. . . trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:10)
Every Christian is called to heed and obey the myriad of commands for holiness, for keeping God’s law.2 And we all acknowledge that we fall short of that standard. In a desire to address legalism in the evangelical church the contemporary grace movement has reminded us that our salvation, from beginning to end, is all by God’s grace. This is certainly most true, and one of the more thoughtful and eloquent communicators of grace-based sanctification is Bryan Chapell. I have heard some proponents of this movement say, ‘It really does not matter whether we go to church regularly, whether or not we tithe, or whether or not we read our Bibles. After all, God loves us anyway.’ Others have said, ‘You will never hear me say, “You must be dedicated to Christ,” because none of us can ever be dedicated to him.’ I recently read Bryan Chapell’s book3 and I saw none of that in it. I saw nothing with which I significantly disagree. If I may assume, for a moment, that those who espouse this contemporary grace movement ‘buy in’ to Chapell’s teaching, where then has it gone askew? Why have some lost the biblical balance?
May I venture a hypothesis as to where some in the movement have gone awry? They embrace the glorious truth of God’s eternal justifying and sanctifying love while at the same time seemingly ignoring the necessity of pleasing him. Paul tells the Ephesians, in the context of a series of admonitions (‘be imitators of God . . . walk in love . . . immorality must not be named among you . . . there must be no filthiness or coarse jesting . . . do not be partakers with the sons of disobedience . . . do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness’ – Eph. 5:1-11) that they are to try to be pleasing to the Lord (NASB). He tells the Corinthians something similar, that his ambition, whether at home in the body or absent from the body and present with the Lord is to be pleasing to him (2 Cor. 5:9). In acknowledging the glorious truth that nothing we do in our human efforts can gain or maintain God’s love for us in Christ, that it in fact is an eternal, unchangeable love, I wonder if they are missing the necessity of pleasing God in all our actions. After all, Paul, who has laid out the glorious indicatives of Ephesians 1-3 tells those slaves at Ephesus, who are now in Christ Jesus, that they are to, ‘be obedient to their masters . . . with fear and trembling . . . not by way of eye service . . . doing the will of God from the heart . . . knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord’ (Eph. 6:5-8). He tells the Colossians that whatever they do, they are to do it heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men (Col. 3:23). I wonder if by focusing on the grace of God in justification and sanctification they are neglecting the need to please God precisely because he has been so gracious to us.
Perhaps this analogy will help. I heard recently of an African child who fell into a latrine pit in his village. He was drowning in the disease-filled pit of excrement and urine. People by the pit threw the boy a rope and tried to pull him out, but the filth made his hands slippery, and besides he was too weak to pull himself from the pit. When it appeared all was lost a man jumped into the pit with the boy and pulled him out alive. The man showed the boy mercy and grace, and is this not a wonderful picture of the Lord Jesus, finding us in the miry latrine pit of our own guilt and shame, jumping into the latrine pit of our world, taking our filth upon himself, and washing us clean of our filth by his precious blood. So far so good, but it seems to me that some in the contemporary grace movement may be careless with God’s grace. I have heard some say, ‘You don’t really need to worry about your job performance at work. Even if you fail, even if you go bankrupt and lose everything, God still loves you.’ Yes, that is true, but what if, in our own fleshly, sinful propensities, we surmise, ‘Putting forth the maximum effort here at work, coming in on time, giving my employer my best, cutting corners in my quality of work, is really not important. I mean, even if I lose my job God still loves me.’ Can you imagine the boy, after being saved from the filth and potential death of the latrine pit, then carelessly playing around the latrine pit, knowing that even if he falls in it again, that loving man who saved him the first time will surely be there to do it again? Perhaps he would be there again, but now the boy risks, not only death, but also the consequences of his carelessness, namely all manner of disease like typhus, HIV, and tetanus. While the young boy would be grateful to the man who saved him, he would also not presume upon his grace in the future. He also would do all he could to please the man, not because he was gaining or maintaining his favour, but because he genuinely delights in pleasing the man who had shown such sacrificial love.
Should we not, therefore, as the blood-bought people of our great King – the One who loves us eternally, the One who shed his precious blood for us, the One who always lives to make intercession for us – do all we can to please him? Should we not fear and tremble at violating his commands? Should we not discipline ourselves – in food, drink, physical exercise, and thoroughness and diligence in our employment – for the purpose of godliness? Should we not daily seek him and his strength? Should we not do everything for his glory? And when we fail, and we surely will fail, we ought not to view our sin in a frivolous or cavalier manner. Instead it ought to grieve us, showing us afresh and anew that the latrine pit of our present sin can only be cleansed by the Lord Jesus, our elder brother, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2).
- The fifth of eight core values for life and ministry. The first four are Scripture saturation and meditation, adoration, and supplication.
- See Leviticus 11:44-45, 19:2, 20:26, 1 Peter 1:16, 2 Corinthians 7:1, Romans 12-13, Ephesians 3-6 as only a few examples.
- Holiness by Grace: Delighting in the Joy that Is Our Strength, published by Crossway Books.
. Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. He planted (2003) and served as Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Connecticut, until December 2011. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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