Dynamics of Spiritual Life - Justification

Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Renewal (pg. 101-2)

Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives. Many have so light an apprehension of God’s holiness and of the extent of the guilt of their sin that consciously they see little need for justification, although below the surface of their lives they are deeply guilt-ridden and insecure. Many others have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification, in the Augustinian manner, drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience. Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.

In order for a pure and lasing work of spiritual renewal to take place within the church, multitudes within it must be led to build their lives on this foundation. This means that they must be conducted into the light of a full conscious awareness of God’s holiness, the depth of their sin and the sufficiency of the atoning work of Christ for their acceptance with God, not just at the outset of their Christian lives but in every succeeding day.


Robert N. Bellah, Habits of the Heart

Individualism – A word used in numerous, sometimes contradictory, senses. We use it mainly in two: (1) a belief in the inherent dignity and, indeed, sacredness of the human person…[and] (2) a belief that the individual has a primary reality whereas society is a second-order, derived or artificial construct (334).

We [as Americans] believe in the dignity, indeed the sacredness, of the individual. Anything that would violate our right to think for ourselves, judge for ourselves, make our own decision, live our lives as we see fit, is not only morally wrong, it is sacrilegious (142).

Julie A. Gorman, Community that is Christian

Self-fulfillment, autonomy, [personal] rights, freedom, self-centeredness – these are the facets of negative individualism and the factors that mitigate against community. Individualism puts self at the center of a person’s world – everything revolves around the nurturing, exalting, and gratifying of that self (46).

Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church

Individualism is a way of life that makes the individual supreme or sovereign over everything (42).

Steven Lukes, Individualism

Religious Individualism…is the view that the individual believer does not need intermediaries, that he has the primary responsibility for his own spiritual destiny, that he has the right and the duty to come to his own relationship with his God in his own way and by his own effort (94).

John Locke, The De-Voicing of Society

If small groups are thought of as a solution to desocialization, I’m afraid the news isn’t very good…Princeton’s Robert Wuthnow has found that small groups mainly “provide occasions for individuals to focus on themselves in the presence of others. The social contract binding members together assert only the weakest obligations. Come if you have time. Talk if you feel like it. Respect everyone’s opinions. Never criticize. Leave quietly if you become dissatisfied…Attending weekly meetings, dropping in and out as one pleases, shopping around for a more satisfactory or appealing group – all of these factors work against the growth of true community” [quoting Olds and Schwartz].

Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church

We have brought our mind-set of individualism into our small groups and therefore made them dysfunctions effective places of true community (47).

A. Orendorff

More than a belief, individualism operates at the cultural level sociologists and philosopher have termed worldview. What this means it that individualism is not so much something thought about as it is a way of thinking. Operating under the premise of individualism, the church and its various extensions are not communities in the trues sense of th word; they are collections of individuals. This is a profound and deep-seated assertion. The radically communal nature of the church as a fundamentally corporate entity is either wholly absent from the thought life of most parishioners or it is shrugged off as patently and hopelessly idealistic – something that looks good on inspired paper but, in the real world, simply can’t pay the bills.

Grace, One-Way Love

Paul F.M. Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life (pg. 36-38)
What is grace? Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. It is being loved when you are the opposite of loveable.

Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures. It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so-called “gifts” (whatever they may be). It reflects a decision on the part of the giver, the one who loves, in relation to the receiver, the one who is loved, that negates any qualification the receiver may personally hold.

Grace is one-way love.

The one-way love of grace is the essence of any lasting transformation that takes place in human experience. . . . One-way love lifts up. One-way love cures. One-way love transforms. It is the change agent of life.

Grace depends on the fact that its origin is wholly outside myself. This is the heart of love; it comes to me from outside myself. Moreover, while it almost always elicits a response, which is my love in return, it comes toward me without any reference to my response. One-way love does not deviate on the basis of its goal. It is determined solely by its source.

One-way love is the change agent in everyday life because it speaks in a voice completely different from the voice of the law. It has nothing to do with its receiver’s characteristics. Its logic is hidden within the intention of its source. Theologically speaking, we can say it is the prime directive of God to love the world in no relation to the world’s fitness to be loved.

One-way love is also irrational because it reaches out to the specifically undeserving person. This is the beating heart of it. Grace is directed toward what the Scripture calls “the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Not just the lonely, not just the sick and disconsolate, but the “perpetrators,” the murders and abusers, the people who cross the line.
A. Orendorff
The more difficult it is to love someone – the less lovely and lovable they are in themselves – the more our love towards them reflects and images God’s love towards us. It is no credit to your faith to love those who are inherently lovely; it is when we love those who we would naturally and justly recoil from that we show the authenticity of our faith. To love in the name of Christ is to love those who Christ loved: not the well, but the sick, not the righteous, but sinners.

The Hub

Richard F. Lovelace, The Dynamics of Spiritual Life

The “ultimate concern” of most church members is not the worship and service of Christ in evangelistic mission and social compassion, but rather survival and success in their secular vocation. The church is a spoke on the wheel of life connected to the secular hub. It is a departmental subconcern, not the organizing center of all other concerns (205).

Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church

The Bible clearly teaches that God intends to accomplish his primary purposes through the church. The first Christians understood that a decision to follow Christ also included a decision to make the church the hub of their world, even when it required the abandonment of existing social structures. Yale University professor Wayne Meeks makes this point, based on his meticulous research of the early church: “To be ‘baptized into Jesus Christ’ signaled for Pauline converts an extraordinary thoroughgoing resocialization, in which the sect was intended to become virtually the primary group for its members, supplanting all other loyalties” (36).

The Final Apologetic

Francis A. Schaeffer, The Marks of the Christian

“Notice, however, that verse 21 [of John 17] says, ‘That they all may be one…’ The emphasis, interestingly enough, is exactly the same as in John 13 not on a part of true Christians, but on all Christians not that those in certain parties in the church should be one, but that all born-again Christians should be one.

“Now comes the sobering part. Jesus goes on in this 21st verse to say something that always causes me to cringe. If as Christians we do not cringe, it seems to me we are not very sensitive or very honest, because Jesus here gives us the final apologetic. What is the final apologetic? ‘That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’ This is the final apologetic” (15).

The Great Disillusionment

Dietrich Bonheoffer, in the book Life Together, speaks of what he calls the “great disillusionment” with which all Christian communities must come to grips with if they are to embody not just a human ideal but a divine reality:

Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves…Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it (Bonheoffer 27).

Our task as a church is to come together embracing and rejoicing in the reality that we are, in the words of one contemporary, “painfully uncool,” that the church is fundamentally comprised of “dropouts, and losers, and sinners, and failures and fools.” In Jesus' parable of the Great Banquet, after the original guests refuse the invitation, the master of the house commands his servants, Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame” (Luke 14:21).

Luther said it like this,

“If you are a preacher of Grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, then you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious [or imaginary] sinners. Be a sinner and let your sins be strong [sin boldly], but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly still. For he is the victor over sin, death, and the world.”

We are not imaginary or fictitious sinners, we are real sinners who rejoice and trust in a real Savior. The plain truth of the matter is that other people are going to fail you, other Christians are going to fail you and, as Bonheoffer says, we are going to fail as well. True community isn’t about hiding our failures, it isn’t about ignoring or sweeping them under the rug of superficial and shallow relationships, nor is it about God making us into super-Christians who are so spiritual and so mature that we never fail one another and therefore cannot tolerate failure in others. True community is about gospel re-enactment; it’s about coming together again and again and exposing and confessing our sins, exposing and confessing that we are sinners. Any vision of the church you have that isn’t big enough to deal with the truth that people are going to fail you, that people are going to hurt you, that you yourself are going to fail and hurt others, any vision of community that isn’t wide enough to incorporate this reality simply isn’t Christian and until that vision is shattered by the “great disillusionment” of what Christian community really is you will find yourself constantly complaining, constantly at odd, constantly without peace and friendship in the church.