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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Extravagant Grace, by Barbara Duguid





Why is it that God does not instantaneously make us holy at the moment of our conversion? Why do we find ourselves repeatedly battling the same sins, often defeated, and seemingly making little progress?
These are some of the tough questions that Barbara tackles in her book. She approaches the topic of indwelling sin, sanctification and grace through the lens of John Newton's writings. She clearly has a deep personal understanding of grace, anchored in solid biblical exegesis, the Reformed confessions, as well as her own experience, one shared by John Newton.
She explains the different stages of Christian growth, as observed  by Newton. The new believer begins the Christian walk with great excitement and believing in the possibility of overcoming all sin. However, once the realization sets in that certain sins are not going away quickly, in spite of real effort, a crisis of faith often ensues. If God is sovereign, why would he let me struggle and fail so much? The maturing believer is humbled by this new struggle and starts to understand his desperate dependence on God not just for salvation but also sanctification. God uses sin in our life to rid us of the belief that if we just try harder, we will sin less. The mature believer understands Newton's statement that "sin is the bass line of the music of our lives and that the gospel is the sweet melody."
According to Barbara, we live in a Disney-deluded world in which we are taught to believe that we can be and do anything we please. But this make-believe fairy tale inevitably collides with reality. We are limited, weak and sinful people whose default mode it is to live for self.  Just like the Barbie doll, we may look great on the outside but our feet are not made to stand alone. We were made to stand in Christ alone. If we try on our own, we will fall. The message that God has even ordained each individual's struggle with sin is freeing.  "You will never be able to find steady joy in this life until you understand, submit to and even embrace the fact that you are weak and sinful {...} You may think that you would actually bring God more glory through your strength and obedience than through failure. Yet the Sovereign Lord of the Universe appears to disagree with you. God is supremely interested in the glory of his Son and delights  in the way that glory is revealed in his love for wicked people who continue to need his grace and mercy day after day"(p.82).
Barbara also clearly addresses certain errors that might ensue from such a lavish understanding of grace. On the one hand, we could fall into hopelessness and give up fighting since we will be sinners until the day we die and God's job is to forgive us anyway. On the other hand we could believe that sanctification is a cooperative agreement  between us and God,  leading to more works righteousness. Barbara navigates the waters of sanctification clear of both of those erroneous shores. Each and every one of our sins is numbered and paid for and God looks at us with as much love as he views his son Jesus who has lived the perfect life for us. We are enveloped in Christ's righteousness.  In view of God's amazing love, our reaction will be one of humility, gratitude and kindness toward other sinners.
What makes this book most compelling is Barbara's vulnerability, the candid examples from her own life struggles and failures. She tells innumerable stories of how God's extravagant grace changed her view of herself and enabled her to extend that kind of grace to others. She writes with the warmth and tenderness of a mother while being fierce and strong when it comes to the doctrines of grace. This book will be a huge comfort to all those struggling with sin...which means I cannot think of one person who should not read this book!
To find out more about the book, go to: