April 15, 2015

The Danger of Grace

Deuteronomy 29:1–29, 2 Corinthians 7:8–16, Psalm 42:1–43:5

In the beginning, they didn’t get it. God set them free from slavery in Egypt, but they didn’t fully understand. “And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: ‘You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.’” (Deuteronomy 29:2–4)

But they were still accountable to obey Him. “Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. The Lord will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven. And the Lord will single him out from all the tribes of Israel for calamity, in accordance with all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law.” (Deuteronomy 29:18–21)

I read this and the quote in the middle grabbed me by the throat. “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.” This is the danger of grace, or at least of taking grace for granted.

Grace is often defined as the unmerited favor of God. This is true, but how does God show that grace to us? It is by giving us a revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ. When we see Jesus, not with our eyes but with the realization of what He has done and what that means to us, and what He is like, we are transformed by that seeing. That is grace. The OT says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29) The reason for grace is that I might be the person God created me to be, holy and in humble submission to Him.

Grace is being justified by God without any merit on my part. This is astonishing. Grace is being forgiven, no more guilt. Grace is being put into a new life where God’s goal is transforming me into His image, an image that was true in creation but became marred by sin. Grace is such a wonder that new Christians behave as if they are on a most glorious honeymoon!

But sin isn’t eradicated totally, just on its way out, and it is powerful, powerful enough to try and take advantage of the wonder of grace. Sin knows God will not pour out His wrath on me; it was already poured out on Christ, so sin says, “I will be safe . . .  I can follow my stubborn heart.”

In the OT, that meant curses and being blotted out, calamity and wrath. In the NT, that means God will show incredible patience, even grace, not so I will keep on being stubborn, but so I will grieve over my sin and repent.

Repentance is not merely being sorry that I got caught, or frustrated because sin is no longer doing anything for me. It is a change of heart and direction that comes from a different kind of sorrow, a sorrow that grieves because I’ve sinned against God.

“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:10–11)

This sorrow produces a desire to change, an inner anger at the sin itself, a fear/awe of God, a deep desire to be like Jesus, and even a desire for justice, that God would deal with me so I never sin that way again.

This week I’ve been deeply impressed that true godliness, true repentance, and true grace come from seeing the light of God and His truth, and following that light and those truths. My prayer is: “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.” (Psalm 43:3–4) 

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