Do you sometimes have difficulty understanding or remembering who does what in our Spiritual maturation? We get that it is God who must make us alive to believe (regeneration), and that he gives us the gift of faith to believe, which leads to salvation (justification). But then what? Surely there is something we must do. What about spiritual disciplines? But then, how does grace work? What does the Holy Spirit do?
As long as we are thinking of achieving the fruit of the Spirit by our own efforts to be more fruitful and joyful, we may be working in their direction, but we’re getting there by the sweat of our brow. We’ve embraced rowboat spirituality. But think of the obedient work of the Christian life like a sailboat. There are lots of things to do on a sailboat. Sailors don’t just sit there – at least, not for too long. There are lots of working parts on a sailboat and lots of things to pay attention to. But none of those things make the boat go. The boat doesn’t go unless the wind catches the sail.
What we are picturing here is the work of the Spiritual Disciplines in conformity with the law of God found in Scriptures, not as the means of propulsion, but as the means of setting the conditions for Spiritual fertility. In obedience, we till the soil of our hearts so that they are more receptive for the planting and growth of the Word in our lives. We obey both in response to the Spirit’s awakening us and in order to raise the sail for the Spirit’s movement.
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” ~ Galatians 5.25
What does a life transformed by the gospel look like? Well, in some ways that might depend upon what it looked like before gospel impact. Yet, Gordon MacDonald took a stab at describing a transformed life in an excellent article for Leadership Journal.
Below are the 12 marks MacDonald identifies:
Has an undiluted devotion to Jesus
Pursues a biblically informed view of the world
Is intentional and disciplined in seeking God’s direction in life
Worships, and has a spirit of continuous repentance
Builds healthy, reciprocal human relationships
Knows how to engage the larger world where faith is not necessarily understood
Is aware of personal “call” and unique competencies
Is merciful and generous
Appreciates that suffering is part of faithfulness to Jesus
Is eager and ready to express the content of his faith
The gospel represents both the nature of Christian growth and the basis for it. Whatever progress we make in our Christian lives – whatever going onward, whatever pressing forward – the direction will always be deeper into the gospel, not apart from it, not aside from it. Growth in the Christian life is the process of receiving Christ’s “It is finished” into new and deeper parts of our being every day, and it happens as the Holy Spirit daily carries God’s good word of justification into our regions of unbelief – what one writer calls our “un-evangelized territories”.
How I wish – and pray – more people would realize this. Too many pulpits – conservative and heterodox alike – proclaim alternatives to the gospel – counterfeit gospels, really. They do this because it sells. The masses are in need of a remedy only an increasing application of the gospel is able to supply, but they clamor for placebos – spiritual sugar pills.
May I always be mindful of Paul’s words:
I resolve to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2.2)
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1.8)
Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives.
Many have so light an apprehension of God’s holiness and of the extent and guilt of their sin, that consciously they see little need for justification. Below the surface, however, they are deeply guilt-ridden and insecure. Many others have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification….drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity…their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience.
Few start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.
A key principle in gospel centrality is a growing and deepening understanding of the gospel, and that the gospel is not just for unbelievers in need of conversion, but equally for the Believer in need of growth, strength, transformation, boldness, and humility.
The first thing to remember is that we must never separate the benefits (regeneration, justification, sanctification) from the Benefactor (Jesus Christ). The Christians who are most focused on their own spirituality may give the impression of being the most spiritual but from the New Testament’s point of view, those who have almost forgotten about their own spirituality because their focus is so exclusively on their union with Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished are those who are growing and exhibiting fruitfulness. Historically speaking, whenever the piety of a particular group is focused on OUR spirituality, that piety will eventually exhaust itself on its own resources. Only where our piety forgets about us and focuses on Jesus Christ will our piety be nourished by the ongoing resources the Spirit brings to us from the source of all true piety, our Lord Jesus Christ.
“The Bible’s purpose is not so much to show you how to live a good life. The Bible’s purpose is to show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness otherwise you would never be able to overcome…”
People don’t earn God’s approval or receive life and salvation because of anything they’ve done. Rather, the only reason they receive life and salvation is because of God’s kindness through Christ. There is no other way.
Many Christians are tired of hearing this teaching over and over. They think that they learned it all long ago. However, they barely understand how important it really is. If it continues to be taught as truth, the Christian church will remain united and pure — free from decay. This truth alone makes and sustains Christianity. You might hear an immature Christian brag about how well he knows that we receive God’s approval through God’s kindness and not because of anything we do to earn it. But if he goes on to say that this is easy to put into practice, then have no doubt he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and he probably never will. We can never learn this truth completely or brag that we understand it fully. Learning this truth is an art. We will always remain students of it, and it will always be our teacher.
The people who truly understand that they receive God’s approval by faith and put this into practice don’t brag that they have fully mastered it. Rather, they think of it as a pleasant taste or aroma that they are always pursuing. These people are astonished that they can’t comprehend it as fully as they would like. They hunger and thirst for it. They yearn for it more and more. They never get tired of hearing about this truth.