Posts Tagged 'grace'

Shift From Grace to Legalism

Christian Theology

Note: In yesterday’s post I may have given some the impression that Col Thieme taught that we have to feel sorry for our sins in order to be forgiven. He did not. In fact he taught the exact opposite (which was what I was trying to communicate.) I’ve since revised the murky paragraph to reflect this:

Updated paragraph: Col Thieme and others taught that this need to feel sorrow was yet one more means of inserting human effort into the equation… The feeling bad or sorry or broken-hearted becomes the currency by which one tries to earn or buy forgiveness, and is not commensurate with grace.

Now, on to today’s post.

In the process of all the thinking and researching I’ve been doing on the matter of confession of sins, I came across this quote by Roger E. Olsen in his book The Story of Christian Theology:

“Occasionally these fathers of the generation after the apostles gave the gospel their own unique interpretations that began to turn it away from the great themes of grace and faith so strongly emphasized by Paul and  other apostles and more toward the gospel as a “new law” of God-pleasing conduct and behavior… one senses a distance between the Christianity of the New Testament — especially that of Paul — and that of the apostolic fathers (2nd century). References to Paul and the other apostles frequent (in their works); but in spite of this the new faith becomes more and more a new law, and the doctrine of God’s gracious justification becomes a doctrine of grace that helps us act justly.”*

“Of course this shift was subtle and not absolute. It was a barely but definitely perceptible turn in these second-century Christian writings toward legalism, or what may be better termed “Christian moralism.” Although the apostolic fathers such as Ignatius and Polycarp quoted Paul more than James, it was the latter’s spirit that breathed through them. Perhaps due to a perceived moral and spiritual laziness and decline among Christians, they emphasized the need to avoid sinning, obey leaders and work hard to please God more than the need for liberation from bondage to the law.”

*Roger E. Olsen quoting Justo Gonzalez.

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Addendum to the Eric Liddell Story

Last Sunday I blogged about Eric Liddell, the Olympic runner and Scottish missionary featured in the movie Chariots of Fire. I told about how when he learned that the heats of the race that was his strongest were to be held on a Sunday, he made a decision not to enter it. He did enter the 400 meter race, whose heats were not held on Sunday. That was a race he was not expected to win, based on previous times.

I don’t recall if this was shown in Chariots of Fire — it may have been, but if it was, it hit me harder when reading through his story this time than previously. A day or so after the 100 meter had already been run, as he was getting ready to compete in the 400 meter, an American Olympic team masseuse handed him a slip of paper on which had been written,

“In the old book it says, ‘He that honours me I will honour.’ Wishing you the best of success always.” (Source: The Eric Liddell Centre – Quotations )

The phrase mentioned is from 1 Samuel 2:30, “…for those who honor Me, I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed.

The timing was exquisite.

Because shortly thereafter Liddell won the race that he was not expected to win. Everyone thought he had given up his chance at Olympic gold and God gave him one anyway. I love that.

Although, as I said in the previous post, he’s going to get a lot more than a gold medal in eternity!

For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? ~ 1 Th 2:19

Just Ask For What You Need

One of the prevailing messages the Lord seems to be giving me of late is, again, to come to Him and ask, to let Him do the things He’s called me to do.  In everything, but particularly the writing.

A week or so ago I listened to a message Pastor John taught last year, wherein his words so closely echoed what I’ve been dealing with this year, that I stopped the tape and wrote it all down.

He said,

“I still get in these situations where I’m a little intimidated (Me: YES!!!! intimidated by the book I’m attempting to write.”  “I know there’s something I need to be doing with these people (the characters in my book!) but I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what I should say.  (EXACTLY what I had been moaning about and experiencing regarding the book) 

He went on to describe himself as someone who when there’s too many people around, tends to get overwhelmed, thinking he has to deal with everyone.  In my case, there’s too many characters, too many possible threads, motivations, scenes, conflicts… too many possibilities. It’s a good thing to have a lot of possibilities — it makes your work richer. But it can be completely overwhelming and intimidating.  Thus I could relate completely to what he was saying.

It happens to Pastor John all the time. And then he realizes:

“You know what? I don’t have to come up with a great creative solution here! All I gotta do is go to my Lord, my Father and say, “Hey. You know what I want and you know what you want. Now you just gotta put the light bulb on. And He does!”

Well, I was completely blown away when he said that. It was so targeted to my situation, so completely apropos and yet… I hadn’t been doing that.  I thought I had to figure it out.

So what was the next thing he said?

“I can’t tell you how long it was where I thought it was up to me, ultimately. Me figuring it out, putting all the energy into it and … fail, fail, fail. And I was miserable, walking around with a guilt complex, feeling inadequate, horrible.

“But the fact is, God the Holy Spirit is the one who’s behind this. This variety of gifts, this idea that this is something where you can relax and understand that Ephesians 2:10 says He’s already ordained the things for you to walk in. All you gotta do is show up with a heart that’s wanting to serve with the bible doctrine that’s already in your soul and walk. And walking isn’t hard. No one gets a prize because today I walked…

“No, it’s God who’s doing the heavy lifting here. Just say, “Yes!” and put one foot in front of the other. Be positive, go in the right direction, show up and have a desire and God will take care of the rest.”

And in today’s message, he brought all that around again. We’re to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, to abide in Him as He abides in us. We — I — can do nothing apart from Him. If I abide in Him and His words abide in me, I am told to ask whatever I wish and it will be done for me. And by this is My Father glorified.

Me abiding in the Vine and His words — His truth — abiding in me and then I ASK Him for what I need. This is pretty much the whole point, the whole deal.  That I come to understand more and more about grace — which is God’s unlimited capacity and desire to bless me — and the truth of who He is and then ask Him for whatever I need.

Like what do I do in the next scene? How am I going to get out of this corner I just wrote myself into? All the details that so intimidate, me, ask Him to show me. And I’m thinking that it’s important to be specific, rather than general…

So that’s what I’m hoping to do tomorrow. And I think I’ll just ask Him now to help me to remember that.

Slammed With Jesus

Last weekend, quite by non-intent, I spent several hours rereading a good portion of the end of The Light of Eidon.

It started with a reader’s email informing me he’d gotten LOE free on his new Kindle and started reading it. At first he wasn’t sure he would like it, but by the time he’d reached Section 3, he LOVED it and downloaded the next three books in the series right then and there.

Curious as to what was happening by Section 3, I got the book down and checked it out. Section 2 ends with Abramm’s first battle in the arena where he becomes the White Pretender and Section 3 jumps ahead 2 years to Carissa’s finally catching up to him in Xorofin. I read/skimmed from there and in so doing came upon what I’m pretty sure are the problem passages that moved some disgruntled readers to leave one-star reviews on Amazon complaining about being “slammed by Christian theology at the end”, or “tricked into reading about Jesus.”

Take this exchange between Abramm and Trap on p 383:

“Of course not,” Abramm said dryly. “Nothing is ever enough with you nor will it be until I wear your shield upon my chest.”

Trap regarded him soberly. “Eidon is the only answer in this world, Abramm, and life is not about settling scores or being respected by people. It’s about his power and his worth and what he did on that hill outside Xorofin. You must come to him as nothing. But you don’t like that. You want it to be about you. Your sacrifices, your efforts to make yourself worthy.” He paused, studying the horses without really seeing them. “It’s pride, Abramm. That’s why you won’t believe.”

As soon as I read this I thought, Oh wow! Yeah, that would hit some people right between the eyes. The flesh hates the notion that it has nothing to offer, that salvation really is all about Him and His work and His worthiness while we are nothing.

Here’s another a some twelve pages later, Abramm’s viewpoint as he recalls the above-quoted conversation:

You want it to be about you. Your sacrifice, your efforts to make yourself worthy.

It was true. And yet it seemed with every decision he’d made, every action he took, he’d only made himself more unworthy. Almost as if he couldn’t help himself, almost as if some part of him insisted upon showing him how weak and helpless he was. Now he was trapped like a fish in a bowl, every good thing he might have accomplished wrenched from his grasp. He couldn’t deliver the Dorsaddi, couldn’t deliver Carissa, couldn’t deliver Kiriath — couldn’t even deliver himself.

I don’t remember having written this, and was kind of surprised how it went so straight to the point.  I was pleased, though. Yeah, those people with the 1-star reviews, they were being convicted. Whether they responded or not’s another matter, but who cares about 1-star reviews if something you’ve written has rattled them enough to react as they have?

Because another thing I’ve noticed is that the book is 432 pages long. Yet the parts that had provoked such offense are measured in paragraphs, not chapters and, with one exception, not pages. Okay, so his spiritual conversion does make for the resolution of a major plot line, but still…

Guilt is a Sin

Guilt, according to the American Heritage dictionary is

  1. Remorseful awareness of having done something wrong.
  2. Self-reproach for supposed inadequacy or wrongdoing.

It’s a sin because it’s adding to the work of our Lord on the cross. If He took all the punishment for all our sins — and He did — then why would we feel we need to punish ourselves?

1 Jn 1:9 says, “If we confess, [name, cite] our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Jeremiah 3:13 says, “Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the LORD your God…”

Acknowledging that you have sinned carries no merit. You’re just agreeing with God that what you’ve done/said/thought is a sin, and at that point He forgives you the sin and cleanses you from all unrighteousness. The cleansed vessel of the soul is then suitable to be filled or controlled by God the Holy Spirit and fellowship is restored.

Guilt — beating yourself up for what you’ve done — has no place in that. It’s human works, human effort to atone, to make sure you’ll never do it again… I struggle a lot with the guilt function so I’ve had ample opportunity to consider it in all its ramifications and it really is quite arrogant. After all the word of God says our hearts (the way we think and perceive the world and ourselves) are deceitful and desperately wicked, that from the tops of our heads to the bottom of our feet, there’s no soundness in us, that we are stubborn and willful and none of us in ourselves is good. Not even one. (Ro 3:10)

We were all born in sin, we still have the sin nature after salvation. We are going to sin. We are going to make mistakes. We’re stupid sheep, we are easily entangled in sin and deception… guilt assumes that we can do better. Guilt assumes that somehow our sin is an aberration, a shock, something we should very well be able to avoid. If only we’d work hard enough or hurt bad enough, then we won’t do it again. It’s the flesh’s mode of self-improvement, and like all else the flesh produces, God finds it disgusting.

Guilt is something that has motivated me almost all my life, something carried over from my first 21 years as an unbeliever.  I’ve talked about it on this blog before… that feeling that I must do X or something bad will happen. Usually the “something bad” is that “they” will think poorly of me. But who is they?

At first I had no idea, but gradually I realized it’s something in my own conscience. Not something based on the word of God, but on stuff I picked up as a child and internalized. It doesn’t matter if God says there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, if my conscience says I should do or be a certain way, then that’s all that matters. If I fail to toe the line, then my conscience will punish me.

Because, apparently, Jesus didn’t do enough. Because, apparently God really didn’t mean it when He said there is nothing good in us, and that the only way to actually live the Christian way of life is the same way as we received it… by grace, through faith.

You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing (the Gospel) with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?   ~ Galatians 3:1-3

Yet More Reassurance

 I finally got back to working on The Other Side of the Sky today!  For two hours. First time in three months. And even the few days I spent three months ago were themselves the first time in three and a half months, so I think it’s fair to say it’s been six months since I’ve really worked on the book.

But that’s not what I meant by more reassurance. No this was reassurance about my mother’s salvation  I recounted here the story of how I had one last chance to encourage my mother to believe in Christ the night before she died, and how she seemed to respond, seemed to be saying yes but not in any clear and definitive way. I related how after I’d left her and walked down the long, deserted main hall in the hospital a woman came toward me carrying three white lilies which I took to be God’s confirmation that my mother had indeed believed and received eternal life.

There was more of that sort of confirmation afterward. Like me picking up the birthday card my mother had given me in March to put it away (I had it on display) and, in turning it over, discovered that on the back was printed “Lilies of the Valley.” And finding out that her yet-to-be-born great-granddaughter was to be named Lily, a decision my son and his wife had arrived at well before the incident of the white lilies in the hall. But there was another weirder, but even stronger confirmation that I discovered some time after the actual events when I was rereading the entry I’d written in my journal of those last moments on the day she died.  Suddenly the names of all her caregivers who were around her that day seemed to leap off the page at me.  Dr. Bravo, former nurse Alva (the name means, in Hebrew, “brightness, exalted one“, Mother’s actual nurse of the day, Victoria, the technician Mary, all came to say goodbye to me. And when we arrived at Peppi’s House, the Hospice facility, Mother was delivered over to the care of a nurse named… Christy.  Christ.

Gave me chills to see all that. Still does. But there was one name I never looked up, that of Dr. Clements who had really been a blessing to me. He was the pulmonary specialist who drained the fluid from Mother’s lungs so she could breathe better and be a little more comfortable. He was the one I could talk to, and did. He always made me feel better, even when things were dire. He was clear, he made it all understandable, he worked with dying patients all the time. He was the one who told me on Saturday that Mother probably wouldn’t last twenty-four hours, the one who wrote the order for Hospice when the brilliant but flaky gastroenterologist forgot.  He was the one who told me to call my sister and tell her to come ASAP.

Lately I’ve been wondering… what does his name mean?  It seems like a plain, vanilla English name. Probably has no meaning, right? Certainly not anything significant like the others.  The question kept niggling at me so last night I finally looked it up.

It means “merciful.”

That gave me chills, too.


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