How Grace Works

There’s a reason why God has to save anyone by grace, and grace alone, and not anything we can do.

The apostle Paul uses two “heroes” from the OT to prove this point in Romans 4, Abraham and David. He shows through their lives that even they were made right – justified – through God’s act of grace, not their efforts and achievements. They lived by faith and stood on grace, because only God can “make beauty out of ugly things” (U2), or in Paul’s words, “God justifies the ungodly.”

The good news of the gospel is that grace and life comes to screw-ups and failures. In other words, God justifies the wicked, not the winsome; the ungodly, not the unblemished

Quotable/Tweetable Thoughts

“God justifies the wicked, not the winsome; the ungodly, not the unblemished.” – Chris Gensheer

“Not only am I completely incapable of making God love me more, I’m equally incapable of making him love me less.” – Scotty Smith

“An idol is pursuing something you want, but don’t possess; your boast is holding on to something you have, but don’t want to lose.” – Chris Gensheer

“To “credit” righteousness is to bestow a positive, not merely forgive a negative.” – Chris Gensheer

“I’m much more interested in grace because I’m really depending on it.” – Bono

“Grace makes beauty our of ugly things.” – Bono

Christ Church Mansfield exists to love God, connect people, serve the city, and reach the world with the transforming power of the Gospel in Mansfield, Arlington, Midlothian, Burleson, Cedar Hill, Fort Worth and Dallas TX, and beyond.

Member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the Southwest Church Planting Network, and The Gospel Coalition.

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Refrigerators, Romans 4 and Preaching to My Own Heart as a Parent


Recently, while preparing to preach on Romans 4 at Christ Church Mansfield, I came to this verse and had a new found sense of awe and wonder at the gospel:

“Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.” – Romans 4:3b (quoting Genesis 15:6)

This word, “counted” (or in the NIV, “credited”) is a financial term, used in accounting. It means to calculate, sum up, to “do the math” and see what’s there. 

If you’ve ever received a credit, you know it was something “put there” by another.  Just think about the way bank overdraft fees work.  You over spent and under saved, and now you have a DEBIT or OVERDRAFT to your account. But in the event that you receive more money, your account receives SUFFICIENT funds status and is “in the black”, or “right” again. But if it’s the bank that gives it to you, it’s a CREDIT to your account.

To “credit” righteousness is to bestow a positive, not merely forgive a negative.

But that doesn’t necessarily resonate with me. I’m not an accountant, and while I appreciate receiving into my bank account, there was another way of thinking about this that struck me as more significant.

Let me explain.

As a parent I have the wonderful privilege of receiving all kinds of “art” projects form my children. The one’s that are especially meaningful are the ones where my children try to depict our family, or me in particular.

Now if you were to come over and look at our refrigerator and all you see are a bunch of explosions of crayons, markers, and glitter glue, you would say, “Uh, that’s interesting.”

But to me, that fridge is the Kimball Art Museum and those are masterpieces of beauty!

You see a wreck; I see a work of art.

Why? Why hasn’t “family art projects” become an installation somewhere in the world?

Because “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

To you, they’re a mess.

But to the father, they’re credited to the child as Masterpiece.

And this is a picture of the gospel.

If you’ve ever received a credit, you know it was something “put there” by another. To “credit” something is to bestow a positive, not merely forgive a negative.

Just like Abraham, we, in faith, receive from God the Father not merely forgiveness, but righteousness and justification — the state and process of being “good” and “in the right” again. Not because we are so special, but because He is.

It is because of His sheer act and work of grace that we are brought into the family of God.

Our mess becomes a Masterpiece in His eyes and His hands alone. This is the essence of grace, and like the man sang:

Grace makes beauty out of ugly things. – Bono

Or before U2, there was this:

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

– Psalm 51:7-12 (ESV)

“Grace” by U2 (unofficial video)

Facets of the Gospel: Justification by Faith from Calvin

John CalvinIn studying each week through Romans for our series at Christ Church Mansfield, I often come across many great thoughts, quotes, and illustrations. Here is a great quote from John Calvin on how the gospel is in fact good news for a sinner like me.

“A man is said to be justified in the sight of God when in the judgment of God he is deemed righteous, and is accepted on account of his righteousness; for as iniquity is abominable to God, so neither can the sinner find grace in his sight, so far as he is and so long as he is regarded as a sinner. Hence, wherever sin is, there also are the wrath and vengeance of God. He, on the other hand, is justified who is regarded not as a sinner, but as righteous, and as such stands acquitted at the judgment-seat of God, where all sinners are condemned. As an innocent man, when charged before an impartial judge, who decides according to his innocence, is said to be justified by the judge, as a man is said to be justified by God when, removed from the catalogue of sinners, he has God as the witness and assertor of his righteousness. In the same manner, a man will be said to be justified by works, if in his life there can be found a purity and holiness which merits an attestation of righteousness at the throne of God, or if by the perfection of his works he can answer and satisfy the divine justice. On the contrary, a man will be justified by faith when, excluded from the righteousness of works, he by faith lays hold of the righteousness of Christ, and clothed in it appears in the sight of God not as a sinner, but as righteous. Thus we simply interpret justification, as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as if we were righteous; and we say that this justification consists in the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.” – John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (pp. 37-38)

Sin Can’t Have a Green Card

ImageAs I’m working through the book of Romans with a group of great guys at Christ Church Santa Fe, I am struck by how often the questions of the role of sin in the Christian life come up.  This question makes sense and comes up in the book of Romans in chapter 6, but it’s at least in the background throughout the whole book.  We are utilizing a study guide put together by Tim Keller and Redeemer Church New York, and it is a great tool for our study, but still, this question lingers.

One way I have found helpful in answering this question is by using a “green card” analogy.  Here’s what I mean:

Because of your union with Christ, sin can’t have a green card in your life. It can’t claim citizenship (status), nor should it apply for permanent residence (progress).  In union with Christ, what is true of Him, is true (justification) and will be true (glorification) of you as well.

“There is no inconsistency or incoherency in the teaching of the NT about…”


“There is no inconsistency or incoherence in the teaching of the New Testament about, on the one hand, the offer of Christ in the gospel, which Christians are told to make known everywhere, and, on the other hand, the fact that Christ achieved a totally efficacious redemption for God’s elect on the cross.

It is a certain truth that all who come to Christ in faith will find mercy (John 6:35, 47–51, 54–57; Rom. 1:16; 10:8–13). The elect hear Christ’s offer, and through hearing it are effectually called by the Holy Spirit. Both the invitation and the effectual calling flow from Christ’s sin-bearing death. Those who reject the offer of Christ do so of their own free will (i.e., because they choose to, Mat 22:1–7; John 3:18), so that their final perishing is their own fault. Those who receive Christ learn to thank him for the cross as the centerpiece of God’s plan of sovereign saving grace.”

J. I. Packer, Concise Theology

Or…any other day too!

Every Monday (and every other Friday), I have the joy of meeting with a group of men to read, study and get into the habit of applying the Bible to our lives.  We’ve been working through Romans, and it has been a great time with these men. I found this quote today and think it may be helpful in light of our discussion on How Justification Works in Romans 5:1-11.

What happens when prayer requests and acceptable sins go beneath the socially recognized surface?

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows the detail of his face. The memorial window is also captioned: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wonder what would happen in my life, and the life of those in the church, if we really believed that God knows everything about us and our sins, and still loved us enough to send His Son to die for those sins? And what if He really did love us enough after that to also send us His Spirit to be free to struggle with those sins, and gave us the gift of community to help us bear up under that struggle without having to fake, hide or pretend we’re anything other than redeemed men and women?

Saw this posing by a friend on Facebook (HT: Jeff Kerr) and thought it worth re-posting here for further discussion:

In a discussion elsewhere on the interwebs, I saw this statement. I think this gets directly to the heart of why most Christians in most contexts are afraid of confessing anything beyond “disorganization” and the like:

“I visited a Mom’s Bible study at a friend’s church years ago. When it was time for prayer requests, all the other moms said, “better time management” and “get organized”. This was met with understanding clucks and nods from the other moms. When it was my turn I said, “I yell at my kids.” I got a lecture about how wrong and damaging yelling was and how concerned the leader was that I would start “hurting my kids.” There was a moralistic lecture because there was no possibility of repentence and forgiveness.

Here’s what I’ve thought since then: Since grace is so cheap these days, our sin isn’t allowed to be very bad. That leads to confessing things like disorganization. Jesus’ blood can cover that one. But REALLY bad things? There’s no cure for them, so let’s not bring them up.”

via (5) In a discussion….

Thoughts on Thursday: What makes the Gospel, gospel?

I have regrettably not been posting with much frequency lately. I am happy to get back into a groove with yet another Thought on Thursday.

This thought comes from a book I’ve recently finished: The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright by John Piper. Let me recommend this book to you if you are at all interested in the fairly recent debate regarding the Christian of Justification, especially if you are the least bit curious about N.T. Wright. I have been reading several of his books, and I must confess that I sometimes have a hard time following his thoughts.

But let me also say, that I have benefited greatly from Wright’s writing, thoughts and even parts of his theology – the man is brilliant and if you take your faith and theology seriously, you would do well to expose yourself to some of his insights. And John Piper would echo this thought. This book is is no way an attach on the man himself, or even an outright denial of everything Wright has put forth; Piper actually speaks fairly highly of Wright. Piper’s contribution comes in critiquing the few areas where Wright’s theology could be considered dangerous, particularly with the topic of personal justification of sinners in Christ.

Here’s a quote, and today’s thought:

Why should a guilty sinner who has committed treason against Jesus consider it good news when he hears the announcement taht this Jesus has been raised from the dead with absolute sovereign rights over all human beings? If Wright answers, ‘Because the narration of the events of the cross and resurrection are included in the heralding of the King,’ the sinner will say, ‘What good is that for me? How can that help me? Why does that provide hope for me or any sinner?’ If the gospel has no answer for this sinner, the mere facts of the death and resurrection of Jesus are not good news. But if the gospel has an answer, it would have to be a message about how the rebel against God can be saved – indeed how he can be right with God and become part of the covenant people…We are ‘saved’ through the gospel…and the gospel is the message that Christ died ‘for our sins,’ (I Corinthians 15:1-3). It is precisely the personal ‘for our sins’ that makes the heralding of the historic facts good news. And Paul is eager to make explicit that this ‘for our sins’ is good news because by it we are ‘saved.’ this is at the heart of what makes the gospel gospel, and not just an effect of the gospel.

The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright,

by John Piper (Crossway, 2007), 89.

For further reading, you brave interested souls:

N.T. Wright addresses some of this criticism in an article, “The Cross and Its Caricatures”. If you’re worried that he denies substitutionary atonement, read this, especially pages 9 and following.Great book, highly recomend it!

What Should Move Us?

The following are some quotes and insights from Bryan Chapell’s book Holiness by Grace. The concept of gospel-motivation as normative for the Christian life is one that has been rocking my world lately. Not only is it a vital part of a sermon series at church (“The Joy Church: Series Through Philippians”), but it seems to be resonating with my own struggles with sin and living as a redeemed child of God. I’ve put some my reflecting thoughts in blue to differentiate between what Chapell wrote and what I’m processing.

What Should Move Us?
Turning From a Desire for Gain

Not for Self Protection

“The loses the thankful leper risks indicate that neither self-promotion nor self-protection drives him…what we do for God cannot make god our debtor, and should never be done primarily for our gain. ” [Looking at Parable of 10 Lepers Healed] p. 30

• If we are serving for our personal gain, who are we really serving?

• Serve to get favors from God – self-promotion –> More my deal than I’m aware, I’m afraid

• Serve to keep Him off our backs – self-protection

• “What such people think is gaining them ‘brownie points’ with God is actually to their demerit in heaven’s accounting, which considers the motives of the heart as well as deeds of service,” p. 30
• “The point is not that his blessings should never motivate us at all, but they cannot be the driving force of our service. His blessings are the oil that helps the machinery of obedience operate, but love for God and desire for his glory are the pistons and the wheels,” p. 31

• Frankly, I think I would have been alright without this statement. How do you combat wrong, works-related motivation for the blessings of God when they still “help the machinery of obedience operate?” This is my struggle; I’d rather chuck all of the obedience – God loves you despite what you do or don’t do – or all of the blessings, and not let them mix. But then, what am I left with when I do this? Neither a very good religion, or a joyful relationship (I think anyway?).

Turning to a Delight in Gratitude

• “…the Bible teaches us that what should move us to serve God is our delight in expressing thanksgiving to him for his grace,” p. 32

Compelling Love

• “What ultimately keeps our motives biblically prioritized and holy before God is the profound conviction that obeying God will merit us nothing. This is why Jesus tells us that, when we have done all that we should do, we are still unprofitable servants. Jesus does not nullify the value of duty in order to dissuade us from serving God, but to keep us from depending on duty to gain God’s acceptance…Thus we learn to serve God not for personal gain but for his glory – not for love of self but for love of the Savior,” p. 32

• Quoting Samuel Bolton

• “There is nothing more powerful than love. Things impossible to other are easy to them that love. Love knows no difficulties…Love is an affection that refuses to be put off by duties or difficulties which come between it and the person loved,” p. 32

• Quoting B.B. Warfield

• “We are sinners, and we know ourselves to be sinners lost and helpless in ourselves, but we are saved sinners, and it is our salvation which gives tone to our live – a tone of joy which swells in exact proportion to the sense we have of our ill-desert. Fir it is he to whom much is forgiven who loves much and, who loving, rejoices much,” p. 33

Childlike Willingness

• “Because God accepts us on the basis of his unmerited pardon, rather than on the basis of our earning his affection or compensating for our guilt, we are enabled to serve him with an unrestrained childlike love that is a joyful response to his care. The power of this joy to strengthen and heal our lives makes God’s mercy the primary message we must share in our churches, counseling rooms, classes, homes and workplaces,” p. 35

Gospel Zeal

• “Grace distinguishes its possessors by their joy,” p. 35

So what does it mean then if “joy” isn’t the characteristic of your life, and with that, your relationship with God?

$5 – Get your Piper on! Piper on Justification and N.T. Wright

Piper, Justification and N.T. Wright

If you’re at all interestd in this topic, John Piper’s new book is going on sale for $5 through the month of October as a pre-sale special. Check out the details on their blog.

New books – Driscoll, Keller, Piper – Oh My!

Some interesting new books are about to come out – some by John Piper (of course),timkeller.jpg but also some new stuff by Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll. I’m most excited about Keller’s book, but probably only because he really only has 1 previous book that’s out there. Its a great one and on my Top 10 list (check it out on Amazon: Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. But his new book has been highly anticipated by me. Here’s a link to the info on his new one at Amazon.

John Piper’s book(s) look very good as well. It’s entitled The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright and it looks quite interesting. This is a popular and John Piper’s “The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright”controversial topic if you haven’t guessed, and most of the interaction on N.T. Wright has been done on either a high academic playing field, or simple dismissal without any really helpful evaluation. John Piper tends to bring alot of strength in making heavy things digestible and understandable, so this is shaping up to be a must read for me.

I have also really appreciated Mark Driscoll’s books. I have found both of them to be extremely challenging and enjoyable at the same time. It looks like he’s got two books coming out real soon. One of them seems to be a collection of the topics covered at this years Desiring GodThe Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World Conference, as it shares the same title: The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World (note that it also has Tim Keller, John Piper, David Wells contributing to this, though I’m attributing it Mark Driscoll’s blurb). I have benefited from listening to the audio recordings of this conference, but the book edition would make a good addition to the book shelf. His other book looks vintagejesus.jpginteresting as well: Vintage Jesus: Timeless Answers to Timely Questions. Anyone who has listened to Driscoll, or read his other books, knows that Driscoll takes many things very seriously, and none more so than who Jesus is, what he has done and what that means for us today. I am always encouraged and challenged when I hear or read something by Driscoll. I am anticipating that this will be another good book to digest and mull over, especially as someone who wants to grow in portraying Jesus as not only real and true, but significant and important for our world today. This should prove helpful.