"Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God's grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God's grace." ~~ Jerry Bridges
Friday, October 21, 2016
Disciplined by Grace
When I was a freshman in college, I signed up for an introductory course in philosophy. I'd read somewhere that a good liberal arts education is a good basis for proper interpretation of the Bible, especially an education rich in studies in literature, history, and philosophy. So, I took my first step toward that kind of education with philosophy 1101. But what made this philosophy course so interesting was not the subject matter, but the professor. Dr. Charles Lovett had an unusual philosophy of education. When he gave an exam, he believed his students should be exposed to more truth than error. Because of the size of the class, he mostly gave multiple choice exams. But, unlike the usual multiple choice exam where you identify the correct answer out of four or five possible answers, Dr. Lovett's exams offered three or four correct answers and one incorrect answer. The student had to spot the error, identify the incorrect answer.
How like the Spirit of God! He fills our hearts and minds and lives with truth, equipping us to identify and avoid error in the world around us. He even provides a teacher to guide us through this truth. He gives us Grace, who teaches us first to identify and to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions. But Grace also teaches us how to live --- "sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age." (Titus 2.12) In a nutshell, to live a life pleasing to God. And to please God, we need to do all three: think right, do right, live right.
First, Grace teaches us to think right, to live sensibly. The King James Bible translates this word as soberly. It comes from a Greek word that means with sound mind, sober-minded, self-controlled. According to W.E. Vine, the word suggests "the exercise of that self-restraint that governs all passions and desires, enabling the believer to be conformed to the mind of Christ." To live sensibly means we exercise our minds. We use our minds to make sound judgments concerning the situations of our lives. Sound judgments that enable us to distinguish between good and evil, even in the subtle situations or gray areas. Sound judgment that enables us to determine what we should do, how we should act, how we should respond to the influences and temptations we encounter every day of our lives. You see, the battle with worldly passions and ungodliness, even the battle with the devil himself, is lost or won in our minds. That's why, when Paul pleads with us to present ourselves, body and all, to God as a living, holy sacrifice, he adds the admonition "...do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is...." (Romans 12.2, italic mine)
When confronting ungodliness and worldly passions, we should exercise self-control over our body as well as our mind. Jerry Bridges says that self-control of our bodies "should be aimed primarily at three areas of physical temptation: gluttony (in both food and drink), laziness, and sexuality or impurity." The Apostle Paul offers sound advice on how to do this, sensibly. He says, "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things." (Philippians 4.8). Let your mind dwell on godly things, bring your body under the control of your mind, and live your life accordingly.
Next, Grace teaches us to do right, to live righteously. Righteous means to be just and upright, without prejudice or partiality, according to God's standard. It means to live so that the judgment of God approves the life we live. To do this, we need to be God-like in our character; and that means first to be righteous, to be holy, because God's standard says, "Be holy, because I am holy." (1 Peter 1.16) Let's look at an example. When Paul wrote to the Ephesians to stop living like the Gentiles and to start living a life of holiness, he addressed three general areas of morality: Honesty, peaceableness, and purity. He said, "...laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you.... Let him who steals steal no more [honesty].... Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice [peaceableness].... But do not let immorality or any impurity...even be named among you [purity]...." (Ephesians 4.25,28;5.3)
Finally, Grace teaches us to live right, live godly. In the Bible, godly means to exercise piety characterized by a Godward attitude, to be devout. A godly person lives a life characterized by devotion to God, a devotion so intense you can almost see it on their faces. Such devotion is found in the cry of David to God: "I shall seek Thee earnestly." (Psalm 63.1) The Lord Himself reminds us in Jeremiah (29.13), "And you will seek Me and find Me when you seek for Me with all your heart." If ungodly means to not regard God, godly means to have regard for Him, for His glory, for His will in every aspect of our lives, doing everything out of love and reverence for Him.
At the Alamo in San Antonio, on a wall near the main entrance is a portrait with the following inscription: "James Butler Bonham --- no picture of him exists. This portrait is of his nephew, Major James Bonham, deceased, who greatly resembled his uncle. It is placed here by the family that the people may know the appearance of the man who died for freedom." No literal portrait of Jesus exists either. But by His Holy Spirit, each of us should "greatly resemble" Him. The likeness of the One who makes us free should be seen clearly in the lives of everyone of His true followers. And, by the discipline of grace, it can be seen.