Ascension by Descension
We Christians are a forgetful bunch. We’re often confused and discombobulated. We so desperately want our goodness and virtue to account for something we’ve misrepresented the entire course of the Christian life — we’ve deemed our pious performance to be of greater weight, importance, and significance than the performing Person. The moment we’re delivered from our fate of eternal condemnation into the bliss of “no condemnation” (Rom. 8:1), all of which is brought upon us by the divine and sovereign grace of Jesus, we move into a state of “Christian-achievement”: a mode many get mired in which postulates that Christians must be ever-ascending, forever-achieving, always climbing the spiritual staircase of success.
It’s so difficult to be truly convinced of salvation by grace alone. We stumble over casting overboard all our “good works” and cleaving only to the plank of free grace — as Spurgeon puts it (344) — and determine to balance the scales by our “doing.” But clinging to God’s Word of grace frees us to pursue him relentlessly. Juxtaposed against that, trying to make our deeds count for something only chains to a “treadmill of merit,” and cages us in the hamster-wheel of performance. This lifestyle isn’t freeing at all, rather, it’s enslaving. But such a life is precisely what Jesus came to liberate.
Gospel Ethics 101
Most Christians won’t openly admit this, but their lives demonstrate a pharisaical ideology that’s so pervasive that it’s hardly even questioned anymore. While most will claim “salvation by grace through faith” in theory, many function with “salvation by merit” or “salvation by works” as their motto. While the cross remains the supreme symbol for Christ-followers in theory, in practice its replaced with a ladder. But this isn’t biblical Christianity.
The movement of the Christian life isn’t into greater and greater independence or greater and greater strength. Rather, the Christian life is all about confession and repentance. The ongoing ethic of biblical Christianity is one of constant humility and honesty with yourself. This view is learned through worship, which forces us to see all that God’s done for us which makes anything we’ve done for him pale in comparison. As Martin Luther says, “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent,’ he called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” The whole life of a believer is one of repentance, repentance borne out of proper views of God and self, which come through the reading and preaching of the Word.
The ongoing response of a Christian to the gospel is a steady stream of ongoing repentance. (Chandler, 64)
From Strength to Weakness
The longer we’re alive the more we should push into Jesus and plant our feet firmly upon his gospel of grace. The rock upon which we stand isn’t our piety and religiosity but Jesus’s righteous grace, wherein we’re given his holiness in exchange for our iniquity. The believer is called to greater and greater reliance, deeper and deeper trust, stronger and stronger dependence on the One who is our strength, liberty, and life. The perpetual track of our lives must be the admittance of our weakness and the recognition that he’s the strong and mighty one who “is able to save to the uttermost.” (Heb. 7:25) Your hope for abundant life isn’t in your ascension from weakness to strength, but in the confession of your weakness and his strength. It’s in knowing that when you are weak, then you are strong. (2 Cor. 12:9–10)
Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer, Recovering Redemption: A Gospel-Saturated Perspective on How to Change (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2014).
Charles Spurgeon, Sermons: Second Series (New York: Sheldon & Co., 1869).