Risking Much for Christ’s Sake

I’m working my way through Dave Harvey’s “Rescuing Ambition” right now. So far, it’s really great. I’ll talk more about it later, but for now I just want to share a short excerpt from it dealing with how our sin robs us of joy, but it does not rob us of our standing before God. Check it out:

As Christians, sin doesn’t touch our standing before God, but it can definitely affect our experience of God. When I lied to my dad as a kid, he didn’t stop being my father. But it sure did affect our relationship. My experience of his affection changed. His love was expressed in another way, a more painful way. The hand that often blessed me converted to a hand of discipline (see Hebrews 12:7-11). I felt his displeasure, though I never stopped being his son.

Make no mistake. Sin is real, and we can sin away a lot of good stuff. Sin robs our joy in God. It’s a delight-smasher. But sin never alters or reverses what Christ did upon the cross. It never causes God to withdraw his name or his acceptance from us.

So the rescue of godly ambition is now under way.

Do you struggle with the paralysis of analysis, unable to act boldly because you’re wondering what people will think? Do you fear falling short of your goals or that God will somehow be displeased with you for not doing what he really wanted you to do?

You stand in the righteousness of Christ — and you possess all the approval you’ll ever need. Don’t spend another moment trying to be great in the eyes of men. Instead, be ambitious.

This is much like something I wrote previously, about how I try to teach my trumpet students to play boldly. It is better to risk erring spectacularly in the pursuit of sounding great, than to play timidly for fear of making a mistake at the expense of playing with a good sound.

It is also reminiscent of the famous quote by Martin Luther: “God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter, [2 Peter 3:13] are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.

This quote is often paraphrased as “sin boldly” (or “pecca fortiter“), and used as evidence that Luther advocated antinomianism (lawlessness). Nothing could be further from the truth! Read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on this phrase from his book “The Cost of Discipleship“:

Is this the proclamation of cheap grace, naked and unashamed, the carte blanche for sin, the end of all discipleship? Is this a blasphemous encouragement to sin boldly and rely on grace? Is there a more diabolical abuse of grace than to sin and rely on the grace which God has given? Is not the Roman Catechism quite right in denouncing this as the sin against the Holy Ghost?

Taken as the premise [for our doctrine of grace], pecca fortiter acquires the character of an ethical principle, a principle of grace to which the principle of pecca fortiter must correspond. That means the justification of sin, and it turns Luther’s formula into its very opposite.

For Luther “sin boldly” could only be his very last refuge, the consolation for one whose attempts to follow Christ had taught him that he can never become sinless, who in his fear of sin despairs of the grace of God. As Luther saw it, “sin boldly” did not happen to be a fundamental acknowledgement of his disobedient life; it was the gospel of the grace of God before which we are always and in every circumstance sinners. Yet that grace seeks us and justifies us, sinners though we are.

Take courage and confess your sin, says Luther, do not try to run away from it, but believe more boldly still. You are a sinner, so be a sinner, and don’t try to become what you are not. Yes, and become a sinner again and again every day, and be bold about it.

But to whom can such words be addressed, except to those who from the bottom of their hearts make a daily renunciation of sin and of every barrier which hinders them from following Christ, but who nevertheless are troubled by their daily faithlessness and sin? Who can hear these words without endangering his faith but he who hears their consolation as a renewed summons to follow Christ? Interpreted in this way, these words of Luther become a testimony to the costliness of grace, the only genuine kind of grace there is.

This is a hard concept. If we love God, we will hate sin. But while we remain in this world, we are still constantly waging war against our fallen, sinful nature. If we’re not careful, our fear of sinning can lead us to live timidly, but that is a futile course of action. We are incapable of avoiding sin until we are delivered from this “body of death” (Romans 7:24).

God has set us free from our sins through his Son, Jesus! Thus we are empowered to live boldly, accomplishing much for the sake of the gospel. Yes, we will sin along the way, but we can rely on God’s grace and live in the comfort of the knowledge that Christ died once for sins (1 Peter 3:18), and that his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

May God grant me ambitious desires for the advancement of His kingdom, and the boldness with which to accomplish His will (Hebrews 13:21)!

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” ~ 2 Timothy 1:7

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