Surprised by grace.
I firmly believe that one of the greatest travesties a Christ-follower can commit is losing his sense of awe and wonder at the grace of God. Most, if not all, true believers in Christ will affirm that they’re saved by grace through faith, and that this salvation is wholly outside of them. (Eph 2:7–9) But because our hearts are naturally wicked and prone to wander, to stray from all that’s good and godly, many Christians fall into the trap that, while their entrance into the Kingdom was granted by God (justification), their perseverance in Kingdom is on them (sanctification). The conclusion many come to is that their works amount to something and that God must recognize them as part of his divine plan of redemption. But no assumption could be further from the truth of the gospel. Determining that earthly good works are significant enough to alter or enhance your heavenly state of justification before the Universal Judge is absurd.
Remember the apostle Paul’s words to the Galatians? They, too, were struggling with the conundrum of works and grace. They had been deceived by the Judaizers to believe that their adherence to the Mosaic Law played an integral part in their salvation. Listen to the apostle’s strong censure of this unfounded teaching: “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? . . . Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:1, 3) In other words, “Having been justified by grace, are you now being sanctified by effort? Having been saved by grace, are you now sustained by doing?” Paul calls this idea foolish, and, indeed, this notion is nothing short of preposterous!
I’m convinced that if we so desire to see another Reformation or another Great Awakening sweep across this nation and radically transform it, and the world even, this is the truth that we must return to: that we’re all desperate sinners in need of the same saving, sustaining, and securing grace that’s offered in the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you’ve been saved for 30 years or 30 minutes, your dire plea is for the same good news of great grace, the same merciful Savior. And he liberally showers us in this grace with an open hand. The ground at the foot of the cross is level. We’re all sinners and all “fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23) “None is righteous, no, not one.” (Rom 3:10) We’ve all “gone astray” and turned to our own way. (Is 53:6) There are no levels to sinning; every one of us is a bona fide lawbreaker (Jas 2:10), condemned to an eternity separated from the presence of God. We all have the same need. The world needs the same Savior, the same Deliverer, the same Rescuer, the same Pardoner.
What causes us to stumble, more often than not, isn’t all the bad stuff that we commit on a daily basis. More often than not, what causes us to stumble are those illusions and fantasies of piety and holiness that spring up when we’ve done something good. Our delusions of strength and righteousness are more of a hindrance to godliness than our sinning ever will be. You may think that statement brash and bold, but the truth of the gospel is that if you’re not readily and daily overwhelmed by your sin and, moreover, surprised by the subsequent grace that’s been given to you in Christ, you’re no better than those who Jesus himself calls “blind hypocrites” and “whitewashed tombs!” (Mt 23:1–36) The truth of this matter is eloquently summed up by Charles Spurgeon:
No man will ever think much of Christ till he thinks little of himself. The lower our own views of ourselves become, the higher will our thoughts of Jesus be raised; and only when self-annihilation is complete will the Son of God be our “all in all.”1
Our pride and sense of self-righteousness is the greatest barrier of us ever truly experiencing God and reveling in and rejoicing over the grace he’s so abundantly lavished upon us. The biggest threat, the biggest travesty among the redeemed is a lack of personal worship, personal awe, and utter bewilderment at the boundless love and unmerited favor of God. We must never lose our sense of desperation and dire need of grace. We mustn’t ever think more of ourselves than we truly are. We must never forget the darkness and death from which we’ve been redeemed.
The level to which we reduce how bad we are, we downgrade the glory of the gospel. The degree to which we lessen how racked with sin we are is the degree to which we’ll belittle how desperate we are for grace. As much as we don’t want it to be, truly, our only hope is personal hopelessness. Until we give up hope in our striving, in our doing, in our pompous religiosity and pious ceremony as the means of redemption and method of salvation, we’ll never glory in the gospel, celebrate the Savior, or find joy in having Christ alone as our all! “The ultimate measure of our spirituality,” says Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “is our amazement at the grace of God.”
Reader, never lose your excitement and enthusiasm for the saving grace of God! Never let the awe and perplexity of the gospel slip away. Throughout our lives, Jesus desires to surprise us by his grace and baffle us with his mercy. Never forget where you’ve come from — up from the grave, from death, you’ve been risen, by means of an otherworldly benefaction. Our remembrance of our sin will drive us to the cross, drive us to the Savior. When we know and are reminded of our true estate — that we’re nothing — we’ll be compelled to do nothing less — rather, nothing more — than wholly rest on the Rock of Ages. (2 Sam 22:2–3; Pss 18:1–2; 62:1–2, 5–8) Daily our cry must be, like that of Martin Luther’s, that our only hope is to hold fast to this Word of grace.
There shall be no rest to my bones or to thine, unless we hear the word of grace, and cleave unto it steadfastly and faithfully.2
Cling to this grace. Crave it. Thirst after it. Pursue it. Your whole life rests upon it. Your whole existence is covered and carried and conducted by it. Let us, then, be forever in awe of this good news, be continually surprised by this grace.
Charles Spurgeon, The Saint and His Saviour: The Progress of the Soul in the Knowledge of Jesus (Houston: Christian Focus, 1989), 20.
Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Philadelphia: Smith, English, & Co., 1860), 150.