Friday, January 04, 2008

Evidences of Grace and the Gospel

On our way back from a long Christmas vacation at home (hence the extreme posting hiatus), Steve and I had an interesting conversation about evidences of grace. (Why is it that generally "evidence" can be plural, but whenever people talk about "evidence of God's grace," they say "evidences" when they are talking about more than one example? Anyway, I digress...)

I asked him the familiar New Year's question about how he had seen evidence(s) of God's grace in his life over the last year, and one of his responses kind of surprised me. He mentioned how God has used parenthood to show him how much he doesn't have it all together--how much impatience and anger, etc., is still in his heart. I was surprised by this, partly because I have felt like having Elijah has brought out the worst in me but the best in Steve--apparently he just does a much better job of suppressing the impatience and anger than I do :)

Anyway, I was also surprised by his answer because my question was intended to evoke a positive response--you know, something like, "God has worked in my heart this year to help me overcome [fill in the blank]." Or "By His grace, I have really grown in my ability to do [blank]." It was a "look how far you've come" question, not a "look how far you still have to go" question. So I asked Steve about this, because to me, "look how far you've come" is a necessary encouragement in the midst of the discouragement and despair that can come from "look how far you still have to go."

He explained that he didn't find it discouraging at all. "Actually, when I look at the areas where I know I am really struggling, it helps to remember that I don't have it together even in the areas where I might sometimes think I do," he said. "It humbles me. And it reminds me that I will never have it all together; in fact, I don't have to. It brings me back to the gospel."

Steve then said something I'm still pondering. He proposed that the whole point of our lives on earth is to show us how desperately bad and full of sin we really are. "Look at guys like Luther, or even Paul," he pointed out. "Even at the end of their lives, they were still talking about how bad they were. The more you know, the more you just realize how sinful your heart is." So if we spend life here growing in our awareness of our sin, he suggested, it will make Heaven that much sweeter, when we finally are free from sin and conformed to Christ's image.

It's something to chew on as I reflect on 2007 and consider goals for the new year. I'll never measure up--but I don't need to. My standing before God as His redeemed and adopted daughter depends not on my performance, but on His mercy and grace--on the perfect performance and sacrifice of His Son.

Amen and amen. Here's to a gospel-centered 2008!

*ETA: See the comments for some helpful (I hope) discussion and clarification :)


Anonymous said...

Well, I finally met someone--and no surprise that it's you!--who ponders the whole evidence/evidences thing. I do believe it's a Sovereign Grace thing. "Evidence" is plural, you're right. We can list as many as we want and still be right to say evidence. No lawyer comes to court with evidences, does he?
Thank you, Amy, for being that person I can count on to catch the intellectual nuances (nuisances?) in the English language.

I see where Steve is coming from, but I strongly disagree that our whole reason for being here is to see the sin in our lives and how much we need Jesus. I believe that we are to regularly ask the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and see if there are any wicked ways in me, but chances are, they're pretty easy for us to spot! I am more fond of agreeing that our whole reason for being here is to love God and enjoy Him forever. I can't do that if I'm so focused on my sin. Here's my new motto when I'm plunging into the ill effects of staring at my sin: Can't see the Maker of the Forest for the Diseased Trees I've always got my nose stuck up against.

I don't ever want to lose sight of the great sacrifice Jesus paid for my sin--by becoming my sin!--nor do I want to be an Eeyoric Christian, ya know? I'm burnt out on Eeyoric Christians.

Hey, did you get my package? I won't be online for a while. Surgery tomorrow. I can ask other family member to relay email to me, though.

faith ann raider said...

Dear Amy,
I read your New Year's post and walked away to do dishes but I just had to come back and reply to what you wrote about "the whole point of our lives on earth is to show us how desperately bad and full of sin we really are." it nearly brings me to tears right now because I think it misrepresents God's heart for his children!
Maybe I'm taking this in a way that Steve didn't mean but I think that to spend our whole lives focusing on our sins and failures in a way denies the gospel because it is Jesus' death that frees us from sin.
I agree with what Steve said that "I will never have it all together; but in fact, I don't have to." AMEN! Motherhood has brought out the worst in me too. Sometimes I look at my four little children and it might as well be a sea of five thousand faces because I have only two loaves and a few small fish to offer. I wonder how even that will do any good, but Jesus takes my inadequate offering and multiplies it for the multitude and somehow, by some miracle of grace, they all are fed.
I think that with each passing year I have become more and more aware of how so totally not together I really am but with that growing awareness God has been so good to show me an also growing awareness of the grace available to me through the love of the Father, the death & resurrection of His Son and the power of the Holy Spirit at work in me. I hope that as much as I am aware of my sinfulness I will be that much and more aware that God loves me and accepts me anyway, and that as I see how inadequate I am I will see that much more the glory of God's power working through me and his grace ready to work in and through my weakness. Alongside my ever-growing awareness of how deeply needy I am is the confidence that my God will freely supply my every need according to His riches in Christ Jesus.
But I'm rambling... so anyway, to sum it all up I encourage y'all to think of your awareness of sin as a stop along the way to the destination of living in the awareness of, dependance upon and confidence in the extravigant, lavish grace of God!

Amy said...

Thank you both for taking the time to comment! I love this kind of discussion on my blog--wish it happened more often :)

I talked with Steve more about this last night. He (and I) wouldn't really dispute anything either of you have said! Let me try to clarify...

I think probably your disagreement stems from 1) my misrepresentation of what Steve said (obviously my "quotes" of him weren't exact; I didn't have a tape recorder in the car to capture his precise words--though he did approve this post before I published it) and 2) the fact that he may have misspoken.

He said: "When I said, 'the point of life' I didn't really mean THE point." :) It's definitely not that he--or I--think that the ultimate purpose and meaning of life is only to realize your sinfulness. Rather, that is ONE main thing that our lives on earth accomplish--not as the end, but as the means to the end (increasing our awareness of God's grace, making heaven sweeter, loving and enjoying God fully, etc.). Does that make any sense at all?

Steve really wasn't being an "Eeyore Christian" in this conversation. *I* would have seen it as a negative thing--that's why I questioned at first how "God has shown me how much sin is still in my heart" could be positive evidence of grace. But he was seeing it as a positive thing, an increase in gospel awareness, not a "woe is me" kind of thing.

Let me know if I'm still being completely unclear or if you still disagree :) Thanks again for the great input!

Anonymous said...

I talked with Paul about this very thing after reading another friend's take on whether messages on indwelling sin really help us see our identity in Christ or if they just downright discourage us. My Paul said it must be a woman thing because his take is like your Steve's and he doesn't hear this Eeyoreishness in men's circles. I think I'm most aware of God's love for me when He is speaking to me about things other than my sin. YOu know, like a father with his children. He doesn't exasperate us and show us how good he is by always pointing our faults. I don't think God does, either. He convicts, certainly, but I think personally that SG messages go overboard on indwelling sin. OUr meetings would be more joyful if there was more emphasis on communing with a loving God who loves to talk to us about many many things that aren't sin-related.
YOu made perfect sense in your comment explanation.