Grace: What It Isn’t, What It Is (2)
For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things. Philippians 3.18, 19
The grace of the cross
A useful memory device has it that grace can be understood as “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” This simple acrostic reminds us that grace comes from God, and it comes lavishly, abundantly, and overwhelmingly to underserving people. It further asserts that these riches have been bought, paid for, and secured by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. His death – the unjust murder of the only completely just One – is the tap that opens the flow of God’s riches to our souls.
What joy we know, and what great thanksgiving wells up within us, together with renewed devotion, as we contemplate the gracious work of our Lord Jesus Christ! We want to sing or shout,
Amazing love! How can it be
that Thou, My God, shouldst die for me?”
And we would be right to do so.
The grace of God is intimately associated with the cross of Jesus Christ:
At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light,
and the burden of my heart rolled away!
It was there, by faith, I received my sight,
and now I’m so happy all the day!
All who believe understand that the gracious work of Jesus is for our good, that we might be free from guilt, shame, fear, doubt, and sin, to walk in the newness of life and grace in our risen and reigning Lord.
But it is precisely because grace is so good, and brings us such joy in the riches of our God, that it is easy to make feeling good the summum bonum and defining mark of true faith. All who make this mistake, choosing mere good feeling over life in the grace of the Lord, become not the beneficiaries of the cross, but its enemies.
Enemies of the cross?
This is what Paul warned the Philippians about in our text. Wherever Paul went, certain people – jealous of his ministry or wanting to subvert his work (cf. Phil. 1.15) – began preaching the “gospel”. Selfishly ambitious themselves (Phil. 1.20), they appealed to the self-interest of those who heard them, scratching their itching ears with a message aimed at making them feel good (2 Tim. 1.3).
They preached the “gospel” to satisfy their own selfish desires; and they sought by the same means to attract followers. Paul’s words, they insisted, were weighty and powerful and difficult to hear (2 Cor. 10.10). He demanded purity, holiness, courage, self-denial, a willing embrace of hardship and suffering, and a bold stand for the Gospel. He insisted on the Law of God as the proper outworking of salvation. He demanded that sinful people be confronted and brought to their senses, even if it meant separating them from the Lord’s congregation for a time.
What’s the fun in that?
The false preachers who sought to draw Paul’s converts to themselves proclaimed an easy “gospel”, a message that required only that those who heard it should be happy and free from any discomfiting obligations. “Believe in Jesus, and live free according to all your desires” was the essence of their words. And people from Galatia to Corinth to Philippi listened happily to such drivel, setting aside the Gospel as they had received it from Paul, and turning to another gospel, a form of near Christianity, which was easier, less demanding, and focused only on their feeling good.
Thus they became enemies of the grace and cross of Jesus, and not beneficiaries of His Good News.
So completely ensnared in this false gospel had certain believers become, that Paul rebuked the Galatians, admonished the Philippians, and warned the Corinthians to take a hard look at themselves (2 Cor. 13.5). Had they really understood the Gospel? Had they indeed come under the influence of grace? Or were they seeking merely the good feelings that are associated with forgiveness and the hope of eternal life?
The danger lay in that, by seeking good feelings above all else, they had made a god of their belly, had become enemies of grace, and were on a course of destruction which would only finally be revealed when pronounced against them by the Lord (cf. Matt. 7.21-23).
The god of the belly – of self-interest, most often sought in some form of feeling good about oneself – is not the grace of the Lord. Grace abounds in joy, it’s true, but joy and happiness are not the same thing. If you’re seeking from your faith mere happiness and good feeling, if you go to church because the singing makes you feel good, the preaching consistently tells you you’re “OK” with Jesus, and you enjoy your Christian friends, then you need to examine yourself and make sure you’re not worshiping the god of the belly rather than the God Who suffered, died, rose again, and calls us to follow Him in a life of self-denial, sacrifice, suffering, sorrows, and joy.
Happiness will come and go. If you’re changing churches or continuing in your present congregation because that’s where you’re happy, then it may not be grace that’s moving you, and it won’t be grace that you discover when you finally feel good about yourself. The god of the belly may use the language of grace and the Gospel of the Lord, but whatever “glory” you may realize will be instead your shame, for you will have set your mind on earthly things – mere happiness – rather than on the Lord Jesus Christ and the true, unfading joy of His grace.
1. How can we know whether we’re seeking the Gospel for Jesus and His joy or for our own selfish interests?
2. What does Paul mean by “the god of the belly” and why is this such a dangerous trap?
3. Grace leads to good feelings, but good feelings – sought or enjoyed – are no reliable assurance of saving grace. Explain.
Next Steps – Preparation: Examine yourself. Why did you become a Christian? Why do you attend church? What are you seeking from the Lord? If it’s anything less than His Kingdom and glory, confess your sin, repent, and seek mercy and grace for renewal in the Lord.
Grace flows from our relationship with Jesus Christ. The better we know Him, the more His grace will do its work in us. Our book, To Know Him, can help you in drawing closer to Jesus and increasing in Him. Order your copy by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Not Mere Good Feeling
- T.M. Moore
- August 21, 2019
If feeling good is what you're after, you'd better take another look at your faith.
Grace: What It Isn’t, What It Is (2)
T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.