The Edginess of Grace

“Some years ago I met with a woman who began coming to church at Redeemer. She said that she had gone to church growing up and had never before heard a distinction drawn between the gospel and religion. She had always heard that God accepts us only if we are good enough. She said that the new message was scary. I asked her why it was scary, and she replied:

‘If I was saved by my good works then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with ‘rights’–I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if I am a sinner saved by sheer grace–then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me.'”

Tim Keller, The Reason for God, pp. 182-183

Romans 7 and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Here’s a fascinating quote from Stevenson’s book that bears striking resemblance to something the apostles Paul says in Romans 7:

I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original sin; and the thought in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine… [Edward Hyde’s] every act and thought centered on self. (quoted in Tim Keller, The Reason for God, pg. 175).

Compare that with this:

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. (Romans 7:14-15)

Do You Want Grass or Wheat?

C.S. Lewis:

“The almost impossibly hard thing is to hand over your whole self to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is remain what we call “ourselves”- our personal happiness centered on money or pleasure or ambition–and hoping, despite this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you cannot do. If I am a grass field–all the cutting will keep the grass less but won’t produce wheat. If I want wheat…I must be plowed and re-sown.”

as quoted in Tim Keller, The Reason for God, 172.

J. G. Machen on Paul and James on Faith and Works (on Rye with Mayo…)

By Faith, Not By SIght“As the faith which James condemns is different than the faith that Paul commends, so also the works which James commends are different than the works which Paul condemns.” (from Machen, The New Testament, pg. 239) as cited in Richard Gaffin, By Faith, Not By Sight, pg. 118

Whose Good Works Are They?

“In fact, as we have already seen, sanctification is an aspect and outcome of the reality of the resurrection already experienced by the believer, and the process of its realization has no deeper perspective from which it can be viewed than that it is a continual “living to God” by those who are “alive from the dead” (to be sure, “in the mortal body,” Rom. 6:11-13). Or, as Paul puts it in Ephesians 2:10…sanctification is a matter of those… who “have been created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

The point here is that “the path of good works runs not from man to God, says Paul, but from God to man” [Berkouwer]. Ultimately, in the deepest sense, for Paul “our good works” are not ours, but God’s.” Richard Gaffin, By Faith, Not By Sight, pg. 88

Gaffin on the ‘Math’ of Sanctification

By Faith, Not By SIght “Perhaps the deepest perspective in Paul on the indicative-imperative relationship is provided in Philippians 2:12-13: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (NIV)…

Here is what may fairly be called a synergy, but it is not that of a divine-human partnership, in the sense of a cooperative enterprise with each side making its own contribution. It is not a 50/50 undertaking (nor even 99.44 percent God and 0.56 person ourselves). Involved here is, as it could be put, the ‘mysterious math’ of God’s covenant, of the relationship, restored in Christ, between the Creator and his image-bearing creature, whereby 100% + 100%= 100%. Sanctification is 100 percent the work of God and, just for that reason, it is to engage 100 percent of the activity of the believer.” Richard Gaffin, By Faith, Not By Sight, pg. 83

Genesis: Patriarch Ages and What is Tells Us About Change

One of the weirder aspects of Genesis is how long everybody lives. Adam lived 930 years. Noah lived 950 years. Abraham lived 175 years. These astronomically-high ages have garnered quite a bit of scholarly attention.

Are the ages so high because ancient people counted time differently than we do in our Gregorian calendar today? Is it because something else is afoot in these genealogies that owes itself to genre and authorial intention? Are the ages so high because the effects of sin upon human mortality had not completely ‘come home to roost’ yet? Was creation itself, in a manner of speaking, ‘fresher’ and therefore more capable of sustaining life? Difficult questions. Yet, if one assumes that the “years of Genesis” are roughly equivalent to our concept of a year (365 days), an observation emerges.

It has been noted before on this blog (here) that the transformation of the patriarchs by divine grace is a key element of Genesis. If indeed year means something like year for us, then we should notice that this transformation took a real long time. Abraham sets out at the age of 75 (Gen. 12:4). It was around 50 years before his climactic test of faith with Isaac at Mt. Moriah. For Jacob, it’s a good 20-30 years before any significant spiritual fruit starts to emerge in his life (and he was already relatively old when he met God at Bethel). With his son Judah, it takes probably around 20 years for his eyes to open to his (very obvious) sins against Joseph and Jacob.

Confusing as the age issue is in Genesis, taking it at face value seems to have the benefit of reminding us in a palpable way that transforming grace does not accomplish its purpose overnight. It was a long pilgrimage for the patriarchs, and they made plenty of mistakes along the way, but God did refine them by his mercy. And if that process does take (a long) time, then relax about how long it’s taking in your life! We need to have patience as God does his work in our lives and the lives of his people around us.

Illustrations: Sanctification and Indwelling Sin

White Horse Inn“The better analogy I think is, legally, a squatter in a condemned building. The court has ruled the building is condemned. No one can live in it, it’s boarded up, but somebody does, and sits in there, and good luck getting them out. That’s the way sin is until that building is finally condemned, until I die or Christ returns, whichever comes first. There’s a squatter in there, living there, and that’s indwelling sin.” -Kim Riddlebarger from the March 15, 2015 White Horse Inn program, “The Baptism of the Holy Spirit”