The Bookends of the Christian Life
Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington
Crossway Books, 2009, 156 pp., ISBN 978-1-4335-0319-1
Jerry Bridges is a longtime staff member of the Navigators and Bob Bevington is a practicing optometrist and entrepreneur. Together they also authored The Great Exchange. This book explores two foundational truths that anchor the Christian life. The activities of our lives don't stand on their own: they need "bookends" to provide boundaries, support and stability.
Part One -- The First Bookend: The Righteousness of Christ
Righteous means always doing what is right, perfect obedience. Our problem is that we are not righteous. We do not love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind. Only Jesus Christ is truly righteous. Through the death of Jesus, God credits us with his righteousness. We cannot depend on our own performance and we must renounce any trust in it and place our reliance entirely on the obedience and death of Christ.
"Genuine love for Christ comes through (1) an ever-growing consciousness of our own sinfulness and unworthiness, coupled with (2) the assurance that our sins, however great, have been forgiven through his death on the cross. Only love that's founded on both of these foundations can be authentic and permanent." (34)
Our first gospel enemy is self-righteousness, justifying ourselves and trying to earn his blessings. "Self-righteousness is a gospel enemy because it disregards, devalues, and discredits the gospel provision of the righteousness of Christ…." (43) "Unless we're vigilant about this, we're unlikely to recognize the remnants of self-righteousness in our lives." (46)
Persistent guilt is another gospel enemy. Living under a continual sense of guilt and inwardly feeling that God will not bless us until we straighten up is also a way of depending on our own performance. We have a built-in tendency to do this.
"When we sin, our conscience declares us guilty. This should remind us to renew our dependence on …the righteousness of Christ…." (54) "Whereas guilt is a curse, a healthy remembrance of our sin is a blessing …[that] should drive us to the cross." (58)
"Dependence on the first bookend means relying on, trusting in, and placing our confidence, faith, and hope in the righteousness of Christ." (66) "As God …pours more and more light on your life, you'll be shocked to see you're far more sinful than you ever dared to imagine. Remember, each and every sin is offensive to God. They demean his glory." (68)
"The shifting of dependence is often a difficult, even painful pursuit. And it can be an ongoing battle." (76)
Part Two -- The Second Bookend: The Power of the Holy Spirit
The gospel motivates us but we need strength to carry out our motivation. "We're up against a triumvirate of powerful opponents: the world, the devil, and our own flesh." (81) God's power can only be experienced through human weakness. We cannot live righteously by our own resolutions, self-effort, or willpower. We must look to the power of the Holy Spirit to live the Christian life.
Sometimes God doesn't come to our rescue immediately, perhaps so that we might learn anew that we cannot fight sin, grow in character, or minister effectively without his power. We are 100% dependent. God supplies all the enabling power while we do all the tangible work.
The first bookend represents his work for us and outside us. The second bookend represents his work in us. (92)
We are both responsible and dependent. We are to "put on" a number of Christ-like traits but they are also "the fruit of the Spirit." "We're to work diligently at our Christian growth but in the assurance that God is at work in us." (97)
Although we used to think the will mediated between our knowledge and our desires, it appears that our desires operate the controlling influence. "Ultimately, our godly desires must overcome our sinful desires if we're to obey God." (114) We might say to ourselves, "Because he loves me so much, I love him more than ___________________." (115)
"We're meant to enjoy God in the here and now as well as in heaven. And we enjoy him when we experience him in an active and intimate relationship of communion." (116) "Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit uses our growing appetite for enjoying our relationship with God as a powerful encouragement in our battle against sin." (117)
Self-reliance is a third gospel enemy. Most of us were brought up to see self-reliance as a positive quality. "We've been force-fed the doctrine of self-reliance for so long that it's embedded into the very fabric of our souls. So we should not be surprised to discover we're self-reliant toward God, as well. Self-reliance toward God is a dependence on our own power, not the power of the Holy Spirit." (124) Self-reliance is an illusion in the Christian life. It doesn't work and it is a sin. "Isn't it ironic that the more God-given natural abilities we have, the more prone we are to rely on them rather than on God?" (131)
We must rely on the Holy Spirit's power because of our desperate weakness. And seeing our weakness is necessary to shift our dependence on him.
Leaning on the Holy Spirit doesn't mean things will all go our way, but He will use our circumstances to accomplish his divine intentions. It's a spiritual war and the power is his. We must get at the tap-root of self-reliance which is the desire to be like God (Gen 3:5-6). This is the root of the sin nature in all of us. We must make the counter declaration: "God is God and I am not." (142)
"A daily declaration of dependence:
• I recognize my absolute lack of power and ability.
• I redirect my dependence to the supremely reliable power of the Holy Spirit.
• I reject my tendency to self-reliance; 'You are God, and I am not." (146)
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