Shrinking the Cross

“Notice that the top line of the chart is labeled “Growing Awareness of God’s Holiness. ”As we stated last time, this does not mean that God’s holiness itself is increasing, for God is unchangeable in his character. He has always been infinitely holy. Rather, this line shows that when the gospel is functioning correctly in our lives, our awareness of God’s holy character is constantly growing. We realize in fuller and deeper ways the weight of God’s glorious perfections.

Likewise, the bottom line shows that when the gospel is functioning correctly in our lives, our awareness of our own sinfulness is consistently growing. This does not mean that we are becoming more sinful. (In fact, if we’re growing in Christ, we’ll be starting to see victory over sin.) But we are realizing more and more “how deep the rabbit hole goes” in our character and behavior. We are seeing that we are more profoundly sinful than we first imagined.

“As these two lines diverge, the cross becomes larger in our experience, producing a deeper love for Jesus and a fuller understanding of his goodness. At least that’s the ideal. But, in reality, because of indwelling sin, we are prone to forget the gospel—to drift away from it like a boat loosed from its moorings. That’s why the Bible urges us not to be “moved [away] from the hope held out in the gospel” (Col. 1:23) and to “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly” (Col. 3:16). When we are not anchored in the truth of the gospel, our love for Jesus and our experience of his goodness become very small. We end up “shrinking the cross” by either pretending or performing.

Look again at the bottom line of the chart. Growing in our awareness of our sinfulness is not fun! It means admitting—to ourselves and others—that we are not as good as we think we are. It means confronting what Richard Lovelace called the complex web of “compulsive attitudes, beliefs, and behavior”* that sin has created in us. If we are not resting in Jesus’ righteousness, this growing awareness of our sin becomes a crushing weight. We buckle under its load and compensate by pretending that we’re better than we really are. Pretending can take many forms: dishonesty (“I’m not that bad”), comparison (“I’m not as bad as those people”), excuse making (“I’m not really that way”), and false righteousness (“Here are all the good things I’ve done”). Because we don’t want to admit how sinful we really are, we spin the truth in our favor.

Growing in our awareness of God’s holiness is also challenging. It means coming face to face with God’s righteous commands and the glorious perfections of his character. It means realizing how dramatically we fall short of his standards. It means reflecting on his holy displeasure toward sin. If we are not rooted in God’s acceptance of us through Jesus, we compensate by trying to earn God’s approval through our performance. We live life on a treadmill, trying to gain God’s favor by living up to his expectations (or our mistaken view of them).

The Gospel Centered Life by Bob Thune & Will Walker (Page 24-25)

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Free at Last!

Tullian Tchividjian recently started a new series on the book of Galatians entitled Free At Last, here are some of the highlights from the first installment.

  • “The Roman Catholic Church of his day had so distorted the gospel of God’s free grace by adding our need to do to Christ’s ‘it is finished.'”
  • “The performance driven, do it yourself, check list version of Christianity the pervades the church today sadly mirrors the church at the time of the reformation.”
  • There is a constant temptation that we all have to add something to the finished work of Christ.
  • “Grace is not an abstract concept; grace is Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins.”  Galatians 1:4
  • “Law promises that life can be formulaic, it gives us a sense of manageability.  The Law seems safe because it is predictable.”
  • “Grace throws our glory train off the tracks, it wrestles control out of our hands.”
  • “It’s easy to run back to the law, it’s more natural to run back to the law…It’s very easy to go back to the formulas, it’s very easy to go back to the check lists and to do lists, it’s easy, there’s something inside of us that craves it  – that wants it.  And what we don’t realize is that thing inside, that part of us inside that craves it is that part of us that is resisting grace.”
  • “We think it’s just fine to say, ‘ok, I get it, but tell me what to do.’  That’s the part of you that needs to be put to death.”
  • “Perhaps, maybe we can regain control of our marriage, or regain control of our children or regain control of this that or the other, if you’d just tell us what to do.  Give us a checklist so I can get back in control of my life.”
  • This is not new, it’s OLD and has been LOST FOR SO LONG!
  • “The flesh is always resistant to “it is finished’ – always.”
  • “Mortification begins with that part of us that resists grace.”
  • “God demands perfection, not progress.”

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A theological conversation with John Wesley

I heard this from a friend some time ago and found it very helpful.  Most earnest Christians, when pressed, will land as Wesley did in this conversation.

“Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers.  But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions.  Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

Yes, I do indeed.

And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

Yes, solely through Christ.

But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?

No.

What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?

Yes, altogether.

And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things where in we agree. (Moule, 79ff.)”

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It’s all grace or it’s not grace at all

The degree to which we believe that grace alone saves us is the degree to which we will walk freely in our faith.  A “yes grace, but,” mentality is what keeps morality and self righteousness swimming around inside of us, our families and churches.  It is not as if we took some spiritual medicine that God, the good doctor, offered to us or that we flipped on the light switch while God provided the light and power.  NO!  The bible says that we were dead and that God, being rich in mercy made us alive (Ephesians 2:1-11, Colossians 2:13-14).  We played no part, we did not flip the switch, we did not take the medicine.  Dead men don’t do things!  Jerry Bridges says it like this:

“To the extent that you’re clinging to any vestiges of self-righteousness or putting any confidence in your own spiritual attainments, to that degree you are not living by the grace of God in your life. This principle applies both in salvation and in living the Christian life. Grace and good works (that is, works done to earn favor with God) are mutually exclusive. We cannot stand, as it were, with one foot on grace and the other on our own works of merit. If you’re trusting to any degree in your own morality or religious attainments, or if you believe God will somehow recognize any of your good works as merit toward your salvation, you need to seriously consider if you’re truly a Christian. We must be absolutely clear about the truth of the gospel of salvation. More than two hundred years ago, Abraham Booth (1734-1806), a Baptist pastor in England, wrote, “Let the reader … carefully remember, that grace is either absolutely free, or it is not at all: and, that he who professes to look for salvation by grace, either believes in his heart to be saved entirely by it, or he acts inconsistently in affairs of the greatest importance.””  Gerald Bridges;Jerry Bridges. Holiness Day by Day: Transformational Thoughts for Your Spiritual Journey Devotional (p. 48). Kindle Edition.

Why Christians never graduate from their need for the gospel

What is the Gospel?  “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13–14 NIV)

Paul is “eager to preach the gospel to” (Romans 1:15 ESV) “all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (Romans 1:7 ESV); why  would Paul be eager to preach the gospel to Christians?  Isn’t the gospel primarily for the unregenerate that need to repent and be saved?  No, Paul views the gospel – the proclamation of good news that God has made a way for sinners to be reconciled with Him – not only as the means by which unbelievers are saved, but also as the central component for ongoing growth and transformation in our faith (“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (Colossians 1:21–23 ESV)

The Scriptures call us to walk by faith (trust) and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7) – for our faith is grounded in a hope in what we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1).  We now walk not according to what we can see and can accomplish by our own efforts, but by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:4); Galatians 5:6 says it like this:  “for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6 ESV).  Paul persists in his letter to the Corinthians that the gospel is of singular importance in their lives of faith – “for what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4 NIV).  Behavioral change is not accomplished by our hard fought discipline or white knuckled effort; at the root of us presenting our bodies as living sacrifices that are holy and acceptable to God is connecting this effort to the mercies of God that are most visible in God’s saving work in our lives (Romans 12:1).  It is this kindness that prompts us to live continually repentant lives (Romans 2:4).

An ever growing awareness of God’s holy nature, our failure to measure up and the glorious grace of the gospel that bridges this gap should be where the Christian spends His time and energy investing.  Our disciplines should be aimed at beholdingthe glory of God and reveling in His grace – for as we behold Him we become more like Him:  “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” 1 Corinthians 3:18

 

God will not be domesticated or manipulated by our religious systems

“Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.  He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations; I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring their fears upon them, because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight.”” (Isaiah 66:1–4 ESV)

God seems to be constantly reminding us that He cannot be pinned in, domesticated or manipulated by the systems, institutions and laws that He has given us.  All of the ceremonies, laws, worship, covenants and military victories were (and still) are designed to point to the glory of God and the worship of the Creator.  Instead the people regularly attempted to use these religious things in an attempt to manipulate God in to getting what they wanted.  The problem is that what they wanted was His benevolent blessings more than they wanted Him.  God looks favorably on the dependent, lowly & contrite spirit that recognize their spiritual bankruptcy and throw himself on the grace and mercy of God. (Matthew 5)

God views our worship that is not accompanied by a trembling, contrite heart is wicked as murder or idolatry.  God is not interested in external compliance to His laws – God is after heart level transformation and increasing affection for Him.  The people were using compliance to their Levitical worship in an attempt to control God and get Him to bless and protect them.  We, too, often times, believe that God “owes” us protection, blessing or prosperity because of our morally clean lives or ability to keep God’s commands.  This is idolatry that reveals a heart that is more interested in God’s blessings and gifts than is in knowing or walking with Him – this is the default mode of the human heart, but even Christians must carefully guard their hearts and ask what their true motivations are – what their desire is for and where their real treasures are.  Our affections matter, they are the central component in the battle for our faith.

Talking to yourself, developing desire for God and our need for Grace

How do we develop a desire for God?  How do we fight spiritual apathy and foster affection for God?  Why do we need grace, are we really awed by it?  Here are some great articles and resources to help answer those questions:

We really don’t want God to reward us according to our faithfulness

“Behold, it is written before me: “I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will indeed repay into their lap both your iniquities and your fathers’ iniquities together, says the LORD; because they made offerings on the mountains and insulted me on the hills, I will measure into their lap payment for their former deeds.”” (Isaiah 65:6–7 ESV)

We don’t want God to reward us for our faithfulness.  Look at Israel, their covenants with God were contingent upon their obedience to the Law – and the bulk of the Old Testament is devoted to their failure, suffering and inability to keep the Law and the consequences associated with that arrangement.  We, on the other hand, have the perfect Law Keeper as our advocate.  Let us not default back to trying to earn our way, applying formulas to get God to bless & prosper us.  Let us rest securely and soundly on Christ’s perfect life on our behalf and stop striving to keep a Law which has already been perfectly kept.  In Christ, you are wholly acceptable to God; you can do nothing to earn additional approval or affection from the Almighty.  When Jesus said, “it is finished,” He meant it and the book of Hebrews would attest that the alter is closed, no other sacrifice is required.