New-covenant ministers, essentially, can do only two things for others. First, we can help remove obstacles that are keeping people from carrying out what is written in their hearts and in their minds. These obstacles can be fears, misconceptions, habits, strongholds. Through love and witness, a minister can help remove these barriers and open the way for faith to operate freely. Second, we can help provide opportunities for God’s people to do what they have already been programmed to do by their new birth. Looking at ministry in light of these two tasks helps shed light on how best to minister without manipulation. It is not wrong, for example, for ministers to give us opportunities for service. Christians needed to be challenged to do what is in their hearts to do – to believe, to serve, to give. Placing opportunities in front of others is not necessarily manipulation. Only when the inner person is sacrificed to external behavior does manipulation replace ministry. Manipulation is playing God. That is a tiring and exasperating experience; you are just not equipped for it. If you fall into the habit of relying on manipulation in the service of ministry, your energy level will not hold out. In the long run, you cannot be successful. Ministry, on the other hand, is following God, immersing yourself in the reality of the gospel of grace and responding to his leadership as you lead others.
Grace Works, Vine Books, 1992, 198.
God makes it very clear that the two covenants are not to be mixed: “Cast out the bondwoman and her son” (Gal 4:30)… The old covenant operated by principles, the new covenant by promise… The distinction between principles and promise also explains why the Apostle Paul chose not to preach anything to the Corinthians other than “Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). That puzzled me somewhat as I thought of all the wonderful Old Testament truths that were readily available to Paul. He could easily have preached Proverbs with all its wisdom. He could have preached Psalms with its varied and creative expressions of intimacy. Or he could have explored the many lessons learned from the history of Israel. Yet he focused completely on his message on Christ crucified. Why? Because Christ’s death and resurrection represent the highest and most climactic revelation of God’s entire design. It is God’s bringing life out of death and something out of nothing according to his purpose. That really is gospel!
Grace Works, Vine Books, 1992, 128-9.
Divine passion will take us further than human zeal can imagine. It will produce greater fruit and do it without sweat. It is that divine energy which propels one through obstacles in a quest for the object of its love. It’s a simple fact: Causes require more resources than they create. When people are motivated by zeal, they can never produce the amount of energy required to complete the task.
Again, we are familiar with the cries for help from those who have given themselves to fulfill a mission or a dream. When they run a little short of money or a little short of energy or commitment, the tendency is to create a larger cause to create more anger, thus more resources. It happens on a national level, too. In the past we have had to portray the communists as bigger than they really were, the devil as bigger than he really is, the situation worse than we first had thought. All this to get people stirred up so that their anger will release enough resources to get the job done.
But here’s another simple fact: Love has enough energy to accomplish the task it has been called to do. Love will never find itself without enough resources, because “love never fails” (1 Cor 13:8).
Grace Works, Vine Books, 1992, 79-80.
In Romans 6, Paul deals with the natural mind’s tendency to misunderstand the grace of God. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may increase?”… The natural mind thinks, “If grace covers my sin, why not continue so that grace can be magnified?” Its definition of grace would be that grace frees me from the penalty of sin, so I can go satisfy myself with no fear of punishment. This is obviously tempting to those of us who experience the painful compulsion to indulge in addictive behaviors. But such an assumption is a total misunderstanding of the grace of God… The focus of God’s grace is not just on the penalty of my sin, but my bondage to sin on this side of heaven. Grace did not come just to pay my penalty so I could live in the bondage of working sin. It came to set me free from the power of sin in self-consciousness in my own life and even from my bondage to those who have sinned against me… God desires not only to free you from the penalty of sin but to free you from the power of sin. That’s why it is foolish to believe you can be a partaker of grace and continue on nonchalantly in a life of ungodliness.
Grace Works, Vine Books, 1992, 257-8, 263.
When the law was given, a sin-consciousness was added to man’s self-consciousness… Then into the darkness of this pitiful plight came the brightness of the gospel. We will find that it is in the nature of grace to always rush toward need: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5:20). The only thing that grace requires is a need into which to pour itself. Grace is not looking for the independent or the secure, but for the helpless. All that is necessary to qualify for the grace of God is to be needy… One of the most beautiful characteristics of the grace of God is that it is inexhaustible. Even with all your addictions, insecurities, and frailties, you cannot create a need so big that grace cannot meet it. The bigger the hole, the more grace there is to fill it. Even one who has been to God a million times with the same problem need not fear exhausting the grace of God.
Grace Works, Vine Books, 1992, 256-7.
When God creates a species, he gives it the desire and ability to do what he intended it to do. Now, here’s another important consideration. Christians are a “new creature” – a “new species”…
True freedom comes from choosing actions that are consistent with your nature. Embracing this perspective opens our eyes to the beauty of God’s commands. God knows our true nature and desires for us to discover it. So each command is a challenge to discover abilities yet untapped. He often commands things that are beyond human potential. For instance, he says, “Love your enemies.” I have enough trouble loving my friends, even my spiritual family. If this command is something I must fulfill on my own to gain God’s blessing and pleasure, I’m in deep trouble. But along with this command I’m given the love to accomplish it. And I’ve discovered an aspect of eternal life I hadn’t known before.
You might remember the man with the withered hand who was confronted by Jesus. “Stretch out your hand,” demanded Jesus (Mk 3:5). What a cruel thing to say to a man who obviously couldn’t use his hand. The man could have argued, “Please ask me to do something I am able to do. Capitalize on my strengths and overlook my liabilities. I can do many things for you if you will but let me perform. Why, look at my walking. There’s nothing wrong with my feet. I can talk for you; there is nothing wrong with my mouth.”
But Jesus wasn’t interested in what the man could do for him. He wanted to do something for the man. He wanted the man to experience a new kind of life… eternal life. But that kind of life can only be experienced by faith. It is no different when he commands us to do the impossible. He is trying to help us discover that we have a quality of life greater than we can imagine. Difficulties take on a different value when seen from the perspective of eternal life. Since our Father knows what he has placed within us and we do not, he is constantly leading us into situations where our real capabilities are revealed…
Life is a discovery! Every command of God is intended to release us from the bondage of who we aren’t into the wonderful world of who we were meant to be.
Grace Works, Vine Books, 1992, 26-7, 29.
To many, the Christian life is one of discovering the principles that govern each aspect of existence and following them to their conclusion, thus reaping the benefits of adherence to the designer’s plan. This is obviously better than neglecting the precepts of God and blindly living with no guide. But there is an even higher form of existence. It is living by faith, developing a vital relationship with God himself and enjoying his presence and personality. Promises require faith. You can’t work a promise. It is not a formula. It can be believed or refused, but it cannot be used as a tool and then set aside until it’s needed again. To believe a promise, you must get to know the One who makes the promise. Then you must live in patience and trust and relationship while that promise shapes your life.
Grace Works, Vine Books, 1992, 129-30.