I did a bit of reading on our road trip—just a few morsels from an old book titled Disciplined By Grace: Studies in Christian Conduct (by J.F.Strombeck,1947). I was intrigued by the authors’ thesis. He contends that “all teaching of righteous living, to be effective, must not be grounded in law, but in grace. Any appeal for godliness, not related to grace is based on a false premise.”(11)
While it may seem that too much emphasis on grace would lead to careless living, and that the Law is what is needed to produce godliness, he contends that this is not the teaching of Scripture. Rather, it is God’s grace that not only saves us but that also sustains and perfects our growth in godliness.
Of course, Strombeck spends the rest of his book carefully defining and describing exactly what grace is and how it works in us to produce godliness. I haven’t finished the book yet and even if I had I could not reiterate it all in this post (you may now breathe a sigh of relief!). However I would like to talk a little about two passages he bases his thoughts on—the first a statement in Titus, the other an illustration from a rather odd story regarding Abraham. If you have the time, do grab a cup of tea and allow me to explain…
Scripture supports this idea that it is grace, not law which transforms us. The law tells men what they must do but does not provide the power to accomplish it (Rom.8:3). Even once we have believed and been set free from sin’s condemnation, it is only by God’s grace that we can live a life pleasing to Him ‘for if righteousness were through the law then Christ died for no purpose’ (Gal.2:21) At the point we begin to depend on our ability to keep the law, we have fallen away from grace (Gal.5:4) The law has served its purpose as schoolmaster once it has brought us to Christ in humble admission of our inability to keep it. Now we are under grace, being trained by it to live godly lives.
This is most clearly stated in Titus 2:11-14:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14 NKJV
In short, Paul tells Titus that the saving grace of God has appeared and that it teaches us in order that we might deny ungodliness and live godly lives characterized by good works, while we wait for our Savior’s reappearing. Grace, not law, produces godliness.
Interestingly, the word translated ‘teaching’ here is the same word often rendered as ‘chasten’(KJV) or ‘discipline’. It is used to describe the training of children, whether by words of correction or by the rod! For instance:
- “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines.” (Heb.12:6,7,10)
- “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. (Rev.3:19)
God’s grace trains (or disciplines) men to live godly lives (thus the title of the book: Disciplined by Grace). The by-products of God’s gracious action will be evident:
1) denial of ungodliness and worldly lusts
2) sober, righteous and godly living
3) anticipation of Jesus’ return!
These are the evidences of grace at work. Where they are not in evidence we have reason to question whether the grace of God has been rightly understood or received. For while it is true that the grace of God has appeared to all men in the person of Jesus Christ, not all have believed on Him as their Saviour and submitted their lives to Him as their God. Apart from the death of Christ on one’s behalf there can be no grace of God toward men, only a fearful expectation of judgment. Faith in Jesus is the condition for God’s grace to be extended to man. “I believe that Jesus died for me, because of my sins, and I receive Him as my Savior and the rightful Lord of my life.”
No amount of good works or law-abiding will produce a life acceptable to God. The law was not designed for this. It is rather a tool to make us aware of the gulf that lies between ourselves and God. By the law everyone in the world is shown to be guilty before God (Romans 3:19). No one measures up as ‘good’ when stood up against the Law’s standard. For this reason God sent Jesus as a sacrifice for sin that He might extend saving grace to all who believe.
OK, so we know salvation is by grace through faith, but what about growth in godliness? Is this where the law kicks in—with a set of does and don’ts that define and motivate Christian conduct?
This was the error that slipped into the church in Galatia. They began to think that the justified believer is made perfect by keeping the law. Paul said NO! ‘the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” (Gal.3:24,25) And elsewhere he said, “you are not under the law (where sin takes dominion) but under grace.” (Rom.6:14)
How then does grace train us (discipline us) toward godliness?
A very sweet chapter was devoted to illustrating how this works. It was drawn from the life of Abraham in Genesis 14:17-25. Let me see if I can summarize the story for you.
You will remember the story of Abraham and Lot in which they parted company to settle in the land of Canaan. Abraham generously gave Lot first pick; he chose the fertile Jordan valley and settled near the very wicked city of Sodom. Well, by and by this city was overrun by rival kings and Lot and his family were among those carried off with all their possessions.
Enter: Abraham to the rescue. He gathered his home-trained forces and pursued the victors. He defeated them and brought back his nephew Lot along with the rest of the captives and their possessions. Now he was in line to be richly rewarded by the wicked king of Sodom for his service. Enter: Melchizedek, that mysterious figure referred to as the King of Salem and the ‘priest of God Most High’. He arrived on the scene with bread and wine and a blessing for Abraham direct from ‘God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth’. In the blessing Abraham was reminded that it was God who had delivered the enemy into his hands and Abraham responded with a gift of gratitude, a tenth of everything he’d recovered.
Only then, after Abraham was fortified with food and drink and freshly reminded that the God he served was the possessor of everything, did the wicked King of Sodom step forward offering Abraham all the goods he had brought back: “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.”
But Abraham declined his offer, refusing to take even ‘a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours’. His reason? ‘lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’. He took nothing for himself; God was His portion and provider. He did not succumb to ‘worldly lusts’ but chose to live “soberly, righteously and godly” with his hope fixed on what God would choose to provide as His inheritance.
Shortly after this incident the LORD come to Abraham in a vision saying: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great”. In this vision God promises him a son, to be his heir, and through him countless offspring—one of whom we know would be the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. And Abraham ‘believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness’.
Do you see the elements of grace at work in this story training a man of faith in godliness? I confess I hadn’t seen some of these threads myself but was quite fascinated with the imagery J.F.Strombeck points out. So I’ve lifted out a portion of the chapter titled: The Bread and the Wine to share with you here. Note the threads of grace throughout. (Any bolded words are my own doing, not in the original.) Oh, and now would be a good time to pour yourself a second cup of tea!
The following excerpts are from Disciplined by Grace* by J.F. Strombeck, 1947
–The moment Abraham, the man of faith, was to be tested, God sent a priest to him. It was not a lawgiver that God sent, nor was it a prophet to remind him of judgment that might come upon him if he departed from the way of righteousness. No, Melchizedek…was a priest…one who approaches God on the basis of a sacrifice that has been made to atone for sin, and pleads with God on behalf of man. Because of the sacrifice, the demands of God’s holiness and righteousness have been met, and therefore God is free to act in grace in response to the pleading of the priest…The whole incident was on the ground of grace—pure grace. It was grace disciplining Abraham. (37)
–Melchizedek brought bread and wine. That bread and wine were a type, pointing forward to the death of Christ, just as now the bread and wine are symbols reminding the believer thereof. Inasmuch as the death of Christ satisfied divine justice and made grace possible the incident clearly speaks of grace. (37)
–The blessing of the ‘possessor of heaven and earth’ were added to the benefits derived from partaking of the bread and the wine. As the bread and wine point to the Son whom God spared not, but delivered up for us all, so the blessings of the possessor of heaven and earth point to the “all things” which are freely given with the Son (Rom.8:32). Here then, is “grace upon grace”. It was the grace of God which brings salvation, teaching Abraham that God, because He is the possessor of Heaven and earth, is fully able to give him everything he needed. It was a reminder that the riches which God, who owns Heaven and earth, give are far greater than any possible favors from and ungodly king. God’s gifts, being both spiritual and temporal, satisfy both the spirit and the body.
–Abraham’s tithes were given freely. In this giving of the tithe, Abraham voluntarily acknowledged his full dependence upon God for all that he had. This is the true state of grace.
–Communion with God’s high priest had revealed to Abraham the riches of God’s grace…the utter worthlessness of the riches of the ungodly king as compared with the blessings of the Most High God. This shows that the mere reminder of what Christ has accomplished by His death and what God does in love because of Him is a tremendous force for separation from worldly lusts…He would not accept [riches] at the hand of the ungodly king. He looked to God’s abounding provision in love to supply all that he needed.
–“I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet” …A thread is the smallest part of a garment. Garments in the Bible are symbolic of the believer’s righteous standing before God. The shoelatchet is that which holds the shoe fast and aids in walking. The earthly life of the believer is called his walk. The meaning of this then is that the world cannot contribute the smallest particle either to the believer’s standing before God or to his holy living. (40)
–As Melchizedek brought bread and wine to Abraham, so another, “called of God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb.5:10) also took bread and wine. “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you” (I Cor.11:24) “This is my blood….which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt26:28) Ever since, throughout this age of grace, the bread and the wine have been a memorial to all believers; a constant reminder of what God in grace, through Christ, has done for them.
–As Abraham was strengthened by the bread and the wine and the communion with Melchizedek, so likewise is the believer strengthened in meditation upon what Christ is to him, as symbolized by the bread and the wine….A vision of Christ, of His broken body and shed blood, prompts the believer to refuse to be enriched by the ungodly world. The realization that God is the possessor of Heaven and earth, and that He is able to supply all need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Phil.4:19), makes it possible to reject the favors of the world….
And thus conclude my road-trip morsels. And I’ve been chewing ever since. Could it be that the more we comprehend the greatness of God’s continuous grace toward us, the more we will live the lives He has intended for us from before time began? I do think so!
Thanks for joining me for tea ( :
Feel free to leave some crumbs…
“The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” Ps.16:5,6
“Deliver my soul from the wicked…from men of the world whose portion is in this life.” Ps.17:13,14
“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” Ps.17:15
*If you should be interested in reading more of this book, it is available in PDF format, to read online, HERE.
And I must share one more link to an incredible message based on
Titus 2:11-14 given by Charles Spurgeon back in 1886 and still so relevant! “The Two Appearings and the Discipline of Grace” is available for the reading HERE.