For several years now I have been leading a program called “Reading Classics Together.” The program exists so that we can read classic Christian books in community because, well, just about everything is better in community. Today we begin reading Jerry Bridges’ The Discipline of Grace. What I try to do in these weekly wrap-up posts is share just a couple of the important points that are at the heart of the chapter. If you’d like to read along with the few hundred of us who are going through this book, please do. Simply get a copy of the book and read the first two chapters for next Thursday. For the time being, here is a reflection on the first chapter.
Bridges concern in this book is that so many Christians acknowledge that we are saved by grace through faith—which is to say, that we gain favor with God and are saved because of his grace—but they then begin to believe that what sustains God’s favor is our performance. The more we do what God demands, the more we do what is good, the more of his favor we experience. And so Bridges begins with a simple question: How good is good enough? He poses a scenario we can all identify with.
"You get up promptly when your alarm goes off and have a refreshing and profitable quiet time as you read your Bible and pray. Your plans for the day generally fall into place, and you somehow sense that presence of God with you. To top it off, you unexpectedly have an opportunity to share the gospel with someone who is truly searching. As you talk with the person, you silently pray for the Holy Spirit to help you and to also work in your friend's heart." We've all had days like that. But we've also all had days like this: "You don't arise at the first ring of your alarm. Instead, you shut it off and go back to sleep. When you awaken, it's too late to have a quiet time. You hurriedly gulp down some breakfast and rush off to the day's activities. You feel guilty about oversleeping and missing your quiet time, and things just generally go wrong all day. You become more and more irritable as the day wears on, and you certainly don't sense God's presence in your life. That evening, however, you unexpectedly have an opportunity to share the gospel with someone who is really interested in receiving Christ as Savior."
Bridges then asks if you would enter into those two witnessing opportunities with a different degree of confidence. Think about it for a moment. If you're like most Christians, I suspect you would feel less confident about witnessing on a bad day then on a good day. You would feel less confidence that God would speak in and through you and that you would be able to share your faith forcefully and with conviction.
Why is it that we tend to think this way? According to Bridges, we've come to believe that God's blessing on our lives is somehow conditional upon our spiritual performance. In other words, if we've performed well and done our quiet time as we ought to have done, we have put ourselves in a place where God can bless us. We may not consciously articulate this, but we prove that we believe it when we have a bad day and are certain that on this day we are absolutely unworthy of God's blessings. This attitude "reveals an all-too-common misconception of the Christian life: the thinking that, although we are saved by grace, we earn or forfeit God's blessings in our daily lives by our performance."
He adds this: “When we pray to God for His blessing, He does not examine our performance to see if we are worthy. Rather, He looks to see if we are trusting in the merit of His Son as our only hope for securing His blessing. To repeat: We are saved by grace, and we are to live by grace every day of our Christian lives.” Why are we so prone to slipping into thinking that we will experience more of God’s grace when we are having a good day? His answer is simple: we have relegated the gospel to the unbeliever. The solution is to keep the gospel central to the Christian life. The gospel is not only the power that saves us, but it is also the fuel for the Christian life.
This is what he will tease out in the chapters to come, the centrality of the gospel in sanctification.
For next Thursday please read chapter two.
The purpose of this program is to read these books together. If you have something to say, whether a comment or criticism or question, feel free to use the comment section for that purpose.