What Is The Purpose Of Grace?

Father holding daughter's hand grace

We all need refreshers. We need to hear the old and familiar explained again so it doesn’t become stale and taken for granted.

That’s what this quote was for me: a timely reminder of the purpose of grace; the reason for the grace in which we—and that includes me—stand (Romans 5:2). It’s from a chapter called, “These Inward Trials,” in J.I. Packer’s classic, KNOWING GOD (IVP, 1973). The spacing, bolding and italics are mine. 

 

What is grace?

In the New Testament grace means God’s love in action towards people who merited the opposite of love. Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves. Grace means God sending His only Son to descend into hell on the cross so that we guilty one might be reconciled to God and received into heaven. “(God) made him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

 

What is the purpose of grace?

Primarily, it is to restore man’s relationship with God. When God lays the foundation of this restored relationship, by forgiving our sins as we trust His Son, He does so in order that henceforth we and He may live in fellowship and what He does in renewing our nature is intended to make us capable of, and actually to lead us into, the exercise of love, trust, delight, hope and obedience Godward- those acts which from our side, made of the reality of fellowship with God, who is constantly making Himself known to us. This is what all the work of grace aims at. At an even deeper knowledge of God, and an ever closer fellowship with him. Grace is God drawing us sinners closer and closer to himself.

 

How does grace prosecute [go about] this purpose?

Not by shielding us from assault by the world, the flesh and the devil, nor by protecting us from the burdensome and frustrating circumstances, nor by shielding us from the troubles created by our own temperament and psychology. But rather by exposing us to all those things, so as to overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy, and to drive us to cling to Him more closely. This is the ultimate reason, from our standpoint, why God fills our lives with troubles and perplexities of one sort and another. It is to ensure that we shall learn to hold Him fast.

The reason why the Bible spends so much time reiterating that God is a strong rock, a firm defence, and a sure refuge and help for the weak, is that God spends so much of His time bringing to us that we are weak, both mentally and morally, and dare not trust ourselves to find, or to follow, the right road. When we walk along a clear road feeling fine, and someone takes our arm to help us, as likely as not we shall impatiently shake him off. But when we are caught in rough country in the dark, with a storm getting up and our strength spent, and someone takes our arm to help us, we shall thankfully lean on him.

 

Why is life rough and perplexing? 

And God wants us to feel that our way through life is rough and perplexing so that we may learn thankfully to lean on Him. Therefore He takes steps to drive us out of self-confidence to trust in Himself—in the classical biblical phrase for the secret of the godly man’s life, “to wait on the Lord.”

One of the most startling applications of this truth is that God actually uses our sins and mistakes to this end. He employs the educative discipline of failures and mistakes very frequently. It is striking to see how much of the Bible deals with men of God making mistakes, and God chastening them for it. Abraham losing patience and begets Ishmael… Moses killing an Egyptian…David seducing Bathsheba and getting Uriah killed… Jonah running away from God’s call… So we might go on.

But the point to stress is that the human mistake, and the immediate divine displeasure was in no case the end of the story…God can bring good out of the extremes of our folly; God can restore the years that the locust has eaten.

 

You know what they say about those who never make mistakes? 

They say that those who never make mistakes never make anything. Certainly these men made mistakes, but through their mistakes God taught them to know His grace, and to cleave to Him in a way that would never have happened otherwise. 

Is your trouble a sense of failure? The knowledge of having made some horrible mistake? Go to God, his restoring grace waits for you.

For that, after all, is the purpose of grace: an even deeper knowledge of God, and an ever closer fellowship with him. Grace is God drawing us sinners closer and closer to himself. 

To be near the Creator, Redeemer and Lover of my sinful, selfish soul and to know and be known by the one who loves me most.

What could this be, but grace?

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.

This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.

2 Timothy 1:9

 

Take & Possess: Canaanites, Weeds, & Driving Out Enemies (Part II)

Burdock Weeds

Driving out -ites is effortful. It’s hard work to hold back weeds. Despite all our pulling and digging, wild mustard grows like gangbusters and burdocks keep sharing their spiny seeds.

In fact, I plucked some burdock off my running tights this morning. Two steps off the trail was all it took; they latched on before I knew. I ran all of five yards before the itch was too much and I had stop and pluck them off.

At least some of them.

When It’s Not Good To COEXIST

In Part I, I shared how God told the Israelites on the edge of the Promised Land to drive out the current residents—the “-ites.” God promised through Joshua that he would be with them and give them success. So he called them to take and to possess the land. But they did not. They chose to coexist.

Neither God nor Joshua suggested the Israelites “coexist” with the Canaanites. Because coexisting with -ites leads to compromise (Deut. 7:16-26), “for that shall be a snare to you.”

The Israelites could not possess that part of the land where they coexisted with the Canaanites (Judges 1:27-34). Instead of destroying or driving them out as God had commanded, the Israelites allowed them to live in their midst.

But we are not called to dwell with sin in our lives and let burdocks to stick to our pants. With these we ought not coexist.

For we are called not only to take but to possess the land.

Take And Possess

In an insightful message called “Living With The Enemy,” pastor Bob Deffinbaugh explains the distinction between the Hebrew words“take” (lakad) and “possess” (yarash),

The term “to take” has reference to the initial conquest of a territory while the term “to possess” refers to the permanent occupation and control of that territory.

We may read of an earlier conquest of a certain city in Joshua only to discover in Judges that it had to be taken again and then possessed. When the Israelites first “took” the Promised Land under Joshua, there were too few people to occupy and possess the land. When the victorious Israelites moved on to fight another battle, the displaced Canaanites moved back to “re-possess” their land. Under Joshua, the Israelite tribes united to fight the Canaanites and make strategic victories (Joshua 1-12). Later under Joshua (Joshua 13 ff.), the land was divided among the Israelite tribes with each tribe allotted an inheritance. Then, in Judges, it is the task of each individual tribe to “possess” their inheritance. This usually required retaking the land and then occupying (possessing) it.

But these two JoyPrO posts are more than an Old Testament history lesson. They’re meant to help make sense of our struggles with “indwelling sin.”

Because if we focus elsewhere the enemy slips back in. This morning it was a bright yellow flower, a cowslip I think, that took my focus off the beaten path where the burdock got me.

They represent our besetting sins, the ones that are hard to shake, that “cling so closely.” We might “take” and name them: gossip or anger, grumbling or envy or anxiety. But we don’t fully drive them out.

They’re irritating. But it takes more time and effort than we’d like to spend to pull all that burdock off.

Or, I could say, to fully “possess” my pants.

Why They Didn’t Possess The Land

Like we said at the start, taking possession is effortful. The Lord’s rebuke of his people in Judges 2:1-3 makes that plain.

Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” 

The Israelites did not obey God. So God did not drive out the -ites. Which makes me wonder, does God drive out our sinful -ites while we stay friendly with them?

A Thorn In Your Side

The Lord had said that He would not drive out the Canaanites, but would leave them as a “thorn in the side” and as a “snare” to them (2:3). Thus, coexistence was a form of divine discipline.

God said to Israel, in effect: ‘If you make alliances with the people of the land, you shall no longer have power to cast them out. The swift rush of the stream of victory shall be stayed. You have chosen to make them your friends, and their friendship shall produce its natural effects, of tempting you to imitation.’ The increased power of our unsubdued evils is the punishment, as it is the result, of tolerance of them. We wanted to keep them, and dreamed that we could control them. Keep them we shall, control them we cannot. They will master us if we do not expel them.

Alexander MacLaren, A Summary Of Israel’s Unfaithfulness and God’s Patience

Their mastering us means we’ve become “worldly.” It’s an old fashioned word, but I think it just means if we’re on friendly terms with weeds and soul enemies, we’re worldly.

Worldliness & Weeds

Someone has said that worldliness is whatever makes sin look normal and righteousness look strange. Which reminds me of a garden of weeds.

Have you ever grown a garden of weeds?

I have. It didn’t start that way. It started as a garden of carrots and peas. But we went west for two weeks in June and when we got back we had a garden of weeds. Because vegetables take effort.

Worldliness is whatever makes

sin look normal and righteousness look strange.

-Kevin DeYoung, from David Wells

I’ve been thinking how worldliness is like my garden of weeds. It’s what happens if you don’t push back. And if you look at a garden of weeds long enough it looks normal.

Straight rows of vegetables interspersed with brown dirt looks strange.

A Foot in Both Worlds

If we try to walk with one foot in both worlds—compromise with the world and partial obedience to God—we won’t have the best of both worlds. When I’ve tried, I’ve experienced the worst of both.

For example, the moment I start sympathizing with myself, following the world’s wisdom, rather than taking God’s way to avert passive-aggressive, it all goes south. No spiritual victory and no blessing there. 

The world’s prescription for hurt is to hurt back or to retreat, but it’ll only make it worse— more self-focused and proud. I know this. The worldly way of handling hurt won’t help you grow.

We’ve got to cling to the Lord and obey his commands. Or the weeds will come back.

Cling to the Lord & Possess the Land

We see this in Joshua chapter 23.

Behold, I have allotted to you as an inheritance for your tribes those nations that remain, along with all the nations that I have already cut off, from the Jordan to the Great Sea in the west. The Lord your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you. 

Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day…

11 Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God. 12 For if you…associate with them and they with you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.

The world will not yield an inch to the person who is not resolute for God. Like the -ites who became a trap and a snare. Like pesky, unyielding weeds. The world and the weeds come back. They’re invasive.

Worldliness is a garden of spiritual weeds.

But we don’t live those weeds.

Already & Not Yet

If you know Jesus, I know your address. Because it’s the same as mine: Between the already and the not yet.

The Book of Joshua speaks of both the complete fulfillment of God’s promises (11:23, 21:45) and the incompleteness of the actual possession of the land (13:1, 23:4-5). The writer speaks of the conquest as completed (21:43-45, 10:40-42, 11:23, 23:1, 14)—I have given them rest— but he also describes the occupation as incomplete (13:1-7; 15:63, 17:12-13, 18:3, 23:5). I will drive them out.

A country may officially be defeated and occupied before every part of it ceases resistance. I was after all jogging along with more prickers in my pants. But there will comes a time when they’re all plucked out.

We see the same truth in the New Testament: the power of sin is broken, but it’s still present in our lives. God has already blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing and our future inheritance is guaranteed (Eph. 1:3, 14).

But we don’t possess it completely. Not yet.

Able Not To Sin

Have you ever heard this progression? That after the Fall we were:

1) Not able not to sin. But when we were redeemed, we became

2) Able not to sin. Then, in glory, we will be

3) Not able to sin.

Zach Howard explains it well in context here. Near the end of the article he writes,

Although we are able not to sin, sin still plagues us. Scripture gives no promise of sinlessness in this life; indeed, it says the opposite (1 John 1:8). We’re never promised total victory over sin.

Instead, the renewal we experience in our life is a foretaste of future glorification. We will win battles against sin in this life, but we should not expect to win the war. We have the ability not to sin, but not the ability to eradicate sin…Our ability to achieve total victory over sin will never come in this life. But it will come. It will come because Christ will return.

As Christians we can live in hope — hope that God’s grace is sufficient for our fight against sin, hope that the Spirit is renewing us and restoring our ability to fight sin day by day, and finally, hope that we will one day be completely remade. 

Yes, battling our own sin and waging war on our weeds is exhausting! But God’s grace is sufficient and the Spirit of Jesus is with us to strengthen us day by day.

Our Joshua Is Jesus

Which brings us full circle to Joshua. Reading the book of Joshua started this two part post.

Remember that the Greek name Jesus simply translates the Hebrew name Joshua. The names are the same.

What Israel received in the Promised Land, they received through the hand of Joshua. What we receive from God we receive through Jesus Christ, our Joshua. For all God’s promises are “yes” in Christ. Joshua led Israel into Canaan. Likewise, Jesus goes before us.

So don’t go into battle against with a coexist mindset. For in this Land of Already and Not Yet we are, after all, able to not sin. Even if the burdocks stick us now and then, we will pluck them off.

Until one day, led by our Joshua, we will possess a glorious thornless and weedless land.

A land with a tree and a river.

On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.

Revelation 22:2-3

How Bitter Turned Sweet & Good Friday Turned Great

Cross Good Friday

Good Friday turned great just before midnight. That’s when my pride died.

Again. This side of heaven, it won’t stay dead.

I can’t tell you the details. It would not be right. But I can tell you that it happened after a good friend confronted me about my wounding words.

Before Pride Died

But before pride died. I want you to know that the words I write do rattle around in my head. By them, I will be justified, or condemned. If I know the truth and ignore it, I’m worse than hot air. I’m a hypocrite.

So I tried to look for the kernel of truth in criticism that mostly seemed off- Assume you are guilty when a fellow believer confronts you about your life. And I tried to apply the cure for passive-aggressivetrust that God means good, leave him your hurt, and do good. By grace, I try to take my advice.

Maybe especially last night, because Good Friday is so good.

Why Good Friday Is Good

Good Friday is good because “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3), and because, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). And it’s good because “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him” (Isaiah 53:5-6).

Good Friday is good because by Christ’s death, we are freed from the penalty of sin and the guilt of sin. Because he bore our sins.

That is why Good Friday is good.

Marahs Made Sweet

I read and re-read my friend’s words. They stung. But I knew there was a kernel of truth in them, because I know there is sin in me. So I confessed, not was she accused, but what I knew was true.

That layer removed, I thought of other sins of which my friend had no clue. And just before midnight, I went to bed and paged to the prayer called “The Grace of the Cross.”

O My Saviour,

I thank thee from the depths of my being

    for thy wondrous grace and love

  in bearing my sin in thine own body on the tree.

May thy cross be to me

  as the tree that sweetens my bitter Marahs…

I got that far before the bitter tears began to flow. Bitter, in Hebrew, is marah. The Israelites found water too bitter to drink and called the place Marah (Exodus 15:22-27). Then the Lord showed Moses “a piece of wood.” He threw it in the water and the water turned sweet.

Wood turned bitter water sweet. I remember when I taught the story to my Sunday school class. Millie and Michaela and Audrie got it. They saw the cross of Christ.

They understood it was wood that makes our bitter water sweet.

How Good Friday Turned Great

Last night I tasted both. Bitterness first- It was my sin that held him there.

But then sobbing like a hot mess in bed, the bitterness became sweet. I knew I was forgiven by my crucified King.

Christ died for this.

Feeling that was how Good Friday turned great. The cross makes our confessed sins, even our most embarrassing and ugly and bitter sins, sweet. Because, Who confesses and forsakes finds mercy (Prov. 28:13).

That is when bitter turns sweet, and good becomes great. We stand forgiven at the cross. We remember and we celebrate:

Christ died for this.

I saw my sin loud and clear last night. But I also saw the cross and confessed and found mercy and grace.

And that is how Marah became sweet and Good Friday turned great.

In confession we break through to the true fellowship of the Cross of Jesus Christ, in confession we affirm and accept our cross…

The old man dies, but it is God who has conquered him. Now we share in the resurrection of Christ and eternal life. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Abraham Lincoln, Wrestler

Cover of LINCOLN'S BATTLE WITH GOD

 

Amid the greatest difficulties of my administration, when I could not see any other resort, I would place my whole reliance in God, knowing that all would go well, and that He would decide for the right.

Abraham Lincoln, October 24, 1863

Abraham Lincoln was a wrestler. With his impressive heigh and long arms, perfect for wrapping his opponents, Lincoln was renown in his teens and early 20’s for his unmatched strength and keen mind. Record has it that Abe was defeated only once in nearly 300 matches. He was scrappy.

But did you know that Lincoln also wrestled  with God? 

Lincoln’s Battle With God

Anyone who would put Lincoln’s faith in a neat, Christian box would do well to read Stephen Mansfield’s, Lincoln’s Battle With God.  Lincoln’s faith won’t be contained in box, because it was in constant motion.

Many of us are familiar with Lincoln’s nods to Almighty God and the biblical language in his speeches. But as a young man, Abraham Lincoln distanced himself from organized Christianity,  but not from grappling with God.

Lincoln struggled with a God who let his dear mother die a painful death before his nine-year-old eyes and would take his only sibling Sarah ten years later. As if that weren’t enough, God allowed pretty, vivacious Ann Rutledge-the light of his 20-something eyes- to die.

Trash Talking

Lincoln’s struggle with God was probably rooted in his father’s faith as much as his loss and pain.  “He had only known the religious of the haughty, self-assured hyper-Calvinist or the exuberant camp meeting extremes.” Mansfield  explains, “He had found both wanting.” (p. 40)

So when he moved to New Salem, he soaked up the Christless rationalism of Volney and Paine.  It’s no surprise that it was in 1835, the same year that Ann Rutledge died, that Lincoln wrote a “little book on Infidelity.” In it, he reasoned that the Bible was uninspired, that Jesus Christ was not divine and that the Christian church was a lie. Lincoln had God on the mat.

Mansfield writes, “It may be that he was actually living out the inner duplicity of the atheist’s confession: ‘There is no God-and I hate him.’ (p. 45) Whatever the case, during his early Springfield years, Lincoln continued to call Christ a ‘ba__,” to speak of a churched society as “priest ridden,” and to call Christianity a myth. (p. 61)

That might sound more  like Lincoln pinning God than an ongoing match. But mostly it was trash talk. Kind of like when he told the New Salem stags, “I’m the big buck of this lick. If any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns.” None of the guys tried.

But God didn’t back down so fast.

Always Wrestling 

Mansfield traces the wrestling match from smack talk in New Salem, to the fervent seeking in Springfield to the gritty drawing in his gripping account. He traces a man who “was always wrestling spiritually, always in transition, and was always unwilling to appear otherwise.” (p. 100)

Mansfield’s conclusion, after all that tracing?

If during our Civil War, a White House dressmaker finds Lincoln reading the book of Job and a congressman recalls a discussion of divine destiny with the President, and Lincoln’s own written reflections reveal a man wrestling with God’s purposes, and a clergy man confirms that Lincoln sat in on prayer meetings, and if Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address is more sermon than a political speech — then certainly there is room to consider that Lincoln in the White House was not the Lincoln of New Salem or Springfield. The evidence- not the myth- demands this conclusion. (p. 191)   

Lincoln’s own words lead us to the same conclusion: “Through all, I groped my way until I found a stronger and higher grasp of thought, one that reached beyond this life with a clearness and satisfaction I had never known before. The Scriptures unfolded before me with a deeper and more logical appeal than anything else I could find to turn to, or ever before had found in them.” 

What I love about Lincoln is that he never left the mat. He groped and grappled and struggled and wrestled. Which means, he stayed engaged with God and studied his Word.. 

Looking Up

Some people wear their unchanged position as a badge of honor. As if it’s a virtue to say, “I’ve always believed this. I’ve never changed my mind.” They would say change is a sign of weakness rather than a mark of humble faith. Lincoln’s life stands in stark contrast. Lincoln changed his mind about God. 

My heroes are the ones who keep changing and growing. Lincoln is a real hero for that. Because real heroes are not static. They wrestle and change and grow. Where it mattered most, Lincoln did those. 

Sometime after his son Willie’s death, he told Rev. Miner, an old friend from Springfield, 

If I were not sustained by the prayers of God’s people, I could not endure this constant pressure. … It has pleased Almighty God to place me in my present position and looking up to Him for wisdom and divine guidance I must work my destiny as best I can.

Lincoln stayed on the mat with God. Early in the match he may have thought he had God pinned. But at the end he found himself prevailing on God, looking up for help- right where God wanted him to be.

Which means, I think, that God doesn’t mind a good grapple. 

And a man wrestled with Jacob until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 

Genesis 32:24-28