Saving Grace, Sustaining Grace

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Grace is the source of and the fruit of justification — being declared righteous by God Himself, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Context

I write this post in response to my friend Perry So’s post on lust and dealing with sin. He, like you and I, are struggling with living as a redeemed child of God and yet all the while still sinning against God. I thank God for his humility in being naked and open before our Holy God, and yet I pray also for Perry that even in sharing his heart God would cleanse his tears of repentance with the saving and sustaining blood of Jesus Christ. (This post also relates well to my series on Harmartiology, which I am trying to return to soon.)

Content

The source of my thoughts is from reading Jerry Bridges‘ book “The Discipline of Grace“; I just recieved the book in the mail on Tuesday morning from Amazon.ca and have finished almost 3 chapters already just from reading it on my commute. I read a gracious review of it from Tim Challies a few months back, and consequently, I also highly recommend this splendid Reformed book on what it means to truly live sola gratia.

Consequent Convictions

Grace is God’s unmerited favour towards sinners — those who deserve condemnation and wrath. To understand ourselves, we must first begin to understand grace. It is the driving force behind the gospel, and the very thing that enables us to be justified by faith. Without grace we are left under the wrath of God and in line to receive punishment, and ultimately eternal seperation from our Creator. However, by the grace of God, the Father has chosen before the ages began a people that would be saved… the elect whom He puts His grace upon and enables them to recieve His son Jesus Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as his/her personal Saviour. By this monergistic act of God, the Father brings the spiritually dead person to life–thereby regenerating him/her. By the same Spirit, the redeemed come to faith in God and repentance from sin, and consequently, into relationship with the triune God. All this was, is and ever will be possible only because God’s one and only begotten son, Jesus Christ, died on the Cross to be atonement for our sins, and rose to life on the 3rd day to raise us to new life.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ???by grace you have been saved???and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.–Ephesians 2:4-9, ESV

At the heart of the gospel is penal substitutionary atonement, of which has 2 equally important components: propitiation and expiation. Christ became our substitute and paid the penalty for that we deserved, thereby becoming propitiation for our sins and assuming our obligations of righteousness he expiated our guilt, covered/cleansed it, by the vicarious punishment which he endured. In essence, this is saving grace.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.–1 John 4:7-10, ESV

But as believers, Christians, followers of Christ, we still must seek to understand what it means to be sustained by grace. As Bridges noted (30), to do so we committed Christians must address 1) the need for a humble realization of our sinfulness, and 2) the need for the grateful acceptance of God’s grace. We may be continually failing in our pursuit of holiness either because we don’t know how sinful we are, or because we don’t know how gracious God is.

Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe;Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow!

The PhariseeOne popular attitude among committed Christians is Pharisaism, an attitude of self-satisfaction with one’s walk with Christ. “We can drift into this attitude because we are convinced we believe the right doctrines, we read the right Christian books, we practice the right disciplines of a committed Christian life, or we are actively involved in some aspect of Christian ministry and are not just “pew sitters” in the church.” (30)When we feel this way, we become self-righteous about our spiritual lives since we see that the world around us is so much more flagrantly sinful. We start feeling really good about ourselves because we don’t commit such gross forms of sin. As it says in Luke 18:11-12,

The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ???God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. vI fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.???

Like the Pharisee, many of us are orthodox in our values and morals, and thus committed in practicing what the Bible teaches. We have met the threefold description of discipleship, Bridges says: spiritual disciplines, obedience, and service. The problem with the Pharisee as Jesus saw it was self-righteousness, self-satisfaction, and religious pride. And the parable does not apply to just unbelieving sinners, but also to us sinful believers. Just because we have already been justified by faith and have trusted in Christ’s atoning sacrifice for our sins doesn’t mean we don’t need to preach the gospel to ourselves.Jesus told the parable to the Pharisee in all of us–believers and unbelievers alike who have put our confidence in their own performance, rather than Christ’s grace. As committed Christians, like the unsaved, we also need to a humble realization of our own sinfulness; this may mean that we need to feel guilty and shameful for what we have done. Our sinfulness may not necessarily be in those gross areas committed by unbelieving people, but may very well be in areas that Bridges calls “refined sins” (33-36). Sins like judging and speaking critically of others, unwholesome talk, gossip, resentment, bitterness, an unforgiving spirit, impatience, stubbornness and irritability may not be clearly visible but may still have a profoundly effect on our lives. We must be aware of our own sinfulness which grieves the Holy Spirit, and thus come to the Cross of Jesus daily to receive His grace.The Tax CollectorFor others among us, we may be seeing ourselves as the tax collector in same parable from in Luke 18.

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ???God, be merciful to me, a sinner!???

God bless you if this is you… because “this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other (Pharisee).” We will receive a gift from God if we acknowledge that we have no righteousness in our own actions apart from the righteousness of Jesus Christ who fulfilled the Law perfectly. In humility he gratefully accepted God’s grace.However, I know that even as a sinner who’s saved by grace… we may soon find ourselves changing from a tax collector to a Pharisee in our mindset. These are the times when we start comparing ourselves to other Christians, and start looking at how good we are at living the Christian life. And I think herein is where we need to start telling ourselves daily the same story about the Cross that we first heard when we became saved.Preaching to ourselvesRomans 3:19-26:

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it??? 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

As devoted Christians, we are just like unbelievers who need to hear the gospel. But in a deeper sense, we must continually remind ourselves of the depth of our depravity–or rather, the seriousness of sin. Bridges found the 3 words of rebellion, despise, and defy as apt words to describe what is that we do when we fall short of God’s glory, whether in gross or refined sinning.As 2 Samuel 12:9-10 says, we make our sin a despising of God and His Word because of the infinite majesty and sovereignty of the God who gave the commands. 1 King 13:21 tells that we have “disobeyed the word of the Lord”, or rather as the NIV and HCSB tells, we defy or rebel against God’s word, directly challenging his authority. Just as Leviticus 16:21 retells, our sin whether it be refined or grossly scandalous, it is to God a rebellion against His sovereign rule over His creation.Guilt, shame, a sense of obligation or duty will never be able to stimulate enough humility for us to pursue holiness for a lifetime. Rather, it must be God’s grace itself that will sustain us in our walks.2 Corinthians 5:14-15

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

It is Christ’s love that compels us (NIV) to a life of worship, obedience and discipleship. “Duty or guilt may motivate us for awhile, but only a sense of Christ’s love for us will motivate us for a lifetime.” (25). “For the love of Christ ..presses on me from all sides, holding me to one end and prohibiting me from considering any other, wrapping itself around me in tenderness, giving me an impelling motive.” Through the message of the gospel and the outpouring of God’s love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, the love of Christ for us can be the motivating force for a lifetime of discipleship. “As we continually reflect upon the gospel, the Holy Spirit floods our hearts with a sense of God’s love to us in Christ. And that sense of His love motivates us in a compelling way to life for Him.” (26)Like Paul, we must find a way to renounce our won self-righteousness in order to gain the righteousness from God that comes only by faith in Christ Jesus. When we find the way of humility driving us from our self-righteousness, we will soon find ourselves counting everything as rubbish just to know Christ, to gain Him (Philippians 3:1-9).

“To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means that you appropriate, again by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God’s holy wrath is no longer directed toward you.” (59)

“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”

In and of ourselves we are only sinners…saved by grace, but in, of, and through Christ we are saints. So as His chosen ones, holy and faithful, may we all be disciplined by God’s grace, to pursue a life of holiness.

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