Great grace laced imagery from Robert Capon:
The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievilism, a whole cellarful of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred-proof grace – of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the gospel – after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps – suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started… Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super-spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.
In his excellent, perspective shaping book, Broken-Down House, Paul Tripp reflects some of the amazing paradoxes of the gospel. Take some time to ponder these; feel the tension. This is what genuine grace is and does:
So grace is a story and grace is a gift. It is God’s character and it is your hope. Grace is a transforming tool and a state of relationship. Grace is a theology and an invitation. Grace is an experience and a calling. Grace will turn your life upside-down while giving you a rest you have never known. Grace will convince you of your unworthiness without ever making you feel unloved.
Grace will make you acknowledge that you cannot earn God’s favor, and it will remove your fear of not measuring up to his standards. Grace will confront you with the fact that you are much less than you thought you were, even as it assures you that you can be far more than you had ever imagined. Grace will put you in your place without ever putting you down.
Grace will enable you to face truths about yourself that you have hesitated to consider, while freeing you from being self-consciously introspective. Grace will confront you with profound weaknesses, and at the same time introduce you to new-found strength. Grace will tell you what you aren’t, while welcoming you to what you can now be. Grace will make you as uncomfortable as you have ever been, while offering you more comfort than you have ever known. Grace will drive you to the end of yourself, while it invites you to fresh starts and new beginnings. Grace will dash your hopes, but never leave you hopeless. Grace will decimate your kingdom as it introduces you to a better King. Grace will expose your blindness as it gives you eyes to see. Grace will make you sadder than you have ever been, while it gives you greater cause for celebration than you have ever known.
Grace enters your life in a moment and will occupy you for eternity. You simply cannot live a productive life in this broken-down world unless you have a practical grasp of the grace you have been given [in Christ].
Here is an important thought for my fellow pastors, and other ministry leaders. It is also important for shaping what church members should value in and expect of their pastors and Elders:
Few ministers and priests think theologically. Most of them have been educated in a climate in which the behavioral sciences, such as psychology and sociology, so dominated the educational milieu that little true theology was learned. Most Christian leaders today raise psychological and sociological questions even though they frame them in scriptural terms. Real theological thinking, which is thinking with the mind of Christ, is hard to find in the practice of ministry. Without solid theological reflection, future leaders will be little more than pseudo-psychologists… They will think of themselves as enablers, facilitators, role models, father or mother figures, big brothers or big sisters, and so on, and thus join the countless men and women who make a living by trying to help their fellow human beings to cope with the stresses and strains of everyday living. But that has little to do with Christian leadership.
~ Henri Nouwen, from In the Name of Jesus
Steve Brown, professor at Reformed Theological Seminary and president of Key Life Network, penned a marvelous word picture of the motive and expression of a life gripped by God’s grace:
When I became a Christian, two things happened. I got saved, and I got loved. I got loved so deeply that it still amazes me when I think about it. Because I got loved so deeply, I want to please the One who loved me that much. I may not always please him – sometimes I even run in the other direction, because his love can really hurt. I may chafe against pleasing him; I may not even speak to him. But I’ll tell you something: I want to please him, and when I don’t please him, it hurts. Now if I really want to please him, I must know what pleases him. I find that out by reading the Word and listening to his commandments. When I know what he wants, I want what he wants. Love does that to you. But I must know what he wants. That is why we must never soften the teaching of the Law of God. Holiness is a very important teaching as long as it is given in the context of God’s love.
~ from When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough
It is one thing to affirm the gospel; It is something altogether different to experience it’s power where the rubber meets the road.
~Tullian Tchividjian, from Jesus + Nothing = Everything
I am inclining my ear listening for the collective “OUCH”! But sometimes the truth hurts. Such is the case with this observation and assertion by Paul Copan, from his book, Is God a Moral Monster?, when applied to the typical American Evangelical:
The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) begins with this question: ‘What is the chief end of man?’ The famous response is: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’
For many in the West (including professing Christians), the chief goal of many individuals is to ‘further my interests and to enjoy myself forever.’ Or if God exists, then the Catechism’s answer is subconsciously revised to this: ‘The chief end of God is to make me as comfortable and pain-free as possible’…
God’s ultimate role isn’t to advance my own interests and freedom… Rather, God seeks the interpersonal intimacy with us in the context of covenant making. .. God is the all-good Creator and Life-giver. He desires that his creatures live life as it should be.
My thanks to Tom Wood and the folks at gracedagain.com for this quote.
What an awesome insight from Brennan Manning:
“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.”
Here is a New Year’s prayer from Jim Eliot I don’t think I could ever express any better:
I pray that the Lord might crown this year with His goodness and in the coming one give you a hallowed dare-devil spirit in lifting the biting sword of Truth, consuming you with a passion that is called by the cultured citizen of Christendom ‘fanaticism’, but known to God as that saintly madness that led His Son through bloody sweat and hot tears to agony on a rude Cross – and Glory!
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.
~ Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life
A paradox of the Christian faith worth pondering, from John Flavel:
When God intends to fill a soul, he first makes it empty. When God intends to enrich a soul, he first makes it poor. When he intends to exalt a soul, he first makes it sensible to it’s own miseries, wants, and nothingness.
The Gospel would not be good news if it did not reveal the glory of Christ for us to see and savor. It is the glory of Christ that finally satisfies our soul. We are made for Christ, and Christ died so that every obstacle would be removed that keeps us from seeing and savoring the most satisfying treasure in the universe—namely, Christ, who is the image of God.
~ John Piper, God is the Gospel, p. 62.