Posts Tagged ‘ephesians 2’

Most people in the pew are simply not acquainted with the doctrine of justification. Often, it is not a part of the diet of preaching and church life, much less a dominant theme in the Christian subculture. With either stern rigor or happy tips for better living, “fundamentalists” and “progressives” alike smother the gospel in moralism, through constant exhortations to personal transformation that keep the sheep looking to themselves rather than looking outside of themselves to Christ… – Michael Horton, “Does Justification Still Matter?”

“First Things First” by Tullian Tchividjian is an immensely helpful article when it comes to the significance of our understanding of our justification. The article springs out of a friendly discussion between Tchividjian and Kevin DeYoung about the importance of justification in relation to making an effort to grow in godliness. DeYoung argues that justification is critical but that we still need to “make every effort” and work hard to grow spiritually. Tchividjian agrees that hard work is necessary but argues that understanding our justification is a key “effort” that needs to happen if we want to grow:

What is indisputable is the fact that unbelief is the force that gives birth to all of our bad behavior and every moral failure. It is the root. “The sin underneath all sins”, said Martin Luther, “is the lie that we cannot trust the love and grace of Jesus and that we must take matters into our own hands.” Therefore, since justification is where the guillotine for unbelief and self-salvation is located–declaring that we are already righteous for Christ’s sake–we dare not assume it, brush over it, or move past it. It must never become the backdrop. It must remain front and center–getting the most attention.

Justification: We Don’t Get It

Justification is much too often assumed and not enjoyed. I’ve seen this in my own life. I think I have always understood my forgiveness (though certainly not the depth of it!) in Christ but justification not half as well. I think I really started thinking about it more after I sat through a message by Tim Keller 2 years ago. Most of the time I think we act like convicted felons recently released from prison. Our slate has been wiped clean but now we better find a job and make a new life. We may have been exonerated but there’s always that mark on us. We better earn our way from this point forward.

Justification: We’d Rather Earn It

We may never say that out loud but we live that way. Our flesh, especially in a “Meritocracy” like America, is prone to be works and guilt driven rather than walking in grace and in our justification. We have more control that way. It’s more focused on us. It’s less messy. It feels safer. I’d much rather say, “Look at all that I’m doing for God! I am a beast in the kingdom!” than, “I am nothing but for the grace of God and I have everything through that grace, completely undeserved.” We accepted the gospel and turned to Christ but now we want rules and simple obedience. However, it doesn’t work.

The greatest danger facing the church is not that we take the commands of God lightly. To be sure, that is a bonafide danger but it’s a surface danger. The deep, under the surface danger (which produces the surface danger) is that we take the announcement of God in the gospel too lightly. The only people who take the commands of God lightly are those who take the gospel lightly–who don’t revel in and rejoice over what J. Gresham Machen called the “triumphant indicative.” Beholding necessarily leads to becoming. Or to put it another way, this wonderful and neglected view of justification by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone that I am championing does not deny the impulse toward holiness. Rather it produces it!

Justification: The Power to Rest is the Power to Grow

Later, Tchividjian goes on about the law versus the gospel…

The law now serves us by showing us how to love God and others and when we fail to keep it, the gospel brings comfort by reminding us that God’s infinite approval doesn’t depend on our keeping of the law but on Christ’s keeping of the law on our behalf. And guess what? This makes me want to obey him more, not less! As Spurgeon wrote, “When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.”

Therefore, it’s the gospel (what Jesus has done) that alone can give God-honoring animation to our obedience. The power to obey comes from being moved and motivated by the completed work of Jesus for us. The fuel to do good flows from what’s already been done. So again, while the law directs us, only the gospel can drive us.

Don’t read those thoughts lightly. Motivation by works and by rules is motivation by fear and guilt. As a parent, I think about the limits of that motivation. Fear and guilt only go so far and I’d rather not have it that way. I’m convicted by how much I default to threats and the use of discipline but I don’t want it that way. I want my kids to be motivated to obey my wife and I out of a trust and love for us (and for God), understanding how much we care for them. I want my kids to believe that we have good for them and will provide it at the best time possible.

Fear gets us only to do just enough not to face wrath. Love empowers us to creativity and the second mile. This is what God desires in us. If God desired us to be primarily stirred up by fear of his wrath, Jesus would not have come to us as a humble, poor carpenter who consistently called attention not to his miracles but to his coming death and ransom for sin. He certainly would not be the one who told us that he plans to show us the extent of his kindness towards us for all of eternity.

When we start establishing our own justification, instead of trusting in our already completed justification in Christ, we dissolve into fear and away from love and grace. We also make it about ourselves and not God. At that point, what exactly are we growing in and why? Is life about our own perfection or knowing Jesus?

It’s very important to remember that the focus of the Bible is not the work of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. When the Christian faith becomes defined by who we are and what we do and not by who Christ is and what he did for us, we miss the gospel–and we, ironically, become more disobedient.

As Tim Keller has said, “The Bible is not fundamentally about us. It’s fundamentally about Jesus. The Bible’s purpose is not so much to show you how to live a good life. The Bible’s purpose is to consistently and constantly show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness otherwise you would never be able to overcome.”

Read the whole discussion:

Make Every Effort (by Kevin DeYoung)

Work Hard! But in Which Direction? (by Tullian Tchividjian)

Gospel-Driven Effort (by Kevin DeYoung)

First Things First (by Tullian Tchividjian)

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And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.” And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” And the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the LORD said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” (Judges 6:12-16 ESV)

It is the time of the judges. The key description used about this time is that Israel had no king and every man did what was right in his own eyes. These were not good times. The people rejected God and worshipped idols like Baal and Chemosh. They gave themselves over to debauchery and lewdness. Nobody felt safe. There was no peace. Judges 17-21 depicts this at its worst. Now read the passage above again. Gideon straight up asks why all this has happened – why things are in chaos and so bad and why they are in servitude to the Midianites. Gideon knows about God’s mighty deeds in Israel but seems to make absolutely no connection to how they have turned their backs on God. You’d expect a reproof here. I certainly do. Why does God not tell him the truth and call him to repent? God does none of that. He simply tells Gideon: I’m here now and I’m going to use you to rescue Israel. What! No call to repentance? God makes no defense of his character that has been defamed? No “10 Commandments 101” class first for Gideon? Nope. He just gets called and unleashed.

Obedience Matters More Than Theology

Obedience matters more than theology. I hope this makes some of you angry: right theology is not everything. Gideon has a flawed theology. His view of sin is flawed and broken. He makes no connection between worship of Baal and why God has deserted them, why it’s even wrong. God uses him and he doesn’t even lead the people to repent of their false worship. We know this because as soon as he dies, the people rebuild the statues to Baal again.

Gideon tests God multiple times and God never gets impatient with him. God burns up the first offering. He listens to Gideon and reveals himself in the fleece on 2 separate nights. Is this testing of God ok? Are we to emulate this example?

What separates Gideon from the other men? God speaks to him and he obeys every step of the way. God does not seem concerned with his false view of him or his wrong understanding of sin. God calls him and Gideon listens. Gideon obeys. God uses him to tear down idols. God uses him to eventually lead a small band of 300 men to defeat an army that had been in control of Israel for awhile. He uses Gideon to bring freedom to Israel. Gideon’s obedience matters significantly more than his theology.

My Theology will Never be Right & I’ll Never be Mature Enough

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? (James 2:18-20 ESV)

Am I saying that my theology doesn’t matter at all? Of course not. Right doctrine and right theology lead to a deeper love for God and towards obedience. What I have seen though is that it is incredibly easy for us to worry about what we don’t know or whether I can adequately explain every question about the Bible or whether I feel encouraged in my walk as opposed to trusting God and obeying Him. I know this because I struggle with doing it. I love to read and study and learn. I love to think about who God is and what He says about himself in the Bible. But I can boil things down too often to what I need to believe instead of how I need to act. Too often I’m quick to rush past application. Yes, we need a right understanding of the gospel but we need to act on it and trust and obey. I need to act on what I know. I know that God will use my understanding and belief in the gospel, as well as a right view of who he is, to grow me in Christ-like character and love. However, I see nowhere where my maturity dictates what I need to obey. We’re called to walk as His children in obedience and He’ll take care of our growth and give us what we need.

This is Not a Call to Duty

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)

Don’t read this as a call out for obedience for the sake of obedience. I’m calling myself out to walk in faith and obey what I know I need to obey out of a growing love for him. He is my loving father who knows what is best and has good works for my family and I to walk in. God is very patient with Gideon. He is not harsh with Gideon but very gentle. Gideon takes a step of faith and God walks with him right through it. This is not a harsh task master calling us to serve him but a tender father who is right here with us. Let’s walk in those works like Gideon did and stop worrying about our own adequacy or maturity or knowledge. God is on our side and not worried about our failure. Let’s trust our Father to guide us, Jesus to be with us always, and the Spirit to do a work in us as we move forward in action and mission.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18 ESV)

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