The Mirror & Mystery of the Gospel
The gospel of grace really is a paradox, a mystery so beyond our finite comprehension, that not even the great Sherlock Holmes can deduce its logic. The gospel of Jesus’s vicarious substitution is supra-rational — so far above and beyond human intellect that we’d never conjure the story of God’s grace, or believe it, save for Someone, outside of us, telling us the veracity and freeness of it. Many today are extremists, reacting to the pendulum-swing of Evangelical Christianity with what they deem appropriate actions to counter any contrary doctrine, differing biblical interpretation, method of worship, etc., that seems poised to upset the status quo of Christianity. Most do this when approaching the gospel. Some see it as far too free, subsequently killing it of its power by attaching laws and “do’s” and qualifiers to it: demands that never existed in the truest sense of the Good News. Others take advantage of this freeness and conclude that all notions of demand are wrong, running wild with the gospel of free grace as some sort of “sin license.” This makes grace to be some sort of divine “get-out-of-hell-free-card,” which is, in fact, a mockery and marring of the gospel.
Some deem themselves righteous and view their lives as holy, presuming upon grace and insisting to God their own self-worth. Others see the gospel of grace as a relaxation of God’s law, so that now, just trying is enough for him, since grace will “fill in the gaps.” Both of these God hates. The former, God’s Son spent the majority of his earthly ministry discrediting; the latter utterly disgusts the Father, to the point of him spitting them out of his mouth! (Rev. 3:16)
Everything & More!
Jesus did do everything for us. Everything we need for “life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3) — for justification, redemption, adoption, for salvation! — is found in his wondrous work on the cross. And outside of his cross, outside of his gospel, we have no joy, no hope, no life at all. But why was the cross necessary in the first place? Why must God’s Son, God himself even, be debased to such a degree to secure our salvation? The answer, believe it or not, lies in the law. Even though the requiem has sounded for the law and its dominion over us ceased, we mustn’t forget or neglect its usefulness and goodness. As the apostle Paul says, “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Rom. 7:12) And the same to Timothy: “The law is good, if one uses it lawfully.” (1 Tim. 1:8) Some have misused the law, but the original intent of it was good and holy, seeing as it came from God himself, who is utterly and completely and infinitely holy.
It’s this law that must be satisfied (Rom. 8:4), this law that must be met and fulfilled. We’ve falsely viewed this gospel of grace as a relaxation or even an abolition of God’s demands for perfection and holiness. How false and far from godliness is this thought! Christ Jesus didn’t come to abolish, but to fulfill the law’s demands: “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” (Matt. 5:17 NLT) The mystery of the gospel is that God couldn’t be seen as the perfectly holy Being that he is if grace relaxed his demands. God the Father accepts sinners — horrible, wretched, deplorable, vile sinners, like you and me — squarely on the basis of Jesus enacting the glorious exchange of our guilt for his righteousness. God welcomes all who come to him because we’re hidden in Christ (Col. 3:3) — hidden beneath the shadow of the cross and the glory and grace found there. You see, God is holy and just and good in bringing sinners to him because his Son fully, finally, and freely met what the law required, that is, absolute perfection and utter sinlessness. On our own, we can never live up to this sort of standard. (Matt. 5:48) The idea of absolute perfection is so foreign to our sin-filled minds, we can’t even contemplate it: “Utterly, 100% holy? How can it be?”
This, my friends, is the proper understanding of grace: that the law must be satisfied, and no amount of my own merit will ever live up to this demand. Therefore, Jesus lived and died in my place. The law isn’t something to be avoided. Yes, the final song for it has sounded, but it’s because of the law and God’s Son living up to it that we even have hope at all!
By Jesus stooping to us, he secured our salvation. By Christ descending, he made possible our ascension. By Christ becoming man, he ensured the hope of glorification. By coming to us, Jesus established the bulwark of “no condemnation” for those who are in him. (Rom. 8:1) “He could only raise us, by himself stooping,” declares Octavius Winslow. “He could only emancipate us, by wearing our chain. He could only deliver us from death, by himself dying. He could only invest us with the spotless robe of his pure righteousness, by wrapping around himself the leprous mantle of our sin and curse.” (318) This is the mystery and scandal of grace!
The gospel of Jesus’s free grace is in no way a relaxation of the law. It’s merely the realization and recognition of the loftiness of its demands and the absolute inability that you could ever meet them. Grace is, indeed, a higher view of the law because it forces those under it to admit that they could never live up to it. “Only when we understand that God’s Law is absolutely inflexible,” asserts Tullian Tchividjian, “will we see that God’s grace is absolutely indispensable.” (98) God’s Word is like mirror: it reveals us as the destitute sinner with no hope of salvation, and gloriously displays Jesus as the Sovereign Rescuer, divinely-sent on our behalf. Until you see yourself in the mirror of God’s Word, you’ll never be free — you’ll never experience forgiveness and deliverance and grace. Unless you feel your deadness and the weightiness of desperation, you’ll never rejoice over your rescue and deliverance.
The Mirror of the Word
And so it is that to look into the mirror of the Word of God carries with it an innate obligation to respond! When we realize that Christ’s death was the very purpose of his life, we’ll recognize that we aren’t without responsibility in this gospel of grace. “You are, my reader, either for Christ, or you are against Christ. In this great controversy between Christ and Satan, you are not an indifferent and unconcerned spectator.” (Winslow, 24) Those who attempt to relax God’s demands by exclaiming that grace will fill in the gaps try to create a middle ground, to stand as an “unconcerned spectator,” between law and gospel — they attempt to survive by wallowing in lukewarmness! (Rev. 3:16) And these are the very people that disgust and repulse our Lord. To view the mystery of the gospel in the mirror of God’s Word necessitates a response.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22–25)
This is the key to all the Christian life — responding properly to grace. As Tozer quipped, “Religion, so far as it is genuine, is in essence the response of created personalities to the Creating Personality, God.” (15) This gospel is a “law of liberty” (James 1:25), it is “the law of the Spirit of life” (Rom. 8:2), and those who continually yield and surrender to it are those who are truly living. The one who does what God decrees and humbly obeys out of love and gratefulness the Holy Spirit is he who’ll find full freedom and abundant life. (John 8:31–32)
Responding to Grace
You must respond to this gospel of grace, and there are only three responses, one being proper. You could, indeed, reject this gospel and live for yourself, which is really living for Satan. This is the way of death and destruction, and can only end in such a manner.
You can, likewise, relax in this gospel and see this grace as merely the plaster filling in the gaps. This is the surest manner of life to be spit out from God, and is, in fact, another form of living for self and, what’s more, mocks and mars everything that the cross represents. By taking this grace and relaxing in its freedom, by standing on the sidelines as some sort of “unconcerned spectator,” neither making attempt to live for or against Christ, you’re making a laughingstock and a joke of all that Jesus did in securing your salvation. A truer form of debauchery doesn’t exist than this!
You can, also, and truly, receive this gospel, which is the only way real freedom and life and hope are found. By looking into the mirror of the Word, the only proper response is to be a “doer of the Word.” That is, reflecting and proving and evidencing the enormous transformational power of the gospel by “walking worthy” of it. (Col. 1:10; Eph. 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:12; Phil. 1:27) The only proper response to the mystery of the gospel is humility — a grace-driven humility that will spur our grace-driven effort.
How are you responding to grace? How are you reacting to this freedom and liberty that is found in the precious gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord? What does your life look like? Is it that which honors and magnifies the beauty of your God? Or is it that which falsifies and denigrates and degrades God, and scoffs at all that he’s purchased for us through his Son? Respond to grace in humility. See yourself, in God’s mirror, as you truly are: desperate and dire for grace. For it’s here — and only here — on this ground that you can “have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Tullian Tchividjian, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World (Colorado Springs, Co: David C Cook, 2013).
A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Whitakers, NC: Positive Action For Christ, 2007).
Octavius Winslow, No Condemnation in Christ Jesus: As Unfolded in the Eighth Chapter of the Epistle to the Romans (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1991).