Sunday, August 7, 2011

On Walking by Grace Instead of a Focus on Mortifying Indwelling Sin

On Walking by Grace Instead of a Focus on Mortifying Indwelling Sin

Dear friends,

I wrote these thoughts a couple of years ago as I was contemplating issues in our old church.  


I am rather distressed by the continual heavy emphasis on sin, confession, correction, and confrontation. I know there is a place for it, but I think it's being overdone to the point where some people could get quite neurotic if they aren't very mature and very proactive about seeing the big picture and getting a healthy balance.   

Two analogies on the necessary balance:  

1) If I only put the effort into correcting the errors in my kids' schoolwork, then that is all I will get to do.  That is because if I don't spend the time to teach them well in the first place, I will by necessity have to spend all of my time pointing out where they messed up.  It would be better to be proactive and teach it right from the start than have to go and react to the mistakes.  I need to enthusiastically equip and nurture them for success, not set them up for the disabling, de-motivating discouragement of always being told how wrong they are.  

2) A gardener has to spend time weeding a plot of ground, but the point is so that she can plant a lovely and fruitful garden, not so that she can have barren land.  (See Mother's Seeds.) Yes, we have to correct one another at times, but if we aren't doing something beautiful, too, it's just plain empty.

I would love to see more focus on the good things God has called us to do, and in his power not just to wipe out our sins, but to equip us for fulfilling the Great Commandment (love one another in tangible ways) and the Great Commission (reach the whole world with the GOOD news of GRACE.)  Jesus is no longer on the cross suffering for our sins, but he is sitting triumphantly at the right hand of the Father in Heaven interceding for us.  Since we are his body on earth (see Corpus Christi), he is preparing amazing things for us to do here on earth while he also prepares an amazing eternal home for us. Not only that, he has made us new creations and is giving us victory in the Holy Spirit.  Far from being hampered by my failures, he makes his power perfect in my weakness, even weaving my sins into his sovereignty.  

What a hope and comfort!  We have not only been saved "from" something horrible, but saved "to" something so infinitely and eternally magnificent.  Who is this God that I'm going to worship and serve now (while "my body is weak") and forever (when I will never again be troubled by transgressions)?  What is his grace-filled plan for me now that he has rescued me from sin?  He is our Creator just as much as our Redeemer. Seeing his beauty and embarking anew on grand adventure of "kingdom life" have become a wellspring of worship for me in the past few years. 

I could waste all my time chasing the gophers of sin through the hole-pocked prairie, when I just need to climb on the wagon, join the caravan of fellow travelers, and keep moving onward to my new destiny, while merrily waving bye-bye to the pesky varmints.  (Hasta la vista, baby!)  I think Gary Thomas speaks so eloquently about this whole concept in his books, especially Holy Available: What if Holiness Is About More Than What We Don't Do?  Here is just one tiny quote: 

"God didn’t create you not to do something; if that had been his goal, he never would have formed you, because if you never existed, you never would have sinned. God made each of us in his image, and he wants us to recapture that image, to surrender to his work in our lives, so that we “will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3)."     
Gary Thomas’s books have been manna to me.  In one of his books, Seeking the Face of God, he included an amazing quote from Francis De Sales about not getting stuck with battling sin:

"As to these smaller temptations… as it is impossible to be altogether freed from them, the best defense that we can make is not to give ourselves much trouble about them; for although they may tease us, yet they can never hurt us, so long as we continue firmly resolved to dedicate ourselves in earnest to the service of God…. Content yourself with quietly removing them, not by contending or disputing with them, but by performing some actions of a contrary nature to the temptation, especially acts of the love of God… This grand remedy is so terrible to the enemy of our souls, that as soon as he perceives that his temptation incites us to form acts of divine love he ceases to tempt us… He who would wish to contend with them in particular would give himself much trouble to little or no purpose.” (Quoted by Gary Thomas on page 76-77 of Seeking the Face of God.)

Here is a similar one by Francis Fenelon:  

"Bear with yourself in your involuntary frailties as God bears, wait patiently for His appointed time of complete deliverance, and meanwhile go on quietly and according to your strength in the path before you, without losing time in looking back; always "reaching forth unto those things which are before," not dwelling unprofitably upon depressing falls and hindrances; sorrowing over them, indeed, with humility, but putting them aside to press onwards; not looking upon God as a spy watching to surprise you, or an enemy laying snares for you, but as a Father who loves, and would fain save you; full of trust in His goodness, continually invoking His mercy, and perfectly free from all vain dependence upon yourself or any other creature. Such you will find to be the path towards true liberty."


I had written these thoughts as part of a longer letter to my pastors, but didn't send it.  I like to sit on things like this before I fire them off.  Just a week later, one of them preached an amazing sermon on grace, which prompted me to write a poem called "Grace Will Lead Me Home."  They followed up with a whole series on that theme, too, early in 2010.  Though we ended up leaving the church later that year, I still commend them for that series and for the changes they have implemented in the years we've been gone.  So I am not sharing this article to criticize that church, but because it is what I want to communicate to others who may be thinking about these things, too. Since I already wrote it, there didn't seem to be any sense in reinventing the wheel.  

I would love to hear your comments. 

Virginia Knowles


  1. This was very refreshing as I reflect on many past hurts, ones so deep they still sting if I let them. May the God of all grace continue to lead us through His Holy Spirit to worship in spirit and truth! Thank you for your blog. It is an encouragement to me.

  2. What a wonderful description of how we get to live in God's grace, rather than focusing on our sins. Amen, sister.

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