DISCIPLINED BY GRACE Ė TEACHING US GODLINESS
by J. F. Strombeck
Godliness is defined as, "careful observance of, or conformity to the laws of God." This definition might, however, be misleading because a punctilious observance of Godís law in self-effort and for personal honor becomes self-righteousness. The Pharisees were sticklers for the laws of God, but Jesus said that they were of their father, the Devil.
If, as already seen, ungodly means not to have regard for God; then godly means to have regard for Him, including voluntary dependence upon Him. A godly life is free from doubt as to His wisdom, His love, His goodness, and His provision. Dependence upon God excludes all dependence upon self.
A believer is dependent upon God in a twofold sense. When a person is born again, God does much more than reinstate him into Adamís original condition; he becomes a new creation, with a divine nature (2 Cor. 5:17). The creation of Adam was by the omnipotence of God. The new creation is not only by the power of God, but also by His sovereign grace, made possible by the death of His Son. This doubly guarantees Godís ability and willingness to provide all that His new creation needs. "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things" (Rom. 8:32). Herein is an unqualified assurance of provision for every need. Surely every child of God should exercise unfailing dependence upon His power and His love as expressed in His grace.
It is of the greatest importance to recognize that godly living includes this unfailing dependence upon the grace of God, as controlling in every aspect of life. The believer in Christ cannot be said to be living a truly godly life until he is brought to bow his head and heart to sovereign grace.
The humble attitude of complete dependence upon God is certain to express itself in a voluntary submission to do His will; and the injunction "whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" will become the rule of life. The little word "all" excludes for godly living even the least thing done to satisfy a desire for personal honor and glory. As Godís purpose in saving man is to the praise of the glory of His grace, so the object of all godly living must also be to the praise of the glory of His grace. The Creator should be glorified by His works. Much more, when the Creator left His place in glory and died to save the creature from everlasting condemnation, should He be glorified by those who are saved.
That which measures up to high moral standards is not always godly living, although godly living will so express itself. The world religions have moral codes, but conformity thereto is not godly living. Conformity to the Golden Rule or to the Mosaic law, would be godly living only if it could be in full dependence upon God, and done to His glory. Pious and puritanical living, however self-sacrificing, is not necessarily godliness. A life in dependence upon God will be marked by the absence of much of the pleasure of the world and by many self-denials, but the absence of these is not in itself a test of godliness. It may be self-righteousness and spiritual pride.
Godly living is not mere service for others. The present day social service program of neighborliness and good will of many churches, if not in dependence upon God and if not for His glory, while of temporal value, is not godliness.
That the believerís life should be in complete dependence upon God is taught in many different ways.
The most simple statements thereof are: "The just shall live by faith" (Heb. 10:38); "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb. 11:6); "whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23). An understanding of the word faith is needed to bring out the full meaning of these statements. One of the clearest explanations of faith is found in Romans 4:18-21. Concerning Abraham it is said, "Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations; according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarahís womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform." Abraham was strong in faith because he was fully persuaded that what God had promised, he was able also to perform. Abrahamís faith was a sublime dependence upon God to fulfill His promise. Faith in God, then, is complete dependence upon Him. Negatively stated, faith includes an emptying of oneself; of self-will, self-confidence, and self-effort.
But faith is more than trusting God to do things asked of Him; it is trusting Him to do whatever He in His infinite wisdom knows to be best, even if it is a denial of the thing asked. Some teach that all illness will be healed if only the sick person has enough faith in God. One who so teaches presumes to dictate to God what is best. This entirely ignores the fact that dependence upon Godís wisdom is as important as dependence upon His power.
Faith is not a mysterious energy, emanating from within oneself, by which things are brought to pass. It is in no sense work; it is rather a cessation of work, or self-effort.
To live by faith is not to live by sight. To live by sight is to depend upon circumstances, such as a fine position, health, a bank account, friends, family ties and many other things. These are of great value to the believer, but to depend upon them and trust in them is not to walk by faith. To live by faith is also not to live according to reason. The essence of reason is dependence upon oneís own intellect to plan and provide. To substitute reason for faith in God is to trust oneís own intellectual capacity more than Godís wisdom and power.
"The just shall live by faith" means, the just shall live by dependence upon God.
Emphasis upon the faithfulness of God should be a great stimulus to depend upon Him. "Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it" (1 Thess. 5:24). "He is faithful that promised" (Heb. 10:23). "Great is thy faithfulness" (Lam. 3:23). "Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you" (1 Pet. 5:7). "But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19). Surely the promises of God and His faithfulness teach complete dependence upon Him.
Practical sanctification also teaches complete dependence upon God. To sanctify is to set aside for a purpose. One who sanctifies himself unto God, sets his life aside for Godís purpose. This act recognizes Godís will as governing in that life, and this signifies dependence upon God. In his great treatise on sanctification, Paul used words which beautifully convey the idea of dependence, "yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God" (Rom. 6:13). Yield is the key word to sanctification. In a yielded person there is no resistance to the will of God. There is no self-planning nor insistence upon oneís own ideas or rights; but complete dependence upon God. The word instrument also signifies dependence. An instrument is in itself inactive; it depends upon someone to use it. The harp produces no melody until its strings are touched by the harpistís fingers. The surgeonís knife performs no operation until guided by the surgeonís skill. All instruments must be yielded to some masterís touch to be of value. That is what Paul meant by "yield your members as instruments unto God."
Multiplied admonitions to pray are repeated reminders of the believerís dependence upon God. "Pray without ceasing" (1Thess. 5:17). "I will therefore that men pray everywhere" (1 Tim. 2:8). "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit" (Eph. 6:18). In prayer one expresses a need that he himself is unable to satisfy, and acknowledges dependence upon God to supply that which is needed. The essence of prayer is acknowledgment of helplessness coupled with confidence in God to supply the need. To pray without ceasing is to maintain a constant attitude of dependence upon God.
Paul admonished, "Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 5:20). Only one who is completely dependent upon God can give thanks always for all things. This is possible only as one has full confidence, not only in Godís power and willingness, but also in His love and wisdom to do that which is best at all times. There is no finer expression of dependence upon God than in giving thanks.
Prayer acknowledges oneís dependence upon God in time of need; thanksgiving acknowledges dependence when the need has been satisfied. The lepers prayed, "Master, have mercy upon us;" only one returned to give thanks. Nine forgot their dependence upon Jesus the moment they were healed.
And finally, the very nature of grace demands dependence upon God. "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace" (Rom. 4:16). Grace being Godís infinite and unmerited provision for every need, it is complete in itself without the addition of anything by man. It is only because of His grace that God asks man to live in dependence upon Him. Grace on Godís part and dependence upon the part of man are inseparable. Therefore, godly living in this age is possible only under grace. That life which is in complete dependence upon God is not dominated by sin, because the essence of sin is dependence upon self instead of God. That is why Paul could write, "sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14).
To be completely dependent upon God and to desire to do His will and glorify Him are the basic principles of godly living. It is only by the discipline of grace that these characteristics are developed in a human life. Ę
This was excerpted with permission from "Disciplined By Grace," reprinted by Kregel Publications.
John Fredrick Strombeck (Dec. 6, 1881 - May 9, 1959) was a Christian businessman who placed his trust in the finished work of Christ early in life. Over the years he served the Lord as a director or advisor to the Belgian Gospel Mission, Dallas Theological Seminary, Moody Bible Institute, etc. With a great desire to communicate the truths of God's grace, J.F. Strombeck authored 5 books: So Great Salvation, Shall Never Perish, Grace and Truth, Disciplined by Grace, and First the Rapture.
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