December 22, 2014

iMonk: “Choose death to anything but grace”

Flower-Growing-in-a-Crack

From Michael Spencer’s classic post, Our Problem with Grace

* * *

I’ve thought a lot about grace as I’ve gotten older and lived the Christian life longer. I see and hear young, fired up, Pentecostal preacher boys, full of sermons about what will happen if we will pray more, live holy lives, get extreme, go the distance and all that fizz. It doesn’t get to me anymore. I am slowly living past the point of being affected by all the rah-rah Christianity around me.

I know I am not very obedient. I know my sinful patterns and my perennial laziness. I know where I fall short. I am well acquainted with my lusts, my pettiness and my stupid pride. I may make more progress on these things, but honestly, I doubt it. My efforts at obedience have about run their course. Most of what I am going to be as a human being living as a Christian on this planet, I’ve probably already achieved. I want all the years God has for me, and I want to honor and glorify him, but if I am going to learn about grace, now is the time. I need it now.

There is a passage that I’ve thought about a lot lately.

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

And, this little statement, from I Corinthians 15:31: “I die daily.”

Here’s where I am. When it comes time for me to die, I’ll only have one work to do. All the options will be gone. We don’t like to think about that, because we like to see our lives as full of all the options of youth, vigor, work, opportunity to change and the results of effort. We’re going to do better, we say. But in the end, the only “work” we can do will be to trust ourselves to God. Simple. Beautiful, in its way.

Faith will be the only work. Exactly as Jesus said in John 6:28. “Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.””

Scripture says that life now is to be a death. We die daily, scripture says. Not just at the end, not just on our deathbeds. But now, today. Tomorrow. In every moment of time and breath that God gives us, we are to die, to do the one work of faith that trusts God in Jesus to be the all in all for us.

flowerJesus’ death is a grace to us. In his death we are safe, and in his life we have it all, now and then. Everything that God’s love graciously gives us and Christ’s work guarantees us. None from obedience. All from grace. The grasping hand of work never finds it. The empty hand of faith cannot miss it.

So die daily. Die to the works that we think bring God’s blessing. Die to the works that attempt to steal significance from our own obedience–obedience made possible only because of grace upon grace. Die a little at a time, one day at a time, practicing for the big one when grace will come lapping at your door like a rising tide, and you will have nowhere to go to run away from it. A gracious flood come to take you home from this troubled world to the place Jesus has prepared for you.

Get ready for the time when resting in the arms of God and grace will be all you have to do. And it will be more than enough to see you home.

Choose death to anything but grace, so you can one day be alive in nothing except grace.

There’s no problem with that.

Comments

  1. You should just post this everyday. What a relief.

  2. In retrospect, Michael had a startling number of blog posts that ruminated on his own death.

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I’ve thought a lot about grace as I’ve gotten older and lived the Christian life longer. I see and hear young, fired up, Pentecostal preacher boys, full of sermons about what will happen if we will pray more, live holy lives, get extreme, go the distance and all that fizz. It doesn’t get to me anymore.

    I’ve been there, in other contexts than “Pentecostal preacher-boys”. Growing up as a Kid Genius with minimum expectations of Utter Perfection. My current high-tech, high-stress job.

    The results are the same either way:
    * No matter what you do, it will NEVER be enough.
    * No matter how perfectly you do it, it will NEVER be good enough.
    * So why bother?

    • Have you ever considered being a writer for Despair, Inc.? :P

    • HUG- Coming from the other side of the spectrum as far as being a genius, for being not all that smart when I was a kid, getting the belt with every report card… My lingering critic whispers it or I will never be good enough seems logical in my case. How is it that knowing you are brilliant- that isn’t enough?
      Anyway, I sure love Michael Spencer and my heart did flutter when I read: “I know I am not very obedient. I know my sinful patterns and my perennial laziness. I know where I fall short. I am well acquainted with my lusts, my pettiness and my stupid pride. I may make more progress on these things, but honestly, I doubt it.

  4. I especially like the pictures of little flowers rising up out of the concrete – nice illustration of how grace invades the ‘hardness’ of our lives. Thank you for this post.

  5. It is posts such as this one that keep me coming back to internetmonk. A breath of fresh air. I love Michael Spencer. Would someone please put together a book of his best essays?

    • A book in process… though not what you might expect.

      • I remember a call several months ago for transcribers – are you still looking for help with that?

        • All transcribed, sorted, and organized, but thank you!

          Now I am just wading my way through nearly a thousand pages of notes, blog posts, Bible Studies, and sermons that Michael Spencer has on the Gospel of Mark. Some real gems in there, and most of it new* material.

          *new to the Internet Monk world.

          • Wow, that sounds like a lot of work, Michael Bell! Thank you for doing this and I look forward to seeing the results.

  6. Just wondering outloud here, and maybe someone who knew Michael well could answer these questions, but…

    Did Michael create and write for this blog as a “work” for The Lord? Did he do it out of obedience? Did he do it joyfully? Did he ever struggle with “oh great…I better come up with a topic for the folks who read my blog”? Did writing for this site ever become a burden for him, or feel like a burden at times?

    I guess what I’m trying to nibble at is the notion as much as Michael was a “grace” person, he did a great “work” in creating and running the Internet Monk site. Articles like this one are wonderful, and if he hadn’t persisted with the “work,” many hurt Christians would still be wandering the post-evangelical wilderness. And I’m just wondering, all of us who feel like we just can’t do any more “works” for The Lord, we don’t know who in fact is benefiting when we keep plugging along.

    • Interesting question. All I know is I’m glad he used his writing talent to communicate God’s amazing grace in such a transparent, articulate and beautiful way. Its this Amazing Grace in Jesus Christ that drives us to “works”, however that looks.

      • I thought they were interesting questions, too…LOL. I’ve been thinking about them a little and came up with my own answer. Even though I didn’t know Michael personally, I’m guessing that any “works” he did were driven by HIS relationship with Jesus and not driven by what OTHERS (churches, leaders, theologians) said his relationship with Jesus should be. And I think that’s what this site is all about, helping people get past “doing” for the Lord based upon what churches say they should be doing, and letting their own relationship with Jesus lead them to their works – through grace. There are a lot of damaged Christian souls running around here; praise the Lord for Michael Spencer and now Chaplain Mike and Jeff Dunn and all the others that keep Michael’s good work going!

        • I totally agree Rick. And that’s exactly what drew me to this site. Who can’t identify with this:

          “I know I am not very obedient. I know my sinful patterns and my perennial laziness. I know where I fall short. I am well acquainted with my lusts, my pettiness and my stupid pride. I may make more progress on these things, but honestly, I doubt it. My efforts at obedience have about run their course. Most of what I am going to be as a human being living as a Christian on this planet, I’ve probably already achieved. I want all the years God has for me, and I want to honor and glorify him, but if I am going to learn about grace, now is the time. I need it now.”

          This Christian life is a hard one to figure out sometimes .Especially when we start comparing ourselves to others. We see “super” Christians and think we have to be like them. Like Christians are cardboard cutouts and that’s what we should look like. Its this website that’s been a breath of fresh air for me, as one who loves Jesus, but still carries the baggage of anxiety, depression (at times), laziness, insecurity and just plain old sin. I get a little defensive on here sometimes, but thats just my own sin. I’m thankful for Chaplain Mike, Jeff Dunn, and Michael Spencer and thank the Lord for them.

          • ….I should add that I’m anti-social, have social anxiety, take effexor, don’t raise my hands in church. dread the part in church where we take 90 seconds to shake each others hands, don’t get excited about going to church sometimes, I’m not radical, sometimes I don’t have “crazy” love, and the list goes on…… :)

          • But I love Jesus and rest in Him… Who He is… What He’s done…. Our Lord, Our God.

  7. “Here’s where I am. When it comes time for me to die, I’ll only have one work to do. All the options will be gone. We don’t like to think about that, because we like to see our lives as full of all the options of youth, vigor, work, opportunity to change and the results of effort. We’re going to do better, we say. But in the end, the only “work” we can do will be to trust ourselves to God. Simple. Beautiful, in its way.”,

    Wow, wow, WOW!!! I had never thought of it as Michael portrays it! I’m going to make a poster of this quote and hang it in my Sunday School room and in my work truck. “I die daily” is just a rehearsal for the final act.

  8. One Lutheran pastor and seminary professor used to greet his friends and students by asking, “How’s your death walk going?”

  9. Ditto on the wow!
    Several years ago a brother of a priest friend of mine was dying from cancer. My friend described it as watching his brother become more spirit than body. It was a beautiful characterization. I think we’re all called to become more spirit than body in our daily “death walk.” (Thanks Adam!)