Grace-Driven Effort

I just returned from our church’s High School camp and I have to say God really took me out to the woodshed on certain aspects of my character. The conviction of the Holy Spirit is something I encourage our students to be sensitive toward but I found myself being hesitant. Me? Proud? Arrogant? Selfish? Absolutely! Without a doubt. I praise God for the way he brought these things to my attention and I am now digging in His word as we speak and seeking to lay these issues at the foot of the cross.

One day I went down by the river to do my quiet time. It was a special time between my God and me. I still get overwhelmed by the fact that the God of the universe treasures those times with His children. Too often we have a distorted, wicked view of God that strips Him of one of the many attributes that makes him superior to all, namely, His presence and interest in our lives. In my time with God, He led me to Romans 8 (if this chapter doesn’t stir something in you, I don’t know what will) and I began reading about what life in the Spirit is all about. In v. 9, Paul makes a declarative statement about the condition of the heart of those who believe. As believers, we are no longer slaves to our flesh, which brings death, but we are alive in the Spirit, which is life and peace.

It gets better, in v. 11 Paul writes, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Did you catch that? The exact same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead dwells in us who believe. Is that not crazy? Every time I think about this verse I am beside myself! How good is our God and how great is His mercy and grace!

So those are my introductory/contextual remarks. What I really want to throw out comes from Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. D.A. Carson writes:

“People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, and obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”

A few things have led me to this. I have been reading an old dead guy named John Owen (one of my heroes) and he talks about the concept of mortification of the flesh, which simply means the putting to death of the sin that remains post-conversion. Second, I keep up with Matt Chandler (another hero of mine) at the Village church and he recently wrote on this issue.

This concept is so important for us to grasp. Believe it or not, we will not magically become more godly. We will not one day wake up with a sense of urgency for the Gospel or a sudden knowledge of Scripture and the character of God. We will not simply stop falling into that same pesky sin we always fall into. Instead, in our apathy we drift into something that is simply not what Scripture describes as faith. We begin to justify our sin by comparing ourselves to other people. We redefine Biblical Christianity and Jesus becomes a fairy who sprinkles grace and mercy dust on everyone. In our redefinition God becomes a God who is no longer righteous, true, and just, but one who isn’t holy and isn’t really bothered by our sin. Sadly, in the end He can do nothing to convict us, nothing to sanctify us, and actually hates us because He allows us to rot in our sin. This simply is not biblical/historical Christianity in any sense of the term.

There is an equal and opposite reaction that is just as wicked. That is known as legalism, which relies more on exertion and moralism rather than the Spirit that dwells in us. This means that we will not become more godly because we stop listening to secular music or watching rated R movies. Our hunger and affection for Christ is not cultivated out of submission to a set of rules. When we live life this way God begins to look more like Zeus than the God of the Bible who is ready to smite us with a lightning bolt every time we mess up.

Both of these responses are wildly self-centered. The first one says, “Hey God remember when I prayed that prayer… now make me this or that. Do this work in me while I sit on my can and have no genuine desire for You or holiness. I am just going to keep doing my thing for now.” This is wickedness and a slap to the face of God. The second response is all about being better than someone else and putting God in a position of obligation (which is impossible). This position says, “Oh I’m sorry, who? Oh! God… you are the one who saved me from my filth. Don’t worry… I got it from here. If there is one person you don’t have to worry about… it’s me!” This is silliness. Just read the book of Galatians where Paul writes, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

The mortification of sin, our sanctification, our pursuit of holiness and godliness can only be driven by the grace of God, through Jesus, and in the Spirit. Do the hard work! Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, put off the works of the flesh, and obey the teachings of Scripture all the while realizing that it is only by God’s grace that you are saved.

We have been saved by grace and it is only by grace that we continue.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Gal. 1:3-5).

One thought on “Grace-Driven Effort

  1. Caty says:

    Thank God that it is not by my own efforts or my own superiority of existence that I wake up each day knowing that I am loved by the King of Kings. It is He and He only who validates me and pursues my heart like He designed it to be pursued.

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