My Beef With Santa Claus

“Love is holy because it is like grace—the worthiness of its object is never really what matters.” Gilead

 I don’t dislike Santa. My wife has even said that for someone who isn’t a “Santa supporter” I enjoy a number of Santa related things. I like Santa movies (Miracle on 34thStreet; The Santa Clause; Elf) and Santa Christmas songs. I like some Santa decorations and knick-knacks. I like when local stores offer pictures with Santa for children. I’m not anti-Santa.

Continue reading My Beef With Santa Claus

How to read the Bible with identity in mind


Since my identity is found in Christ and sanctification is the process of the Spirit remolding me into his image, I find it to be of great help when I read the Bible to first focus on who Jesus is (worship) and then think about what is true of me because I’m in Him (identity) before tying it into how it applies to my thoughts, affections, and actions (ethics). This keeps my sanctification firmly rooted in a longing to see and become like Jesus as well as an awareness of what’s true about me (indicative) and available for me now that I’m in Christ.

Continue reading How to read the Bible with identity in mind

Do Your Doctrine & Culture Clash?

As a church, does our culture match our doctrine? As an individual or as a family, does our culture match our doctrine?

Gospel doctrine – gospel culture = hypocrisy
Gospel culture – gospel doctrine = fragility
Gospel doctrine + gospel culture = power”[2]

Continue reading Do Your Doctrine & Culture Clash?

Fresh Air in the Atmosphere of Trinitarian Grace

“To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.” (I Peter 1:2)

Throughout his first letter, Peter regularly reminds his readers that their suffering, their rejection, and the way they stand out as exiles is normal. The kingdom of light is no more welcome to a kingdom of darkness than the bedroom light being turned on first thing in the morning is welcomed when I’ve been sleeping. And yet, as elect exiles they are God’s people. Though kicked to the curb by the world we are called into a new family and given a sense of belonging by our Triune God. We are now his people, and even as we struggle in a world that is not for us we are equipped and empowered by a God that is for us. Continue reading Fresh Air in the Atmosphere of Trinitarian Grace

What Work Clothes Look Like Under Grace

Part 2: What Work Clothes Look Like Under Grace
I want to now briefly transition into how the Trinitarian grace we receive fleshes itself out in our lives. In part 1 I hinted at some of the ways right knowing (theology) of the grace we’ve received leads to right living (ethics) through grace. And we’ve hopefully established the foundation, that sanctification through grace starts with an understanding of who God already is for us—Adopter, Sanctifier, Justifier—and who we are right now in Jesus (identity). Therefore, sanctification through grace instead of law looks like living with freedom, by faith, in love.[1] It isn’t a matter of living according to a different set of rules, but it’s being changed so we both like to play by the rules of the game and are able to do so. The law is still important and has purpose but it’s also impotent, meaning it tells us what is right but it’s incapable of accomplishing in us what is right.[2]

The three passages I’ve referred to most—I Peter 1, Romans 8, and Galatians 5—not only harmonize on God’s grace but they also speak in accord when it comes to how that grace expresses itself in our lives: freedom, faith, and love.[3] Growing through grace means I’m thankful that law helps me to see what is right, but it’s only through a free work of God in us that we can desire to enjoy what’s right and then receive strength to do what’s right. Here are some of the differences between what it looks, smells, and feels like to actually live under grace versus living under law. These should act more as diagnostics to know which way we’re leaning than a prescriptive list we try to follow.

The Characteristics of Living under Grace
Gratitude and freedom
When we live under law our motivation is guilt-driven. We look for a laundry list of things that will win God’s approval. The frustration sets in because under law we’re slaves who work for a master that will never loosen the chains. Under grace, we’re motivated by gratitude and follow Jesus as a response to receiving favor rather than an effort to gain favor. The freedom we have in Jesus is the fountain from which all of our efforts are watered and nourished (Gal. 4:1-5:15).

The Spirit’s internal compulsion
When we live under law we live according to the flesh (old man) and our desires remain what we’ve always wanted. In this case the laws of God are an external constraint of rules needing kept. Under grace, we live in the Spirit (new man) so that our desires are reoriented and we start to want the things God wants. Here, God’s laws move from an external code to an internal compulsion. They become the things written on our own hearts so that we’re able to do them willingly (2 Cor. 3).

Gift and promise
When we live under law we think our works have merit and we rest on what we can accomplish through our performance. This never ends well because we’re aware of how weak our best efforts are and we’re frustrated by how much is left undone. Under grace we live by faith because we know everything we have and everything we’re equipped to do is a gift from God. We live not by our performance but according to God’s promise to justify us by faith alone in Christ. We live out of the fullness of who God is for us not who we think we need to be for him (Gal. 2:15-3:29).

When we live under law we do so by our own power. We strap up and hope that if we do enough, try hard enough, and check all the Christian-to-do boxes then we’re sure to become a better person. Under grace, we remember our insufficiency and neediness and so we live through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit working through us. We do work and we make obedience to God a priority, but we walk by faith in the Spirit who does the transforming work in us and causes the spiritual growth in us (Phil. 2:12-13).

Selflessness and love
When we live under law we’re self-focused and devoid of love. We don’t love God because he’s the task-master always keeping us on the clock. We don’t love others because they haven’t gotten their act together like we have. Living under law leads to pride because any apparent success is a result of all my effort. Under grace, we become selfless and are enabled to live out of love. Through communion with the God who’s given us grace our hearts are reshaped so we can love God and others. Since Christ has justified us and we have nothing to do with it, we are humbled by our helplessness and released from the bondage of having to worry about what else I need to do, fix, or change (Gal. 5:13-25).

These are just a few recognizable differences between living under grace and under law. Can you see how the Trinitarian grace we receive changes the way sanctification works itself out? We need to know about our adoption as God’s own children and then live knowing our Father is for us, he loves us, and he actually likes us. We need to know that the Spirit has released us from sin’s ownership over us. Therefore, we can now live and mature as new people under new management, strengthened through the Spirit’s indwelling presence and power. We need to know that the Son purchased the forgiveness of our sins and we’re now declared righteous in him. And, because of that, we can finally rest in our knowledge that in Christ we have a firm identity, a full acceptance, and a fixed destiny.

We live with freedom because of the grace of the father’s love to us, the grace of the Spirit’s power in us, and the grace of Jesus’ accomplished work for us. We live by faith because we receive these things from God to us as gifts and not as something we earned. We live in love because the driving force in our life is the undeserved and unprovoked grace we’ve received. Having considered in Part 1 the atmosphere of Trinitarian grace we live in, and then having just looked at some ways we might be able to tell if you’re trying to grow through grace or through law, in the next post we will actually put some handles on ways to grow through grace.

Image courtesy of Greg Pilcher.
For an article with a similar focus but thinking through sanctification as gospel-centered as opposed to self-centered, see here.
[1] Sanctification through law operates under the assumption that our work gets God on our side and leads to us becoming what he wants us to be. In our mind’s eye under law, we see God as either Uncle Sam with his finger pointed saying “Be all you can be,” or we see Him as the always disappointed Dad who’s there to point out our faults.
[2] This means we’re freed from the law as our judge (convicting us of guilt) but it doesn’t mean the law isn’t still a guide (showing God’s will). The law that was an enemy because of our powerlessness to walk in it becomes our friend as Christ justifies us through it and the Spirit enables us to walk in it (Rom. 8:1-4).
[3] In I Peter 1, because the Father loves us, the Spirit has sanctified us, and the Son has cleansed us we can live a life of faith (1:5-9, 21), we can walk in freedom (1:18-19), and we can love others (1:22). In Galatians 5 we’re told by walking in the Spirit and not the flesh we will bear the fruit of the Spirit. Paul bases this on our freedom in Christ (5:1), which allows us to live by faith and not works (5:5-6), which then issues itself in a life of love (5:6, 13-14, 22). In Romans 8 the language of freedom is clear (8:1, 15) but the terms of faith and love aren’t mentioned. However, the parallel passage of Romans 5:1-5 mentions all three. Also note, the overarching argument of Romans is our righteousness by faith (3-8), and later Paul gives specific applications of how this leads to love (12-14).