The Shocker: Grace for the Christian
This grace is for you right now, now and tonight and tomorrow and next week and forever. The deadly assumption made too often among those who claim to heed the Scriptures is that grace is only for non-Christians. Grace is what God offers to people who don’t know Christ. Grace is what makes us Christians; but once we’re Christians, we live by our own resources. This is why advocates of Strength Christianity so often sound like evangelical Christians. They really do believe that God offers grace to unbelievers who will turn to God through Jesus Christ. And they’re right on that. What they wrongly assume, though, is that the Christian life begins by grace, but continues by human works.
I’ve seen this confusion many times. I found it ironic that the very same prayer program that so hurt the church I love included within it an absolutely wonderful children’s program. This at first puzzled me. The children who attended were pointed to Jesus, reassured of God’s love for them, and encouraged to rest in God’s mercy and total acceptance in Christ. In the adult activities, by contrast, people were told to try harder, to persevere, to do better, to be more consistent and to pray more, so that God could bless them. The children heard, “God did it,” while the adults were told, “Just do it.”
Why the difference? The difference was simple. These teachers were assuming that the children of the church were not yet Christians (…an assumption I would question). God offers non-Christians grace. The adults, however, were committed Christians. The Christian’s relationship with God rests not upon God’s grace, but upon his or her performance, particularly the performance of the ultimate devotional duty, the daily quiet time. This assumption—that grace isn’t for Christians—is spiritual venom, which is keeping millions of Christians in bondage to self-reliance, guilt, shame, and despair. Quiet Time Guilt is the great epidemic among Bible-believing Christians today.
If you think the purpose behind this little tract is to absolve you from the call to pray or the need for Scripture, think again. My purpose is to free you to desire prayer—to desire God. I want you to long for the pure message of the gospel, spelled out on page after page of the Bible, and to find the joyous freedom found in Christ. Prayer is a grace, not a work. It is a confession of our neediness to God, not a proof that our “relationship with God” is going well. If you think that God will not bless you today because you missed your quiet time, this has been for you. If subtle legalism has left you in bondage so that you no longer hunger for God’s word or freely call out to him in prayer, then hear this: God has already chosen you, pronounced you righteous, adopted you into his family, and promised to finish his work in you. Perhaps you have been lied to in the past. Now it is time for the truth to set you free. Free to be needy. Free to fail. Free to approach God without dread. Free to delight in him rather than in your performance.
But I have a few more theological reflections to share before you leave. Keep reading.
Here I think the term sanctification plays a huge role in understanding the grace God offers to the non-believer vs. the Christian. God offers his grace to both, however, the on-going showering of grace for the Christian is part of God's fulfillment to accomplish every good work He began. This is called being sanctified, or being made anew by God's Holy Spirit. On the otherhand, God offers his grace in different degrees. The non-believer experiences God's common grace in his/her daily life. God's sovereign grace is the effectious drawing of the Holy Spirit which accomplishes salvation.
The most powerful point Johnson made, I think, is this: "Prayer is a grace, not a work. It is a confession of our neediness to God, not a proof that our “relationship with God” is going well." We too often measure our relationship with God by our committment to prayer. Prayer should be viewed in as the most vulnerable means of communication with our Lord. There, at the bottom of the Cross, is where God meets us.
What "theological reflections" does Johnson wish to convey in order to understand prayer and the biblical view on quiet times? Find out tomorrow in part IV of the on-going series this week entitled, "Freedom from Quiet Time Guilt: The rare beauty of Weakness Christianity."
Here is a special sneak peak into tomorrow's passage:
"But I’ve found contemporary Christians are often more concerned about my ‘relationship with God’ than with my relationship with God. Whose idea was it to define the sum total of my relationship with God as my devotional consistency? Your quiet time is not your relationship with God. Your relationship with God—or, as I prefer to say, God’s relationship with you—is your whole life: your job, your family, your sleep, your play, your relationships, your driving, your everything. The real irony here is that we’ve become accustomed to pigeonholing our entire relationship with God into a brief devotional exercise that is not even commanded in the Bible."
Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi