The mystery of Christian life is a matter not of law keeping and observance, but a life of the Spirit by faith through the cross. You learn eventually that your very desire to serve God will actually strengthen the principle of sin in your members and you must die to the demand. Most people, even the ones who are burdened to contend for grace, eventually unwittingly articulate the classic “reformed” position on the Christian Life – which is actually a works based sanctification.
Sanctification is worked out the same way that the initial faith that saves is worked out. It is through a greater vision and apprehension of the fact that Christ has undertaken to do EVERYTHING in my Christian life and taken all the responsibility, and my job is to believe. From start to finish it is faith, not commitment, vows, personal responsibility, giving my best or effort.
This is however a mystery that one grows in. We all start with a works based view of sanctification, that ultimately undermines our view of justification. “now that I’m saved I need to do something for God or maybe I wasn’t saved to begin with.” This comes from the assumption that salvation is a matter of making a commitment to God, which is actually a works base.
Remember, what saves is not a prayer, or a vow or a commitment – but the FAITH (belief and conviction that God’s word is true) that Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead for my justification. I didn’t start by committing myself to God, giving myself to Him, surrendering Him, choosing Him or anything like that. One day He revealed Himself to me, and I could not escape the conclusion that Jesus is real and He is risen, and He died for my sins, and rose from the dead. That faith saved me – I was regenerated. Behind that the triune God was drawing me and receiving me into Himself. I made no commitment. I was simply rescued out of the dunghill. Every day, I learn to live from this position – that I am ruined, wrecked, and He must save me. If He does not, I can do nothing and will only fall into coldness, hardness, disobedience and sin.
The delusion of a works oriented concept of sanctification is that “now that I’m saved I need to do something for God or maybe I wasn’t saved to begin with.” And as we set about to do something for God, we leave our position of weakness before Him, which is to practically leave the cross as the way to be positioned before God. This will practically mean we won’t partake of the Spirit, we will only partake of the flesh, and eventually its works will eventually be manifest. (First religious works, then all of the sinful works.) Believe me I know. It was my ZEAL for God that eventually was used to show me what a sinner I really was.
The Christian life is not “God did His part and now I need to do mine” and Justification is certainly not “I committed myself to God and now need to show that I mean it”. The truth behind Baptism shows us that God was done with us. We had been condemned to the cross, and He buried us with Christ in His death, so that He might be manifested in us. As Paul says “Through the law, I died to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life that I now live I live by faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
If you want to articulate grace, and articulate the Christian life, you HAVE to be Pauline. We simply don’t have the language for it apart from Paul’s ministry, and there’s a certain prerequisite experience of failure, it seems, to start to see Christ as life.
We are not following Christ like the disciples did when Jesus was outside of them telling what to do. We are now living Christ – and He is living in us, and the Christian life is entirely a matter of Christ being magnified in my mortal body. This is a matter not of commitment or effort, but of really learning what the flesh is, and seeing my need to die with Him.
He is trying to get ME out of the way so that He might live His life in me, and the PROBLEM is actually my zeal for the things of God!! I hope this doesn’t come across offensively.
If you can get your hands on it, I strongly recommend Miles Stanford “The Principle of Position.”
What does it look like when I’m responding to God’s grace in Christ vs. when I’m caught up in legalism/works?
To be a person of grace, we really need to understand what grace is. Unfortunately we’ve heard the word grace and its definitions so many times that we’re almost immune to it.
The Bible doesn’t really use the term “legalism”. The bible uses the word “works”, but it basically means the same thing. It’s really critical that we understand God’s system of grace and faith, and how it differs from a meritorious / works approach to God. Grace “works” by faith, and Merit systems “work” by effort, work and personal merit.
Do we realize that we’re struggling with a legalistic view? Here’s a test: If you believe that you will or won’t be blessed by God, or close to God because of something you’re doing or not doing, you’ve stumbled into legalism. Continue reading
One of the best helps to knowing grace is to fail.
That does not mean we should deliberately set out to be a failure. But remember that Paul says that God chooses “the foolish things, and the things which are “not”, and the weak things, and the base things, and the despised things. Not many wise, not many noble in calling…not many strong are called… God in his wisdom chose the weak and foolish, the things that are nothing, to bring to naught the things that are.” (1 Cor 1:27-28)
In doing this, he takes away all boasting except in Christ alone.
My problem was that when I became saved, I thought I was very strong, very noble, very capable, and very smart! I started out very zealuos, and put demands on everyone. I knew nothing of grace. I thought I was the only Christian who was really “doing” this thing and I looked down on all the people that I thought were worldly, ignorant and unspiritual. I had already been a failure at most things in my life – a failure in school, a social failure, and I was a depraved sinner by the time the Lord had gotten ahold of me. So who knows where I got off thinking so highly of myself. But I was convinced that my Christian life was the one thing that I was going to “succeed” at. I was someone who as Paul says “thinks he is something when he is really nothing.”
In my zealous pursuit over the years I wandered into all sorts of legalistic systems and got myself in all kinds of trouble. James says God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. All of the legalistic demands I put on myself eventually became a burden that I couldn’t bear, and I failed totally and completely. My whole life fell apart – my Christian life, my church life, my work life, and my home life. And when I say it fell apart, I mean it fell apart in a devastating, public way that everyone could see. It wasn’t like I just had “private problems at home” – I had major problems that were embarassing, humiliating, public, and everyone knew it!
It was at that point that I finally saw that I was nothing, had nothing, and could do nothing. It was “check mate.” I had no more strength to pursue, no more resolutions or vows to make – I was speechless before the Lord. No righteousness of my own, and actually very little hope that the Lord would receive me. I found myself prostrate on my back looking up at everything, rather than upright looking forward.. And that’s when I started really getting a glimpse of the grace of God. Without any effort of my own, God came into my life and put things back together, in a new and marvellous way – a miraculous way, that was so full of blessing that it was hard to believe to myself and to those closest to me. And I knew / know I don’t deserve anything. His blessing is just here because He is here, and He has been waiting all this time to be gracious to me, but was waiting for me to stop so He could finally move in. And along with his blessing in my life, he opened up the truth of the word concerning His grace in a whole new way to me and introduced me to “water” I would never have drank if I was not thirsty.
Isa_30:18 And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him.
Now, to be honest, I don’t do much of anything “spiritual”. I love to read. I read anything I can get my hands on about God’s love, God’s mercy and His grace. In the past I was always looking for things about God’s purposes and programs, because I was looking for “something to do.” Now, I’m looking for a resting place in Him. Sometimes I do look at myself, and say “what are you doing? Nothing!” And yet I remember all of my years of zealous pursuit and how that turned out, and I can’t go back and pick up the burdens that have already crushed me.
So I’m very thankful for all things. I have no real regrets in my life. Or I should say I don’t have regrets of how things turned out, (while I do regret my sins and failings and foolishness), and I don’t spend my time looking back and thinking “oh, if I had only done this or that, this would have happened, or that could have happened.” Because I know that the path that I took was watched over by the Lord, and He used it all to get my eyes off myself and my performance and squarely onto Him and His work in Christ.
Today there are teachings that I strongly disagree with because of their legalistic nature, and I write about them here – hoping to reach those who are similarly lying prostrate on their backs looking up and in a position to see new things in grace. But I recognize that many of the preachers of these doctrines that I refute are better men than I, and it’s humbling!
On another note, I believe that this is why it’s important to listen to the doctrine and discern by the word of God, and not allow ourselves to be mesmerized by anyone, no matter how spiritual they seem to be. Today if someone seems very spiritually successful and seems to have a better relationsihp with the Lord than we do, we tend to listen to them and evaluate truth in the light of what they say, rather than evaluating what they say in the light of the truth. This brings us into so much trouble. That’s why paul said in Galatians:
Gal 1:8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
The truth has to lead us, not men – no matter how spiritual they are. I personally know some people who no doubt will have rewards before the Lord for soul winning. Hundreds and maybe even thousands who have been saved through their evangelical work. Yet their pastoral ministry and teaching is completely befuddling and full of legalistic mixture that produces a cloud of confusion over the hearers. So I look at the person, their manner of life, their work for the Lord, their zeal and faithfulness, and what seems to be such blessing on their life and ministry. And yet, their teaching ultimately does not adhere to the truth. The people I have in mind are perfectly sincere in what they’re teaching, and yet the doctrine is just wrong. In those kinds of environments, it’s very difficult. To stand as a person who has nothing, can do nothing, deserves nothing, and not rejoice in and say ‘amen’ to someone that seems to have everything, can do everything, and deserves so much – well in most minds something must be wrong with you! Yet this is what a person who starts to discover grace experiences. I say that just in case anyone is experiencing similar and wondering “what is wrong with me?”
Before the Lord, we shouldn’t compare ourselves with others, and we have to realize that our faith in Christ has put us in the highest possible position – we are enthroned with Him – seated with Him in the heavenlies, and blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. That happened when we believed. Regardless of what our life is, nothing can change that eternal position . We may pick up some more crowns to be openly rewarded along the way, but regardless, we are all brothers in Christ – co-heirs with Him, and on equal footing before the Lord. We don’t need to worry about who is doing what, who seems to have it outwardly “going on”, or how little we seem to be doing… Stay open to grace, stay open to the Lord, and trust that the one who is working all things after the counsel of His own will is directing our path. If we stay in fellowship with Him, and conscious of grace truth, whatever we do, whether it be “big” or “small” will be precious treasure to Him. He’s the one who chooses our sphere of influence, not us. Sometimes I think “if the only person that ever gets taught grace in my life is ME, it’ll still be a life worth living before God.” 🙂