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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Book Review - Because He Loves Me

“In your pursuit of godliness, have you left Jesus behind?”

That may seem like an odd question, but if we take a look at the modern conservative church, there are signs that it is a valid one. I say “conservative” rather than “evangelical” because, sadly, it seems that in the much of the evangelical community, the pursuit of godliness is a foreign concept. But in the reformed world, where we believe in the mortification of sin and the pursuit of personal holiness, there can be a tendency to strive toward those goals in our own strength, rather than in His. We may be found more often working out of duty than out of love.

I mentioned in a message a couple of weeks ago that many of us look at the gospel – and Jesus – as the gateway to Christianity, and in a sense that is true. But how many of us see the gospel as relevant to every step we take after we are converted? In your pursuit of godliness, have you left Jesus behind?

That is the question posed by Elyse Fitzpatrick in her new book Because He Loves Me: How Christ Transforms Our Daily Life. In the introduction, she asks a few other clarifying questions:

- If I said that we’re going to spend page after page considering God’s love, would you feel the need to stifle a yawn? What does his transforming love mean to you today? - Are you more focused on your performance for him or his for you?
- At the end of the day is there a rest in your soul because of him, or is there guilt and a determination that tomorrow you’re going to “do better”?
- You know that Jesus is the door. Do you see how he is your life? Could you tell me exactly how he has transformed your daily life?

Fitzpatrick asserts and then argues that the love and undiminished presence of Christ is the most relevant aspect of the believer’s life. He is not a figure from our past. He is our past, present, and future. He is the key to understanding who we are, and He is the key to doing what we are called to do.

As we have worked our way through Ephesians on Sunday mornings, we’ve seen how very different the two halves of the book are. The first half seems to be all theology – we have Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, telling us things. We call this kind of text “indicative”. It makes statements. It teaches theology. Essentially, the first half of Ephesians is spent informing us about who we are and what God did through Christ to get us there.

But the second half of Ephesians is different. There we have Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, telling us to do things. This kind of text is called “imperative.” It teaches us how to live in light of who we are in Christ.

As Fitzpatrick points out, many believers focus all their attention on the imperatives of Scripture, without understanding that the doing of the imperative is anchored in the indicative. She explains by using Eph 4:32 as an example:

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Can you see how the imperative, “Be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving,” is firmly anchored in the indicative, “you’re forgiven in Christ”? This verse demonstrates the beautiful synergy that not only tells us what to do, but also plants within our souls the only motive that will empower God-pleasing compliance: what God has already done…Our obedience has its origin in God’s prior action, and forgetting that truth results in self-righteousness, pride, and despair.

Fitzpatrick’s book wonderfully explains how to apply this concept to everyday living. Many books on sanctification talk in lofty, ambiguous terms, but Elyse Fitzpatrick deals in the concrete without sounding like a how-to manual.

She spends the first half of the book on how God’s love transforms our identity. I’ll admit, about halfway through the first section, I was afraid that the book might be a variation of the “let go and let God” model of sanctification, in which a believer exerts no effort in the pursuit of godliness, but simply trusts God to do it all. I was wrong. The author was simply outlining the “indicative” of God’s love as shown in the gospel. The second half of the book is dedicated to showing how God’s love transforms our everyday living. Fitzpatrick does not discount the believer’s own responsibility to “work out [his] own salvation,” but makes the point that the success of that venture depends upon his clinging to the indicative truth of who he is in Christ.

This is an excellent book – theologically solid, encouraging, challenging, and insightful. The cover looks decidedly girly, but it does not seem to be written towards a female-only audience. (Men can remove the dust jacket if they feel threatened.) The book is highly recommended by people like Donald Whitney and Stuart Scott of Southern Seminary, Ed Welch of CCEF, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, and Phil Johnson, executive director of Grace to You. It’s one of those good books that you can’t find in your average Christian bookstore, but it is available at Enjoy.

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