Sunday, May 5, 2013

Book Review: Bookends of the Christian Life (2009)

The Bookends of the Christian Life. Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington. 2009. March 2009. Crossway Publishers. 160 pages.

I first reviewed this wonderful little book in May 2010. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it. I thought it was a book that every single Christian would benefit from reading. Knowing that every Christian is not a reader, I never make that statement lightly. The Bookends of the Christian Life is a) short b) straightforward c) relevant. It is written to be understood and applied. Though the subject is theological in nature, it is PRACTICAL theology. It introduces a way of thinking about your life by introducing the notion of bookends. If you don't want your faith to be a complete mess, you need bookends for your faith. One of the bookends is the righteousness of Christ; the second bookend is the power of the Holy Spirit. The book never assumes that readers know what "the righteousness of Christ" is. Or that readers understand what "the power of the Holy Spirit" is. It does not assume that readers have a working understanding of the doctrines of justification, imputation, or sanctification. It explains essential doctrines in a friendly non-condescending way. It is very refreshing. 

The book is ALL about the gospel. But it also spends some time addressing three serious gospel enemies: self-righteousness, persistent guilt, and self-reliance. How can believers fight against these three enemies? By preaching the gospel to themselves every day. By leaning on the bookends of the faith. By relying on Christ's righteousness and the POWER of the Holy Spirit. This book is all about TRUSTING the promises of God. 

Favorite quotes:
What is the righteousness of Christ, and why do we need it as the first bookend? The word righteous in the Bible basically means perfect obedience; a righteous person is one who always does what is right. This statement assumes that there's an external, objective standard of right and wrong. That standard is the universal moral will of God as given to us throughout the Bible. It's the law of God written on every human heart. It's the standard by which each person will ultimately be judged. Our problem is that we're not righteous. (19)
We know we need a Savior, so we trust in Christ to redeem us from the curse of God's law. But though we believe we're saved as far as our eternal destiny is concerned, we may not be sure about our day-to-day standing with God. Many of us embrace a vague but very real notion that God's approval has to be earned by our conduct. We know we're saved by grace, but we believe God blesses us according to our level of perfect obedience. Consequently, our confidence that we abide in God's favor ebbs and flows according to how we gauge our performance. And since we sin every single day, this approach is ultimately discouraging and even devastating. This is exactly why we need the first bookend. (21-2)
At the cross, Jesus paid the penalty we should have paid, by enduring the wrath of God we should have endured. And this required him to do something unprecedented. It required him to provide the ultimate level of obedience--one that we'll never be asked to emulate. It required him to give up his relationship with the Father so that we could have one instead. The very thought of being torn away from the Father caused him to sweat great drops of blood. (Luke 22:44). And at the crescendo of his obedience, he screamed: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). The physical pain he endured was nothing compared to the agony of being separated from the Father. In all of history, Jesus is the only human being who was truly righteous in every way; and he was righteous in ways that are truly beyond our comprehension. (23-4)
Even though in ourselves we're completely unrighteous, God counts us as righteous because he has appointed Christ to be our representative and substitute. Therefore when Christ lived a perfect life, in God's sight we lived a perfect life. When Christ died on the cross to pay for our sins, we died on the cross. All that Christ did in his sinless life and his sin-bearing death, he did as our representative, so that we receive the credit for it. It's in this representative union with Christ that he presents us before the Father, "holy and blameless and above reproach." (Colossians 1:22) There's an old play on the word justified: "just-as-if-I'd never sinned." But here's another way of saying it: "just-as-if-I'd always obeyed". Both are true. The first refers to the transfer of our moral debt to Christ so we're left with a "clean" ledger, just as if we'd never sinned. The second tells us our ledger is now filled with the perfect righteousness of Christ, so it's just as if we'd always obeyed.... The news of this righteousness IS the gospel. (26)
Faith involves both a renunciation and a reliance. First, we must renounce any trust in our own performance as the basis of our acceptance before God. We trust in our own performance when we believe we've earned God's acceptance by our good works. But we also trust in our own performance when we believe we've lost God's acceptance by our bad works--by our sin. So we must renounce any consideration of either our bad works or our good works as the means of our relating to God. Second, we must place our reliance entirely on the perfect obedience and sin-bearing death of Christ as the sole basis of our standing before God--on our best days as well as our worst. (28)
Every day we must re-acknowledge the fact that there's nothing we can do to make ourselves either more acceptable to God or less acceptable. Regardless of how much we grow in  our Christian lives, we're accepted for Christ's sake or not accepted at all. (29)
There's an important lesson here for all of us. Genuine love for Christ comes through 1) an ever-growing consciousness of our own sinfulness and unworthiness, coupled with 2) the assurance that our sins, however great, have been forgiven through his death on the cross. Only love that's founded on both of these foundations can be authentic and permanent. (34)
We need to intentionally bathe our minds and hearts in the gospel every day. (40)
Self-righteousness turns grace on its head because it views the sinner as deserving God's blessings rather than as undeserving. (43)
To the very end John Newton remembered both his sin and the gospel. On his deathbed at age eighty-two, he said, "My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior." (59)
Thomas Wilcox put it like this: "The gospel is for sinners, and only for sinners." (68)
But it's not enough to merely see the righteousness of Christ as all-sufficient; we must see it as all-sufficient for us. Jesus was perfectly obedient in our place, as our substitute. Have we lacked purity? Jesus was pure in our place. Have we lacked patience? Jesus was patient in our place. In every area we see failure and sin, Jesus was successful at providing a perfect obedience that's credited to us. Whenever we see Christ's righteousness as all-sufficient for us, shifting our dependence to it should be almost irresistible. (70)
Although all of God's blessings are in Christ, they're distributed and applied to us by the Holy Spirit. (83)
As we look to the Spirit to work in us and enable us to work, we should realize that he uses various spiritual instruments, often called the "means of grace." They're the means by which we're "strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus."... We have a responsibility to respond to each means of grace the Spirit provides. We're to participate in using them to our spiritual advantage. The term spiritual disciplines is used to describe this process and to emphasize our responsibility. Through practicing the spiritual disciplines, we avail ourselves of the means of grace.... the disciplines themselves are not the source of spiritual power. Only the Holy Spirit is. The disciplines are his instruments to transmit his power. (99)
The Holy Spirit uses our growing appetite for enjoying our relationship with God as a powerful encouragement in our battle against sin... When we enjoy God more than sin, we give him an even deeper level of glorifying love, a level he alone deserves.  (117)
Just as by nature we assume we earn our salvation by our good works, so by nature we assume we grow spiritually by our own effort and willpower. What's wrong with this kind of self-reliance? Everything. (125)
John Stott described the best place to find the basis for such humility: "Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves...until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there at the foot of the cross that we shrink to our true size. (143)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

No comments: