Ideas that Changed My Life: The Gospel of Grace

One of the most challenging issues that has faced the evangelical church in America in the past forty years is the question of the nature of saving faith.   In particular, does saving faith include my obedience or commitment to obey, or is it instead a complete reliance upon the work of Christ apart from any sort of trust in my own works?

Many of the most popular voices in evangelicalism would argue that faith in Christ is insufficient if it does not also include at least a “total commitment” to obey Him as well.   John Stott puts it this way: “ Saving faith includes obedience… It is in fact a complete commitment to this Person involving not only an acceptance of what is offered but a humble surrender to what is or may be demanded.”

Francis Chan, in his recent book Crazy Love, writes: “As I see it, a lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there’s no such thing. To put it plainly, churchgoers who are ‘lukewarm’ are not Christians.   We will not see them in heaven.”

On the surface, such statements are appealing.   If I can set a visible standard that determines who is “in” and who is “out,” I am not left with the problem of Christians who might, quite frankly, be a mess.   If my friend (or enemy) professes Christ but seems to live in disobedience, the simple answer is that he must not be saved.   I have an easy, black-and-white solution to spiritual issues that might otherwise be a bit sticky.   All Christians will necessarily and consistently demonstrate a certain degree of spiritual fruit.

In my early twenties, however, I began to study the Scriptures in earnest and as a result to question such formulations of saving faith and its results.   Does a person’s lack of faithfulness always prove that they are not a Christian?   Look at the book of 1 Corinthians, for example.   Paul writes to a church that is filled with “problem Christians,” the very sort of sticky situations that defy simply solutions.   The people are engaged in gross sexual immorality, lawsuits between brethren, abuse of the Lord’s supper,and spiritual pride because of their gifts.   And yet, he calls them “brethren” at least twenty-two times throughout the book, more than any other New Testament book.

In 1 Corinthians 3 he refers to these believers as “fleshly” or “carnal,”immediately after calling them “brethren.”   They are “infants in Christ,” but apparently in Christ nonetheless.

I would hasten to add that he does warn in the same chapter of judgment upon Christians who are in sin.   He concludes, however,not that they will lose their salvation, but that they will “be saved,   yet so as through fire.”   They will lose eternal reward, hear chastisement from their Savior, and remain ineffective for His kingdom.   But their salvation still depends upon what Jesus has done, not upon what they do.

Furthermore,how can I ever know how much sin is too much? At what point do I begin to do what Paul criticizes in Galatians, making certain works determinative of whether a person qualifies to be a member of God’s people?   Francis Chan seems to recognize this quandary himself, because later in the same chapter he writes: “Each of us has lukewarm elements and practices in our life…The Scriptures demonstrate clearly that there is room for our failure and sin in our pursuit of God.”   How can I have lukewarm “practices” yet not be lukewarm?   Such distinctions seem artificial in light of Scripture.

I think it best to read passages such as Ephesians 2:8-10 at face value: “ For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one mayboast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. ”   Our salvation is given as an entirely free gift; no obedience, works, or “total commitment” is involved.   Works are natural and expected, but do not prove our worth before Christ.   Instead,we completely trust in the only Son of God who is completely worthy.

This concept has changed my life radically. Contrary to those who would argue that a completely free Gospel leads to sin and license, I have found the opposite in my own life. I yearn to serve with joy and gratitude because of the lavish grace I have been given. I do not fear that my daily failures will send me to hell, but recognize that I am completely covered by the grace of Jesus who gave Himself on my behalf, precisely so that those failures will not keep me from eternal life.

Now that’s crazy love.   Let’s worship and obey our Savior in response.

Ideas that Changed My Life

I have been woefully negligent with my blogging for the past few months. I am trying to think of somebody to blame, but it appears to be my own fault.  I wish I still had cats; they were very convenient scapegoats (metaphorically speaking) for just about everything.

For a while now, I have been planning to do a short “blog series” discussing various books, teachers, and ideas that have shaped my thinking, improved my walk with God, or challenged my character.
My hope is that you will consider picking up some of these books for yourself and engaging with the concepts I will be blogging about.  Not everybody is impacted to the same degree by the same things, but at the least I hope that a few of the books and ideas I write about will be helpful to you.
Stay tuned!

Living by the Book

Like many of you, I grew up in a Christian home.  I went to church more than once each week, and by the time I went to college had probably listened to hundreds of sermons and participated in a dozen Bible studies.

Toward the end of my college years, I began to struggle in my walk with the Lord a bit.  I was not feeling challenged by reading the Scriptures and was unfortunately proud enough to believe that maybe I had mined every ounce of wisdom from the Scriptures.  That might sound crazy, but it’s an accurate description of my mindset at the time.
During the Spring semester of my senior year, though, I joined a new Bible study offered here at Grace that was called a “Challenge Group” at the time.  Over the course of the next few months, my eyes were opened to the fact that I had only scratched the surface of what the Bible had to teach me.
It was my first experience with what is called “Inductive Bible Study,” the process of studying the Word directly without the use of leading questions or a group leader who just gave me all the “right answers.”  We were actually making observations, writing our own interpretive questions, and discerning applications directly from the book of 2 Timothy!
Suddenly the Word of God came alive to me in a new way.  God was speaking to me through His Word, and my spiritual life was growing in a way that it had not for years.
For those of you involved at GBC, you know of course that now all of our Bible studies are essentially inductive Bible studies.  We believe strongly that the Word of God changes lives, so we are serious about encouraging students to directly interface with the Bible.
Human authors have a lot to say, and podcasts can be helpful.  But no preacher or writer will ever replace the Scripture as the most effective source of spiritual understanding.
If you have not ever joined a Bible study with us, you can do so this Spring by signing up on the website or at college class!  If you want to read a good introductory book about Inductive Bible Study, I recommend Living by the Book by Howard and William Hendricks.