Thursday, March 13, 2014

Knowing Grace

I've recently reiterated to my oldest daughters that if they can learn two things in school, I'd like them to strive to do well in English and Math. I've generally thought of these as foundational building blocks of learning success. If you can read, write, and understand things written and spoken, your ability to learn more greatly increases. As for math, most kids avoid it like green vegetables, wondering how it could ever be good for them, and fighting against every bite. However, math is a part of everyday life- shopping, bills, bank statements, budgets, time- and it is necessary to understand later subjects, especially the sciences. Learning these two subjects well makes living easier and more enjoyable.

If I can help them learn and truly understand one thing, it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because a proper understanding of His person and work is foundational for everything they need for "life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3). Sure, I would like for them to have "success" in life- to be well adjusted, confident, making good grades that lead to good degrees, but this success only lasts for a short time, and ultimately not profiting their souls. Godliness, according to Paul (1 Timothy 4:8), has value in this life, but also for the life to come.

 If I can push this a little further, hoping they can grasp something intrinsic to the Gospel-essential for understanding how it applies to them, and thus transforms them into Christ-likeness, I would have them know GRACE. This can't be a fuzzy concept, because it is so important. They have to realize that they do not deserve God's acceptance, His love, His mercy, or His peace, but because of the obedience and humility of Christ, they can have all these and more in Him (most importantly having Him!). Knowing this grace takes our eyes off of ourselves and how well we do, and makes us see the excellence of Jesus Christ and what he has done. Knowing this grace takes our eyes off of everyone else, never using them as a measuring stick for our success, but pointing us to Jesus who alone makes us a success before God. Self-righteousness vanishes because we have none. Guilt fades because we know righteousness comes from outside of ourselves. I'm prone to drift into a performance-based relationship with God, but He calls me to see and trust in His glorious Christ, who loved me and gave Himself for me, so that I might joyfully say, "God be merciful to me, a sinner" (Luke 18:13), and receive grace upon grace.

A few years ago, I read a book by Jerry Bridges (The Discipline of Grace), and the opening three chapters hit me like a thunderbolt, and nothing else I've read on the subject has helped shape my understanding like those pages did. I'll continue to review them, I'm sure, for the rest of my life. I need to know grace, not just how I can explain it, but experientially, that it would transform me. It's foundational for my growth and for my children's. I'll close with a few quotes from Bridges that he makes in the opening pages, and have attached a .pdf version of this first chapter below.

"Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace" (19).

"It is only the joy of hearing the gospel and being reminded that our sins are forgiven in Christ that will keep the demands of discipleship from becoming drudgery. It is only gratitude and love to God that comes from knowing that He no longer counts our sins against us (Romans 4:8) that provides the proper motive for responding to the claims of discipleship" (21).

"The gospel, applied to our hearts every day, frees us to be brutally honest with ourselves and with God. The assurance of His total forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Christ means we don’t have to play defensive games anymore. We don’t have to rationalize and excuse our sins. We can say we told a lie instead of saying we exaggerated a bit. We can admit an unforgiving spirit instead of continuing to blame our parents for our emotional distress. We can call sin exactly what it is, regardless of how ugly and shameful it may be, because we know that Jesus bore that sin in His body on the cross. With the assurance of total forgiveness through Christ, we have no reason to hide from our sins anymore" (23).

Grace be with you,
Lonnie Atwood