Posted on March 27th, 2013
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.
Posted on March 26th, 2013
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.
Posted on March 6th, 2013
“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!
Posted on February 9th, 2013
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.”
“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.
Posted on February 9th, 2013
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.
Posted on January 22nd, 2013
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”)
Posted on December 31st, 2012
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!
Posted on October 25th, 2012
Here’s the second quote, for thinking on in a rainy day.
It is popular in our practical, ‘fix-me’ society to hammer at only one aspect of sanctification — generally called ‘progressive.’ However it is not clear that the categories of sanctification are cut and dried… or that sanctification should primarily be thought of differently than the rest of salvation (i.e., monergistically). Though best-sellers emphasize a ‘get to work’ ethic of ‘personal holiness,’ it is good to reflect that our righteousness is given to us, and true holiness for the believer is not in our always-imperfect efforts but in the actual work of the Spirit, the one whose name includes ‘holy,’ or, as Rev. Scaer notes, ‘Spiritus sanctus.’
This is from David Scaer, a Lutheran pastor (in Sanctification: By Grace Alone):
At times, the New Testament uses the words sanctify and sanctification of God’s entire activity of God in bringing about man’s salvation. More specifically it refers to the work of the Holy Spirit to bring people to salvation, to keep them in the true faith and finally to raise them from the dead and give them eternal life (Small Catechism). All these works are also performed by the Father and the Son. Since God is not morally neutral and does not choose to be holy, but He is holy, all His works necessarily share in His holiness. The connection between the Holy Spirit and sanctification is seen in the Latin for the Third Person of the Trinity, Spiritus Sanctus. The Spirit who is holy in Himself makes believers holy, sanctifies them, by working faith in Christ in them and He becomes the source of all their good works.
Sanctification means that the Spirit permeates everything the Christian thinks, says and does. The Christian’s personal holiness is as much a monergistic activity of the Holy Spirit as is his justification and conversion. The Spirit who alone creates faith is no less active after conversion than He was before.
Posted on October 25th, 2012
‘Rainy day’ may sound sad… but rain is wonderful… as are these two quotes. The first is from J.C. Ryle. One of my favorites of his is The Christian Leaders of the Last Century. This excerpt is from volume 2, pp. 304-305. It’s worth reading through, and is the tale of an interaction that opened the eyes of one of Ryle’s important English preachers (James Hervey of Weston Favell) to the reality of righteousness in Christ alone:
The unsatisfactory character of Hervey’s theology at the beginning of his ministry is well illustrated by the following anecdote.
In one of the Northhamptonshire parishes where he preached before 1741, there lived a ploughman who usually attended the ministry of Dr. Doddridge, and was well-informed in the doctrines of grace. Hervey being ordered by his physicians, for the benefit of his health, to follow the plough, in order to smell the fresh earth, frequently accompanied this ploughman when he was working.
Knowing that he was a serious man, he said to him one morning, “What do you think is the hardest thing in religion?”
The ploughman replied; “Sir, I am a poor man, and you are a minister; I beg leave to return the question.”
Then said Mr. Hervey: “I think the hardest thing is to deny sinful self’; grounding his opinion on our Lord’s admonition, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself.”
“I argued,” said Mr. Hervey, “upon the import and extent of the duty, showing that merely to forbear sinful actions is little, and that we must deny admittance and entertainment to evil imaginations and quench irregular desires. In this way I shot my random bolt.”
The ploughman quietly replied: “Sir, there is another instance of self-denial to which the injunction of Christ equally extends, which is the hardest thing in religion, and that is to deny righteous self.
“You know I do not come to hear you preach, but go every Sunday with my family to hear Dr. Doddridge at Northampton. We rise early in the morning, and have prayer before we set out, in which I find pleasure. Walking there and back I find pleasure. Under the sermon I find pleasure. When at the Lord’s table I find pleasure. We return, read a portion of Scripture, and go to prayer in the evening, and I find pleasure. But yet, to this moment, I find it the hardest thing to deny righteous self, I mean to renounce my own strength and righteousness, and not to lean on that for holiness or rely on this for justification.”
In repeating this story to a friend, Mr. Hervey observed, “I then hated the righteousness of Christ. I looked at the man with astonishment and disdain, and though him an old fool, and wondered at what I fancied the motley mixture of piety and oddity in his notions.
“I have since seen clearly who was the fool; not the wise old ploughman, but the proud James Hervey. I now discern sense, solidity, and truth in his observations.”
Posted on October 8th, 2012
14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.
Amazing thought, here.
Paul is in the middle of presenting the reality of judgment for everyone. Whether or not you have ‘the law’ – the special revelation of God and his ways given at Mt. Sinai – you and everyone you know is slated to be judged according to what you do.
What you do reveals what is in your heart. That’s true of everyone. And thus everyone will be condemned. Just like the Gentiles, here – everyone has conflicting thoughts, some of which accuse and some excuse. But the accusing ones win… because even a slight deviation from what is true means that you’re rotten… and will experience wrath.
There’s an escape. Not in Romans 2, but in Romans 3. The escape means you die; your righteousness gone; you out from under this system entirely… and righteousness given in the person and work of Jesus Christ… salvation is by faith in him. He’s our only hope.
But here’s the trap to avoid. Many of us read the chapters out of order. We see Romans 2:14-15, and think ‘Oh, Paul’s thinking of the Christian,’ when he’s actually simply pointing out the system under which every person will receive judgment.
The tragedy of falling into this trap is that you put the Christian into Romans 2, where he doesn’t belong. The Christian isn’t accused or excused by their conflicting thoughts; the Christian isn’t validated by “doing by nature what the law requires.” The Christian is dead – again, dead – to the law.
To read the Christian back into Romans 2 is to devalue the incredible, mind-blowing, miraculous, system-breaking Way that is opened in Jesus… and put it back on ourselves.
I’ve been saved from myself. My only hope is to trust in Jesus. The law of Christ does guide us… but from the reality of union with our Savior. May we flee “self-righteousness unto salvation.” We aren’t aided by Christ to be self-righteous. We are totally dependent on his.