We don’t do grace too well


We are in a bind are we not?  I mean, a church is a community of mixed people, at every conceivable stage of life and experience, but together never-the-les.  The bind though, is that we are in this community as individuals gathered to love and serve the Lord and each other – and by-and-large, we want to do that, yet not without the occasional burp of dysfunction.

It would be fair I think, to take the hit on the proverbial chin, that the church is where one finds more hypocrites than anywhere else on the planet.  I know I am a hypocrite and I’m the minister!  But that is also the very reason why I am a Christian.  I am a sinner, I do sinful things, I think sinful things, I desire sinful things.  But thanks be to God there is a cure for sin, and that is salvation, a Christ-won salvation!

Salvation of sinners, hypocrites, liars, murderers, God-deniers, and the like, is God’s direct and effective self-revelation….in Christ….always and only in Christ……that opens the eyes of sinners, that they see him as a loving Father who has invited them into the joy and fellowship of His own self, the God-head of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And this should, I say should, set us free.

Most of the time, for many people, we respond to grace as we respond to a generous gift from a friend, “Oh you shouldn’t have.”  We take the gift and immediately the plotting starts on how we are to pay the person back for their gift.  That’s because we don’t do grace too well at all.  And this then leads to a fruit, a product, a worldview, a consequence of thinking about grace wrongly:  we become workers, doers, activists, organised, efficient.  In theological language we become nomians, law makers and law keepers and often law-seekers, the more laws the more po-faced we become, and the more po-faced the more righteous and religious -right?  It’s as if the whole book of Galatians was written for us, and we simply deflect verses such as 5:1 as being for others, them…out there….and certainly not us!!

When there is a law, what need of grace?  Grace language becomes a part of our religious discourse for sure, but its power, its truth, its vitality is simply not grasped.  Oh how we must nod sagely as we read in Ephesians 2 “…by grace you have been saved…” but inwardly shudder, maybe even mumbling something about the book of James balancing out all this nonsense about grace language with a works language.  After all, isn’t activism, busyness, practical-ness a contemporary virtue of our present day?  Now a works language we get, “Tell me what to do?”  It’s all a bit mixed up.  We don’t know what to do with Jesus’ own words about works:  “The work of God is this: believe the One He has sent…”  (John 6:29).

When we truly do get this kind of work, believing the God-man Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, the Word of God with skin on, the eternally begotten, the One who holds the universe in the palm of His hands and sustains it with the word of His power, this Jesus, is the One who offers salvation by grace to wayward sinners.  How on earth can that salvation offered by such a God ever be skewed to the degree that we think we’ve got to add to it or earn more favour (like what? What could we possibly add to that?).  Jesus died for you.  Your sins curse has been trumped and trashed by God’s salvation cure!  “Oh you shouldn’t have!  For me….really…..Oh I must pay you back….”

I’d like to end with a personal account from the 17th century of what I’m trying to say.  It’s about 1653 and a man named Humphrey Mills, who believed Christ – but under law, until one day he heard the sweet gospel preaching of the great Puritan Richard Sibbes.  Humphrey writes,

“I was for three years together wounded for sins, and under a sense of my corruptions, which were many; and I followed sermons, pursuing the means, and was constant in duties and doing; looking for Heaven that way.  And then I was so precise with outward formalities, that I censured all to be reprobates, that wore their hair anything long, and not short above their ears; or that wore great ruffs, and gorgets, or fashions, and follies.  But yet I was distracted in my mind, wounded in conscience, and wept often and bitterly, and prayed earnestly, but yet had no comfort, till I heard that sweet saint….Dr Sibbes, by whose means and ministry I was brought to peace and joy in my spirit.  His sweet soul melting gospel sermons won my heart and refreshed me much, for by him I saw and had much of God and was confident in Christ, and could overlook the world….and my heart held firm and resolved and my desires all heaven-ward.”

That’s what salvation does because salvation is from Jesus, the Saviour of the world.


“Now, the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.”  Athanasian Creed

Robin Parry writes, “We can’t make proper sense of our conversion, of our baptism, of our experiences of God, of our place in the church, of mission, Bible reading or the eternal life God has given us unless we understand them in a Trinitarian way…[Our] prayer and worship [must be likewise shaped Trintarianly]….Thinking of the Christian life without Father, Son and Spirit makes about as much sense as thinking of a sentence without words or of a square without four sides.  A Christian life without the Trinity is not a Christian life at all.”

Worshipping Trinity, p.66

Blessed Trinity

A Latin hymn from the thirteenth century

Come, thou Holy Spirit, come:

And from thy celestial home send thy light and brilliancy.

Come, thou father of the poor,

Come, who givest all our store,

Come, the soul’s true radiancy.

Come, of comforters the best, of the soul the sweetest guest, sweetly and refreshingly.

Come in labour rest most sweet,

shade and coolness in the heat, comfort in adversity.

Thou who art the light most blest,

come, fulfil their inmost breast, who believe most faithfully.

For without thy Godhead’s dower,

man hath nothing in his power, save to work iniquity.

What is filthy make thou pure, what is wounded work its cure, water what is parched and dry.

Gently bend the stubborn will, warm to life the heart that’s chill, guide who goeth erringly.

Fill thy faithful who adore, and confess thee evermore, with thy seven-fold mystery.

Here thy grace and virtue send,

grant salvation in the end, and in heaven felicity.  Amen.


The Holy Spirit is certainly the weak link in the chain of Evangelical theology.  With the stress on Christology, we can miss so much more of the Trinity’s treasure.  Maybe we want to avoid some of the silliness and excesses of Pentecostalism, but boy have we needed much of Pentecostalism to remind us what we’re missing!  Yet tragically, instead of enjoying the fathomless glory of pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit), we actually succumb to pneumaphobia!  And that is an evangelical train-wreck waiting to happen.

Another point of note, is that the Holy Spirit is suspect because he does not pander or subscribe to our denominational or theological structures.  Indeed, the Holy Spirit is a free-agent, a maverick.  Jesus did say the wind blows where it will!  He breaks rank, crosses over the other side, He will not be “owned” by us, by anyone; He is as free in Himself as the Son is free in the Father and the Father in the Son.  Blessed Trinity!

He is impossible to outwit, outsmart, predict or predetermine, and will not be bottled and bagged by any church, Christian, denomination, nation or whatever!  He does not bow to any theologian or “school of thought”, and is totally free, going wherever and whenever He wishes.  Mission, evangelism, faithfulness, wisdom, wholeness, true spirituality, life itself, are all to be found in Him.

Too many churches are passionate for the Father’s glory, absolutely determined in their Christ-centered faith (and rightly so), but err big time and languish in a spiritual impoverishment of biblical, cosmic and cataclysmic proportions by neglecting the Holy Spirit.  Remember, it is the role of the Holy Spirit to point us to Jesus, and it is Jesus who shows us the Father.

Read the Latin Hymn again as a prayer.  Pray it.  Come, thou Holy Spirit, come.

Blessed Trinity!


Jesus is no Angel


Hebrews 1:1-2:4

Continuing our series on Hebrews then after setting the scene last week with the first four verses of chapter one showing us what God has done in Christ and who this Christ is.  And now in reading the rest of the chapter up to 2:4, the author goes straight into a conversation about angels and how they’re not quite as good as Jesus, and how Jesus is so much better, infinitely better!

I know what you’re thinking, you little rascals!  You’re thinking, “But Gralefrit, we don’t worship angels, we’ve never even considered it ’til now, so what’s all the fuss about and how does it concern me?”

It concerns you my brothers and sisters, in the most profound way imaginable.  Hebrews is a whole book designed around a big doses of exhortations that culminate in five short sharp shock warnings.  Hebrews 1:1-4 is the lens by which we see Jesus throughout this whole book, and 2:1-4 leads us to the first of these five warning passages.

Why?  Because these Jewish Christians in the first century were being dragged back by the Hebrew tendency to elevate the ministry of angels.

Now I’m sure angels are cool, and some people have seen them including my sister-in-law.  I myself have seen a fallen angel which is a demon.  But they serve God, they minister to us from God (not the fallen ones), they mediate between us and God, and like us they too worship God!  But the author to the Hebrews launches into the nonsense of a follower of the cosmic Christ turning away from Jesus, the object of worship, to a mere angel, a created being who in fact as 1:14 says, are meant to serve those who are to inherit salvation – that’s us folks!  Angels serve us but these Hebrew Christians were starting to be persuaded to worship angels, as per some parts of Jewish tradition (see Colossians 2:18).

So what has that got to do with you?  Well, anything that isn’t worship of God is worship of something else, and that something else, whatever it is, is idolatry.  So unless you worship the Triune God in the perfection of complete holiness and fullness of faith and the purity of wholeness, this has everything to do with you!

Some of you here are old enough to remember a time when America voted for a former  Hollywood star to run their country!  He had a wife called Nancy.  Do you remember the media story of when she was reported to influence her husbands political decisions on the advice of her astrologer?  That’s called turning from Christ!

Many people experiment with Occultism, Ouija boards, Tarot cards, Palm readings and the like!  Christians do it without realising the danger they are in.  Many Christians have done, and some at the very least begin the day with a ‘harmless’ reading of their Star Sign.  You are playing with fire in turning to something other than Jesus.  It’s like dismissing Christ like an unwanted toy and deliberately inviting doom upon your own heads, and your family.  That’s turning from Christ!  Do not do anything else today without confessing you sins and receiving the forgiveness of Christ.

How many people have been fooled by Hollywood’s version of what angels are?  In the film released 1998 called City of Angels with Nicholas Cage as the angel, he is sent to ‘look after’ a human woman played by Meg Ryan.  Now I’m sure some men find Ms Ryan attractive, but an angel?  An angel that has seen the face of God?  An angel that lives in the glory of God, beholding His glory and majesty?  Falling in love with Meg Ryan?  I don’t think so!  And neither does Hebrews chapter one.

Admittedly, if Hebrews were written today, I’m sure the first four verses would still be there, but maybe instead of chapter one being about angels, it would be about something we obsess about!  What draws away your worship from Christ?  What things of your life draw you away and though they may not be bad in themselves, but they cause you to neglect such a great salvation as 2:3 says?  Because whatever is drawing your attention away, it is your heart telling you that that is greater than Christ!  And whatever the Spirit reveals to you right now as you think about that, you are no better than those who worship angels in the place of Christ, and so this first chapter has everything to do you, to do with us!

And thus we are led, like beloved objects of God’s care and mercy, into the first great warning passage of 2:1-4.  So after debunking the Jewish angel myth, the author insists that unlike angels, Jesus is a Son (v5).  In fact, angels themselves worship Christ (v6), and this Son as the object of worship is therefore rightly called God (v8).

So let us walk together into the first astonishing warning passage.  Expect to hear the Spirit speak to you as we go through it. Allow God to convict you as he leads you to the glorious freedom of repentance from whatever areas of your life have caused you to neglect the stunning salvation offered by the Son of God. Here we go…[read 2:1-4].

The three key warnings are:

1. We must pay more careful attention to what we’ve heard.

2. That we don’t drift away.

3. That we don’t ignore such a great salvation.

Do you need to pay more careful attention to the Gospel of your salvation?

Have you noticed the times when you’ve drifted?

Are you in the sorry state of having ignored your great salvation?

Friends, listen:  This is no mere message from a religious crank.  This concerns the  ultimate, eternal, meaningful and powerful things of God.  Hear the word of the Lord to you right now, not to crush you in condemnation, but to invite you to repent and lift up your heads and your hearts.  Because warnings like this cut to the chase.  They scream out:  “WAKE UP and see Jesus!”

A warning like this isn’t judgement.  Judgement happens if the warnings are ignored, so act on the warning, it is a gift of God.  Warnings like this, are in the service of salvation.  God the Father wants to draw you near, like a shepherd wants to embrace a wayward sheep, like we want to embrace our wayward children.

I want to highlight one other amazing thing about this warning passage:  Notice how it is profoundly rooted in the whole Trinity for us:  

1. This salvation was first announced by the Lord – Jesus Himself.  No longer are we sent messengers (lit. angels), but the message itself (2:3b)

2. Confirmed by those who heard it (the apostles).

3. Testified by God in signs and wonders.

4. And gifts given by the Holy Spirit, of the Holy Spirit.

So here we see the whole warning is wrapped up in the profundity of the Trinity: for our salvation, for our joy, for our benefit, for our worship of this Triune God!  Who wants to go back to mere angels or idols now?

Isn’t it a strange thing that nowhere in Scripture do we hear God saying, “Guys, stop worshipping me too much!”  But everywhere we see God crying out, “Why are you going after foreign gods and carved idols, and baby killers and dumb statues?  Why are you worshipping them so much?”

This is why humanity needs such a great salvation.  Our hearts are so bent out of shape to worship anything but the Triune God, that we need the Word of Scripture and the filling of the Holy Spirit to help us truly see.  To pay more careful attention as 2:1 says, is a deliberate pursuing of the things of God. And the primary vehicle for this is the Scriptures.

I remember when I first saw my wife.  My heart missed so many beats I thought I’d died and gone to heaven and seen an angel!  I couldn’t wait to meet her, then afterwards, to be with her.  And now, many years later, nurturing her and reading her, learning her, loving her.

Our salvation in Christ is no salvation if all we’ve done is met Jesus and said ‘the prayer’ any more than my marriage would be healthy if I’d met my bride and said the marriage vows without a care for paying more careful attention so that we do not drift away!  How could I ignore such a great marriage?

It’s unthinkable, yet this is what too many church people do!  This warning is for you!  Take the warning, repent and be restored.

If you’re wondering why I used a marriage analogy, 1:8-9 is taken from Psalm 45, a wedding song, where Jesus is referred to as God, hence Christians are called the Bride of Christ.  The whole point is that we’re in a wedding, being prepared for a wedding and so we’d better pay attention!  We’d want to pay attention, wouldn’t we?

Just as a wedding turns into a marriage that is on-going, so our salvation is on-going.  If it wasn’t on-going, we wouldn’t have to pay closer attention.  But it is so we must!

In closing, the first warning is grave: It is drifting away from the truth.  A carelessness of mind to the degree we’re not even aware it’s happening.  Several times when I’ve been on my Kayak catching thousands of fish, I’ve needed to secure myself to a buoy to rest and prevent drift and pay attention to what’s going on around me!  When I unhook myself, it is astonishing how far I drift without even realising.  Now, I know I’m drifting, but I’m always shocked that the buoy that was here just a moment ago is barely visible on the distant waves.

If we unhook from Christ, we will drift more severely than we can even comprehend.  Not taking the Scriptures seriously can cause this, as well as inattention to the Spirit with apathy rooted in the heart, a heart which says “I’ll be alright!”  Will you?  Really?

What’s the remedy?  It is profoundly pastoral:  Pay closer attention to what you have heard so you don’t drift away.  How?  Get into the Scriptures, the Gospels, the letters, all of it, immediately, urgently – pay closer attention, as two lovers do, as a dog begging for a treat, as a beggar begging for food from the table of the King.  Pay attention!!

Not to be in the Word of God is to be a spiritual drifter.  Who knows where you’ll end up, and to use the Bible’s language of idolatry, who knows who’s bed you’ll find yourself in!

Hear the warning beloved people.  Respond to what God is saying to you, and do whatever you need to do right now to get right with God.

He’s warned, He’s waiting and He loves you so very much.

Website Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑