200-Proof Grace

Here is another guest post from Dane Ortlund. Dane blogs regularly at Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology and is featured at The Gospel Coalition and the Resurgence.

Episcopal priest and author Robert Farrar Capon:

The Reformation was a time when people went blind-staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellarful of fifteen-hundred-year-old, 200-proof grace–of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture that would convince anyone that God saves us single-handed.

The Word of the Gospel, after all those centuries . . . suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home free even before they started. How foolish, then, they said, how reprehensibly misleading, they said, to take the ministers of that Word of free, unqualified acceptance and slap enforced celibacy on them–to make their lives bear a sticker that said they had gone an extra mile and paid an extra toll. It was simply to hide the light of grace under a bushel of pseudo-law. . . .

And for the Reformers, that was a crime. Grace was to be drunk neat: 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 that case.

–Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace (Eerdmans 1997), 109-10

God Condescends

This is a guest post by my friend and colleague with Docent Research Group, Justin Holcomb, who is also an Episcopal priest. He holds two masters degrees from Reformed Theological Seminary and a PhD from Emory University. Justin and his wife, Lindsey, wrote Rid of My Disgrace, a book on gospel hope and healing for sexual assault victims, which I highly recommend. You can follow him on Twitter here

In John 6, Jesus performs a miracle of multiplying loaves of bread and fish to feed over 5,000 people. This passage has been used to make the point that Jesus had to wait for the boy to offer his food before Jesus would do his part. When applied to our spiritual lives it looks like this: “God is really into you, but he wants you to be really into him first and he wants you to make the first move and show him that you are serious and all about his glory. And after you respond, God will look upon you with favor and good pleasure. God may even ‘use you’.” This is not true. We do not have this miracle recorded for the purpose of trying to convince you to try harder to get God’s attention. When Jesus’ first century audience sees this miracle they corner him and ask: “What do your works mean? Come on! Tell us what you’ve come to do. We want to know. We’d like you to be our king. We have an agenda for you.”

We cannot climb the ladder to God through some technique…God came near to us in Christ, so Christ could take care of that which separates us from God and then bring us near to God.

Jesus reminds them about the bread or manna in the desert with Moses and says: “It wasn’t Moses who gave you bread in the desert. It was my father who brought the bread from heaven. And now it is the father who is giving you the true bread from heaven. That would be me! I am the bread of life. I am the true life that has come down from heaven.” He claims to be the one who can truly give the life of God and says “If you do not have me you do not have life.” The life of God was poured out in his life. The bread came down from heaven; we didn’t climb up to God. In Jesus’ words about being the bread of life, claiming that he is the life of God on earth, we are looking at the very heart of Christianity—that we are not spiritual, but that we have a desperate spiritual need. We cannot climb the ladder to God through some technique. Rather, Christianity teaches our alienation from God until it is remedied by Christ. God came near to us in Christ, so Christ could take care of that which separates us from God and then bring us near to God.

To understand this is to get at the heart of what Jesus is about. We do not inherently have “spiritual life.” Christ was our spiritual life for us on our behalf. In being the bread of life, Jesus disarms us of our self-reliant spiritual efforts. As a result, we have a problem. We do not naturally on our own come near to God. He must come near to us. So a relationship with God is based on God’s condescension to us in Jesus being the bread of life from heaven. It is not that we have risen to spiritual heights, but that the bread of heaven has come down to us. Thankfully, it’s not all about us.

Quit Asking for Forgiveness

This is a guest post by Dane Ortlund who is the Senior Editor in Bible Division at Crossway. You can follow him on Twitter here.

One way I reinforce my inveterate functional Pharisaism is by allowing remembrance of a past sin to bring me back into despondency and a renewed plea for forgiveness every time it comes to mind.
The trouble is that this is not belief but unbelief. Not faith, but self-reliance. Normally I’ve asked the Lord to forgive me in the wake of the sin, yet when it comes to mind again I find myself crumpling internally into yet another anguished prayer for forgiveness. It’s the emotional equivalent of self-flagellation—scourging my own back with a whip.

Place it under the blood. Once. Then quit asking for forgiveness.

The enemy loves it. He sees I’m not allowing a decisive placing of that sin under the blood of Christ settle the issue once and for all. Somehow I let myself feel that the more often I ask for forgiveness, and the greater the anguish, the more effectual the blood of Christ on my behalf.

Which is itself works-righteousness. It’s a denial that the blood of Christ is enough. It’s thinking: I need to help out Christ’s work by a super intense, repeated, pleading for that blood. The very gospel application is a gospel denial. My mind pleads grace while my heart self-atones.

Place it under the blood. Once. Then quit asking for forgiveness.

He bore the whip.
“. . . and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” –Isaiah 53:6

Vacation, Sabbath, and Guest Bloggers

Since I’m heading for some much needed vacation with the fam, I thought a few comments on Sabbath and rest were in order. I know Sabbath is biblical and necessary because even God rested and because he commands it and gave it as a gift for those made in his image, but I still haven’t got down exactly how this practically works.

We would play and we would pray.

Do you just watch TV? Do you go on a walk in the woods? Do you pray all day? Do you write? Do you eat an overwhelming amount of donuts? A mix of all 5? I’m not sure, but I thought Eugene Peterson’s comments regarding this topic in an 2005 interview were helpful:

We defined our Sabbath this way: we could do anything, but nothing that was necessary. We would play and we would pray. Anything under the category of play was legitimate; anything in the category of pray was legitimate.

So, pray and play. That sounds good.

I also plan on doing some life-planning, but most of all I want to hang with my wife, baby boy still enwombed, toddler-baby Grace, the Trinity, and enjoy books, sun, and beach.

The blog will still have posts periodically, as I have some guest bloggers who have kindly agreed to do some postings while I’m gone. So do check in from time to time the next couple weeks.

Why Christians Can’t be Condemned

Those who trust Jesus cannot be condemned. Period. It is an impossibility. Why? Because the condemnation that Christians deserve for their sin was condemned in Jesus at Calvary. The death of Christ irreversibly condemned a Christian’s condemnation.

The apostle Paul writes:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, [God] condemned sin in the flesh”. (Romans 8:1, 3)

New Testament scholar Douglas Moo explains,

“…the condemnation of sin…consist[s] in God’s executing his judgment on sin in the atoning death of his Son. As our substitute, Christ ‘was made sin for us’ (2 Cor. 5:21) and suffered the wrath of God, the judgment of God upon that sin…In his doiong so, of course, we may say that sin’s power was broken, in the sense that Paul pictures sin as a power that holds people in its clutches and brings condemnation to them. In executing the full sentence of condemnation against sin, God’s effectively removed sin’s ability to ‘dictate terms’ for those who are ‘in Christ’ (v. 2). The condemnation that our sins deserve has been poured out on Christ, our sin-bearer; that is why ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (v. 1).” [The Epistle to the Romans, 481]

Cormac McCarthy, God, & “Something Knows”

One of my favorite living literary authors is Cormac McCarthy, and a recent tweet by John Piper got me thinking about him again.

Deep in each man is the knowledge that something knows of his existence. Something knows, and cannot be fled nor hid from.

McCarthy’s stark wrestlings with death, evil, and God in his novels are incredible. I do not embrace his typically hopeless denouements, but treasure the triumph of grace in the historical life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. However, his writing is worth reading, as he has no patience for trifling with matters of weightlessness. Here is one paragraph of note from The Crossing in his masterful The Border Triology:

“Men do not turn from God easily you see. Not so easily. Deep in each man is the knowledge that something knows of his existence. Something knows, and cannot be fled nor hid from. To imagine otherwise is to imagine the unspeakable. It was never that this man ceased to believe in God. No. It was rather that he came to believe terrible things of Him.” (p. 148)

7 Quotes from Andrew Murray’s “Humility”

Several years ago I read a little book called Humility by nineteenth century South African pastor Andrew Murray. I picked it up the other day, and was reminded of the value of the book and, more importantly, my need for humility. Murray defines humility as “the place of entire dependence on God” and he calls it “the root of true virtue” and “the first duty and the highest virtue of man” (10). He is remarkably quotable so here are seven knock-out quotes from this great little book on the pinnacle of Christian virtues:

“…it is not sin that humbles us most, but grace.”

  • How to conquer pride: “Two things are needed. Do what God says is your work–humble yourself. Trust Him to do what He says is His work; He will exalt you.” (90)
  • “We will learn that we can never have more of true faith than we have of true humility.” (68)
  • “Humility is simply the disposition which prepares the soul for living on trust.” (68)
  • “There is no pride so dangerous, none so subtle and insidious, as the pride of holiness.” (56)
  • The humble man: “He can bear to hear others praised and himself forgotten…” (47)
  • “In striving after the higher experiences of the Christian life, the believer is often in danger of aiming at and rejoicing in what one might call the more human virtues….While the deeper and gentler, the more divine and heavenly graces are scarcely thought of or valued. These virtues are those which Jesus first taught upon earth–because He brought them from heaven–those which are more distinctly connected with His cross and the death of self–poverty of spirit, meekness, humility, lowliness.” (47-48)
  • “…it is not sin that humbles us most, but grace.” (6)