Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Sustaining Grace, How Sweet The Sound!

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:4-8, emphasis mine)
I read this passage last night and I just love the message here. I know I sometimes breeze through Paul's introductions to his epistles and I do so wrongly because his introductions have as much theology as a year of sermons from a lot of pulpits. If only I were a fraction as thankful as Paul for my fellow believers. When was the last time you gave thanks to God for your brothers and sisters in Christ? If you are like me it has been far too long. But what I wanted to look at was verse 8 where Paul speaks of what I call sustaining grace. From verse 7 into 8 we see the critical portion:
....our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The NIV renders what the ESV translates as "sustains" like this "keep you firm to the end". Both the NASB and the KJV translates it as "confirm". The imagery Paul uses is of preserving something, keeping it safe, affirming finally. That is not Greek scholarship, just what I glean from what Paul says here and elsewhere and how it is rendered by actual scholars. What is just as important is not merely the word "sustain" itself but what we are being sustained for. The ESV speaks of being sustained to the end as "guiltless", or as "blameless" in a lot of other translations (NKJV, KJV, NIV, NASB, etc.). That is chock full of New Covenant imagery which has as the ultimate promise: For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12). That is what grace is all about, mercy for our iniquities and a forgiveness of sins. So putting that together, Jesus sustains us to the end and in the end we are guiltless of our sins. That promise is inextricably linked to any understanding of grace.

We typically have a schizophrenic view of grace. When it comes to saving us, it is all powerful to save us but when it comes to keeping us, it is extremely limited. On the other hand, in some groups like most Baptists grace is subservient to our "free will" when it comes to saving us but "once saved, always saved" when it comes to sustaining us. Neither view makes much sense but they both come from creating a division between "grace that saves" and "grace that sustains". Why would God make it impossibly hard to be saved when we are dead in our tresspasses and sins on the one hand but then promise to keep us saved once we save ourselves via our "free will"? Or why would God make it as easy as walkin' an aisle or raisin' a hand or putting your name on a card to get saved but then leave it up to our own strength to stay saved? It is very important to keep in mind here that Paul makes this claim and this promise to the church in Corinth which was perhaps the most messed up of the churches he wrote to. If it is true for Corinth, it is true for your church too!

If grace is not powerful enough to sustain the believer, the same believer who was incapable of saving himself in the first place, it isn't grace at all and is anything but amazing. Believer know this if you know anything. The same grace that can pardon and cleanse will sustain you until the end when you will stand guiltless before God. That is the sort of grace you can sing about!

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