The wise B. B. Warfield, not to be confused with the Blues guitarist, once said:
There is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true of us only when we believe. It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be trust as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in behavior may be. It is always on His “blood and righteousness” alone that we can rest.
This comes from Perfectionism, Part One, vol. 7 of The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield(New York: Oxford University Press, 1932; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 113.
They say an elephant never forgets, and I’ve not got much evidence to prove them wrong, but one thing I do know is that it is very easy for a Christian to forget.
I was chatting with some mates over lunch last Sunday. They were girly types, let me say by that I mean they were actually girls, and being girls some of them kept ‘memory boxes’, aka shoeboxes (or in one case a suitcase!) full of bits and pieces from their life to date. Now I’m not against tucking away the odd ticket or wedding programme to remind me of good times, but these guys had taken that to the extreme: school shoes, drawings, journals, you name it they stored it in their attic. The difference between them was that one of them had been advised by an older friend to get rid of all that stuff on the basis that ‘its all gonna burn’, whereas the other one was all for keeping items that pointed her back to moments of knowing God’s goodness.
As part of our training on the Associate Scheme we’ve been reading through the Old Testament, and it’s been pretty striking how regularly Israel is called upon to ‘remember’, or worse still are rebuked for ‘forgetting’. The big event that they often seem to forget is how God rescued them from Egypt, an event that completely defines them as a people. But more than that, it seems the idea of remembering God’s work in their lives is engrained into the very being of their world. Joshua is told to build a pile of stones to remind Israel of God’s provision in crossing a river, and even the very naming of places and people seems to promote a constant looking back to God’s activity in their history.
Now, I see that as you move forward to the NT you see the apostles constantly drawing us back to the cross of Jesus as the defining moment in history where God rescued his people. But my question is whether we’re still pretty poor at recalling God’s ‘everyday’ grace in our lives, and not just last week’s blessings but that moment 20 years ago too.
To caveat all that, I guess we wanna be protective against the danger of not spotlighting the ultimate moment where we were united to Christ as we repented and believed. And we wanna have a good biblical theology that understands how God blesses his people, i.e. we don’t wanna promote a drift into the stuff of the prosperity gospel.
But if we truly believe ‘it’s all by grace’, then wouldn’t we be able to look back at our lives and be able to say exactly that, rather than in a general vague sense? To look back on answered prayers, particular moments when it was hard to trust God but we kept on anyway, times where rejoicing in suffering was a very real experience, the surprising joy of unexpected provision, God’s sovereign hand in bringing together certain events, incidents where we could really testify to the beauty of the church working to care for its members.
Some formed up thought from chatting with a friend the other day about how we talk about what we do as Christians. We were chatting to his unbelieving mates and their big questions about God were stuff like ‘Does God hate it when you swear?‘ and ‘If I say f*#@ will God condemn me?‘
Now in my head I’m thinking well, actually we’re all screwed because we’ve all rejected God – that’s the heartbeat of the second half of Romans 1, right? But how do I convey that to someone who’s view of a Christian is made up of a list of things you can’t do. If my student housemates are munching hash cakes, why shouldn’t I have a slice? If I do, does it show I’m free. If I don’t, does it reinforce the rule-based definition of what a Christian is in their heads? We reckoned that a really important way to helpfully portray the Christian life is by encouraging people to see that our ‘faith’ is not a merely spiritual-realm-thing but actually a physical thing – it affects your day-to-day actions. That seems to be what was going on in 1 Corinthians, with the Christians reckoning that it was the spiritual that mattered, therefore they could do what they like with their bodies (including major incest for one).
But Paul’s response was to remind them their bodies were the Lord’s. It was my experience that it’s very easy to explain to your mate on the football social that the reason you don’t want to get hammered at the bar is “because you’re a Christian”, but really that contains no sense of what Christianity is. You may as well say you’re not getting wasted because you’re a Muslim, or because you’re against the abuse of underpaid Chinese alcopop bottlers… or something.
But actually we’re in relationship with the living God – we know our King Jesus, and we want to live for him both in thankfulness and to please Him. Surely, that is what we want to convey, and before we convey anything, what we want to be thinking as we live each day.
Hello, my name is Robin. Welcome to That Happy Certainty, where I write and collate on Christianity, culture, and ministry. I’m based in Barrow-in-Furness in South Cumbria, England, where I serve a church family called St Paul’s Barrow, recently merged together from two existing churches, St Paul’s Church and Grace Church Barrow.
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