I once was a stranger to grace and to God,
I knew not my danger, and felt not my load;
Though friends spoke in rapture of Christ on the tree.
Jehovah Tsidkenu was nothing to me.
I oft read with pleasure, to soothe or engage,
Isaiah’s wild measure and John’s simple page;
But e’en when they pictured the blood-sprinkled tree,
Jehovah Tsidkenu seem’d nothing to me.
Like tears from the daughters of Zion that roll,
I wept when the waters went over his soul
Yet thought not that my sins had nail’d to the tree,
Jehovah Tsidkenu—’twas nothing to me.
When free grace awoke me, by light from on high,
Then legal fears shook me, I trembled to die;
No refuge, no safety in self could I see—
Jehovah Tsidkenu my Saviour must be.
My terrors all vanished before the sweet name;
My guilty fears banished, with boldness I came
To drink at the fountain, life-giving and free—
Jehovah Tsidkenu is all things to me.
Jehovah Tsidkenu! my treasure and boast,
Jehovah Tsidkenu! I ne’er can be lost;
In Thee I shall conquer by flood and by field—
My cable, my anchor, my breastplate and shield!
Even treading the valley, the shadow of death,
This “watchword” shall rally my faltering breath,
For while from life’s fever my God sets me free,
Jehovah Tsidkenu my death-song shall be.
This year, I decided to shake up my Bible reading. Normally, I tend to avoid using the reading plans—not because I have a particular problem with them, but because I generally prefer camping in one book for a long period of time. But, like I said, I decided to shake it up. So, for the last week and a bit, I’ve been reading through the Bible’s big story, hitting the major beats from Genesis through Revelation.
Yesterday’s passage had me reading the Ten Commandments. While I’ve read these many times now, I keep thinking about this one, the third commandment:
Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses His name. (Ex. 20:7 HCSB)
More familiarly, this verse is often stated as “do not take the Lord’s name in vain,” which we typically use to say don’t use Jesus’ name as a cuss word. While “do not take the Lord’s name in vain” and “do not misuse the name of the Lord” mean the same thing, there’s something helpful about this restatement, isn’t there?
If nothing else, it reminds us just how easy it is to violate this command.
Misusing the Lord’s name is far more than flippantly speaking his name—it’s actually about our lifestyle and our worship, too. Simply, this reminds us that it’s serious business to call oneself a Christian, yet behave no differently than the non-believer—mistakenly believing Paul’s hypothetical question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” should be answered in the affirmative—or to heap a burden of rules and regulations upon oneself that the Lord has not, treating your behavior as the source of your salvation. Both are a gross misuse of the Lord’s name.
And as we worship, particularly our corporate gatherings, how easy is it to do the same thing—to put on a show in the name of “leading people into an experience of God’s glory” or some such thing. To put up our hands because the song says it, but not because our hearts are leading us to do so. To give in the hopes of getting.
This is an important reminder: the Commandments exist to remind us of God’s perfect standard, and to reflect to us our own failure. But they should also serve as a reminder that, once again, we can rejoice in Jesus’ fulfilling of the Law for us—and progressively his fulfilling the Law in us as he gradually moulds us into his image, so that we “walk in the light as he is in the light” (1 John 1:7).
Title: By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me
Author: Sinclair Ferguson
Publisher: Reformation Trust (2010)
Does the grace of God amaze you?
Does the salvation that comes through faith in Christ overwhelm you with excitement and joy?
It did Emmanuel T. Sibomana, inspiring him to write they hymn, “Umbuntu Bg Imana,” translated into English as, “O How the Grace of God Amazes Me.” Sibomana’s hymn is a beautiful and powerful exposition of the story of salvation and the grace of God.
It’s also the inspiration for Sinclair Ferguson’s latest book, By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me. Following the structure of Sibomana’s hymn, Ferguson reflects on God’s grace from seven angles and shows us why the grace of God should amaze us.
A question that may come to mind when considering this book is, “Why do we need (another) book on grace?”
“Being amazed by God’s grace is a sign of spiritual vitality. . . Yet we frequently take the grace of God for granted. . . . We have lost the joy and energy that are experienced when grace seems truly amazing,” writes Ferguson (Introduction, p. xiv).
In other words, if our amazement at God’s grace is a sign of our spiritual wellbeing, to take it for granted is an indicator that, spiritually speaking, we’re desperately sick. To regain our health, we must regain a sense of wonder when considering His grace.
So what does grace do, exactly?
Ferguson breaks it down quite effectively. Grace… [Read more…]
Remember that you are not saved by increased levels of holiness, however desirable it is that you should reach them. Indeed, while we often say that we are “saved by faith” or by “faith in Christ,” as Benjamin B. Warfield shrewdly comments, it is not even faith in Christ that saves us. It is Christ who saves us—through faith.
Your faith is a poor and crumbling thing, as is your spiritual service. Jesus Christ alone is qualified and able to save you because of what He has done. Cling to anything else and you are relying on flotsam and jetsam floating on a perilous sea. It will bring you down under the waves. If you should ever experience anything like the satanic attack Bunyan’s Christian endured, you will be lost. But cling to Christ Jesus and His righteousness, and nothing can sink you.
When you grasp that, you begin to realize why and how it is that you can live in the face of such demonic attacks as these [accusation]. You are not pushed back on your own resources or spiritual qualities. You are able to rest exclusively on what Jesus Christ has done for you. For what He has done for you is absolutely perfect.
What Christ is doing in you is still incomplete. But in what Jesus Christ has done for you there is not a single tiny crack that the satanic arrows can penetrate. Jesus Christ is your shield. You can say, with David, “The Lord is . . . my deliverer; my God . . . in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies” (Ps. 18:2–3)…
Here is our refuge: In Christ, we are as righteous before God as Jesus Christ is righteous, for the only righteousness we have before God is Jesus Christ’s righteousness, to which we contribute nothing.
Faith contributes nothing to that righteousness. The years we may have lived the Christian life contribute nothing to that righteousness. Conversely, our sins cannot diminish that righteousness.
Is that not a dangerous thing to say? It would be if it were distorted. But the truth is that no other kind of righteousness can justify us.
But because this is the righteousness by which we are justified, Paul can say: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” (v. 33).
Sinclair Ferguson, By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, pp. 75-76
We can never atone for our own sin. We can never break its power. We can never come to God and say, “God, surely what I have done is enough to compensate for my sins.” Nothing we can do can possibly compensate. But God sent His own Son—think of it, His own Son—who stood in for us, in our place. He lived a perfect life. Since He had no sins of His own to atone for, He was qualified to make a sacrifice for our sins. No sacrifice we could make could ever be adequate to atone for sin. But He was able and willing to do it. Because of that, we can be set free from guilt and from the bondage it creates.
Christ also sets us free in another way: through the truth about God—and about ourselves—that He reveals. If we believe in Him, we will come to know the truth, and the truth will set us free (John 8:32). That is His promise.
I have met some exceptionally intelligent people who cannot understand the Christian gospel. They hear its message as if it were a lecture on morality. Yet the gospel is not difficult to understand. The problem lies within us—in our spiritual blindness. If there is resistance in the heart to loving God, there will be resistance in the mind to knowing God—and therefore to listening to and seeking God. Only the truth can set us free.
Sinclair Ferguson, By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, p. 8
“Most assuredly, I say to you,” Jesus said, “whoever commits sins is a slave of sin” (John 8:34).
Does this really need to be underlined? Jesus thought it did, and perhaps someone reading these pages may need a little help to understand what Jesus was saying here:
- We do not become sinners by committing specific acts.
- We commit specific acts of sin because we are sinners.
In short, my problem is not the isolated actions that I see as aberrations from what I really am. I am deceiving myself if I think that way. These actions are not aberrations but revelations of what is in my heart. They show that I commit sin because I am in bondage to it…
As Jesus hinted, this sinfulness affects every dimension of our lives:
- Our minds. We do not think clearly. We may be well educated and have high IQs. But that is no guarantee that we think clearly about spiritual things.
- Our desires. When we are on our own and at our most honest, we recognize that we are not masters of our desires. We try to master them. We have a moral consciousness that says, “You must get these things under control.” But inwardly we are out of control. There is a world within us over which we have no mastery.
- Our wills. They are in bondage to sin. “Oh yes,” we say, “this message about being right with God—I will come to it another day. That is my decision and I can make it whenever I want.”
The truth, however, is that we cannot think clearly about or desire Christ by our own unaided decision. Why not? We cannot respond to the good news of the gospel until we want Christ, and we cannot want Christ simply by a decision we can take at any moment we choose. We cannot say to our will, “Will, will to belong to the Lord!” It is beyond our powers to do that. No one can will the will to will what it will not will! Only God’s grace can set us free to come to trust in Him.
Sinclair Ferguson, By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, pp 4-5
Title: Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels
Author: Tullian Tchividjian
Publisher: Crossway (2010)
The book of Jonah is one of the most captivating in the Old Testament. The rebellious prophet has inspired more art than nearly any other Old Testament figure, and his story has been told and retold repeatedly in the centuries since the events first occurred.
But Jonah is not only a tale of a prophet on the run—it’s one of the clearest depictions of the gospel in the Old Testament. And in Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels, Tullian Tchividjian takes readers on a journey through the biblical account to help us discover the gospel according to Jonah.
Rebels on the Run
Tchividjian is very thorough in his approach to the book. He takes his time giving us the background of the prophet Jonah, who is only mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament in 2 Kings 14:25:
He [King Jeroboam II] restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher.
Jonah was kind of a big deal (as far as prophets go). He was the prophet of God whose preaching instructed Jeroboam how to restore the borders of Israel. So when God instructs him to preach judgment in Nineveh, the leading city in Assyria, what would we expect him to do?
The assignment probably takes his breath away. Jonah may already be a homeland hero due to his prophetic success toward building Israel’s defenses, but if that means anything at all in proud, idolatrous Nineveh, it can only be a strike against him. (p. 29)
Instead of obeying, he ran to Tarshish, hoping to evade God’s command. Of this, Tchividjian writes, [Read more…]
This message is for you: “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
I call your attention to the words, “Him who justifies the ungodly.” They seem to me to be very wonderful words.
Are you not surprised that there is such an expression as that in the Bible, “who justifies the ungodly”? I have heard that men who hate the doctrine of the Cross bring the charge against God that he saves wicked men and receives to Himself the vilest of the vile. See how this Scripture accepts the charge and plainly states it! By the mouth of His servant Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, He takes to Himself the title of “Him who justifies the ungodly.” He makes those just who are unjust. He forgives those who deserve no favor.
Did you think that salvation was for the good and that God’s grace was for the pure and holy who are free from sin? Perhaps you think that if you were excellent, then God would reward you. Maybe you have thought that, because you are not worthy, there could be no way for you to enjoy His favor.
You must be somewhat surprised to read a text like this: “Him who justifies the ungodly.” I do not wonder at your surprise. For, with all my familiarity with the great grace of God, I never cease to wonder, at it either…
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” This truth is a very surprising thing—a thing to be marveled at most of all by those who enjoy it. I know that it is to me even to this day the greatest wonder that I ever heard of—that God should ever justify me.
I feel myself to be a lump of unworthiness, a mass of corruption, and a heap of sin, apart from His almighty love. I know and am fully assured that I am justified by “faith which is in Christ Jesus.” I am treated as if I had been perfectly just and made an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ. And yet by nature, I must take my place among the most sinful. Though altogether undeserving, I am treated as if I had been deserving. I am loved with as much love as if I had always been godly, whereas before I was ungodly. Who can help being astonished at this demonstration of grace? Gratitude for such favor stands dressed in robes of wonder.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, All of Grace, pp 13-14, 15-16 (Scripture updated to ESV)
Amazing Grace is perhaps the best known hymn by English poet and pastor, John Newton (1725-1807). Although first published in 1779, the hymn was written as an illustration for Newton’s New Year’s Day, 1773, sermon. Its lyrics are a powerful reminder of the mercy of God, who alone offers salvation to ill-deserving sinners—to a wretch like me.
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
We have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
We have already come;
And grace will lead me home.
His word my hope secures;
As long as life endures.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
Happy New Year, everyone.
Charles Spurgeon is renowned the world over as one of the greatest preachers ever to live. Saved at age 15, he began preaching at 16, and became pastor of the New Park Street Chapel in London when he was 19. Spurgeon dearly loved Jesus, and passionately proclaimed the gospel to sometimes more than ten thousand people every week (the Metropolitan Tabernacle was built in 1861 to hold all the people who would come to hear him preach), and he saw many people saved through his ministry.
All of Grace, by the author’s own admission, is a book written with the intention “that many will be led to the Lord Jesus.” This intention leads to an extremely thorough and clear articulation of the good news of Jesus centering around the truth that “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).
This is arguably the most crucial point of Spurgeon’s message, in large part due to the heavy attack it faces today. We see ourselves as strong, though we are weak. We see ourselves as capable of earning our salvation, although we have no hope of doing so. Spurgeon puts it this way: “He did not come to save us because we were worth saving, but because we were utterly worthless, ruined, and undone” (pg. 90).
Spurgeon has the great ability to illustrate the ridiculousness of pride, particularly when addressing the necessity of salvation through faith (and indeed what is faith). On its necessity, he writes, “[God] will not give salvation in a way that will suggest or foster pride… The hand that receives charity does not say, ‘I am to be thanked for accepting the gift;’ that would be absurd” (pg. 79).
He makes his point exceedingly clear: We don’t earn salvation. We don’t deserve it. We don’t choose it. Indeed, we cannot.
It’s pure, unmerited grace.
What I appreciated a great deal while reading All of Grace is this call to the death of pride. If our salvation is in Christ alone, through faith alone, there is no room for boasting. Even when we repent, we cannot take credit. Spurgeon says, “We repent and believe, though we could do neither if the Lord did not enable us” (pg. 116). How often do we really see our ability to repent as a gift from God, as an ability enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit?
In all honesty, I rarely give it much thought. But I realize it’s not something I can or should take for granted. I can only repent and believe because Jesus has allowed me to do so. Should that not, then, drive me to pursue repentance even more? “Repentance is the inseparable companion of faith,” says Spurgeon (pg. 128). If we have faith, we must make a lifestyle of repentance, because “it is not a true faith in Jesus that is not colored by repentance” (pg. 128).
Where there is no repentance, there is only pride.
Spurgeon’s All of Grace is an engaging, compelling and inspiring look at the love of God, one that ends with a passionate appeal for all his readers to trust in the Lord Jesus and meet him (Spurgeon) in heaven, to worship the God who saves by grace. And I look forward to the day that I get to meet him there.
Title: All of Grace
Author: Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Buy it at: Amazon
Note: This review is based on a previously released edition of this book.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I tend to shy away from talking about it too much because people might think I’m nuts. Then, I remembered that I worship Jesus and most people think I’m nuts anyway. So, for better or for worse, here’s my story:
A Bit of History
I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, or one that really practiced any sort of religious belief (unless watching Star Trek religiously counts). From what I recall, the only time someone said “God” or “Jesus” was when someone was exasperated. I learned a couple years ago that apparently I went to Sunday School a few times when I was about six, but the only thing I remember is making a guitar out of yarn and styrofoam plates.
I suppose that’s an indicator of what I learned there, isn’t it? [Read more…]
893 questions posted. 343,203 votes cast. Nine controversial subjects. The resulting sermons were then reformatted and expanded in the book, Religion Saves & Nine Other Misconceptions, released in June, 2009, through Crossway and RE:Lit.
This post will be dealing with three subjects from the book: Predestination, grace, and faith & works.
Always a lightning rod for debate is the subject of predestination. Particularly over the past 400 years, the mode and meaning of predestination has been divisive among some Christians. In this chapter, Mark Driscoll shares an overview of the history of the two most prominent positions on predestination, going back to the second century. One is what Driscoll refers to as the two-handed position (synergism); that God reaches out his hand and we choose to reach out in response. As stated in the book, “God does not predestine us, but rather God foreknows who will choose him of their own free will, so in essence God chooses those who choose him” (p. 70). This is the heart of what’s referred to as the Arminian position on salvation (although there’s still more too it). The other position is what he refers to as the one-handed position (monergism): “That everyone is a sinner by nature and choice and therefore fully deserves nothing more than the conscious eternal torment in hell; nevertheless, in pure grace, some wholly undeserving sinners are predestined for heaven and saved by Jesus Christ” (p. 71). This is the heart of what’s commonly called the Calvinist (Reformed) position on salvation.
Digging into the content a little more, I really appreciated the explanation of the concept of prevenient grace, which, as described in the book is grace poured out by God on all mankind kind giving everyone the ability to make a free will choice to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. In essence, it negates the total depravity of man and moves us from being spiritually dead, as Paul says in Ephesians 2:1, to spiritually neutral—a concept, to borrow the words of Millard Erickson as quoted in the book, “appealing though it is in many ways, simply is not taught explicitly in the Bible.” [Read more…]