Sunday, January 7, 2018

Review: Transforming Grace

Author: Jerry Bridges
Publisher: NavPress
ISBN: 978-1-63146-864-3

Cover Synopsis:
Grace is amazing because it is God’s provision for when we fall short of His standards. Unfortunately, too many of us embrace grace for our salvation but then leave it behind in our everyday lives. We base our relationship with God on our performance rather than on His love for us, even when we intuitively know that our performance cannot earn us the love we so desperately crave.

Isn’t it time to stop trying to measure up and begin accepting the transforming power of God’s grace? The product of more than ten years of Bible study, Navigator author Jerry Bridges’s Transforming Grace is a fountainhead of inspiration and renewal that will show you just how inexhaustible and generous God’s grace really is.

As you know, I've done a lot of book reviews before.  This one is unique (with the possible exception of Ben-Hur) in that I kind of knew what to expect going into it.  I'd heard the late Jerry Bridges' expanded view of Grace before,  and when an opportunity came up to get a free copy of one of his books, I snapped that deal right up!

First off, I want to start by saying this is a difficult book to review.  It isn't that I disliked the subject, nor was it at all difficult to understand.  (Far from it, on both counts!)  The trouble comes when you read two chapters and go, "hmmm", and have to think about it for a day or two before continuing on.

In other words, this book leaves you a lot to think about along the way.  The word "Transforming" is much more than just a snappy title.

I think the first thing that has to be discussed is the underlying premise of the book.

The Christian life is often broken down into three high-fallutin' buzzwords, namely:
1) Justification - This is when you accept the gift of Christ's substitutionary sacrifice on your behalf and are declared "clean" as you exchange your sin for his righteousness.

2) Sanctification - That is, living life as a new creation.  You no longer live in ignorance and sin, but instead have the power to overcome it!  You are being transformed from a filthy, egotistical sinner into somebody who is holy and good.

3)  Glorification - Though we have a new drive to be holy, we still mess up constantly, and that gets frustrating fast.  In Heaven, where we are headed, there is no such aggravation because we'll given the ultimate extreme makeover.  We get a whole new body and everything!  More importantly, total immunity from sin.

Perhaps a simpler way of putting it:
1) Free from the consequences of sin.
2) Free from the power of sin.
3) Free from the presence of sin.
But you can get that much in any good, Bible-believing church.

This is where Jerry Bridges steps in and says, "hold on a minute..."  Justification comes from God's Grace and not of your doing.  Glorification is from God's Grace and not your doing.  So why is it, that Christians living the life in between act as if it IS their own doing?

"I've got to buckle down.  I've got to work harder and be a better... Husband... Father... Christian, in general." we say to ourselves.

One time a friend and I were walking through our local bookstore.  He pointed up to a sign and said "Irony".  I didn't get it for a minute.  There was a whole section labelled, "Christian Self-Help".  But then it hit me.  SELF... help!??  That says a lot about the boat we're in, doesn't it!

To counter that mentality, Jerry Bridges looks to Philippians 1:6 "He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ".  Who's job is this, again?  Mine?  I don't think so!

Couple that with the idea of freedom, Galatians 5:1, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."  This idea of doing stuff... that gets called a "burden" and "slavery".

This is one of those special sorts of concepts that you hear, and then next time you go read your Bible find it all over the place... when you know to look for it, that is.

The premise, though simple, is really pretty revolutionary, and it leads to quite a number of different and startling ideas, which the rest of the book is devoted to pointing out. 

(P.S. I'm pretty sure some of these ideas will creep into my writing from here on out.  How could they not!??) 

For example, Bridges points out the revolutionary difference between "have to" / "ought to" and "want to" / "get to".  Most Christians are living under the "have to" mentality, which is oppressive.  I "have to" go to church, or I "have to" stop this sin or that.  That's burdensome, and certainly not the thinking of a transformed heart!

Like if you're walking along the beach with your wife and a pretty girl goes by.  Try telling her, "I'd really rather be with that person, but I made a promise when we got married so I have to go home with you instead." 
Yeah.  Thanks a lot.

That, verses, "She's okay, but I'm glad I get to go home with the best girl on the beach."  Both have the same net result, but which one has the right heart?

Bridges, quoting an old English preacher points out that for something to be truly good, it consists of three parts:  The right thing, done the right way, and achieving the right end.  We get all legalistic, looking only at the right end, but never even pause to consider the motives that led up to it.

In fact, he says that more often than not, we're usually motivated to do "good" soley because of what we get out of the deal!  Whether it means recognition from others, a check-mark on some imaginary score card, or simply personal feel-good, the motive is the same:  Selfishness.  Only when we recognize and admit that Grace is truly 100% un-earned do we gain freedom from acting under the wrong motivation.

But you're probably reading this, thinking, "That Bridges guy... he's teaching that people can just run amok and sin all they want!"  He is not into that at all, and discusses it at length.  Furthermore, he also quotes Dr Martin-Lloyd Jones (who also no slouch when it came to righteousness).  "[Dr. Lloyd-Jones] was saying that the presentation of salvation by grace alone [...] leaves us us to the possibility that people may charge us with saying, 'It does not matter what you do; sin as much as you like.'"  He even suggests that if we're not in danger of being misunderstood, then we're neglecting the message!
Now, at this point, either one of two things have happened:
1) I've done a bad job of writing this article and you're thoroughly confused.

- or -

2) You're holding your noggin' going, "wooooah" like some washed-up flower child.
I'm hoping for number 2. :)

The thing is, what I've said barely scratches the surface of what the book has to offer.  The it goes on and on like this - one "aha" moment after another.  I obviously recommend it, even to the level of importance of the classics such as "My Utmost for His Highest".  It's that important.

Quality-wise, the points are all fully supported by large blocks of scripture.  Likewise, he has a good command of the wise teachers of old, and though the topics tend to meander, Bridges does a great job of explaining mind-blowing topics in a way that is both simple and solid.

If you look for the exact ISBN rather than just the title, this new edition also comes with a discussion guide (approximately the last 1/4 of the book) and a "Help for Leaders" section in the back, which would be useful in covering the material in a group setting.

I can think of no better way to end this review than with Brides' own words:
I invite you and urge you to lay aside any remnant of self-goodness you may think you still have.  Admit your total spiritual bankruptcy, and drink deeply from the infinite grace of God.  And then in deep awareness of what you received, extend that same spirit of grace to others.
Amen, to that!

Live YOUR Adventure,
-E.L. Fletcher.

[DISCLAIMER: The preceding unbiased review was performed in exchange for the book.]