Friday, September 25, 2009

Grace And Works

From a comment I've read at Internet Monk comes this great explanation. There's no trackback link to contact the author, but I've a feeling she won't mind.

An easy diagram to explain (and picture) how grace and works go together is basically a circular diagram. If one starts out on the wrong part of the circle, we see how legalism works. But if one starts out on the right part of it, we see how it all works together.

Imagine a compass and the four cardinal directions. North is “God”, East is “Grace”, South is “Love” and West is “Perform”. In between are arrows pointing clockwise between the cardinal points.

The Legalistic understanding of the relationship of grace and works starts out on the West point with “Perform”. Thus, we try to “Do” or demonstrate our righteousness to curry God’s favor. This is self-righteousness. [As preached, it is the admonition to obey the bible, and thus be choosing grace.]

The gospel understanding starts at North with “God”. He declared us righteous through Christ. The arrow pointing from North to East “Grace” shows us that the act of justification is “Done” and we have “passive righteousness”. From Grace, an arrow points to South “Love”. Here we understand what Paul says that faith is by grace alone. But, we get to the South point and we see that Christ’s love for us compels us to perform for him. And as we follow the arrow from south to west we understand what James says about faith without works being dead. And so any righteous works we do are not to curry God’s favor, but instead are a response to the great grace we have received. I guess the bottom line is motivation. God is repulsed by the motivation of actions when they are self-righteous rather than motivations that are expressions of our love for the God who loved us first.

[So how can obedience to the bible (and the Lord) be preached? It needs to begin with the Gospel, not end with it. Worth noting is that in Al Mohler's article, Ray Ortland's article, Michael Spencer's article, and John Piper's article, all about legalism and gospel transformation, (all posted/linked below), little mention is even given to "obedience", but rather our natural reaction to God's awesome gifts in Christ.]

Saturday, September 19, 2009

New Calvinists?

John Piper, Collin Hansen, and Carolyn James discussed “the New Calvinists” on September 11 at the Religious Newswriters Association’s annual convention. The panel was hosted by Julia Duin of the Washington Times.

Desiring God has footage of that panel in 4 parts: 3 sets of introductory remarks (one from each panelist) and the Q&A time with reporters that followed. As more becomes available, we'll link to it. What's so new about "New"? Find out.

Friday, September 18, 2009

How Grace Changes Us

Ray Ortlund relates this story:

Are we to continue in sin, that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1)

Johann Tetzel was a Dominican monk who went around sixteenth-century Germany selling indulgences. He used a little song: "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!" So a thief came up to him one day and asked how much it would cost for an indulgence to cover all his past sins. "A thousand gold pieces." "And how much to forgive all my future sins?" "Two thousand more." "All right, here's three thousand. Give me the indulgence." "Here it is. Thank you." "Now here's one of those future sins. See this knife? Hand back the three thousand."

Ray explains the grace in Romans 6 masterfully here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why Moralism Is Not The Gospel

Albert Mohler writes at

"But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, he is to be accursed!" [Gal. 1:6-7]

This warning from the Apostle Paul, expressed in the language of the Apostle's shock and grief, is addressed not only to the church in Galatia, but to every congregation in every age. In our own day -- and in our own churches -- we desperately need to hear and to heed this warning. In our own time, we face false gospels no less subversive and seductive than those encountered and embraced by the Galatians.

In our own context, one of the most seductive false gospels is moralism. This false gospel can take many forms and can emerge from any number of political and cultural impulses. Nevertheless, the basic structure of moralism comes down to this -- the belief that the Gospel can be reduced to improvements in behavior.

Sadly, this false gospel is particularly attractive to those who believe themselves to be evangelicals motivated by a biblical impulse. Far too many believers and their churches succumb to the logic of moralism and reduce the Gospel to a message of moral improvement. In other words, we communicate to lost persons the message that what God desires for them and demands of them is to get their lives straight."

- Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., serves as the ninth president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary-the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world. -

Read his whole post, how moralism presents a false gospel to a fallen world, even while realizing we are obligated to teach the truth as presented in God's word.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Gospel-Believing Christian In The Midst of Legalism

"...Legalism is often a manifestation of being deprived of preaching and teaching that clearly explains the Gospel. Millions of evangelicals sit under largely Gospel-less preaching, and hear thousands of sermons on legalism and moralism in their lifetimes. As a result, they have an actual aversion to the Gospel, and are offended when the Bible’s actual teaching about legalism is proclaimed. As scripture says, these persons stumble in offense at the preaching of Christ, but eagerly embrace the categories and works of law. Law is simply easier to understand and makes sense when you have not been taught that the Gospel is for all of life and is the engine of everything Christians do. Preachers who starve a flock from eating the feast of the Gospel, but feed them the gruel of legalism, are particularly to be avoided. Pity the starving flocks, and fear for the shepherds who would not feed them." - from "Gospel Believing Christians in the Midst of Legalism" - Michael Spencer, aka The Internet Monk

Read the full and revealing post here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Gospel Transformation

If our spiritual goal for maturity is to "sin less" then we will be forever frustrated. With a goal of sinning less, then the tendency is to come up with a way to rate our spiritual progress by "obedience to the bible" or "service to others" or "more quiet time" or anything that we think should result in less sin. We then do things that show our maturity, but we end up with a simple immature self-righteousness from the things we "do", and have no power over our sinful nature, and na-da in the "transformation" department. In fact, as over time God puts the spotlight on our real sinful nature, instead of sinning less, we find we are riddled with sin, actually appearing to sin MORE! All we can do then, is to rationalize our view of God down to size, and our view of ourselves UP, with our own self-righteousness, using the very sinful thinking that the gospel has saved us from. It's a "lose-lose" way to "do religion", and that's all it is; religion that even a non-believer can see is no religion at all, as we are just the same old selfish person we always were. We only fool ourselves, and are believing our own lies! That's why they call it denial.

Our goal for maturity has to be gospel transformation - turning from sin, and putting faith in Christ. Repentance and faith. Just like the gospel. The very gospel that saved us eternally, keeps saving us (from ourselves). Sin in itself is rooted in idolatry. At the moment we sin we are seeking to place our trust in something other then Jesus. We need to realize sin is sin, and confess it, but we can't just say to ourselves, "I need to stop this lying, or prideful thinking, or immoral activity." We need to ASK what is inside of me, what idol, that is telling me that I trust it, or need it, more than Jesus. The sin we commit is only the action or reaction that comes from our wrong thinking, and is a separate part, the ill fruit, of our wrong thinking. If we look inside, we find that often the idol behind sin is self centeredness or a desire to be in control. We need to keep asking (Paul reminds us to seek humility) until we see inside of us just what it is that we think (wrongly) is more important to us then trusting in Christ. How often is it just ourselves, our own high regard for us, in the way? Yet even high "self-regard" is often just more sin, just another smoke screen to the real problem. We need to keep asking. Dig deeper still.

The Gospels, especially Mark, are loaded with the command "not to be afraid". We are all riddled with fear deep inside, when we are apart from the Gospel of Jesus. Looking inward and asking "What is our idol?" often reveals that we are going for the "quick fix" to validate ourselves, to get us through our insecurities, our messed up lives, rather then letting the love of God, as given by Jesus on the cross, be our validation. In the gospels Jesus heals, then he says, "Your sins are forgiven." We are all broken inside, wicked and depraved, frightfully fearful, and the more mature a Christian we become, the more we see it, and the more we see our need of HIM to heal us and to validate us by his love, rather than do it ourselves. Only through Christ and his cross are we truly freed from sin. When we see our trust put back in Him, our humble true dependence for our daily bread put on him, then our thinking changes, and only then can our behavior do likewise. By faith in Him, actually trusting Him, we come to realize that he really is changing us, and helping where we can't do it alone. It's a grace by which our only response can be to worship Him with all our hearts, all our might. It's how we can do all things in the name of him who saved us, giving him the glory.

So transformation might be as the nominalist says, "Not that important." Or as the pacifist says, "I need to surrender, just let go, and let God." or the legalist says, "I need to just learn and obey the bible." But all these ways of thought are barriers to transformation, and are the way to self righteousness, not the imputed righteousness of Christ. Paul says put to death the things of the world and put on virtues, seeking humility and love. Wrap ourselves in Christ with our minds on things above. When we imitate Christ, seek his humility, we begin to discover how we need healing inside, and only his love can heal us, and only his gospel forgives us and frees us, and transforms us. Minimizing, surrendering, or obeying are all band-aids on the wrong wound.

So the sign of a mature Christian? An exponentially deepening understanding of how badly we need Christ and forgiveness every day. With this the fruits will come.

Provocations and Pantings has an Aug 30th post on Bob Thune's gospel transformation series for those interested. You will need iTunes to play them. Above is only a very brief summary. Thune, nephew of Senator John Thune of S. Dakota and lead pastor of Coram Deo Church in Omaha, presented this series a few years ago at a college retreat, and it is very easy to understand.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Gospel Driven Leadership

Jared Wilson, author of "Your Jesus Is Too Safe", responds in an interview on gospel driven leadership, "There's nothing more freeing for pastoral leadership than the gospel. Be in awe of it. Be transformed by it. If you don't know what I'm talking about, consider a different vocation. The gospel is the power of salvation for all who believe, and if you have not experienced personal transformation by it, all your talky talky will just be theoretical advice and dramatic posturing."

Read his full post HERE.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Grace Based Humilty

"Call it a paradox, if you wish, but it is biblical and historical. Deep, humble dependence on the sovereign grace of God has produced world-changing achievements. Thousands have said with the apostle Paul in Col. 1:29, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” This is not ego-exalting pride; this is Jesus-exalting faith."

John Piper explains gospel humilty in a great online sermon. Remember when most Christians at least tried to depend on Christ?

Read or listen to his whole sermon here.

You can sign up for his emails, too.