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Spiritual Renewal

Consider with me some challenging questions about following Jesus in a broken world. When it comes to facing rejection; weathering conflict; encountering tragedy; resisting temptation; and combatting loneliness—are you growing? And a related question: How are you appropriating the promises of God as you experience those realities? 

Of course when we talk about appropriating God’s promises, we’re talking about faith. That is, functional belief that makes a difference in how we live day-to-day. Living as if God’s promises to us through Christ are true. Are we living that way?    

Richard Lovelace wrote a book in 1979 on the premise that we are not. He claimed “only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives.” That’s sobering. If true, it means only a small margin of born again, blood-bought, genuinely converted followers of Jesus are spiritually healthy and experiencing daily renewal. 

He’s not saying the church is filled with godless law-breakers. He’s claiming that the reality many believers face is this: underneath a religious veneer, lies a radically insecure person who is unsure whether or not God really loves them in spite of their spiritual performance.

Lovelace’s solution was a vibrant, spiritual renewal—both individual and corporate. He believed Christians so easily fall away from a full and rich understanding of the gospel into cheap grace, legalism, and moralism. In other words, religion. He wrote: 

It is my assumption that growth in faith is the root of all spiritual growth and is prior to all disciplines of works. True spirituality is not a superhuman religiosity; it is simply true humanity released from bondage to sin and renewed by the Holy Spirit. This is given to us as we grasp by faith the full content of Christ's redemptive work: freedom from the guilt and power of sin, and newness of life through the indwelling and outpouring of his Spirit. 

How do we “grasp by faith the full content of Christ’s redemptive work”? In chapter 4, Primary Elements of Continuous Renewal, Lovelace lists four affirmations, or promises from the Gospel that serve as entry points to spiritual renewal. Keep in mind that apart from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, none of these promises are true.

 

  1. I am accepted and declared righteous in Christ.
  2. I am free from the bondage of sin
  3. I am not alone or without help, but filled with God’s Holy Spirit
  4. I have authority in spiritual conflict     

All are promises. All are based on the finished work of Jesus. All are true exclusively for those united with Christ. If you consider the power and scope of those affirmations, they’re staggering. They should touch and shape all of life for followers of Jesus.

Think of those promises like the primary colors. Remove just one, and you’re restricting the full range of artistic possibilities. In the same way, if you are not appropriating all the primary promises of the gospel “grasping by faith the full content of Christ’s redemptive work,” not only are you restricting God’s beautiful pathways of renewal, you’re opening yourself up to ugly, misleading counterfeits.

Paul told the Ephesian church: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…”

That’s critical. Through Christ comes every spiritual blessing. Every promise. Every benefit. Every asset. Every privilege, such as: we’re holy and blameless before him; we’re adopted as sons; we’re accepted in the beloved; we’re redeemed; we have the forgiveness of our sins; we have an inheritance; and we’ve been sealed with the Holy Spirit. Those are just a few listed in the rest of that passage. Are we feasting on them? 

For this post, let’s drill down into the first promise. You are accepted, because your guilt and shame are covered by the righteousness of Christ. 

That’s the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Luther called it the article on which the church stands or falls. Without the justifying, guilt-clearing, shame-canceling work of Jesus, you’ll have to stand on your own merits. Will God accept you on those terms? He won’t. He can’t. Spiritual renewal begins here. Lovelace stated it clearly:   

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: acceptance in Christ alone, apart from our performance.

How would our lives look different if we built them on that foundation? I read about a young pastor who met with a depressed 16 year-old girl in his church. He began talking about God’s love toward her, the suffering and sacrificial death of Jesus, and the message of the Gospel. She said, “Look, I know all of that. I know God loves me. I know Jesus died for me, and that He’ll take me to heaven when I die…but what good is that when no boy in the entire school will even look at me.” 

She knew those promises, but she wasn’t building her life on them. She was not “solidly appropriating” them. Therefore, she was not fortified against rejection. She had no defense. Something was more real to her, more powerful and life-shaping: the acceptance of boys. That was her real foundation. But it crumbled. 

It’s easy to sneer at a teenage girls infatuation with boys. But consider the “acceptance” idols we all secretly crave. Why does rejection bother us so deeply? Why do we feel guilty, ashamed, and condemned, alienated from God and people so often? What drives those fears? Are we appropriating the justifying work of Jesus—the acceptance of God? 

We have solid grounds for believing the gospel promise of acceptance. Paul wrote: 

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Notice the operative words in that passage that follow our being justified by faith: peace and access. Can you imagine anything more powerfully galvanizing when you’re faced with the rejection of men—or teenage boys—than peace and access with God? 

Because of Jesus, God views us as perfect, clean, cleared, blameless, and righteous. Therefore we are most welcome into his throne room and living room. Full access. 

God doesn’t just “tolerate us.” We don’t slide into His kingdom by the hair of our chinny-chin-chin, or get into his family by the skin of our teeth. Scrub those lies from your heart, believer. Because of Jesus, we enjoy full sonship access and privilege. Jesus puts our picture up on his fridge. He pulls our photo out of his wallet to show the universe. 

In Christ, we are the apple of God’s eye. He sings over us with loud exultation. We finally belong. We cannot bear the reality of a fallen world without that assurance. To do that, it will take faith, functional belief in God’s promises to us. Lovelace writes: 

It is an item of faith that we are children of God; there is plenty of experience in us against it. The faith that surmounts this evidence and is able to warm itself at the fire of God's love, instead of having to steal love and self-acceptance from other sources, is actually the root of holiness... Faith is the very highest form of our dependence on God.  

I love that phrase. The faith that surmounts this evidence and is able to warm itself at the fire of God’s love…We don’t need to steal love and self-acceptance from cheap, empty, misleading counterfeits. 

It’s nice to belong to a human family, live in a free nation, to enjoy friendships, clubs, circles, and associations. But in the grand scheme of things, those don’t galvanize us for life in a fallen world. Neither do clicks, likes, follows and subscriptions.

We have been extended the welcome of God because of Jesus Christ. We are fully His. He granted us access. We have peace. He loves us. That’s enough!

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