Saturday, January 28, 2006

Under Grace

I've been thinking about grace a lot in the past few weeks. My mom and I are in a women's Bible study at our church this spring, and we are going through Grace to Stand Firm, Grace to Grow, by Carol J. Ruvolo. As evidenced by the title, the study is on grace, more specifically Peter's perspective on grace in I Peter.

I realized that I've been confusing grace and mercy and sort of lumping them together even though they are different. One lady at the study on Tuesday described grace and mercy this way: Grace is giving to someone what he doesn't deserve, while mercy is not dealing to someone what he justly deserves.

I like D. James Kennedy's simple yet profound definition of grace: God's riches at Christ's expense. Jerry Bridges described grace as God's free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment. To put it personally, I, who was once poor in my filthy rags of sin, have been clothed with the righteousness of Christ.

I think it is easy to see grace as a one-time deal; we "make a decision", Jesus comes into our heart, and extends grace to forgive our sins. What we tend to miss is that grace is also a continual process, a renewal and a sanctification. Jerry Bridges recognized two dimensions of grace: God's free and unmerited favor that is granted to us by salvation, and a continual sanctification by the Holy Spirit, as an ongoing release from the bonds of sin.

When we are saved by God's mercy and favor, the journey has only just begun! God is not finished with us, and he will continue to remold and refine us to become more and more like Him. Romans 6 is an excellent passage on righteousness and sin. I memorized Romans 6 a few years ago, but unfortunately it has mostly flown the coop, so I was reviewing it and recommitting it to memory today.

(As a side note, does anyone have advice on memorizing scripture and having it "stick"? I can memorize a whole chapter of scripture in a day or two if I press myself, but it doesn't last, even with continual rehearsing for several days or weeks. A few weeks of no exposure to the passage, and it's mostly gone. When I was younger, scripture - and the catechism - just stuck in my brain with very little effort. I still remember scores of verses and catechism questions that I memorized in elementary school but haven't rehearsed in years. I think my myelin sheaths are wearing down. . . )

The aforementioned passage is an entreaty to continually die to sin and walk in newness of life (v. 4). We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin (v. 6). The first 13 verses of the passage continually expound on the truth of our death with Christ and our resurrection with Him. Verses 15-23 carry the same message as the earlier ones.

Stuck right in the middle is v. 14:
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Verse 14 is one of the most oft' mis-quoted portions of scripture. Reading it in context today, I was especially struck by the irony of its use as a proof text for antinomianism. The verse is surrounded by a treatise to righteousness, to continued sanctification. We are not under the weight and the guilt of the law, but we are slaves to righteousness (vv. 16, 18, 19, 22)!

Paul even answers the antinomians of his day, first at the beginning of the chapter, then immediately after v. 14:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (vv. 1,2 )

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (vv. 15, 16)

We are slaves of righteousness! Our guilt is gone and we are free from sin in Christ, even as we are slaves of righteousness. We are no longer under the weight of the law (v. 14) but that does not mean we can do "whatever we want" just because our eternity is secure. I was saved (justification), I am being saved (sanctification), and I will be saved (glorification). Thanks be to God!

6 comments:

Adrian C. Keister said...

Hey, if you were a man, you could be a pastor! ;-)

All great stuff. I applaud that you do not seem scared of "big fat theological books." Speaking as one saved sinner to another, may God's grace abound in your life.

Also don't forget: the greatest benefit of salvation is union with Christ. All the others are like spokes of a wheel coming out of union with Christ.

In Christ.

Susan said...

Hey, if you were a man, you could be a pastor! ;-)

Yes, I have thought of that :). As it is, though, I am quite content in my role as a woman, and recognize that my calling is elsewhere, as I'm sure you have inferred. I would dearly love to someday teach women's Bible studies.

Also don't forget: the greatest benefit of salvation is union with Christ.

Indeed, something I missed for years, and am really only beginning to grasp. Thank you for the reminder :).

David said...

On the topic of memorizing Scripture, I did my best to answer that question on HSA (don't know if you already saw that). I think it also has a great deal to do with the theme I was hitting on when I remembered Sherlock Holmes: What we put before us each day (or try to remember each day) is where our focus will remain, even after we've set the book down, or turned off the television, or turned off the stereo. I don't think we'll ever be able to get around that =) When we reenforce things daily (through context), we continue to build on what we learned before, and it makes it that much easier to remember what it was that we learned before, too.

-David

*Girls should know theology, too :D

Susan said...

David,

Thank you for the link to your HSA post. I hadn't seen it before, as I haven't spent much time on the site in the last few months. I realized it was becoming too consuming, so backed down from participation. I am an occasional lurker now, but hadn't seen your post, so thanks for linking it.

You had many good points in your post. I think your point (I think it was yours, I read a few articles on memorizing today) about determining the purpose of memorization is really key.

I've been recently realizing how many things I have been doing for the wrong reason. Doing something noble for wrong motives isn't noble. I typed up my two blog posts on grace because I'm realizing how much I have been living under the law, rather than grace. I wasn't trying to earn my salvation, but I was trying to earn favor with God and man. The sermon this Sunday (referenced in post two) was exactly what I needed to follow up the Bible study on Tuesday. I pray for God's continual revelation to me in this area.

Memorizing just to memorize is pointless; that may be one reason I haven't been able to get my memorization to stick of late. I've been memorizing because I feel like I should, not for a specific purpose. Yes, it was also to recall scripture to mind, but that was a minor reason, sad to say. Thanks for reminding me of purpose.

David said...

I applaud your recently gained wisdom, Susan :)

To do good things because they are "good" is pointless (ref. my long-ish HSA blog entry on Chivalry). Bible reading can be just as much a bad thing as anything else, in this regard. I have mentioned on HSA before that what passes for "Bible Study" in Christendom today is not even close. And if we want to pursue the "good thing" of Bible Study....we often neglect what actually makes it a good thing to begin with. It is not good, in and of itself. As a consequence, we abuse the term "Bible study" and it loses its meaning (or "distinction" to tie this into the context of my recent blog entries). Further, when we oblige ourselves to do "good things" we leave occasion for guilt and spiritual oppression when we do not do them. We are not under guilt, but under grace. My philosophy on such things is quite different than most other people (notice I didn't say 'better'). I should surely like to devote greater study to Biblical Exegesis. But, as "I must currently study war and politics"...I realize up-front that "I can put that off 'til the day after tomorrow". Accordingly, it waits until I will have the time to pursue it with the time and passion it deserves. At present I have neither guilt, nor self-deception; merely desire.

BTW, Josh Harris just added hs support to studying context and memorizing larger (rather than shorter) passages of Scripture. Check out his latest blog entry.

Susan said...

Thanks for the link to Josh Harris' blog entry. I stumbled across it a few days ago, when searching for scripture memory sites. He had some good things to say, and I hope to more fully read his entry in the near future.