“Do Not Judge.” What Jesus Really Meant

One thing I learned from my post about Bruce Jenner going viral is that Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” is the favorite Bible verse of many. I also think it might be one of the most grossly misunderstood and abused verses. This led me to do a little research on it and hear what some respected Bible scholars have to say. I found this article by Sam Storms to extremely helpful and clarifying so I thought I would share.

http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/matthew-7:1-6

As he says, the misunderstanding mostly stems from relativistic thought that has pervaded the American psyche. “To their way of thinking, this verse demands that we never exercise ethical discernment in our evaluation of others, indeed that we never evaluate others at all. We are told we must always manifest complete and uncritical tolerance toward every conceivable lifestyle or belief.” -Sam Storms  But this is completely contrary to the immediate context of the verse and the teaching of the Bible as a whole.

Moreover, it is completely absurd and contradictory. We hold this command not to judge as a standard for all and cry “foul” when it is broken. Yet, in so doing, we abandon our relativistic ways for an absolute standard by which to judge others. You see, none of us really live by relativism. We preach tolerance and subjectivity, but we live by absolutes.

What this verse really prohibits is self-righteousness where we see ourselves as sinless and others as sinful and therefore set ourselves as arbiters of justice and condemnation. We all have this self-righteousness in us. None of us has completely pure hearts. Christ is the model of which we all fall short. He boldly told people their sins, but then forgave them unconditionally, not blessing them to continue on sinning, but freeing them to “Go and sin no more.” I pray that as I grow in Christ, He will remove the dross from the silver that I may be more like Him: perfectly loving and perfectly truthful.

The Gospel for Bruce Jenner

A few days ago I wrote a post about Bruce Jenner. My main point was that I don’t think this man is a hero. It has received over 2.5 million views and I have received some 4,000+ comments, many of them accusing me of being a hateful, judgmental, idiot. I am only human and I think we are all judgmental at times, but I really don’t think anything I said was hateful. I’m not sure when disagreeing with someone became the same as hating them, but there you have it. Nonetheless, it has compelled me to write a follow up post.

I have two goals when I write. First and foremost, I aim to exalt Jesus Christ, to show Him as the supreme treasure that He is, and secondly, to shed the light of the truth of His Gospel on issues here on earth. I have been accused of not showing God’s love to Bruce so that is what I want to do now in the best way I know how. I want to share the Gospel of Christ for Bruce Jenner, the Gospel for all of us. I will speak it all. I will not add or subtract. I will not be ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). So, Bruce, this is God’s message of hope and love to you.

Bruce, you are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). You are God’s idea. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, woven together in your mother’s womb by the very hands of God (Psalm 139:14-15) You have intrinsic value and worth not based on your self, but on your Creator.

But Bruce, you have a problem. You and I both have a problem. Because we have sinned, because we have broken God’s law and marred his image, we stand guilty before a holy God. None of us is righteous (Romans 3:10). We all have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). This sin has infected our souls, our bodies, even the very ground we walk on. It has so skewed our perception of reality that we cannot see the truth of God (Romans 1:21-23) nor can we see who we were meant to be. That is why we struggle to find our identity.That is why we look for it in all the wrong places, in money, in sex, in materialism, in fame, and even in altering your body to become a woman. We think these things will liberate us, but the truth is, they only keep us in bondage.

Not only that, but because God is holy and just, His wrath is aimed at us (Romans 1:18). Because of our sin, we are by nature objects of this wrath (Ephesians 2:3). Bruce, some people will try to tell you differently. Some will say that God is love and therefore, He just wants you to be happy and do what pleases you. Well, God is love, but if we don’t first see His righteous wrath, we will never understand or receive His amazing grace. The Gospel is meaningless and powerless to save without this truth. If we didn’t have a sin problem Christ would not have needed to die. But He did die. Why? Because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Yet, God has shown His love for you, Bruce, by dying in your place while you were still in sin, while you were still rebelling against Him (Romans 5:8) in order that He might give you eternal life (Romans 3:21, Romans 6:23, John 3:16) and set you free from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:18). You see, His love does not affirm us in our sin but liberates us from it.

Bruce, Jesus died as a sacrifice for your sins. He rose from the dead in victory over them.  He stands now, arms open, calling you to Himself so that He might freely pour out His grace and love upon you. All you need do is go to Him, but one thing you must know. You cannot get near the mercy of God without also getting near His holiness. You cannot come to the cross on your own terms. You cannot have him as Savior without also yielding to Him as Lord. Christ died to put your sin to death so you must put it to death too (Romans 6:5-14).

No, I don’t think you are a hero, but Jesus is. Bruce, are you weary? He will give you rest. Are you confused? He will give you truth. Are you struggling to find hope and meaning? Jesus will give it to you. He will give you life. He will tell you who you were made to be.  You were made to be His. Listen to Him. Answer His call.

Weary, burdened wanderer, there is rest for thee at the feet of Jesus in His love, so free. Listen to His message, words of life, forever blest. Oh, thou heavy-laden, come to me, come and rest

There is freedom, taste and see. Hear the call, come to me. Run into His arms of grace. Your burden carried, He will take, yeah yeah, He will take

Bring Him all thy burdens, all thy guilt and sin. Mercy’s door is open, rise up and enter in

There is freedom, taste and see. Hear the call, come to me. Run into His arms of grace. Your burden carried, He will take, oh, He will take

Jesus, there is waiting patiently for thee. Hear Him gently calling, come, oh, come to me. Come, oh, come to me. Come, oh, come to me

Won’t you come? Won’t you come? There is freedom, taste and see. Hear the call, come to me. Run into His arms of grace. Your burden carried, He will take

Bruce Jenner Is Not A Hero

I generally try to steer clear of controversial issues on here. Most are so deeply embedded in presuppositions that writing about them generally just generates more anger and frustration than meaningful discussion. However, I never want to shy away from speaking something that needs to be said even if I know it is not something people want to hear. So, I want to talk about Bruce Jenner.

Today, Bruce Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair, dressed as a woman and introducing himself to the world as “Caitlyn Jenner.” You see, he has decided that he is a woman and that by saying it and probably some very extensive surgery, he can make it so. In today’s world, we think gender is something we get to choose, like our career path or our clothes. So, people across the nation have lauded him as a hero. Certainly, this is the current opinion of the masses, but I have to say it. The emperor has no clothes and Bruce Jenner is not a woman.

You can tell me that there is a difference between gender and sex, that Bruce was born with a male body and a female soul, but I would ask where did he get this soul? If there is no God, we are all nothing more than raw matter, we have no souls. If, however, we do have souls, there must be something more than the material. There must be something spiritual and if there is something spiritual, there must be a God who gave us these spirits, but if there is a God, would He make the mistake of putting a female soul in a male body? How can we know? We can know by what He tells us in His word. “Male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27) and He does not make mistakes, but does everything perfectly with love and wisdom.

We seem to want to erase the idea of gender and reinforce it all at once. We don’t want to have to conform to gender stereotypes. We don’t want to be put into categories and yet we want to be able to transfer ourselves by self-declaration from one category to another. We are so in love with our rebellion against God that we cannot see the absurdity and inconsistency of it all.

You may scoff at me. You may call me close-minded because I have allowed my religious beliefs to (gasp!) affect my judgments of propositions such as “Bruce Jenner is a woman trapped in a man’s body.” But if being open-minded means unquestioningly accepting anything and everything because it is progressive or popular, then I want no part of it. If you think I view the world from a Christian perspective and reject things that, based on that world view and common sense, are absurd, I will unabashedly and unapologetically agree.

If you don’t see things from the same Christian world view that I do, we probably do not agree and that is no surprise, but I must insist on one thing.  Bruce Jenner is not a hero.  A hero is someone who has done something brave or noble, who has sacrificed for others.  Bruce Jenner has done none of these things.  He is a man who has posed in women’s clothing on the cover of a magazine, garnering excessive media attention.  What’s more he has waited to do so until the optimum moment when he was most sure to receive praise and acceptance.  Heroes risk much and gain little.  Bruce Jenner has risked little and gained much. I am sure there are many people out there who do things to deserve the title of “hero,” but Bruce Jenner is not one of them.  He is not a hero and he is not a woman.  He is what we all are: lost, sinful, and desperately in need of Jesus. I pray he finds Him.

Lessons of Motherhood: The Little Life I Never Dreamed Of

The words to an old Switchfoot song have been playing through my head lately. “This is your life. Are you who you wanna be? This is your life. Is it everything you dreamed that it would be when the world was younger and you had everything to lose?” I think that song was out when I was in middle school or high school. I always liked it, but the words hit me differently now than they did then. I recently turned twenty-six. To my pessimistic self, that means I’m basically thirty, which means I’m basically old. Okay, I know I’m not really old, but I am older. My youth is passing away.

I remember when I went to college how big the world seemed, how full of endless possibility. I had dreams and visions for my life: who I was going to marry, where I was going to live, what I was going to do. I, of course, was going to do big, important things. By twenty-six I’d probably have gotten my Ph.D., written a best-selling book that changed the world, you know, those kind of things. I wanted to live my life for God, but I assumed that meant I had to live it loudly.

The funny thing about choices though is that they have a way of narrowing our lives and eliminating possibilities. I’ve made my choices. This is my life. I’m certainly not unhappy with it, but it is smaller than I expected. It mostly consists of the four walls of my home where I pass my days with my baby boy. I don’t have a Ph.D. I haven’t written a best-selling book. In fact, I haven’t done anything of much notoriety at all and perhaps I never will.

What I’ve been learning is that it is harder to be faithful in the mundane, to find the glory in the ordinary, and to follow God through the thickets of the everyday. It is more difficult to lay down your life in the small ways when no one is taking any particular notice. It is likely that few will remember me when I die. No one will chronicle my life with a biography, but my hope and prayer is that my son and any future children will be able to say that they learned grace and wisdom and integrity because I was their mother. I hope they will learn to love the word of God because I taught it to them. I pray that they will know Jesus because they knew me. I pray that I can be faithful with my little life and the little lives entrusted to me.

The Ordinariness of Extraordinary Love

“Unless it is mad, passionate, extraordinary love, it is a waste of time.”   I came across this quote on facebook recently and it sparked my interest.  In essence, if love is going to be anything, it certainly shouldn’t be ordinary.  If it’s real, true love, it won’t be boring. This certainly seems to reflect the general attitude of the culture currently.  We are told in movies and songs that love should be mad, passionate.  It should transform our lives from ordinary to extraordinary. Basically, love should be like a drug, something to keep us constantly high and something we cannot live without.

There’s a problem with this however.  The problem is that real love isn’t like that.  It isn’t like that at all.  Perhaps that’s why so many people end up disillusioned by what they thought was “true love.”  They find and latch on to something “passionate” and “extraordinary” only to soon find themselves extraordinarily disappointed and hurt when the passion fades.  They discover that what they thought was going to make their life special and meaningful has dropped them back into the harsh reality of their very normal, very ordinary lives.

That’s the heart of the problem.  We want to escape the mundane.  We’re so desperately afraid of it that we look to romantic love to save us from being ordinary, but the truth is that true, extraordinary love is incredibly ordinary.  Don’t get me wrong.  There is passion.  There are deep, heartfelt, thrilling emotions, but they are not the substance.  They are not the foundation. True love is extraordinary not because it lifts us above the ordinary, but because it perseveres with us through the ordinary.  And in life, there is a lot of ordinary.

My grandparents have been married for 61 years.  Their names are Jon and Dorothy.  They grew up and raised their family in the quiet state of Oklahoma.  They are normal people who worked normal jobs and led normal lives.  I can assure you that it has not been 61 years of madness and passion, but 61 years of faithfulness, of quiet commitment and deep companionship.  And when one of them leaves this earth, their love for each other will be celebrated as extraordinary not because they rode an endless roller coaster of thrills and emotions, but because they walked together, hand in hand, side by side through all of life’s highs, lows, and just plain average days.

The most crucial thing that our culture misses is that romantic love is just a picture.  Love that lasts for 61 years of marriage points us to Christ who shows us what love really is.  It does not promise to lift us above the ordinary, but to come dwell with us among it, transforming it into something beautiful and meaningful.  It came down to be born in a manger among manure and animals.  It walked the earth, knowing hunger and fatigue and getting dirt in its sandals.  It carried a heavy, heavy cross and died a humiliating death.  Christ put on human flesh, bore with us in the desperately ordinary things of life and persevered under the heavy load of our sin because of His great love for us. This is the real, extraordinary love for which our hearts long.   It “bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7) and that is why it lasts and satisfies our souls.

Natural Does Not Make Moral

A moral philosophy has pervaded our culture that is (or should be) disturbing.  It comes to us dressed in what appear to be enlightened thought and words, but anyone who thinks even slightly deeply about it can see that it is the exact opposite.  It is in fact, hopelessly primitive. It is the philosophy which equates the natural with the moral.  If something is natural it cannot be prohibited and if we desire something, we must necessarily have a right to it.

This is no more noble than it is novel.  We, living in the post-modern age, tend to turn up our noses at those who came before, scoffing at their backward and binding sense of morality.  Indeed, we believe ourselves to have transcended and transformed what has come before us into something better when in reality, we have most decidedly descended, not into anything new or inspiring, but into the most base manner of thinking. In so doing, we make ourselves to be nothing more than creatures of instinct, indistinguishable from the animals.

There is indeed something very attractive about this line of thought and it is not hard to figure out what it is.  It is easy and it gets us exactly what we want.  Morality dictated by something other than our instincts is almost never convenient and rarely in line with our desires. Doing the right thing is, more often than not, very hard and very costly.

Of course, there is the glaring argument that if it isn’t right, then it would not be so ingrained in our nature to desire it.  We are, after all, “born this way.”  But what does that have to do with morality?  With truth?  Since when is “what is” the same thing as “what ought to be.” I find no necessary link between the two. In fact, I am more deeply convicted that there is much about what is, in the world and within myself, that really ought not to be.   I was born selfish, but does that mean that my selfishness must be condoned, even celebrated as good?  If all that counts is what comes naturally and what I desire, then anything, anything goes.  Let us think past the ends of our noses and realize that if we make natural instinct the sole basis of our morality, we have not merely revised moral law, we have abolished it.

We must be careful to remember that what has set humans apart from all other living beings is our sense of a moral law and our conviction that this law should govern nature and not the other way around. What has made the human experience beautiful and meaningful is our unique ability to perform very difficult and very costly moral acts: to die in the place of another, to remain faithful to our spouse until death, or to tell the truth at great cost.  These are the acts we celebrate and admire and yet they are anything but natural.  In fact, they go completely against nature.  They are, in the sense that they go beyond nature, supernatural. And it is this ability to think beyond and act in spite of our natural desires that makes us uniquely human and makes our humanness meaningful.

 

Easter Musings: Pursued by Grace

Our annual celebration of Easter is drawing near and so I have been thinking on what it is all about:  the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  When I think on what it means for me personally and look back on my life thus far, I am struck by the fact that my story is a story of grace from beginning to end.  To quote the Psalmist, the Lord’s goodness and love have followed me and will follow me all the days of my life (Psalm 23).

It is one thing to say that we have found God and quite another thing to say that He has found us. Yet when we really consider our Gospel story, we cannot deny that that is really what has happened and that it makes it all the more wonderful and powerful.  I did not pursue God, but He has pursued me.  did not follow after God’s love, but it has followed after me.

The love and grace of God have pursued us from the beginning.  Our frames were not hidden from Him when He made us in the secret place, as we were woven together in our mother’s wombs, His eyes saw our unformed bodies.  Indeed, “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:14-15).  

He has followed us along every step of our path.  No, he has determined every step of our path with wisdom and love (Proverbs 16:9).  And when our feet have traveled down sinful ways that His holiness forbid Him go, He followed us instead to our rightful place of judgment, condemnation, and punishment.  We find that before we even came to be, His eyes were on us, His grace aimed at us, and His love compelled Him to follow us, nay replace us, on our cross.

This is Easter.  This is why we celebrate, because His grace has pursued us so persistently and His love enveloped our lives so completely that we are completely His.  “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).  “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

 

Is It Really Good That God Is Sovereign?

I have not written in a long time.  I have been rather preoccupied mentally and physically with the whirlwind excitement and nausea of the first few months of pregnancy, but I am glad to be back at the keyboard and it is this new life experience that has prompted this post.  Along with all the joy of finding out I was pregnant and telling family and friends, I have at times encountered an old enemy:  fear.  He shows up at my most vulnerable moments.  He questions beliefs I hold that might be tested.  He asks perniciously and repeatedly, “What if…?”  What if I lost the baby? What if the baby has a defect or a disease?  What if God is not really good?  What if God is not really sovereign?  Ultimately, what if it is not really good that God is sovereign?

All of this, along with the book I am reading for my ladies group, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges, has led me to really ponder this subject and what I really think about the sovereignty of God.  I have always believed that God is sovereign, but my attitude towards this truth has often been one more of resignation than of joy and thankfulness because let’s be honest, sometimes we wish He wasn’t.  I have found, however, that the sovereignty of God is not just a fact, it is a glorious fact: one I should treasure, trust, and find ultimate peace and rest in.

I)  The Difficulty of the Sovereignty of God

Most Christians would say they believe in the sovereignty of God, but I think few are really comfortable with all the implications of that.  As Bridges points out, we are perfectly fine with accrediting God when something good happens, when someone is saved, or we get that job we needed or meet our spouse.  However, we have a harder time with the bad stuff, when an unsaved person dies or we don’t get that job or we find ourselves consigned to live of singleness.  In those instances, the really tough ones, we tend to want to let God “off the hook.”  The only problem is that God never asks or even wants to be let “off the hook.”

In the Scriptures, God is adamant and unapologetic about His absolute sovereignty over every person and event, large or small.  God is seen not just allowing or regretfully standing by as bad things happen, but ordaining everything that comes to pass.  “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?  Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come? (Lamentations 3:37-38).” And yet, Scripture is also adamant that God is not the author of evil or sin, that we and not He are responsible for the evil and suffering wrought in the world.  This is a mystery indeed that I will not attempt to fully understand and which no doubt, causes us to question if it is really good that all in our lives, even the bad and painful, is from the sovereign hand of God.  Can such a God really be trusted?

I think it is helpful to remember that our problem in grasping the goodness of the sovereignty of God is really one of perspective.   We are very much the child and He is very much the Father.  A father is, in many ways, sovereign over his child.  He decides when he will eat and sleep, when he will work and when he will play, where he will go and what he will do.  He does many things which make no sense to the child, which to his understanding, do harm and not good to the him.  The father decrees things the child does not like and concludes that the father must be opposed to him.  The child sees things this way because he does not possess the wisdom, the information, and the perspective that the Father does.  It is only when the child has grown, when he has gained the maturity and mental capability to grasp the bigger picture of the father’s plans that he understands that all the father did which often seemed so questionable, he did in love and for the good of the child.

II)  A Far Worse Alternative

I will not deny that the sovereignty of God is a fearsome thing. It does not promise that only good will pass our way.  It robs us of our false assurance that we are the makers of our own destiny.  It makes us vulnerable to pain we would rather choose to avoid.  Indeed, it makes us ask if it would not in fact be better if this God was not so sovereign. Perhaps it would be better if more should be left up to us or to chance.

Consider this though.  If God is not totally sovereign, if God is not behind my cancer or the loss of my loved one, then what is?  It may only be my enemy or blind, unfeeling chance, neither of which do I wish to be at the mercy of.  I may fancy myself to be the arbiter of my own life (which really would be a terrible thing) and yet we all know that this is not really the case.  We are all susceptible to the whims of people and circumstances.

If then God is not fully sovereign over the bad circumstances in my life, then I may only conclude that He has left me vulnerable to the devil whose only design is my harm.  Either that, or my suffering is nothing more than bad luck which shall render it meaningless and therefore, hopeless. We find then that we should much rather suffer at the hands of a sovereign God who has promised to infuse our suffering with purpose and work it for our ultimate good than at the hands of him whose only purpose could be our destruction or random chaos which has no purpose at all.  The surprising truth is that if my suffering is from God, then my suffering can be trusted.

III)  Pain is Valuable and Evil is Redeemable

We often distrust the sovereignty of God because it may bring us suffering and we dislike suffering because it hurts.  I do not wish to trivialize the pain of suffering, but I must observe that our aversion to pain and our commitment to avoid it at all costs is short-sighted, much like the example of the child earlier.  We dislike pain because well, because it’s painful, but the truth is that pain can be extremely valuable.  It can achieve things for us.  The runner endures the pain of the race because he wishes to obtain the prize.  The mother labors that she might give life to her child.  The father disciplines and brings pain to his child that he may mold the child’s character (Hebrews 12:11).  We endure pain because we believe that the pain is earning us something which will make the pain worthwhile.  This is the promise of scripture.  Our pain is not pointless.  It is not in vain, but rather it is delivered to us intentionally and lovingly from the sovereign hands of God Himself.  Our “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4).”  And this hope does not disappoint.  In other words, our pain is worth it.  It is achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs it all.

But what if our suffering should be a result of evil?  What then?  Has God ordained that evil should be done to us?  I cannot explain this fully. God is not the author of evil and yet He is sovereign over it and uses it for His purposes.  Consider the cross.  Has ever a more evil and wicked act been performed than the crucifixion of the guiltless savior at the hands of guilty men?  And yet, God the Father ordained that this evil should come to pass, that His son should be crushed.  And God the Son willingly embraced the pain of this evil.  Why?  Because it purchased for Him something of greater worth:  the glory of God and the salvation of His chosen people.  In this, not only are we redeemed, but so is the evil of the Cross.  That which was wicked was made good.  That which was hopeless became the fountain of all hope and the greatest act of hate became the greatest act of love.  In this the example of our Savior, we see that our pain, though real, is valuable and the evil of this world, though mysteriously ordained by God, will also assuredly be redeemed by God.  What man has meant for evil, God has meant for good (Genesis 50:20).

IV)  The Real Answer:  Sovereign Love

I must add that though I have been dealing with fears and these difficult questions abstractly, I am not now in a position of suffering or pain.  I am currently dealing with the question of God’s sovereignty mostly intellectually.  I recognize then that I am in no position to preach to the one in enduring real trial and pain.  Indeed, I am sure that these abstract musings would be of little help at all to the one in the midst of a storm. In a storm, we can’t see beyond our reach and in the fire, we can’t think beyond our pain.  We don’t need abstract ideas.  We need a person and Jesus is the person we need.

The real, heart answer to this question then is that it is good that God is sovereign because He loves us and we can hope in this love because it is sovereign love.  If He be sovereign, but not loving, He can only be feared. If He be loving, but not sovereign, He can never be fully trusted.  The cross tells us that He is both.  His love is not weak impotent and His sovereignty is not detached and impersonal.  His sovereignty is love and His love is sovereign.  His words for the one who suffers are these:

“But now, this is what the LORD says–he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior (Isaiah 43:1-3).”

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).” 

God does not promise that He will not give us pain.  In fact, He promises just the opposite.  What He does promise though is that He will be with us.  This is the answer to fear and doubt.   He, not just a God or even the God, but our God will be with us. God became man that He might stand in our place in our greatest trial: the judgment of our sin.  His sovereign love directed Him to endure such affliction from sinful men in order that He might make those sinful men His own, in order that He might be their God with them in every trial and every storm.  We can trust His sovereignty, treasure His sovereignty and rest in His sovereignty because His sovereignty has done this for us.  We are His people and He is our God.

The High Cost of Free Grace

The title of this post may seem puzzling.  How can grace be both free and costly?  That is simply contradictory.  Yet I think that this is a paradox that we see in Scripture and which I have been trying to work out in my head.  We receive salvation through the free gift of God’s grace and yet the fact that it is free does not mean that it will cost us nothing to receive it.  How can this be?

That we receive salvation as a free gift is undoubtedly true.  Scripture tells us, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  This is a pivotal point of the Gospel.  Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, and the faith which saves us?  It is a gift.  A gift, by definition, is something you cannot earn or attempt to pay for.  For then it would be cease to be a gift.  This point Paul emphasizes so that we can all understand that none of us can boast.  If we want salvation, we must receive it humbly, giving all the glory to God.

In this sense then, grace is free.  With all my works, I could never have been good enough to earn it.  With all my money, I could never have afforded it.  And the real truth is that with all my sin and wickedness, I did not even want it.  Yet here I stand in the grace of God. It is free and it has freed me.

However, salvation is not “free” in the same way that the samples at Sam’s Club are free.  That is free in the sense of instant gratification with no cost and no lifestyle implications.  The offer of the Gospel is very different.  Mercy is weightier stuff.  It lays claim to our lives.  Christ did not die merely to dole out forgiveness to passersby, but to purchase souls.  If we want His grace, we must be ready to give our devotion.  If we want His life, we must be prepared to surrender ours.

In a strange sense, the grace of God would be less costly if it was less free.  If God merely wanted our money, our good deeds, our lip service, I think many would be more willing to take His offer because we would still be able to retain the one thing we all cringe at relinquishing: the thrones of our hearts.  For if the Gospel is really free, if God has really in His sovereignty, reached down and saved me, changing the trajectory of my life from eternal wrath to eternal life, then there is a very great cost. I cannot be the person I was because God has changed my very identity from child of wrath to child of God.  I cannot live as Lord of my own life because because Christ has bought and paid for the right to be not just my Savior, but my Lord.  Yes, grace is free, but its implications are weighty.  I am not my own.  For grace has made me His.

This should cause us to consider the offer of the Gospel with due sobriety.  We should marvel at the glory of free grace and yet consider the cost of receiving it.  We must hear the warning of Christ Himself: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27). These are sobering words indeed.  They tell us that being a disciple of Christ may cost us everything, our dearest relationships or even our very lives.

Indeed, many who have chosen to follow Christ, have been led by Christ down paths of suffering that they would never have chosen for themselves. This is the cost of free grace: complete submission and avowal that we will follow Christ wherever He may lead.  Yet, the cost does not come without promise and the promise is very, very good.  The promise is that no matter where Christ may take us or what He may ask us to do, it will be worth it.

Paul understood the promise.  He tells us that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).  And in Philippians, he vows to embrace the cost and sufferings of belonging to Christ, even calling it rubbish, all that He might gain Christ and be found in Him (Philippians 3:8-9).  Paul understood that there was a cost, but that whatever the cost might be, it was simply incomparable to the prize.

Thus we see that grace is free and yet costly, that the cost is both great and yet so transient in the grand scheme of things as to ultimately be counted as nothing.  Let us then consider with sobriety the weighty offer of the Gospel and the far-reaching implications it has for our lives, but let us also consider that if a cost must be paid, something must be given in return.  Those who do count the cost and consider the worth of the prize will see that it is so much more than worth it.  For ultimately, following Christ must necessarily lead us to Christ and Christ Himself is the source of life and salvation and the treasure who is worth more than any price.

American Individualism and the Myth That We Are “Special”

In my Bioethics class last semester, we discussed an interesting statistic. America is by far the most individualistic society in the world.  Most countries have a general sense of a community identity while America was at the far, far other end of the spectrum, having almost no sense of communal identity and an overly heightened individualistic independence.

I think this is because in America, we are taught that we are “special.” From childhood, each of has been fed a steady diet of feel-good phrases about how wonderful we are and how we can do whatever we set our minds to.  I was suspicious of these even as a child.  They seemed to be founded on blind and willful belief rather than any actual truth.  We can all work hard to achieve things, but we also have natural limitations.  I may have wished to be the next great artist, but my complete lack of artistic ability told me that was not a viable option, no matter how hard I might try.

Why do we work so hard to pump this stuff into our children’s brains when it is clearly not true?  What is this need we have to be “special?”  I think it is fairly obvious that from a worldly perspective, this nonsense comes from an over-exalted sense of self.  We are all going to glorify something in our lives and for most, it is ourselves.  Our great fear is to be average because deep down, we believe that an average life is not a worthwhile life.  We need to feel that we are special in an attempt to fill our desire for meaning and purpose and value for our lives.  The ironic truth though is that we cannot all possibly be special. To be special is by definition, a rare privilege given to a select few.  If we are all special, then we are actually all just average.

What I have been learning over the past few years is that this thinking can leak its way into the minds of Christians as well.  It is just a little more subtle and cloaked in the holiest of language.  “God has a special plan for my life….”  “God wants to use my gifts for His glory.”  So what am I saying?  That these things aren’t true?  No, not exactly, but I think that our take on them can be self-centered instead of Christ-centered.

The Biblical Perspective on Being Special

So what does the Bible have to say about this?  Does it reinforce our desperate desire to believe that we are special?  Well, I think the answer is yes and no.

The Bible affirms that each of us is special in the sense that we are unique, created and designed in the image of God with inherent value and purpose (Psalm 139).  However, in another sense, it tells us that we are not special at all.  In fact, it has some very sobering words about mankind.  It tells us that there is “nothing new under the sun.”  Each of our lives is in some way, the same song, second verse.  “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psalm 103:15-16).  That is not very flattering.  If there is one thing that is not special, it is grass.  It is abundant, replaceable, and easily forgotten.

This tells me two things.  First, we are not at all special in the way the world would have us believe.  No matter how gifted and talented we are, no matter how much we achieve, it has all been done before and it will all be done again and we, for all our striving, will soon be forgotten.

Secondly, we are special, but not in the way we desire.  We want to be special in a way that glorifies ourselves and God refuses to give His glory to another (Isaiah 48:11).  No, in and of ourselves, we are quite average and it is time we, myself included, come to peace with that.  The only special things about me, I can take no credit for, even my gifts and abilities.  I am special because God has made me in His image.  I have gifts because He gave them to me (1 Corinthians 4:7).  And by far the most special thing about me is that I have been saved by the grace of God and that, I can certainly take no credit for.  In fact, what it really shows is how special and how infinitely precious and worthy of praise Christ is.

The Bad News and the Good News

This is definitely not the fluffy, feel-good message printed on posters in classrooms all over America.  The bad news is that it makes us feel much smaller than we would like.  It refuses to flatter our egos and pamper our pride.

However, I think it is good news as well, but we must first accept the bad news before we can receive the good news.  The good news is that it frees us from our fear of being “average.”   If our need to be “special” is met in Christ instead of ourselves, we find that being average is not such a terrible thing after all.

Moreover, I think it actually frees us from a small vision for our lives and gives us a greater one.  Once we get past the disillusionment that we are not as wonderful as we thought we were, we can glimpse a greater purpose.  God insists on humbling us before He will exalt us, but if we accept that humility, we can find that our lives can have greater value and purpose than we ever dreamed for ourselves.   No matter how average a life may seem, if it is spent showcasing how special and infinitely valuable Christ is, instead of ourselves, that will be the most special life of all.  And that, my friends, is very good news.

The Example of Christ

No one has demonstrated this better than Christ Himself.  Being God, He was certainly more special than any of us could hope to be. There is none like Him.  And yet, for our sake and for the sake of obeying and glorifying the Father, He put that aside to become completely and incredibly average.  He became one of us.  If we really want our lives to be special and meaningful, we are instructed to follow His example, He “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).  

How average He must have seemed.  How terribly ordinary.  And yet because He insisted on obeying and glorifying only the Father in the midst of His horribly mundane and humble human existence, “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).  

This tells me that what we need to fear is not being average, but in missing the point of it all:  that God is less concerned with how special we think we are than how special our lives shows Him to be.  And that it is not so much about finding His special plan for our lives as it is about finding how our average lives conform to the special plan for His glory.

I read a quote recently that really impacted me.  It said that “it’s better to play a small role in God’s story than to cast yourself as the lead in your own fiction.”  The fact is that God’s story is the only one that matters, but He only takes those who are willing to deny themselves, to deny their own need to be exalted in order that they may exalt Him.  This may entail leading an incredibly average life of which no one will take any particular notice, but if we can be content with that and any small and humble role which God would have us play, we will not have missed out on His good and perfect plan for our lives. Moreover and most important, in be willing to lose our lives for His sake, we will gain Christ Himself, He who is life and who is the treasure and prize for which God has called us heavenward.