The Dynamics of Grace, Part 5
INTRODUCTION – By justification in Christ, we have bold access to the throne of grace (Eph. 3:12). Justification frees us from our cowardice and hiding and enables us to draw near to God in honesty and realism.
All of our fleshly attempts to manage pain, suffering and failure cause us to turn away from the ruthless honesty that Scripture enjoins. (The temptation is always to return to the fleshly strategies of flight, denial, open resistance and/or appeasementinstead of the atonement.)
Only the justified person has the resources for realism (realism born of heroism). He sees himself in Christ but also as a sinner who is utterly dependent. He knows that his completeness is a function of his union with Christ (Col. 2:10; 3:3). Our completeness and right standing are carried by God’s Son (Rom. 5:9). No specific fact concerning the believer’s depravity can harm his immutable standing in Christ.
JESUS CHRIST IS OUR SYMPATHETIC AND MERCIFUL HIGH PRIEST (HEB. 4:14-16; 2:17,18; 5;1,2,7,8; IS. 53:3; 2 COR. 13:4).
In Christ’s High Priesthood there is a sympathizing with our weaknesses and merciful aid for our temptations. Christ’s obedience as a suffering Servant exposed Him to the consequences of sin. As an obedient Son, He fully identified Himself with the sorrows and exigencies of the human condition.
The efficaciousness of His priesthood is coextensive with both the guilt and the effects of sin. Christ manifests His High Priestly mercy to us in areas where we experience indwelling sin, weakness, failure, inadequacy, helplessness, pain, persecution and suffering.
The Credentials of our Great High Priest – Scripture ties the depth of Christ’s mercy toward us to His sufferings. He was tempted in all things and made like His brethren in all things (Heb. 2:17,18). (God can be no more merciful than He is, but in Christ, there is a human heart that resonates with us. Without sinning, Christ identified with the plight of the sheep. He is able to sympathize.)
If God would have desired it, He could have ordained the sacrifice of His Son to be carried out in a manner that would have insulated Jesus from the abuse of wicked sinners. BUT God predestined the sacrifice should be carried out by enraged sinners. His Son was exposed to torture, spitting, flies, nakedness, shame, mockery and betrayal.
All the aspects of Christ’s passion are not to arouse our deepest pity, but that we might understand that Christ’s identification with sinners is so complete as to include all the ugly scandals of human existence – injustice, humiliation, victimization – every heart-wrenching experience. God spared not His own Son from this in order that He might identify with our plight and deliver us by His death.
Christ took on our nature that He might be our sin-bearer. But also as our substitute, He identified Himself with the consequences of sin – death, separation and agony of soul.
The pressure He experienced in Gethsemane’s garden was not primarily the recoil of human nature from death by crucifixion. The avalanche of mental and emotional anguish consisted of the crushing weight of expiring as sin’s curse, under the wrath of God, while separated from God. The greatest agonies of soul are tied to shame, condemnation, isolation, abandonment and divine wrath.
Application - Discuss the reasons why the stress Jesus experienced when He sweat drops of blood must have exceeded that ever experienced by any man. What was Jesus requesting of His Father in Hebrews 5:7? (Think about the fact that Jesus had been the master of every situation. As He faced Calvary, He was to be a passive victim in the face of evil and injustice. He was to be cut off, left alone and condemned as an accursed object worthy of destruction.)
The Grace and Mercy of our High Priest – Christ’s kenotic descent into radical humiliation enabled Him to assume our condition and penalty (Phil. 2:5-8). The Almighty Ruler, Creator and Lawgiver voluntarily became a curse, a victim and a corpse that He might gain the victory over death and sin for His people. (See Acts 2:24; 1 Cor. 15:55-57; Heb. 2:14,15.)
The torments of soul and body happened to our High Priest by God’s will that He might be uniquely qualified to minister to every human ache and agony. He sympathizes with our weaknesses. He has experienced the frailties of our human nature. Though sinless, He has great compassion for sheep that become hopelessly entangled in sin. He is friend of sinners. He is the wonderful counselor to believing sinners.
Our Great High Priest has purchased at Calvary all of our sonship privileges. Those privileges include an endless supply of grace. Our Heavenly Father is teaching us to roll our burdens onto Christ and to cry to Him for our daily needs of grace.
Application – Nearly all of our natural instincts for managing the pain and hurt of life are fleshly “solutions” that are ultimately destructive. Blame, denial, escape, bitterness, defiance and appeasement hurt our fellowship with the Lord and our relationships with people. (Israel’s failure in the wilderness is meant to be a negative example to the N.T. Church, see 1 Cor. 10:1-14; Heb. 3-4.)
The fleshly strategies cause us to come short of obeying Hebrews 4:16 – they stop us from drawing near to the throne of grace. In order for God to use you as a channel of grace to others, one must develop the habit of drawing near to the throne of grace in your own need, pain and inadequacy.
Before we come to the throne of grace, we first identify ourselves as “needy” (4:16b). We face the daily decision of “crying for mercy and grace” or of defending our pain by fleshly strategies.
The burden of the text falls upon the believer to make use of the infinite resources found in his High Priest.
THE PSALMS SET FORTH A PATTERN OF HONESTY BEFORE GOD IN PRAYER.
The godly man makes God his refuge in every area of life (Ps. 34:8). Such radical trust is unnatural. The tendency is to attempt to conceal pain of soul from oneself and God.
The Scripture commends a reverent but ruthless honesty before God. “Trust in Him as all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us" ”Ps. 62:8).
The promise of tender mercy, refuge and help are strong inducements to come out of hiding and exercise heroism. (While under the influence of fleshly strategies, we are shut up in the “gray castle of self.” We are not free to engage in spontaneous praise, adoration and surrender.)
According to Calvin, the Psalms provide a complete anatomy of the soul. They demonstrate a model of heart transparency before God. We see the Psalmist meeting with God in some very painful places. Though praise is abundant, there are numerous prayers that express despair, despondency, depression, betrayal, persecution, disillusionment, resentment, guilt and injustice. Agonizing memories and ache of soul for offenses committed and received are not an uncommon theme. In many instances, the psalmist utters imprecatory prayers -- calling for God to execute vengeance and judgments (Ps. 35:1-8).
Application – The command to rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4) and to give thanks in all things (1 Thess. 5:18) honors God amidst our circumstances. Our Savior entered into the emotional experiences of life, but was never sinfully controlled by emotions (Jn. 11:33).
The believer is not to manage his emotions by stoic denial of them or by sinful expression of them. The pattern found in the Psalms leads to realism before God and intimacy with God. The Psalms exalt God’s covenant faithfulness amidst every circumstance (Ps. 111:5,9).
POURING OUR HEARTS OUT TO GOD INVOLVES THE “PROCESSING” OF NEGATIVITY.
The Psalmist considered the negativity in his life (rejection, disillusionment, persecution, failure etc.) to be appointments with God. He regarded these negatives to be an opportunity to cry for fresh measures of grace, mercy and equipping.
When a believer refuses to accept “appointments” with God in these areas of negativity, these same areas become sealed off from the full benefit of Christ’s grace. When “appointments” with Christ in our regions of negativity are consistently refused, the heart builds prisons to house these unacceptable negatives.
The exhortation stands, “Pour out your heart to God” (Ps. 62:5-8). When the believer chooses to “manage” negativity in a carnal manner, he makes a choice for lukewarmness. Sealing off the pain of suffering and the ache of sin’s consequences can cause us to split off from the very regions of the heart that are needed for godly passion and Christian compassion.
In many respects, our personal ministry to others is the outgrowth of how we deal with our own souls.
Without contact with the God of all grace in the areas of our own negativity, it is unlikely that we will be able to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). Paul makes it clear that believers who draw abundantly from God’s comfort in their own sufferings are best equipped to comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3-6).
CHRIST OUR HIGH PRIEST EQUIPS US FOR INTIMATE COMMUNION WITH THE FATHER.
Christ redeems us from cowardice in the area of transparency with God. Through Him, we dare to draw near. He has given us His grace that we might be courageous in dealing with our sin and suffering.
The very emotional resources needed for compassion, pity, empathy, passion, tenderheartedness are most available to God’s use when the heart is transparent before God.
Giving up false refuges is necessary in order to take pure delight and comfort in God. One cannot fulfill the assignment to delight in God when the flesh has prisons with prison guards in the soul.
By way of example, the oyster responds to irritation by forming layers of smooth iridescent nacre around a particle of jagged sand. So also, our tendencies are to defend and split off from our pain and hurt with layers of defensiveness, denial and stoicism.
At times, God brings suffering into our lives to break up all the lime scale of our defenses. He sends those trials that our hearts may have a renewed ability for intimate contact with Him. (The thicker our protection layers, the less intimate our contact with God.)
The furnaces of affliction are a mercy. For in them, our defense mechanisms utterly fail (Ps. 73:26). This is compassionate discipline from God, for we need to desist from control in order to assume a posture of childlike reliance. A united heart, a whole heart, a truthful heart that is unrestrained in affection comes only form a childlike disposition in the presence of the Father.
Application – God’s chastening love permits burdens too big for us that we might develop the habit of unburdening ourselves before Him in prayer. He gives us these “errands” so that we will pour out our heart until the care and pain is spent and “rolled upon” our High Priest. It is by these “appointments” that He restores joy from the deadness of carnal self-sufficiency. Our right standing is the foundation for intimate fellowship with God.
THE CROSS REDEEMS THE NEGATIVITY IN OUR LIVES.
So much of our self-protection, pretending and hiding our hearts from God is due to the fact that we do not understand the present value of the cross. The finished work of Christ is perfectly suited for dealing with every sin and every fruit of sin. The present value of the cross allows the believer to process the most horrendous things about himself.
All of the methods of escape, denial, defense and self-protection make a man’s latter end infinitely more painful. This is a great paradox. Those who attempt to live the most “pain free” now will have the greatest discomfort later. The secrets of men’s hearts will become public knowledge on judgment day (Rom. 2:16; 1 Cor. 4:5). Short accounts with God was Paul’s watchword (Acts 24:16).
The cross works across the grain of the flesh and opposes the self-preservation strategies that turn upon self-sufficiency. Carnal strength resorts to innumerable strategies employed in pain management. Allowing our pain to come in contact with God is the standard for His saints. “Thou hast taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Thy bottle; Are they not in Thy book?” (Ps. 56:8). Why are our tears so precious to God? The Lord values intimacy of soul in it interface with Him. The humble are vulnerable before God, they are willing to be searched by Him (Ps. 139:23,24). Guarded dungeons of pain keep us from receiving God’s love in new areas of our being. The Priesthood of Christ deals with the fruit of sinas well as the sin itself.
The cross is a paradigm for redeeming the negatives of life. The growing believer increasingly regards it to be so. Paul frequently spoke of the negativity in his life through the lens of the cross. (See 2 Cor. 4:7-18; 6:3-10; 7:6; 11:18-33; 12;9,10).
Application – Realism is a hard won asset. Strategies to defend pain and woundedness tend to be habitual and instinctive. The ultimate goal of our transparent prayer life is that we may draw near to God in adoration and love. By unburdening our souls before God, we make supplication for new installments of grace. By this renewed strength, we are enabled to do His will and bring Him glory. We pray that we might follow in the footsteps of our Savior as overcomers.