“God helps those who help themselves…” Does He now?


“It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.”

Psalm 127:2

George Dobbs Photo (A bridge to somewhere or nowhere.)

The Pilgrim’s Progress introduces an all-to-often frequently encountered character known as “Ignorance”. Ignorance has long insisted that his way and his efforts would be recognized and rewarded in the end. He proceeded in his religious labors in disregard of repeated warnings by Christian and Hopeful that he in fact was choosing to “do it my way,” in contrast to the prescribed Way they followed according to the Writ. Ignorance on that final fateful Day was turned away from the very gate of the Celestial City for his lack of the Certificate of Authenticity that validated his life and right of entry. As Ignorance is carried away, Bunyan in his masterful way makes the astute observation through Christian, “And I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven.”

Selah

“And I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven.”

Rigid discipline and hard labor are neither the fuel of nor primary catalysts of grace. A responsive faith that labors does in fact produce these tangible, consumable evidences of the secret God who gives grace even as men are incapacitated by sleep. Perhaps this is a further insurance policy to utterly convince men so none boast, none see, and none fully understand why grace comes unmerited to the one as the other continues in reckless sleep and comfortable sloth in the House of Unconcern.

Thankfully God chooses to interfere with our preprogrammed best renditions of religious idolatry and vanity of labors. He turns our wood, hay and stubble into gold, silver and precious stones that will adorn eternity. The significance of works is not because of the intrinsic worth of works, but because of the grace that enlarges a new capacity of joy experienced in responsive service. “The love of Christ constrains us…” and, “If I have not love it profits me nothing.”

We are easily confused and become convinced that “God helps those who help themselves,” but the above Psalm indicates quite the unnerving contrary. The source of our confusion originates in our makeup which is hard-wired for pride and self-sufficiency that insists we know best, yes even better than God, when it comes to works that save. Our heart has an incredible capacity to deceive us. However we are indeed called to pursue God through persistent discipline, instruction and effort not for our glory or profit or as an end to merit, but as means to know God in power and resurrection as recipients of His glory. What I think I struggle to say is that God acts in secret ways and by special providences in spite of our best efforts of interference to thwart grace, and in spite of our attempts to help Him out to merit our keep. Redemptive history will unfold and the church will advance even by the weakness of our flesh where His glory resides in the most unlikely clay vessel candidates. 

When it’s all been said and done a Christ follower is one who has been repetitiously instructed by life journey that “it is of His doing that we are in Christ Jesus…” and our boast is in the Lord working within us because of His work without us and in spite of us. We know that “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” We still build it but a spiritual man recognizes the God of grace is in reality working His purposes in secret through our labor unaware. So what should we do? Work to be noticed of Heaven in all your strivings and efforts, not for merit but in pleasure and joy that you might not receive the grace of God in vain. Work harder than any! That’s Paul’s perspective.

True believers all soon say… because they LOVE to say of the Chief Cornerstone: “This came about from the Lord and is marvelous in our eyes.”


 

“Dust & rust Thy life’s reward; Slay the thought, Believe Thy Lord!” (Carmichael)

 

Careful. Better Re-Read the Entry Requirements. (This may be easier than you supposed.) But remember…there are no mulligans and no grading on the curve. 

“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”Jesus

  
How paradoxical that you lose if you try more than believe. You lose if you work to the neglect of His work. The beauty of completeness of God in Creation as I see represented in George’s picture cannot be improved upon. It was all “very good.” In similar fashion the work of the new creation established by Christ by His labor for profit of His people is complete, “It is finished.” He entered into His rest. He sat down at the Father’s right hand “after He had made purification for sins.” Heaven and earth are one. Reconciled. All rebels are called to stack arms and sign terms of peace. We “have peace with God through Christ…” Herein we too find rest through and in Him. We bring nothing to the table but need and thirst that He alone can satisfy. “In Him we are made complete. And He is the Head over all things…” We enjoy peace; hostilities have ceased. “He has commanded all men everywhere to repent and believe.” Now how hard is that?



These principles of representation and substitution are at the heart of the gospel of peace, for therein is the imputed righteousness of Christ revealed. (That’s the one that counts!) The righteousness that sustains us in the coming Day is righteousness revealed to those who become as children in the Gospel, “from faith to faith, just as it is written, but the righteous man shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1)

We who believe embrace the truth of Jesus’ words, “The flesh profits nothing. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and are life.” Those who rest in Christ are beginning to understand the paradox that the harder we work to outdo the scribes and Pharisees the more of their likeness we embrace. Righteousness is not a badge of honor to be adorned and worn as we stand and primp in front of a mirror gazing upon our own beauty; it is a gift to be received as we gaze upon His beauty, His stunning and redemptive perfection. We are content to boast in the Lord. “Look unto Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.”

I recently heard Doug Wilson say, “If you have never been accused of antinomianism you probably are not clearly preaching the gospel of free grace.” (I had basically just accused him of that, kinda-sorta, for liberty he took in some statements of “God not caring about a believer’s sin,” and he graciously gave helpful clarification at the recent 2016 Auburn Avenue Pastors’ Conference.) His defense of grace made an indelible impression upon me. I believe it true. Wilson pointed out that Paul spent an abundance of his time defending His gospel against this very charge. 

Why not close here?
Philippians 3:7-11

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 

The Divine Designer’s Treasure Trove Entrusted to Flawed, Dusty Earthen-Ware Vessels

2 Corinthians 4:7

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves…”

I am ever so aware of my earthiness. Ten thousands of witnesses who know me can testify the same. Earthiness is merely a sophisticated human way to say “we are but dust and to dust we return.” And if this is so I see an argument for eternal God: That He is. Dust lacks creative capacity apart from a visitation, an intervention of the Outside into the inside. Otherwise dust doesn’t do much but cause sneezes and sniffles, and dry irritated eyes. It hangs out in inconvenient places and gets stirred up at the least breeze. Apart from divine glory acting it remains innately of no estimable value.

Though we know we are dust and it is to dust we return, natural man glories in his dustiness. Most are therein content. In contrast the shameful reality of our earthiness is to be embraced via repentance as cause to glorify God, and not man who drifts lower… the dust that he is. God made us and crowned us with life and glory as image-bearers of God. Our distinctive earthiness argues this in honest comparison to other creatures of dust created but none suitable as replicas of the Almighty. It is rumored that He has made us but just lower than God.

God is the One who delights in bestowal of transforming power upon and through the ordinary microbes of assimilated dust. Common dust becomes extraordinary stuff by calling and association with greater purpose. Our union with God is extraordinary. This redemptive union is remarkable. The gospel is His particular word and power unto the remolding of the common into treasure vessels to hold the catch of the ages, the Glory itself.

Earthy wares are always flawed. They are common. They lack luster and are rather dull when viewed in their natural habitat. They must be raised up. Brought near Light. Imperfections appear. Restoration requisitioned. Repairs must begin. Purpose bestowed. All those who meticulously peruse their surface still see cracks and fault lines, and those who look more intently may notice rough imperfect areas even within the inward regions that touch the treasure catch itself.

God is never hindered with preexisting flawed earth-wares. He embraces ordinary as the skilled Potter renown to refashion a story. He reveals glory. He bestows glory. Dust and flesh never share intrinsic glory, nor can they steal Creator’s glory; but they by design receive and reflect what is rightfully His alone.

If God gives no pause and declares He shall never cease His labor upon the earthy, why should the earthy cease their labor on behalf of the Heavenly irrespective to faults? Even so this offers no comforting excuse to remain a cracked cistern leaking refuse from revealed imperfections. The revelation of the reality of the earthy is grace-calculated to produce gospel drive to be cleansed as a vessel, fit for honor in the Master’s hand for glory… containers refashioned into the Master’s Treasure store.

Our greatness is correlated only to His power demonstrated upon our earthiness… our inherent, persistent weaknesses that bring Him glory as in His rescue as He entrusts the extraordinary Treasure for safekeeping and distribution by living dust who finally begin to see and touch glory and know life eternal.