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Thoughts From Bryan Chapell

Greetings All,

Have you ever wondered if, or why, God accepts what you offer to him? Have you ever taken the time to consider what would cause a holy God to accept that which comes from a sinner (stained as any “works” would have to be, due to the impurities of intent and motive that are found in all of us, and therefore taint all that we think, say, and do)?

This week’s “thought” answers that question with one of the best illustrations I have heard. It comes to you from Bryan Chapell, and is found in his superb book, “Holiness by Grace.” Not, “Holiness by Great Effort,” or “Holiness by Withdrawing from the World,” or “Holiness Measured by What we Don’t Do,” but Holiness by Grace. The illustration that follows speaks for itself! Enjoy.

“Even marvelous obedience does not contain sufficient goodness to merit God’s acceptance. This understanding matures our repentance as we realize that, if even our best works fall short of God’s holy requirements, then our faults are all the more despicable.

One of the things my father taught all his sons was how to use a cross-cut saw. His daddy and his daddy’s daddy had taught their sons, and my father was not going to let this rite of passage for rural southern manhood end with him. One brisk fall morning, we began sawing on a log that we did not know had a rotten core. When we had sawed partially through the log, it split and fell off the sawing frame. The timber hit the ground so hard that a large piece sheared off the rotten log. In my childhood imagination the unusual shape of the sheared piece looked like a horse head. It so captured my interest that I took it home with me after that day of sawing.

For my father’s next birthday, I attached a length of two-by-four board to that log head, attached a rope tail, and stuck on some sticks to act as legs. Then I halfway hammered in a dozen or so nails down the two-by-four body of that “horse,” wrapped the whole thing in butcher’s block paper, put a bow on it, and presented it to my father. When he took off the wrapping, he smiled and said, “Thank you, it’s wonderful… what is it?” “It’s a tie rack, Dad!” I said. “See, you can put your ties on those nails going down the side of the horse’s body.” My father smiled again and thanked me. Then he leaned the horse against his closet wall (because the stick legs could not keep it standing upright) and for years he used it as a tie rack.

Now when I first gave my father that rotten-log-horse-head tie rack, I really thought it was “good.” In my childish mind this creation was a work of art ready for the Metropolitan Museum. But as I matured, I realized that my work was not nearly as good as I had once thought. In fact, I later understood that ultimately my father had received and used my gift, not because of its goodness, but out of his goodness. In a similar way our heavenly Father receives our gifts, not so much because they deserve his love, but because he is love…

The great disproportion between the sin in our good works and God’s holiness never goes away in this life. Our works will never earn God’s affection, as they will never merit his pardon. Our best deeds will never be sufficiently free of the contamination of human motive and imperfection that they are acceptable to God on their own merits... Not only do our good works not pardon our sin, they are, in fact, so mixed with our sinfulness that, if God did not act in love, they would actually be subject to his judgement. This understanding of the ‘evil of our righteousness’ (Isaiah 64:6) gives us a new measuring rod for our sin, which we would not dare to use were we not certain of God’s grace to us in Christ…

The early American evangelist, George Whitefield (1730’s-40’s) was the first to use the phrase, ”the evil of our righteousness” to confront the self-righteous with the inadequacy of their own goodness to qualify them for heaven. He taught that we need to sense not only the evil of our sin, but the evil in our righteousness… God wants us to know our good works are never good enough to make him love us. That is why we need Jesus no matter how good we think we are. There is a danger in making people think there is nothing they can do that will please God or help others. Still, there is NEVER sufficient goodness in our best works to make them truly holy by God’s ultimate standard. That is why even our best works still fall short of qualifying us for heaven.”

John Owen realizing this principle, once said, “Even our tears of repentance need to be washed clean in the blood of Christ.” Indeed, nothing that issues forth from us can be truly acceptable to God as it is, for it is stained by the sin that remains in us. Everything is made acceptable only as it is done through faith in Christ (our perfect and sinless Substitute). It is Jesus saving work that makes both US and ALL WE DO acceptable to God.

As Chapell’s illustration suggests, our works are received by God, “not because of their goodness, but out of his goodness.” It is the grace of Jesus, and the infinite merits of Christ’s redemptive work – in His life of flawless obedience and death for sin – that makes all we do acceptable to God. He receives them all with open arms for Jesus sake, and not for any purity, cleanness or meritorious virtue in us or them (Luke 17:10). As Isaiah reminds us, lest we slip into the sin of SELF righteousness – “All our righteous deeds are as filthy rags…” (Is. 64:6).

Living in His All-sufficient Grace, Pastor Jeff


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