The Transforming Power of the Gospel – Chapter 9

Chapter 9: Instruments of Grace

Here are some excerpts that I thought did a good job of helping me to understand this chapter…

In applying the power of Christ to us, however, the Holy Spirit uses means or, as I prefer to call them, instruments of grace. And though they are His instruments, it is our responsibility to take advantage of them. I have a treadmill and a set of weights that I use to try to maintain a reasonable level of physical fitness. These pieces of equipment are instruments of physical fitness, but they will not accomplish their intended purpose if I do not use them. in the same manner, the Holy Spirit’s instruments of grace will not accomplish their purpose if I do not take advantage of them. The way we take advantage of them is through what is usually called the practice of spiritual disciplines.   p.119

Also keep in mind that though the practice of these disciplines involves our activity, we must always depend on the Holy Spirit to make them effective in our lives. As someone has so well said, grace does not make our effort unnecessary but makes it effective. So the same activity is both an instrument of grace from the Holy Spirit and a discipline of practice.  p. 120

Godliness is basically God-centeredness. It means to live all of life in awareness of our absolute dependence on God and our accountability to Him in both the spiritual and temporal dimensions of life. So it is really at the heart of spiritual transformation. And it is through the practice of the spiritual disciplines that we become more God-centered in our everyday lives.   p.121

Someone once wisely observed that “discipline without desire is drudgery.” What is it then that will give us the desire? It is, first of all, the gratitude that grows out of a daily embracing of the gospel.  p.122

For some believers the idea of spending time alone with God each day is not even in their thinking. Others will have their quiet time, read a daily Bible reading, say a few prayers, but never really enjoy actual fellowship with God. I suspect that only a small minority of believers experience the longing for and joy of an authentic time with God wach day, but this should be the goal of every Christian.   p.125

Next Week: Chapter 10 – The Word of God and Prayer

Pondering Psalm119:121-176

Here are the verses that grabbed my attention this week and why:

v. 133  “Direct my footsteps according to your Word; let no sin rule over me.”

It wasn’t enough for the Psalmist to just know what God’s Word said, he wanted his life to be dictated by God’s Word. And he knew that if this were true then sin would not rule his life.The familiar maxim comes to mind again – Sin will keep you from God’s Word or the Word of God will keep you from sin. So the Psalmist did two things: 1) He spent time reading and learning and pondering the Word of God and 2) He prayed – he prayed that God would use the  Word in the Psalmist’s life to “direct my footsteps.” This is a great example of how the Word of God and prayer go hand in hand. As you read, pray. And when you pray ask God to work his Word into your life in practical ways.

v. 135  “Make your face shine upon your servant and teach me your decrees.”

Knowing the Word of God wasn’t just a mental exercise for the Psalmist. He didn’t read and ponder so that he could impress people with how much he knew. He did so in order to know God. This was the desire of his heart. And he knew that hearing God’s voice through His Word was the pathway to seeing His face. There is a huge difference between reading the Bible and hearing the voice of God. I’m reminded of what David prayed in Psalm 27:8 – “My heart says of you, “Seek His face!” Your face,  Lord, I will seek.”

v.136  “Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.”

The Psalmist was a passionate man. This is quickly obvious as you read through Psalm 119. He was passionate about God’s Word. He was passionate about knowing God. He was passionate about hearing His voice and seeking His face. But he was also passionate about God’s glory. This verse reflects his passion to see God honored and obeyed. And when people do not give God the honor that is His due it literally brought the Psalmist to tears. Question: As you and I look around at our world and see the egregious way that people have rebelled against God are we brought to tears? Do we have the same kind of passion that the Psalmist had for God’s glory. And if not, why not?

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week: Psalm 127

Pondering Psalm 119:81-128

Here are a few of the verses from this section that caught my attention. Good stuff!

v.83  “Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget your decrees.” 

Huh? What does he mean by that? The Psalmist uses the term “wineskin in the smoke” as an illustration of how he felt. Drinking containers in ancient times were usually made of skin. These skin bottles were often used out in the wilderness to hang in a tent when the use of fire was needed inside and there was no chimney. The skin would absorb the smoke for a long period of time. The skin would become hard and shriveled because of the smoke and afterwards it turned black and was useless. The psalmist is saying that he felt useless – dried out, shrivelled, and soot-covered spiritually but he wasn’t giving up. And he would not forget God’s Word no matter how he felt.

The lesson for us is this: No matter what life brings and no matter how distant from God you might feel, hold on to God’s Word. Don’t let go. Cling to it as you would a life preserver in the open sea when you have had to abandon ship.

v 89  “Your word , O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.”

This verse reminds me of my call to ministry. In college I heard a speaker say that there were only two things that were eternal in this world – God’s Word and people. And that we should spend our lives investing in these two eternal things. I knew after hearing that that I would be a Biomedical engineer, which is what I majored in in college. I knew that I would pursue a life of vocational ministry which would enable me to maximize my time as I invested in eternal things.

v 101, 104, 127-128  “I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word./ I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path./  because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold, and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path.”

So there seems to be two things going on here. Because the Psalmist loves the Word of God, he hates evil and does whatever it takes to steer clear of it. And because his desire is to obey God’s Word, he avoids sin so that it does not short circuit his relationship with God. Do you see the difference? On the one hand, the Word of God keeps him from sinning. And on the other hand, he know that sinning would keep him from the Word of God so he is very intentional about staying away from it.

So here is the question to me… and to you: Do I love God and His Word more than I love sin? We don’t have to look very far to find the answer to that question.

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week: Psalm 119: 129-176

The Transforming Power of the Gospel – Chapter 9

Chapter 9: Dependent Responsibility

Last week got kind of busy so I am a week late on this post.

In this chapter Bridges talks about how Christians are to both work hard for God and trust fully in God. He uses Philippians 2:12-13 as his starting point… “work out you faith with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

Here are a few selections from the chapter that help to sum up his thoughts…

“The Puritans understood the concept of dependent responsibility. They used to say (and this is notan exact quote but captures their attitude), “Work as if it all depends on you, yet pray as if it all depends on God.” They labored diligently to become more like Christ, but they also prayed diligently because they knew they were dependent on the Holy Spirit to make their labor effective. This is the way we apply the principle of dependent responsibility.” p.107

He quotes the Puritan John Owen in this regard who said: But our duty and God’s grace are nowhere opposed in the matter of sanctification: for the one supposes the other. We cannot perform our duty without the grace of God (i.e. His enabling power), nor does God give us His grace to any other end than that we may rightly perform our duty.”

Next Week: Chapter 10

Pondering Psalm 119:41-80

There were several verses from this section of Psalm 119 that grabbed my attention. Here they are and a few comments about each one.

v. 43 “Do not snatch the word of truth from my mouth, for I have put my hope in your laws.”

Why would God snatch His word away from the Psalmist? Literally, He would not. But figuratively, it might at times feel that way to the writer. For instance his voice would be silenced were he to fall into open and unrepentant sin. Or were he to lose his health in a tragic way. Or were he to be captured by his enemies and put to death. So another way to say what the Psalmist is saying would be this: “Lord, protect me, guard me, enable me to always have a voice that can speak with boldness about your Word.” (see similar verses such as v.29,36-37)

v.59 “I have considered my ways and turned my steps to your statutes.”

There is a lot of intentionality in this verse. The Psalmist has been very intentional about looking at his own life and doing some self evaluation. He has seen where his way of doing things does not line up with God’s way of doing things and has then deliberately and intentionally changed the direction of his life. There is repentance in this verse. There is a statement of faith in this verse. There is metamorphosis in this verse. What a great thing to be able to exclaim to God: “I have considered my ways and turned my steps to your statutes.”

v.67,71,75  “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word./It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees./I know, O Lord, that you are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.

No one would ever say “Lord please send affliction upon me that I might learn to obey your word.” But, often, after the fact, it is easy to see how God has used affliction in our life to shape us. I know that this has proven true for me in the wake of the accident we had last year in India. I can easily say with the Psalmist, “in faithfulness you have afflicted me.”

Perhaps you are realizing along with me why I love Psalm 119. So many choice verses to ponder and pray. Already looking forward to this next week.

Next Week: Psalm 119: 81-128

Pondering Psalm 119:1-40

Posting this as we wake up to the news of all the election results. I will say 2 things: 1) I am glad that I have been elected by God, and 2) My hope and trust is Him and not in our government (no matter who was elected.) And I am grateful for His Word…

Psalm 119:1-40

As may be true for many people, Psalm 119 is my favorite Psalm. So this is not my first time pondering it. It is a Psalm that I frequently come back to when I feel like I am going through a period when I do not feel like reading Scripture. There are so many choice verses that reinvigorate me spiritually and help to re-create a hunger for God and His Word. Here are some of the verses from this week’s pondering and a few comments about them.

13 With my lips I recount
    all the laws that come from your mouth.

The Psalmist evidently loved God’s Word so much that it was the subject of  conversations that he had with people. I find that I talk much more about sports, politics, and current events than I do about the Word of God. Is this an indication of how passionate I am about Scripture? I think probably yes.

14 I rejoice in following your statutes
    as one rejoices in great riches.

We live in a very materialistic culture. I am very much a materialist myself. I find that it is easy for me to be a God-follower as long as I have all my material needs being met. I often wonder would I do so if to the same degree if these were stripped away from me. In other words, where does my joy come from?

18 Open my eyes that I may see
    wonderful things in your law.

What a great prayer! I am so blind so much of the time to the truths of the Word and to the power in God’s promises that I need my eyes to be opened. “Lord open my eyes that I may see…”

36 Turn my heart toward your statutes
    and not toward selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
    preserve my life according to your word.

Another great prayer that I find myself coming back to. Again and again. And again! I find that more often than  not I pursue selfish gain and worthless things rather than the Word of God. This prayer right here needs to be my daily Scripture mantra.

I’m Just sayin’!

Next Week: Psalm 119: 41-80

The Transforming Power of the Gospel – Chapter 8

Chapter 8: The Transforming Work of the Holy Spirit

This excerpt is a good summary of what Bridge’s says in this chapter…

In John 15:4-5, Jesus made it clear that the divine source of life and power comes through abiding in Him. But how does one abide?

Most often we think of activities such as studying our Bible and praying as abiding in Christ. These are important spiritual activities. But these activities do not constitute abiding in Christ, rather they belong to a subject we call communion with Christ. What does it mean to abide in Christ? It is reliance on Him for His life and His power. By faith we renounce and confidence in our own wisdom, willpower, and moral strength and rely completely on Him to supply the spiritual wisdom and power we need. This does not mean we sit back and “just turn it all over to Him” to live His life through us; rather, we rely on Him to enable us. So we can say that our salvation is by faith and our transformation is by faith. But this does not mean that the object of our faith is the same in both cases.

In salvation, the object of our faith is Christ and His unfinished work for us. When He uttered those memorable words “It is finished” (John 19:30), it was a cry of triumph that the salvation which He had earned for us in His sinless life and sin-bearing death had been completely accomplished. There was nothing more for Him to do. And trusting Him for our salvation, there is nothing for us to do except receive Him by faith.

By contrast, the object of our faith in spiritual transformation is Christ and His ongoing work in us through the Holy Spirit. In our transformation, then, there is something for us to do. In salvation, we are passive except to believe. In transformation, we are active as we seek to pursue holiness in relying on the Holy Spirit to apply the power of Christ to our hearts and enable us to do His will. (p 101-102)

Next Week: Chapter 9 – Dependent Responsibility

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