Friday, January 23

Energetically seeking to receive grace

We must stop using the fact that we cannot earn grace (whether for justification or for sanctification) as an excuse for not energetically seeking to receive grace. Having been found by God, we then become seekers of ever-fuller life in him. Grace is opposed to earning, but not to effort. The realities of Christian spiritual formation are that we will not be transformed "into his likeness" by more information, or by infusions, inspirations, or ministrations alone. Though all of these have an important place, they never suffice, and reliance upon them alone explains the now-common failure of committed Christians to rise much above a certain level of decency.
Dallas Willard, The Great Omission, p. 76
The quote will be a discussion launcher for my Evangelism and Discipleship class in a week. It would be interesting to bring some outside opinions to the table. Any or all feedback -- brief or long would be beneficial (you can leave feedback in the comments section). The students are Chinese, Chuukese, and Palauan. So their experience may be different than yours or that of Willard, who is writing from an American perspective. If you leave a comment and I don't personally know you please say where you live.
  • Do you agree with Willard?
  • In your world do you think that Christians are saying they don't want to appear to be earning grace so they are more relaxed in their approach to spiritual growth than they ought to be?
  • Or are there other issues involved in your context?
  • What might those issues be?
  • What are your personal observations regarding the reasons why Christians fail to grow into fully mature disciples?


Beth B said...

Brad, here's something worth reading. Neuhaus addresses your issue (among others) in his final essay for The Public Square in the February 2009 issue of First Things. It is entitled "On Loving the Law of God." You can read it here:

Here's the first paragraph:

"When I was a young Lutheran seminarian, I was struck by a professor’s forceful declaration that the phrase 'growth in grace' is a contradiction in terms. The grace of the gospel of forgiveness is absolute, unqualified, perfect. It allows for no growth or improvement. The law of God, stating what God demands of us, is the enemy, from which our only refuge is the gospel. Put simply—but upon it entire theological systems have been constructed—the law is the bad news and the gospel is the good news. This is the well-known Lutheran dialectic of law and gospel, sometimes called a theology of paradox: an underscoring of the freedom of the Christian from the law....

I'm curious what you will end up doing. Please keep us informed!

katie martinez said...

Brad. I like the word "participation." We participate, somehow, in the transformation of ourselves from self-ish to whole selves in Christ. One of the reasons this is so hard to talk about is: mystery. The process of a person becoming more and more in Christ is mysterious action that involves both God at work and me at work. There is a kind of participation involved. I think Willard does nail it: Grace is not opposed to effort. "My soul follows hard after thee."
1.) I agree with Willard.
2.) I do think Christians are too relaxed about growth, because they are a.) opposed to earning and b.) avoiding the work/effort. 5.) Reasons Christians fail: a.) lack of understanding/awareness (Christian education), b.) lack of spiritual mentors/directors/friends to show them the way c.) the cost of discipleship. The parable of the sower shows reasons why, as well.

I live in Loveland, CO and serve the Department of Christian Formation of the ECC-- by extension.

Brad Boydston said...

These are great posts! Thanks for the input. It's great to have "guest lecturers." I'll let you all add it to your CVs -- "graduate seminary lecturer at Pacific Islands Bible College" -- if you dare. :-)

Keep 'em coming.