Category Archives: Growth/Pursuit

Grace Driven Effort (part 2)

Yesterday, we began talking about killing sin (mortification) in our lives.  If we are honest, this is topic rarely discussed in Christian circles and most never really experience any significant level of victory over recurrent, ongoing sins in their lives.  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 eradicate it from our lives.  Yesterday, we summarized points 1-4 from Ralph Erskine’s article entitled The Difference Between Legal and Gospel Mortification.  Today, we will look at points 5-8 in an attempt to replace “us driven effort” with “grace driven effort.”

5.  The motives are different.  Ultimately, the Christian empowered by “grace driven effort” will not serve sin, because sin has been put to death and he now lives to God (Romans 6:6).  Conversely, “us driven effort” runs from sin not because he is alive to God, but so he can live.  “Grace driven effort” kills sin because the love of God overwhelms him, “us driven effort” attempts to kill sin so that God will love him and find him acceptable.  One knows that God accepts him, the other is trying with all of his effort to earn God’s acceptance.  “Us driven effort” relies on us, our discipline and hard work as the foundation for killing sin, thus placing our hope in trust in us rather than in God.

6.  The nature is different.  “Grace driven effort” seeks to not just subdue and weaken sin, but to completely destroy and eradicate it from our being because sin is contrary to our nature.  When we employ “us driven effort,” we are OK to live with sin as long as it is beaten into submission and rarely rears its ugly head on the surface of our lives.  One violently attacks sin while the other makes pacts to let it have dominion in unseen areas of our lives.  “Us driven effort” manages surface level sins and is shocked when the lion that has been keeping on a leash devours them.

7.  The extent to which war is waged against sin is different.  “Grace driven effort” sees and beholds God as supreme, holy and sovereign and every fiber of our being hates sin and never approves of it.  “Grace driven effort” sustains us in the lifelong fight against sin and the goal to be holy as God is holy.  In “us driven effort,” we may hate sin and its affects with part of our being, but there are levels of our heart that are OK to live with sin, as long as they are not “bad” sins like adultery, murder, alcoholism, abuse, etc.  In “us driven effort,” we make a pact with our sin, allowing the “lesser” ones to remain so long as the “surface” level sins are not seen; there is no energy for the long lasting war with sin, victory is short and not sustained.  “Grace driven effort” is never at peace with sin, it violently attacks sin.

8.  Their success is different.  Make no mistake, our battle with sin is one that we will fight until we die, or Jesus returns.  Then we will be set from from sin and its affects.  “Grace driven effort” recognizes that some battles will be lost, but there are gains being made in the over all war“Grace driven effort” sees progress in the putting to death of the corrupt nature that dwells within, not just the surface manifestations of that corrupt nature.  “Us driven effort,” on the other hand, never really progresses much in the war against sin because the goal is to manage sin and its consequences instead of ripping it out by its root.  In “us driven effort,” one sin is often times replaced by another.  The Pharisees employed “us driven effort” in their attempt to mortify sin.  They looked good on the surface, successfully managing “external sin,” but their pride and self-righteousness had supplanted their “external sins.”  The later sins were more dangerous than the former because it blinded them to their need for a savior because they had found “success” on their own.  They really weren’t that bad.

In the end, “us driven effort,” reduces our reliance on God and dulls our sensitivity to sin.  When this is our primary mode of operation in our Christian life, we think that we don’t really have that much sin in our lives.  We aren’t really that bad or that depraved, just read the paper or watch the news if you want to see the really depraved people in the world!  We have made such great strides in cleaning ourselves up on the outside and putting to death the sins that everybody sees along with their uncomfortable consequences.  But, the reality is that we have most likely merely replaced these with more blinding and subtle sins like pride, self-discipline and self-righteousness.  In “us driven effort,” we are the focus, we have to make it happen, we are the ones that have the power to overcome.  That sounds a lot like what transpired many years ago in the Garden with Adam and Eve – they forsook the sovereign Creator’s command and provision for their own; they knew better.  “Grace driven effort” places us in a position before God that recognizes our complete inability and begs God to work.  The litmus test for which means you deploy is in answering the question, “who gets the glory?”  In “us driven effort,” the glory is ours because we were disciplined and hardworking enough; in “grace driven effort,” the glory is God’s because He is the deliverer.

Download PDF here

Grace Driven Effort (part 1)


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)

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).

God nourishes the soul

“For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth. The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts.”
The Pursuit of God by AW Tozer (location 85 Kindle Edition)

An insatiable desire

The bible paints the portrait of the soul’s panting, thirsting, yearning, longing, desiring after God.  Regardless of whether life is going well or not, there is an overarching drive to know God more deeply and walk with Him more fully.  We see in the pages of scripture a lusty, greedy, insatiable desire to get more of God.  Why is it that we are so easily content to compartmentalize our faith, to do it on Sundays and live morally clean lives in mechanical obedience?  Paul seems to be greedy for more of God and says that asking whether something is right or wrong is the wrong question to ask.  Paul, instead asks, does this get me more of Jesus or does it rob me of knowing Him more deeply?
If the biblical standard is a pursuit of God to chase Him, love Him, follow Him and be conformed into His image at all cost because of the surpassing greatness of knowing and loving Him as our ultimate Treasure, then why don’t we?  Why is it so unusual to find the man or woman in the church that has an insatiable desire to know God?

“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalms 42:1–2 ESV)

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalms 63:1 ESV)

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” (Habakkuk 3:17–19 ESV)

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8–11 ESV)

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” (Romans 8:19–24 ESV)

Our begrudging submission does not glorify God and indicates that we have a fundamental misunderstanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:4–11 ESV)

True obedience flows out of love (John 14:15) that moves us to depend upon God in an abiding relationship.  The picture of abiding is one of relational trust, love and dependance upon Him as our source for direction, significance, meaning and true joy in life.  Authentic, God glorifying, fruit is produced as a byproduct of this relationship.  Our glad submission to the commands of scripture glorify God and lead us to joy.  Our duty filled obedience, birthed out of obligation, will never produce true fruit, joy, or glorify God.  Our begrudging submission does not glorify God and indicates that we have a fundamental misunderstanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.