Grace is a controversial concept. It always has been. In recent years there have been various squabbles over it, but these are not just a modern phenomena. You can trace the tension down through the centuries. You can feel the tension in the pages of the New Testament. You can see the roots of the conflict clear back in the Old Testament. Somehow grace seems to always divide God’s people.
On the one side there will always be those who discover the wonderful freedom of the gospel of grace. On the other there will always be those pushing back against this and pointing out the call to dedicated obedience. And on both sides there will usually be corruptions of true grace and God’s intent.
It is easy to get drawn into this squabble of the ages, and yet to miss one of the pervading issues from the very beginning. That is, the first chapters of Genesis frame the reality in which we live. Yet once we come to talking about the life of salvation, we seem to turn off our Genesis 1-3 radar – we lose sight of some of the underlying issues involved.
One of the great omissions in our wrestling with what it is to be saved and to live in our salvation, is the whole Genesis 3 tendency of our flesh. What were some of the features of the Fall? There was doubt of God’s word, doubt of God’s provision, doubt of God’s goodness, and doubt of God’s warning. “Did he really say? . . . You will not surely die!” What’s more, there was the lure of something profoundly enticing, “You can be like God.”
All too often I suspect that as Christians, we feel somehow immune to the issues of Genesis 3 because we are now on the other side: the promised seed of the woman has come and we’ve been saved. And with the Genesis 1-3 radar muffled, we proceed blindly unaware of how those same issues are shaping and misshaping our grasp of what it is to be saved and live saved.
On the one side we see well-meaning Christians expressing their frustration at those basking in God’s grace. “We have to do our bit too!” and “what about the masses of imperatives in Scripture?” and “we have a duty!” They’ve spotted something – there are very high expectations of those gripped by God’s grace. But, at times, they seem to miss something – the hiss-beep of the Genesis 3 radar!
Ever since the Fall we have all had an in-built tendency to view ourselves as not really dead, but as responsible individuals who need to make our spiritual resolutions. So easily we can act as if we are like God and somehow have life and initiative in ourselves. Even in our gratitude for salvation, there can still be an emphasis on self and “what we must do.”
On the other side we see well-meaning Christians expressing their frustration at those calling for obedience to the God who is gracious. “We simply have to trust” and “He has done it all!” and “We are free!” They’ve spotted something – there is a wonderful freedom and rest in the trust described in the gospel, and it isn’t just a momentary rest at the point of conversion. But, at times, they also seem to miss something – the hiss-beep of the Genesis 3 radar!
Ever since the Fall we have all had an in-built tendency to view ourselves as God-like in our independence. So God’s loving gracious provision can be twisted into a self-serving freedom to live as we please and turn God into our heavenly butler, a dispenser of blessings us-ward at our behest. Even in our speaking of God’s great goodness, there can still be an emphasis on self as we declare “what He must do, for me.”
The human tendency will always be to turn God’s provision of salvation into something slightly detached from Him and remain somehow self-focused. It may be a self-focus of my determination to do my duty. It may be a self-focus of my celebration of benefits I receive. Either way, God remains strangely distant.
Our Genesis 1-3 warning system seems to be muffled, unheard through the noise of life. We don’t hear the hiss of the serpent as we ourselves fail to trust God’s Word. We don’t hear the hiss of the serpent as we treat ourselves as independent false gods. And it is false gods, because what is the true God like? Self-absorbed? Hardly. Duty-absorbed? Not really. How about relationally-absorbed? That seems closer.
We don’t hear the hiss of the forked tongue. And neither do we catch the glorious clang of wedding bells. God’s original design and His glorious plan of salvation is not about our becoming self-focused and dutifully committed, nor about our becoming self-absorbed masters with a heavenly butler.
It is about a marital union. Is there rest and delight in a good marriage? Absolutely. Is there a commitment to the other, a radical self-sacrificing set-apartness and faithfulness? Of course.
As we ponder the marital union established in the New Covenant between Christ and His bride, let’s revel in the wonderful grace of our groom. And let’s demonstrate the radical holiness His love stirs in our lives. And let’s never let the grace of the gospel be corrupted into some self-oriented pursuit – either a diligent religiosity, or a self-centred basking in blessings.
Let’s tune our ears to hear the hiss-beep of the serpent alert as our flesh tends toward some form of independence. Let’s tune our ears to hear the wedding bells as God calls out a bride for His Son. And let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, seeing His love for us, responding from the heart with absolute devotion, radical obedience, extreme faithfulness, and secure rest. A good marriage is never focused on what each party must do, it is focused fully on the other in the wonder of relational union.