I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of my post You Can’t Object to Grace. In fact, I spent all day yesterday reading sermon transcripts from John Piper’s series on Galatians (which he delivered the year I was born…1983) and typing out the questions and thoughts swirling through my head.
And I stand corrected.
While I still believe that God’s love is completely unconditional toward us in Christ, and that our obedience to God is for our own good, it’s not entirely true to say that God doesn’t have any expectations or standards. It’s a little hard for me to comprehend how God’s grace fits in with the law, and how God has expectations of me even though Christ has fulfilled the law on my behalf, but my friend Cathy explained it using the analogy of her and her kids – she loves them unconditionally, regardless of whether they obey or disobey, but she still has expectations of them. She expects them to be nice to others, to share their toys, to learn math and spelling, to go to bed without throwing a hissy fit, etc. But whether they obey or disobey in those things doesn’t affect the deep love she has for them, because her love is based on her relationship with them as their mother.
I read a similar idea in a book called The Grace of God by Andy Stanley. He pointed out that God gave Moses and the Israelites the Ten Commandments and the rest of the law after He had already established a relationship with them by miraculously leading them out of Egypt and providing for them in the desert. Because the nation of Israel had been under Egyptian rule for the previous 300+ years, they had no idea how to govern themselves. The only kind of leadership they had witnessed was the tyrannical decisions of power-hungry Pharaohs. They lived in a society where many humans had no more rights than animals. So the law was actually God’s blessing to them. Instead of shackling them with rules, He was actually showing them how they could maintain the greatest freedom and live in a theocracy instead of under a king.
I’ve been having a hard time viewing God’s rules and expectations as freedom. They’ve actually felt more like a burden of guilt and a constant reminder of how much I suck at life. But I praise God for John Piper, who never compromises God’s holy, righteous, and just character. He never sugarcoats the gospel or the radical demands of Christ. And Christ’s demands are radical. They are jaw-dropping, mind-bending, comfort-destroying, and pride-shattering.
By listening to Piper, I have realized that God has purposely designed the Christian life to be impossible for us to accomplish on our own.
God does have expectations and standards for us, but they’re not to make us strive harder and harder and fall on our faces in defeat, only to get up and try even harder, but to force us to realize that we have to rely on God for everything, including any growth in sanctification or success in “living the Christian life.” Even the Mosaic law wasn’t meant to promote salvation by works but to make us realize that we have to rely on God.
Since that is a phrase often thrown around, I want to elaborate on what relying on God means to me (and how I’ve been wrong for the past 4 years).
1. Relying on God means having faith in Christ’s atoning work on my behalf.
This is the biggest realization I have had. Christ is the Answer. It always goes back to Christ’s work on my behalf.
Piper said something profound in another sermon I listened to last night: “The main battles in life… are battles to believe [in the person and work of Christ on the cross]. I mean really believe it—trust it, embrace it, cherish it, treasure it, bank on it, breathe it, shape your life by it.”
What I love the most about Piper’s sermons and books is that he emphasizes over and over that the inspiration, motivation, ability, strength, and passion to live the Christian life flow out of a heart that has been transformed by the gospel. I have to stop worrying about my life and trying to control everything, and go back to the basics of the gospel – that Christ died for me while I was His enemy; that He has paid for ALL of my sins and reconciled me to God; that I am God’s beloved daughter and He delights in me; and that His love for me in Christ is unconditional. Understanding that truth is where real freedom comes from.
Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3…