Monday, July 20, 2015

To Know You Are Loved By God Is Essential for Performance

The "performance trap" I described last time is what happens when we go off the road halfway through the Gospel and start thinking that Christ saved us from our sins (and thus punishment), but now we need to achieve the kind of personal holiness that will give us confidence to stand before God. We can easily develop a perception that our prayers to God must be made when we are flourishing in holy living and excelling in sanctified behavior if we want to be heard. In other words, our faulty idea of progression of faith looks like this:

     faith >> salvation >> obedience and sanctification >> increasing acceptance by God (justification)

What I want to emphasize here is that it is essential to our productivity and obedience for us to believe we are accepted apart from our productivity and obedience. Believing we must labor and purify ourselves with all our might in order to gain favor with God doesn't make us more faithful and productive. It makes us legalistic, and eventually leads many Christians to a sort of hopelessness and apathy as they realize they can never meet the standards they've aimed at. The Scriptures tell us the having assurance of our acceptance actually keeps us fruitful: "And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." (Hebrews 6:11-12).

In the last post I unpacked Jerry Bridges and The Discipline of Grace to show that salvation and justification (acceptance by God) are inseparably linked. They both occur immediately when faith is placed in Our Savior Jesus Christ and God's promise of life and salvation to all who believe in Him. Every ounce of performance, every good work of obedience, all come after we are justified by faith.

The progression of Christian faith actually looks like this:
     faith >> salvation and complete acceptance by God (justification) >> obedience and sanctification

Here's a good summary: "The connection between the sinner and the Savior is trust, not improvement of behavior. That comes later. It’s this order that gives hope. "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (Romans 3:28). The basis of this wild and wonderful hope (the ungodly justified) is "Christ for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Romans 10:4, literal translation). Through faith alone God counts the ungodly as righteous because of Christ. "For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Let all who are paralyzed by the weight of sin and the powerlessness to change turn in here." John Piper, Justification By Faith: The Remedy for Paralyzed Sinners

Basically, performance happens because we have been given a new heart and spirit upon believing by faith. But God, having enabled us now to do good works and love righteousness, doesn't wait for us to get a proven track record before fully accepting us. He does it immediately. The joyful and liberating truth that our acceptance actually comes before our performance is scattered throughout the Bible, such as Titus 3:4-8, where Paul grounds the reason that people should devote themselves to good works in the fact that they have already been saved apart from works and justified by grace. Or Ephesians 2:8-10, where Paul declares we were saved by grace, not as a result of any works, but as a free gift - so that we could then do the good works God created us to do. The good news of acceptance is so essential to our being motivated to do good works that we are assured in numerous places of our acceptance by God before being urged to go on and do good works. So get as confident as you can that God loves you and accepts you completely in Christ.  It's good for you.

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