How free is Grace? (By John Piper)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4–6) 

The decisive act of God in conversion is that he “made us alive together with Christ” even when “we were dead in our trespasses.” In other words, we were dead to God. We were unresponsive; we had no true spiritual interest; we had no taste for the beauties of Christ; we were simply dead to all that mattered.

Then God acted — unconditionally — before we could do anything to be fit vessels of grace. He made us alive. He sovereignly awakened us to see the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4). The spiritual senses that were dead miraculously came to life.

Verse 4 says that this was an act of “mercy.” That is, God saw us in our deadness and pitied us. God saw the terrible wages of sin leading to eternal death and misery. And the riches of his mercy overflowed to us in our need. But what is so remarkable about this text is that Paul breaks the flow of his own sentence in order to insert, “by grace you have been saved.” “God . . . made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him.”

Paul is going to say this again in verse 8. So why does he break the flow in order to add it here? What’s more, the focus is on God’s mercy responding to our miserable plight of deadness; so why does Paul go out of his way to say that it is also by grace that we are saved?

I think the answer is that Paul recognizes here a perfect opportunity to emphasize the freeness of grace. As he describes our dead condition before conversion, he realizes that dead people can’t meet conditions. If they are to live, there must be a totally unconditional and utterly free act of God to save them. This freedom is the very heart of grace.

What act could be more one-sidedly free and non-negotiated than one person raising another from the dead! This is the meaning of grace.

The Freeness of Grace #SolidJoys http://solidjoys.desiringgod.org/en/devotionals/the-freeness-of-grace

Count it all Joy that God is in control

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

The call to ‘consider it pure joy’ when we face trials and sufferings is quite the challenge. Should we actually be happy that we have lost something or someone, or that we are rebuked and persecuted? Can we really find pure joy in such a situation? Or are we called simply to put on a brave face, or fake smile?

While trials may not bring us direct or obvious ‘happiness’ they can bring us lasting joy – when they push us to rely on God, rather than ourselves. They shout a loud reminder through our shattered shell of comfort that He alone is in control. God is God, and I am not.

These lyrics come from an older song by Sovereign Grace Music, which works quite well as a congregational song. I hope you find it encouraging.

(Here is the link to get the sheet music)

Count it all Joy
VERSE 1
Lord I’ll count it all joy
When my troubles
Close me in on every side
Lord, I’ll count it all joy
When this road of faith
Runs through the darkest night
For I know You’re at work in me
Yes I know You’ll provide
All the grace I need 

CHORUS
You have always been my Rock 
I will trust You forever, forever 
You have never failed me God 
I will trust You forever, forever 

VERSE 2
Lord I’ll count it all joy
When the weight of sorrow
Drives me to my knees
Every heartache and pain
In Your mighty hands
Is forming Christ in me
And I know that Your Word is true
Yes, I know every trial
Will only prove 

BRIDGE
Who can separate us
From You and Your great love 

Words and music by Steve & Vikki Cook © 2004 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music/Sovereign Grace Worship

Assurance for the flawed and incomplete

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One of my most popular and most discussed posts concerns the Mercy Me song ‘Flawless’ – with the statement ‘the Cross has made you flawless’. You can remind yourself of the song here.
Today I’m sharing a post from John Piper which explains the certainty of our salvation in Christ. This salvation is not flawed – though we most certainly are. But the question remains: Has Christ truly perfected us for all time? Now?

Assurance for Incomplete People

Article by John Piper Scripture: Hebrews 10:14 

By one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14)

Two things here are mightily encouraging for us in our imperfect condition as saved sinners. First, notice that Christ has perfected his people, and it is already complete. “For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” He has done it. And he has done it for all time. The perfecting of his people is complete and it is complete forever.

Does this mean that Christians don’t sin? Don’t get sick? Don’t make mathematical errors in school? That we are already perfect in our behavior and attitudes?

There is one clear reason in this very verse for knowing that is not the case. What is it? It’s the last phrase. Who are the people that have been perfected for all time? It is those who “are being sanctified.” The ongoing continuous action of the Greek present tense is important. “Those who are beingsanctified” are not yet fully sanctified in the sense of committing no more sin. Otherwise, they would not need to go on being sanctified.

In What Way Are We Perfect?

So here we have the shocking combination: The very people who “have been perfected” are the ones who “are being sanctified.” We can also think back to chapters 5 and 6 to recall that these Christians are anything but perfect. For example, in Hebrews 5:11 he says, “You have become dull of hearing.” So we may safely say that “perfected” inHebrews 10:14 does not mean that we are sinlessly perfect in this life.

Well, what does it mean? The answer is given in the next verses (Hebrews 10:15–18). The writer explains what he means by quoting Jeremiah on the new covenant, namely, that in the new covenant which Christ has sealed by his blood, there is total forgiveness for all our sins. Verses 17–18: “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more. Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.” So he explains the present perfection in terms (at least) of forgiveness.

Christ’s people are perfected now in the sense that God puts away all our sins (Hebrews 9:26), forgives them, and never brings them to mind again as a ground of condemnation. In this sense, we stand before him perfected. When he looks on us, he does not impute any of our sins to us — past, present, or future. He does not count our sins against us.

Finding Assurance in Perfection

Now notice, second, for whom Christ has done this perfecting work on the cross.Hebrews 10:14 tells us plainly: “By one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” You can put it provocatively like this: Christ has perfected once and for all those who are beingperfected. Or you could say, Christ has fullysanctified those who are now beingsanctified — which the writer does, in fact, say in verse 10, “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Thus verse 10 says, we “have been sanctified.” Verse 14 says, we “are being sanctified.”

What this means is that you can know that you stand perfect in the eyes of your heavenly Father, if you are moving away from your present imperfection toward more and more holiness by faith in his future grace. Let me say that again, because it is full of encouragement for imperfect sinners like us, and full of motivation for holiness. Hebrews 10:14 means that you can have assurance that you stand perfected and completed in the eyes of your heavenly Father, not because you are perfect now, but precisely because you are not perfect now but are “being sanctified” — “being made holy.”

You may have assurance of your perfect standing with God because by faith in God’s promises, you are moving away from your lingering imperfections toward more and more holiness. Our remaining imperfection is not a sign of our disqualification, but a mark of all whom God “has perfected for all time” — if we are in the process of “being changed” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

So take heart. Fix your eyes on the once-for-all, perfecting work of Christ. And set your face against all known sin.
http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/complete-assurance-for-incomplete-people

In all honesty: Tim Keller Praying your tears

Tim Keller Praying your tears
This is a great encouragement.
(Link reference at the end)

I’d like to tell you about two great talks I listened to recently: Praying our Tears and Praying our Fears by Tim Keller. They’re both free online, and are part of a series on the Psalms about responding to our feelings. Today I’ll tell you about the one on tears; next time, the one on fears.

I love the Psalms! It seems that every emotion I’ve ever felt is expressed there, ready to be prayed to God. Sometimes I feel like getting older is just working through the Psalms, one emotion at a time!

There’s no better guide to what to do with our feelings before God than the Psalms. I like Tim Keller’s way of putting it: that the Psalms teach us a gospel third way of responding to our emotions.

1. Many Christians are uncomfortable with feelings, so we deny and suppress them.
2. The world tells us that we need toacknowledge, express and follow our feelings, so we vent and dump them.
3. The Psalms give us a gospel third way of responding to our emotions: to pray our feelings.

But what about suffering? How do we pray our tears? How do we use them to soften, rather than harden our hearts? Here’s what Keller says. I’ve included a few quotes: they’re wonderful, so take the time to read them. I know they’ll live on in my heart and mind for a long time.

1. Expect tears
I’m often surprised when I suffer. Isn’t God good? Isn’t he supposed to protect me? What have I done to deserve this?! But I should expect to suffer more as I become more like Jesus. If I don’t expect tears, I’ll always be crying about two things instead of one. “You’re weeping about the thing that made you weep, and you’re weeping about the weeping …. You’re going to sink under that. Once thing at a time is all we can take.”

2. Invest your tears
“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy” (Ps 126:5-6). If a farmer leaves his seed in the shed, or dumps it all in one spot, there will be no harvest: he must sow his seed. We shouldn’t deny or dump our tears, but see them as an opportunity for growth. Tears give way to joy (Ps 30:5) but they also produce joy (2 Cor 4:17). So how do we plant our tears?

3. Pray your tears
When we pour our tears into prayer, it transforms both the tears and the weeper. We should plant our tears in three things.

a. A realisation of God’s grace.
We need to know before we start crying that it’s safe to pour out our hearts to God. That’s why the Bible includes disturbing psalms like Psalm 39, which ends “get away from me, God!” Derek Kidner says,

The very presence of such prayers in the Scripture is a witness to God’s understanding. He knows how we speak when we are desperate. … Psalm 39 shows where your deepest feelings – your anger, your tears – belong. … Ultimately where your tears belong is not managed or packaged or manicured in some little confessional prayerThey belong in pre-reflective outbursts from the depths of your being in the very presence of God. … “I want you to speak and feel in my presence. It’s safe. I understand what it’s like to be desperate. … I’m a God of grace. I understand.”

b. A vision of the cross.
God understands our desperation because Jesus experienced desolation. Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and found heaven empty, so that when we cry “Turn your face away!” God won’t abandon us (Ps 39:13,Matt 27:46).

When I look to the cross, I can suffer withoutguilt, for I know God isn’t punishing me because Jesus was punished instead of me. I can suffer without impatience, for I can trust that God’s purposes are good even when I don’t understand, just like people didn’t understand the cross. I can suffer without self-pity:

Weeping is fine. Weeping and grief is fine. Weeping and disappointment is fine … but weeping in self-pity will make you a small little person, someone who can’t forgive, someone who is always feeling ill-used, someone who gets incredibly touchy and incredibly over-sensitive. … Look at the cross and say, “… My sufferings are nothing compared to yours. If you suffered for me I can be patient with this suffering for you.”

c. An assurance of his glory.
All sorrow ends in joy (Ps 126:6). The final psalms are all psalms of joy. But how does a prayer of tears become a prayer of joy? Eugene Peterson says,

What the psalms are teaching us is that all true prayer pursued far enough will become praise. Any prayer, no matter how desperate its origin, no matter how angry and fearful the experience it traverses, will become praise. It does not always get there quickly. It does not always get there easily. In fact, the trip can take a lifetime! But the end is always praise. This is not to say that other kinds of prayer are inferior to praise, but that all prayer pursued far enough becomes praise. Don’t rush it. Don’t try to push it. It may take years, it may take decades before certain prayers arrive at the hallelujahs of Psalm 150Not every prayer is capped off with praise. In fact most prayers, if the psalms are a true guide, are not. But prayer is always reaching toward praise, and if pursued far enough, will arrive there.

Sometimes we’re afraid to weep because we think we’ll never stop weeping. But if we know that sorrow ends in joy – that sorrow producesjoy – we can dare to weep. Tim Keller asks, are you happy enough to be a weeper? – to get involved in the lives of others even when it’s painful? If so, there will be a harvest of joy for them and you.

He prays, “Father, make us happy enough to weep.” Amen.

images are from Chapendra, IRRI Images and Jacopo Cossater from flickr

http://jeaninallhonesty.blogspot.com.au/2010/05/tim-keller-praying-your-tears.html?m=1

Grace can redeem our broken relationships

Grace shows up in unlikely places if we keep our hearts and minds open. What fear buries, grace resurrects. Fear pushed me to withdraw from precious friends for years, but grace promises to redeem lost time. Fear convinced me to lump these friends with everyone else who had hurt me, but grace is a reconciler.

From: http://iamsteveaustin.com/2015/12/07/the-deaf-man-who-spoke-grace-to-my-heart/

One thing 2016 will certainly bring us

Let us make crystal clear at the beginning of the year that all we will get from God this year as believers in Jesus is mercy. Whatever pleasures or pains come our way will all be mercy. . .
The fullest obedience and the smallest faith obtain the same thing from God: mercy. A mere mustard seed of faith taps into the mercy of tree-moving power. And flawless obedience leaves us utterly dependent on mercy.

John Piper

Bottles of Grace

Just a quick quote which reminded me of God’s great grace!

“The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace–bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture…”

Robert Farrar Capon

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1 Corinthinans 13…Remixed For Today

Thanks go to the folks at Blazing Center for this insightful application of 1 Corinthians 13:

If I status update with such insight, hilarity, godliness, or profundity, that I get a thousand retweets and likes, yet have not love, I’m a cellphone that won’t stop ringing, or a car alarm at 2 AM.

If I understand every nuance of every complicated doctrine, including eschatology and predestination, and am a constant defender of orthodoxy, and if I am renowned for my ability to communicate truth with passion, but have not love, I’m nothing more than a first grader in the kingdom of God.

If I am a fantastic worship leader, able to lead hundreds of people in passionate worship of God, yet have not love, my skills are worth jack.

If I am a blog warrior, constantly on the attack against those who would distort the faith, yet have not love, I’m that yippy dog next door who won’t stop barking…even at 3 AM.

If I live a life of radical sacrifice, crazy love, and wartime mentality, and sponsor lots of kids through Compassion International, and go on mission trips in “closed countries”, but have not love, I gain nothing.

If I am a great artist, able to capture a snapshot of the glory of God on canvas, or in song, or in prose, or on film, and yet have not love, my creative “genius” is utterly useless to God.

If I preach like Piper or Chandler or Chan or Platt, and yet have not love, I’m nothing more than a squawking parrot who likes to imitate others.

If I read all the books by all the smart theologians, and can quote them off the top of my head, yet have not love, WHO REALLY CARES!!!!

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

http://www.theblazingcenter.com/2014/09/1-corinthinans-13-remixed-for-today.html?

The Gospel changes everything, it’s changing me!

gospel changes everythingSharing today two simply beautiful songs which seek to share the message and the hope of the gospel of grace. They are from two different writers and bring two different perspectives. The first is about the changes Jesus has made both to history and the heart of the person he rescued. The second song focuses on the manner by which Jesus went to the Cross and took our shame, the perfect man showing perfect love to the unworthy (in just 4 lines).

The Gospel Changes Everything
(Meredith Andrews – from Worth it All)

Verse 1

The gospel changes ev’rything
The turning point in history
Even now it’s changing me from who I was
The story of my Savior calls
Me to the wonder of the cross
The gospel changes ev’rything
And it is changing me
(REPEAT)

Chorus 1

You saved my soul by Your blood
And I’m undone by Your great love
You made a way so I could come
Just as I am to You my God

Verse 2

Jesus changes ev’rything
There is no greater mystery
That God would come to rescue me
From who I was
The kindness of my Savior calls
Me to the wonder of His love
Jesus changes ev’rything
And He is changing me

You made a way so I could come
Just as I am to You my God
To You my God
Just as I am to You my God

The Gospel Song
(Sovereign Grace Music Bob Kauflin and Drew Jones – from Songs for the Cross-Centered Life)

Holy God in love became
Perfect man to bear my blame
On the cross He took my sin
By his death I live again
© 2002 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)/Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP).