Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives. Many have so light an apprehension of God’s holiness and of the extent and guilt of their sin that consciously they see little need for justification, although below the surface of their lives they are deeply guilt-ridden and insecure. Many others have a theological commitment to [the doctrine of justification], but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification… drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance, or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience. Few know how to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.
In order for a pure and lasting work of spiritual renewal to take place within the church, multitudes within it must be led to build their lives on this foundation. This means that they must be conducted into the light of a full conscious awareness of God’s holiness, the depth of their sin and the sufficiency of the atoning work of Christ for their acceptance with God, not just at the outset of their Christian lives but in every succeeding day.
– from Richard Lovelace’s book Dynamics of Spiritual Life
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This was Lovelace’s problem:
“Few know how to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: ‘you are accepted.'”
This was his solution: to realize
1. God’s holiness
2. My depth of sin
3. His sufficiency for my attonment
4. and do it everyday
The people Lovelace described (Christians) hear this every Sunday. It certainly isn’t an incorrect assessment, but, for me, it doesn’t reach into the doldrums to shake me out of my numb disobedience. I wish it wouldn’t stop short.
I got really excited reading this scripture the other day because it addressed this problem.
2 Cor. 3:2- “…Clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.”
The things we read, even the Bible, are good only insofar as they are “solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in [our] lives.” It is the Holy Spirit that illuminates what we read and gives us tender hearts of flesh instead of the unfeeling hearts of stone.
That is what we need, I think. We need to learn about this holy “guarantee”, the Spirit of God- how do we hear from Him?
Just to clarify: Not every Christian hears this every Sunday. Thousands hear basic self-help messages cloaked in Jesus-talk. The gospel is a precious commodity that is rarer than you think in American pulpits.
And: hearing and realizing are two different things. I think the nuancing in Lovelace’s language (“a thoroughgoing stand,” “that quality of trust,” “full conscious awareness”) is his way of pointing to the deep knowledge that, as you remind us, comes only through the Holy Spirit’s illuminating work.