Free grace? Is it REALLY free?

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.”(Paul to the Galatians to combat a works heresy that is alive and well TODAY in most pulpits.) God needs a little help with His grace, right?

“If you have never been accused of being an antinomian you probably are not preaching grace. Paul spent much of his ministry defending himself and his message against this charge.”
Doug Wilson

I think pure grace salvation is hard to preach for we want to help God out with work’s qualifiers He never required, and that He actually condemns. I think too we are commonly hooked on “another Gospel” of subtle works. What are you listening to? What are you preaching pastor? Whose robe of righteousness adorns your dress? Whose glory do you seek? My obedience is not a requirement of grace. The righteousness of Christ ALONE is… for He obeyed unto required death; you nor I can ever do that and escape judgment and wrath. The fact is we incur wrath by our works and obedience which we present and pursue as a basis of grace. 

The obedience of faith is to believe. This is the watershed and this is what we contend for. On your best day your best works are as abhorrent as rags soaked in menstrual blood. And you plan on wearing that before the King of kings? Right.

Dancing from Sin to Joy

“O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, 
That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Make us glad according to the days You have afflicted us,
And the years we have seen evil.”
Psalms 90:14-15 (NASB)

    
The Psalmist indicates there exists an increased capacity for the children of God to know joy and gladness proportional to the degree of depravity which they have experienced. We need to understand that evil originates not only from our own personal cultivation, but also from the afflictions dumped upon us by the boneheads of the world, and unfortunately the church. Once the process is recognized we also experience God engage us with the law of the harvest principle. (Sowing & Reaping) Therein He releases the Kracken of sorts and unleashes the consequential results of doing stupid and coloring outside the lines. Oh glorious day! Did you so naively think God was going to “free-pass” you on that deal from the other day, or year? Grace abounds, yes and SUPER ABOUNDS in the presence of great perverted persistent blasphemy. (Paul always viewed himself as unworthy of being an apostle for his blasphemy, but God drowned his humility with glory and sovereign purpose). This principle is aptly illustrated in the New Testament to Simon the Pharisee by Jesus as the “woman who was a sinner” tended the Lord’s needs by washing His feet. The Lord’s praise of her was bestowed freely for her devotion to the King who was her friend as she demonstrated a penitent life.

Your rank rebellion and persistent failure are observable with devastating clarity by a purposeful glance in the rear view mirror of life. Therein lies the fertilizer that can actually become the rich soil of repentant tribulation whereby one springs heavenward and toward real life hidden with Christ in God. Never disqualify yourself as one who perpetually struggles with sin. Our badge of honor is that we are the walking wounded who have discovered a safer path of submissive obedience by way of Calvary. The call is to the death. One is more likely closer to ἀδόκιμοϛ (disqualification or rejection) for ignorance of sin or indifference to secret sin that remains unchecked rather than staying fitfully engaged in the conflict against nagging weights that we daily strive with. Did you really entertain the notion that sin’s aggravation would cease this side of glory? Sinless perfection in the flesh is blind presumption in the heart.

Joy in Jesus, quite frankly, is expanded to potentially greater horizons by the more profound pedigree of sinfulness we display. Pedigree implies past to me. History. From whence did we arise by grace? Grace multiplied by great sin is no excuse to continue frolicking with our innate pagan desires. They must perish! He calls us to glory not earthy or fleshy depravity. Glory embraces joy in pleasure rightly embraced, openly and in His presence alone. Now He is the glorious Savior of sinners and He is called Jesus, for such He came “to save His people from their sin.” Salvation from sin is not simply a satisfaction of guilt but a lifeline of rescue to each of us without exception from the power and pollution of sin. The old nonsense of, “Yeah, but I am different, I can’t escape my love of sin” is BravoSierra. It is a logical fallacy to think we can live for self if we call upon Christ as Lord. This is a twisted form of cross-less Christianity. 

If you have years of evil that are legitimately accredited to your transcript of sin, HOPE in GOD, for greater grace abounds toward you and upon you in Him. “Those who are forgiven much love much.” The morning of joy and sunlight celebration only come as the darkness of night flees His presence and glory. We celebrate the Son’s coming, not the persistence of darkness. None of us arrive at the wicket gate nor the gates of the Cellestial City unscathed. If He bore in His body the marks of His passion how can we differ?

Dance for Jesus today, this day! We have cause to hope, for grace is greater than all our sin! Don’t be blindly ignorant as the context of this Psalm speaks of a stiff-hearted, rebellious and unrepentant generation of sinners content to reject the call of God. God is not opposed to bumping off the rebellious as He did that generation in the wilderness wanderings. I guess He is patient toward me and you, though. We are still here… Let’s not presume upon His grace. If His kindness leads to repentance, where might our rejection of His kindness lead? He call us. He calls you. He calls me to a better more stable ground of no condemnation in the Son. Walk that way this day… by faith that sees the One who loves us so. 

Of Men and Dead Chickens

“All we like dead chickens are gone astray, we are every one turned into our own decay…”

(Vining allegorical paraphrase of Romans 3 and Ephesians 2 principles.)

  
I have on occasion opportunity to perform the dastardly deed of dealing with dead chickens. One thing for sure: when chickens die there is a total cessation of activity. They neither cluck nor clack, and no longer do whatever chickens typically do: eat, drink and make messes and merry with roosters… perhaps the latter point is more illustrative of the next-to-useless rooster’s perspective. Presumably some chickens are reputed to lay eggs now and again when not on strike as mine most certainly are at present. (The heck of it is that I have not to date received a grievance list in the empty egg basket.) 

When dead though, chickens stop ordinary functions and no longer serve useful purpose to their Sustainer in Chief, and it is then I reluctantly move them postmortem to the distant burn pile. They are cut off from all semblance of life and hope when found in this final predicament. The chickens are thereby committed to rest, their battle won with scarce a mumble of appreciation as they are tossed unceremoniously to the top of the pile. It is here they will stay until they decay or end up being burned with utter indifference to the quality of their works or number of laid eggs. These facts remain true unless the carcass is acted upon by outside forces. These forces often come by stealth in multiple forms just as a thief in the night… typically by buzzard, stray dog or nasty coyote. (My dog Jack gets a severe verbal rebuke for any attempt to consort with the dead. We are not that sort of folks out here on the Vining Plantation, and will not tolerate such behavior by domesticated animals nor humans alike. I think of Lonesome Dove and the warning sign, “We don’t rent pigs.Some things are well beyond profane.)

Ongoing research has led me to observe that dead chickens never become animated again regardless of the force or strength of entity that acts upon them. Even when varmint intervention occurs and they are forcibly moved they never achieve original animation, and are ultimately only consumed and spread across the balance of my 9 acres after due digestive process and transformation into varmint dung fertilizer. Here is the point: If we are really, really just as dead as dead chickens as I have intimated, these options sound pretty terrible to me as we approach the final goal line by entry into the “red zone”.

Quite candidly it’s the maggots that get me most of all. The putrid smell of death that surrounds these carrion-eating vermin works upon all sensory pathways, but most especially the olfactory pathways to trigger the “stink-sensitive” N&V regions of the brain. Frankly a writhing group of maggots does wonders to the eye gate also. (N&V is nursing lingo for hurling your toenails up.)

So my question is this: Does it even seem reasonable that this is the best we might expect… that this is what God has destined us to… we who were made a little lower than God, to rule and exercise dominion over the earth? Yes, even we who were made in His likeness and image? Not hardly, I think.
Rather as children we progress toward hope resolved with these words of comfort, “God has not destined us for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Glory. We seek saving glory and not decay. We seek another city whose walls and foundations are as eternal as our Master Architect. We pursue “life, life, eternal life” as much as Graceless on his initial dash toward the wicket gate before his name change to Christian upon entry. “This mortal shall put on immortality; the perishable, imperishable.” (Check out the hope of 1 Corth 15 for those who practice the things revealed in the earlier portions of chapter 15: Believe!)
Back on track…

In the meantime we are spiritually akin to dead chickens and must be acted upon by an outside Power, a Force or Entity. We are dead as dead chickens. Lifeless with no spiritual pulse, separate from God, without hope, without God in this world though we may be as rich and nutty as Gates or Trump, or even as a lone strutting rooster without competition surrounded by 2-3 dozen plus beauties without resistance to his every whim. God must move. God must rend the heavens. God must issue command beyond the general to the particular, secret, effectual calling of our name. “Lazarus, COME FORTH!” And he did, as we still do we. “All that the Father has given Me come…”

“But God…” must get involved in our deadness, our helplessness, our hopelessness through the gospel of free and sovereign grace. He raises the dead and animates them with power by His Breath, and in His pleasure for His glory. 

Lewis helps… with another of those memorable word pictures you never forget:

“This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there’s a rumor going around the shop that some of us are someday going to come to life.”

CS Lewis in Mere Christianity

Oh yeah, we must deal with the unpleasantries of this business about dung. (Philippians 3:8) That is what the Bible candidly calls your attempts to save yourself. Crap. You are covered in a veneer of crap that is a stench in the nostrils of Holy God. When is the last time you intentionally looked like crap and dressed like crap and smeared dung upon your self as perfume to fit yourself for the King to actually participate in His Son’s wedding feast? (Hunters in a passionate fit of eagerness to be stealth may rub fox urine or the like on their clothing to mask offensive human BO… but I have never heard of fox poo or the like being used.) Likely, you too have never so adorned yourself either, but if you have… when did you escape the sanitarium and what is their number? Babies do that though… paint in poo and think it is fun. (SPV) Are you still an infant attempting to finger-paint upon Self and surroundings to wear a facade of hypocrisy?? If you insist on saving yourself that is precisely what Scripture teaches you are and what you do. And you have plans to attend the Marriage Supper of the Lamb dressed in what? (Remember the parable of the one at the Wedding Feast dressed inappropriately? It did not end well for him as he was bound and cast into Outer Darkness.) 

Really dead men, really do not walk and can only attain to animation when God acts and imparts life to them. “But God…”

We know the post-life evidences of this impartation are repentance and faith in response to the word of His power. 

Regeneration or the new birth is our Genesis of life. You don’t believe and won’t believe and can’t believe as a dead man. “But God…” first moves, then God imparts life and light as the Spirit bursts forth in the faint cry of adoption, “Abba. Father.” And we awaken to a life hidden with Christ in God. 

And He makes all things new.


Ephesians 2:1-10 (NASB)

 Made Alive in Christ

[2:1] And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 

[2] in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 

[3] Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 

[4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 

[5] even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 

[6] and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 

[7] so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 

[8] For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 

[9] not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 

[10] For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.


Forgive me for the way my fried brain works. I really do look and listen to God speaking in all of life though, even when tending stinking, dead chickens.  

“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.