I love how the gospel creates a holy people—I wish more pastors understood this. People don’t stumble into godliness; they don’t wake up one day knowing Jesus deeply and pursuing the conformity that Jesus commands and the Spirit empowers. However, I am weary of giving people checklists and refuse to lay a weight on people that Jesus didn’t. I think that’s why I have been encouraged by the idea of “Grace Driven Effort” since I first read where Don Carson said it. Paul uses great phrases to describe our growth into holiness and reflecting the Glory of God and His reign and rule over our lives. Paul talks about “training ourselves in righteousness” (1 Tim. 4:7), “laboring in prayer,” “running to win,” “counting it all a loss” (Philippians 3), and “beating his body” (1 Corinthian 9:26-27). This language doesn’t paint the picture of sitting on the couch and “falling” into godliness.
“…heaven isn’t a place for those who fear hell — it’s a place for those who love God.”
The problem as I perceive it as a Pastor is that most of those who claim to know and love God want to see sin lose its power in their lives and walk in greater intimacy with Christ; most are exhausted and have been trying to mortify sin by promises and threats rather than through the weapons grace provides. By “promises” I mean they believe that they will have life to the “full” and get a great house in heaven if they behave in this manner or that manner. In Dallas this plays itself out with church attendance and comparing ourselves to others. If I go to church frequently and am better than I was a couple years ago or if I’m better than other people who attend my church then I must be good. We love to compare our strengths to others’ weaknesses and grow confident in our goodness. By “threats” I mean that many try to behave and modify their behavior because they fear hell and God’s wrath. They try to modify their behavior so they can earn their way out of hell. The problem with this is that heaven isn’t a place for those who fear hell—it’s a place for those who love God.
Another very popular sport in the Bible belt is fighting residual sin with our own vows and resolution—these become our defense. In the end, you are simply pitting sin against sin and in that scenario you lose. We fight sin and grow in godliness by using the weapons grace provides. There are at least three:
Weapons of Grace
1. The Word of God:
2 Timothy 3:16-17—All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
The Holy Spirit illumines the Scriptures as the storehouse of weaponry in the battle against sin and for godliness; all that we need to stand and fight are found with in its pages. The reason I think so many people stumble about when it comes to residual sin and maturing in Christ is they have no idea what the Scriptures say when it comes to those subjects. The Scriptures are where we find and are trained to do battle in such a way that victory is found.
2. The Blood of Christ:
Ephesians 2:13—But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
One of the reasons Paul constantly preaches the gospel to people who already know and believe it is the human tendency to run back to the law instead of trusting in the blood of Christ to cleanse them from all unrighteousness. You see this especially in Galatians 2:20-3:5. When we stumble and fall we run to God not from Him. This is made possible by have God’s wrath removed from us and absorbed by Christ and Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. A mark of Christian maturity and genuine gospel understanding is not running away from God to clean yourself up and then come back but a broken and contrite spirit that runs to Him asking Him for forgiveness and strength.
3. The Promises of the Covenant:
Hebrews 9:15—Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
I remember singing a song in VBS as a kid about God hating liars. I knew I was in trouble. If the 10 Commandments were a quiz or test I would have easily failed. I’ve been guilty of every one of them. The law was given to show me I can’t be perfect, that I’m going to fall short, and that I am in desperate need of a Savior (Romans 1-7). When we stumble and fall the Spirit reminds us of the Scriptures that promise that there has been a death for those failures and that there is a new covenant resting on Christ now and not on my ability to obey the law. This allows me to pursue Christ without fear and by “beholding the glory of the Lord [I am] transformed” (2 Corinthians 3:18).