I often tell the congregation that there is a Pharisee within each of us that needs to be killed every day. A legalism that relies on merit for salvation, forgiveness, blessing, love, etc., often lays hidden and only reveals itself with the most insidious subtlety.
I confess that I get discouraged easily. With shocking, pathetic ease. I received a discouraging message yesterday via e-mail. Do you know what my first response was? To think of some other area of ministry over which I have more “control,” and immediately purpose to double-down and try harder in that area. As if my success in ministry or life was based upon outweighing discouraging elements with successes earned through hard work and dedication! This is not grace! This is a form of legalism!
And I stepped right into it in a single minute first thing in the morning.
“God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector [or senders of discouraging e-mails]. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11,12).
Who I am in Christ has nothing to do with the discouragements I fall prey to (which ultimately come out of things I could done better in communicating or planning or understanding the people under my leadership). Who I am in Christ is not dependent on my bargaining, determination, legalism. Who I am in Christ is not identified by my worthiness (for I have no worthiness – and neither do you).
Through union with Christ by faith I have a place before God as His forgiven, redeemed, saved, blessed, adopted, loved son...not through anything in me, but through all that Christ is as the perfect and totally adequate Savior.
I realized this fairly quickly yesterday, by the way, by the illumination of God the Holy Spirit (not any brilliant pastoral theological acumen in me). I confessed my sin, thanked God for the grace and forgiveness He gives through Jesus Christ, and proceeded to struggle with the issue the rest of the day.
I received a discouraging e-mail yesterday morning so that I would grow in my experience of God’s grace – which is itself grace! It’s not easy to kill the Pharisee in me. He hides well behind all sorts of false godly appearances hidden under the rocks in my head and heart.
SO, I have been given a new assignment by the Lord (which a foundational, original, old assignment). To grow in reliance on this amazing grace, I am considering anew my union with Christ by faith.
“I thank Him Who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:12-16).
I am united with Christ by faith, and so God pours out His grace through the faith and love I experience in union with Christ. This is not poured out through my hard work, merit, determination, sense of purpose, or masterful engagement of God’s graces as a mature disciple. It happens through the worthiness of Christ, through Whom I receive grace, grace, God’s sweet grace.
I am united with Christ by faith, and so receive mercy so that Christ can display His gracious patience to others through me (which is hopefully happening in the writing of this post). God’s grace is not displayed in a comfortable, easy, successful ministry, but in a ministry that sees folks draw closer to God through Christ despite the incredibly long list of inadequacies that I own in myself.
“1. Those whom God has accepted in the beloved, and has effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, and given the precious faith of His elect, can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but they will certainly persevere in that state to the end and be eternally saved. This is because the gifts and calling of God are without repentance, and therefore He continues to beget and nourish in them faith, repentance, love, joy, hope, and all the graces of the spirit which lead to immortality. And though many storms and floods arise and beat against the saints, yet these things shall never be able to sweep them off the foundation and rock which they are fastened upon by faith. Even though, through unbelief and the temptations of Satan, the sight and feeling of the light and love of God may for a time be clouded and obscured from them, yet God is still the same, and they are sure to be kept by His power until their salvation is complete, when they shall enjoy the purchased possession which is theirs, for they are engraved upon the palm of His hands, and their names have been written in His Book of Life from all eternity.
2. This perseverance of the saints does not depend on them - that is, on their own free will. It rests upon the immutability of the decree of election, which flows from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father. It also rests upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, and upon the union which true saints have with Him.
- It rests upon the oath of God, and upon the abiding of His Spirit.
- It depends upon the seed of God being within them and upon the very nature of the covenant of grace.
- All these factors give rise to the certainty and infallibility of the security and perseverance of the saints” (1689 Baptist Confession of Faith 17.1,2).
These are the things God has called me to think and meditate upon, to pray through, to surrender to the grace of God through Jesus Christ alone by faith. This is the sanctifying work of the Spirit, Who is still teaching me the Gospel after decades of life in Christ.
The lessons of grace do not end in this life, my friends, but are given to us day by day until the day we are finally perfected in glory.
“...the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:15-17).
“Much more...abounded...reign...” Not by my works, but by His grace. Further on in this amazing grace that is ours by union with Christ by faith. Further on, beloved.