When angels announced glad tidings of great joy, they sang a mystery: that the Word, the very message of God, had come in the flesh—Jesus! Elsewhere in Scripture, ‘glad tidings’ is more commonly translated as our familiar word, gospel. I fear the word has grown too familiar, and suffers from neglect. We must reclaim that the coming of God is the gospel, and always good news. Jealously, we must keep it thus. So do we need a Great Awakening? Yes! But here is the message: Christ has come. He did not fail, He achieved His aim. We must know what that is.
THE GREATEST AWAKENING: UNION WITH CHRIST
The greatest personal awakening anyone can experience is when grace and mercy touch them, when they move from death to life and their spirit is reborn. This is the work of grace. So it should come as no surprise that the greatest, most sweeping, tectonic shift in 1800 years of western history and culture was Martin Luther’s Great Reformation. Why?
Just what was Luther’s Reformation if not a glorious Grace Awakening? Friends, the unmixed message of grace has already changed the world twice—33 A.D. and 1517 A.D. It can change the world again.
On the one hand, historically, Oct. 31, 1517, was really just another day. The casual observer would have been unimpressed, save for the annoyingly loud pounding of a hammer on a wooden door in the early morning hours. The changes to come would take years to fully manifest. Yet illumined by the clarity and forcefulness of Paul’s apostolic message to the Romans, Luther famously nailed his “95 Theses” to the door at Wittenburg, Germany, and it would not be wrong to claim that, in a single day, society, religion, politics and culture suddenly shifted. The reason is simple: Grace changes everything—the more radical, the greater the change. A death knell had sounded. Dead religion was finally exposed in all its hideous deadness. A new, beautiful tone, clear as a silver bell, resounded with every hammer blow. How liberating was it? Robert Farrar Capon sums it up with zest:
“The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace–bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the Gospel–after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps–suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started…Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.” — Between Noon and Three
THE DEATH KNELL OF DEAD (EVANGELICAL) WORKS & (PENTECOSTAL) STRIVING
Luther, a rather ordinary Augustinian monk, could not have fully comprehended the spark he put to the powder keg of sixteenth century Europe, or the explosion that would result. But God is always faithful to the radical proclamation of unmixed grace, and so the relentless flame of good news began to burn once again. Ash-covered embers, banked across dark, oppressive Europe over many centuries, came roaring suddenly to life, as grace consumed the dreary dross of works and penance. But here’s the deal. Though today’s Evangelicals and Pentecostals properly consider themselves children of the Reformation, in dangerously subtle ways we have grown just as captive to a false gospel of dead works and sin management, vainly struggling to perform for God’s approval or to earn what He has freely given, and fearfully bound to constant cycles of “emotional penance” that are shocking similar to the physical and moral penance, comprised of various works and indulgences, to which European believers were afflicted.
No, no—they were apostate from the gospel, you say. The Roman church lost their way. They were not the true church. Well, if it was heresy for them, it’s heresy for us. Any departure from the bedrock of grace is to miss Christ. We need bold, fresh revelation no less than in Luther’s day. We have taken the priceless pearl of Christ and the liberating gospel of grace, and slowly, layer by sedimentary layer, added deadly accretions of ungospel, leaving the goodness of the good news tarnished almost beyond recognition. In response, we talk louder and throw money at the problem to get the world to listen, but they rightly see through to our hollow core. The angels don’t sing anymore when we preach! Hearts are dull because the message is ours, not His, yet when we try to remedy their indifference by telling them to work harder, we only multiply the heresy. Meanwhile, the clean, glad tidings of Christ drown in fetid cesspools of religiosity. Salvations dwindle. Culture drifts. Plainly put, the lost would rather stay lost than dance to our angry music. We have created a joyless, judgmental, cruel religion, ironically founded on tender mercy, yet so motivated by fear that we have grown incapable of flourishing in love.
200 PROOF GRACE: UNMIXED, UNDILUTED…TOTALLY INTOXICATING!
Consider: every awakening and revival since Luther has only occurred because of the bold, uncompromising message of grace through faith that was re-released onto planet Earth during the Reformation. Since then, five hundred years of slow drift have caused a great forgetfulness within. We have an artificial gospel, full of artificial colors and fillers. While the gospel of grace is meant to be a feast, we have turned it into stuffed sausage and floor sweepings. So really, I should change my tune. Beautiful as it might be, I don’t so much want a Third Great (American) Awakening as a planet-shaking Second Reformation! We don’t merely need a course correction, we need revolution. We don’t need spiritual Kool-Aid, we need the wedding of Canaan’s best, most inebriating wine! Gospel must become gospel again, pure and raw, all we know, all we speak, all we do. Enough of my big ideas…and yours! God’s big idea is utter foolishness, hung upon a bloody Cross, revealed in an empty tomb, and this wild, extravagant gift permits me to freely receive my Heavenly Father’s unrestrained affection with no regrets and nothing to prove. I am reconciled, and so you are you, not because I daily repent of my sins, but because He made an offering once, for all time, for all sin (Heb. 10:12). God is no longer my enemy, and I am no longer His! We are at peace. We are friends. Stone temples and inner veils have no place in the New Covenant. I am the tabernacle of God. So are you. I am made righteous, I do not achieve righteousness. Wherever Law and the Pharisaical spirit tries to stitch the holy veil back up again by both the perversion and dilution of grace, I can do nought but pound Luther’s hammer again and raise a heartfelt cry:
“ Hey world, God likes you! He’s gone to great lengths to bring you back from the brink of rebellion, to liberate your soul from slavery to death and sin. His nature can resurrect and indwell you with unending love! You don’t have to fear God anymore, or perform, hoping to exchange deeds for favor. No, no, no! Only this: believe His crazy good news.”
Let a Second Reformation come! Let grace awaken! Oh, I am consumed with this hope, that grace shall win the day again. In three short years, Christians of every stripe will celebrate the 500-year anniversary of Luther’s revolution,
when God once again intervened in history to confirm the reconciling word of Christ, the indwelling presence of Christ, the unearned, unworked for, freely bestowed favor of Christ. In a word, Grace! This is the heart and soul of true Christianity: the power of divine favor to liberate, transform and establish our identity. Do you know that God favors you? Do you know how differently you would live if you were gripped by that certainty during good times and bad. Everything we are and everything we do as believers is profoundly influenced, for good or ill, by whether or not we fully comprehend His grace. Confidence is a direct result. Confidence in prayer. Confidence in trial. Confidence in marriage and mercy, parenting and career, missions and justice. The divine currency of grace is inherently dangerous, wild, untamed…and thoroughly Biblical. Yes, abuses will happen when true grace is preached. To counter these abuses, well-meaning, godly men have released various “tempering” messages that, sadly, themselves become another abuse of grace. On the other end of the equation, those who boldly proclaim grace misapply it to the larger mission of God, forgetting the the spirit of grace and supplication (prayer) flow as one (Zech. 12:10). Grace does not nullify the authority and influence we are meant to carry in prayer! It establishes it. It guarantees it! Yet this much remains clear:
The apostolic gospel is nothing if it is not crazy, good news.
A MESSAGE TO MAKE YOU DANGEROUS AND FREE
The religion of Law is the ministry of death and condemnation (1 Cor. 3:7-9) precisely because it demands that which it supplies no power to achieve. By contrast, the mystery of Christ within, as the imperishable seed of God who is “full of grace and truth,” means we can trust Him to do a great, regenerative work within us. “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it” (Phil. 1:6). This is our only hope. Not my strength or righteousness, not yours, but His. Join me in prayer for a total, planet-altering outpouring of His Holy Spirit. There simply is no place in the new covenant for the mixture of Law and Grace. I want to proclaim liberty to a captive generation, with biblical permission to trust and enjoy grace, for this is the only path to true Identity and true Holiness. The aim of my new experimental music-teaching-prayer album, is to create a groundswell of devotion to the simple gospel of Christ…and hopefully to pour a little more fuel on the fire toward a Second Reformation.
P.S. Check out the History Channel’s page on Luther and the Reformation. They have a great 5-minute video right at the top of the page.