I have been reading some great resources lately. About a month ago, on flights to and from Florida, I finished the refreshing little book, A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love by Milton Vincent. I had read excerpts of it here and there on various blogs and was inspired by what seemed like a new perspective on the gospel. I have since seen this theme echoed in various blogs I have enjoyed. But, here’s the thing–this perspective is not new. The idea that the grace we understand through the gospel should continue to manifest itself in the life of the Christian has been there all the time. It became obscured by human ideas.
I confess that until recent years, I viewed grace as something that was bestowed upon me, but I failed to understand that it also should work itself out in my life as well. Grace is easily and enthusiastically received, but the process of living in it and dispensing it is difficult. We like being undeserving recipients, but we can often balk at showing this same “undeserved favor” to others (particularly if we perceive things that seem to disqualify). I find that I especially need some education in this area with regard to my children. Elyse Fitzpatrick’s blog, Give Them Grace, has been so helpful to me…as well as Life With Littles. I have a long way to go.
There seems to be an awakening among Christians regarding this idea of gospel grace. I hope it is much more than a buzz word. Things are changing. How is it that we are just beginning to “get” this when some of my favorite dead guys (Bunyan, McCheyne, Spurgeon, Pink…) seemed to have had a handle on it years ago? I’m sure there are people much smarter than I who have formulated their theories. I’ll tell you what I see.
I was converted in the late 70’s, and what I remember about those early years of my conversion was a focus in Christian work on bigness. Sensational activities, loud and/or entertaining preachers, excruciatingly long invitations, crowds pouring down the aisle, statistics being touted. (But what happened to all those converts? The importance of discipleship was not widely accepted then.) Also, there were also evaluations based upon outward appearance (the long enough/short enough question…if you are from my generation, you know what I mean). In short (no pun intended), it was all about us.
I grew up in fundamentalism (and this will not be a fundamentalist-bashing post because I don’t see the problem being a movement but heart issues in the lives of individuals). I remember as a new believer, that other older Christians would encourage me to do things the “right” way…which involved many superficial changes. I was confused. It was not until years later that I found out the reason. No one explained why. For whom was I to do these things? I was merely encouraged to conform under the auspices of being “biblical.” The cart was before the horse, so to speak. So the result was that I felt I was right with God, based upon the checklist; but inside there were a lot of misconceptions and unresolved issues.
I knew I was saved by grace,
“To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” Eph 1:6
…but was I to be accepted in the body of Christ only when I did the right things? Were the only people approved by God the ones who kept The List too? And I noticed other people had different lists. The plot thickened. Whose was right?? Fact is, God says to do justly, love mercy, walk humbly, love Him with all my heart and love my neighbor as myself. Now don’t get concerned that I’m going to go off on a tangent about Christian liberty. No, I don’t think grace is something we presume upon, or use as license to do what we wish because God understands our frailty (I believe Paul’s response was, “God forbid” in Romans 6). It is true, He remembers that we are dust (Ps. 103:14), but we are also not to remain immature. We are to “grow up into him in all things (Eph. 4:15) and to approve things that are excellent (Phil 1:10).
I think some preachers are afraid of this “awakening” to grace because it may mean that the church doesn’t always appear to have it all together. Truth be told, it didn’t before…but at least it looked good. It may not result in having a large or “successful” church. I think some congregations are afraid of it because they are too comfortable in checking off their lists. Gospel grace gets to the heart of things. Just going through the motions doesn’t cut it, because although man looks on the outward appearance, God looks on the heart. This literally gets under your skin. He looks beyond what’s done, to the “why”. At the point of salvation, it is revealed to us that we are undone without Christ. We are hopeless and helpless. There is not a point when we begin to operate apart from this. Our daily position is one of hopelessness and helplessness without the Lord. But it does not bring us to a dead end…a perpetual Slough of Despond. Yes, gospel grace makes us remember the pit, daily. Gospel grace opens our awareness to more and more areas of need as we mature in Christ. I have spoken to numerous individuals who have been caught unawares by this phenomenon. The expectation, I guess, is that as we mature we will feel better and more confident in ourselves. The opposite is true of those who are grace-fully minded.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half-done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.~Annie J. Flint
This Awakening is not folks coming to the understanding of something new. It involves having a fresh understanding of a very old, old story. Remembering. Going back to basics, as they say. I believe God is desirous of this continually, or He would not have instituted the Lord’s Supper. I am hopeful that Christians will set their checklists aside, along with their systems and debates. The time is coming, I believe, when those who are born again will be unified. I am not talking about the warm, fuzzy, “Kum Bay Ya” type of unity. As things continue to degenerate in this world, professing Christians will be proven. I think we’ll come back to the clinging desperation of the early church. We’ve wandered too long in our “isms”. It is time to seek the old paths…and they go way back beyond the sawdust trail.