Excerpts from Chapter 8
Persistent Power to Run Together
I’m way too masculine to enjoy Jane Austen. Now, I realize that women usually read that as, “I’m not smart enough to get Jane Austen,” and I suppose there may be some truth to that. But even if guys like me don’t get the point, I’ve got to respect any author who can actually capture the imagination of an audience without mentioning a grenade-launcher. Even once. But I’m still way too masculine to enjoy Jane Austen.
In a touch of divine humor, God has given me a wife and two daughters who love everything Austen-esque. Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems to me that the plot is always the same. The only difference I can see is the name of the mansion.
If you’ve never read a Jane Austen novel or seen a movie adaptation, let me save you some time. Here’s the plot. Start with an anxious, unmarried woman in late eighteenth-century England whose mom is wound up even tighter than she is. Bring in a clueless guy, also usually rich and unexplainably single, who doesn’t know he needs the temperamental unmarried woman to make him normal. Throw in some eccentric characters, frilly clothes, a formal ball, and lots of soggy English countryside. End with a deliriously happy wedding, leaving the distinct impression that this couple will never know anything but harmonious marital bliss. Cut to credits, cue the violins, go buy the soundtrack. That about sums it up.
Why doesn’t anything happen in Jane Austen after the wedding? What about sequels? Here are a few post-wedding Austen stories I’d like to see:
Sense and Sensibility, Episode II—I Miss My Mom
Pride and Prejudice—The Sequel: Darcy’s Hunting Buddies Move In
Emma Returns: The Matchmaker Strikes Again!
I know . . . not likely. That’s why I prefer guy flicks. They end at the right spot—usually when somebody dies. A Western never ends before the two main characters face off in the street, guns blazing. War movies don’t end just as the bombing raid is taking off. And sports movies don’t end until you see how the big game turned out. But in the world of Jane Austen, stories end at the altar, just when reality is about to come knocking. I don’t get it.
Actually, I do get it. These are romance movies. They’re about how the dizzying tornado of romantic love can pick you up in its whirling funnel and set you down at the chapel doors all giddy and beautifully dressed. Where the whirlwind goes from there, no one seems to know. Is there life in fiction after, “I do”? Hard to say, since you rarely see a romance movie with married people.
Now, it would be natural in a book on marriage to spring from this illustration to a discourse on how to keep romance alive in marriage. And that’s a worthy goal, indeed. (In fact, it’s so important that I encourage you to read this endnote to learn about some outstanding material on romance in marriage.) But I have a different purpose in mind. I want to look at a word that can inspire faith and hope when sinners say, “I do.” The word is grace.
Grace is often seen, wrongly, as playing a role much like that of romance in a Jane Austen plot. Grace gets us to the altar with God. It’s a mysterious, powerful force that draws us out of our sinful isolation and deposits us into sweet relationship with God through Christ. But once grace saves, the story’s over.
You come across this sometimes in salvation testimonies. Great detail is presented about sins committed as an unbeliever. This is followed by God’s miraculous intervention, deep joy in the new birth, and then—well, roll the credits. Grace accomplishes the amazing, impossible task of delivering me safely to the altar of conversion, but then it rides off to save someone else, leaving me to fend for myself. Is that really the way it is?
Persistent Grace to Run the Race
A great theologian of our time J. I. Packer has observed, “No need in Christendom is more urgent than the need for a renewed awareness of what the grace of God really is.” I couldn’t agree more. Christians who cultivate an appreciation for God’s grace and who seek to apply that grace to every area of their lives, position themselves to know a joyfulness and effectiveness that only God can grant. I also agree that the depth and breadth of God’s grace is so poorly understood among Christians that “urgent” is not too strong a word. For married Christians, no area of application could be more urgent than one’s own marriage.
Our temptation is to believe that the way to a good Christian marriage is right teaching, right action, working harder, repenting more, and feeling different. Sure, these are crucial, but they are not grace. Again, for you and me there is no more urgent need than a deepening awareness of what the grace of God really means when sinners say, “I do.” In Titus 2:11-14, Paul takes us beyond our Austen-ish tendency to leave grace at the altar.
v. 11) For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,
v. 12) training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,
v. 13) waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,
v. 14) who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
These verses carry good news! There is a glorious sequel to saving, justifying grace. The grace that justifies (declaring us holy in God’s sight) becomes the grace that sanctifies (making us ever more holy in daily life). It is a prevailing, unstoppable grace that doesn’t close up shop the day after the sinner’s prayer. It’s the power of God to help us overcome sin, and a potent weapon in the fierce struggles that accompany life after the honeymoon of conversion. Conversion, like a wedding, is hardly the end of the story—it’s just the beginning!
In these verses, Paul shows us how saving grace becomes sanctifying grace. Let’s walk through the passage, looking closely, that we might attain, as Packer puts it, “a renewed awareness of what the grace of God really is.”
In verse 11, we see that grace begins with our Savior—the embodiment of grace—appearing and bringing salvation to the lost, reconciliation to the enemies of God. The miracle of his incarnation and the magnificence of his atonement have made salvation a reality. This is the foundation and fountain of grace. Grace appeared in Christ.
Just to clarify, saving grace and sanctifying grace are the same grace. The different names just indicate the focus of grace’s activity, not that a different kind of grace is at work. In fact, when we get to that final day we will clearly see life on this earth as having been all of grace, the same grace of God in and through Christ, grace upon grace, from beginning to end (Zechariah 4:7; Revelation 22:21)! Thus, sanctifying grace is not new grace, or a change in grace. It is grace—the same grace that saved us—applied to the new heart of the child of God, a heart changed by saving grace.
Sanctifying grace is good news. It’s the news that God gives persistent grace to run the race. It’s helpful to view grace this way because it maintains the careful balance Paul is getting at. Paul is not saying that grace effects change in us against our will. Nor is he portraying grace like an energy bar, a timely boost of get-up-and-go when we’re a little low in the tank. No, grace is constantly at work in us, gradually and incrementally, so that we can patiently but diligently run the race set out for us. And a significant part of the race we will run is our marriage.
Think about the areas where you know you need to grow—the hair-trigger critical response, the self-pity party, the fermenting anger or discontent. God promises persistent grace to help you run away from that sin and finish well. “Human sin is stubborn,” says Cornelius Plantinga, “but not as stubborn as the grace of God and not half so persistent, not half so ready to suffer to win its way.” Stubborn, persistent, unrelenting grace that changes us. Now that’s good news indeed.
Read an excerpt from Chapter 9