Grace, law and change

At the Gospel Coalition blogs, (well worth looking at), there was a post last week about the Gospel, the Law and (I think) how to change.

The writer Tullian Tchividian said some things that resonate with me. Here are a couple:
Long-term, sustained obedience can only come from the grace which flows from what Jesus has already done, not guilt or fear of what we must do.

Don't American [Christians] need to be shaken out of their comfort zones? Yes—but you don’t do it by giving them law; you do it, as Dane points out, by giving them gospel.

Brother Tullian says that the law, the standard of God's behavior, is important for Christians. We must not think though, that it gives us the power to do what it requires.

But what do I do when I see in my life things that don't match God's standard? Do I make rules for myself to change? No, I think that would be thinking the standard itself has the power to change me, or that I, myself, have the power to change. I need to seek God to change.

I think this comes back to my Faith and Circumstances theme. God has made many promises, including the ones that I will be changed. I can look at my life and circumstances, and conclude the promises can't be true. Or I can look at my circumstances, including the changes I still haven't made, and say "God, prove yourself in me, here and now. I need You."

Maybe change is supposed to be hard

You can't read Paul's letters for very long without discovering that God intends to change our natures. Paul says anyone in Christ is a new creation, (2 Cor 5:17), and that we died to sin in Christ (Romans 6:2-6), and that we have been crucified with him (Gal 2:20).

These verses have always made me think that for a Christian, overcoming a bad habit or a recurring attitude should be fairly effortless. All we need to do is have faith and ask God to change us, right? In fact, the change should already have taken place.

But I've never found change in my life to be effortless, like these verses imply. I've figured out in recent years that Scripture has another paradigm besides the total and instant transformation. The story of God's people coming into the Promised Land is a surprisingly complicated one. There are miracles (crossing the Red Sea, conquering Jericho) that feed the instantaneous, effortless paradigm. But there are also a lot of enemies, that have to be conquered one by one, and in not all cases is the victory supernatural and instantaneous. The biggest delay, the 40 years in the wilderness, comes because the people lose faith at a critical moment, but I'm not sure the story should be read that if the people had only had faith, all would have been effortless. What if God intended the process to be somewhat drawn out, because he wanted to give the people the experience of having faith in the promise, even when circumstances suggested that the promise couldn't be true? Faith is the assurance of things not seen, Hebrews tells us. That means something has to remain unseen for faith to take place.

Two phases of selfishness

I think selfishness has two phases. Phase 1 is when I want other people to get out of my way. Why do I have to wait for traffic, wait at the light, wait at the checkout line? Who do these people think they are? Slowing ME down!

Phase 2 is when I want to be noticed and applauded. I've gotten some good feedback about this blog, but I could take more. Sometimes at a party I can grumble inwardly that I'm not the center of attention. Who do these people think they are? Not noticing ME!

I'm an introvert, so the first phase predominates for me. But the second phase comes in as well.

God's antidote to the first phase: remembering that he loves others as much as he loves me, realizing this world is not for my benefit alone.

God's antidote to the second: Remembering that my story, my concerns are deeply engraved on his heart. I am his adopted child, Jesus is not ashamed to call me 'brother'.

A great prayer for New Years

     All year long you’ll prove your covenant and capacity to keep us from falling. Though we may falter in the journey, the grasp of your grace is steady and secure. When we waver in our adoration of you, you will remain constant in your affection for us. When we are faithless and disobedient, you will remain committed and fully engaged with us. Even when you must discipline us this year, it will be in love, never in disgust or regret that you have adopted us (Heb.12:7-12). We praise you for being the perfect Father to your daughters and sons.

     All year long you’ll be at work preparing us for the day when we come into your glorious presence. We’re confident and grateful as we face that day, because you have promised to complete the good work of the gospel you’ve begun in us (Phil. 1:6). Indeed, Father, if this should be the year in which you call me “home,” herein lays my humble confidence: I will stand before you without fault because you’ve placed me in the faultless righteous One, Jesus.

source: Scotty Smith's prayer

I like this. The habit of New Years resolutions can convey that we depend on our own willpower to change. Let us focus on the One who can bring change.