God uses all the circumstances of life to shape the trajectory of our growth in grace, including the doctrines that we adopt and the churches that we attend. He is sovereign over each and every detail that will shape the trajectory of each individual growth curve. We will not all reach the same level of maturity in Christ, nor will we all believe identical things in this life, but every one of us will live and grow under his loving care and sovereign rule. (loc 439)
Every chapter of Barbara Duguid's book Extravagant Grace: God's Glory Displayed in Our Weakness challenged my thinking. Using the writings of John Newton (author of the hymn "Amazing Grace"), Duguid makes a compelling argument that God uses our sin for His glory. I must admit, there were times I shook my head and wanted to throw my hands up in frustration as I read. As Duguid writes, "It is a radical and almost frightening thought to see that God is actually as much at work in our worst moments of sin and defeat as he is in our best moments of shining obedience." (loc 108)
It was not until Chapter Eight, "Grace to Fall", that I began to understand and accept Duguid's premise. She recounts advice she received from a counselor after confessing her battle with certain sins, "[God] will either give you grace to change and to grow in these two areas of great struggle with sin, or he will give you the grace to stay the same and survive your failure." (loc 1356)
Most of us, myself included, would much rather have the first grace than the second. We believe that God expects us to grow into spiritual giants. If we continue to struggle with sin, how can He love us? Yet the Bible is replete with stories of people falling into sin and the gracious God who uses the circumstances to draw the sinner to Himself (e.g. David, Peter)
...God could have saved us and made us instantly perfect, since all things are equally easy for God and he does all of his holy will. Instead, he chose to save us and leave indwelling sin in our souls to wage war with our new desires...If God were interested in simply decreasing the total number of sins committed in the universe, he would never have made such a decision. As much as he hates sin, there must be something else he values so highly that it is worth the cost of sin's destructiveness. Newton argues that this greater goal is the fashioning of humble and contrite hearts in God's chosen people as, through their ongoing weakness and sin, they come to trust in themselves less and less and to trust and delight in Christ more and more. (loc 1418)
If this is true, isn't grace even more amazing than we think? And if we are the recipients of such an extravagant grace, should we not be more gracious to others, knowing that God is also working in their sins?
Extravagant Grace has taught me much about my attitude toward others and my own struggles with sin. They are lessons that, by God's grace, I will try to implement in my life as I seek to live for His glory.
Thanks to NetGalley and P&R Publishing for providing me with copies of the book in exchange for my honest review.