Friday, 4 June 2010
God's Grace Activity..Christ At Work In You...Part..10..."The Continuing Function of the Living Lord Jesus".....James A Fowler
God's Grace Activity..Christ At Work In You...Part..10..."The Continuing Function of the Living Lord Jesus".....James A Fowler..
through Merrill Thompson on Facebook
The tragic misrepresentation of contemporary evangelicalism is their preoccupation with religious attempts to deal with sin and express righteousness by human self-effort. Their acceptance of the humanistic premise of an "independent self" that is allegedly capable of self-generating character in Christian behavior is a wholesale repudiation of God's grace.
When grace is mentioned in modern evangelical teaching it is often defined by the acrostic, "God's Redemption At Christ's Expense." Grace was indeed "realized through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17), and His incarnation and redemptive death serve to reveal God's grace, but grace must not be limited to the historical foundation of the Christian faith. Going a step further, many recognize the personal experience of God's grace in spiritual regeneration, "for by grace you have been saved through faith" (Eph. 2:8). Someone has called this "the threshold factor"15 of God's grace in the Christian life. But when Christ, the groom, carries another member of His bride, the church, across the threshold of initial regeneration, He does not "get them in the door" and then declare, "Now, straighten up and live like a Christian. Consider what I would do (WWJD) and live in accordance with My example." As Paul exclaims, "May it never be!" Grace has a much broader and more dynamic meaning than is often projected in the teaching of the contemporary church. Grace is the totality of God's action in total consistency with His own Being and character. The Christian life cannot be lived by any human exertion, but only and entirely by God's grace. This forestalls any concept of an "infused grace" that acts as a divine assistance or a "power booster" to provide whatever the believer lacks to accomplish what God expects.
The activity of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, by the power of His Spirit, is the singular dynamic of Christianity. All manifestation of righteousness, holiness and godliness require the presence and function of Jesus Christ, whose very life and character supersede, conquer and overcome all unrighteousness. This is how the prophet Ezekiel verbalized God's intents, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh.I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances" (Ezek. 36:26,27). Speaking through Zechariah, God promised, "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 4:6). They foresaw the grace that was to be "realized in Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).
When the risen Lord Jesus Christ comes to live in the Christian, we have the divine "treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God, and not of ourselves" (II Cor. 4:7) - there goes the humanistic thesis of self-potential! "God is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). We are "strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man" (Eph. 3:16). The words of Jesus are clear: "Apart from Me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
Only the divine Savior can deal with the sinful and selfish patterns of our behavior. "By the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body" (Rom. 8:13), Paul advised the Romans. "The Spirit sets its desires against the flesh" (Gal. 5:17) are the words he used to encourage the Galatians. Years later the apostle John wrote, "Greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world" (I John 4:4). As we explained previously, the divine positive swallows up the sinful negatives. Since the "God who is love" (I John 4:8,16) has come to live in the Christian, "the love that controls us" (II Cor. 5:14) counters and overcomes the selfishness that is the opposite of all love.
God does not ask anything of us that He is not willing and prepared to do through us. He is the dynamic of His own demands, the content of His own commands, the expedient of His own expectations, and the means of His own mandates. "This is the grace in which we stand" (Rom. 5:2) in Christ. "God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed" (II Cor. 9:8). "He equips us in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ" (Heb. 13:21). We have "all power for the attaining of steadfastness and patience (Col. 1:11), and "He will bring it to pass" (I Thess. 5:24).
That God does all that needs doing in our Christian lives is a truth that for some sounds "too good to be true." Worldly wisdom has cautioned us to beware of anything that sounds "too good to be true." Indeed, we should, but in this case the singularity of the good news of the gospel declaring that all the redemptive and restorative work of God is freely given by God's grace in Jesus Christ is the ultimate truth. At the same time, be advised, that to accept God's grace will cost you everything. God's grace is not the "cheap grace" of a "free ride," but the "costly grace" that cost Jesus His life and will cost you yours as well. Only those who are willing to "lose their lives for His sake, will find His saving life" (Matt. 10:39; 16:25; Mk. 8:35; Lk. 9:24) as their eternal gain.
We often only learn to appreciate the dynamic of God's grace in the Christian life when we are brought to the "end of ourselves." When "our sin has found us out." When we have failed and are defeated. When we are brought to our knees by our own inability and weakness. Paul was in the midst of such a situation when God advised him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness," and Paul responded, "Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (II Cor. 12:9). We often have to experience what St. John of the Cross called the "dark night of the soul" wherein we cannot see our way through the dilemma we are dealing with, and we despair even that God's grace will be sufficient. We are "left in the dark" to "walk by faith, and not by sight" (II Cor. 5:7) until God's Light shines forth providing the life, energy, and action of His grace. Many Christians do not make it through the dark night of weakness wherein grace is revealed, for they are tempted to "take the easy way out" that bypasses the pain of what seems like estrangement. Thomas Merton explains how some exit the process for a way more exciting:
"Paradoxically, then, though Christ Himself accomplishes the work of our sanctification, the more He does so the more it tends to cost us. The further we advance the more He tends to take away our own strength and deprives us of our human and natural resources, so that in the end we find ourselves in complete poverty and darkness. This is the situation that we find most terrible, and it is against that we rebel. For the strange, sanctifying mystery of Christ's death in us, we substitute the more familiar and comforting routine of our own activity: we abandon His will and take refuse in the more trivial, but more 'satisfying' procedures which interest us and enable us to be interesting in the eyes of others. We think that in this way we can find peace, and make our lives fruitful; but we delude ourselves, and our activity turns out to be spiritually sterile.Insofar as we rely on our own anxious efforts, we are of this world." 16
Divine grace does indeed run counter to all enlightenment understanding and humanistic reasoning. It makes no sense to our American work ethic, our pragmatic concerns for productivity, and our capitalistic premise that "you get what you pay for." The mentality of the world will always regard grace as an escapist pattern of indolent inertia and sloth for those who disdain work and prefer to be "on the dole" in God's kingdom. The contemporary religion of "evangelical humanism" has the same point of view, suspicious that the gospel of grace leads only to passivism and acquiescence that will never serve to build an active church organization. Only the Christian who has submitted himself to God's grace will see it for what it is - the divine dynamic of Christ's life that alone can overcome sin and manifest God's character.
Our Response of Faith
Contrary to the charge that grace fosters passivism and inaction, the human individual is always responsible to function as a contingent, choosing creature who derives character and action from a spirit source. The responsibility of man is best understood as his response-ability to God, His Creator. This response-ability of faith will never produce passivism if we correctly understand that faith is "our receptivity to His activity." Inherent in such a definition is the active expression of God's grace. Faith, thus defined, allows us to understand the statements of James when he wrote, "faith without works is dead" (James 2:17,26) and "faith without works is useless" (James 2:20). Faith (our receptivity of His activity) without works (the outworking of God's grace activity) is dead, useless, and non-existent (by the privation of the activity inherent in the terms). When faith responds in receptivity to God's grace activity, passivism is out of the question because God is not a passive God, but always acts in accord with His character, His Being in action.
In his commentary on Paul's epistle to the Romans, Martin Luther reacts to religious misconceptions of faith.
"They conjure up an idea which they call 'belief,' which they treat as genuine faith. It is but a fabrication, an idea without a corresponding experience in the depths of the heart. It is ineffective and not followed by a better kind of life. Faith puts the old Adam to death and makes us quite different men in heart, in mind, and in all our powers. A man not active in this way is a man without faith." 17
When the Christian's receptivity of faith avails itself to God's activity of grace there will be an inevitable counteraction against all that is contrary to God's character. God always acts in accordance with his character and in order to express His character within His creation unto His own glory. Sin falls short of the glory of God (cf. Rom. 3:23), for sin is any expression of character that is not God's character. Sin is not defined by certain unacceptable actions, but by anything less than the character of God. When the Christian fails to respond in faithful receptivity to God's active expression of His character, then the only alternative to God's action will be a sinful expression of evil character, derived from a source other than God. Despite how religious and pious the action might appear externally, "whatever is not of faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23), and "the one who sins derives what he does from the devil" (I John 3:8).
Receptivity of God's character and activity in faith, both initially and continuously, will exclude sin in the Christian's life. Commenting on the incompatibility of faith and sin, J. Gresham Machen wrote,
"Faith involves a change of the whole nature of man; it involves a new hatred of sin and a new hunger and thirst after righteousness. It is inconceivable that one could accept the gift which Christ offers, and still go on contentedly in sin. For the very thing which Christ offers us is salvation from sin - not only salvation from the guilt of sin, but also salvation from the power of sin." 18
The holy character of God expressed in human behavior for the purpose of God's glory is the objective of all Christian faith. This process of sanctification, of receptivity to the expression of God's holy character by the active manifestation of the "Holy One" (Acts 2:27; 3:12; 13:35), Jesus Christ, dwelling in the Christian, is what constitutes Christianity. J.C. Ryle makes this quite clear in his treatise on "Holiness."
"Sanctification is the invariable result of vital union with Christ. The branch which bears no fruit is no living branch of the vine. The union with Christ which produces no effect on heart and life is a mere formal union, which is worthless before God. The faith which has not a sanctifying influence on the character is no better than the faith of devils. It is a 'dead faith, because it is alone.' In short, where there is no sanctification of life, there is no real faith in Christ." 19
By faith the Christian opens himself up to God's activity in Jesus Christ. We give up our alleged right to control our own lives by submitting to the loving control of the lordship of Jesus Christ. From the brokenness of our admitted powerlessness, we cry, "Whatever You want Lord." We have all made that concession when confronted with a crisis, or when faced with a particularly tough trial, but receptive faith must become a continuity in our lives. Not just when we are facing an emergency, a surgery, a divorce, job loss, bankruptcy, incarceration, etc., but constantly, moment-by-moment, day in and day out, an abandoned availability to whatever the Lord Jesus Christ wants to be and do in our lives.
When faith is thus understood as submission and surrender to God and His desires, we cannot conceive of faith as an instrumental means to achieve a particular end. We do not respond in faith in order to become mature or "spiritual." Faith is not to be regarded as a means to become a spiritual "knower" or a spiritual "father." The objective of faith is always, and only, God Himself. Not that we become God, but that we are available to whatever He wants to do.
A constant prayer of faith can be verbalized throughout the day in the simple affirmation, "Yes, Lord!" "Yes, Lord, I want Your character to be expressed in this situation." "Yes, Lord, show the next opportunity to let the Christ-life be manifested" (cf. II Cor. 4:11). "Yes, Lord, You will not allow me to be tempted beyond what I am able" (I Cor. 10:13). "Yes, Lord, You will keep me from stumbling" (Jude 24). "Yes, Lord, You will cause me to stand" (Rom. 14:4). If "Yes, Lord," were the extent of one's prayer vocabulary, that individual could be walking in the "obedience of faith" (Rom. 1:5; 16:26) and "praying without ceasing" (I Thess. 5:17).
The Christian response of faith is beautifully expressed in the words of the hymn written by Adelaide A. Pollard:
"Have "Have Thine own way, Lord!
Have Thine own way!
Thou art the Potter;
I am the clay.
Mould me and make me,
After Thy will,
While I am waiting,
Yielded and still.
Have Thine own way, Lord!
Have Thine own way!
Hold o'er my being
Fill with Thy Spirit
Till all shall see
Christ only, always,
Living in Me! 20
The superficiality of contemporary acculturated ecclesiasticism is truly disturbing. Their response to the message of "Christ at work in you" is often, "Don't be an extremist. Don't be a fanatic. Don't be a puritanical pietist. Don't be a mystical spiritualist." They would prefer that church members simply "go through the motions" of conforming to the established program, willing to be committed and involved by attending the services, tithing their income, and espousing a particular social agenda. The well-oiled ecclesiastical machine thus remains statistically viable, though spiritually bankrupt.
While we have no illusion of reforming the institutional church, we are fully convinced that many Christian individuals who comprise the Body of Christ are desirous of the fullness of Christ's life. Perhaps you have been an active church member for many years and never realized that "Christ is your life" (Col. 3:4), that He jealously desires to function as Lord and Savior in every detail of your life. "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete" (I Thess. 5:23) as Christ becomes "all in all" of your life.
Some of you who read this book have seldom, if ever, taken the time to slow down and listen to God in Christian obedience. So busy living under the premise of an "independent self" who is obliged to please and appease God, you may never have considered how the living Lord Jesus Christ wants to manifest His "saving life" to overcome your sin-patterns of habituated selfishness. As you listen under God, may you understand the grace wherein Paul exclaimed, "I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13).
On the other hand, some of you have participated in long introspective expeditions to uncover your sinfulness. You have been overwhelmed with the guilt of being caught in your trespasses, and felt the hot coals of self-condemnation for your inability to suppress your selfishness and gain victory over your weaknesses. Thee is no longer any need to labor under the strictures of a "do-right religion," you can experience the freedom of Christ's work in you, remembering that Jesus said, "Apart from Me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
Some of you who read these pages may have trafficked on God's grace. In spiritual pride you may have claimed spiritual "union with Christ" and refused to consider the residual sin-patterns in your soul. Do not resist the work of Christ as Savior in your life, whereby He continues "to save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21).
Whatever our past Christian experiences might have been, we all have the opportunity to yield to Christ's work in us as Lord and Savior. By allowing Him to manifest His character of godliness, and thus overcoming our sinfulness, "the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and the godly control of the self" (Gal. 5:22,23) will be the evidence of "Christ at work in us."