“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.”
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.”
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.”
“[G]race does not mean simply that we are making progress in our moral self-control, in our fight against special faults, and in our relationships to men and to society. Moral progress may be a fruit of grace; but it is not grace itself, and it can even prevent us from receiving grace. For there is too often a graceless acceptance of Christian doctrines and a graceless battle against the structures of evil in our personalities. Such a graceless relation to God may lead us by necessity either to arrogance or to despair. It would be better to refuse God and the Christ and the Bible than to accept them without grace. For if we accept without grace, we do so in the state of separation, and can only succeed in deepening the separation. We cannot transform our lives, unless we allow them to be transformed by that stroke of grace. It happens; or it does not happen. And certainly it does not happen if we try to force it upon ourselves, just as it shall not happen so long as we think, in our self-complacency, that we have no need of it. Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you… Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!‘ If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before… But everything is transformed.”
Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations, chapter 19.
Is justification by grace really that simple? Simply believe that Jesus stood in our place condemned, so we now stand in his place as accepted by the Father? Then, is it possible that sanctification is the daily battle of accepting our acceptance?
“This book is by the one who thought he’d be farther along by now, but he’s not. It is by the inmate who promised the parole board he’d be good, but he wasn’t. It is by the dim-eyed who showed the path to others but kept losing his way. It is by the wet-brained who believed if a little wine is good for the stomach, then a lot is great. It is by the liar, tramp, and thief; otherwise known as the priest, speaker, and author. It is by the disciple whose cheese slid off his cracker so many times he said ‘to hell with cheese ‘n’ crackers.’ It is by the young at heart but old of bone who is led these days in a way he’d rather not go.
This book is also for the gentle ones who’ve lived among wolves. It is for those who’ve broken free of collar to romp in fields of love and marriage and divorce. It is for those who mourn, who’ve been mourning most of their lives, yet they hang on to shall be comforted. It is for those who’ve dreamed of entertaining angels but found instead a few friends of great price. It is for the younger and elder prodigals who’ve come to their senses again, and again, and again, and again. It is for those who strain at pious piffle because they’ve been swallowed by Mercy itself. This book is for myself and those who have been around the block enough times that we dare to whisper the ragamuffin’s rumor – all is grace.
…Over the tar of my life, I have usually been headed toward something along the lines of ‘professional commitments.’ Or at least I thought they were. But those trips are over now. I am living in a different emotional direction. I am steering toward home, hardly a poster child for anything… anything, that is, but grace. These pages are my final words on the matter. Grace is everything. I am Brennan the witness.
Tout est Grâce,
Brennan Manning, All Is Grace, pages 26-27, 33.
Thank you Brennan.
“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Rev 2:2-5).
What if we have abandoned the love we had at first because we’ve forgotten the news that “he first loved us?” Is it possible that the works we did at first arise from the belief that Jesus’ works are all we need? What if keeping with repentance is simply going back to the start again and again?
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way.”
Jesus does not just tell us about the Father’s house – he reserves a room for us. It’s a gift. And it grieves his Spirit that we assume we’ll have to pry it from his hands. All along, it’s been his good pleasure to tell us the way home! And yet, we suspect this gift will be for everyone but “me.” I can understand why – my hopes have been built up over and over by ministries with wonderful teaching about the path of godliness. Another teaching is lifted up and I lift my gaze with a hope for healing. I’m careful to remember all the fruits of the Spirit and I aim each step toward the Promised Land – but, the information rarely gets paved beneath my feet. Eventually, all the friendly faces of “straight and narrow” guidance start to frown. They abandon the people who are prone to wander. And now – I’m wounded. I’m angry. I’m afraid. Does anyone else feel like a lost cause? Is there any purpose to all the pain? The answer is yes. God’s law is bringing your heart out of hiding. And our hearts are filled with Adam’s sin and death. So, it’s not going to be pretty – the purpose of the law is to bring out the very worst in us, not the best (Rom 5:20, Rom 7:13). In doing so, the law is giving each of us a firsthand experience of the fall. In a sense, the law is God’s way of taking us back to the Garden – back to our family tree – so we will steal the fruit for ourselves. Then we’ll know, the Old Adam and Eve live within us, bowing our knee to the god of self. And so, the law is not sin… it is the revelation that every sinner is a walking dead end. And – we hate that interpretation. Don’t expect us to just sit back and listen… not if we have anything to say about it! So, when the law begins to corner us, the flesh makes the most clever shift – it steps up into the pulpit. As the saying goes, “those who can’t do, teach!” The Old Adam avoids confessing that he can’t do the law, by teaching incessantly about the law. We become rhetoricians concerning what everyone everywhere ought to be doing (as though that will suffice)! But… are we really so foolish to think that speaking fondly about the law will hide what we’ve left undone? Do we really think that insightful speech about sinning less or doing more is going to change anything? I’ll say this much – I think that whenever Moses is read, we’re content to interpret politely through a veil. Face it – no eye wants to see, nor ear hear, nor heart imagine, how hopelessly lost we really are! And so, we keep trying to talk our way out of it. We keep hoping to beat the system – and we build our strategies as tall as Babel! But, let’s not be deceived… this tower is carried on our backs and built by self-made men, not God’s Spirit. The point is, it’s futile – a sinner can never carry God’s holy law. And those who love God’s law do not relax its demands when the flesh starts to squirm beneath it. We preach the full weight of God’s demand for perfection, so a human’s knees will buckle under the impossibility. Again, those who truly love God’s law don’t just talk about it – they confess their utter failure to fulfill what it demands. Yes – God’s law is at war with our towers of self and it will not cease until all our appearances of wisdom crumble into nothing. Then you’ll know, it’s not useful advice you’ve gained from the law… it’s a death sentence. And so, God’s law is beckoning you to give up all talk about a righteousness of your own. And that’s exactly where we meet the righteousness that comes from God. As for me – the destruction of my tower has chased me far off the path of self-improvement. And, I’ve stepped in every bit of rubbish along the way. But once we begin to see that the self is unworthy of our worship, we will have eyes to see the Son approach us. When I finally saw the Master, he was waiting below me – and everything in me wanted to climb out of his reach. But the law kept pressing me down into Adam’s fall. It was as if I had become the paralytic being lowered into the Rabbi’s presence. Then, I hit rock bottom. And, I expected Jesus to condemn me with what I already knew quite well… the road home is too steep for someone like “me.” As the Son drew near to me, I can remember waiting for the worst. But, what came for me will cause fear and trembling in my heart forever. The God-man knelt before me and washed my feet with a defiant word, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
We need to understand what is really at stake when Jesus calls himself “the way.” If you’re reading this, I expect you might consider that Jesus is “the door” into the Christian life. Many of us will also confess that Jesus is the destination for anyone who truly believes. In a sense, Jesus is “the way” in both cases. But knowing Jesus as “the way” for everyday life is a joy that escapes us quite easily. Why? Because Jesus is not the means for progress along the road of religion. To explain, when we first read the promise that Christ prepares a place for his disciples… it strikes us as a hospitable word, but nothing that will unravel us. But as Jesus is walking away perhaps… possibly over his shoulder – we might picture Christ mention casually to us, “and you know the way to where I am going.” We think, “Of course I do. I’ve been a Christian for quite a while now. Jesus will help me find my way.” But maybe, just maybe, we start to doubt ourselves. We rethink, “After all the wrong turns I’ve already made? Will I really choose the right path? Honestly, I’ve already forgotten where to turn!” But that’s just it. Jesus knows our hearts are troubled. So, his comment is not casual… the Savior is begging you to ask him for assurance. It’s an invitation to come asking again and again, so we can be refreshed by the gift. The man who knows himself, knows his lostness. And so, Thomas asks, “Lord, wait. Run it by me again. What’s the road home?” If we ask, we will sense the smile of Jesus turn toward us, “Great question my friend. Remember, you don’t need roads anymore. I am the Way.” Finally, a comfort with some permanence. I can’t get lost when the Way has befriended me! And yet… if we’re honest, his answer is a little disappointing. Sure we get a little wayward, but I thought I was getting warmer… what about the thrill of the hunt! So, we object, “Slow down Lord, I really would have preferred some directions. Can’t I save you some trouble? Is a free ride really necessary? What can I possibly do with good news?” If you’re asking these questions, you’re on holy ground. Because, only the Son of God can uphold the answer: Nothing. There is nothing you can do with a one-way promise. You can only hear and believe. And that is how we are buried and raised with Christ – because, the gospel leaves your flesh with no kingdom left to invade. The Father has lowered the bridge and opened the gates. Just like that… you’re in! And that’s exactly the point – it is a word of welcome that we’ll never outgrow. It’s a message of acceptance that is so relentless, we might as well drop all the pretense and accept the truth about ourselves. The truth is, we weren’t getting any warmer and God had to put a stop to all our pious daydreaming. The Old Being would have walked through the gates of hell with talk of a spiritual “comeback” on his lips! You see, conditional directions are the sacrament of the flesh. “Do this, stop that, turn here, go there,” accompanied by a subtle “or else.” The threat of exile keeps the Old Adam living and active. Only the death of religion as we think of it can call us into new life. As Horatius Bonar puts it, we’ve been grafted into a new way, “Christ, not an assistant, but a Savior.” The Old Being loves to think of Christ as his personal assistant on the road to glory. What a wonderful testimony the flesh would have! I can hear us boasting now, “I met Jesus in the wilderness and he gave me nothing but a match and a compass and an old map… and, well, I finally made it! I learned to walk the tightrope from Sinai to Canaan.” But, those dreams are gone now – that highlight reel belongs to Christ alone. And that’s going to break our hearts far more than we expected. Oh, but there is good news! Our God is waiting for the brokenhearted – the God who loves to give new hearts.
The point is this: the Christian way for everyday life is not a path, but a person. Under law, “the way” is tread by walking a path of perfect obedience to God’s demands. If you fall off the path, you’re forsaken. But… under grace, “the way” is tread by footsteps of faith in God’s Son. Jesus walked the perfect path, even unto Calvary, so that nothing could separate you from the love that God has for us. So then, here is your daily bread… God’s proclamation to the lost: If you go left, Christ is for you. If you turn right, Christ is with you. Ultimately, it is never anything about us that offers hope along the way, instead, it is the promise of God’s presence. So, Christians are not charging upward and onward… the kingdom is descending upon us! Don’t you see? The law leaves the lost for dead, but the Son came to seek and save the lost. And now, even when a Christian ceases to follow the precepts of Sunday school virtue… we can say with confidence that, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” That’s why we have to listen to the law paired (not mixed) with the gospel – and, part of listening is learning to recognize the difference between the two voices. So yes, the law points a finger and declares, “You made a wrong turn. I saw that!” But yes and amen – Immanuel gives us His right hand and reminds the flock, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Now, if you’re like me… all this seems too wonderful! I mean, really… since Christ is for me, every path must work out for my good? It sounds too good to be true. But, I suppose that’s why John tells us that Jesus is “full of grace and truth.” St. John is not giving us permission to balance gospel with law – he’s announcing that the “too good to be true” grace of Jesus really is true! The question is… have you heard the word of the gospel? Jesus loves you and he gave himself up for you. To deny his love for you is the nature of all unbelief. Oh, the protests against pure grace can become quite desperate. The flesh will appeal to the most pious imperatives in scripture in order to stay alive! Something like this, “But what about all the widows and orphans? Who will care for them if we are free from the obligation? Are you saying I can do whatever I want?” These objections cause us to second guess our liberty. We become ashamed to suggest such an interpretation of the gospel. We suppose God didn’t read all of his Bible before setting us free. And that is exactly where hell wants us… suspicious of God’s great love. So, I must urge you to resist the devil. And, there is only one defense against this scheme of satan. We must boast in our sin – O felix culpa, Oh blessed fall – because it sends us into the arms of God’s Son! We must stand with Paul and reply, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” I have no hope but Christ’s charity. I am not under law. I am under grace. And yes – I can do whatever I want. If you confess these things, I have only one more question for you. As Forde says, “who is this I?” You see, the conditional being cannot survive the embrace of the unconditional gift. In other words, when a person becomes unashamed of the freedom we have in Christ, the Old I is slain and the New I is born! Oh yes, this changes everything. The question is no longer, “what should I do?” But the question becomes, “now that Jesus has done it all, what do I want to do?” That’s why the Cross is folly to the wisdom of the world! It never occurred to the Old I, that God’s kindness might lead to a life that is chock-full of repentance. It never occurred to us that being rescued from the obligation to march toward heaven, might cause the Church to erupt into a holy dance! But it does. It is a dance of spontaneity, and yet, it doesn’t step on the toes of biblical imperatives. On the contrary – it fulfills them.
The flesh is at war with the theology I’m explaining. True grace is an explosive extinction to our careful spiritual maneuvering – it teaches us to surrender to the work of God’s Spirit. And the Spirit sanctifies by creating a deepening awareness of God’s patience, not our progress. But surrendering to the attack of God’s unconditional love, as Capon says, “is admittedly, a terrifying step. You will cry and kick and scream before you take it, because it means putting yourself out of the only game you know.” In the end – the law brings out the worst in us, so that God might exchange it for his best – the gift of Jesus. Our perfect lostness exchanged for His perfect love. That is our Father’s final offer. So, I’ll end with this: I’m praying for greater awareness of Christian liberty in my own life and in the Church. It will happen, I think, through a radical rediscovery of what the Bible teaches about sanctification. According to Paul, we are built up in Christ Jesus in the same way that we receive him, namely, Sola Fide – by faith alone (Col 2:6-7, Gal 2:20, Rom 1:17). Good works are a part of the Christian life, but focusing on bearing fruit is not what causes the fruit to grow. If we don’t get that, we don’t understand the meaning of the word fruit very well. Oh, I hope we get this! Growth in grace is not about where you go or what you intend to do – it is about a Redeemer who loves you wherever you’re at. His love for a new and improved you is non-existent. He loves you right now. And the contra-conditional love of God is the only thing potent enough to change us. In other words, sanctification is learning to embrace the stunning news that we’ve been permanently embraced in God’s Son. So, spiritual progress is never about advancing along a path – it is a deepening retreat into God’s secret. The secret? We have already arrived, because the destination has come to us! And – it’s the announcement of our “already” arrival in Christ, that ushers us into our “not yet” transformation. Behold, in any and every circumstance, the risen Savior swears, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Now – that’s something to talk about. And that’s how we approach the throne of grace with confidence. I dare you to believe it. Immanuel dares us all.
“Jesus saves us. He does all the work of salvation. But he uses the law… and the law is called the hammer of God. What is the purpose of the law? The purpose of the law – oh, I hope you get this! The purpose of the law is to reveal to you how deep your hatred of God is… that it is so deep that the law finally led you to kill God himself. You couldn’t commit a greater sin than that, for all goodness comes from God. And if you could succeed… well, how can you do that? That’s why [Jesus] came in the flesh, so it could be done! But why? It’s hard to believe a doctrine unless there’s some reason for it. Well, the reason for it is this: by coming in the flesh, coming to His own people and getting murdered, and then declaring forgiveness… you know that your sins – no matter how big, no matter how many, no matter how persistent – they cannot be greater than the love of God in Christ. The only way you could establish this was for God to come in the flesh and be murdered, and then forgive us. Because it had to be the greatest sin possible. And if you don’t think that’s right, Paul says in Romans: the law increases sin.
So what is the gospel? The proclamation: your sins have been forgiven. “Well, don’t I have to do something?” NO! You don’t have to do anything. The minute you say ‘I have to do something,’ you are spitting in the face of God. You’re saying, ‘[I’m] gonna do it! God, you’re not in charge. Get off the throne, I wanna get there!’ And that was the original sin in the garden, of Adam and Eve… You know, I tell my granddaughters, ‘If you fall down that’s not so bad, we can always pick you up. But if you fall up, we’re in trouble… how will we ever get you down again?’ And that was the original sin, it was the sin to be like God. I’m always a little afraid of those who sing ‘Be like Jesus, oh my soul.’ I think that a little heresy could come in there very easily.”
Herb Loddigs, Bondage of the Will, sermon notes.
Are the lyrics of the Christian life “Hallelujah, What a Changer!” or “Hallelujah, What a Savior!”? Are we conformed to the image of God’s Son by focus on our change, or faith in His gospel?
“Faith alone becomes the most fearful deathblow to your spiritual aspirations, and death [with Christ] is counted as the end of your chances to improve by using your free will.
Faith is absorbed, united, saturated, and intoxicated by God’s word. Imagine that faith is like being drunk – losing one’s own power and coming under the power of whatever God says.
What was I before faith? Your guess is as good as mine. You appear now to have been a Narcissus, a navel-gazing theologian who was desperately curved in upon himself… But the Christ-life has become all hope and is the only ‘you’ that has a future.
Faith [in Christ] means you are not just somewhat free but perfectly free… The free life is lived outside oneself in Christ, and all this by clinging to a bare, simple, and repeated promise such as that found in Scripture: ‘If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed‘ (John 8:36).”
Steven Paulson, Luther, pages 184-193.
What if our Churches were counted worthy to be known as a place where people come “to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus?”
The compassion of our heavenly Father is the gift of his only Son. I am nothing. And in my nothingness, I have come to know that the gift is fearfully and wonderfully near. In the words of Augustine, the Son “is more intimate with us than we are with ourselves.” He tabernacles among the brokenhearted. Without a shred of ignorance, he can call every skeleton in your closet by name. Yet, Jesus is not ashamed to prepare a room for you in his Father’s house. He loves to share his reward with sinners. But, I must warn you. To those who think they deserve a place at my Father’s table… not even a stale crumb is reserved for you. If you trust in some personal display of good fruit to save your seat, you have received your reward and my Christ will not vouch for you. I beg you to listen to the voice of your first love: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” But, there are some who seek to escape their need for grace and deceive us by lowering the cost of God’s righteousness. They preach a cheap law that sells indulgences to those who pay with the appearance of sanctification. But God’s law – costly law – never negotiates with sinners. It is holy and righteous and good – but it is not patient with law-breakers, it is not kind to the ungodly, it keeps every record of wrongdoing. However, we need not fear costly law because Jesus has proclaimed that he will pay our way through the flood of demands with himself. Nor should we fear the liberty of justification, and sanctification, by grace alone through faith alone (the children of the gift work harder because they don’t have to work at all). What we must fear is the baptism of shallow, luke-warm water: cheap law.
Cheap law weakens God’s demand for perfection, and in doing so, breaths life into the old creature and his quest for a righteousness of his own making. And what I’m telling you is this: what doesn’t kill him, makes him stronger. Lowering the bar lets the Old Adam peek into the Promised Land. It allows the flesh to survive by rebelling in a form of external piety. And – it’s a perfect hiding place for the Old Being. We don’t think to rebuke such a moral, well-mannered creature. But cheap law offers mercy in the wrong place. It offers mercy to those who are offended by the gift. It creates a people of great zeal, but they lack knowledge concerning the question “What Would Jesus Do?” Here is the costly answer: Jesus would do it all perfectly. And that’s game over for you. The Father is not grooming you to be a replacement for his Beloved Son. He is announcing that there is blessing for those who take shelter in his Beloved Son. Cheap law tells us that we’ve fallen, but there’s good news, you can get back up again. It makes the empty promise of resurrection through our improvement, instead of our death. Therein lies the great heresy of cheap law: it is a false gospel. And it cheapens – no – it nullifies grace. It is a sacrifice of God’s law replacing the sacrifice of God’s Son. And when we make sacrifices regarding God’s law, we create something that is not strong enough to stop the mouths of self-sanctifying little sovereigns. It simply teaches us to exchange true godliness for a pursuit of godness. And as long as we cheapen the price of righteousness, the Old Adam will never cease in his bidding war against the freeness of the gift. As time goes on, he may be willing to accept that “it is God who justifies” if we allow him to change the subject soon after – he’ll simply use that doctrine as his ticket back to Egypt. In other words, cheap law will always let the flesh pervert sanctification into the process of needing grace less and less. Don’t you see? The Old Being will stop at nothing to get back to the old system. He will not mend his ways – the third time is not the charm! Demands cannot be used to sanctify any more than they could be used to save. They are meant to reveal your nothingness and corner you before the Christ “who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification.”
Cheap law will never quiet the self-righteous being because it invites him to keep haggling over what he can do apart from Jesus. And that is why law must be costly. It must always get to the heart of the matter. It’s not only murder that deserves death, but hate. It’s not only adultery that condemns, but lust. Not only theft, but coveting. It’s not only what is done with your hands that is judged, but what is done in your heart. And so – it should be clear – this is not “let’s make a deal.” The deals have been cut. The law of Moses is more than you can afford. The Son that God did not spare is priceless. The grace Jesus gives is free. That’s all there is. But cheap law keeps us searching for something to leverage against our poverty. Only costly law will bring that search to an end. It empties our pockets and opens our hands – revealing this: unless the religious expert becomes a beggar, he will not be given the kingdom. Costly law closes in on us and puts this prayer in our mouth: “Be merciful to me, a sinner.” Don’t you know, it’s only those who have been bankrupted by God’s costly law that are eligible for the riches of His grace? Don’t you know, it’s only those who have been silenced by the demands of the law that become hearers of the promise? And so, here we are. Trapped by unmet legal demands on every side. Who will rescue us from this sentence of death? On trembling knees we hear the power of sin accusing us from every angle… until we become still and finally know we aren’t God. The Old Adam is held captive as he waits for the arrival of the master… the master that he expects will be a hard man who reaps, but never sows. His conditional heart races on… “what do I do, what do I do, what do I do.” Then, suddenly – the announcement. And we’re all ears. But the Master – the Last Adam – speaks the unexpected: “There is nothing left for you to do. I’ve done it all for you. It is finished.” Jesus has finished the job and rendered the Old Adam permanently unemployed. And that fact, as Forde says, “is the death of self and the birth of the new creature.” Nothing in our hands we bring and Jesus gives us everything. Everything. Because you are not under law, but you now live under the smile of God – the place where the good fruit grows. And that’s the Gospel. It kills us with kindness and raises us anew, to a life of self-forgetful love. And all this, by speaking something the Old Being fears worse than punishment… charity. A hand-out from a nail-pierced hand. A word of surprising grace.
What if the greatest problem facing the Church today is not cheap grace, but cheap law? Is it possible that God’s law is so costly, that even cheap grace is too expensive for sinners?
What if grace really is free? What did Jesus do?
2 Cor 3:7-18
“The central revelation of Jesus Christ in the New Testament is that God is Abba, Daddy” (Brennan Manning).