will love people. Christ will be my focus, love will be my fruit.'”

Read it all here.

Questions & Answers

From the Heidelberg Catechism, a protestant confession written in the 1500’s…

Question 60. How are thou righteous before God?

Answer: Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ; so that, though my conscience accuse me, that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding, God, without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me, the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ; even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin: yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me; inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart.

Question 61. Why sayest thou, that thou art righteous by faith only?

Answer: Not that I am acceptable to God, on account of the worthiness of my faith; but because only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, is my righteousness before God; (a) and that I cannot receive and apply the same to myself any other way than by faith only.

I love how 500 years ago it was just as important as it is now to affirm that God grants and credits to the Christian the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ as if we had never sinned or been a sinner, as if we had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for us. O that we would accept this gift of God with a believing heart.

WWR (Worship While Running)

Nothing is beyond You
You stand beyond the reach
Of our vain imaginations
Our misguided piety
The heavens stretch to hold You
And deep cries out to deep
Singing that nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You

Time cannot contain You
You fill eternity
Sin can never stain You
Death has lost its sting

And I cannot explain the way You came to love me
Except to say that nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You…

(Rich Mullins, “Nothing is Beyond You”)

Recently started running (hmm… slowly jogging) again… and was worshipping our Savior over his wondrous love toward us. Too high, wide, deep to be understood… Him being perfect, and me being the blind one, the weak one, the withered and sinner.

Rich Mullins died before these songs were published. But they make me think of the amazing grace of the only Savior this world has ever known.

Think of him having compassion on the crowd who had nothing to eat (Matthew 15:32); healing the withered hand (Matthew 12:10); opening the eyes of the blind, even the blind from birth (John 9:1). And how he takes our hearts of stone and gives us hearts that live.

I’m the blind, the withered, the hungry… and Jesus Christ has taken my heart of stone and given a heart that is alive.


It was said this man was of no reputation
Yet He could stop the rising storm
With a gesture of His hand
But He chose to use His hands to heal
Hearts of darkness hearts of stone
Just like mine would be revealed

But this man of no reputation
Loved the weak with relentless affection
And He loved all those poor in spirit just as they were
He was a man of no reputation

(Rich Mullins, “Man of No Reputation”)

Grace in a New Year

As a church body we’ve been running (well, at least jogging) through Romans… and I can’t but stop and take a breath in wonder at the incredible love of God revealed in Christ Jesus and set upon those who trust in Him for righteousness and life.

As we finish chapter 8, I’m in wonder at the assurance that comes in the understanding of Christ’s incredible love for us. Nothing can keep us from it or from Him.

There is a spreading goodness in the wondrous work of our Savior in which His grace showers over us who believe. The application of that grace in salvation is not primarily one of responsibility – as if keeping the law that we have died to has been placed again upon us – but of response, the response of the heart to the illumination of God’s love by the Spirit.

O that we might live our lives in gratitude and humility, bearing fruit as the response of a love richly and deeply experienced by us.

The knowledge and experience of a God who came to earth for us… could this perhaps be more fortuitous to us than (just a thought, not sure) if we had never sinned?

Richard Sibbes, a Puritan divine, certainly thought so. In his The Privileges of the Faithful:

“Christ Jesus, who, notwithstanding he was God, took upon him the nature of man, and hath made us by his coming far more happy than if we had never fallen.”

That is because of what we can testify to, what we experience, what we know:

“He doth not only overcome evil for us, but also overcometh evil in us, and gives us his Spirit, which unites us to himself; whereby we have ground to expect good out of every ill, as knowing that whatsoever Christ wrought for the good of mankind, he did it for us in particular.”

Wow. Hallelujah, what a Savior!