Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Goal of the Gospel

Ephesians 2:8-10 "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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

I want to throw out an idea that has been stirring in my little pea brain for a good while. Faith and works. We all wrestle with this. What is my relationship to the Law of God? What is my commitment to the moral law? How can the ceremonial and civil law of the Old Testament serve me?

Church history is full of ideas and experiments. The Monastic orders where men of God mortified the flesh in hoping to save their souls. We also see examples of antinomian (anti-law) philosophy where men drank deeply of grace and adopted an almost anything goes mentality. Go to the far right of them and see the Theonomists wanting to adopt the Civil codes of the Old Testament in society and drawing tough stances in honoring the Holy nature of God.

I even see this in current trends in the church. I don't know how familiar you are with the terms 'emergent church' or the 'new perspective of Paul' trends- but each in some ways wrestle with grace and works.

When I read N.T. Wright's commentary on Romans, I felt like the Bishop was just tired of licentious living among Christians and this 'new perspective' was an effort to push believers into thinking that they do need to add to their salvation by accomplishing righteous deeds. (Please believe me when I say that I could be dead wrong on that one- but it was a strong impression I had while reading him.)

And don't we feel that pressure ourselves? As a Bible teacher, I would love somehow to inspire my students to Holy living and a desire to honor God in our choices. A purer, more disciplined church would be more distinctive.

And yet, time and time again, Scripture calls me back to a very clear reality. The ONLY thing I add to my salvation is my hideous sin. To try and justify my record to God actually dishonors the sacrifice of Christ. To think I can compete and improve my sin trends to make God love me more is the religion that all idols demand.

So over and over, and over again. This is a gift. It is from God. I simply receive it and take Him at His word. My only claim on justification and adoption is Jesus.

And that is so clear in the above passage.

And then comes verse 10. Arrrrggggghh- there's that work again 'works'. God prepared works. I am a work. I am created in Christ for good works. And I should 'walk in them'.
No different from James... 'Faith without works is dead'.

Can someone help me?

In an attempt to be even more confusing, I wanted to write about some of the things I have experienced over the last couple of years and some thoughts. But none of this violates the gospel message: "I am a sinner, saved by God alone through Christ alone by faith alone."

Stage 1- The Ping Pong Ball. A lot of my early experience with grace was a back and forth bounce between the ditches of license and legalism. I play the role of the sinner and the pharisee, the addicted younger brother of the prodigal story and the cynical elder brother. My personal experience is one of fast jumping between the two and then finding longer periods in both (but also more stability in the sweet middle). I may write more on this one later, but there are amazing lessons and consequences in this teetering wobble. The freedom offered to the pharisee is pure joy and the grace offered to the sinner is pure hope. But this is a rather immature stage. A lot of excuse making, hiding, comparing to others, rationalization, compartmentalization, and pathetic pride.

Stage 2- The Shepherd's Tool. I was reading a new book by Timothy Witmer, entitled 'The Shepherd Leader', when I ran across a neat concept.
He visited the Nix Besser farm and asked Mrs. Herr, "What is the Shepherd's most important tool?". Witmer thought it might be the rod or staff or dog or voice. But Mrs Herr without hesitation said, "The fence".

And this describes a second stage in this concept. At some point I began to see that God's law is not obstructive or fun robbing rules. Not at all, time and experience begins to show God's law as a beautiful boundary of protection and peace. I am hemmed in for my good. Part of growing in the trust of my Father is believing that His ways are the best ways. It creates some internal motivation for improving in my ability to follow Him.

The funny thing about this stage is that I begin digging in to what the Word really says. The more I trust the fence, the more precise information I want to know. And the more precise, the more beautiful it becomes. This is a fine tuned balance that we always miss. And I laugh because I actually have way more freedom than my fears ever believed. I have missed out on no fun or pleasure that this life affords. But the boundaries keep these from sending shoots of idolatry into my heart on so many levels.

Stage 3: The Ideal Standard, the Good Gospel, and the Heart of Flesh. Lately, the fence has been less of a boundary and now becoming Standards to pursue. But the cool thing is that I see these mostly as unachievable. Something like going into every football game with the mindset of 'no turnovers'- but rarely achieving this crucial goal.
The neat thing is this- this is where the gospel serves me so well. My family, my marriage, my self discipline, my worship, my unselfishness, my giving, my prayer life is NOT what it needs to be. But I am under the precious atoning sacrifice of Christ. This gap does not discourage me- I am loved and forgiven. So I get up and run a little better tomorrow. And when I do make progress it is all due to the Spirit and the ministry of the Word, and His gift.
I am not what I need to be... but I am not what I used to be. And I am not arrogant about that, I am so thankful. All praise and credit goes to Him!
The Rule is good. It is worth pursuing. It hurts so good to sweat toward that prize. There are great examples to follow.
But here is the neat little secret.... all of this has a heart beat now called love.
The most amazing gift I have been given in these stages is the ability to love someone other than myself. When I gush at my wife and melt with my girls. When I have warm thoughts of friends and cry over their pain. When my insides smile at the lofty thoughts of my heavenly Father, all I can do is say is 'amazing'. And this honors my Father and gives proper credit to the work of the Son.

Last thing- even this blog post is an ideal that I fall short of. You may catch me tomorrow sulking over what someone said or did. I may be licking the wounds of defeat and hiding from the fray. But the Father of the glorious gospel says, "Come on, my Son, and let's get going." And I say, 'Wow, I wonder what's gonna happen next?' The old hymn says 'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take Him at His word'. I say "This is just too cool!"

Love to get your thoughts........

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