Monday, May 26, 2008

Grace Is Not About Grace (Transcript)

A major part of my goal in life is to exalt the grace of Christ. The fact that we are saved by grace through faith is an indisputable part of the Word of God.

And we're not only saved by grace in the beginning, but we are kept by grace, brought to the end of our lives by grace, and kept in the loving bosom of the Father by grace.

Although we will have a measure of fruit in our lives as God works in us to will and to do for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13), yet it's not this fruit, these works, that save us, it is God who saves us by grace through faith, from beginning to end, as our Alpha and Omega, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

And so I exalt in the grace of God. And because of that, like Paul the Apostle, I despise legalism and self-righteousness. I despise the very idea that our works, our performance, no matter how good they may be, are what causes God to love and favor us.

Why Not More Grace Preaching?

You see, God's grace is absolute. Nothing we can do can make Him love us more, and nothing we can do can make Him love us less. And yet I have people often ask me something like this:

"If this Grace stuff is really true...if God really does love me and accept me in Christ, apart from my performance...if there is nothing I could do to make Him love me more, and nothing I could do to make Him love me less...if He really has forgiven me of all my sins, past, present and future, so there is no condemnation for me...then why don't more preachers preach that, Terry?"

Here's why. Actually one of two possibilities, in my experience:

1. They have been so brainwashed with legalism and performance-based Christianity themselves, that their own eyes haven't been opened to the radical nature of Grace after salvation.

Ask them about Christ "living His Life through me", and they will jump to remind you about your duty to buckle down and discipline yourself with self-control. If you remind them that self-control ironically is a fruit of the Spirit, and it is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives through you (Galatians 2:20)...they will look at you as if you were some alien from another world.

And if they are biblically knowledgeable, they will begin to quote you rule after rule, duty after duty, sin after sin, to beat down your "grace" once and for all,! (They love that word, because it keeps them from having to examine the biblical nature of Grace after salvation).


2. They pretty much see the radical nature of New Covenant grace, but they are scared. Scared that if they preach it in all it's glory...if they truly preach "it is finished"... if they preach it without a mixture of the Law...then the sheep will run wild!

Actually, the opposite is true. Real born-again Christians are new creations. Old things have passed away, behold all things have become new. We love Jesus, in our heart of hearts. We hate sin in our heart of hearts.

When we hear how radically He has saved us, when we hear of His love that no sin or failure on our part will diminish, then the love of Christ constrains us to follow Him, to desire His ways, to fellowship with Him, to be filled with His Spirit.

The sheep don't run wild under grace. They run wild under Law, which quenches the Holy Spirit and inflames sin.

A Little Test

Here's a little test I give often, not to embarrass people, although it sometimes does, but to illustrate how misunderstood is the concept of being under the Grace of God.

Here's the test...complete this verse:

"For sin shall not be master over you, for _______" (Rom. 6:14)

Pretty important verse, wouldn't you say? A verse that explains why sin shall no longer be master over us? Important, no? Give up? Here's the whole verse:

"For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace."

When's the last time you heard that verse preached? Maybe never.


Ask around. See if your friends, preachers, teachers, can complete the verse. You might be surprised. And there's a good chance that either they don't believe it (watch them try to twist such an elegantly simple verse to mean something else), or they don't want it spread around. The sheep will run wild.

Grace Is Not About Grace

Okay, on to our subject for today, Grace Is Not About Grace.

Here's the point. As much as we may exalt the Grace of Christ, and I hope I've made clear that I do, it's not for the sake of the Grace itself, it's for the sake of Jesus Christ Himself. It's for His credit, it's for His honor, it's for His glory.

We glory not in the Grace for Grace's sake, we glory in the Lord Who bestowed His Grace on us.

And so Grace is essentially about Jesus Christ. Though He has brought us into the picture as the objects of His Grace, we need to go beyond the concept of Me, Me, Me, and turn our focus, our gaze to Him. And the irony is that this is best for us. (God's ways are always best for us, even when we don't remember that.)

Preaching Must Be About Christ

This is why it's so important that preaching be about Christ.

It's why congregations can starve even under expository Biblical preaching, if the preacher doesn't take care to feed the people the Bread of Life, Who is Jesus Himself.

Charles Spurgeon tells this story. Listen carefully, preachers:

A young man had been preaching in the presence of a venerable divine, and after he had done he went to the old minister, and said, “What do you think of my sermon?”

“A very poor sermon indeed,” said he.

“A poor sermon?” said the young man, “it took me a long time to study it."

“Ay, no doubt of it."

“Why, did you not think my explanation of the text a very good one?”

“Oh, yes,” said the old preacher, “very good indeed.”

“Well, then, why do you say it is a poor sermon? Didn’t you think the metaphors were appropriate and the arguments conclusive?”

“Yes, they were very good as far as that goes, but still it was a very poor sermon.”

“Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?”

“Because,” said he, “there was no Christ in it.”

“Well,” said the young man, “Christ was not in the text; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.”

So the old man said, “Don’t you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?”

“Yes,” said the young man.

“Ah!” said the old divine, “and so from every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. And my dear brother, your business is when you get to a text, to say, 'Now what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis—Christ.

“And,” said he, “I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it.”


So, finally, in seeing Grace as being something the Lord has done for us, how do we break away from the self-centeredness of thinking that we are therefore the center of the universe, instead of Him?

In the movie, Lord of the Rings -- The Return of the King, there is a character named Gollum. He once murdered to get "The Ring", and was so corrupted by it that he shriveled into a despicable little creature so pitiful it's hard to hate him. His corruption was characterized by intense self-centeredness, which culminated in a scene hard to forget.

Having lost the ring, it was now being carried off by the Hobbit hero Frodo, to be destroyed. In the unforgettable scene, Gollum is once again contemplating murder, the murder of Frodo and his faithful companion Sam.

The evil Gollum talks to himself in the mirror of a pool of water, getting more and more excited at the thought of murdering them to regain The Ring, hatching his plan to feed them to a giant spider, until he gleefully shouts to himself a climactic, "And take it for Me-e-e-e-e!!"

Such is the height of self-centeredness. Me! Me! Me!

Every Christian has heard the concept of being Christ-centered versus being self-centered. And we all will agree that being Christ-centered is best.

But what is being Christ-centered?

Is it dutifully serving Him, honoring Him, doing good deeds for Him, etc.? You know what I mean, "Only one life, 'twill soon be past; only what's done for Christ will last?"

I know this is the common view, but let me take a little different tack (actually a radically different tack).

Being Christ-centered, biblically speaking, is being in a relationship to Him in such a way as to be fixated with Him. It's not the deeds. It's the "looking upon" Him. Seeking His face. Seeking Him. Knowing Him, as opposed to knowing about Him. Fellowshiping with Him. Gazing on Him.

Then, out of that, comes the serving, honoring, and so forth. But with joy and the power of the Spirit. When we look upon Him, we escape the obsession with ourselves.

We stop asking ourselves, "How am I doing in my Christian life? Am I good enough? Am I working hard enough for the Lord? Am I acting holy enough? I, I, I, me, me, me!"

We turn outward from our own navels to the glorious Son of God, our Lord, our Friend, our Savior, our Beloved.

And then something mysterious and wonderful happens:

"But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:18)

A.W. Tozer, in The Pursuit of God, put it this way:

"While we are looking at God we do not see ourselves--blessed riddance. The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do."

And so we see that Grace is not about Grace.

It's not even primarily about us, though He has graciously brought us into His Life and given His Life to us.

It's about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is all. He is everything. If we fellowship with Him, if we commune with Him, our life is fulfilled.

If we have Him as our Shepherd, we shall not want.


Mark D. Vilen said...

One of the best pieces about grace I have ever read. You and Steve McVey are awesome teachers. Thanks for this!

Mark Vilen

Terry Rayburn said...

Thank you, Mark.


Strong Tower said...

I have been contemplating baptism. You see there is this idea that it is about us. The song goes, Above all...he thought of me...Above all...

Now while I admire the song, having been a worship leader, it is poor theology. We accept this unquestioningly, but its focus is us, turning us away from the finished work of Christ which is a work done, given him by the Father to do. Christ's first focus is the Father to whom he returns all things, one of these things is the children that the Father has give the Son.

I am about to formulate how it is that baptism is not about us at all, but is indeed all about the finished work of Christ. To do that it has struck me that very narrow is the way that leads to life. It is as the disciples said, "Who then can be saved?" My concept of baptism then has become a pinpoint in history, a needle's eye, far too narrow, too tiny for any man to enter. It is in fact even blocked by the angelic sword of the Word. Baptism's most salient, and I think difinitive symbolism, in the immersion (sprinkling for those who prefer showers), is the fact that another does it to us. In other words, the dead do not bury themselves and as the body of Christ was layed in the tomb by disciples, so too, the convert is laid in the tomb by the brethren. No one can occupy that space, that needle's eye in the death of Christ, but Christ. It is our entry point, but no man takes this upon himself, no no one is able to drink of that cup, but Christ.

I am currently re-reading and teaching out of John Murray's Redemption: Accomplished and Applied; beginning the second chapter. Murray goes to great length to expound the obedience of Christ. This will lead to the conclusion that it is His obedience and not ours; his fulfillment of the law, both passive and active, on our behalf. But, it goes beyond that, for it is not even our dying to ourselves, though that is required, but that Christ died to ourselves for us.

Anyway, I enjoyed your post. Pray that this is my reality of salvation, for I see nothing but bondage going the other way. Pray that I am freed from attempts to satisfy his justice and undo the work of my Lord.

God bless in grace


c.w. goad said...

Nice post on grace.

(A brother in TN)

Terry Rayburn said...

strong tower,

I don't subscribe to the cliche that "it's not about us", despite my current post. I don't think it's biblical.

In my post I say that it is not *primarily* about us, but it is certainly about us somewhat, because God has made it about us.

A few of my expanded thoughts are here.

Likewise, believer baptism is both entered into by the believer, and actually applied by someone else.

This is a simple fact that I wouldn't hasten to complicate if I were you.

I would say to someone, "You believe in Jesus? Get baptized, like the Scriptures tell you to. He'll take care of the rest."

I'm not saying there are not mysteries, allegories, and Old Testament types of baptism, to meditate and ponder on for the rest of our lives. But I wouldn't spend an undue amount of time trying to articulate them. Better the time be spent in prayer and communion with Christ Himeself.

Lord, may Strong Tower (and each of us) revel in your finished work on our behalf, and glory in You, as you fellowship with us, through your Spirit and your Word. May we rejoice in your Grace, but mostly because it is a reflection of You, and your desire to commune with us. Amen.

Terry Rayburn said...


I see you worked in Brentwood. Although I live in Clarksville, I go to church in Nashville, right near Brentwood (Edmonson Pike).

Thanks for stopping by.


Bino Manjasseril said...

Great post!

Strong Tower said...

Yeah, sorry if I made is seem so exclusivistic. Of course we must understand what you have clearly marked out in your Not About Us post.

I would fully subscribe to this: "Who should get the glory for that? Well, the One who did it, of course! It's all of grace, from start to finish, from Alpha to Omega. The Lord will not share His glory with another. But He will share His Life!"

I also recognize the covenantal aspect. Sorry if I was unclear or too exclusivistic. The practical relevance of contemplation of Baptism though is current in SBC circles as they try to figure what it means to them. I suppose that is one source of my sensitivity to the subject. The formulistic aspects of SBC pragmatism today tend away from Christ.

Hope that is clearer.

Thanks Terry,


Philip said...

Hi Terry. I thankfully came across your website via the above post on the 'thoughts on the way' blog. Could you do a message or post on justification?I read a Terry Rayburn's comments via google against the imputation of Christ's active obedience-that coupled with spirit-union with Christ similarly as Jim Fowler says,I wondered if you,like he,hold to a justification that is,if I understand it right, the very righteousness of Christ spiritually in, 'as' us?...Hungry for a better,experiential grasp... -Phil

Terry Rayburn said...

Hi Phil,

Lord willing, I will take you up on that and do a post in the next week or two on Justification.

Need to look a little more at Fowler's view before commenting on that. Later.


Philip said...

Thanks,Terry. Look forward to considering what you say,when you say it. I think Jim has justification to be not so much set in forensic terms,but to be counted righteous because union with Christ means we are joined to Christ who is ontological righteousness personified. When the Father sees us, he sees us in Christ, and Christ in us.