The Saturday afternoon before last, 30th Aug 2008, I went for a talk by Jerry Bridges organized by the Navigators held at True Way Presbyterian Church, which my friend Huaizhi whom I providentially met there has posted on also. Anyway, here are just some personal thoughts on the talk.
Jerry Bridges gave two short talks based upon two of his books, The bestselling Pursuit of Holiness and the Discipline of Grace, of which those of us who registered (with payment) receive copies of both of them (the books that is). The talks were simple yet profound in depth, which shows his skill in communication. Yet what is most impressive is his grasp of the relation between striving and grace, which we shall now look at.
In the first talk entitled The Pursuit of Holiness, based upon his first and bestselling book, Dr. Bridges exposited from Eph. 4:17- 5:5. Before going into the text, he places the passage in its context of the entire book of Ephesians, and thus show us that the practical teachings in this passage is based upon the deep and glorious doctrinal teachings of Eph. 1-3 — of election, predestination, adoption, of salvation by faith through grace apart from works (Eph. 2:8-9), etc. Dr. Bridges didn't go in detail into these doctrinal teachings, which I think is necessary for the average Singaporean Christian, but it's good he mentioned them at all (Btw, Dr. Bridges is a Calvinist). The key teaching for this talk in my opinion is the idea of the symmetry between putting off and putting on, referencing Eph., 4:22-24, which reads as follows in the ESV (which incidentally is Dr. Bridges' normal usage bible version after switching over from the NIV)
to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4:22-24)
Dr. Bridges focuses on the putting on and the putting off, telling and reminding us that the two are placed here side by side and meant to be done as side of the same coin. It is thus not helpful to "put off" without "putting on" the new self; thus it is no point putting off the old self by trying NOT to sin and placing prohibitive measures in place WITHOUT putting on the new self simultaneously in pursuing after God and godly disciplines in holiness in all we do; in progressive sanctification. Dead moralism is furthest from his mind, and should be furthest from ours too. Telling people NOT to do something is by far the worst thing we can do to help a person, short of condoning the sin itself. Rather, we must replace the sinful desires with something else of equal or greater value, and God alone can and must satisfy. For God alone can satisfy the unquenchable thirst of the soul of Man for love, significance and worth.
Dr. Bridges finishes off this talk by reminding us that all of this is to be done by God's power, and that alone, referencing Phil. 4:13 to that effect. As the next talk begins, after a good 30 minutes break, Dr. Bridges focuses on this in the talk about the Discipline of Grace. Focusing now on the text of Titus 2:11-12, Dr. Bridges talks about the necessity of training in grace. As it is written
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age (Titus 2:11-12)
Note here that the grace of God has appeared already among us all as stated in verse 11. This grace is a free gift of God apart from works, which Dr. Bridges similarly emphasized. Therefore, we are not striving for salvation or for God's grace, but whatever we do must start from a foundation of perfect salvation secured by the blood of the Lamb on our behalf (NOTHING whatsoever of our works can even come close to pay for it; and in fact it subtracts from it). Yet, this grace is not something passive, but it is something which trains us in godliness (v. 12). Here Dr. Bridges applies the "put on/ put off" concept in Paul's epistle to Titus; we are to put off "ungodliness and worldly passions", and put on "self-control, uprightness, and godliness". Furthermore, noting that the same Greek root word is used in 1 Tim. 4:7 and 2 Peter 2:14 for train (Gumnazo - γυμναζω), of which the former is "train ourselves for godliness" while the latter is "trained in greed", Dr. Bridges teach us that we are always in training, either towards godliness or ungodliness, so it is not a matter of whether we train, but what are we training towards.
And this ends the two short talks by Dr. Jerry Bridges. Here are some good one-liners from Dr. Bridges:
The keeping of the Law only when based upon what Christ has [already] done is pleasing to Christ
Grace is God's blessings through Christ to people who justly deserve His curse
Those whom God saves He always train
We are always in training — either towards godliness or ungodliness.