Do I want God to give me GRACE or CUT ME SOME SLACK?

2 02 2012

Read honestly, the Sermon on the Mount is perhaps one of the most unsettling pieces of scripture in the entire Bible.  Who can come across such passages as those below and leave with a comfortable feeling?

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the fire of hell.  (Matt 5.21-22)

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  (Matt 5.27-28)

But I say to you that everyone who divroces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery (Matt 5.31)

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5.48)

Perhaps making these passages even worse, is that they are not spoken of by some Pharisee, or even by some uptight apostle.  The above verses were spoken by the Savior himself.  Who would’ve thought that gentle Jesus, meek and mild would have such harsh things to say to us?

Well, Jesus says such demanding things because this is the standard God himself has set for our lives.  He has set a standard of perfection, that standard being his own holiness and righteousness, by which all of humanity will be held accountable by.  “You must be perfect,” says Jesus, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Now I know very few people, if any, who would claim to be perfect in the sense that Jesus means perfect in Matt 5.48.  In fact, I think we would acknowledge that we are not perfect in this way, nor have we ever known anyone to be perfect in this way.  In this regard we are in agreement with the Apostle Paul, who quoting the Psalms reminds us:

None is righteous, no, not one;

no one seeks God.

All have turned aside; together they

have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one (Rom 3.10-12 see also Psalm 14 and 53)

How then are we to live under these demands, which even the Bible agrees are impossible for us to satisfy?  Well the obvious answer is that we need grace.  But when we ask for grace, we need to make sure that we’re asking God to give us grace rather than cut us some slack.

Asking God to cut you some slack:

Parents will know the feeling well.  It’s past your child’s bedtime, he’s very tired, and he begins to act up in ways that he normally would not.  The parent says, “Johnny’s tired, it’s past his bedtime.”  What the parent just did was cut his child some slack.  There was an absolute demand, which might be something like “thou shalt not throw temper tantrums” which the child has transgressed.  But there were extenuating circumstances!  Little Johnny was tired, because it was past his bedtime.  Let’s cut him some slack!

Now this is not a parenting piece and I’m not advocating for any particular approach to little Johnny’s late night temper tantrums.  Rather I’m drawing an analogy to how some people think grace works.  For example you may find yourself directly implicated in some or many of the verses listed above.  What do you fall back on?  The truth is, many Christians trust in their extenuating circumstances rather than the grace of God.  “I was really tired and lost my temper,” some will say.  “We just fell out of love,” others will say.  “Young men have strong hormones!”  Indeed!  And many will say, “who can be perfect?”  God knows, he understands. Sure, Jesus said that those who call their brother a fool are subject to the fire of hell, but I don’t deserve that.  I was tired and cranky.  Cut me some slack!

This sounds gracious, but it is not grace at all but the very worst and most vicious form of legalism.  It’s the very worse form of legalism because you’re asking to get what you deserve.  The implication you’re making, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is that you still want God to judge you according to your works.  This is why we some times offer such a plethora of excuses.  We’re hoping to justify ourselves before God and man.  You want God to cut you some slack, but let us be very clear on this point, you have not requested that God give you any grace.  Quite the opposite!  You have asked him to judge you according to what you have done, according to your works, according to what you deserve.

Asking God to give you Grace:

How then do we confront such difficult passages as above without asking for slack, but for grace?  Well, we ought to begin by reading these passages honestly, without twisting their words to make us feel more comfortable.  Have you called your brother a fool?  You deserve the judgment of God, and more so!  The fire of hell.  Did you look upon another person lustfully?  You are an adulterer.  You’re not perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect?  Well then, you’re condemned.  You have no excuse.  You have no justification.  There is no argument or extenuating circumstance that can save.  You have nothing.

If you have any hope at all from this point forward, it is not that God will give you what you deserve based on some extenuating circumstances but rather that God will give you what you don’t deserve based upon his free grace.  Paul writes:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart form the law, although the law and prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom 3.21-24)

So when we fall short we don’t ask God to cut us some slack.  We don’t say to him, “well I was in a tough spot.”  Not only are you twisting scripture by slackening the demands of God, but you are blaspheming his grace! (Gal 2.21).  Rather we honor God’s grace by saying, “I have sinned.  I have no excuse.  Don’t give me what I deserve.  Give me what Christ deserves!”

To make this very simple, asking for grace consists consists mainly in two parts.  The first part is an unqualified confession and apology.  “I have sinned.  I am sorry.”  No excuses please.  This is followed by an appeal for God’s mercy, which we are assured to receive based solely and exclusively on the gift of God in Jesus Christ.

Resolve today not to trust in your wavering commitments and extenuating circumstances, trust rather on the solid rock that is Christ.  His grace is unwavering, always available, always unconditional, forever free and eternally unchanging.  Here is something to stand on and believe in, and more so, to be transformed by.

Let’s not settle for anything less than grace.

 





John Owen: Grace, a necessary preparation for glory

20 12 2011

I had a decent introduction to Owen last year, reading three of his major works.  So I decided two weeks ago to go ahead and order his complete works, which arrived in the mail last week.  So far I have read three books from this set: On the Divine Original of the Scriptures (Vol XVI); Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity (Vol II); and Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ (Vol I).  I will be using his commentary on Hebrews to finish out our Hebrews Bible study, so I’m looking forward to that as well.  Many say that Owen is difficult to read, I find him easier the farther along I get in him.  Let me simply say, he is worth the time.  Take the time to digest the quote below, and see if you can really understand the root of what the man is saying.  In a nutshell, the believer hopes to be with Christ in heaven because the believer has had  an experience of the glory of Christ, by faith, in this life on earth.  Those who have not had an experience of the glory of Christ on this earth, have no content for their hope for heaven.  Tease that out a bit and see where you land.  Enjoy!

No man shall ever behold the glory of Christ by sight   hereafter, who does not in some measure behold it by faith here in this world. Grace is a necessary preparation for glory, and faith for sight. Where the subject (the soul) is not previously seasoned with grace and faith, it is not capable of glory or vision. Nay, persons not disposed hereby unto it cannot desire it, whatever they pretend; they only deceive their own souls in supposing that so they do. Most men will say with confidence, living and dying, that they desire to be with Christ, and to behold his glory; but they can give no reason why they should desire any such thing, – only they think it somewhat that is better than to be in that evil condition which otherwise they must be cast into for ever, when they can be here no more. If a man pretend himself to be enamoured on, or greatly to desire, what he never saw, nor was ever represented unto him, he does but dote on his own imaginations. And the pretended desires of many to behold the glory of Christ in heaven, who have no view of it by faith whilst they are here in this world, are nothing but
self-deceiving imaginations.

So do the Papists delude themselves. Their carnal affections are excited by their outward senses to delight in images of Christ, – in his sufferings, his resurrection, and glory above. Hereon they satisfy themselves that they behold the glory of Christ himself and that with love and great delight. But whereas there is not the least true representation made of the Lord Christ or his glory in these things, – that being confined absolutely unto the gospel alone, and this way of attempting it being laid under a severe interdict, – they do but sport themselves with their own deceivings.

The apostle tells us concerning himself and other believers, when the Lord Christ was present and conversed with them in the days of his flesh, that they “saw his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,” John 1: 14. And we may inquire, what was this glory of Christ which they so saw, and by what means they obtained a prospect of it. For, – l. It was not the glory of his outward condition, as we behold the glory and grandeur of the kings and potentates of the earth; for he made himself of no reputation, but being in the form of a servant, he walked in the condition of a man of low degree. The secular grandeur of his pretended Vicar makes no representation of that glory of his which his disciples saw. He kept no court, nor house of entertainment, nor (though he made all things) had of his own where to lay his head. Nor, – 2. Was it with respect to the outward form of the flesh which he was made, wherein he took our nature on him, as we see the glory of a comely or beautiful person; – for he had therein neither form nor comeliness that he should be desired, “his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men,” Isa. 52: 14; 53: 2, 3. All things appeared in him as became “a man of sorrows.” Nor, – 3. Was it absolutely the eternal essential glory of his divine nature that is intended; for this no man can see in this world. What we shall attain in a view thereof
hereafter we know not. But, – 4. It was his glory, as he was “full of grace and truth.” They saw the glory of his person and his office in the administration of grace and truth. And how or by what means did they see this glory of Christ? It was by faith, and no otherwise; for this privilege was granted unto them only who ”received him,” and believed on his name, John 1: 12. This was that glory which the Baptist saw, when, upon his coming unto him he said unto all that were presents “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” verses 29-33.

Wherefore let no man deceive himself; he that has no sight of the
glory of Christ here, shall never have any of it hereafter unto his
advantage. It is not, therefore, unto edification to discourse of
beholding the glory of Christ in heaven by vision, until we go
through a trial whether we see anything of it in this world by faith
or no.

John Owen, The Glory of Christ (Owen’s Works vol I pg 288-289)





Horatius Bonar: We are never done with the cross

20 12 2011

An excerpt from the final paragraphs of ch 4 of Bonar’s The Everlasting Righteousness. I would highly encourage to click through and read the whole thing. Bonar addresses something very important, particularly in light of North American Evangelicalism, which treats the cross as a stepping stone to a life of discipleship. “NO!” says Bonar. Rather than being a stepping stone, the cross is not only central to the Christian life, but it is the hermeneutic of heaven itself. Enjoy.

We are never done with the cross, nor ever shall be. Its wonders will
be always new, and always fraught with joy. “The Lamb as it had been
slain” will be the theme of our praise above. Why should such a name be given to Him in such a book as the Revelation, which in one sense carries us far past the cross, were it not that we shall always realize our connection with its one salvation; always be looking to it even in the midst of glory; and always learning from it some new lesson regarding the work of Him “in whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace”? What will they who here speak of themselves as being so advanced as to be done with the cross, say to being brought face to face with the Lamb that was slain, in the age of absolute perfection, the age of the heavenly glory?

Thou fool! Dost thou not know that the cross of the Lord Jesus
Christ endureth for ever, and that thou shalt eternally glory in it, if thou are saved by it at all?

Thou fool! Wilt thou not join in the song below, “To Him that loved
us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood”? Wilt thou not join
in the song above, “Thou was slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood”? And dost thou not remember that it is from “the Lamb as it had been slain” that “the seven spirits of God are sent forth into all the
earth”? (Revelation 5:6).[13]

It is the Lamb who stands in the midst of the elders (Revelation 5:6), and before whom they fall down. “Worthy is the Lamb” is the theme of celestial song. It is the Lamb that opens the seals (6:1). It is before the Lamb that the great multitude stand clothed in white (7:9). It is the blood of the Lamb that washes the raiment white (7:14). It is by the blood of the Lamb that the victory is won (12:11). The book of life belongs to the Lamb slain (13:8). It was a Lamb that stood on the glorious Mount Zion (14:1). It is the Lamb that the redeemed multitude are seen following (14:4); and that multitude is the first-fruits unto God and unto the Lamb (14:4). It is the song of the Lamb that is sung in heaven (15:3). It is the Lamb that wars and overcomes (17:14). It is the marriage of the Lamb that is celebrated, and it is to the marriage-supper of the Lamb that we are called (19:7,9). The church is the Lamb’s wife (21:9). On the foundations of the heavenly city are written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (21:14). Of this city the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple (21:23). Of that city the Lamb is the light (21:23). The book of life of the Lamb, and the throne of the Lamb (21:27; 22:1,3), sum up this wondrous list of honors and dignities belonging to the Lord Jesus as the crucified Son of God.

Thus the glory of heaven revolves round the cross; and every object on which the eye lights in the celestial city will remind us of the cross, and carry us back to Golgotha. Never shall we get beyond it, or turn our backs on it, or cease to draw from it the divine virtue which it contains.

The tree, be it palm, or cedar, or olive, can never be independent of its
roots, however stately its growth, however plentiful its fruit. The
building, be it palace or temple, can never be separated from its
foundation, however spacious or ornate its structure may be. So, never
shall the redeemed be independent of the cross, or cease to draw from its fullness.

In what ways our looking to the cross hereafter will benefit us; what
the shadow of that tree will do for us in the eternal kingdom, I know not, nor do I venture to say. But it would seem as if the cross and the glory were so inseparably bound together, that there cannot be the enjoyment of the one without the remembrance of the other. The completeness of the sacrificial work on Calvary will be matter for eternal contemplation and rejoicing, long after every sin has been, by its cleansing efficacy, washed out of our being forever.

Shall we ever exhaust the fullness of the cross? Is it a mere steppingstone to something beyond itself? Shall we ever cease to glory in it (as the apostle gloried), not only because of past, but because of present and eternal blessing? The forgiveness of sin is one thing; but is that all? The crucifixion of the world is another; but is that all? Is the cross to be a relic, useless though venerable, like the serpent of brass laid up in the tabernacle; to be destroyed perhaps at some future time, and called Nehushtan? (2 Kings 18:4). Or is it not rather like the tree of life, which bears twelve manner of fruits, and yields its fruit every month, by the banks of the celestial river? Its influence here on earth is transforming; but even after the transformation has been completed, and the whole church perfected, shall there not be a rising higher and higher, a taking
on of greater and yet greater comeliness, a passing from glory to glory;
and all in connection with the cross, and through the never-ending vision of its wonders?

Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness pg 61-64





John Bunyan: Have no foundation (for anything) other than Christ

20 12 2011

Most of visitors at my church never ask me “what are you about?”  They usually show up, enjoy the worship, the preaching, the fellowship etc. and decide to stick around.  Over time, they might become more interested in our guiding thoughts, principles etc.  But recently a vistor made a special appointment with me to ask that very question.  “What are you about?” he asked.  To which I replied, “the ONE thing we are about here is proclaiming and applying the unconditional grace of Jesus Christ to every aspect of our lives.”  It would be impossible to describe the heavy burden we carry to convey the sufficiency of the grace of Christ in all things.  It would be impossible to describe the pain we feel when members of our flock slip back into legalism.  It would be impossible to describe the joy in our hearts when the Gospel is understood, received, and applied by our members.  With these burdens, pains, and joys I pass on an exhortation from the great John Bunyan to REMAIN IN THE GRACE OF CHRIST in all things. 

“Think not that to live always on Christ for justification is a low and beggarly thing,-a staying at the foundation. For, let me tell you, depart from a sense of the meritorious means of your justification before God, and you will quickly grow light, and frothy, and vain; you will be subject to errors and delusions, for this is not to ‘hold the head,’ from which nourishment is administered. Why not live upon Christ alway; and especially as He standeth the Mediator between God and the soul, defending thee with the merit of His blood, and covering thee with His infinite righteousness from the wrath of God and the curse of the law? Can there be any greater comfort ministered to thee, than to know that thy person stands just before God; just, and justified from all things that would otherwise swallow thee up? Is peace with God and assurance of heaven of so little respect with thee, that thou slightest the very foundation thereof, even faith in the blood and righteousness of Christ.”
-BUNYAN, Justification by Imputed Righteousness.





Zwingli: Living daily in sin

20 12 2011

Two notes on the following text.  First, the text was written by the Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli.  Zwingli often gets lost between Luther and Calvin, although he shouldn’t be so easily displaced.  He was a remarkable thinker, gifted leader, and incredibly gracious in his dealings with a hostile Luther.  Second, and more importantly, this text deals with the common problem of Christians and continuing, even daily sin.  Pay attention to where Zwingli places confidence.  Is it in performance or Christ?  Pay attention to what Zwingli believes is a sign that God has entered into a person’s life, and to go further see if you can identify why he believes this.

“As long as we live, that rogue, the body, because of the temptation, will never let us live a godly life.  However, if we have trusted in God through Christ, then the flesh cannot throw us into damnation.  Rather, as Christ said to Peter: ‘See!  The devil has lain in waiting for you so that he may sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith become neither unsteady nor weak” (Luke 22.31f).  Thus we must remain firm so that all our sins will be forgiven through Christ, although both the devil and the flesh will force us through the sieve and entice us with sin to despair.  But, as Peter’s external denial di dnot bring him into damnation, so also may no sin bring us to damnation, save one: unbelief.  Here, however, the true non-Christians say: “I firmly believe in Christ.”  Yet they do nothing Christian.  Herein one sees that they are non-Christians, for one recognizes a tree by its fruit.  Therefore, note for better understanding:  as has often been pointed out before, whoever has securely trusted in teh grace of God through Christ, after recognizing his sin, cannot be without the love of God.  Who would not love him who has so graciously taken away his sin and has begun first to love him, as 1 John 4.19 says, and to draw him to himself?  Where, now, the love of God is, there is God; for God is love himself and whoever is in the love of God is in God and God is in him, as 1 John 4.16 says.  Now if God is in the right believer and he nevertheless sins, then it follows that it is as Paul says in Romans 8.10: “If now Christ is in you, then the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit or soul lives because of justification.”  This justification is nothing but a person’s placing himself in and devoting himself to the grace of God.  This is true belief.  So the opinion of Paul is that our body is always dead and gives birth to works of death and sin.  However, the same sins cannot damn us if we are righteous in faith, so that we trust with certainty the grace of God through the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Huldrych Zwingli, A Short Christian Instruction Zwingli’s Works vol II pg 58-59





Thomas Watson: Christ “Fastened to the heart”

20 12 2011

Who can tread upon these hot coals, and his heart not burn?  Who can cry out, with Ignatius, ‘Christ my love is crucified!’?  If a friend should die for us, would not our hearts be much affected by his kindness?  That the God of heaven should die for us, how should this stupendous mercy have a melting influence upon us!

The body of Christ is broken, is enough to break the most flinty heart.  At our saviour’s passion, the very stones did cleave asunder: ‘The rocks rent’ (Matt 27.51).  He that is not affected with this has a heart harder than stones.  If Saul was so affected with David’s mercy in sparing his life (1 Sam 24.16), how may we be affected with Christ’s kindness, who to spare our life, lost his own!  Let us pray, that as Christ was cruci-fixus’, so he may be ‘cordi-fixus’- as he was fastened to the cross, so may he be fastened to our hearts.

Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Supper (Banner of Truth Trust) pg 30-31





Spurgeon: The Mercy of God

20 12 2011

He is as gracious in the manner of His mercy as in the matter of it. It is great mercy. There is nothing little in God; His mercy is like Himself – it is infinite. You cannot measure it. His mercy is so great that it forgives great sins to great sinners, after great lengths of time, and then gives great favours and great privileges, and raises us up to great enjoyments in the great heaven of the great God. It is undeserved mercy , as indeed all true mercy must be, for deserved mercy is only a misnomer for justice. There was no right on the sinner’s part to the kind consideration of the Most High; had the rebel been doomed at once to eternal fire he would have richly merited the doom, and if delivered from wrath, sovereign love alone has found a cause, for there was none in the sinner himself. It is rich mercy. Some things are great, but have little efficacy in them, but this mercy is a cordial to your drooping spirits; a golden ointment to your bleeding wounds; a heavenly bandage to your broken bones; a royal chariot for your weary feet; a bosom of love for your trembling heart.

Spurgeon, Morning Devotional for Aug 16