Today, while working, I received a Skype from one of our Project Leads, for the company I work for. He was working on Paid Time Off accruals for our team, and he wanted to let me know that since I’ve not taken much time off over the last year, I’ve stopped accruing PTO. He was suggesting that I take a day or two off so that it would start accruing again.
Yeah, there are things I could say here about the need for rest–valid things. And, yes, I probably should schedule some time “off”. But that’s not what struck me in the moment. No, instead, his remarks led my mind down the path of thinking about “benefits”, in general.
I’ve started reading a very nerdy theology book, titled The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters by Sinclair Ferguson. I’ve started reviewing books again for Crossway Publishers, as a part of their Beyond the Page program, and I had read some interesting things about this one, so I chose it as my next review book.
I knew it would be nerdy. I knew it would be challenging. But I did not expect it to shift my thinking, like it is.
I did not know what the Marrow Controversy was before I started this book; I had never even heard of it before. And, I don’t know enough about it yet to be able to explain it here, in this space. Plus, I’m only a fourth of the way through the book. I have a ways to go.
But Ferguson has already answered some questions that have troubled me for a very long time.
And while this space is too small for me to list all my questions (there are, oh, so many), I can’t not write about this one piece of it:
I. Need. Christ.
Not the “benefits”, as it were, of being a Christ-follower.
I Need Him.
I am so very quick to apply conditions, to His love and His grace:
If I do these things, then I am worthy of His love.
If I am sorry enough, then He will forgive.
But when I do that, when I apply conditions to His love and mercy, then I am, in a very real sense, completely missing who He is.
And, in reading this book, I think I would even go so far as to say that I am sinning, when I apply conditions to His love and mercy and grace, because I am, in effect, saying “God, You are not who You say You are” and “Jesus, You are not who You say You are.”
Stay with me here—because this is also where the error of desiring the benefits over desiring the person of Christ, comes into play.
When I place conditions on God’s love and mercy, the result is that I am seeking the benefits of being a Christ-follower. I am a great legalist. A fantastic Pharisee. And a sinfully prideful one, as well. I want to “earn” God’s love, much like I “earn” Paid Time Off, from my employer. I want to follow the checklist. I happen to adore checklists–I use checklists every single day. And so it is easy for me to ascribe to a checklist theology:
- Did I practice spiritual disciplines today?
- Am I sorry enough for what I did yesterday?
- Have I cared well enough for others?
- And a dozen more…..
In fact, I would find this type of theology, so much easier, in some ways. I could see progress. I could see my daily life, tied up in a neat little package at the end of each day, with a row of checks that I can hand to God and say “See, I deserve your love today. I earned it. I worked hard…”, and then stand ready to receive is love…..like a benefit.
But that’s not what we see in scripture. At all.
Instead, we see over and over and over again, that it is Christ we need, and Christ we are given upon repentance and salvation, and Christ we are in and who is in us–we need Him. Not benefits.
Here is just one of a dozen passages in this book, that I have highlighted; this one, regarding Romans 5:6-8:
The Marrow theology emphasized that salvation is accomplished through grace. Passages such as Romans 5: 6– 8 underlined this. For when and how did God show his grace to us? Were there conditions to be met in us prior to Christ’s grace? Clearly not, since it was: While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. What conditions were met in us in order for God to send his only Son into the world to die for sinners? None. Indeed there can be none.
Sinclair B. Ferguson. The Whole Christ (Kindle Locations 1149-1156). Crossway.
There is nothing I can do–no conditions I can meet, in order to make God love me enough, to have sent His son for me. And the same is true, for you.
Are spiritual disciplines wrong? Absolutely not. They are vital. I would dare say that they have been and are a saving grace in my life. But they earn me no benefits. What they do, instead, is show me Christ.
Is confession and repentance from sin useless? Absolutely not. We are told to repent; we are commanded to repent. But repenting doesn’t earn me God’s forgiveness. His forgiveness is not a benefit. His forgiveness is who He is. And repenting shows me who Christ is. And who I am.
I don’t have this all figured out. I wish I did. But I don’t, and I may never.
But somehow, somewhere in the depths of my soul and mind, I know that it is Him that I need, and not some shadow of Him disguised as conditional benefits. And, He is what we are given, through His love, grace, mercy, and through His death and resurrection.
I need My Lord and My God.
I need The Whole Christ.
“….Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27