QUALIFIED FOR GRACE
JOHN R. GAVAZZONI
JULY 31, 2002
Editor’s note: the following essay was written by John to a brother who was troubled about what his responsibility is to God. I consider the writing “manna” for the troubled soul. Jan Antonsson
I’m going back through your recent e-mails in the order I received them to share whatever I can that may be helpful. I was just browsing through Oswald Chamber’s daily devotional book, “My Utmost for His Highest” and came across something that, at one time, I might have thought was excellent exhortation from a superior saint who was more willing than me to be “sold out to God,” but this time around (this always happens now with me in regard to conventional pietistic literature) my reaction to what he wrote bordered on revulsion. In the particular devotional that caught my eye, he makes the statement that consecration is our part (what we do) and sanctification is God’s part (what God does). He can’t hide his basic theology, that we can’t get God’s best unless we give Him our utmost, as expressed in the title.
This is one of those bits of ignorance that in times past God winked at but, concerning which, He now commands all men, everywhere to repent. In regard to this, you spoke of the great travail you’ve been through in hoping to be found with at least some goodness of heart before God that would qualify you for continued grace from Him, some reason to believe that you were still redeemable. I’m paraphrasing your comments. As you know, this was the very thing the Lord had me address in the article, “Gift and Grace” and I still recall clearly how passionately the Lord laid that message on my heart.
Somehow we’ve been sold a bill of goods about how God becomes all in all. That bill of goods has many variations but the essential thread running through all those variations is that it’s a matter of God being some and we being the rest, or vise versa. It says that we keep doing our part and learn to do it better and better and with more and more determination until God becomes all in all. Interesting theology, we come to an end by using a method that is contradictory to the goal.
In actuality, the more we try to be something, the farther we move from God being all. But, thank God, He is Lord even over this calamity. He has so ordered it and arranged it that sooner or later we get sick and tired of being sick and tired spiritually. How terrible must be, for most of us, that particular “dark hour of the soul,” when we are brought to despair of ever finding anything good in ourselves. I’ve “been around the mountain” my share of times on this. Man was never created to possess some measure of goodness autonomously, some inner inclination and/or volition toward obedience to God with which God can work and to which He would add His mercy and grace. We were created to participate in God’s goodness, for only He is good, as Jesus taught.
I was personally admonished by the Spirit of God concerning the nature of this participation, that it sprang from a non-contributing partnership with Him. I receive His riches in glory by Christ Jesus as an heir of God and joint heir with Jesus Christ (Gal. 4:7) but I bring NOTHING to the partnership. I’ve got nothing to offer. Natural man was created with the capacity, in relationship with others, to be filled with the fullness of God, but he is entirely incapable of doing anything toward fulfilling that capacity. That capacity has no ability of self-realization; it must be acted upon by grace. And the grace of God contains within itself the impetus not only of the giving part, but also the receiving part. In the very act of giving us grace, God opens our hearts to it.
When most evangelicals speak of “receiving” from God, what they really mean is “getting” from God. God can received only; He cannot be gotten or taken or made to be anything. The passion of God’s givingness opens our hearts to receive and we are conscious that a decision has been made and we are wont to claim it as our decision and are encouraged by religious mentors to understand it thusly. But really, the decision of God is the operative force that catches us up in its determination and we end up doing what God is doing but it is Him doing it. We don’t get grace by bringing even our willingness to the table. Add to the incapacity of our capacity the fact that the natural man has been corrupted by sin and death and you have a pitifully helpless creature.
But, how good the good news is! God decided, and God acted and “By this will (the will of God) we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.“ (Heb. 10:11 NAS) I found it absolutely fascinating and so very much to the point when I read in Billy Graham’s autobiography, “Just As I Am,” that he had an interview with the great Swiss theologian Karl Barth and that they had two, quite different. perspectives on the salvation that is in Christ. Billy was very frustrated with the fact that Barth kept returning to the fact that the good news was that God had acted in Christ, whereas Billy wanted to talk about what was necessary for man to do and what we as Christians could do to bring others to that “decision for Christ” (a phrase that he helped to popularize).
Having read a little of Barth, I knew exactly where he was coming from and why he refused to be moved from a position of God-centeredness to, what was undeniably, a man-centered gospel in spite of men’s insistence that their message was Christ-centered. We talk about accepting Christ, but the Bible talks about us being accepted in the Beloved (See link at end). We talk about making a decision to receive Christ and the Bible teaches that He begat us by His own will (John 1:13). We teach repentance as something that man must reach down and find within himself and the Bible speaks of repentance as something that God grants. We demand that men “choose” Christ and Jesus said, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and ordained you that you should bring forth fruit and that your fruit should remain.“ (John 15:17)
Frankly, we’ve got it ass-backwards. Not only is salvation all of God, but a life lived pleasing to God, is all of God. “As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.“ (Col. 2:6) We received Him by grace through faith (and THAT not of ourselves, it’s the GIFT of God) (Eph. 2:8), and so that is how we walk in Him. Paul teaches emphatically and explicitly that Christ is our Life. (Col. 3:4) Whatever is going around claiming to be your life with some independent element of goodness or badness is, simply and categorically, a lie. “Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life.”
God bless you, and I say that knowing that He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ. (Eph. 1:3)
QUALIFIED FOR GRACE [John R. Gavazzoni] 7-31-02 1