Book Review: From Good to Grace

Over the past several years there has been a growing awareness of a quiet sickness plaguing the church. It is quiet because it has the outward appearance of godliness and spiritual growth, and it is a sickness because it leads to spiritual exhaustion at its best and spiritual death at its very worst. It’s an extremely cruel enemy because it deceives people into feel good about their spiritual walks at one moment, and causes them to feel completely defeated by their indwelling sin and failures when they are inevitably revealed in the next. 

What great foe am I referring to? The temptation toward legalism and moralism in the Christian life. Christine Hoover refers to it as the “goodness gospel,” and says that when she lived under it, she “appeared to be a good Christian,” on the outside, but on the inside, “felt unlovable and was riddled with guilt about [her] inability to please God.” As an adherent to this false gospel, Christine “sought joy, peace, and love through being good, and instead found [herself] miserably enslaved to [her] own unattainable standards.” Perhaps you can relate?

To be sure, many of us have found ourselves in a similar spiritual maze. We know that in and of ourselves, it is impossible to please God, and yet we so often faultily feel as though pleasing God is all up to us. This type of do-it-yourself Christianity has been the subject of many blog articles and books in recent years as the church seeks to reorient itself to the concept of grace-empowered Christianity. That is to say, enjoying the powerful work of God’s grace in a believer’s sanctification, and not just in their initial salvation. We have been inundated with calls to rest in the indicative realities of the Bible (what Christ has done for us), and to allow that sweet, gospel knowledge to produce the sanctification and holiness that we all so desperately desire.

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The Other Half

The stack of books on my nightstand inches higher everyday. Some were recommended and loaned by friends, some borrowed from the library, and some sit caked in dust because I’ve put off reading them for so long. The majority of the stack, however, have scraps of paper jutting out from their pages–evidence that I’ve started reading them but never quite finished. They remain on my nightstand because I have this thing about finishing books: I want to give each book a fair shake, and reading just the first few chapters isn’t a fair shake in my opinion. The first few chapters don’t tell the whole story.

I suppose I have this thing about whole stories, because although I became a Christian when I was eight, for the 20 years that followed I only knew the first half of the gospel story. I knew that I was a sinner, and I knew that Jesus Christ died on the cross to forgive me of that sin when I confessed Him as my Savior, but I didn’t know how this act of death and resurrection affected my life after my initial salvation. I hated that I continued to sin, that I failed God, that I couldn’t be good enough to prove my worth for what He’d done for me. I knew He loved me at the cross, but I felt certain He couldn’t love me in my ever-present state of failure and weakness. So I repeatedly cycled around to the first half of the story–the part that told me I was a sinner–and then, wallowing in that truth, tried desperately to make up for my imperfections with good behavior. 

I thought that was the whole story: saved by grace, sanctified by self-effort. But one day God began showing me through His Word that there is a second half to the gospel story–the part about life after salvation–and what He showed me changed everything. 

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