Friday, February 29, 2008

The Discipline of Grace – Chapter 3

Preach the Gospel to Yourself

These are few points we discussed this week:

What is the Gospel?
As reformed Christians, we have tended to shy away from ‘methods’ of sharing the gospel, such as the wordless book, or the coloured beads, for fear of it leading someone just saying praying the ‘sinners prayer’ and believing that that is enough to guarantee their salvation. But we recognised that given the number of Christians that have difficulty articulating what the ‘gospel’ means that some of these tools could be useful. And we could use them to help explain the gospel.

The Gospel is for believers too.
‘I [Jerry] believe part of the problem is our tendency to give an unbeliever just enough of the gospel to get him or her to pray a prayer to receive Christ. Then we immediately put the gospel on the shelf, so to speak, and go on to the duties of discipleship. As a result, Christians are not instructed in the gospel. And because they do not fully understand the riches and glory of the gospel, they cannot preach it to themselves, not live by it in their daily lives.’ pg 46.

I think this describes the climate of most of the Christian world today. It was certainly the experience of church that I grew up in. We discussed how a poor understanding of the Gospel and of Grace, effects the way we live our Christian lives. As Jerry says ‘The gospel is not only the most important message in all history; it is the only essential message in all of history. Yet we allow thousands of professing Christians to live their entire lives without clearly understanding it and experiencing the joy of living by it.’ Page 46

Why do we act as though we can live lives acceptable to God?
Sadly I think this is true of most of us, even ‘reformed’ Christians. ‘We readily acknowledge that we can never through our own obedience attain a righteousness that is sufficient for salvation. But then as believers we act as if we can live lives acceptable to God. pg 48 This is one reason why we need to preach the gospel to ourselves daily to remind ourselves that our obedience to God is not what keeps us saved, but it is Christs righteousness, imputed to us. As Jerry puts it when expounding Romans 3: 19-26. ‘Because we cannot attain a sufficient righteousness on our own, God has provided it for us. This righteousness from God is non other than the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, who through His sinless life and His death in obedience to the Father’s will, perfectly fulfilled the law of God.’ Pg 49

Faith is not a verb.
We were surprised to learn that … ‘The word faith is a noun and has no verbal form in English. Instead the word believe is used.’ Pg 51. In many Christian circles today faith has become a verb. In some cases where people are ill it has been said that they are ill because they don’t have enough faith, or that they don’t have the answer to their prayers because they don’t have enough faith. It has also become a ‘magical’ formula; if you can produce enough faith, or believe in something enough, then God will answer your prayers. But this way of thinking is offensive to God. It makes the action of faith the conduit of blessing. It makes God powerless to overcome our lack of faith. Faith becomes a work.

This is also true of how many view salvation, as though salvation is due to our own ability to produce enough faith to believe in God. This is not the Gospel. Jerry puts it very well on page 51 ‘Jesus Himself is always to be the object of our faith. We sometimes say we are saved by faith alone, meaning apart from works. That expression, however can be somewhat misleading, as though faith itself has some virtue that God respects. It is more accurate to say we are saved by God’s grace through faith. Faith, again, is merely the hand that receives the gift of God, and God through His Spirit even opens our hand to receive the gift.’ There is no action on our behalf, we do not have enough faith to receive grace. Grace is not a reward for faith. But we are saved by Grace, through the free gift of faith. We should be careful, not to make ‘Faith’ a work. But remember that it is a gift. Ephesians 2:8-9 ‘For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.’

Christ was thinking of me on the cross.
We discussed one of the biblical doctrines of grace, Particular Redemption. How knowing that Christ died particularly for his chosen people, the elect, is much more personal than the idea of a universal potential atonement. Whilst on the cross, Christ was thinking of ‘me’ (and you), not just some vague idea of those who might accept him. It also shows how powerful God is in that he has already accomplished the salvation of all his people, even those who have not been born yet. And he has also accomplished for them righteousness, and he is powerful enough to uphold them till the end. Amazing Grace! Christ death was absolutely perfect and none whom he died for will be lost. If we believe that he only died potentially for all men, then we devalue the sacrifice he made. We imply that his sacrifice was not enough, because it was not able to cover the sin of unbelief, and he was not powerful enough to overcome our lack of faith.

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