Friday, April 28, 2017

The Faith That Follows Grace

Okay, so I’m not sure whether to call this an epiphany, Aha! Moment, or lightbulb experience, but something spiritually “clicked” for me this morning in one of those surprising ways that comforts at the same time as it convicts simply because the conviction exposes something wrong in my heart that is immediately set right in the Spirit.

(Commercial) some of us are so afraid of even asking God what is going on with us because we are so afraid of what will happen, how long we will be messed-up, yada, yada, yada. My experience has consistently been that God comforts those who mourn much more quickly than we imagine,[1] and the languishing in misery is primarily because we are resisting the mourning, not because we are mourning the things wrong within us. (Now, back to regular programming.)

Today’s lesson was stunningly and painfully simple. It came after yesterday morning’s Higher, when God ministered to me wonderfully about the riches of his grace towards me, and last night’s Deeper, when my wife led me in cleaning up my desk and it triggered the kind of headaches people talk about getting on Prayer Meeting nights.[2]

This set the stage for something so obvious in its truth, and yet so contrary to some deep experience of my sarky mindset, that it felt like it is going to have a much more profound help to me in the days and years ahead than only whatever God has in mind for this today.

God’s gift of grace to me was this: faith follows grace; grace does NOT follow faith.[3] Let me explain.  

First I was hit with the negative side of this: faith is never a good work we do in order to get God to graciously do things in our lives way beyond anything we could deserve.

Yes, I discovered there is at least some nuance of this messed-up thinking, the idea that if I just would have enough faith, God would respond to my faith with gracious things I don’t deserve. Twisted, right? What a deception!

And yet it rang true as something that hinders, perhaps cripples, my faith. If I could just be a good enough Christian to have lots and lots of faith, God would reward me with gracious blessings I don’t deserve. As wrong as this is, because I am very aware that I am seeking God’s grace, knowing that grace means God’s active blessings above anything we could deserve, I have missed this cancerous thread in the tapestry, that trying to earn God’s grace through faith is such a counterfeit of what God’s word teaches that it is not “grace through faith” at all.[4] It is actually “grace because of faith”, which is poisonously WRONG!!!

I am presently meditating on this phrase, “it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace,”[5] and considering how our hearts experience this gift of God in everyday life. Other Scriptures are acting as wonderful commentaries to this gracious thought of God strengthening our hearts by grace.

I am reminded how God’s redemptive work in our lives is “according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight”.[6] The thought that God’s grace can only be understood as “riches”, and his pouring out of his grace on our lives as “lavished upon us”, and all according to the eternal and infinite glory of God’s absolute and complete wisdom and insight, convicts my soul of any small thoughts I have of his grace (a Deeper), and urges me to think, act, and pray according to the measure of the riches of God’s grace (a Higher).

God’s word also leads me to see that God is “rich in mercy”, relating to us out of “great love”, because he wants to “show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”[7] Again, the revelation is that adjectives like rich, great, and immeasurable, all tell me that God’s mercy, love, and grace, are huge in their glory, not miniscule as the world, the flesh, and the devil accuse.

God’s instruction to his sons is that, instead of being “carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability,” we are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”[8] God’s gracious gift to me this morning was to clarify that even my faith is not a good work I must do in order to “get” him to do something for me. Faith can only be the trusting response of his child to something God is already doing by grace.

Even this understanding that my faith-relationship with God has been contaminated by a sarky idea that I can influence how gracious God is by controlling how faith-filled I am is a gift of grace, something I did not know I needed, and something God did out of the riches of his glorious grace and love and mercy. For the rest of my life I will grow in this, not because I am working hard at it and God is rewarding my with grace, but that God is already graciously and actively working in me to work and to will according to his good pleasure, and my faith-response to this is to work out my salvation with fear and trembling.[9]

I know that God will be just as rich in his grace towards me tomorrow, but not because of the faith I had today. It will still be because he is superabundantly rich in grace by the very nature of his being, and he delights to bring us to know him in his grace every day better than we have ever known him before. For me today, that meant clarifying that I do not need to be a good-boy in faith in order to experience more grace.

Rather, it is a liberated faith that comes to greater enjoyment of the wonderful expressions of God’s grace that are already working in my life. Yours as well?

© 2017 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Matthew 5:4 makes it abundantly clear that God comforting those who mourn is a PROMISE! Other Scriptures reveal and substantiate this so clearly that our fears, no matter how real in experience of life, are absolutely unfounded in relationship with God.
[2]           I first saw this pattern of what I now call the “Higher and Deeper” ministry of God to our souls when I was praying through the account of the Samaritan woman in John 4. Jesus’ ministry to this woman was given special attention in the record of God’s word (one of the longest records of Jesus having a conversation with someone he was ministering to), and so I noted the way he was talking to her. My quest was to recognize how he may speak to me in similar ways through his word, and how this may direct me in how to join his work when he is doing ministry to others.
            What I noticed was that each thing Jesus said to the woman seemed to reveal something new about him she never could have known, which seemed like a Higher thought or understanding of him, and this was followed by her seeing something deficient or limiting within herself, which seemed like a Deeper thought or understanding of her own soul. This way of relating to this woman went back-and-forth in such a distinctive consistency, with Jesus forcing her to see Higher things about him, and Deeper things about herself, that it struck me that this was the way he ministered to me every morning as I sought him in his word and prayer, and that pointing these things out to others as they shared things they were learning in their time with God might help them make sense of why one morning they could be very excited about something they learned about God, while the next day they faced despondency because they were confronted with some negative thing about themselves that, at first, seemed like a huge contradiction of what they thought God was ministering to them the day before.
            As we saw how these things work together, and how the Deepers were necessary for the Highers to work in our lives (that includes the Beatitudinal Journey side of things, but that is a whole other story and a bit too much for this footnote!), we could welcome both as the equally important work of God, and trust that God would do for us something as enlivening as what he did in the Samaritan woman and the people of her community.
[3] I don’t mean by this that once we respond to God’s grace through faith that we never see any further evidence of God’s grace in our lives. Rather, I mean that our faith is ALWAYS a response to grace, and grace is NEVER something God does because of our faith. Grace always and only does what grace is, and faith is always and only the way by which God’s initiating draws us to respond to his grace. As we keep responding to God in faith we keep seeing expanding ripples of grace in our lives and in our churches, but never because we have earned more grace through the good works of our faith. Grace is always doing what grace does, and we keep enjoying the gracious favors of God only by faith, never by any sense that our good works have earned us something that God now does for us as a reward for good faith-behavior.
[4] The truth that all the work of God in our lives is his grace operating through our responsiveness of faith is a foundational reality of the new covenant and is graciously expressed in Ephesians 2:8-9 in a most clear and comforting statement of this relationship.
[5] Hebrews 13:9
[6] Ephesians 1:7-8
[7] Ephesians 2:4-7
[8] II Peter 3:17-18
[9] Philippians 2:12-13

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