Is God Really in Control? Trusting God in a World of Terrorism, Tsunamis, and Personal Tragedy by Jerry Bridges. NavPress. 160 pages. 2006
I recently read and discussed this book with a few friends. God brought this older book by a trusted author along at just the right time, as a few of us were dealing with significant adversity in our lives.
Bridges tells us that the book is written for the average person who has not necessarily experienced major catastrophe, but who does frequently encounter the typical adversities and heartaches of life. The purpose of the book is twofold: First, he desires to glorify God by acknowledging His sovereignty and His goodness. And second, he desires to encourage God’s people by demonstrating from Scripture that God is in control of their lives, that He does indeed love them, and that He works out all the circumstances of their lives for their ultimate good.
The author tells us that in the arena of adversity, the Scriptures teach us three essential truths about God-truths we must believe if we are to trust Him in adversity. They are:
- God is completely sovereign
- God is infinite in wisdom
- God is perfect in love
The author defines God’s providence as His constant care for and His absolute rule over all His creation for His own glory and the good of His people. If we are to trust God, we must learn to see that He is continuously at work in every aspect and every moment of our lives.
The author writes that God always has a purpose for the grief He brings or allows to come into our lives. God never wastes pain. He always uses it to accomplish His purpose. And His purpose is for His glory and our good.
Bridges states that the Bible teaches both the sovereignty of God and the free moral choices of men with equal emphasis. There is no conflict between trusting God and accepting our responsibility. There are times when we can do nothing, and there are times when we must work. In both instances we are equally dependent upon God.
Bridges tells us that most godly character traits can only be developed through adversity. Sometimes afterward we can see some of the beneficial results of adversity in our lives, but we seldom can see it during the time of the adversity. But God promises specifically to be with us in our sorrows and afflictions. He will not spare us from the waters of sorrow and the fires of adversity, but He will go through them with us.
As with all of Bridges’ books (which I recommend to you), Is God Really in Control? is bathed in scripture, written in a warm style, and practical.
Below are some of the most helpful quotes from the book:
- It is only from the Scriptures, applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit, that we receive the grace to trust God in adversity.
- What should distinguish the suffering of believers from unbelievers is the confidence that our suffering is under the control of an all-powerful and all-loving God; our suffering has meaning and purpose in God’s eternal plan, and He brings or allows into our lives only what is for His glory and our good.
- Prayer assumes the sovereignty of God. If God is not sovereign, we have no assurance that He is able to answer our prayers.
- We must be transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ. That is the purpose of discipline.
- An unreserved trust of God, when we don’t understand what is happening or why, is the only road to peace and comfort and joy.
- We must see our circumstances through God’s love instead of, as we are prone to do, seeing God’s love through our circumstances.
- He has a purpose in every pain He brings or allows in our lives. We can be sure that in some way He intends it for our profit and His glory.
- A mark of Christian maturity is to continually trust the Lord in the minutiae of daily life. If we learn to trust God in the minor adversities, we will be better prepared to trust Him in the major ones.
- Trusting God for the grace to accept adversity is as much an act of faith as is trusting Him for deliverance from it.
Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges. 343 pages. NavPress. 1991
I’ve read most of the books written by Jerry Bridges, who went home to be with the Lord in 2016. I first read this book in a class at Covenant Seminary about eight years ago, and I recently read and discussed it again with a friend.
Bridges writes that the Bible teaches we are not only saved by grace, but we also live by grace every day of our lives. He tells us that it is this important aspect of grace that seems to be so little understood or practiced by Christians. A key point is that many of us tend to base our personal relationship with God on our performance instead of on His grace. That is, if we have performed well (had our “quiet time”, etc.), then we expect God to bless us. If we haven’t done so well, our expectations are reduced accordingly. In this sense, we live by works rather than by grace. Bridges tells us that though we are saved by grace, we are often live by our own performance. The realization that our daily relationship with God is based on the infinite merit of Christ instead of on our own performance is a very freeing and joyous experience.
Bridges tells us that the entire Christian life from start to completion is lived on the basis of God’s grace to us through Christ. Jesus has already paid for every blessing we will ever receive from God the Father. We are loved and accepted by God through the merit of Jesus, and we are blessed by God through the merit of Jesus. Nothing we ever do will cause Him to love us any more or any less. But it is not meant to be a one-time experience. This truth needs to be reaffirmed daily, and that’s what this helpful book is all about.
Subjects that Bridges addresses in this book include spiritual bankruptcy, the parable of the generous landowner, the performance treadmill, progressive sanctification, legalism, holiness, the sufficiency of God’s grace, prayer, garments of grace, and many others.
Reading this book is like having a private conversation with the author about the wonderful subject of God’s grace.
Here are 10 of my favorite quotes from the book:
- Most of us have actually declared temporary bankruptcy. Having trusted in Christ alone for our salvation, we have subtly and unconsciously reverted to a works relationship with God in our Christian lives. We recognize that even our best efforts cannot get us to heaven, but we do think they earn God’s blessings in our daily lives. We were saved by grace, but we are living by performance.
- God is not keeping score, granting or withholding blessings on the basis of our performance. The score has already been permanently settled by Christ. We so often miss this dimension of the gospel.
- To the extent you are clinging to any vestiges of self-righteousness or are putting any confidence in your own spiritual attainments, to that degree you are not living by the grace of God in your life.
- Our love for God, expressed through obedience to Him, is to be a response to His love, not a means of trying to earn it.
- To live by grace means we understand that God’s blessing on our lives is not conditioned by our obedience or disobedience but by the perfect obedience of Christ.
- When our Father looks at us, He does not see our miserable performance. Instead, He sees the perfect performance of Jesus.
- More often than not, we try to earn favor with God in the area of manmade rules, or we feel guilty because we have failed in keeping them.
- Everything we are and everything we do that is of any value, we owe to the grace of God.
- One great paradox of the Christian life is that we are fully responsible for our Christian growth and at the same time fully dependent upon the Holy Spirit to give us both the desire to grow and the ability to do it.
Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love by Jerry Bridges. Navpress. 207 pages. 1991.
I read this book for my Spiritual and Ministry Formation class last fall at Covenant Seminary, with Dr. Phil Douglass, a wonderful man and teacher. I’ve read several books by Jerry Bridges and this was another wonderful one. I highlighted many passages in the book as I read it and would like to share some of them with you below:
• The grace of God is one of the most important subjects in all of Scripture. At the same time it is probably one of the least understood.
• But the Bible teaches we are not only saved by grace, but we also live by grace every day of our lives. It is this important aspect of grace that seems to be so little understood or practiced by Christians.
• My observation of Christendom is that most of us tend to base our personal relationship with God on our performance instead of on His grace.
• The realization that my daily relationship with God is based on the infinite merit of Christ instead of on my own performance is a very freeing and joyous experience. But it is not meant to be a one-time experience; the truth needs to be reaffirmed daily. That is what this book is all about.
• You and I and every person in the world are spiritually bankrupt. In fact, every person who has ever lived, except for Jesus Christ regardless of his or her moral or religious state has been spiritually bankrupt.
• However, I think most of us actually declared temporary bankruptcy. Having trusted in Christ alone for our salvation, we have subtly and unconsciously reverted to a works relationship with God in our Christian lives. We recognize that even our best efforts cannot get us to heaven, but we do think they earn God’s blessings in our daily lives.
• Our expectation of God’s blessing depends on how well we feel we are living the Christian life. We declared temporary bankruptcy to get into His kingdom, so now we think we can and must pay our own way with God. We were saved by grace, but we are living by performance.
• We are all legalistic by nature; that is, we innately think so much performance by us earns so much blessing from God.
• Not only are we legalistic by nature, our Christian culture reinforces this attitude in us.
• One of the best kept secrets among Christians today is this: Jesus paid it all. I mean all. He not only purchased your forgiveness of sins and your ticket to heaven, He purchased every blessing and every answer to prayer you will ever receive. Every one of them, no exceptions.
• But the deeper core issue is that we don’t really believe we are still bankrupt. Having come into God’s kingdom by grace alone solely on the merit of Another, we’re now trying to pay our own way by our performance. We declared only temporary bankruptcy; we are now trying to live by good works rather than by grace.
• Justification being declared righteous before God through faith in Jesus Christ is a point-in-time event. It is the time in our lives when we are saved. It is the Ephesians 2:8 experience: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.”
• Sanctification is our growth in Christlikeness. It is a progressive experience covering our entire Christian lives from salvation to glorification. Glorification occurs at the time we depart from this life to be with Christ.
• That is, the entire Christian life from start to completion is lived on the basis of God’s grace to us through Christ.
• First of all, in the business world the debts of the permanently bankrupt business are never paid in full.
• Conversely, the Christian’s total debt has been paid by the death of Christ.
• Second, not only has the debt been fully paid, there is no possibility of going into debt again.
• God is not keeping score, granting or withholding blessings on the basis of our performance. The score has already been permanently settled by Christ. We so often miss this dimension of the gospel.
• We are brought into God’s kingdom by grace; we are sanctified by grace; we receive both temporal and spiritual blessings by grace; we are motivated to obedience by grace; we are called to serve and enabled to serve by grace; we receive strength to endure trials by grace; and finally, we are glorified by grace. The entire Christian life is lived under the reign of God’s grace.
• Grace is God’s free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment. It is the love of God shown to the unlovely. It is God reaching downward to people who are in rebellion against Him.
• Our relationship with God is based on either works or grace. There is never a works-plus-grace relationship with Him.
• The apostle Paul sometimes used the grace of God and the merit of Christ almost interchangeably as I do in this book.
• Though the grace of God and the merit of Christ are not the same, they always go together in our relationship with God. We cannot experience one without the other. In terms of order, God’s grace comes first. It was because of His grace that God the Father sent His only Son to die in our place. To say it another way, Christ’s death was the result of God’s grace; grace is not the result of Christ’s death.
• But it is also true that our experience of God’s grace is made possible only by the death of Christ.
• Mephibosheth, in his crippled and destitute condition, unable to improve his lot and wholly dependent on the benevolence of others, is an illustration of you and me, crippled by sin and unable to help ourselves. David, in his graciousness, illustrates God the Father, and Jonathan illustrates Christ.
• Grace is not a matter of God’s making up the difference, but of God’s providing all the “cost” of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.
• Almost no one tries to earn his way to heaven (Martin Luther, prior to his conversion, being a notable exception). Rather, almost everyone assumes that what he or she is already doing is sufficient to merit heaven.
• One great problem today is that most of us really don’t believe we’re all that bad. In fact, we assume we’re good.
• To Rabbi Kushner, you are good if you’re a nice, friendly neighbor. To the apostle Paul (and the other Scripture writers), all people are bad because of our alienation from God and our rebellion against Him.
• Each of us has turned to his own way. That is the very essence of sin, the very core of it going our own way.
• But this is not the view of Scripture. According to Psalm 51:5, there are no innocent children. Rather, all of us were sinful at birth, even from the time of conception.
• Sin, in the final analysis, is rebellion against the sovereign Creator, Ruler, and judge of the universe.
• Sin is not only a series of actions, it is also an attitude that ignores the law of God.
• Sin is a state of heart, a condition of our inmost being. It is a state of corruption, of vileness, yes, even of filthiness in God’s sight.
• Rather the Bible speaks of “a God who justifies the wicked” (Romans 4:5) who is found by those who do not seek Him, who reveals Himself to those who do not ask for Him (see Romans 10:20).
• We act as if God’s grace only makes up what our good works lack. We believe God’s blessings are at least partially earned by our obedience and our spiritual disciplines. We know we are saved by grace, but we think we must live by our spiritual “sweat.”
• Rather, grace considers all men and women as totally undeserving and unable to do anything to earn the blessing of God.
• Note that Dr. Storms’ description of God’s grace cuts both ways: It can neither be earned by your merit nor forfeited by your demerit.
• Here is a spiritual principle regarding the grace of God: To the extent you are clinging to any vestiges of self-righteousness or are putting any confidence in your own spiritual attainments, to that degree you are not living by the grace of God in your life.
• If you are trusting to any degree in your own morality or religious attainments, or if you believe God will somehow recognize any of your good works as merit toward your salvation, you need to seriously consider if you are truly a Christian.
• To be justified means more than to be declared “not guilty.” It actually means to be declared righteous before God. It means God has imputed or charged the guilt of our sin to His Son, Jesus Christ, and has imputed or credited Christ’s righteousness to us.
• But, because of His grace, God did not consign us all to hell; instead, He provided a remedy for us through Jesus Christ.
• It is important that we notice who presented Christ as this sacrifice of atonement. Romans 3:25 says God presented Him.
• But God intervened! We were dead in our transgressions, but God intervened.
• God’s grace, then, does not supplement our good works. Instead, His grace overcomes our bad works, which are our sins.
• The extent of His forgiveness is vividly portrayed to us in four picturesque expressions in the Old Testament.
• Psalm 103:12 reads, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
• When God uses this metaphorical expression describing the extent of His forgiveness of our sins, He is saying His forgiveness is total, complete, and unconditional.
• Isaiah 38:17 gives another pictorial expression to describe the extent of God’s forgiveness of our sins. The prophet said of God, “You have put all my sins behind your back.”
• Another striking metaphor expressing the completeness of God’s forgiveness occurs in Micah 7:19. There the prophet Micah said of God, “You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”
• The fourth passage emphasizing the complete and absolute forgiveness of our sins is Isaiah 43:25. Here God uses two expressions: He blots out our transgressions that is, He removes them from the record and He remembers them no more.
• As the Supreme Governor and Judge, He pardons us. As the offended party, He forgives us and He promises never to bring up our sins again.
• If you have trusted in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation, you are both justified (a legal act) and reconciled (a relational act). You are no longer condemned by God.
• Do you accept the fact that the Bible’s definition of grace God’s unmerited favor shown to people who are totally undeserving of it applies to you not only in salvation but in your everyday life?
• Are you experiencing both the peace of God that comes with salvation and the joy of God that comes with living by grace each day? If not, you may be saved by grace, but you are living by works.
• Grace is not only to be received by us, it is, in a sense, to be extended to others.
• In fact, we will not experience the peace with God and the joy of God if we are not willing to extend grace to others.
• For a number of years I have been drawn to Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard as one of the best illustrations of the grace of God in the life of believers.
• The landowner could have paid them only what they had earned, but he chose to pay them according to their need, not according to their work. He paid according to grace, not debt.
• God blessed Peter, not in spite of his sins, but without regard to his sins. That’s the way His grace operates. It looks not to our sins or even to our good deeds but only to the merit of Christ.
• First, is our frequent misperception of God as the divine equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge; the God who demands the last ounce of work out of His people and then pays them poorly.
• This perception of God as the reluctant giver comes right from Satan and must be resisted by us if we are to experience the fullness of God’s grace.
• Perhaps the larger reason why we do not experience more of God’s grace is our misconception that, having been saved by grace, we must now, at least to some degree, “pay our own way” and earn God’s blessings in our daily lives.
• You and I actually experience the grace of God in our lives far more than we realize. But all too often we do not enjoy His grace because we are trying to live by merit, not by grace.
• Why do so many people stumble over this parable and consider the landowner to be unfair? I believe it is because we Christians instinctively identify with the workers who had worked all day. We place ourselves in their shoes instead of in the shoes of those who worked only one hour. We look at society around us, instead of at Jesus Christ, and we begin to feel pretty good about ourselves. We consider ourselves to be twelve-hour workers, and we expect to be rewarded accordingly.
• There are other occasions when we remind God of the sacrifices we have made to serve Him. “Lord, I’ve done this sacrificial service for You, and now I’m in need of this special answer to prayer.” When we assume such an attitude, we are putting ourselves in the position of the twelve-hour workers. We suggest to God that we deserve this answer to prayer because of our sacrificial service. With such an attitude we may grumble about blessings not received instead of being grateful for those we have received.
• We actually cannot give God anything that He has not first given to us.
• So where does all this emphasis on the fact that God doesn’t owe us anything leave us? It leaves us in the blessed position of being eleventh-hour workers in God’s kingdom.
• In a word it leaves us content, and “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1Timothy 6:6).
• Contentment with what we have whether it is possessions, or station in life, or mental or physical abilities is worth far, far more than all the things we don’t have.
• There is still another valuable lesson to be learned from the parable of the generous landowner. God is not only generous, He is also sovereign. That is, God has the right to dispense His blessings as He chooses.
• We rejoice in the generosity of God’s grace as long as it is directed toward us, or toward our family or friends. But how do we feel when someone whom we think does not deserve it is blessed by God? Are we envious because of the generosity of God toward that person?
• If we are to succeed in living by grace, we must come to terms with the fact that God is sovereign in dispensing His gracious favors, and He owes us no explanation when His actions do not correspond with our system of merits.
• The Bible is full of God’s promises to provide for us spiritually and materially, to never forsake us, to give us peace in times of difficult circumstances, to cause all circumstances to work together for our good, and finally to bring us safely home to glory. Not one of those promises is dependent upon our performance. They are all dependent on the grace of God given to us through Jesus Christ.
• What did Paul mean when he said all God’s promises are “Yes” in Christ? First of all, Christ in His Messianic mission is the personal fulfillment of all the promises in the Old Testament regarding a Savior and coming King.
• Beyond the actual fulfillment of all the promises made about Him, Christ is also the meritorious basis upon which all of God’s other promises depend.
• Martin Luther, in his exposition of Deuteronomy 8:17-18, spoke of “blessings that at times come to us through our labors and at times without our labors, but never because of our labors; for God always gives them because of His undeserved mercy” (emphasis added).
• Steve Brown was right. We often don’t make the gospel good enough.” We preach grace to the non-Christian and duty to the Christian.
• Even our terminology betrays the way we dichotomize the Christian life into “grace” and “works” compartments. We speak of the gift of salvation and the cost of discipleship. The “cost of discipleship” is not necessarily an unbiblical expression, but the connotation we build into it is. We often convey the idea that God’s grace barely gets us inside the door of the kingdom, and after that, it’s all our own blood, sweat, and tears.
• Our motivation for commitment, discipline, and obedience is as important to God, perhaps even more so, than our performance.
• God searches the heart and understands every motive. To be acceptable to Him, our motives must spring from a love for Him and a desire to glorify Him. Obedience to God performed from a legalistic motive that is, a fear of the consequences or to gain favor with God is not pleasing to God.
• Thus, our good works are not truly good unless they are motivated by a love for God and a desire to glorify Him.
• Only when we are thoroughly convinced that the Christian life is entirely of grace are we able to serve Him out of a grateful and loving heart.
• The main subject is once again commitment to the lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of our lives. We are to live no longer for ourselves but for Him. We are to make His will the rule of our lives and His glory the goal for which we live.
• Paul said the love of Christ compels us to make this kind of commitment and to carry it out day by day.
• But I believe that, in most instances where people apparently abuse grace, they have not heard a message on grace but on freedom from the law.
• Here again we see that promises come before duty and that duty flows out of a heartfelt response to the promises of God.
• God is worthy of my loving obedience because of who He is, not because of what He does.
• But our motivation to obey and serve God cannot rise to such heights until we learn to live daily by grace and to experience freedom each day from the bondage of the performance treadmill.
• Amazingly, one answer that was not given was Jesus’ own response to the question of how to love God. In fact, few things in the Bible are more clear than Jesus’ precise answer: obey His commands. One issue believers frequently struggle with is the relationship between living by grace and obedience to God’s commands.
• Our love for God, expressed through obedience to Him, is to be a response to His love, not a means of trying to earn it.
• So one clear evidence that we are living by grace is a loving obedience to the commands of God.
• As the Sovereign God of the universe, He has the authority to require obedience and He does insist that we obey Him.
• Legalism does not consist in yielding obedience to the law. Rather, it is to seek justification and good standing with God through the merit of works done in obedience to the law instead of by faith in Christ.
• So we as God’s children are subject to the laws of His realm. Out of a response to His grace, we should obey in a loving and grateful way.
• So the fundamental character of God’s law has not changed. What has changed is our reason for obedience, our motive as we discussed in chapter 6. Under a sense of legalism, obedience is done with a view to meriting salvation or God’s blessing on our lives. Under grace, obedience is a loving response to salvation already provided in Christ, and the assurance that, having provided salvation, God will also through Christ provide all else that we need.
• When we view God’s commands as optional or think that as God’s children we are no longer under the law as a moral requirement we subtly slip into a works mentality. If obedience to God’s law is optional, then in our minds we begin to accumulate merit or extra points. “After all, we didn’t have to obey, so we must gain some merit by voluntary obedience.”
• But the person who knows that he is required to obey God’s commands, even as a child of God, will see more and more how far short he comes in obedience. And if that person understands the biblical concept of grace, he will be driven more and more into the arms of the Savior and His merit alone.
• So, then, God’s law, as a rule of life, is not opposed to grace. Rather, used in the right sense, it is the handmaid of grace. Or, to use an analogy, it is like a sheepdog that keeps driving us back into the fold of grace, when we stray out into the wilderness of works.
• The principle of love is not a “higher principle” over God’s moral law. Rather, it provides the motive and the motivation for obedience, while the law provides the direction for the biblical expressions of love.
• Paul, then, surely meant that Christ abolished the curse of the law and the condemnation of the law for those who have faith in Him.
• To live by grace means we understand that God’s blessing on our lives is not conditioned by our obedience or disobedience but by the perfect obedience of Christ. It means that out of a grateful response to the grace of God, we seek to understand His will and to obey Him, not to be blessed, but because we have been blessed.
• To live by grace is to live solely by the merit of Jesus Christ. To live by grace is to base my entire relationship with God, including my acceptance and standing with Him, on my union with Christ. It is to recognize that in myself I bring nothing of worth to my relationship with God, because even my righteous acts are like filthy rags in His sight (Isaiah 64:6). Even my best works are stained with mixed motives and imperfect performance.
• But few of us fully recognize that we are also sanctified through faith in Christ.
• Scripture speaks of both a holiness we already possess in Christ before God and a holiness in which we are to grow more and more. The first is the result of the work of Christ for us; the second is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit in us. The first is perfect and complete and is ours the moment we trust Christ; the second is progressive and incomplete as long as we are in this life.
• But Christ is also our holiness. This fact is not as well understood. All Christians look to Christ alone for their justification, but not nearly as many also look to Him for their perfect holiness before God. The blessed truth, though, is that all believers are sanctified in Christ, even as we are justified in Christ.
• So, in one aspect of sanctification you are already holy because Christ’s holiness is imputed to you. You have been made perfect forever. In another aspect, you are being made holy day by day through the work of the Holy Spirit imparting Christ’s life to you.
• How can we who are not only guilty but morally filthy possibly be holy in the sight of One whose gaze penetrates our very hearts, who knows our every motive and thought as well as our words and actions? The answer is that because of our union with Christ, God sees His holiness as our holiness.
• So holiness or sanctification is more than just our standing before God in Christ. It is an actual conformity within us to the likeness of Christ begun at the time of our salvation and completed when we are made perfect in His presence.
• We call this gradual process progressive sanctification, or growing in holiness, because it truly is a growth process.
• Note the changes God brings about in our inner being when He saves us. He gives us a new heart and puts a new spirit within us a spirit that loves righteousness and hates sin.
• This instantaneous act of God by which He begins sanctification in us is just as much a gift of God’s grace as is justification.
• From these passages we understand that we died to the observance of the law as a requirement for attaining righteousness before God. We died to the curse and condemnation that resulted from our inability to perfectly keep the law.
• Then we see in Romans 6:14 that being under the law is the opposite of being under grace.
• So when Paul said we died to the law, he meant we died to that entire state of condemnation, curse, and alienation from God.
• The most important thing for us to see in our death to the law, however, is the purpose of our death. We died to the law in order that we might live in the realm of grace. We died to the law that we might bear fruit to God. And, according to Romans 7:6, we died that we might “serve [God] in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code [the law].”
• Do you view God’s moral precepts as a source of bondage and condemnation for failure to obey them, or do you sense the Spirit producing within you an inclination and desire to obey out of gratitude and love?
• Do you try to obey by your own sheer will and determination, or do you rely on the Spirit daily for His power to enable you to obey?
• Initial sanctification occurs instantly at the moment of salvation when we are delivered from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of Christ (see Colossians 1:13). Progressive sanctification continues over time until we go to be with the Lord. Initial sanctification is entirely the work of God the Holy Spirit who imparts to us the very life of Christ. Progressive sanctification is also the work of the Holy Spirit, but it involves a response on our part so that we as believers are actively involved in the process.
• And the passive voice of the verb be (or being) transformed indicates that the transforming work of progressive sanctification is the work of God’s Spirit. He is the One who changes us more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
• So progressive sanctification very much involves our activity. But it is an activity that must be carried out in dependence on the Holy Spirit.
• The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians has been called the great charter of religious freedom, the Christian Declaration of Independence, and the Magna Carta of the church. The freedom set forth in Galatians is not freedom from God, but from those who insist on some form of legalism in the life of a believer.
• The legalism the Galatian believers were in danger of succumbing to was, as we saw in chapter 7, the teaching that believers must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses in order to be saved.
• Instead, we have developed another brand of legalism, a brand that is concerned, not with salvation, but with how we live the Christian life. I call this “evangelical legalism”.
• Legalism is, first of all, anything we do or don’t do in order to earn favor with God. It is concerned with rewards to be gained or penalties to be avoided.
• Second, legalism insists on conformity to manmade religious rules and requirements, which are often unspoken but are nevertheless very real.
• This may seem like a rather severe charge to bring against contemporary Christianity, but it is true today. There are far too many instances within Christendom where our traditions and rules are, in practice, more important than God’s commands.
• More often than not, we try to earn favor with God in the area of manmade rules, or we feel guilty because we have failed in keeping them.
• I hope we at least understand that we can do nothing to earn favor with God that His favor is given solely by His grace through Christ.
• In this chapter, I want to address the second type of legalism: the observance of manmade rules.
• Despite God’s call to be free and His earnest admonition to resist all efforts to curtail it, there is very little emphasis in Christian circles today on the importance of Christian freedom. Just the opposite seems to be true. Instead of promoting freedom, we stress our rules of conformity.
• Instead of preaching living by grace, we preach living by performance. Instead of encouraging new believers to be conformed to Christ, we subtly insist that they be conformed to our particular style of Christian culture.
• We still practice this today. We build fences to keep ourselves from committing certain sins. Soon these fences instead of the sins they were designed to guard against become the issue. We elevate our rules to the level of God’s commandments.
• In due time that fence would have had almost the same force in my thinking as the Ten Commandments, especially as I would use it to judge or influence others.
• For all of us, it may be good to have some fences, but we have to work at keeping them as just that fences, helpful to us but not necessarily applicable to others. We also have to work at guarding our freedom from other people’s fences.
• And ask God to help you see if you are subtly coercing or judging others with your own fences.
• A second area of legalism arises from believers holding differing opinions about certain practices.
• He devoted an entire chapter of the book of Romans to this brand of legalism. In Romans 14:1, Paul called this problem “disputable matters” or, as I have called it, differing opinions.
• As Christians we can’t seem to accept the clear biblical teaching in Romans 14 that God allows equally godly people to have differing opinions on certain matters. We universalize what we think is God’s particular leading in our lives and apply it to everyone else.
• When we think like that we are, so to speak, “putting God in a box.” We are insisting that He must surely lead everyone as we believe He has led us. We refuse to allow God the freedom to deal with each of us as individuals. When we think like that, we are legalists.
• The issue is that God has not appointed any of us to be the “moral policeman” of other believers.
• But spiritual disciplines are provided for our good, not for our bondage. They are privileges to be used, not duties to be performed.
• We can become just as legalistic about our “dos” as we can about the “don’ts”.
• I do think we should actively promote spiritual disciplines. They are absolutely necessary for growth in our Christian lives.
• But we should promote them as benefits, not as duties.
• Grace understood and embraced will always lead to commitment. But commitment required will always lead to legalism.
• Aggravating all of these areas is a class of people who have come to be known as “controllers” These are people who are not willing to let you live your life before God as you believe He is leading you. They have all the issues buttoned down and have cast-iron opinions about all of them. These people only know black and white. There are no gray areas to them.
• Freedom and grace are two sides of the same coin. We cannot enjoy one without the other. If we are to truly live by grace, we must stand firm in the freedom that is ours in Christ Jesus.
• So God by His grace has given us the right motive, the right rule or direction, and the needed power to live a life of love.
• Here is a spiritual principle: We cannot exercise love unless we are experiencing grace.
• There are five words all beginning with the letter L that we need to keep in right relationship to one another. All five are either used or implied in Galatians 5:13-14. They are law, liberty, love, license, and legalism.
• Grace keeps the law, love, and liberty in right relationship to one another.
• When you focus on grace in the fullness of its meaning, you will keep the law, liberty, and love in their proper relationship to one another. But if you focus on any one of them instead of on grace, you will invariably end up in the swamp of legalism or license.
• So grace is never cheap. It is absolutely free to us, but infinitely expensive to God. That is what I mean by grace in the fullness of its meaning. Anyone who is prone to use grace as a license for irresponsible, sinful behavior, surely does not appreciate the infinite price God paid to give us His grace. But anyone who tends to use legalism as a hedge against license, just as surely forgets that grace cannot be earned by our behavior.
• But for almost two thousand years, multiplied thousands of believers have found comfort, encouragement, and the strength to endure from God’s words to the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
• To this point we have been studying the aspect of grace commonly defined as God’s unmerited favor to us through Jesus Christ. In verse 9, as well as other Scriptures, we see grace used to mean God’s divine assistance to us through the Holy Spirit. This divine assistance is actually the power of the risen Christ, but it is mediated to us by God’s Spirit.
• So we see that grace, as used in the New Testament, expresses two related and complementary meanings. First, it is God’s unmerited favor to us through Christ whereby salvation and all other blessings are freely given to us. Second, it is God’s divine assistance to us through the Holy Spirit.
• As if to emphasize the need of the thorn, Paul twice stated the Lord’s purpose in giving it to him. It was to keep pride at bay.
• Sometimes God’s purpose for allowing pain in our lives is clear; more often, it seems, it is not. In fact, frequently a great part of the pain is the sheer irrationality of it. God never explained to Job the purpose of his unbelievable pain. He left job to suffer in the dark, so to speak. That is usually our experience.
• In earlier chapters we have seen that God’s grace assumes our sinfulness, guilt, and ill-deservedness. Here we see it also assumes our weakness and inability.
• Just as grace is opposed to the pride of self-righteousness, so it is also opposed to the pride of self-sufficiency.
• Before we can learn the sufficiency of God’s grace, we must learn the insufficiency of ourselves.
• The more we see our sinfulness, the more we appreciate grace in its basic meaning of God’s undeserved favor. In a similar manner, the more we see our frailty, weakness, and dependence, the more we appreciate God’s grace in its dimension of His divine assistance.
• The issue is whether or not we honor God by the way we respond to our circumstances.
• I want to call your attention only to the necessity of our doing it, to the fact that we are not simply passive recipients of God’s grace.
• And you will never exhaust the supply of God’s grace. It will always be there every day for you to appropriate as much as you need for whatever your need is.
• Peter and Paul are saying the same thing. The spiritual gifts we have, and the ministries we perform are gifts of God’s grace. None of us deserves the gifts he or she has been given. They are given to us by God’s undeserved favor to us through Christ.
• Mercy is God’s grace expressed specifically toward people who are viewed by Him as guilty, condemned, and helpless.
• It is generally expressed in terms of relieving the misery due to their sin.
• Rather, Paul was speaking from his heart, and he was saying God’s grace was sufficient for both his unworthiness and his inadequacy.
• He glories in calling into His service people who are neither worthy nor adequate. He makes them worthy in Christ alone, never in themselves. Then He makes them adequate through the mighty working of His Spirit within them.
• Paul found his worthiness in the worthiness of Christ and his adequacy in the power of Christ.
• We are not competent, but God makes us competent.
• The Holy Spirit must not only prompt, guide, and enable us, He must also bless our efforts if they are to have any effect.
• So we must depend on His Spirit to work in us and through us, and we must also depend on Him to work in the hearts of those we are seeking to minister to.
• God’s grace is sufficient for our weakness. Christ’s worth does cover our unworthiness, and the Holy Spirit does make us effective in spite of our inadequacy. This is the glorious paradox of living by grace.
• When we discover we are weak in ourselves, we find we are strong in Christ. When we regard ourselves as less than the least of all God’s people, we are given some immense privilege of serving in the kingdom. When we almost despair over our inadequacy, we find the Holy Spirit giving us unusual ability.
• God makes us weak, or rather He allows us to become painfully conscious of our weakness, in order to make us strong with His strength.
• So it was the grace of God operating in them through the Holy Spirit, not the superiority of their own character that caused such an abundant outpouring of generosity from the Macedonians.
• We are unworthy to minister, but God considers us worthy through Christ. We are inadequate to minister, but God makes us adequate through the powerful working of His Holy Spirit. We are not naturally given to self-sacrifice, but God gives us that spirit by His grace. All is of grace. No human worthiness or adequacy is required or accepted.
Who Am I? Identity in Christ by Jerry Bridges. Cruciform Press. 2012. 108 pages. Audiobook read by Alistair Begg
One of my favorite authors is Jerry Bridges. I have read most of his books, including his best-selling The Pursuit of Holiness. Bridges has been on the staff of The Navigators for over fifty years, and currently serves in the Collegiate Mission where he is involved primarily in staff development, but also serves as a speaker resource to the campus ministries. Now 83 years old, it is not often that we get new material from him, Bridges, so it is a cause for celebration when that happens. This short book (I listened to the audiobook read by Pastor Alistair Begg) is typical Bridges, in that it provides you an experience not unlike that of sitting in his living room talking to him about the important question of who we are.
Bridges coves this topic in eight brief chapters, the titles of which pretty much indicate what is covered:
1. I am a Creature
2. I am in Christ
3. I am Justified
4. I am an Adopted Son of God
5. I am a New Creation
6. I am a Saint
7. I am a Servant of Jesus Christ
8. I am Not Yet Perfect
This would be an excellent resource to give new believers as Bridges has written this material in a manner that is clear and easy to understand.