Today, we come to the last lesson in our series on living a life of self-denial.
· And arguably, it is the most important.
1) LEARNING TO FAIL CORRECTLY
Galatians 3:2–5 (ESV) — 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—
What are we doing?
· Paul is telling us that the role of faith doesn’t stop with salvation.
· We aren’t left on our own to be sanctified in our own power.
· Faith saves us and faith also sanctifies us!
This also relates directly to how we fail.
· We aren’t left on our own when we fail either.
As we saw last week, failing incorrectly is to make our failure all about us.
· We decide that we will somehow pay the debt our sin has incurred.
· So we punish ourselves with more sin.
· We neglect our faith and the grace of God.
· We neglect Christ’s atonement and His “once for all sacrifice”.
· We mistakenly find our identity in our sin.
But Paul makes clear that we are not “perfected by the flesh”.
· It is our continued trust in the power of the Gospel that will perfect us.
How does this apply to failing correctly?
· God, through the Gospel, has given us the power to fail correctly.
· To make our failure about Jesus instead of us.
To do this, we must learn to daily activate our faith in the Grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
· We must “receive the Spirit”, that is to say the energizing of the Spirit, by faith.
· Paul makes clear that the Spirit is supplied in faith and not by works.
The mistake we make is thinking that faith is a popup blocker running automatically in the background of our lives.
· We exercised it at the point of salvation, and now it is on autopilot.
· If we think of faith this way we will almost always fail incorrectly.
· “Faith is not something that acts automatically, faith is not something that acts magically. This, I think, is the blunder of which we have all, at some time or another, been guilty. We seem to think that faith is something that acts automatically. Many people, it seems to me, conceive of faith as if it were something similar to those thermostats…you set your thermostat at a given level…and it acts automatically” – Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
What is faith in this context then?
· “Faith is an activity, it is something that has to be exercised. It does not come into operation itself, you and I have to put it into operation” – Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
· In our context, faith is to trust in and deliberately act on “right thinking” and all that it tells us about ourselves, our identity in Christ, God and His Gospel.
o As we alluded to earlier, this is mainly about receiving God’s grace.
o “Right thinking” makes us better receivers of grace.
The author of Hebrews understood this:
· Hebrews 10:22 (NIV) — 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
o We are simply drawing near to partake of the benefits of God’s action on our behalf.
o The full assurance, the sprinkling, the cleansing, the washing are God’s gift.
o We receive them.
The Right Choice – Making Our Failure about Jesus:
How do we activate our faith when we fail?
· How do we draw near to God and His Gospel and receive?
We have to go back to “ground zero” – our guilty knowledge and shame.
· At the moment we are –
o gripped by guilt and shame
o and come to grips with the fact that we have incurred a debt that must be paid
· We must choose in faith to actively trust in Christ and His Gospel – to believe what we know.
o Punishing ourselves is simply pride, habit, laziness or ignorance.
There is a sense in which this active trust can understood as a movement through:
· Guilt to Grace to Gratitude.
· This movement is part of God’s “dramatic narrative” for our lives – Michael Horton.
Guilt – a “Right Thinking” Response:
We have seen that the wrong response to guilt and shame leaves us stuck on a treadmill of sin and failure.
· Not surprisingly, the world thinks it can provide us with a solution to this problem.
· The world’s response is to discount guilt and shame as some sort of old-fashioned, moral hangover.
· Guilt and shame are something to be overcome with self-esteem.
· God has other ideas.
In God’s plan, “if you have never realized your guiltiness before God you will never have joy in Christ. It is impossible” – Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
· So guilt and shame are a fundamental way God works in us to energize our desires; to incline our hearts towards Him.
· They are very good things!
· In fact, Michael Horton puts it in even starker terms.
· God’s law coupled with our failure to keep it is meant to “traumatize us with God’s holiness”.
Please pay attention to the coming point.
· It is the most important step in failing correctly.
· If we don’t deal with our guilt correctly, we have trouble receiving God’s grace.
· The treadmill will be engaged.
Here is the point – Our guilt and shame are meant to point us outward to God and not inward to ourselves!
· They are not meant to be a gateway to punish ourselves.
· They are not meant to be overcome with self-esteem.
· Failing is not to be about our sin, but about God’s holiness.
· Our guilt before God “…will lead us to despair of ourselves, but only so that we may finally look outside ourselves and look to Christ” – Michael Horton.
· In complete opposition to the world’s view of guilt, “The very thing that God’s law comes to do – namely, to strip us of our pretensions of having it all together – can only be considered a violent aggression against the core value of self-esteem” – Michael Horton.
Isaiah’s example of being traumatized by God’s holiness:
· Isaiah 6:5–7 (ESV) — 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lordof hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
Why is being traumatized by God’s holiness so important?
· “If God’s voice of law does not de-center us, throw us off balance, and judge our best efforts as having fallen short of God’s glory, we will never flee to Christ as our Mediator…” – Michael Horton.
· Galatians 3:24 (NASB95) — 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.
Once we have got this part right, the next step in the progression comes necessarily and naturally.
Grace – a “Right Thinking” Response:
So what is it to “look to Christ”, “flee to Christ”, or for the “tutor to lead us to Christ”?
· When we as believers have rightly understood the role guilt plays in the God’s dramatic narrative of guilt-grace-gratitude, “we find ourselves dumbfounded by God’s gracein Jesus Christ” – Michael Horton.
· A right response to our guilt will take us directly to Christ and His Gospel and Grace.
· John 1:17 (ESV) — 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
It is only in Christ and His Gospel and Grace that we can receive everything that we can neverdo for ourselves:
· Payment of Debt
· Cleansing and Washing
· The list could go on!
Paul puts it like this:
· Romans 3:23–24 (ESV) — 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
· Ephesians 2:4–8 (ESV) — 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his gracein kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
This is why, as we saw earlier, Paul did not even judge himself (1 Cor. 4:3-4).
· “When he says that he does not let the Corinthians judge him nor will he judge himself, he is saying that he knows about his sins but he does not connect them to himself and his identity. His sins and his identity are not connected. He refuses to play that game. He does not see a sin and let it destroy his sense of identity” – Timothy Keller.
· Our identity is in our position with Christ – “raised us up with him” – it is not in ourselves; especially our sin.
· Christ is interceding for us; we have nothing to add.
· Whether we “feel it” or not, we are a new person with a new identity.
And the more we are traumatized the more we are dumbfounded!
· The converse is also true – the less…
· This is why self-denial and “right thinking” are so important.
· The more we wrongly think highly of our self, the less likely we will be traumatized by God’s holiness.
· Having our own and inflated view of ourselves is deadly to having satisfaction in God.
· We must be traumatized; we must be dumbfounded!
Some important observations about being “dumbfounded by grace”:
· “Spiritual depression or unhappiness in the Christian life is very often due to our failure to realize the greatness of the gospel” – Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
· “Only after we have understood and experienced this astonishing gospel do we find the proper motivation for our discipleship in the world” – Michael Horton.
· “Calling us to accomplish great things for God is part of the hype that constantly burns out millions of professing Christians. Telling us about the great things God has accomplished – and, more than that, actually delivering his achievement to sinners – is the real mission of church – Michael Horton.
· “What we want is not law, but power, and what the gospel gives us, and stands alone in giving us, is not merely the knowledge of the will of God, and the clear revelation of what we ought to be, but the power to become it” – James Boice.
Caution about Grace:
· “We consume the most grace by leading a holy life, in which we must be constantly upheld by grace, not by continuing to sin and being repeatedly forgiven. The interpretation of grace as having only to do with guilt is utterly false to biblical teaching and renders spiritual life in Christ unintelligible” – Dallas Willard.
We are now at the final step in the dramatic movement that enables us to fail correctly.
· And it follows naturally from being receivers of God’s grace.
Gratitude – a “Right Thinking” Response:
· Worship is the unavoidable response to having received God’s free gift of grace.
· “Not to have that reaction is a fairly sure sign that we haven’t yet really understood who he is or what he’s done” – N.T. Wright.
· If worship is absent, we either haven’t truly apprehended the holiness of God or the extent of His grace.
If our gratitude or worship is muted, the simple fact is we haven’t been traumatized and dumbfounded enough.
· This takes us back to self-denial and “right thinking” and the necessity of knowing God’s interpretation of the facts about us and our relationship with Him.
· To blow this off is to mistakenly try and be “perfected by the flesh”.
When the believer has been astonished by God’s “mighty deeds” we will worship Him.
· Luke 5:9 & 11b (ESV) — 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 11b …they left everything and followed him.
· Psalm 150:1–6 (ESV) — 1 Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! 2 Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Worship demonstrates that we are not looking to ourselves – or trying to punish (or even praise) ourselves – but have looked outward to God.
· Matthew 28:8–9 (ESV) — 8 So they [the women] departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples [what the angel had said]. 9 And behold, Jesus met them [the women] and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.
o Their mourning over Jesus’ death and concern for the future of the kingdom had no room to breathe in the presence of Christ and their worship of Him.
To be astonished by God’s mighty deeds is the awesome conclusion to the dramatic movement of guilt-grace-gratitude.
· It is awesome because, along with being traumatized by God’s holiness and dumbfounded by God’s grace, it has the power to remake us.
· It puts us in a position to be better receivers of God’s grace.
1) “You become like what you worship” – N.T. Wright.
· “When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship” – N.T. Wright.
· You cannot worship God without knowing who He is and what He has done – “right thinking”.
o Without knowing something of His attributes and character.
· And as we surrender to worship in our gratitude for these things, “Far from masters, we are mastered; instead of seizing the truth, we are seized by it” – Michael Horton.
2) Since we were made in God’s image, “worship makes you more truly human” – Wright.
· In other words, in worship we acknowledge reality as God proclaims it.
· And that reality, as we saw earlier, is that our identity is in Him and defined by Him – not us, not others, and not by our failures.
· Because of this, worship “challenges our intellectual pride and curbs our thirst for speculation” – Michael Horton.
o God has already spoken, we just listen and receive; it’s not about “me”.
o This makes worship an assault to our pride!
o Less pride + more God = more human
· So when we are astonished by God’s mighty deeds, we are knocked off balance.
· We “no longer ask and answer questions but worship the God who eludes comprehension” – Michael Horton.
o A very humbling thing.
o To surrender in worship to what we don’t fully understand.
Wise words on worship:
· “The secret to freedom from enslaving patterns of sin is worship. You need worship. You need great worship. You need weeping worship. You need glorious worship. You need to sense God’s greatness and to be moved by it — moved to tears and moved to laughter — moved by who God is and what he has done for you. And this needs to be happening all the time” – Timothy Keller (Sin as Slavery).
The level of your gratitude, of your astonishment at God’s mighty deeds, is an indication of your spiritual health.
· It is a reflection of your “right thinking”.
· It is a reflection of your self-denial.
· You simply cannot think highly of yourself and surrender to God in worship.
Some final words from Paul:
· 1 Timothy 1:12–14 (ESV) — 12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
· “When Paul looks at the past and sees his sin he does not stay in a corner and say: `I am not fit to be a Christian, I have done such terrible things’. Not at all. What it does to him, its effect upon him, is to make him praise GodHe glories in grace and says: `And the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus’” – Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
So to fail correctly is to make your failure about God!
· In our guilt, we are to see our need for Him, receive His free gift of grace, and then worship.
· It is in this “dramatic movement” of guilt-grace-gratitude that we can truly begin to grow in Christ and find our identity in Him.
· It is from this position in Him that we can properly love Him in self-denial.
“We find the Christian life so difficult because we seek for God’s blessing while we live in our own will” – Andrew Murray.
· Death to self and alive in Christ – there is no other way!