Grace For The Journey
As we have approached the first days of a new year, we have been looking at essentials truths that we need to know and apply in our lives in order to discover the provisions and power from God to live in a way that will bring praise and glory to God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Wednesday we looked at how God wants us to live successfully and that He has given us His grace to enable us to live life successfully. Yesterday we looked at the first essential discipline – A Daily Time Of Focused Communion With God. Today we look at the second essential discipline – A daily appropriation of the gospel. This might be a new concept to a lot of readers, so I will take some time laying this truth out.
Those who have read anything of Luther’s life and theology will be familiar with his phrase, “simul iustus et peccator.” That is, the true Christian who has trusted Christ alone for salvation is “at the same time just before God and also a sinner.” The chief Bible passage for this truth is found in Romans 7:14–20, where Paul confesses his failure to obey the law of God and to avoid that which he should not do. Yet, Paul did not lose his justification before God, for he stood before the majesty of God not by his own record of obedience but by the obedience of Christ.
Luther grasped this reality and believed that a wholehearted embracing of this truth was critical to appropriating the gospel and living in the joy and freedom of the gospel.
The Bible says in Romans 7:14-20, “For as long as I live in the flesh, sin is truly in me. But because I am covered under the shadow of Christ’s wings, as is the chicken under the wing of the hen, and dwell without all fear under that most ample and large heaven of the forgiveness of sins… And although we see [our sin], and for the same do feel the terrors of conscience, yet flying unto Christ our mediator and reconciler (through whom we are made perfect), we are sure and safe… Thus a Christian man is both righteous and a sinner, holy and profane, an enemy of God and yet a child of God.”
Christian culture today is saturated with messages from well-meaning Bible teachers who long to see believers living “the victorious Christian life.” Although such perfectionistic, higher-life teaching comes in many forms, at the core is the message that if one follows a particular program of surrender (or repentance or other works-based techniques), he or she will rise above known sin. Though few actually claim that a Christian can be perfect, these method-based teachings do imply that such attainment can be ours if we work long and hard enough.
This general message can be traced to a compromise on the doctrine of man. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, much of the Western church came to embrace various forms of Pelagianism. Named after a 5th-century teacher, Pelagianism in its original form claimed that man’s nature is fundamentally good and therefore perfect obedience to God is within man’s ability. In Semi-Pelagianism, man is seen as sinful yet still able to keep the law of God without sin.
All such Pelagian-influenced views prevent an individual from facing the full reality and implications of sin in his or her life. This often leads either to doubt or arrogance. If I wonder, “How can I be a Christian and still be stuck in this same sinful habit?” I will begin to doubt my salvation, the Bible, or both. If I think I am actually keeping the law of God and meeting His standard of perfection, I will become full of pride and self. Any sort of perfectionistic belief will also tempt me to judge and condemn others for their failings and indwelling sin. I will respond in pride to Christian brothers and sisters, rather than in humility and gentleness.
Perfectionism may have had a slightly different form in Luther’s day, but he still encountered this false theology. Naturally, he faced it squarely and rejected it, considering it to be a denial of the gospel. His biblical observation of simul iustus et peccator allowed the believer to face the truth of his life, while still enjoying confident acceptance by God in the gospel.
The truth that the believer
Is at the same time
Justified before God
And yet still a sinner
Is a doctrine we must know,
Lest we be driven to despair and discouragement.
Others have also believed and taught this doctrine. For example, The Heidelberg Catechism, published in 1563, answers a significant question after looking at the law of God: “But can those who are converted to God perfectly keep these commandments? No, but even the holiest of men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience…” (HC 114)
Making a similar point, the Puritan Thomas Watson wrote, “Man is a self-exalting creature; and if he has anything but of worth, he is ready to be puffed up; but when he comes to see his deficiencies and failings, and how far short he comes of the holiness and perfection which God’s law requires, it pulls down the plumes of his pride, and lays them in the dust; he weeps over his inability; he blushes over his leprous spots… God lets this inability [to keep His law] upon us, that we may have recourse to Christ to obtain pardon for our sin and failure, and to sprinkle our best duties with His blood. When a man sees that he owes perfect obedience to the law, but has nothing to pay, it makes him flee to Christ to be his friend, and answer for him all the demands of the law, and set him free in the court of justice.”
The great Princeton professor A.A. Hodge was also quick to see the reality of sin in the believer’s life: “The more holy a man is, the more humble, self-renouncing, self-abhorring, and the more sensitive to every sin he becomes, and the more closely he clings to Christ. The moral imperfections which cling to him he feels to be sins, laments and strives to overcome them… it has been notoriously the fact that the best Christians have been those who have been the least prone to claim the attainment of perfection for themselves.”
This is where a daily appropriation of the Gospel comes in if we are to live successfully in the coming year. A daily personal communion with God must be first. After our time in meeting with God and discovering more about God in the Bible we are then able to deal with our position before God and our need of His daily provision of grace.
Since the gospel is only for sinners, I come to Christ as a still practicing sinner. In fact, I usually use the words of the tax collector in in Luke 18:13, where the Bible says he cried out as he stood before God in the temple, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” God has been merciful, and I’m quick to acknowledge His mercy in my life and I come in the attitude of that tax collector.
It’s important that we have this time of appropriating the gospel because it’s only through Christ that we have access to God the Father. The Bible says in Ephesians 2:18, “For through Him we both [Jew and Gentile] have access in one Spirit to the Father.” We cannot come directly to God. We must always come through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. But God not only allows us to come; he invites us to come. The Bible says in Hebrews 10:19-22, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.”
As we appropriate the gospel it gives us the confidence to come into the very presence of God to have communion with Him. So . . .
We need to learn to live
By the gospel
Every day of our lives.
In the early years of my Christian life and even in my early ministry I regarded the gospel as a message for the unbeliever. Now that I was a Christian I personally no longer needed the gospel except as a message to share with unbelievers. But I learned the hard way many years ago that I need the gospel every day of my life. I would struggle with personal issues that I could not get victory over. Satan would attack me with accusations of my sin. Out of desperation I began to resort to the gospel. To use an expression I learned years later, I began to “preach the gospel to myself.” And I subsequently learned that . . .
I continued to need the gospel every day of my life.
That is why I list this discipline as one of the four essential elements. Consider what the Bible says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The context of this verse is the subject of justification. In verses 15–17 Paul speaks of our being justified four times. He says we’re not justified by works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, and he keeps repeating that thought. And then in verse 21 he says, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
Clearly in this entire passage, he is talking about the subject of justification. He is going to get to sanctification later, but that’s not in this context. The reason I make a point of that is because I want to call your attention particularly to the last sentence of verse 20. “And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Remember, in the context Paul is speaking about justification, not sanctification.
Now this raises an important problem or question. That is, we know that justification is a point-in-time past event. At the time you trusted Christ you were at that precise moment declared righteous by God. You were justified. That’s why Paul in Romans 5:1 speaks of justification in the past tense when he says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And yet here in this passage he speaks of it in the present tense: “The life that I now live in the flesh,” today. The life that I live today, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” So if justification is a point-in-time event that happened in our past, why does Paul speak of it in the present tense?
The answer to that question is one of the most important truths we can learn about the gospel. For the apostle Paul, justification was not only a past event; it was also a present reality. This is where so many Christians miss it. They can look back to the day that they trusted Christ. And if you press them on that they will say, “Yes, I was justified at that time.” But today they seek to live their lives as if it depends upon them. In their mind they have reverted to a performance relationship with God. Their thinking is, “If I had my quiet time and if I haven’t had any lustful thoughts and these kind of things, then I expect God to bless me today.” We want to pay our own way. We want to earn God’s blessings.
The apostle Paul didn’t do that. Paul looked outside himself and saw himself clothed in the righteousness of Christ. He saw himself declared righteous by the work of Christ. We say to a person who trusts Christ, “You have been justified. You’ve been declared righteous. Your sins have been forgiven. You stand before God today clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.” And then we can point to eternity and say, “When you go to be with the Lord forever, you will still stand clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.” We will have left our sinful nature behind, we will be righteous people made perfect, (Hebrews 12:23), we will for all eternity stand in the righteousness of Christ. That never changes.
But what about from the time of our conversion
Until the time we go to be with the Lord?
For most Christians it’s a performance relationship.
That is why we need a daily appropriation of the gospel,
Because it is our nature to drift toward a performance relationship.
If we do not have a daily spiritual navigational adjustment, we will drift slowly off course.
If we do not daily appropriate the gospel,
We will drift toward a performance relationship with God.
When we do that, we lead ourselves to have a very superficial view of sin in your life – thinking of sin in terms of the big gross sins one can commit . . . then you we tend toward religious pride because we are not doing those things. If, on the other hand, we are conscientious and we are aware of committing some of “respectable” sin, such as gossip, pride, jealousy, envy, and a critical spirit and we are not consistent in living by the gospel, that it can to guilt and despair.
What resolves that tension is the gospel,
Which reminds us that all sin need to be forgiven
That we are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
That which keeps us from spiritual pride and allow us to have a right view of sin is the gospel, because the gospel is only for sinners. We are all sinners, still practicing sinners, even though we’ve been delivered from the guilt and the dominion of sin. But we still sin in thought, word, deed, and most of all in motive because we often do the right thing for a wrong reason or for a mixed reason.
We want to please God,
We want to look good in the process.
We need to admit that we are still a practicing sinner,
But we look to Jesus Christ; to His shed blood;
To His righteous life and perfect obedience
That has been credited to us.
We need to see ourselves standing
Before God clothed in Christ’s righteousness.
Now, that will get you out of bed in the morning! That will get you excited about the Christian life! That will keep you from loving the world! A daily appropriation of the gospel will keep you from getting off course.
The great theologian B.B. Warfield wrote these words: “There is nothing in us or done by us at any stage of our earthly development because of which we are acceptable to God.” Warfield is saying . . .
There is nothing that we do in ourselves
That makes us acceptable to God.
He continues, “We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all.”
Then he continues with this is important statement: “This is not true of us only when we believe. It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievement in Christian behavior may be” (Warfield, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, [Baker, 1931; reprint 1991], 7:113). What he is saying is that it doesn’t matter how sanctified we become. It doesn’t matter how much we grow in the Christian life. It is always on Christ’s blood and righteousness alone that we can rest.
That’s what it means to live by the gospel.
That’s why we need to appropriate
The gospel every day of our lives,
Because God only accepts us for Christ’s sake.
God sees us clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and He wants us to see ourselves clothed in the righteousness of Christ, so that we will come to Him on that basis and seek to relate to Him through the merit of the Lord Jesus Christ and not through our own works.
All of us in our sinful nature are prone to slide toward a works-based relationship with God. And even though I have been preaching this kind of message for many years, I can tell you honestly it is so easy to revert in that direction because of our sinful human nature. It is our sinful nature that thinks we must somehow earn God’s favor by our own hard work or our own faithfulness. Now we want to be faithful, we want to work hard, but not in order to earn God’s approval, but because we have God’s approval. And so a daily appropriation of the gospel is essential to enduring to the end.
Tomorrow we will look at the third of four essentials truths that are the foundation for living successfully throughout this year.
This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”