Who Alone Can Rescue?

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Must grace be balanced with law?

Awhile back I was pointed towards the following blog post by Tullian Tchividjian.

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2013/02/08/inexhaustible-grace-for-an-exhausted-world/

I was asked for my opinion on the piece. Below are some (slightly edited) thoughts that occurred to me at the time. I thought I’d share these in case they are helpful to others who are thinking about the relationship between grace and law …

I’m sure there will be some who won’t like Tullian Tchividjian’s delivery — some of his wording is quite aggressive — maybe even Luther-esque! “Glory-hoarding, self-centered control freaks” would be a bit strong for some, especially Christians who believe that their motives are good and should at least be recognized as such, even if they do sometimes get things wrong. There are probably gentler ways to suggest that the motives behind rules-oriented Christian living need to be questioned. (I say that knowing that I’ve tended to choose words and phrases that some of the Christians I spend time with have found particularly offensive. I hope I’m learning how to do things better though!)

I think the point TT (I’m avoiding typing his surname) is making about grace being free is really important. I love much of what he says, especially this Jerry Bridges quote:

My observation of Christendom is that most of us tend to base our relationship with God on our performance instead of on His grace. If we’ve performed well—whatever ‘well’ is in our opinion—then we expect God to bless us. If we haven’t done so well, our expectations are reduced accordingly. In this sense, we live by works, rather than by grace. We are saved by grace, but we are living by the ‘sweat’ of our own performance. Moreover, we are always challenging ourselves and one another to ‘try harder’. We seem to believe success in the Christian life is basically up to us; our commitment, our discipline, and our zeal, with some help from God along the way. The realization that my daily relationship with God is based on the infinite merit of Christ instead of on my own performance is very freeing and joyous experience. But it is not meant to be a one-time experience; the truth needs to be reaffirmed daily.

You sometimes hear that we need to keep an equal balance between grace and law in order to avoid falling into legalism or licentiousness. (Satan doesn’t mind which side of the horse we fall off on.) But I wonder if keeping a balance between grace and law is, in fact, just another way to fall off the horse! (If legalism and licentiousness are left and right then perhaps grace-law balance is being bucked over the horse’s head! Am I taking the analogy too far?)

Maybe grace understood rightly is the answer – not grace understood wrongly, balanced with law.

It seems to me that we are bound/married either to the law or to Christ (Romans 7:1-6). If it’s one or the other then the Christian life cannot rightly be understood as 50% devotion to one husband and 50% devotion to the other. We would be trying to please Christ by returning to the old husband and giving him a significant place in our lives. I’m not sure that’s what Jesus, or any husband, would want! Actually I don’t think that’s what the old husband would want either since he always intended to point us to the Messiah! (Am I taking this analogy too far, as well?)

Maybe the 50/50 approach means well (wants to avoid harmful extremes) but it fails to take into account the law’s actual purpose, and its limitations.

The law rightly condemns and brings death (and it is entirely good and right as it condemns) but it can’t make us righteous. It was never intended to (Rom 3:20). Law can never change hearts. That’s why God has provided us with a life-giving, fruit-bearing husband.

If law was never intended to make us righteous then we mustn’t try to use it as a tool to affect heart change. We mustn’t treat the law as if it can bear fruit. The law condemns and brings death to sinners, and so Christ was condemned on the cross, but now, in our union with him, we have suffered death and have been raised to new life. That changes things. Christ fulfilled every jot and tittle of the beautiful and good law, and in him, we have done the same. Maybe there’s a fear in some circles that we’ll develop disdain for the law if grace is free but I think that’s impossible when we understand what it means to be in Christ. We understand that there is no conflict between the law and Christ. One was always meant to point to the other. So it’s not as though we’re looking back blowing raspberries at the old husband. The law is good and Christ has fulfilled it. So there’s no conflict between those who are in Christ and the law. We love all that the law is. But we understand that the law is not over us as it once was, and that Christ alone (not the law) is the one who bears fruit in our lives.

That doesn’t leave us like naughty school children who have got away with something and just can’t wait to do it again. We are now married to a worthy and lovely spouse. Our hearts are won. Whenever we see Jesus afresh our hearts are won again and again and sin becomes more and more foreign and futile.

There’s no need to add 50% law because it wouldn’t actually advance the cause. I think that’s important to point out (lovingly — as you know, that’s where I struggle) to people who long to be holy and want to have more victory over sin but keep trying to get there by looking over Christ’s shoulder to the law. So many people really do want to grow in godliness and they want their churches to grow in godliness but they don’t seem to be clear on what will actually make that happen. There’s a lot of that about, I think, and there’s a great need for gospel refreshment in churches.

Thomas Chalmers is strong on grace being free. He’s very clear that, though it’s counter-intuitive, free grace is actually the most effective “tool” to deliver us from ungodliness. Here’s a snippet from his “Expulsive Power” sermon:

Thus it is, that the freer the Gospel, the more sanctifying is the Gospel; and the more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more will it be felt as a doctrine according to godliness. This is one of the secrets of the Christian life, that the more a man holds of God as a pensioner, the greater is the payment of service that he renders back again. On the tenure of “Do this and live,” a spirit of fearfulness is sure to enter; and the jealousies of a legal bargain chase away all confidence from the intercourse between God and man; and the creature striving to be square and even with his Creator, is, in fact, pursuing all the while his own selfishness, instead of God’s glory; and with all the conformities which he labours to accomplish, the soul of obedience is not there, the mind is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed under such an economy ever can be. It is only when, as in the Gospel, acceptance is bestowed as a present, without money and without price, that the security which man feels in God is placed beyond the reach of disturbance – or, that he can repose in Him, as one friend reposes in another – or, that any liberal and generous understanding can be established betwixt them – the one party rejoicing over the other to do him good – the other finding that the truest gladness of his heart lies in the impulse of a gratitude, by which it is awakened to the charms of a new moral existence. Salvation by grace – salvation by free grace – salvation not of works, but according to the mercy of God – salvation on such a footing is not more indispensable to the deliverance of our persons from the hand of justice, than it is to the deliverance of our hearts from the chill and the weight of ungodliness. Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel, and we raise a topic of distrust between man and God. We take away from the power of the Gospel to melt and to conciliate. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is. That very peculiarity which so many dread as the germ of antinomianism, is, in fact, the germ of a new spirit, and a new inclination against it. Along with the light of a free Gospel, does there enter the love of the Gospel, which, in proportion as we impair the freeness, we are sure to chase away. And never does the sinner find within himself so mighty a moral transformation, as when under the belief that he is saved by grace, he feels constrained thereby to offer his heart a devoted thing, and to deny ungodliness. To do any work in the best manner, we should make use of the fittest tools for it.

A More Careful Theology of Criticism

Some thoughts on criticism from Kevin Deyoung (posted on the Gospel Coalition blog in the aftermath of the Elephant Room/T.D. Jakes controversy):

We need a more careful theology of criticism. There are several observations all Christians should be able to agree on, even if they sometimes pull us in opposite directions. (1) Let’s not assume the worst about people. (2) Let’s not shame those who aren’t immediately credulous when someone with a history of bad thinking says something that could be construed as maybe okay. (3) Let’s be very cautious in assigning motive. (4) Let’s not take everything personally or make everything personal. (5) Let’s not get our kicks from criticizing others and mucking around in controversy. (6) Let’s avoid facile condemnations of all criticism, realizing that the statement itself is a criticism and the Bible is full of heroes who had a lot of bones to pick. (7) Let’s accept that in this fallen world only the Lord can fully sort some things out and we don’t have go twelve rounds in every conflict.

That’s My King

This video has been around a long time but I don’t think I’ve posted it before. Truly worship-inducing stuff! 🙂

“I wish I could describe Him to you!”

“The heavens of heavens cannot contain Him, let alone a man explain Him.”

“Death couldn’t handle Him, and the grave couldn’t hold Him. That’s my King!”

Paul Blackham on the Religion of Self-Improvement vs Romans 8 and the Freedom of the Spirit

The modern religions of self-improvement will batter us with condemnation from every angle …

We need to lose weight, stop eating dairy, improve your relationships, eat more veg, drink more water, go to the gym more, organize your time better, develop your career, get on top of your savings, de-clutter your garage, make better investments, get promoted, live simply, live complicated, travel more, seize the day, redesign your CV, learn a new language, spend time in meditation each morning, do some yoga, lose more weight, tone your body, redecorate your home, renovate your shed, spend more time with your children, spend more time with your partner, spend more time doing sports, spend more time getting fit, spend more time getting new skills, spend more time reading, spend more time on your home, your body, your finances, your diet, your past, your present, your future … but don’t get stressed!

… It leads to endless condemnation …

Christ is Risen! Life Giving Words!

A song called Christ is Risen, by Matt Maher. Glory.

Let no one caught in sin remain
Inside the lie of inward shame
We fix our eyes upon the cross
And run to him who showed great love
And bled for us
Freely you bled, for us

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave!

Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave!

Beneath the weight of all our sin
You bow to none but heavens will
No scheme of hell, no scoffer’s crown
No burden great can hold you down
In strength you reign
Forever let your church proclaim

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave

Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave

Oh death! Where is your sting?
Oh hell! Where is your victory?
Oh Church! Come stand in the light!
The glory of God has defeated the night!

Oh death! Where is your sting?
Oh hell! Where is your victory?
Oh Church! Come stand in the light!
Our God is not dead, he’s alive! he’s alive!

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave
Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave

Rise up from the grave…

The Importance of Trinity

Mike Reeves:

“In many cases [of popular atheism] the world is reacting against a certain sort of God. The concept of a loveless dictator in the sky. Could such popular anti-theism in many cases be the rumblings of an unknowing hunger for a better sort of God?”

“When we are not robustly trinitarian, our gospel will not be robustly Christian… If we are not specifically and clearly trinitarian, none of our talk is specifically and clearly Christian.”

“Today, given the widespread poverty of knowledge of God, it is especially important that Christians are not heard to be speaking of God vaguely. If we do not expressly proclaim Father, Son and Spirit then we do not expressly proclaim a God of love – the sort of God who would have any fellowship to share with us. The gospel we proclaim would then be essentially rootless – disconnected from the God whose gospel it is. And that must ultimately spell catastrophe. No church can survive for long on such a superficial gospel. And ever fewer outsiders will be persuaded by one. Becoming more trinitarian today is a core need.”

Getting to Heaven

When we present the gospel to people – when we talk to other Christians about what God has done for his people – what main benefit do we focus on?

How about this? “We’re sinners. We fall short of God’s holiness. God is rightly angry with us. The punishment due to us is hell. But God sent his son to die for us so we can be forgiven and avoid the punishment that’s due, entering into heaven instead.”

That sounds good on the first pass. But is that last benefit – entering heaven – the whole story? I’m not saying it’s not true – of course it is. Praise the Lord that we can enter into heaven!

But is the heart of the gospel really something else?

The Bible paints a picture of the Christian life as union with Christ. The church (the body of believers) is the bride and Christ is the Bridegroom. Two become one. (e.g. Eph. 5, Rev. 19, Rev. 21, 2 Cor. 11)

But why does the bride marry Christ? What do we want from this union? Why would we tell an unbeliever that they need to be joined with Christ? To get into heaven?

When we focus on the benefit of entering in to heaven (wonderful as it is) I wonder if we’re picturing the marriage in the wrong way. To me this looks like a marriage of convenience! The husband’s great and all, but the main benefit to the bride is not the husband himself, but a heavenly green card.

God’s most astounding gift to us in Christ – on the cross – was himself. He has drawn us into the life and loving fellowship of the Godhead. We are made one with God. We can now cry Abba Father! through and in Christ, by the Spirit.

If we let the heavenly permanent resident status approach creep in too far might we end up losing sight of the Gift we’ve really been given? Might we lose sight of Jesus in our churches, in our prayer life, in our worship, in our evangelism? Just a thought.

Philippians 3:8
“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”

Friday, September 21, 2012. This Morning’s Meditation – C.H. Spurgeon

“I will rejoice over them to do them good.”—Jeremiah 32:41.

How heart-cheering to the believer is the delight which God has in His saints! We cannot see any reason in ourselves why the Lord should take pleasure in us; we cannot take delight in ourselves, for we often have to groan, being burdened; conscious of our sinfulness, and deploring our unfaithfulness; and we fear that God’s people cannot take much delight in us, for they must perceive so much of our imperfections and our follies, that they may rather lament our infirmities than admire our graces. But we love to dwell upon this transcendent truth, this glorious mystery: that as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so does the Lord rejoice over us. We do not read anywhere that God delighteth in the cloud-capped mountains, or the sparkling stars, but we do read that He delighteth in the habitable parts of the earth, and that His delights are with the sons of men. We do not find it written that even angels give His soul delight; nor doth He say, concerning cherubim and seraphim, “Thou shalt be called Hephzibah, for the Lord delighteth in thee”; but He does say all that to poor fallen creatures like ourselves, debased and depraved by sin, but saved, exalted, and glorified by His grace. In what strong language He expresses His delight in His people! Who could have conceived of the eternal One as bursting forth into a song? Yet it is written, “He will rejoice over thee with joy, He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing.” As He looked upon the world He had made, He said, “It is very good”; but when He beheld those who are the purchase of Jesus’ blood, His own chosen ones, it seemed as if the great heart of the Infinite could restrain itself no longer, but overflowed in divine exclamations of joy. Should not we utter our grateful response to such a marvellous declaration of His love, and sing, “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation?”