Categories
Theology

The Miracle of Striving

Often, the mystery of how we grow as Christians baffles us. There are some Christians who say, “God takes care of all the work. Those commands in the Bible simply show you that you can’t do them and need Jesus.” Others say, “No, you gotta clench your fists and get to work. God gets this rolling, but you need to seal the deal.”

I think both of those approaches to sanctification are wrong.

If we are going to be ruthlessly biblical however, we are going to see grace and effort working together. We are going to see that Paul is adamant that Christians need to strive, but all of their striving is by God’s power and grace. Earlier this week, I spent a devotional time in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24, where this idea is extremely clear:

12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

In one breath, Paul can command the Thessalonians to “be at peace,” “admonish,” “rejoice,” and “do not quench.” In the next breath he can say, “Now may God sanctify you completely.” How can he do this?

Paul understands that, at bottom, the Thessalonians will grow in holiness only by God’s grace. He also understands that his teaching, exhorting, and commanding are the God ordained means to accomplish what God wants in the Thessalonians. So yes, God is sovereignly working for the holiness of the Thessalonians (and us). On the other side of the coin, people have to actually do something. As John Piper has said, Christians have to act the miracle of sanctification. And who gets the credit for that acting? God. Therefore, it is not legalism for Paul to give a command, and it is not legalism for us to do so either.

Paul is clear that Jesus delivers from the wrath to come (1:10). He delivers through his perfect obedience and substitutionary death. The only proper response to being rescued by Jesus is love, joy, thanksgiving, abstaining from evil, devotion, and obedience. John Stott once wrote, “To teach the standards of moral conduct which adorn the gospel is neither legalism nor pharisaism but plain apostolic Christianity.” Those who have been saved by grace will respond with obedience. They will not obey perfectly, of course, and that is why salvation is all of grace. It is only by the grace of God that our soul and body will be kept blameless when Jesus returns (5:23). That is why Paul prays in verses 23-24, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you!” We do the acting, but God is the one causing the acting to happen in such a way that he gets the glory and ensures that we will arrive at the end the way he intended.

So what’s the difference for you and me? If someone asked me, “If you seek to do some act of obedience even though you don’t want to do it, isn’t that the definition of legalism?” my answer would be, “No, because my theology is right.” That might sound like a snarky answer, but think about it.  If I believe my rejoicing in God (one of Paul’s commands above) merits love from God, then yes, it is legalism. But consider an alternative. I strive to rejoice in God even when I don’t feel like it. I do it not to earn God’s love because I realize I am already loved in Christ through the gospel. No amount of rejoicing will earn more of God’s favor I already have. Instead, I know rejoicing in God is what God deserves in light of the gospel and that only rejoicing in him will bring true joy. I ask God to help me strive. I confess my apathy and laziness. I recognize that Christ is the treasure and some other comfort has subdued his rightful place in my heart. I realize that through my striving, God is working in me to kill idolatry, laziness, apathy, self-pity, etc. in order to find true happiness in him. Only when I strive this way is my striving not legalism but proper response to God’s grace in the gospel. 

And that kind of striving, my friends, is a miracle. It is a gift of grace, and that makes it all the more beautiful, lovely, and exciting. I want this for myself, and you. May God be gracious to do it!

Categories
Life Theology

Where Did the Phrase, “Preach the Gospel to Yourself,” Come Frome?

From Drew Hunter:

So, where did it come from? Thankfully, it’s used all over the place these days. My hunch is that the person who put feet on it and therefore caused it to run throughout this generation is Jerry Bridges. Perhaps surprisingly, this theme wasn’t in his first and probably most well known book, The Pursuit of Holiness. It wasn’t until after writing this book that he began to more clearly see and stress the centrality of the gospel in the life of the Christian (See second paragraph here). Following that book, however, he began emphasizing the centrality of the gospel for everyday life and often used the phrase, “preach the gospel to yourself,” to express it.

While I think Bridges has promoted the phrase more than anyone, he got it from someone else. In the preface to The Discipline of Grace, a book wherein one of the chapters is titled, “Preach the Gospel to Yourself,” he says, “I… owe a debt of gratitude to my friend Dr. Jack Miller, from whom I acquired the expression, “Preach the gospel to yourself every day”

Read the whole thing.

HT: Brandon Levering

Categories
Life Theology

Weekly Spurgeon

From Morning and Evening:

“To him be glory both now and for ever.”
– 2 Peter 3:18

Heaven will be full of the ceaseless praises of Jesus. Eternity! thine unnumbered years shall speed their everlasting course, but for ever and for ever, “to him be glory.” Is he not a “Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek?” “To him be glory.” Is he not king for ever? –King of kings and Lord of lords, the everlasting Father? “To him be glory for ever.” Never shall his praises cease. That which was bought with blood deserves to last while immortality endures. The glory of the cross must never be eclipsed; the lustre of the grave and of the resurrection must never be dimmed. O Jesus! thou shalt be praised for ever. Long as immortal spirits live–long as the Father’s throne endures–for ever, for ever, unto thee shall be glory. Believer, you are anticipating the time when you shall join the saints above in ascribing all glory to Jesus; but are you glorifying him now? The apostle’s words are, “To him be glory both now and for ever.” Will you not this day make it your prayer? “Lord, help me to glorify thee; I am poor, help me to glorify thee by contentment; I am sick, help me to give thee honour by patience; I have talents, help me to extol thee by spending them for thee; I have time, Lord, help me to redeem it, that I may serve thee; I have a heart to feel, Lord, let that heart feel no love but thine, and glow with no flame but affection for thee; I have a head to think, Lord, help me to think of thee and for thee; thou hast put me in this world for something, Lord, show me what that is, and help me to work out my life purpose: I cannot do much, but as the widow put in her two mites, which were all her living, so, Lord, I cast my time and eternity too into thy treasury; I am all thine; take me, and enable me to glorify thee now, in all that I say, in all that I do, and with all that I have.”