Sons or servants?

Prod son 3We forget the gospel when we neglect our adoption and think that we’re still just a hired servant. The Father doesn’t let us come to him on those terms.

We will either
come as sons
or we will stay
with the pigs.

He won’t let us earn anything from him because there will be no boasting in his sight. It will either be that Jesus and his glorious gospel has the preeminence or we will go it on our own.

–Elyse M. Fitzpatrick

Image: Bartolomé E. Murillo

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Getting it all right

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“You haven’t got it right!” says the exasperated piano teacher. Junior is holding his hands the way he’s been told. His fingering is unexceptionable. He has memorized the piece perfectly. He has hit all the proper notes with deadly accuracy. But his heart’s not in it, only his fingers. What he’s playing is a sort of music, but nothing that will start voices singing or feet tapping. He has succeeded in boring everybody to death, including himself.

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Jesus said to his disciples, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). The scribes and Pharisees were playing it by the book. They didn’t slip up on a single do or don’t. But they were getting it all wrong.

Righteousness is getting it all right.
If you play it the way
it’s supposed to be played,
there shouldn’t be a still foot
in the house.

–Frederick Buechner
Beyond Words

When grace slips away

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Whenever faith
seems an entitlement,
or a measuring rod,
we cast our lots with
the Pharisees and grace
softly slips away.

–Philip Yancey
Soul Survivor

Image: Karl Schmidt-Rottluff

Published in: on 06/22/2014 at 21:12  Leave a Comment  
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Drawn not driven

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The Gospel
is more powerful
in wooing us from our sin
than the Law is
in frightening us
from it.

–Frederick Dale Bruner

Running from God

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You can run from God
either by breaking His rules
or by keeping them.
The former says:
God doesn’t own me.
The latter says:
God owes me.

–Tim Keller

Image: Tor Håkon

Where the road ends

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The conscience, our own anxiety, and all slaves of the law bid us go the way of obedience to the very end in order to find peace with God. But the way of obedience has no end. It lies endlessly before you, bringing continually severer demands and constantly growing indebtedness. If you seek peace on that road, you will not find peace, but the debt of ten thousands talents instead.

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But now Christ is the end of the law;
the road ends at His feet, and here
His righteousness is offered
to everyone who believes.

It is to that place, to Jesus only, that God has wanted to drive you with all your unrest and anguish of soul.

Bo Giertz
The Hammer of God

The only punishable offence

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Bookkeeping is the only punishable offence in the kingdom of heaven. For in that happy state, the books are ignored forever, and there is only the Book of life. And in that book, nothing stands against you.

There are no debit entries
that can keep you out of the clutches
of the Love that will not let you go.

bookeepingThere is no minimum balance below which the grace that finagles all accounts will cancel your credit. And there is, of course, no need for you to show large amounts of black ink, because the only Auditor before whom you must finally stand is the Lamb — and he has gone deaf, dumb, and blind on the cross. The last may be first and the first last, but that’s only for the fun of making the point: everybody is on the payout queue and everybody gets full pay. Nobody is kicked out who wasn’t already in, the only bruised backsides belong to those who insist on butting themselves into outer darkness.

For if our world
could have been saved
by bookkeeping,
it would have been saved
by Moses, not Jesus.

The law was just fine. And God gave it a good thousand years or so to see if anyone could pass a test like that. But nobody did — when it became perfectly clear that there was “no one who was righteous, no even one” (Rom. 3:10; Ps. 14:1-3), that “both Jews and Gentiles alike were under the power of sin (Rom. 3:9) — God gave up on salvation by the books. He cancelled everybody’s records in the death of Jesus and rewarded us all, equally and fully, with a new creation in the resurrection of the dead.

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And therefore the only adverse judgment that falls on the world falls on those who take their stand on a life God cannot use rather than on the death he can. Only the winners lose, because only the losers can win: the reconciliation simply cannot work out any other way . . . the kingdom of heaven is for everybody; hell is reserved only for the idiots who insist on keeping nonexistent records in their heads.

Robert Farrar Capon
Kingdom, Grace, Judgment
(emphasis added)

No whiff of negotiation

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Grace is created by God and given to man . . . On the basis of this point alone, Christianity is set apart from any other religion in the world . . .

Every other approach to God
is a bartering system;
if I do this God will do that.

I’m either saved by works (what I do), emotions (what I experience), or knowledge (what I know). By contrast Christianity has no whiff of negotiation at all. Man is not the negotiator; indeed man has no grounds from which to negociate.

–Max Lucado
In the Grip of Grace

When grace goes sour

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Periodically in history, spiritual revivals burst upon the world . . . The Spirit breathes, charity spreads. The greatness of God and His love are rediscovered and human pettiness is pushed aside. At the same time, the unlimited nature of God’s requirements is re-discovered, and the boundlessness of His grace. It is proclaimed. Men feel called, welcomed and not judged. They are overwhelmed, their conduct and way of life are changed, they become fervent, practising Christians.

And then gradually, inevitably, in that more virtuous, more austere environment, a new conformity emerges. Grace becomes conditional. Judgement appears.

Anyone who does not subscribe
to certain standards is suspected
of infidelity and hypocrisy.

And that is what awakens hypocrisy, for everyone, in an attempt to live up to his faith, seeks to appear better than he is and begins to hide his faults instead of confessing them…

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Moralism has returned, and with it the breath of the Holy Spirit is stifled. In order to ensure the lost treasure people cling all the more to certain ‘principles’ inherited from the heroic period, to a new limited morality. What was a spontaneous impulse, free and joyful obedience to God, responding to His wonderful grace, becomes constraint, legalistic obligation and fear of criticism… Above all, people begin to pretend to be more virtuous than they are. That was the fault of Ananias and Sapphira, which the Apostle Peter reproved so sternly (Acts 5:1-11).

–Paul Tournier
Guilt and Grace

Getting the message right

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I preached morality till I made
all the people in my church immoral;
but when I began to preach the gospel,
the dumb began to sing!

–C.H. Spurgeon
(1834 – 1892)

Published in: on 03/10/2013 at 6:53  Leave a Comment  
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His love is not earned

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Legalism says God will love us if we change.
The gospel says God will change us
because He loves us.

― Tullian Tchividjian

A devilish stronghold

There’s not a more devilish stronghold in believers,
than thinking if we would just do more of this or that,
God would be happy with us.

–Steven Crosby

Hang on to the nails

The German reformer, Martin Luther, said we all carry in our pockets the nails that crucified Christ. Check your pockets and be reminded they are there. Legalism or spiritual to-do lists generate very little motivation, but nails work real well. Hang on to the nails.

Published in: on 12/10/2011 at 8:22  Leave a Comment  
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Wine into water

Christ turned water into wine, but the church has succeeded in doing something even more difficult: it has turned wine into water.

–Søren Kierkegaard

Published in: on 11/10/2011 at 17:09  Leave a Comment  
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How much is enough?

How much prayer is enough? How much seeking is enough? How much self-humbling is needed? How much wickedness do we have to turn from? Is 70% enough? 40%? 20%? How successful do we have to be in our turning? What if we backslide? Does our previous turning count for us, or do we have to start over? When will God ever be satisfied? If we understood and lived in New Covenant realities, we would know that God has been satisfied, once and for all time, and we could dispense with these spiritual gymnastics of trying to please God so He can be nice to us . . . Our approach to God, and God’s response to prayer is based solely on the Person and Work of His Son. There is no other foundation. There’s nothing else to position ourselves under than His finished work.

–Steve Crosby

Published in: on 11/08/2011 at 6:51  Leave a Comment  

It’s crazy, wild and outrageous

There is no such thing as the Christian religion because, Christianity, at is heart, is not a religion. Rather, it’s the announcement by God in Christ that whatever it was that the religions of the world were trying to do and couldn’t (make God think kindly of you, win wars, end poverty, get the crops to grow, stop your brother-in-law from drinking so much at your parties), the whole rigmarole has been canceled.

In Jesus, God has put up
a “Gone Fishing” sign
on the religion shop.

He has done the whole job in Jesus once and for all and simply invited us to believe it—to trust the bizarre, unprovable proposition that in him, every last person on earth is already home free without a single religious exertion: no fasting till your knees fold, no prayers you have to get right or else, no standing on your head with your right thumb in your left ear and reciting the correct creed—no nothing. All you need is faith that the entire show has been set to rights in the Mystery of Christ—even though nobody can see a single improvement. Yes, it’s crazy. And yes, it’s wild, and outrageous, and vulgar. And any God who would do such a thing is a God who has no taste. And worst of all, it doesn’t sell worth beans. But it is Good News—the only permanently good news there is—and therefore I find it absolutely captivating.

–Robert F. Capon

God opposes religion

There is a huge demographic of people who are frustrated with the Christian religion, yet who also remain open to Christ himself. Some of them are Christ-followers while others are holding back from following Jesus because of their anger, frustration, and/or just boredom with the Christian religion . . . I think one reason why the new atheist authors are so popular is because atheism has become the trendy way of giving religion (and the God of religion) the finger. Their motivating logic runs roughly along these lines: “Religion tends to increase rather than decrease bigotry, violence, and judgementalism. Therefore, belief in God is dangerous.” I want to agree with the premise, but challenge the conclusion. I would say yes, religion tends to fan the flames of bigotry, violence, and judgementalism. Therefore, if there is a good God, we should expect him to stand against religion. And that is exactly what we see in the biblical Jesus.

–Bruxy Cavey

Published in: on 11/06/2011 at 16:25  Leave a Comment  
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The main source of mischief

Spiritual pride is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of Christianity.  It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit, to darken the mind and mislead the judgment.  It is the main source of all the mischief the devil introduces, to clog and hinder a work of God.

Spiritual pride tends to speak
of other persons’ sins
with bitterness or with laughter
and levity and an air of contempt.

But pure Christian humility rather tends either to be silent about these problems or to speak of them with grief and pity.  Spiritual pride is very apt to suspect others, but a humble Christian is most guarded about himself.  He is as suspicious of nothing in the world as he is of his own heart.  The proud person is apt to find fault with other believers, that they are low in grace, and to be much in observing how cold and dead they are and to be quick to note their deficiencies.  But the humble Christian has so much to do at home and sees so much evil in his own heart and is so concerned about it, that he is not apt to be very busy with other hearts.  He is apt to esteem others better than himself.

–Jonathan Edwards
(1703-1758)

Called to follow a Person

When we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to His person. The grace of His call bursts all the bonds of legalism. It is a gracious call, a gracious commandment. It transcends the difference between the law and the Gospel. Christ calls, the disciple follows; that is grace and commandment in one. “I will walk at liberty, for I seek your commandments.” (Psalm 119:45)

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A serious disease

Petty people are ugly people. They are people who have lost their vision. They are people who have turned their eyes away from what matters and focused, instead, on what doesn’t matter. The result is that the rest of us are immobilized by their obsession with the insignificant. It is time to rid the church of pettiness. It is time the church refused to be victimized by petty people. It is time the church stopped ignoring pettiness . . . Pettiness has become a serious disease in the Church of Jesus Christ—a disease which continues to result in terminal cases of discord, disruption, and destruction. Petty people are dangerous people because they appear to be only a nuisance instead of what they really are—a health hazard.

–Mike Yaconelli

Published in: on 11/02/2011 at 8:58  Leave a Comment  
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A tricky balance

The New Testament presents a tricky balance. On one hand it blasts legalism and its childish insistence on a set of rules. On the other hand it condemns immorality and calls us to holiness.

–Philip Yancey

Published in: on 11/01/2011 at 8:28  Leave a Comment  

A painful pattern

In the study of church history I learned that reform movements in the church too often follow a familiar pattern. First come the CONCEPTUALIZERS who see how to apply a biblical principle where they live, next are the CRUSADERS who spread it, then CODIFIERS who make sure it is written down just right, others CRYSTALIZE it and put it on pedestals for us to admire, and the CONCRETE-setters finally ensure that it can never be changed. Before long the process has to begin all over again—the phariseeism and legalism must be broken—if there is to be any power and meaningful application of God’s message.

–William Conard

Published in: on 10/31/2011 at 10:41  Leave a Comment  

The outrageous invitation

Religion is the human race’s vain attempt to perfect a series of transactions that will con God into doing something about its plight. But the prescriptions of religion never delivered on their promises: all the chicken sacrifices of history, all the fasts, all the nights of prayer, all the approved sexual behavior—none of it ever tidied up even the smallest corner of the mess of history. And therefore when God really does do something about the mess, he doesn’t risk doing anything religious. Instead, he simply gets himself executed as a common criminal and then outrageously invites us to trust that everything religion ever tried to do has been accomplished . . .

–Robert Farrar Capon

Published in: on 04/27/2011 at 22:19  Leave a Comment  
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Living from God

For in its actual specific message the Bible does not deal with the God who demands and the man who acts, like every other sacred book; but it speaks of the God who acts and the man who receives the Divine gift. This is the great inversion of existence. Previously, life, even at its best, is always a life directed towards God; now, henceforth life is lived from God as its center. In this new possiblity of life the old life is seen to be perverted, and it becomes manifest that the attempt to attain God by our own efforts rather than to base all of our life on God, legalism, is the root of sin.

–Emil Brunner

Published in: on 02/10/2011 at 13:13  Leave a Comment  
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Face to face with God

We must reject as inadequate or inaccurate the attempts to find God through nature—the nature worshipers; the attempt to find God within ourselves—the “I” worshipers; the attempt to find God through teachers, gurus, priests—the human worshipers; the attempt to find God in legalism—the written law worshipers; the attempt to find God in slogans and affirmation—the cult of the Positive, the Positive worshipers; the attempt to find God in the quiet of submissiveness—the worshipers of Silence, of Quietism.

In any of these you may find glimpses of God, but if you are to see God face to face you must see God in the face of Jesus Christ. For Jesus is God approachable, God available, God simplified, God lovable. The Word has become flesh.

–E. Stanley Jones

Burden or Wings?

The evangel of an ethical example is a devastating thing. It makes religion the most grievous of burdens. Perhaps this is the real reason why, even among professing Christians, there are so many strained faces and weary hearts and captive, unreleased spirits. They have listened to Jesus’ teaching, they have meditated on Jesus’ character; and then they have  risen up, and tried to drive their own lives along Jesus’ royal way. Disappointment heaped on bitter disappointment has been the result. The great example has been a dead-weight  beating them down, bearing them to the ground, bowing their hopeless souls in the dust.

One of the vital distinctions between
true religion and false is that,
whereas the latter is a dead burden
for the soul to carry, the former
is a living power to carry the soul.

Paul’s mysticism grows lyrical with precisely this great discovery. “Christ in me” means something quite different from the weight of an impossible ideal, something far more glorious than the oppression of a pattern for ever beyond all imitation. “Christ in me” means Christ bearing me along from within, Christ the motive-power that carries me on, Christ giving my whole life a wonderful poise and lift, and turning every burden into wings. All this is in it when the apostle speaks of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).

Compared with this, the religion which bases everything on example is pitifully rudimentary. This, and this alone, is the true Christian religion. To be “in Christ,” to have Christ within, to realize your creed not as something you have to bear but as something by which you are born, this is Christianity. It is more: it is release and liberty, life with an endless song at its heart. It means feeling within you, as long as life here lasts, the carrying power of Love Almighty; and underneath you, when you come to die, the touch of everlasting arms.

–James Stewart

Getting back to centre

The Jerusalem leaders came near smothering the gospel in the beginning. It was Paul who loosed it from its Jewish fetters. He dared follow the living Christ into the heart of paganism. He came back and told what God had wrought. The Jerusalem leaders were forced into liberality by the facts produced, but when they drew up some of the things considered essential for Christians among the Gentiles we find among essentials: “to abstain from things strangled from blood.” Binding up the gospel of Christ with that! Of course it dropped away, for the gospel was at grips with bigger issues. It may be that to future Christians some of the things that we consider essential in our systems will seem just as absurd as this does to us…

Plagues are said to come upon thise who add to or substract from the book of Revelation. The things that have plagued Christendom in the past are the things that we ave added to the gospel and the things that we have taken from it. The plagues of controversy and division and weakness will be largely lifted when we get back to the centre—Christ.

-E. Stanley Jones

Not for “good” Christians

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Jesus was not clearing the road so I could ride victoriously through life. He was becoming the road that would carry me through all the garbage, falls, failures, and disasters that were the inevitable results of my existence.

In trying to make myself lovable,
I had been distancing myself from true love.

In pretending to be a leading candidate for the religious life, I was abandoning the life of grace. In seeking to be a good Christian, I was deserting the truth that there is no gospel for “good” Christians, because the Lamb of God was nailed to an altar for those who are not good, and who are no good at pretending to be good.

-Michael Spencer

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