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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « The Conversion and Preaching of (St) Patrick in Ireland | Main | Images of the Savior (3 – His First Attendance at the Passover) »

    Repenting of our Good Works

    The first prerequisite of a sound conversion is to despair of any hope from oneself, that is, to have no hope save in Christ's mercy alone.

    It is a common, but erroneous, belief that Christians think they are decent people, deserving of God's favor, and that this is why God will allow them entrance into His presence in heaven. But any Christian who reads the Scripture and catches a glimpse of God's majesty, knows they are dreadfully cracked about the head and desperately in need of mending. Those who don't think they need a physician and think their relative goodness will save them are, by definition, not Christians at all. And such persons are simply not prepared to hear the gospel ... that Christ is THE Savior, who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. In other words, in coming to Christ it is only truly evident that the Holy Spirit has done a work of grace in someone if they are fully convinced that they have been bad enough to need Jesus' help and are willing to repent of trusting in their good works. Of Course, those already Christians also must constantly, no daily, re-affirm their need of Christ, fleeing to Him alone for their righteousness. Any good we have or produce must be recognized as the result of grace, not the cause of it. "A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven." (John 3:27)

    What many may fail to understand is that God does not weigh our virtue and good intentions against our malice and corruptions and then let us into heaven based on whether we have more goodness than evil in our life. On the contrary even the slightest infraction against his holiness is sufficient to cast you away from his favor into an eternity of misery. You are guilty of active rebellion against Him, and if you don't think so, try loving your neighbor from your heart at all times. Once we get a view of who God is in the splendor of His holiness, it becaomes painfully apparent who we are, and it is not pretty. Any who think God too harsh, unjust or that God will simply wink His eye at our youthful indiscretions are still under the utmost deception. Every minor sin against His holy law makes us deserving of His just wrath. God demands that we live in the perfection of holiness at all times. One might counter this by saying, "but this is impossible" and that is exactly the point. His perfect law was given to us not with the express purpose of showing us our ability, but rather our inability. The Apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans said exactly this: "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." In other words, a true Christian is one who recognizes their utter moral inability before God's holy law and can only turn and flee to Chirst for mercy. Any hope or trust in our own flesh, in ones own virtue or in our "good intent" is actually an act of rebellion and a damnable sin. This is because, in the face of God's perfect law, if we are not humbled to the dust, then we have not understood it. The regenerate, by definition, are spiritually bankrupt, have no confidence in the flesh, and glory in Christ Jesus alone for any and all standing before God.

    You see, we were already condemned to death due to our flagrant violations of God's law. Yet, in spite of ourselves, God had compassion on multitude of people all over the world, that is, from every tribe, race, language and nationality of people on the earth.Though we all justly deserve His wrath ... God, not wanting to see those He loves perish, humbled Himself, became flesh and did what no one in history has ever done; perfectly obey the law of God and then fully bear our penalty of death on the cross. Jesus was the perfect substitute for the people He would save. He agreed, from eternity, that He would take the punishment His people deserve, and in this way God could justly declare, that those who are brought into union with Christ by grace through faith, to be fully forgiven their sins. Again, based on the sure Promise of God in the Scripture, if you trust in Jesus today then I can assure you that your sins are forgiven. It's as if you borrowed and squandered a huge amount of money that could never be repaid and yet someone else paid off the debt on your behalf. Likewise Jesus did for us in his life and death what we could not do for ourselves. He bore all the guilt of His people and He paid the debt they owed that could never have been repaid by them. This is key, for those who continue to try to repay their own debt reveal their lostness and the continual disfavor of God against their sin. So turn from trusting in self and believe the gospel. God raised Jesus from the dead in a body that will never perish, as a first fruit of all that will be grafted into Him by the Spirit uniting them in faith to Christ.

    Did Jesus die for anyone who deserved it? Absolutely not! He died for people who deserved God's wrath and themselves recognize they have no way of gaining entrance to heaven on their own. This is grace. Grace and mercy means getting what you do not deserve (grace) and not getting what you deserve (mercy) respectively. There is now no condemnation left for those in Christ. No accusation can come against him, for Jesus has fully, not partially, but fully paid the price of his redemption and has given him a seal, the promised Holy Spirit to guarantee his inheritance in light.

    As Christians we must also constantly keep before us that we can do nothing to maintain our justification before God. When we fall into such erroneous thinking we must take heed to Paul's warning, "Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" Good works are certain for the believer because they spring from our new nature in Christ. They do not cause God to keep on justifying us. This trusting in good works to maintain our just standing before God must also be repented of. It is natural to think this way, but now that grace has come we must put away such nonsense once for all. Christ alone saves. That is why we are called by Christ to partake of the Lord's Table "till He come". The Table is a visual gospel which points continually to what Christ has done for us, not what we do for Him. In it, God has made a covenant in Christ's blood that he will remember not to treat us as our sins justly deserve. Instead he treats us with honor as He would His very own Son.

    There is such an instilled rebellion in the heart of natural man that no one would believe this gospel unless God opened his eyes and plowed up the fallow ground of his heart. The natural man's love of sin is always greater than his love of Christ. For the man without the Spirit always believes spiritual truth to be foolish and will not accept it. So when Christ comes to save His own He not only justifies them for Christ’s sake when they believe the gospel, but also raises them from the death of sin and grants them new life by His quickening Spirit in order to bring them to faith.

    Faith is trusting Christ alone, plus or minus nothing, to save you from your sins. Any addition, no matter how good the intent, is to disbelieve that Christ is sufficient for you. Faith does not include trusting your own virtue, your ancestry or your baptism. It is not trusting in a sinners prayer or your altar call at a Billy Graham crusade. Christ alone saves His people and there is nothing more to add. He is sufficient in Himself and He wants us to forsake any and all trust in all other things including our good works. Dead works are to be repented of. Our faith and repentance are themselves the working of God's grace to change the disposition of our heart that we might desire to obey and love Him. Grace is not the result of our faith and repentance, but the cause of them. And faith is the sign that God has indeed done a work of saving grace in your heart. Faith looks not to itself but to Another for its help and we nurture it through reading the Scripture, fellowship in the Church, the preaching of the word, the sacraments and prayer...

    If the church you attend does not understand these basic truths I just explained above, you may want to lovingly and humbly share them with your elders. If they refuse to see that Christ is sufficient and continue on trusting in moralism, then you may seriously consider finding a church which believes that Christ did not come for the righteous but sinners, for to see your need is the only qualification.

    Matthew 9:12-13 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" When Jesus heard that, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice, For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.'
    Posted by John on August 2, 2006 02:41 PM

    Comments

    Excellent thoughts, thank you for them.

    I've heard a quotation, supposedly from Martin Luther, but I'm not sure if it's apocryphal or not. At any rate, I'm adding it here because it's very striking and true, no matter where it originated. This is it:

    Despise all your works, especially your good ones.

    I think that embracing this truth would do much to slow the modern erosion of the gospel.

    Thanks again for the post,
    Nathan

    As I read your post I was reminded of a saying that one of my professors is fond of. In answer to the question: Can we lose our salvation? His reply is (roughly): "Of course we can and we do so everyday. Luckily God knows how to hold onto our hand even when we let go of his."

    AMEN! The glory of Christ's salvation is sweeter than all the earth's treasures!

    Soli Deo Gloria

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