"Grace. It's Not Just For Beginners.
Funny how the exceeding riches of God's grace seem to run out the moment we're saved. From then on, we tend to base our relationship with Him on our performance rather than on His grace.
Of course, God continues to deal with us on the basis of His grace, whether or not we understand it. It's just that when we don't, we forgo the abundant freedoms that come from not having to measure up."
-- From the back cover
A loved one gave me a copy of Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges; this friend wrote a personal note inside the cover, that this book had meant a lot to him and that he hoped it would be a blessing to me as well. Then he quoted this verse: "And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power" (Colossians 2:10).
-- From the back cover
Nothing could better summarize the hard-hitting, relentless lesson of this book: we are complete in Christ! It seems odd, perhaps, that Bridges, or Paul the apostle for that matter, would need to hit us hard and repeatedly with that lesson. Who wouldn't be ecstatic to hear that it really is by the grace of God that we are saved, from beginning to end?
But the truth is that we all struggle to internalize this lesson, even (or perhaps especially) as hard-working, faithful Christians. As Bridges writes in his preface,
"The Bible teaches we are not only saved by grace, but we also live by grace every day of our lives. It is this important aspect of grace that seems to be so little understood or practiced by Christians. . . We give lip service to the attitude of the apostle Paul, 'But by the grace of God I am what I am' (1 Corinthians 15:10), but our unspoken motto is, 'God helps those who help themselves.'"
How true this is, as every preacher knows who has stood praying while the last hymn is sung and before he steps to the pulpit to preach, all the while reviewing in his mind whether he's been "good enough" this week to deserve God's blessing on his sermon (or was that too personal an example?). No matter how long we have been Christians, or how many times we have read Paul's treatises to the Romans or Galatians or Ephesians regarding the grace by which God saves us, we so easily fall into the habit of measuring our worth or service in a merits-based grocer's scale: the better we've been, the more valuable we are in God's eyes. Bridges writes:
"Our relationship with God is based on either works or grace. There is never a works-plus-grace relationship with Him. Furthermore, grace does not first rescue us from the penalty of our sins, furnish us with some new spiritual abilities, and then leave us on our own to grow in spiritual maturity."
Bridges goes on to deliver a devastatingly effective review of our condition without God. We are bankrupt sinners, with nothing to pay off our sin debt and no will to pay it either. It is only when we see our deplorable state outside of God's grace that we can come to appreciate God's grace as we should. Bridges illustrates both our poverty and God's grace in an incredibly insightful review of Jesus' parable of the eleventh hour workers in Matthew 20:1-16:
"Those eleventh-hour workers were hired because they needed to receive a day's wages. They had been standing all day waiting for someone to hire them so they could earn money to support their families. They needed to work more than the landowner needed their work. He hired them, not because of his need, but because of their need. He represents God in His gracious awareness of our needs and His continuous work to meet them. God calls us to serve Him, not because He needs us, but because we need Him."
Humbling, isn't it? To realize that salvation, from before its beginning to after its end, is entirely by the grace of God? That not even His commands to obedience are because He needs us, but because we need Him? But what tremendous freedom it gives when we realize that we are not, as Christians, seeking to earn God's favor but rather to respond to His favor already bestowed! And this, we might say, is the point that Bridges is most driving at.
"Our love for God, expressed through obedience to Him, is to be a response to His love, not a means of trying to earn it."
And that is the point I want you to take away, as well. Bridges is not so careless as to leave unaddressed the related theological questions of assurance, sovereignty, contentment, and appropriated grace, but in all these chapters the message is the same: we are complete in Christ! And no thing, no one can undo His sufficiency or force you back into debt -- not even you.