How the Gospel of Grace Re-Creates You

Theologian Herman Bavinck shows the magnificent, all-encompassing work of the gospel of grace achieved by Jesus and how grace changes people:

Grace doesn’t take away from your humanity it restores all that it means to be human.

In the covenant of grace, that is, in the gospel, which is the proclamation of the covenant of grace, there are actually no demands and no conditions. For God supplies what he demands. Christ has accomplished everything, and though he did not accomplish rebirth, faith, and repentance in our place, he did acquire them for us, and the Holy Spirit applies them…

The covenant of grace does not deaden human beings or treat them as inatimate objects. On the contrary, it totally includes with all their faculties and powers, in soul and body, for time and eternity. It embraces them totally, does not destroy their power, but deprives them of their impotence. It does not kill their will but frees them from sin; it does not numb their consciousness but delivers it from darkness. It re-creates the whole person and, having renewed it by grace, prompts it, freely and independently, with soul, mind, and body, to love God and to dedicate itself to him. The covenant of grace declares that God’s honor and acclaim is not won at the expense but for the benefit of human persons and celebrates its triumphs in the re-creation of the whole person, in his or her enlightened consciousneses and restored freedom. [Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 230.]

In the gospel God in Jesus gives you everything you have ever needed. What God wants from you, he gives to you. Therefore being a Christian isn’t a life full of negatives but a life full of positives. The grace he gives does not only forgive sins, but changes sinners.

The good news for the world God gives in Jesus is a loving gift to humanity not an oppressive burden to humanity. Grace doesn’t take away from your humanity it restores all that it means to be human. The gospel doesn’t deprive you of who you are, it delivers you from who you were and gives you a better identity.

Jesus’ Goal in Talking About His Second Coming

When Jesus talks about the signs of his Second Coming the goal is not to get his followers to be infatuated with the timing and dating of his return, but to jolt them into watchfulness (Mark 13:32-36). Jesus is not trying to encourage his followers to figure out when he is coming, but to live a life of wakefulness realizing that he may suddenly and unexpectedly come–at any moment. Commentator R. Alan Cole’s remarks on Mark 13:30-32 are helpful,

The longing for a long-awaited loved one to come home is generated by love for the person not the the person’s itinerary.

In the midst of many details that are puzzling, two main principles are clear. First, the Christian is to avoid unhealthy interest in the actual date, and secondly, we are to see the very uncertainty as to the date as a strong stimulant to ceaseless watchfulness. In other words, like every other Christian doctrine, that of the second coming has a moral and spiritual goal; we must be watchful, lest our Master, when He returns, finds us sleeping (36). As Schweizer says, every description of the end time is also an exhortation to the church. [Mark, TNTC, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, reprinted 2002), 281-282.]

So, Christians, don’t scour The Jerusalem Post or rely on the rapture index being overly concerned about filling in the latest prophecies and plugging in possible symbolic fulfillment surrounding Jesus’ Coming. Instead watch your life, watch your doctrine, watch your marriage, watch your inner-life, watch your money, watch your time, etc., in a way that demonstrates readiness so that when Jesus shows up you will not be ashamed of any of those things. Ask yourself, are each of those things awake to the reality of Jesus’ appearing? Or are they sleeping? Maybe ask the following questions and generate some more of your own to do a self-assessment:

  • Is your private, inner, and devotional life asleep to the reality of Christ?
  • Is your marriage passive when it comes to displaying the gospel to the world through the husband’s sacrificial love and the wife’s glad submission?
  • Is your wallet lazy toward the poor and God’s kingdom yet wide-awake to recreation and consumerism?
  • Is the way your using you’re time drugged drowsy because you are only living for today and its pleasures and not the Final Day of Jesus’ return?
  • Are you hitting the snooze-button on a particular pattern of sin in your life where repentance is needed?

A passion for the second coming of Christ is not most demonstrated by interest in charts outlining the stages of his return and developing the latest end-time interpretation, but living a life pleasing to Christ that exhibits that he is your first love. In other words, the reality of Jesus coming again should incite greater love for Jesus not for the way in which he returns. The longing for a long-awaited loved one to come home is generated by love for the person not the the person’s itinerary.

Jesus is coming again. So long for that day. Love him. And live like you love him and are tirelessly awaiting his return.

Experiencing Jesus-Sized Joy

In Jesus’ prayer to his Father in John 17, he makes a connection between the things he says and the joy of those who trust him.

“…these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” (Jn. 17:13)

Strikingly, he prays that believers will experience his own joy. Jesus’ desire is that his followers have Jesus-sized joy, and his words are instrumental to their own experience of his joy. Whether or not the ‘these things’ Jesus are referring to is the whole Farewell Discourse (Jn. 14-17) or this prayer itself (Jn. 17), the aim of Jesus’ words is to bring his followers into joy.

Jesus’ desire is that his followers have Jesus-sized joy, and his words are instrumental to their own experience of his joy.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones gives some practical suggestions to how believers may have this joy. He states,

There are many Christian people who spend the whole of their lives looking at their own feelings and always taking their own spiritual pulse, their own spiritual temperature. Of course, they never find it satisfactory, and because of that they are miserable and unhappy, moaning and groaning. Now that is wrong. First and foremost we must avoid concentrating on our own feelings. We must learn to concentrate positively on ‘these things’. In other words, the secret of joy is the practice of meditation–that is the way to have this joy of the Lord. We must meditate upon him, upon what he is, what he has done, his love to us and upon God’s care for us who are his people. The Assurance of Salvation, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2000), 305-306.

The Doctrine of Justification for a Case of the Monday’s

If you trust Jesus, justification gives hope to any and every bad day you might have. Whether it really is a Monday or just feels like one because of a fresh sense of your own sinfulness, the once-for-all events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday grant grace to “a case of the Monday’s.”

God’s work of justification is the one act of God that blots out the sum total of your sin because of the saving work of Jesus.

Justification blesses your worst days because it imputes to you the perfect righteousness of Christ and his eternal and unbroken best days. Theologian William G.T. Shedd explains this hope-giving truth:

The justification of a sinner is an all-comprehending act of God. All the sins of a believer, past, present, and future, are pardoned when he is justified. The sum-total of his sin, all of which is before the Divine eye at the instant when God pronounces him a justified person, is blotted out or covered over by one act of God. Consequently, there is no repetition in the Divine mind of the act of justification; as there is no repetition of the atoning dath of Christ, upon which it rests. [Quoted by Anthony Hoekema, Saved By Grace, 180]

God’s work of justification is the one act of God that blots out the sum total of your sin because of the saving work of Jesus. God has good news for every single one of your worst days.

Of Works

This is another guest post by Dane Ortlund. He has written a book titled A New Inner Relish: Christian Motivation in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards. My interview with him is found here.

In that remarkable passage, Romans 9:30-10:4, Paul says that Gentiles have attained righteousness, a righteousness of faith, while Israel has not attained righteousness because they sought it ‘as of works.’

In Galatians 3, Paul uses the same phrase, ‘of works.’ In 3:10 he says that ‘as many as are of works of law are under a curse.’ The ESV glosses that as ‘all who rely on works of the law.’ That’s a good and sensible rendering, but more woodenly it simply speaks of those who are ‘of works.’

What are you of?

I wonder if there is a striking insight here that we usually read right over.

Paul doesn’t say Israel sought righteousness by doing works or that those who do works are under a curse. Doubtless there is overlap here, and doing is included to some degree; but Paul simply speaks of being of works.

How about you? What are you of? Not: what do you assent to doctrinally; what are you of. As the gospel sinks in more and more deeply as we walk with God, one of the first outer shells of our old life that the gospel pierces is the doing of works unto approval. But there is another, deeper level—instinct level—‘of-ness’ level—that must be gradually deconstructed and shed, too—being of works. I can go through the whole day trumpeting the futility of doing works to please God, all the while saying the right thing from an ‘of works’ heart.

To be of works is not to fall short. It is to march in the wrong direction. It isn’t running to the office only to come up a few blocks short; it is running without realizing a ride had been freely provided. Not breaking a rule but playing the wrong game. Coming to Christ is not acknowledgment of our inability to be perfect. It is throwing our entire mode of existence onto the scrapheap in surrender. And finally finding freedom.

Struggling with Unforgiveness

This is a guest post by Dave Johnson. Dave is a close friend of mine and president of the Johnson Consulting Group where he is a wealth manager. I serve as a wealth manager there and research manager there as well. He is also an elder at Life Connection Church which is a part of the Acts 29 network of churches. You can follow him on twitter here.

Recently my wife and I were falsely accused by a fellow believer from church on an issue that was untrue and unfounded. What was hard to swallow was the fact that this same person had done this to myself at least once in the past, to other Pastors on staff, and to church members. I write this not because of how the church handled it (which was scripturally sound), but because of how I wanted to respond.

I was quick to point out to the other pastors/elders his sin, and I was ready to not only pronounce judgement, but I also thought it would be best if we just asked him to leave the church and go cause trouble elsewhere! Then I had opportunity to sleep on it, and the next morning I found myself reading “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32) and “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:13).

If you are a Christian, you know that we are the most forgiven people in the world.

I found myself in a little dilemma with my own spirit! I wanted to judge quickly, empty the trash, wipe my hands clean, and move on. But I could not do that!  As I read God’s Word, I realized that he has given us a very high standard to live up to when we have the opportunity (like I did) to forgive someone else. Thankfully, God also gives us the grace and direction we need to imitate Him by forgiving others as He has forgiven us (me).

If you are a Christian, you know that we are the most forgiven people in the world. It is easy for me to preach to others, “forgive as Jesus forgave you”, but when the offense is against me, it is not so easy to preach such things…especially to a person that has a record of wrongs (I’m the one keeping score).

Well, after a little wrestling with my spirit, I began to listen to His voice and began to pray for God to soften my own heart. I asked God to help me extend to this man (forgiveness) what has been extended to me (forgiveness from the Father over and over and over again). Ken Sande says “to forgive someone means that I release him or her from liability to suffer punishment or penalty.”  Lord knows that I wanted this man to suffer.  He injured my wife’s heart by the things that he said. He made me mad that he had done this before to myself and to others. Wasn’t it time for him to pay? I realized then that forgiveness is a decision that I can choose to act upon or ignore.

The answer was clear. While the pastors/elders practiced godly church discipline on this man, I still needed to respond by forgiving this man and his wife, and help them to see the truth and help bring them into a right relationship with God: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

If you are struggling with unforgiveness like I was, I suggest you take another look at the enormous debt for which God has forgiven you. Ask yourself whether you have ever treated God or others in the same way that you have been treated by the person who wronged you. Remind yourself what you deserve because of your sins, and then rejoice in the amazing promise of His Word: The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103: 8-11).