Friday, September 19, 2014

Meriting Unmerited Grace

“For the grace of God has APPEARED, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12 NASB).

The unmerited favor which defines the biblical word “grace” is often misunderstood, and perhaps more so now than ever before in history.  The Western culture—and the  context in which the American church exists—is so promiscuous and morally anarchical, that it has overflowed its banks and flooded us with its language and behavior to such a degree as to pervert the very foundation of godliness: GRACE.  That’s right!  Unmerited favor is the floor of the house of godly living.  Our righteousness is not our own; it is imputed as a gift.  And only after it is received, do our lives begin.

The grace of God HAS appeared; all men are without excuse.  The first graces of life are already given; what we do with it—or if we receive it at all—is now obligatory upon us.  Just as the unconditional love of the mother (who embraced us in her womb and nourished us at her bosom), is the foundation of our well-being, and must grow into the conditional love of the father (who instructs, disciplines, and hardens us for service and viability in a harsh world environment), so the initial graces of life (the unmerited favor of life) must grow into the merited glory of a life fully matured in Christ.  God rewards us disproportionally to utter merit always, but He does require that we DO something with the unmerited grace He gives us. 

Indeed, “The grace of God (His unmerited favor and blessing) has come forward (appeared) for the deliverance from sin and the eternal salvation for all mankind.  It has trained us to reject and renounce all ungodliness (irreligion) and worldly (passionate) desires, to live discreet (temperate, self-controlled), upright, devout (spiritually whole) lives in this present world, awaiting and looking for the [fulfillment, the realization of our] blessed hope, even the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus (the Messiah, the Anointed One), who gave Himself on our behalf that He might redeem us (purchase our freedom) from all iniquity and purify for Himself a people [to be peculiarly His own, people who are] eager and enthusiastic about [living a life that is good and filled with] beneficial deeds” (Titus 2:11-15 Amp.).
 
Matthew Henry, concerning these verses of Scripture, said: “See our duty in a very few words; denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, living soberly, righteously, and godly, notwithstanding all snares, temptations, corrupt examples, ill usage, and what remains of sin in the believer's heart, with all their hindrances.”  In other words, there is no longer a cloak for sin, no acceptable excuse for living in base drunkenness and debauchery; fleshly desires and dissipations (squandering money, time and energies on worthless pursuits), excesses, misspending, overconsumption and self-indulgence must give way to sobriety of mind and heart, imputed righteousness, and living after the image of God in Christ that has been placed inside us in Seed form.

Yes, in Seed form!  That is the key to meriting unmerited grace.  Christ is in our hearts by faith (a faith God graced us with); what will we now do with Christ?  Will He form in us to the full stature?  Will the Seed become the Son?  This great unmerited salvation merits our attention and the full powers of our effort to realize its potential.  Mom loved us, dad disciplined us, and we—incorporating all that they taught us (from that premise)—we build the superstructure of our lives.  Likewise, the master-builder apostle (representing the Apostle of our faith), after birthing and establishing us (by his New Testament writings), insists that we work out what is worked in.  Indeed, Paul said, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).  Spurgeon, remarking on these verses, said, “Now, the matter to be worked out is a something which the text tells us is at the same time worked in. We may safely defy anybody to work a thing out which is not first in. God, we are told in the second verse of our text, works in us, therefore it is that we are to work the inward towards the outward.  We work out, bring out, educe from within ourselves to our exterior life that which God constantly works in us in the interior secret recesses of our spiritual being.”

Though unmerited favor is always unmerited, there are those who propagate a grace so disconnected to consequential behavior as to warrant the moniker characterization “hyper-grace.”  So misunderstood is grace that I wrote a short article titled “The Misnomer of Hyper-Grace” on 3/29/2014; it is worth repeating here in support of this article:

“I guess I have been in my own world for so long that I hardly knew there were those who labeled certain ministers as hyper-grace propagators.  And as I discovered this idea, and the misconceptions surrounding it, I realized it is like so many things I encounter: it is misunderstood.

“Grace, like love and mercy (and God Himself for that matter) is inherently superfluous, super-abundant, without end, based on an I AM the Alpha-and-Omega everlasting God who INHABITS eternity (BEING at all times at all places all at once, outside of time and in it too).  It is IMPOSSIBLE to hyper-exaggerate God and His goodness, and consequently, His grace.  It is, however, possible to be hyper-ignorant.  I am not trying to be cruel, but many don’t understand things deep enough to see the logical addendum to their arrived at dogmas and the truncated view of things their dogmas are based on.  Yes, we all know in part, but how small does that part need to be?  Someday we will be like Him, we are told, and every intervening day between now and then ought to see our part growing bigger and therefore closer to the whole truth.  If we get honest, I imagine, most of us would have to admit that we have not studied to SHOW OURSELVES APPROVED UNTO GOD, and that we are more like a Sadducee than a disciple (one that God had to soundly rebuke) when He said to them: “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God (Matthew 22:29 NASB).

“We cannot afford to let experience be our only teacher.  Just because our experience with sin has not been victorious does not mean that Christ did not overcome sin and transmit that victory to His children.  If grace is not afforded us (or so we think), and sin dominates our lives, it does not negate the power of God to do all things in us, for us, and through us.  It only means we are deficient in FAITH, in appropriating the grace He abundantly lavishes on His children ALWAYS.  It can only mean we have an evil and unbelieving heart, no matter how benignly we try to tell ourselves otherwise.  I’m inclined to think that most of those who accuse others of hyper-grace teaching are more like the ten spies who could not overcome giants, rather than the two spies who did overcome giants. 

“Nonetheless, I am sympathetic to those who do not seem to experience the full measure of grace.  I am a prophet by office, and therefore, I TEND towards 'doom and gloom' and 'law'; perhaps that is why it took me many years to reconcile the idea of grace with the righteous requirements of holiness.  Nonetheless, grace cannot be exaggerated, only a perverted view of it.  Grace is not license of flesh, but law of spirit.  It is encouragement of spirit and rebuke of flesh always.  It comes tied together in one love package from God.  Grace gives us the ability to obey the gospel from the heart, and inclusive with that enabling of heart (or spirit) to obey, is a correcting of soul (to agree with spirit) and a destruction of the energy of flesh (to remove its base poison from our ascended spirit’s expression).  For many years I could not overcome the giants, and therefore I died a thousand deaths in a barren wilderness.  'Only the rebellious dwell in a dry land' say the Scriptures, and all that I can say is that—looking back and being completely honest—I was practicing witchcraft and wondering why God was so spartan with His grace toward me.  Through the dirty lens of my own viewpoint, I thought all people were like me, and those who walked in 'hyper' grace were delusional (and somehow even scripturally wrong).  But I finally came to accept that it was this simple: BE IT UNTO YOU ACCORDING TO YOUR FAITH.  And IF we accept that IT IS FINISHED, striving ends and grace begins; more grace is given IMMEDIATELY when we BELIEVE (faster than even the hyper speed of a twinkling eye).”

In the end, it would be wise of us to consider ourselves merely unworthy servants (having only done our duty), and as those—however much our stature grows to personify eldership (or even kingship/sonship for that matter)—that rejoice to throw their crowns at His feet.  It is sufficient that we hear “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23), however much of an elder, king, or son we become.  The Lord Himself showed us the way.  Indeed, “Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [Let Him be your example in humility:] who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained, but stripped Himself [of all privileges and rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being.  And after He had appeared in human form, He abased and humbled Himself [still further] and carried His obedience to the extreme of death, even the death of the cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8 Amp.).