September 23, 2020

Mondays with Michael Spencer: August 1, 2016


Note from CM: One of the chief characteristics of Michael Spencer’s life, ministry, and writing was his emphasis on grace. Over the next season here on IM, we will draw from his writings on the subject and re-present it on Mondays.

• • •

Lots of times, there’s something I want to write about, but it’s just too close to the real world where I live and work, so I have to find a way to not put something out here that’s going to get me in more trouble than I’ve already been in over this blog.

But seriously, I need to say this: You have to trust the Gospel to do what it says it promises to do.

 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (I Thessalonians 1:2-10)

You have to preach the gospel and trust it to the work it should do.

Two mistakes to avoid:

1) Making your own agenda the “to do” list for the Holy Spirit. That’s a big leap: I want it to happen to God wants it to happen.

2) Turning to other motivations- like guilt, condemnation, guilt, manipulation and guilt- to get the work done.

Really. This is so important and so true.

If the Holy Spirit isn’t going to produce it by constant, earnest presentation of the Gospel to the people of God, then does it need to happen?

And if the Holy Spirit isn’t the primary motivator, how can other motivations- like guilt and condemnation- actually do anything worthwhile?

I love Paul’s advice in Ephesians 6. Take up the whole armor of God…and having done all, just stand there.

That’s so good. Put on God’s resources, God’s vision, God’s heart. Do all that the Gospel commands and demands.

Then do nothing. Stand.

We take this and do something like this:

We use some of God’s resources, and things don’t go the way we want. So we start doing things our way, and finding what does work. Or we just get frustrated and start beating ourselves and other people up with guilt and condemnation for what’s not happening. They we are upset at people, ourselves and God because nothing’s working.

Scripture has a better way. Stay with the Gospel. Speak the truth in love. Design a path of radical loyalty to Christ, specific repentance and clear obedience. Does those things and do them God’s way.

Then stand.

I believe that part of the method of Paul in I Thessalonians was to do his ministry God’s way and to then look for the resulting work of the Holy Spirit and to encourage God’s people with what he saw the Spirit doing.

Even when Paul is strongly correcting the church, he does so from the standpoint of the grace of God in the Gospel, never by resorting to guilt.

That’s very different from setting the agenda, living in frustration that things aren’t working, then resorting to beating up yourself and other Christians in hopes something will change.

Life is too short, folks. Grace is the good stuff. Stay with it. Don’t quit and take the road back to legalism as so many do. Preach yourself happy in God, then encourage, persuade and exhort God’s people in the grace of Jesus.


  1. Love this post, especially the conclusion:

    –> “Life is too short, folks. Grace is the good stuff. Stay with it. Don’t quit and take the road back to legalism as so many do. Preach yourself happy in God, then encourage, persuade and exhort God’s people in the grace of Jesus.”

    That last sentence makes me think about the fruits of the Spirit. Seems if we want to bear fruit for the Kingdom, that’s the approach we’d take.

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Something that keeps showing up on Wartburg Watch:

    A LOT of the most abusive and totalist churches (especially Hyper-Calvinist parachurches) use “Grace” as part of their name. Like “People’s Republic of Tyranny” over at TV Tropes where the more adjectives about Democracy there are in a country’s official name the nastier a dictatorship it is; so the more mention of Grace in a church/ministry’s official name the more control-freak legalist it is. “Redefinition into Diabolic Meaning” — Screwtape would be proud.

    • That’s certainly an irony I’ve noticed whenever I watch John MacArthur’s “Grace to You” videos. The lack of grace is astounding sometimes.

      In fact, here’s the close of today’s daily devotional at his Grace to You site. The devotional is called “The Antidote for Sin,” and he closes it with this “Suggestions for Prayer”:

      “Ask God for a greater capacity to love Him, then demonstrate your love by obeying His Word.”

      Demonstrate your love by obeying His Word?!?! C’mon, man, why do you always have to bring it back to “obey, obey, obey”…???

      • I’ve heard this version of Christianity referred to as “functional Islam” in that our role is to submit to the will of God. That is what happens when you approach the Bible as a book containing the rules of life; you gotta know the rules in order to please God. That’s why it’s so important to exegete correctly so as to get the rules right. I’m not sure it’s as much akin to Islam as it is to Gnosticism.

      • Dude….

        God only loves those who obey. I only love you if you obey me. You do this to yourself. This is really all your fault.

        That’s…such a monster. I hate him. Hate him. That’s manipulative. That’s abusive. That’s gaslighting. That’s…

        i can’t

    • Christiane says

      Good observation, HEADLESS

  3. Mike Jones says

    If one really understands the depth of the Fall of Adam on our own lives, the lives of others and the world ( and no one really does grasp it accurately ) we would quickly realize that grace was the ONLY option.

  4. I bumped into a kid in the paint store today that worked for me 10 years ago for about a month. He had to reintroduce himself as he had gotten all growed up. We spoke for a few minutes and upon his leaving he embraced me with an affectionate hug. It took me completely by surprise. I know I was kind to him because I’m kind to everyone who works for me but I have little or no idea what I did to merit such affection ten years after a 1 month stint. That’s grace. It’s the natural expression of love. It flows. It’s elegant. It’s rich and it’s smooth. There’s no faking it and there’s no mistaking it. God is unexpectedly kind and when people express that sort of kindness we more easily see Him. I walked into the store with a lot on my mind and I walked out feeling like some kind of hero because of a genuine expression of whatever it was he was expressing – gratitude I suppose. Anyway it made me feel like a hundred bucks.

  5. Christiane says

    I always loved this quote from Anne LaMott:

    ““I do not understand the mystery of grace —
    only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”