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How grace makes us better

Faith & Inspiration

Charles Spurgeon once said, “The grace which does not make a man better than others is a worthless counterfeit.”

Never have words rung so politically and theologically incorrect. The statement is just so un-egalitarian. It makes it sound as if we think we are supposed to amount to something and look different from others in our speech and conduct and love and faith and purity. Come to think of it, the apostle Paul had the same dichotomous thinking:

“… set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

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Nor is Spurgeon the only theologian who said that the grace of God is supposed to make us better people than we were before. Dietrich Bonhoeffer made the same claim, but served it up with a heaping helping of sarcasm to get the point across:

“Well then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world … and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin. … Let him not attempt to erect a new religion of the letter by endeavouring to live a life of obedience to the commandments of Jesus Christ! The world has been justified by grace. … [H]e must not strive against this indispensable grace. Therefore—let him live like the rest of the world! Of course he would like to go and do something extraordinary, and it does demand a good deal of self-restraint to refrain from the attempt and to content himself with living as the world lives. Yet … he must let grace be grace. … Let the Christian rest content with his worldliness … for grace alone does everything. Instead of following Christ, let the Christian enjoy the consolations of his grace!”

Just in case we have a tin ear for satire, the German pastor in the Nazi prison clarified:

“That is what we mean by cheap grace. … Cheap grace is grace without discipleship.”

But what makes these sentiments of Paul and Spurgeon and Bonhoeffer not prideful or presumptuous or arrogant is that they all agree that the “better” of the Christian over the unbeliever is not the superiority of the person’s flesh, but of the One who lives inside us. Grace, according to these men, is not just a get-out-of-hell pass. It is for using and walking in and overcoming temptations that are not overcomeable without Christ.

Spurgeon wrote:

“Many persons, if they are asked what they understand by salvation, will reply, ‘Being saved from hell and taken to heaven.’ This is one result of salvation, but it is not one tithe of what is contained in that boon. It is true that our Lord Jesus Christ does redeem all his people from the wrath to come … but his triumph is far more complete than this. He saves people ‘from their sins’ … he casts Satan from his throne, and will not let him be master any longer. No man is a true Christian if sin reigns in his mortal body. Sin will be in us—it will never be utterly expelled till the spirit enters glory; but it will never have dominion. There will be a striving for dominion—a lusting against the new law and the new spirit which God has implanted—but sin will never get the upper hand so as to be absolute monarch of our nature.”

It is important to know what grace is for, and not to think it wrong to aspire to that which Christ purchased for us.

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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