How the Soul Shines

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Grace is Better Than That

One of my favorite books is Transforming Grace, by Jerry Bridges. It is a simple, but profound and deeply helpful exploration into what it means to live by faith in the justifying, adopting, and sanctifying grace of God. One statement that I find particularly insightful is when he writes, “The Bible never speaks of God’s grace as simply making up for our deficiencies.”

No. Grace is so much better than that. In fact, it will make the soul shine.

It’s not that I try my best and God fills in the gap with grace. The gospel is not that I do my part and Jesus does his part in my salvation. I do not co-build the bridge that reconciles me to the Father.

In the words of Charles Spurgeon, salvation is “all of grace.” We contribute nothing but our sin to the equation. I provide the problem. Jesus supplies the solution.

He obeys. He sacrifices. He pays. He cleans. He reconciles. He covers. He restores. He suffers. He gives. He secures.

In the economy of grace, Jesus builds the estate and I receive the inheritance. I should have been disowned. Instead, I am treated as a beloved, favored, even treasured son of the King.


Staggered by Grace

If this is true, why am I not more staggered by the message of the gospel?

Maybe because I haven’t really, really come to grips with the mission of Jesus and what it says about me. Paul declares in 1 Timothy 1:15 that “Jesus came to save sinners.” Christ himself made it clear that he came “to seek and save the lost,” not the righteous but those who were sick and in need of a Great Physician. In Romans 5:6, the apostle Paul makes the staggering claim that Jesus “died for the ungodly.”

You read that correctly: the ungodly. Traitors to heaven. The unrighteous. Those for whom Jesus bled unto death in judgment are those who were undeserving of mercy. In fact, they were deserving of hell.

The cross tells us that Jesus was born to serve the sentence for those who deserved the death penalty. Jesus didn’t come to suffer for those who are doing their best to be good boys and girls. He was sent for those who could never be good enough, regardless of how hard they might try.

Indeed, Jesus “died for the ungodly.”

Here we discover that sinners are not saved because of our efforts to obey and sacrifice but because of the obedience and sacrifice of Jesus for us as a substitute. That really is the key word in the entire gospel lexicon: substitution. The spotless lamb of God slain for the sins of the elect. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him, we would become the righteousness of God.”

This is how an ungodly sinner becomes a righteous son or daughter.


Receiving vs Achieving

What the gospel teaches us is that righteousness is not something we achieve. It is something we receive. This is why it is called grace. It is a gift.

This begs the question: “Am I ungodly enough for grace?”

Seriously. Am I one of those who deserves the penalty of hell for my defiance of his law or my moral arrogance before it? Am I sinful enough to need God himself to be executed in my place for my sins?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we need to go out and try hard to be ungodly. We already are. If we don’t know that yet, we are living in denial. Just like the good ole’ Pharisees in the New Testament whom Jesus called “whitewashed tombs” and “blind guides.” Ouch.

The Scriptures reinforce over and over again that the only people who will find their way into the safety of the ark of Jesus are those who are convinced of their unworthiness. Not the proud and self-sufficient but the humble and grace-needy.

Two stanzas of Augustus Toplady’s classic hymn, Rock of Ages, press this point home:

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All could never sin erase,
Thou must save, and save by grace.

Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace:
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

Not the labor of my hands. Not my zeal or tears. Nothing I can do can atone for sin.

Nothing.

My only recourse is to confess my need with empty, helpless hands. And how will the Father respond? I suppose just like the Father in Luke 15. When his son returns from a far off land having squandered his entire inheritance, the father runs out to embrace his beloved, and clothes him in a new robe, new sandals, and puts a signet ring upon his hand, identifying the wayward prodigal not as a servant but as a son in whom the father delights.

What a picture of extravagant grace!


Confess and Cling

Once we come to grips with our need, Jesus invites us to confess and cling (especially for us as leaders who tend to think that we are a bit less grace-needy because of our titles or degrees). Simply confess my unrighteousness and cling to Jesus as my perfect righteousness, setting the example of being a needy sinner who has a complete Savior.

Two moves, over and over. Confess and cling. Repent and believe. Sounds kinda like wax on, wax off. :) But it really is like that.

Just like Mr. Miyagi taught the Karate Kid how a car shines, confess and cling is how a soul shines. But we don’t just confess and cling once. We keep on confessing and keep on clinging.

Confess (repent) and cling (believe). Confess and cling. Confess our need for grace… and cling to the cross as we abide in Jesus, the one who has promised that he will never let us go.


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