Sunday, October 19, 2014

What is cheap grace? Part Three

I am rather perplexed at this subject of cheap grace. It has seemed to grow as I have tried to explain something that perplexes me deeply about our church today. There is a sense of deadness about our church today. I was saved in the Awakening of the Seventies, but the last thing I was aware of was that it was an Awakening—I just figured that was the way that God worked in the lives of believers all the time. It was not really until the late eighties that I began to notice that God did not appear, at least in America, to be working that way anymore. Recently I discovered a new work of Tozer, one that I had not seen before, and found to my surprise that he was describing something very similar to what I have been trying to express.

But before I explain it, I should clear up what I unequivocally believe. Part of our coming to Christ involves our decision to believe. Some Christians would dispute that it is real belief on our part; they might say that it is faith given by God that causes our belief, and I would have no argument with them. The point is that we are commanded to believe, the Bible appears to enjoin us to believe, and that response becomes the first part of what believers do to become Christians. It seems to be a moot point to discuss how much of God is involved in the actual step of belief; rather the commandment of the Bible, when explaining the gospel to the unsaved, is first for us to respond by believing. Whether God does all of the believing for us, or whether we are responsible for part of it seems a question best left to theologians to fight out. God is clear about his sovereignty in the Scriptures; it is a sovereignty that is both complete and total. But God is also clear about the need for man to respond with belief when he hears the gospel; it is Paul, the one whom most point to for his emphasis on the sovereignty of God, who also declares that he becomes all things to all men in order that he might win the more. It is John who reminds us that he who comes to God will in no wise be cast out. Man’s response is part of receiving the gospel, no matter where its ultimate source might be.

Thus, I have no problem in our dealing with a sinner by presenting the simple gospel and asking for a statement of belief, followed by something like the sinner’s prayer. My problem lies with the fact that often we seem to leave them at that point, before they have quite come to grips with what it means to be a Christian. Some seem to see the riches of what is offered them, and begin to walk in the new life, but some do not seem to change much. I fear that we have offered a rather cheap grace to these. I do wonder if we can take some steps to improve and deepen the initial offer of salvation that we might enable the sinner to see more of what takes place when he is saved. After all, as I have already pointed out, the Bible declares that all of heaven rejoices when one sinner repents, and I do feel the initiate ought not walk away without a sense of the deep love and grace and joy of God now that he is saved.

Let me walk you through with what Tozer has said, and perhaps that will better express what I would hope we as a church might improve. Tozer definitely had his mystical side, and I think perhaps he gives us a valid cautionary note. “Now, there is a secret in divine truth altogether hidden from the unprepared soul. This is where we stand in the terrible day in which we live. Christianity is not something you just reach up and grab. There must be a preparation of the mind, a preparation of the life and a preparation of the inner man before we can savingly believe in Jesus Christ.”1 This time of preparation is generally in the message of the gospel that is being presented, where we rely on a clear presentation as putting the person in the correct frame of thinking.

Next Tozer adds, “Now the theological rationalists say that your faith should stand not in the wisdom of man but in the Word of God. Paul didn't say that at all. He said your faith should stand in the power of God. That's quite a different thing.”2 I think Tozer is differentiating between the power of God, and the word of God, and I think there is a differentiation. The word of God ought to lead us to the power of God, but is it always so? When we leave someone with a decision for Christ, I at least, and I think many others, try to leave them with the impression that the very power of God has taken them at that point. I do like referring to Paul’s great statement in Romans 8 that nothing is able to separate us from the love of God. Ever. Again, Tozer writes about that, “If a sinner goes to the altar and a worker with a marked New Testament argues him into the kingdom, the devil will meet him two blocks down the street and argue him out of it again. But if he has an inward illumination and he has that witness within because the Spirit answers to the blood, you can't argue with that man. He will say: 'But I know.' A man like that is not bigoted or arrogant, he is just sure.”3

And that is precisely the point. I would that we could carry every decision-maker to that point of knowing. I am not sure we get there with many. Having said that, the next part is to ask how shall we do better? I am not sure at all that I have an answer to this, but surely the answer does lie in giving the sinner a bit more time to get acquainted with his God. Jonathan Edwards surely consistently did that, giving his parishioners the time needed to really meet and get to know God.

It seems to me that with every awakening in America, there has been more time given for the sinner to know his God. Rather than relying solely on the Word of God, should we not also be seeking his power? But of course, that seems to draw us back to the awakening—we need revival, that the power of God should be made manifest, and that sinners should be both humbled and awestruck. It thus becomes somewhat circular. We are not in his power, and thus often are guilty of offering “cheap grace”, but how can we do otherwise except that we be in his power?

The word of God is always our pointer to God. But it is the power of God that saves to the uttermost those who come unto God through Jesus. Is it not time for use to be looking toward the power? Tozer seems to come to a similar realization, if I am interpreting him correctly. “My brethren, your faith can stand in the text and you can be as dead as the proverbial doornail, but when the power of God moves in on the text and sets the sacrifice on fire, then you have Christianity. We call that revival, but it's not revival at all. It is simply New Testament Christianity. It's what it ought to have been in the first place, but was not.”4

New Testament Christianity? Perhaps we need rather to state it as the ideal church—one that is set on fire for God. Perhaps our starting point then is in the question of Elisha, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?”. Remember that Elijah prayed, and God sent lightning to burn the sacrifice in the sight of all Israel. Would it not be a great thing if God were to light a fire in the hearts of our newest Christians? I know that collective prayer from the church will move God once more to breathe into this country yet another awakening. But shall we see collective prayer? I fear not until some of us become convinced that grace is not cheap after all, and that our God is after all, a living fire to be prayed after and sought for as if nothing else mattered. For nothing else does matter, but it is not until we realize that that we shall begin to awaken. What shall awaken us?

1. Tozer, A. W. (2014-09-14). God Still Speaks: Are We Listening? (Kindle Locations 119-122). CrossReach Publishing. Kindle Edition.
2. Tozer, A. W. (2014-09-14). God Still Speaks: Are We Listening? (Kindle Locations 126-128). CrossReach Publishing. Kindle Edition.
3. Tozer, A. W. (2014-09-14). God Still Speaks: Are We Listening? (Kindle Locations 173-176). CrossReach Publishing. Kindle Edition.
4. Tozer, A. W. (2014-09-14). God Still Speaks: Are We Listening? (Kindle Locations 134-137). CrossReach Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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