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The Discipline of Grace

Greetings All!

Today's thought comes to you from Jerry Bridges and is found in his superb book, "The Discipline of Grace."
     What's the theme of the book?  How grace and the effort required to live a life of holiness are not incompatible. He shows how grace does not negate the need for effort, but actually empowers it and makes godly effort possible. Grace is not the need to do "nothing," but the God-implanted and God-sustained motivation and power to do what God would have us do! As Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15:10 where he compares himself to the other apostles: "By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect.  No, I worked harder than the all, yet not I but the grace of God that was with me."  Grace, Paul assures us, empowers and sustains effort.  It is undeserved power and divinely given assistance that enables us to do what God wills. It's an unearned and undeserved inner urge, compulsion, strength, and assistance which comes from God and apart from which "we can do nothing" (John 15:5). 
     If you don't have a copy of this book, or have not read it, you have missed out on a real gem.  For he clears up what is for many the seemingly unsolvable paradox between grace and effort, usually caused by a wrong understanding of grace, or the place of grace in the process of our growth in godliness.  The following excerpt is only one step in that process which he elaborates on in the rest of the book. Enjoy.

Good Day Bad Day

     "Grace and the personal discipline required to pursue holiness... are not opposed to one another. In fact, they go hand in hand. An understanding of how grace and personal, vigorous effort work together is essential for a life-long pursuit of holiness. Yet many believers do not understand what it means to live by grace in their daily lives, and they certainly don't understand the relationship of grace to personal discipline.
     Consider two radically different days in your own life. The first one is a good day for you spiritually. You get up promptly when your alarm goes off and you have a refreshing and profitable quiet time as read your Bible and pray... The second day is just the opposite. You don't get up when your alarm goes off. Instead, you shut it off and go back to sleep. When you finally awaken, it's too late to have quiet time. You hurriedly gulp down some breakfast and rush off to the days activities. You feel guilty about oversleeping and missing your quiet time, and things generally go wrong all day.  On the evening of both days you quite unexpectedly have an opportunity to share the gospel with someone who is really interested in receiving Christ as Savior. Would you enter those two witnessing opportunities with a different degree of confidence? Would you be less confident of the bad day than the good day? Would you find it difficult to believe that God would bless you and use you in the midst of a rather bad spiritual day?
     If you answered yes to any of those questions, you have lots of company among believers. I've described these two scenarios and asked audiences, "Would you respond differently?" Invariably about 80% indicate they would. They would be less confident of God's blessing while sharing Christ at the end of a bad day than they would after a good one. Is such thinking justified? Does God work that way? The answer to both questions is no, because God's blessing does not depend on our performance.  Why then do we think this way? It is because we believe that God's blessing on our lives is somehow conditioned on our spiritual performance. If we've performed well we assume we are in a position for God to bless us.  We know God's blessings come to us through Christ, but we also have this vague but very real notion that they are also conditioned on our behavior.  A friend used to think, "If I do certain things then I can get God to come through for me."  People who have a bad day tend to have no doubt in their minds that they have forfeited God's favor for a certain period of time, most likely until the next day... They think God would not use them to share the Gospel with someone on a "bad" day because, "they wouldn't be worthy." Such a reply reveals an all-too-common misconception of the Christian life: The thinking that although we are saved by grace, we earn of forfeit God's blessings in our daily lives by our performance.
     So what should we do when we've had a "bad" day spiritually, when it seems we've done everything wrong and are feeling guilty?  We must go back to the cross and see Jesus there bearing our sins in His own body (I Peter 2:24). We must by faith appropriate for ourselves the blood of Christ that will cleanse our guilty consciences (Hebrews 9:14).  We must remember that even when we have flagrantly and willfully sinned, Jesus bore the sins we've committed this day in His body on the cross. He suffered the punishment we deserve, so that we might experience the blessings He deserved.... I am not proposing a cavalier attitude toward sin. Rather, I am saying Christ is greater than our sin, even on our worst days. To experience that grace, however, I must lay hold of it by faith in Christ and His death on our behalf...
     Now let's go back to the "good" day scenario... Have you thereby earned God's blessing that day?  Will God be pleased to bless you because you've been good?  You are probably thinking, "Well, when you put it like that, the answer is no. But doesn't God work through clean vessels? To which I reply, "Let's assume that is true. How good do you have to be to be a clean vessel? How good is good enough?" ...
     Jesus said: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind... and your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39)... Have you perfectly kept those two commands (even on your best day)? And if not, does God grade on a curve? Is 90% a passing grade with God? We know the answers to those questions, don't we? Jesus said, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."  And James wrote, "Whoever keeps the whole law but stumbles at just one point, is guilty of breaking it all" (James 2:10).
     The point of this good-day-bad-day scenario is this: Regardless of our performance, we are always dependent on God's grace, His undeserved favor to those who deserve His wrath. Some days we may be more acutely conscious of our sinfulness and hence more aware of our need of His grace, but there is never a day when we can stand before Him on the two feet of our own performance and be worthy enough to deserve His blessing. At the same time, the good news of the Gospel is that God's grace is available even on our worst days. That is because Christ Jesus fully satisfied the claims of God's justice and fully paid the penalty of a broken law when he died on the cross in our place. Because of that the apostle could write, "He forgave all our sins" (Colossians 2:13).
     Does the fact that God has forgiven us all our sins mean that He no longer cares whether we obey or disobey? Not at all. (Ephesians 4:30, Colossians 1:10)   He cares about our behavior and will discipline us when we refuse to repent of conscious sin. But God is no longer our Judge. Through Christ He is now our heavenly Father who disciplines us only out of love and only for our good.  If God's blessings were dependent on our performance they would be meager indeed. For even our best works are shot through with sin -- with varying degrees of impure motives and lots of imperfect performance.
     So here is an important spiritual principle that sums up what I've said so far: Your worst days are never so BAD that you are beyond the reach of God's grace. And your best days are never so GOOD that you are beyond the need of God's grace.  Every day of our Christian experience should be a day of relating to God on the basis of His grace alone. We are not only saved by grace, but we also live by grace every day. This grace comes through Christ, "through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand"  (Romans 5:2)." 

     It's another way of stating the truth I frequently tell believers to make sure they don't get it backwards: "In Christ we work FROM grace, not FOR grace."  And believe me, that should be the cause of much thanks and praise!
     Blessings on your day, whether you happen to be having a bad one where you need God's grace, or a good one where you also need God's grace, Pastor Jeff