Recently, I have posted on “inward trials.” J.I. Packer writes that when Christians have problems, they should rely on their faith to get them through their trouble. Sadly, many don’t know how to apply the sacrifice that Jesus made to their life challenges. Packer lists three themes of the Christian faith that should make all the difference: “justification by faith through the cross, new birth through the Spirit and new life in the power of Christ’s resurrection” [Packer, 244]. He says that Scripture is full of truth that will heal a person’s soul, but many Christians misapply that truth. Misapplication can do more harm than good. He extends the healing idea by using the metaphor of the Bible as a pharmacy. If an ill-informed Christian drinks iodine instead of dabbing it on a wound, we all know the result. More damage will be done than good.
What is the root cause of this misapplication?
Packer describes it this way: “Christians lose sight of grace.”
To understand this specific cause, let’s start with a solid definition of grace. In the New Testament, grace means “God’s love in action toward people who merited the opposite of love. Grace means moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves. Grace means God sending His only Son to the cross to descend into hell so that we guilty ones might be reconciled to God and received into heaven” [Packer 249].
Who are these people?
They are you and me. All of humanity.
Who are these sinners who could not lift a finger?
They are you and me. All of humanity.
Yes, we are the guilty ones and if you think you aren’t, you are proving by your attitude that you are. We can’t help it. We are burdened with original sin, the innate tendency that we all inherited from Adam when he failed to lead a sinless life in the Garden of Eden. We have to have God’s help to deal with our burden of sin; we have to have His grace.
Here is the “bottom line:” every day we live, we need grace because every day we fall short of the standard set by God and His son Jesus Christ, in other words, every day we all sin.
Here is where we can lose sight of grace.
God does not expect us to “get it right” all the time. He knows we are not capable. Where we fail as Christians is that we assume He expects perfection and we don’t see that God’s grace can lead to growth.
The first mistake is the Christian who professes his faith and then feels that the profession is enough. I don’t know how to label this mistake. It is fine to feel that your salvation is not going to be taken away. There is security in that and we all need some sense of security. However, there is a big assumption in this idea that God is never going to demand more of us. We are ok the way we are and we don’t have to change. We have achieved enough perfection. We don’t have to do more to further God’s kingdom here on earth.
This mistake leads into the related problem of the Christian who lives life by going through the motions. He goes to church, he tithes, he attends Sunday school but when there is a need to step up and volunteer, don’t call this guy. He had done his duty and that is enough. Sometimes I feel this type of Christian is not really taking his faith seriously; he does not know that God expects more than just cursory actions. When a need arises, God wants us to step up and live out our faith.
Maybe I do have a label for these people: Christians in name only.
They are skating their way to heaven.
They lose sight of the growth process in the doctrine of grace. When we have what Packer calls “indwelling sin,” we are supposed to grow through grace. Too often [as in previous posts] indwelling sin will stop a Christian in their tracks or put a Christian on the endless treadmill of life, you know sinning, regretting, asking forgiveness and then sinning again. They don’t realize that God’s forgiveness or grace means that our daily sins are covered. God does not want us to repeat them over and over; He wants us to know that He understands our “innate tendency.”
What is the purpose of Grace then? It is to restore our relationship with God. God wants to live in fellowship with us and if we don’t understand the power of grace, we can easily feel so downtrodden by our sinful ways that we can never know God better over the time we live our lives on earth. We begin to feel distant from Him because we are unworthy. When Paul says in First Corinthians 15: 31 that “I face death every day–yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord” what does he mean? He is not referring to a literal death; he is referring to his need to die to his daily sin. He is “resurrected” every day by God’s grace.
Packer writes that “this is what all the work of grace aims at—an ever deeper knowledge of God and an ever-closer relationship with Him” [249-50]. Grace is God’s way of drawing us sinners closer and closer.
We all struggle with inward trials. The point is that when they occur, our faith should help us through the trying times. When I wrote about how some pastors oversell being born again on July 13th, it was really about how naïve “newborn” Christians think that professing their faith means a life on “easy street.” Nothing could be further from the truth. To borrow a cliché, the rain of life falls on the “saved” Christian and the unsaved unbeliever alike. There is no reason to be disillusioned with a “new” faith just because hard times continue after a profession. When I wrote about how Christians feel “substandard” when they sin on July 21st , these are Christians who don’t understand that God knows we are sinners and He does not expect us to be perfect. He expects us to turn to Him for help when we fall short. Due to our innate bent toward sinning, we cannot erase the permanent stain of sinning from our being. We can’t work our way to heaven. We have to accept our limitations. We have to rely on God and get closer to Him. That is how sanctification occurs; the growth of our faith and the transformation of the believer.
We grow through His wonderful grace, His wonderful wonderful grace.