Grace Driven Effort (part 1)

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:1–3:10 ESV)

There is no doubt that the scriptures call us to kill (mortify) sin in our lives – and to take radical steps in this pursuit.  Matthew 5:29 reminds us of the seriousness with which Jesus views sin and the radical steps we should be willing to take in order to eradicate it from our lives.  The problem often times is how we go about this.  We normally view the spiritual disciplines as the primary means by which we kill sin in our lives.  Common advice is to pray more, read one’s bible more and get some accountability.  But, if we are honest, we know that these are powerless, in and of themselves, to victoriously kill sin in our lives.  They may help us manage sinful behaviors, but they won’t kill sin at its source.  What we need is not more us driven effort, but rather grace driven effort.  Grace driven effort requires a significant shift in our thinking and theology.

A 17th century Scottish Presbyterian minister named Ralph Erskine wrote a great article entitled The Difference Between Legal and Gospel Mortification which is very helpful in helping us to abandoning us driven effort and replacing it with grace driven effort.  In this article, Mr. Erskine compares us driven effort versus grace driven effort.  I have summarized his thoughts on his first four points below (we will look at the last four tomorrow).

1.  Grace driven effort is fueled by gospel principles, such as the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13), Faith in Christ (Acts 15:9), and the constraining love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14).  Us driven effort is often times fueled by the approval of others, self-righteousness, fear of judgement (temporal or eternal), our own conscience, the example of others, and frequently the power of sin itself.  The last one is all too common in our modern evangelical experience; we use “lesser” sins to battle “greater” sins.  For example the man who struggles greatly with pornography or alcoholism, exerts his own self-righteous discipline to suppress the “greater” sin.  So self-righteousness now wars against lust; sin is wrestling against sin and sin is never killed, just managed and replaced by a more “acceptable” one.

2.  The weapons which are engaged are different.  Grace driven effort fights with the gospel truths such as the blood of Christ, the word of God, the promises as children, and the source of our righteousness in the death & resurrection of Jesus (Galatians 3:1-3, 6:14).  Us driven effort focuses, instead, on the law to beat sin.  This is manifest in our lives when we make vows and resolutions to overcome our sin, these become the strength that we depend upon to deliver us.  But Paul reminds us that “sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14 ESV).  Our best efforts will never kill sin in our lives because our best efforts are rooted in law which is powerless to redeem and restore – the law only reveals our sin, but it will never deliver.  That is the point in Jesus, grace redeems and restores.  The law is useful in diagnosing the disease (like an X-Ray or MRI), but it will never cure the disease – only grace can cure.

3.  The sins they attempt to kill are different.  Us driven effort focuses especially on “external” sins like pornography, alcohol, profanity, and gossip to a lesser degree.  This is because us driven effort relies upon us to kill these so we deploy the only weapon we have on our own to defeat these sins:  sin.  We become disciplined, and dependent on our best efforts to win the war so we use sin to fight sin in an effort to manage our behavior.  Grace driven effort fights these sins, but also asks much deeper heart level questions in an attempt to determine the root causes of idolatry that exist from which these sins spring.  Grace driven effort is driven to bruise the head of the serpent and longs with Paul for deliverance (“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24 ESV)).  Grace driven effort persistently reminds us of God’s great ability and our utter inability.

4. The motive for killing sin is different.  Us driven effort is motivated by the consequences of sin in our lives.  Things like being found out, damage to our reputation, natural consequences like marriages being damaged, divorce and a host of other uncomfortable consequences.  Comfort, reputation and self will are in focus when we employ us driven effort.  Grace driven effort is different; it realizes that sin dishonors God, opposes Jesus, grieves the Spirit that dwells within and separates us from God.  Us driven effort avoids sin and attempts to kill it because it hurts us and causes discomfort, not because it offends the Creator and tarnishes the image of God that Jesus came to restore.

Colossians 3:1-10 is dripping with grace driven effort.  Follow the rhythm of this passage.  It starts with a conditional statement that the balance of the passage is built upon.  The conditional statement is if you are a Christian then you have been raised with Christ (see Romans 6:1-11) and are to set your mind on eternal things, not temporary things.  The text then reminds us that we have died (to sin and its dominion over our lives) and are alive to God and to the things of God and that we will appear with him in glory.  The text then tells us that in light of the truths that preceded it we are to put to death the sin in our lives.  Don’t miss that – the fuel for killing sin is found in what God has done for us and our right standing relationship with Him.  You will never successfully beat sin in your life if you are not wowed by the fact that the Creator of the universe loved you, pursued you and brought you into a relationship with Him of His own doing and choice.  Being wowed by this increasingly drives our affections toward God and eternal things as lesser (albeit often time good) things hold less appeal in our lives.

Grace Driven Effort (part 2)


Whose righteousness do you trust in – His or yours?

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 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!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:9–14 ESV)

When we are proud of our moral cleanness, disciplined efforts and good works, we show that we are at odds with the Gospel.  Those who are proud of their ability to manage their behavior treat others with contempt.  The Gospel beckons those who recognize their complete inadequacy and long to lean upon Another.  As Christians, we should view ourselves as nothing more than beggars showing other beggars where to find bread.

Moral reformations can take place apart from Christ. History proves that. Mortal resurrections, on the other hand, require the Gospel. It requires Christ alone to come and do for us what we could never do for ourselves.”

“Moral reformations can take place apart from Christ.  History proves that.  Mortal resurrections, on the other hand, require the Gospel.  It requires Christ alone to come and do for us what we could never do for ourselves.”

Pictures of Grace, Part 1 by Tullian Tchividjian

What Motivates Your Pursuit?

“All too often, religious people view their acts of piety or moral efforts as a means of gaining acceptance with God. Check yourself now. Even if you’ve been a Christian for a long time, don’t you sometimes feel like God is more pleased with you on days when you’ve been faithful in daily devotions than those rushed days when you neglected time in the Word and prayer? Do you tend to view your relationship with God as a long list of “do’s and don’ts”? Is your obedience to God motivated by love and characterized by joy—or guilt and fear? Is it easy for you to admit your failures and take ownership of your sins? Or does the possibility of being exposed feel threatening to your sense of well-being?

Like Luther, our relationship with God can easily become based on our own performance, rather than the performance of Christ. Even good spiritual disciplines, such as Bible-reading, prayer, and worship, become in our minds, like rungs on the ladder to heaven. We may not express it this way. In fact, we might even deny it. But functionally, and practically, we live as if approval from God depended upon our obedience, instead of Christ’s obedience for us.

Christ Formed in You by Brian Hedges

Friends of the omnipotent, soverign Creator

I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. (John 15:15–16 ESV)

We are friends of the omnipotent, sovereign Creator of all things.  What a staggering statement!  Jesus chose us to bear fruit, but we often times get it backwards.  We want to tell people to go and bear fruit, but we neglect to point out that the fuel for the fruit is that He chose us and brings us in to a sustaining relationship with Him.  Jesus chose us out of the world (verse 19), we are not friends with the world.  We are not left on our own, the Spirit has come to remind us, sustain us, embolden us, and bear witness about Jesus (John 15:26).  Jesus even said that it was to our advantage that he go away so the Spirit could come (John 16:7).