000 fathoms, 70, Beauty, Biblical Counseling, Christ alone, Communion, Desire, Discipleship, Ephesians, Ephesians 2:8-10, Faith, faith, Fellowship, Holiness, John Owen, Kierkegaard, Mortification, Obedience, Of Communion With the Father Son and Holy Spirit, Praise, Puritan, solo Christus, works
What then is the trouble here? Salvation is by grace through faith and it leads to good works:
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8–10 (ESV)
Shouldn’t this make communion with Christ natural and easy for the believer? Our trouble comes that we by sinful inclination always seek to add our own to the mix. We which to take Ephesians 2:10 and add it somehow in verse 8. In our pride, we seek to be saved – with Christ’s help, but also with our own. Owen’s language in this section of his work is striking and extraordinarily useful:
When the soul consents to take Christ on his own terms, to save him in his own way, (Romans 9:31, 32, 10:3, 4) and says, “Lord, I would have had thee and salvation in my way, that it might have been partly of mine endeavors, and as it were by the works of the law; I am now willing to receive thee and to be saved in thy way
Consider this for a moment: it is to come in judgment before God and have nothing but the work of Christ as a ground for acquittal. We continually think that we must somehow add – even a bit – so as to secure our standing. I think this is what Kierkegaard meant with his striking image:
the believer continually lies out on the deep, has 70,000 fathoms of water beneath him. However long he lies out there, this still does not mean that he will gradually end up lying and relaxing on shore
Think of how often religious systems will some bit to Christ’s work? At times these additions are prescribed by some religious authority. Indeed, the various heretical forms of Christianity (often marked by a seriously defective Christology) distinguish themselves by prescribing a particular brand of good work which must be added. However, even where such a work is not template is not prescribed, the worried human often creates his own mechanisms to pacify his conscience.
In all these things we seek to add to the work of Christ. That is why Owen helps so at this point: God determines the means of salvation, and we are not to add nor take away.
And here is the important part: It is only in this absolute dependence upon Christ alone that we can make true movement in holiness. Only in this state of complete dependence will Christ appear sufficiently beautiful such that we will prefer him above all.
You see, if we limit the value of Christ’s work, if we can add to our salvation, then we can also pay – in part – for our own sin. Christ is now something which can be balanced with other options: we can ask, Exactly how much right to sin have I purchased?
But when Christ is our only hope, when we realize that we are truly treading water 70,000 fathoms deep, that we will prize him with the tenacity which we must. That is why Owen immediately continues his argument as follows:
Let believers exercise their hearts abundantly unto this thing. This is choice communion with the Son Jesus Christ. Let us receive him in all his excellencies, as he bestows himself upon us; — be frequent in thoughts of faith, comparing him with other beloveds, sin, world, legal righteousness; and preferring him before them, counting them all loss and dung in comparison of him. And let our souls be persuaded of his sincerity and willingness in giving himself, in all that he is, as mediator unto us, to be ours; and let our hearts give up themselves unto him. Let us tell him that we will be for him, and not for another: let him know it from us; he delights to hear it, yea, he says, “Sweet is our voice, and our countenance is comely;” — and we shall not fail in the issue of sweet refreshment with him.