– Dan DeVitis
Among many ministers, there seems to be a fear, or reluctance, to preach a message much beyond that of the real saving grace. Messages may abound on love, patience, forgiveness, and other qualities of good Christian character, but the messages pertaining to saving grace are the ultimate, for it brings the greatest measure of rest, comfort, and hope into the believer’s life.
Comforting words of scripture and songs of this grace abound, e.g: “Whosoever will, may come;” “For by grace you have been saved through faith;” “Father…Who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ;” “He has made us accepted in the Beloved;” “The blood of Christ Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin;” and John 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone pluck them out of my hand.” And hymns like, “Just as I am without one plea” and “…how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed” further declare such saving grace. Time and space prohibit citing so much more.
A foundation for all the principles of saving grace must be firmly laid in a believer’s life— fundamental principles to include the new birth, becoming children of God, of repentance and of faith, of baptism(s), the resurrection, and of eternal judgment; with emphasis on the blood of Christ for confessing and cleansing, for access into the heavenlies and the presence of God, and for its sanctifying power. (See Heb. 6:1 for example) Thus evangelism does not end at the hour of conversion but should, and must, continue to lay a sure foundation. Although that word, “foundation,” speaks of something solid, stable, and unwavering, it also brings to mind that something is to be built upon that foundation. For why have a foundation standing alone, without the greater thing that is to be built upon it? Is this not what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith…” (Col. 2:7) Clearly, “having been rooted” precedes “now being built up.”
When Cyrus the Persian overthrew Babylon in 539 B.C., he issued a decree allowing the Jews to return to their promised land after 70 years in exile. Under the supervision of Ezra and Nehemiah the very first work the Jews did was to lay the foundation for the temple in Jerusalem. This foundation was completed in 536 B.C. It was a monumental time, filled with shouts of joy, song, and praise of thanksgiving. And, even much weeping. However, the foundation was for a purpose. The temple itself, in all its glory and majesty, was to be built upon it. It was to be a crowning testimony of God and of His presence within Israel.
When I was young man growing up in western Pennsylvania, it was not uncommon to see families wanting to build a new home by first laying a foundation of concrete block and then living in that basement foundation until they could save enough money to build their house. The problem being, many failed to count the cost and could never sacrifice and/or save enough to finish building their dream home. They became overwhelmed by simply meeting the demands of living in this world. Regrettably, they ended up just living in that foundation basement. It became their home. They had become adjusted to living in that foundation basement. It was comfortable, affordable, and safe in any storm. However, the building itself, their dream home, was not to be. There is a cost to build. A greater demand is made and greater sacrifice required.
So, you understand why some may prefer to focus on living or making their home in the realm of saving grace. It is a sure foundation. It is safe, affordable, secure, and comfortable. It brings rest and assurance to the believer and a hope for the future to come. But all too often the believer, and the minister, grow “comfortable” with life in the foundation, and have adapted to it. Living our spiritual lives in this realm avoids unpleasant costs and sacrifices of building upon that sure foundation–which becomes absolutely necessary for spiritual growth. For in the realm of building upon that foundation the Church may no longer be a safe haven. The ego may (or will) suffer an assault. A blow is struck to our pride, arrogance, and self-centeredness. “Private sins” begin to prick the conscience. Tarnish is seen in one’s glory. The “self” comes under attack. One begins to cry out as Paul in Romans 7:24, “, O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” But with this “deliverance” emerges a new and glorious life far exceeding what one has ever experienced before. The glory of the building that is upon that foundation is a matter of experiencing His life in exceeding measures.
However, to complicate matters are the many failed attempts to build upon that sure foundation but have wrecked many lives in the process. Strict caution is given on how to build upon that foundation. (1Cor. 3:10 ff) Some of these attempts to build have introduced control and legalism into Christianity. Legalists attempt to have lives conform to a Christ-like character by introducing tight measures of control into lifestyles. Their lives are governed by a (long) list of do’s and don’ts which includes what you can or cannot eat or drink, wear as clothing, behavior modification, “spiritual” time, activity involvement, and so on and on. It does not take long to find that legalism suffocates the life discovered in saving grace. One becomes weary, tired, discouraged, and defeated. It seems the building attempting to be built upon that sure foundation consists only of wood, hay, and straw which can never stand in the day of fire. (1Cor. 3:11-15)
Thanks be to God there is a better and higher way to build that house on that sure foundation of saving grace. The good news is this way involves grace as well. We must remember that grace only works by faith, for nothing is imposed by God upon anyone, but they must with open hand and heart receive what is offered. However, this is not that saving grace, but it is grace indeed to build and transform one’s life. It is a grace that is available in Christ to bring the believer from that sure foundation into spiritual completeness (maturity). It is wonderful. One may ask, “How can one grow in such measures of Christ, if not by sheer determination, resolutions, vows, covenants, and so on?” Let me give an example of my spiritual father in my early days.
Albert Wadel was a simple man, a hard working dairy farmer with most probably an 8th grade education. He was raised in the Mennonite faith. He would read in the Bible of what one’s new life should be—putting off of the old and putting on of the new. He would read of righteous behavior and holiness. However, Albert was at that time a man with a quick temper and many other spiritual “shortcomings.” O how Albert would struggle with that temper. When angry he would kick the farm animals, and anyone else in his way. Over the years he grew increasingly weary and tired of this continual struggle to conform his life to the principles of spiritual maturity. Then, one day reading in the Word, “it” came upon him like dew settling upon a meadow—GRACE.
This time it was not saving grace. It was a new grace, a transforming grace released into his life, by faith, a power that reached into the very core of his being. Albert was very solid in the Word and stood strongly on the integrity of the Bible. He would share on many different spiritual matters, never speculating but always staying close to the Word. But somehow, no matter what path he started off on, he would always return to those transforming words that ministered such power in his life. This was the only Albert I knew, a gentle, kind, compassionate man of God. He would return to Gal. 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
O how he would groan in his spirit as he would read those words. If the word of saving grace set Albert free from the bondage of the world and spiritual darkness, these words of transforming grace set him free from the constant inward struggle of self-discipline and self-righteousness. What was once an outward law now became life, an abundant life. Time permitting he would go on to comment on Romans 6:6-8, “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” Albert would often say, “it is so simple that people miss it.”
So, this transforming grace brings forth life out of death. This is the house built upon that sure foundation. I shall end this note with something from my second spiritual father with whom I shared 42 years of life, Sergio Valori. Exactly what we are describing here is a transformation to spiritual maturity. Although Sergio was a man of many teachings, he was never far from the scripture Heb. 6:1-2, “Therefore leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to *perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.” (*The word for perfection here does not mean sinlessness or without sin, but by definition means maturity, full age, completion, adulthood.) O let us not set up camp on the foundation of saving grace, but let us go on to apprehend the living reality of transforming grace unto maturity.
Let us not fear change, or the challenge to pursue a fuller life of transformation in Christ. But also, let us flee routine religion, of rituals, programs, and ordinances. O the precious power of the blood of Christ that brings saving grace into our lives; and O the power of the cross that brings forth life through the transforming grace found in personally knowing and sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus declared, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly (exceeding all expectations).” Jn. 10:10
“Tis grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will bring me home.”