Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt.
What is gospel renewal? It is good news grown afresh in the soil of the spirit. It is the work of Jesus hitting the heart. It is freedom by grace, and love apart from achievement. It is roots that stretch deep and hold tight through the fiercest storms. Gospel renewal begins as a fresh and individual realization that God’s love and acceptance is yours in totality. Of course, although gospel renewal begins as personal transformation, by definition it does not stop there, but grows into communal revival for the church, the body and bride of Christ and the manifestation in our world of God’s eternal kingdom. Gospel renewal is entire communities of believers who, together, cling to Jesus.
As believers who are deeply invested in the growth of God’s people in China, this month China Partnership is praying for the gospel to be renewed in the hearts of Chinese Christians and in the vision and mission of Chinese house churches. As fallen humans, our hearts are always prone to wander from God. Although the gospel is initially received as good news, before long we slip back into patterns of seeking worth through achievement, of working so that we will be accepted.
A few years ago, a dear Chinese brother shared his family’s story with me. This friend comes from a long line of Christians, and in decades past his family suffered tremendously for their faith. His family lost their home, his father lost his chance for an education, his grandparents were exiled from and mocked by society, and they nearly starved to death. When this friend was a child, his father spent years in a labor camp because of Jesus. My friend and his family know what it means to count the cost in a way that is frankly unimaginable to me and most Christians in the States.
As we sat on my couch, my friend shared a story that his father told him many years ago. During a period of particularly poignant persecution, his father knew a Christian—“Brother Li”—who suffered greatly for Jesus. The authorities took Brother Li and beat him. They hit him repeatedly. They broke his arm. They then hung him up by the broken arm and beat him some more. They taunted him, mocked him, laughed at him, and most of all, asked him to deny Christ. Li would not. In the midst of pain, he told his tormentors he could not deny his Savior. Finally they gave up and let him go, unable to break him or force him to turn his back on Jesus.
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Brother Li was not the only one in the village who was beaten. Many, many other Christians also went through the fiery trial. Yet many, many others were not so resolute. In pain, they recanted.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.
In later years, a taste of freedom returned, and believers began again to meet together and worship the risen Christ. Brother Li was at the church as soon as the doors opened. But so were others. People who had turned their back on Jesus in terror of their life returned to the community of believers. Brother Li, however, did not respond with joy as he saw wandering sheep return to the fold.
As someone who had suffered so resolutely for God, Li could not bear to see others with less strength admitted equally to the foot of the throne. He could not bear to think the torture he experienced gained him no merit. He could not admit he was on equal ground with other sinners, that his righteousness did not grant him an extra measure of grace.
My friend’s father told him this story to warn him against self-righteousness. Grace is free to all. Good deeds do not gain one favor in the eyes of heaven. Self-righteousness rots the soul just as breaking faith does.
God’s grace—marvelous and matchless—is the heart of gospel renewal. We are praying this month that Chinese Christians will be renewed by the gospel. We do not pray this because we are worried about them as they seek to stand firm amid the pressures and trials which God has deemed fit to permit. We pray for gospel renewal because, without it, there is no hope. Without the work of Jesus, no one can stand before God. The gospel is central to the work of China Partnership because grace, and grace alone, is the bedrock and necessity of Christian life for every believer, of every age, of every place. Without God’s overflowing grace, there is none who can stand: not comfortable Western Christians like me, and not heroes of the faith, like Brother Li.
Will you join me in praying this month that the gospel of grace will renew the bodies, spirits, and souls of our Chinese brothers and sisters?
Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
Freely bestowed on all who believe!