The Grace of Rescue and Renewal

Paul wrote Ephesians from prison, which makes sense when you look at the overarching tone of the letter…

Chapters 1-3 read like chains falling off and prison doors swinging wide open by the power of scandalous, justifying grace.

Chapters 4-6 read like they are describing how to enjoy this newfound freedom, glorifying the One who freed you by empowering, sanctifying grace.

While there is an undeniable shift in the letter in Chapter 4 from what Christ did to what the church ought to do, Paul’s teaching never abandon’s God’s grace.

The things Christ did are “indicatives” in scripture. They indicate that gospel is true.

The things Christians are instructed to do are “imperatives” in scripture. They instruct our renewed hearts how to live in light of the fact that the gospel is true.

The grace that rescued us is the same grace that renews us.

The letter to the Ephesians is extremely encouraging because it reveals that the power that animates our hearts to increasingly turn from our sin and love our saviour is not will power, but by the Spirit’s power. In other words – you don’t make yourself more like Jesus through your work – the Spirit of Jesus makes you more like Jesus through His work.

This is why we can dance when we read scriptures that remind us about God’s saving grace and not turn and run away when we read scriptures that instruct us into lives of renewal by God’s reforming grace.

Justification is done by Christ.
Sanctification is done & being done by the Spirit of Christ.

When you get to the second half of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he calls the church to do three things:

Put off the old self
Renew the mind
Put on the new self

Now, if you read scriptural calls to renewal and reform and omit their context – which is gracious rescue – you’ll quickly arrive at an exhausting, discouraging, Sola Bootstrapsa type theology:  ‘Jesus did His part – now pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make yourself holy, church.’

No.

The opposite problem is also possible. If we scream “LEGALISM!” every time we come across a scripture that instructs and guides our lives, then we don’t yet understand what that scandalous, saving grace is for.

We are free from the curse of the law – we don’t keep it as a means of saving us, we endeavour to keep it because we desire that it guides us. We aren’t set free by grace to be free from obedience to Christ – that’s weird – we are set free for obedience to Christ.

If God’s grace stopped working after our rescue, we’d all just walk back into our cells and close the doors behind us. Our hearts would return to serving our mini messiah’s, whatever they were, and we’d stare at our version of forbidden fruit thinking, maybe this will fulfill me.  True gospel liberation is rescue AND renewal.

Martin Luther, in his charge against the antinomians (lawless people) was this: you can’t grant the premise of grace and deny it’s conclusion. In other words, if we cheer about saving grace but we bolt the other way wanting no part of sanctifying grace, then there’s a problem with our understanding of both grace and freedom.

On the other hand, graceless calls to reform have historically sent church into the fetal position because, like in Galatia, omitting the sufficiency of God’s grace quickly leads  to the false gospel that insists that Christ’s work needs the contribution of your work in order to make salvation actual because Jesus only got you started and made your salvation possible. That nonsense robs the church of the joy of resting in Christ who is their holiness, and instead sends them running off under the false pretense that they create their holiness.

We put off our old life by grace.
The renewal of our hearts & minds is by grace.
We put on our new life in Christ by grace.

As our grasp of God’s grace continually increases, our appetite for our sin continually decreases.

Again, context is our friend. If you sit down and read the letter to the Ephesians front to back, you will see that Paul never abstracted the grace of Christ from the call to reform.

Christ’s perfect life, atoning death and divine resurrection give us a completely different relationship with God’s law and an entirely different motivation for obedience.

The law is no longer a means of salvation, therefore we can delight in it with no condemnation because Christ fulfilled it for us. It now serves as the means by which we glorify God & love our neighbours.

Obedience does not create holiness, it reflects it. Christ is our holiness. The desire to obey God is what our heart, electrified by His scandalous saving grace, increasingly wants to do.

We don’t make ourselves more like Christ through a life of love & good works. The Spirit of Christ is making us more like Christ, thus we gladly live lives of love & good works.

Christ earned everything and assures everything, therefore obedience has nothing to do with earning and everything to do with imaging. When we obey we are like a toddler putting on their fathers shoes in a joyful effort to emulate Him.

Obedience is a dance of celebration the church does because of what we have been given, not a dance audition whereby our good performance secures what we’ve been given. Any talk of obedience that isn’t free from earning is toxic slavery.

Christ is enough.

Paul prayed twice for the church before getting to his call for obedience in chapters 4-6. He prayed that their hearts would deeply grasp the grace they had in Christ. Both of his grace-laced prayers had to do with spiritual power toward and in the church. Why?

The limited power of our will might suppress sinful desire, but the expulsive power of the Spirit changes what we desire.

Our minds can concede that God’s law is truth, but the renewing power of the Spirit makes our hearts desire God’s truth.

In Ephesians 4:24, Paul wrote,

“… put on the new self – created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Paul is not calling Christians to DO something in order to BECOME something. If he were, the grace we preach would be truly underwhelming.

Notice the word Paul uses to describe your new self. Your new self is already created – past tense.

The call to put off the old self, be renewed and put on the new self is not a divine guilt trip – it’s a divine invitation  to BE who you ALREADY ARE in Christ.

Christian faith is not about doing things, getting things and becoming something via your work. Christian faith is about believing the gospel, resting in the gospel and living life in light of the gospel because of Christ’s work.

The gospel is the scandalous announcement that everything God required from you, Christ did for you, and now everything Christ deserves is coming to you. You are now free to answer the call to live your life to the obedience of Christ from a liberating reality – because of His grace, you are loved, forgiven and free.

“To see the law by Christ fulfilled and hear His pardoning voice,
transforms a slave into a child & duty into choice.”
William Cowper
(1731-1800)

Press on,

Paul

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