Must Grace Transform?

A dispute once arose between the Wind and the Sun, which was the stronger of the two, and they agreed to settle the point upon the issue – that whichever of the two soonest made a traveler take off his cloak, should be accounted the more powerful.
The Wind began, and blew with all his might and main a blast, cold and fierce as a Thracian storm; but the stronger he blew, the closer the traveler wrapped his cloak around him, and the tighter he grasped it with his hands.
Then broke out the Sun. With his welcome beams he dispersed the vapor and the cold; the traveler felt the genial warmth, and as the Sun shone brighter and brighter, he sat down, quite overcome with the heat, and taking off his cloak, cast it on the ground.
Thus the Sun was declared the conqueror; and it has ever been deemed the persuasion is better than force; and that the sunshine of a kind and gentle manner will sooner lay open a poor man’s heart than all the threatenings and force of blustering authority. – Aesop

It is the truth that grace transforms. If we want to see true change, it must come through grace. It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4)

Is it right that the goal of grace is to transform? Isn’t that a subtle form of law? If we don’t transform enough is grace still grace? Must grace persuade? Is there no ultimate pure raw good? If the guy didn’t take off his coat, does that mean the sun failed? Does love require change? If the only goal to is conform someone to a standard more to my liking, how can I ever hope to find pleasure in who they really are? Should the sun in the story have stopped shining if the desired effect of coat removal didn’t happen?

6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
(Romans 5:6-8, NASB).

Maybe the perception that there is an agenda to elicit change is the one main obstacle to honest fundamental change. The prodigal did not return to the father for a long time after his money had run out, because he believed love required loyalty and he had already failed that test. He didn’t believe that his father loved him freely and without qualification, but he was wrong. The father loved him long after the chance to make his wrongs right were past. He loved him despite his inability to make his wrongs right.

I think there must be no agenda in grace but love and only love. Moral transformation is an old photo that you look back at and say, ‘wow, I don’t remember having that haircut!’

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  1. You’re right Jim, when the focus is change/transformation it usually becomes a law. But when the focus is Love; loving God and loving others, transformation is unstoppable!

    • We had a discussion in the men’s study Saturday about this. If you put transformation front and center, as in, “the hallmark of this church is changed lives”, then when people prove to be slow coming or inconsistent with their transformation, your little idol gets beat up. You really have to trust in the word God has actually spoken, Christ and Him crucified, front and center. People fall all over themselves to make the gospel be about everything under the sun EXCEPT forgiveness. But it really is about that.

      When you fail, if your God is Christ, you have a way home, always, to eternity. But if your god is your transformed life, you are screwed. Your life is not that transformed, it isn’t even biblical to say so (Romans 7:15, 1 John 1:8,9,10).

      Transformation is good, but it will always be imperfect, and we will always need to go back to the throne of grace for mercy and help in our time of need. Amen!

  2. Great post, and right on.

    A related question is this: if there is transformation, will others be able to see it?

    That’s the problem with fruit-inspecting Pharisees. They insist on seeing transformation, so they invariably pressure the convert to pretend transformation. The whole thing stinks.

    The vast bulk of spiritual transformation is invisible. It consists of a divine rewiring of the spirit and mind — like Paul in the desert for 3 years after he was saved. That internal stuff is key, and doesn’t show, often, for a very long time.

    Grace all the way! Thanks for this.

  3. Nail on the head! I also really like what Bill said,

    “That’s the problem with fruit-inspecting Pharisees. They insist on seeing transformation, so the invariably pressure the convert to pretend transformation.”

    EXACTLY! If I believe that my “changed life” is proof that I’m a believer, I’m so much more tempted to play the role, and again, the focus is on works and what WE do, not what Christ did.

  4. Jim,

    Thank you for this. A friend of my wife sent an email that contained some excerpts from Max Lucado’s book, called Grace. One of the sentences said, “You are God’s personal remodeling project.” Why do people remodel homes? (Question from a former house remodeler). Answer: Because they do not like the way the house is at present or are not happy with it’s current look. These types of sayings, well meaning as they are, hurt one’s perception of God and how he truly feels about man.

  5. David Powlison, The Journal of Biblical Counseling (27:1), “How Does Sanctification Work? Part 1”

    Here’s the takeaway. I dare not extrapolate my exact experience of God’s mercies to everyone else. Similarly, those who have had their Christian life revolutionized by awakening to the significance of justification by faith dare not extrapolate that to everyone else. One pattern of Christ’s working (even a pattern common to many people) should not overshadow all the other patterns. A rightly “unbalanced” message is fresh, refreshing, joyous, full of song, life-transforming. But eventually, if it is oversold, it becomes a one-string harp, played by one finger, sounding one note. It drones. Scripture and the Holy Spirit play a 47-string concert harp, using all ten fingers, and sounding all the notes of human experience. Wise ministry, like growth in wisdom, means learning to play on all the strings, not harping on one note.

    I am certain that those who teach “sanctification by revisiting justification” have heard that message as a new and joyous song that sanctifies them. May Jesus Christ be praised! Perhaps God has been liberating them from a ponderous Christianity that seemed to breed a weight of failure to perform, of failure to live up to expectations, of failure to accomplish all that needs doing, and of judgmentalism toward others who fail. May the God of mercies be praised! But let’s not forget to learn all the other sweet and joyous songs. And let’s learn the darker notes of lamentation and the blues. Let’s learn the call to action in work songs and marching music.

    I agree that we should not oversell the transformation. Christians whose only motive is thanks for justification are still sinners.

    But I disagree with Jay Adams and Kevin Deyoung and Piper that this means we need to put some other motives into the mix.

  6. This is way past where I’ve taken my grace thinking, which in my church circles is considered just barely on the plantation.

    I’m realizing only recently that this issue has somewhat defined my Christian experience. I struggle with forgiveness of myself, not about anything specific, but for not meeting (my) expectations for where I would like to be in the Christian life/ growth process.

    I’m belatedly realizing I need to thank God for where I am, not further along not farther back. Love this statement of Paul, But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. So freeing!

    Very nice post and haircut analogy, and also love the Aesop.

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