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

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

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

The Transforming Power of the Gospel: Chapter 5

Chapter 5:  A Daily Embracing of the Gospel

Bridges is making the point in this chapter that it is very easy for us to try to live the Christian life via our default mode – works righteousness. Here are a few quotes from the chapter that I thought were helpful and pertinent…

Dependence on one’s law keeping and faith in Christ are mutually exclusive. In fact, faith involves a total renunciation of dependence on one’s good works and instead total reliance on Jesus Christ and His righteousness. p.54

Many have so light an apprehension of God’s holiness and of the extent and guilt of their sin that consciously they see little need for justification…. Many others have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification, drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience. (quoting Richard Lovelace – who was one of my professors when I was at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary) p. 55

If we want to enjoy the benefits of the gospel in our daily lives we must learn to… look outside of ourselves and our performance, whether good or bad, and see ourselves standing before God justified – cleansed from our sins through the shed blood of Christ and clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ. p. 56

We never, of ourselves, earn God’s blessing through our good works because even our very best deeds are imperfect in accomplishment and defiled by our remaining sinful corruption. p. 59

My all-time favorite quote outside the Bible, one to which I return almost daily, is the first few words of the hymn “My Hope Is Built”: My hope is built on nothing less that Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” For me, that hope is not only for eternal life but for God’s favor and blessing on my life today. p. 59

We have a natural drift toward a performance-based relationship with God. We are like a person in a rowboat trying to row upstream against the current. The instant the rower stops pulling on his or her oars, the boat will start drifting backward with the current. We can never as the old saying goes, “rest on our oars” in our daily dependence on Christ. Practically speaking, how do we keep plugging along? We go to the Scriptures containing the promises of God regarding the forgiveness of our sins and the imputation (crediting) to us of Christ’s perfect righteousness. p.59

Bridges then lists a bunch of these promises in Scripture including: Psalm 103:12, Isaiah 1:18, Isaiah 43:25, Isaiah 53:6, Romans 4:7-8, Romans 8:1, 1 Corinthians 1:30, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Philippians 3:9

He sums up the chapter by saying that “A daily embracing of the gospel is everyday work. That is why we need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day.”

Next Week: Chapter 6 – The Motivation of the Gospel

The Transforming Power of the Gospel – Chapter 4: The Great Exchange

“The good news of the gospel is not that we are not so bad; the good news is that God, through Christ, has dealt with our badness.” p.41

“God cannot exalt His mercy at the expense of His justice.” p.42 – In other words He cannot say “sin is not a big deal, I’m not going to let a few little sins keep you out of heaven and out of relationship with Me.”

Bridges spends the bulk of this chapter walking through and unpacking the meaning of 2 Corinthians 5:21. A verse that theologian Charles Hodge wrote this about: “There is probably no passage in the Scriptures in which the doctrine of justification is more concisely or clearly stated.” And which commentator Philip Hughes wrote: “There is no sentence more profound in the whole of Scripture, for this verse embraces the whole ground of the sinner’s reconciliation to God.” p.43

2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

As he unpacked this verse, Bridges talked about The Great Exchange – whereby God exchanges our sin for Christ’s righteousness. he did so by discussing…

Our Condition – The fact that we are helpless, ungodly, sinners and enemies of God.

The Sinlessness of Christ – Though He was tempted in every way during His days on earth Jesus was without sin.

God Made Him To Be Sin – Jesus was made to be the very embodiment of sin. He was made to be all that which is abominable and hateful to God – all that which is the object of His holy and just wrath.

The Righteousness of God – Meaning the righteousness of Christ that was lived out in His 33 years on earth. A righteousness that was both holy and wholly pleasing to God.

Union With Christ – Jesus is our “representative union” – he acted as our representative in both His sinless life and sin-bearing death. he is also our “living union” – He lives within us by His holy Spirit and empowers us to live the Christian life.

Justification – In our standing before God we are righteous in His sight. Not because of anything that we have done but when by faith we trust in Him, God regards us as righteousness because He has credited to us the righteousness of Christ. He sees us just as if we had never sinned and just as if we had always obeyed.

Bridges told a really good illustration to help make his point. He was having a conversation with a self-employed landscape contractor that went like this (p.51):

Bridges: Suppose you have been working on a job all day and come home sweaty and dirty and your clothes all grimy. What do you need to do before you sit down to dinner?

Contractor: I need to take a shower and put on clean clothes.

B: How about just putting on clean clothes without taking a shower?

C: No I would never do that?

B: Then how about taking a shower and putting your grimy work clothes back on?

C: No, I wouldn’t do that either.

B: So you need to take a shower and put on clean clothes?

C: Yes, that’s what I need to do.

B: That’s what God does to you. he washes you clean in the blood of His Son and clothes you in His perfect righteousness.

Next Week: Chapter 5 – A Daily Embracing of the Gospel

The Transforming Power of the Gospel (Chapter 3)

Chapter 3: The Sinfulness of Our Sin

At the end of the chapter, Bridges summarizes his thoughts in this way:

“It may seem as if I am overly belaboring the sinfulness of our sin, but I am convinced that I have not painted the picture nearly as dark as it is to our infinitely holy God. Furthermore, we will not see our continual need of the gospel if we do not see our continual sinfulness. I believe that we do not truly appreciate the gospel until we become desperate for it.” (p.39)

Here are some of his thoughts leading up to this summation.

In Isaiah 6, Isaiah pronounced woe upon himself: “Woe is me, for I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.” The word “unclean” he used is the same word lepers were required to use as they would cry out “unclean, unclean” (Lev 13:45)

Isaiah was essentially calling himself a moral leper. This from a man who was presumably righteous before God. He had seen a vision of the infinite holiness of God and by comparison, saw himself as a man of unclean lips. Isaiah would later write “We have all become like one who is unclean and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Is 64:6)

Bridges says, “For us today, this is where spiritual transformation really begins – when we begin to see that even our best deeds on our best days are like a polluted garment before an infinitely holy God.” (p.31)

On page 35 he quotes Augustine who says this same thing in a different way: “Our best works are but ‘splendid vices’ in the sense they are less than the perfection God requires.”

Later in the chapter Bridges gives two great reasons why he is putting such an emphasis on the seriousness of sin.

1) Most Christians, he says, do not take their own sin seriously. “The self-esteem, ‘feel good about yourself’ movement has so infected the church that it is unfashionable to consider ourselves sinners.” Rather, he says, we are people who “make mistakes.” We just don’t take sin seriously.

2) We need to realize our need for the gospel and our need to embrace it everyday. “It is against the backdrop of our sinfulness”, he says, “that the beauty of the gospel shines so brilliantly.” (p.36)

But what does the gospel have to do with spiritual transformation? Isn’t it just what we need to get us into the kingdom? No. Bridges points out that the gospel keeps us from discouragement as we see how continually and how far short we come in obedience. And the gospel keeps us from self-righteousness because the gospel is only for sinners. It keeps us from lapsing into a performance based relationship with God because we know that our performance is NEVER good enough. And the gospel is the great motivator for pursuing spiritual motivation – especially when we begin to understand what grace is all about. (p. 37)

Next Week: Chapter 4: The Great Exchange

The Transforming Power of the Gospel (Chapter 1)

Here is my plan of attack for sharing my thoughts as I read this book. At the end of each chapter are 3 Discussion Questions which are designed to sum up the chapter. I am going to answer these as best I can by summing up what Bridges says in the book. If there are other things that strike me outside of this I will make some additional comments. On to chapter 1 entitled “Too Old Soon, Too Late Smart”

Q1: Spiritual transformation requires dependent responsibility. How does this differ from living by the concept of “Let go and let God”? Let go and let God essentially means that just as you can do nothing for your salvation but trust in Jesus, so you can do nothing for your transformation but trust in Jesus. This is not biblical. Dependent responsibility assumes that while we are dependent on the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us, we are responsible to obey the moral commands and exhortations of Scripture. In other words we can’t expect the Spirit of God to do what He wants to do if we are not willing to put God’s Word into practice and seek to live according to His ways.

Q2: If we live in denial about our sin, we will not grow. How does the gospel free us up to honestly face our sin? Because the gospel tells us that, despite the fact that we continue to sin after we are saved, because of the death of Christ God no longer counts that sin against us. And it gives us motivation and courage to daily fight sin that we might more reflect the holiness of our Savior.

Q3: Why do believers in Christ still need the gospel everyday? Because the gospel daily reminds us that from God’s point of view, our relationship with Him is not based on how good or how bad we’ve been but upon the perfect goodness and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. And because we are performance oriented by nature, and because our culture reinforces this orientation, we need this daily reminder.

Next Week: Chapter 2 – The Holiness of God

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