Friday, October 14, 2011

Whose Grace Is It?

I take as my text today some passages from Psalm 78:

God did miracles in the sight of Israel's fathers in the land of Egypt... But they continued to sin against him, rebelling in the desert against the Most High. They willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved.

They spoke against God, saying, "Can God spread a table in the desert? When he struck the rock, water gushed out, and streams flowed abundantly. But can he also give us food? Can he supply meat for his people?"

When the LORD heard them, he was very angry; his fire broke out against Jacob, and his wrath rose against Israel, for they did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance. Yet he gave a command to the skies above and opened the doors of the heavens; he rained down manna for the people to eat, he gave them the grain of heaven. He rained meat down on them like dust, flying birds like sand on the seashore.

In spite of all this, they kept on sinning; in spite of his wonders, they did not believe.

So he ended their days in futility and their years in terror. Whenever God slew them, they would seek him; they eagerly turned to him again. They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer. But then they would flatter him with their mouths, lying to him with their tongues; their hearts were not loyal to him, they were not faithful to his covenant.

Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return.

How often they rebelled against him in the desert and grieved him in the wasteland! Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel. They did not remember his power, the day he redeemed them from the oppressor.

Like their fathers they were disloyal and faithless, as unreliable as a faulty bow. They angered him with their high places; they aroused his jealousy with their idols. When God heard them, he was very angry; he rejected Israel completely. He abandoned the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent he had set up among men. He sent the ark of his might into captivity, his splendor into the hands of the enemy. He gave his people over to the sword; he was very angry with his inheritance.

- from Psalm 78

We love grace, as we should, considering the Price that was paid for it.

However, the more we enjoy it, don't we tend to abuse it? Might we be doing more than simply taking it for granted? Might we be demonstrating an appreciation for the raw religious significance of grace, instead of what God wants: an imperfect love for the Provider of that grace?

No believer in Christ can lose their salvation, but how might the extent to which we never appropriate a deeper devotion to our Savior by considering the fullness of His teachings (and not just those parts we enjoy hearing) and how they apply in our service to others actually indicate we're not really His at all?

Should we dare to shrug off the impact of Psalm 78?

"But they continued to sin against Him."

"They would flatter Him, lying to Him with their tongues; their hearts were not loyal to Him."

"They were disloyal and as unreliable as a faulty bow."

"They aroused His jealousy with their idols."

If you've committed any of these sins, as I have, and believe that God has forgiven you through the atoning sacrifice of His holy Son, then rejoice in that grace! Understand the price that was paid. And live in that grace like you mean it! Not flaunting it for your own purposes, but for the benefit of His Kingdom.

Not because you need to try and repay God for anything. But because as a servant of His, you know you can't. And you know He doesn't want you to try. It's not even like it's a burden, since the love of Christ should "compel us." (2 Corinthians 5:14)

It's all a matter of perspective, isn't it? The esteemed 17th Century Presbyterian Samuel Rutherford wrote:

"Humble sinners have high thoughts of free grace. Stand not afar off, come near, be washed, for free grace is not proud when grace refuseth not sinners. Salvation must be a flower planted without hands that groweth only out of the heart of Christ.

"Take humble thoughts of yourselves - and noble and high thoughts of excellent Jesus to heaven with you!

"Angels and saints shall be Christ's debtors for eternity of ages; and so long as God is God, sinners shall be in grace's account book!"

Those who have been bought with a price live not under a yolk of oppression, but under an obligation of thanks. After all, God is jealous, and He does not want us misplacing our focus on anything else but Him.

Might the extent to which we twist that obligation inwards and lose touch with the entirety of God's holy expectations of us be the extent to which we actually devalue the sacrifice made on our behalf?

Again, to quote Rutherford, "Of all created comforts, God is the lender; you are the borrower, not the owner."

Thanks be to God.

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