IntroductionThis book has been percolating in my heart and mind for several years now. Actually, come to think of it, I think the kettle was placed on the burner shortly after I arrived in Lausanne Switzerland for Discipleship Training School which was one phase of Youth With A Mission's (YWAM) 14 month School of Evangelism program. Somewhere, somehow, during the process of being trained for missions, the joyful abandon that I had first come to experience in my relationship with God began to dissolve and be replaced with a dis-ease characterized by constant uncertainty about God's disposition towards me. My confidence in God's love for and acceptance of me quickly deteriorated into an constant anxiety about whether my life measured up to his high standards of holiness and devotion. The honeymoon was over!
I don't believe that YWAM's teaching was in and of itself detrimental. I don't know whether the core tenants of discipleship they teach have changed since that time, but the theology and practices that they were dispensing then, I still hold as gospel truths. Somehow, though, I was unable to process those truths in a way that confirmed and established me in a Kingdom life that was characterized by "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). Instead I developed an insecurity in my relationship with God where my joy was highly dependent on my perceived ability (or lack thereof) to live up to the standards, as I understood them, which were taught by YWAM and seemed to be confirmed and reinforced in the New Testament. What began as a joyful eagerness to do anything God asked me to do with a childlike confidence in his goodness and wisdom turned into a constant awareness of my own fleshly weakness. I felt like God's pleasure with me was based more on my ability to perform for him than on his ability to perform in me. I somehow internalized the idea that if I encountered a situation where my flesh seemed to be creating a serious obstacle to performing what I perceived to be God's will that it was entirely up to me to make it right and that just the fact of my internal resistance to his will caused him to be less approving of me than otherwise. I began to live daily in the first half of Romans 7, unable to breakthrough with any consistency to Romans 7:25: "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin." (ESV)
Even though I had read, and could recite, the many promises pertaining to the joyful, victorious life that has been purchased for us through Christ's atoning sacrifice, I was unable to process the many warnings and exhortations to holy living in a way that was life-giving. Mine became a redemption story more characterized by failures than a testimony to the abundant life to be found in Jesus. Where had I gone wrong? What was the key that could have unlocked the riches in glory promised to those who place their trust in the Savior? Spiritually speaking, it was like having a collapsed lung that rendered me incapable of taking in enough of the breath of life to sustain me.
I know that many who have read thus far are probably saying to themselves right now, "Man...I guess this joker never heard about the Reformation or the 5 Solas!" On the contrary...I've heard the wonders of grace extolled and how it is impossible to earn our salvation through any type of self effort proclaimed thousands of times. I firmly believe that salvation is by grace alone. The Bible isn't vague on this point. There is no amount of good works or law-keeping that can ever commute the death sentence that hangs over the head of every person born into this world. And I am in complete agreement that it is only by faith in the completed work of redemption wrought by Jesus through his suffering, death, burial and resurrection that gives us entrance into that state of grace which we refer to as 'being saved'. But the problem for me, and, whether they realize it or not, for everyone who would avail themselves of eternal life, is that it is impossible to support the the current predominant definitions of 'grace' and 'faith' if one takes into account the whole Bible . When all of the Bible verses addressing the attributes and conditions of eternal life are taken into account, a grace or faith that absolves us from any participation in our own sanctification or in cultivating a life devoted to carrying out Jesus's mission 'to seek and save that which is lost' is untenable. There are no such definitions that can stand in the light of the 'whole counsel of Scripture'. "By grace...through faith" (Eph. 2:8) is currently being defined strictly in terms of a legal arrangement whereby Christ took my rap and I get off Scot-free as long as I believe in his existence, atonement and the resulting legal arrangement. The issue isn't whether or not this proposition isn't true. It's absolutely true...but only if we unswervingly adhere to the Bible's definitions of 'grace' and 'faith'.
I believe that how we have redefined how the gospel "is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16 ESV) has profound consequences. In the short term, it is making the church sluggish and ineffective. And worse yet, it is producing Christians who dishonor the name of Christ by presenting to the world an image of followers of Jesus as right-wing bigots who have replaced the directive to "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19) with "make everybody behave through legislation and law-enforcement. I know it varies widely depending on locale and individual congregation, but there are enough of these Pharisaical 'christians' out there to cause society at large to mostly dismiss the church off hand. But worst of all, I believe that it is dooming countless thousands of professing Christians to an eternity spent far from their desired haven of joy in their Master's presence. This false gospel has convinced thousands, perhaps millions, that they have eternal life when, in fact, at the final judgment they will hear the terrifying pronouncement, "I never knew you" (Matthew 7:23) The Bible, and Jesus himself, is abundantly clear that a faith that does not lead to transformed character and a life of good works is a forgery.
So how is this conundrum resolved? Where is the missing link between...
""Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)
...and the promise of an abundant, joy-filled, victorious life where Jesus says:
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."" (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)?
That's where I'm going and I hope and pray that you'll come along. God bless you with peace and grace as you seek see Him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly day by day.