The Throne Where God Is Sitting, Part 2 – Grace Is the Personal God
Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese house church pastors thinking and writing about issues related to the spread of Christianity in their nation. They are committed to preaching a grace-centered gospel, developing resources for the church, and loving China’s urban centers.
The author of this article first delivered its content to a large conference of house church leaders. He is the head pastor of a large church in a major city and is heavily involved in theological training initiatives in China. He received his M.Div. in Singapore and is currently completing a D.Min. from an American seminary that provides training in China. Read the first part of this series, The Throne Where God Is Sitting, Part 1 – The Lion and the Lamb, and check back next week for Part 3 of the series.
My aunt was very influential on me and the other children in my family. I remember once when we were being persecuted, my aunt talked to me secretly. At that point she was in her senior years, and she told me: “Let me tell you a story, you must be brave!"
Because of her faith, my aunt was kept in prison for about a total of sixteen years. When she was in jail, she was a very capable person. She graduated from Shanghai Conservatory of Music as one of the top students, but she went to jail for the Lord. In prison, she was also very talented and she did a lot of things, but then she got hepatitis, her body turned yellow, and she had no strength to walk. During that time, she had to walk slowly, so the prison warden asked her to go from her cell to the toilet, probably across a place as big as a basketball court. Because she was usually very competent, when the warden saw her walking [slowly], he said: "Come and see, [the prisoner] is now malingering to escape doing her work!" Then he told everyone to mock her.
One time God gave her grace and when she walked to the toilet, a sister in the prison walked by her side and took her along the way. God touched her, and she thought about her childhood. Then she was beautiful and often played [among the] flowers. She remembered that as a girl she was once scared, because all the horns would ring when the church door was open. She was very young at that time and was scared half to death, but she pretended to be calm as she walked past the door. God reminded her of this scene, and she understood that the prison warden was like a large horn, shouting there, and beside her was a sister holding her, so she was going to the toilet just like a bride. She was very happy and very joyful, and the Spirit of God said, "This is a blessed way," so she was very happy.
A few days later, she thought, “No, if every time the warden speaks to me like this, what should I do?” So she said she should explain to the warden, for Christians should not humiliate the name of the Lord. So she ran to talk to the warden. When she walked to the door of the warden, she heard the warden's wife crying and saying, "God, help!" She felt strange – why was she asking God for help? So she asked and found out that the warden’s son also contracted hepatitis; his body turned yellow and she walked as slow as she did. So she said, "Wow, God is righteous." So she came back, and did not go to explain, for God had done this for her.
She told me, "Do not be afraid, although they blocked you tonight, you can still walk." So that night I went over the wall.
But what I want to say is that she always said that you should know the God you believe in [is the God] of grace, and also of righteousness. She said when she was in prison, she cannot live one day without God's justice and grace. She said she was happy to be in solitary confinement. Why? Others could stand the solitary confinement room, but she could stay with another sister there. Usually they worked, but in the confinement room they could sing hymns and talk about God, so Christians are happy to be in there. The warden liked her and also hated her. Because she helped the warden to grow a plant, the warden washed her clothes and returned them to her, so she was happy.
But they were often scared by a cadre, who was very domineering. He closed the door with very loud noise, "Boom, Boom." Then she said, "Every time we are scared, Lord, you are righteous, and you can discipline him." So, the next day, God did that. How? God let him make a mistake that night, and then he was criticized openly. After that he felt humiliated, and closed the door very quietly from then on. She said, “If I did not experience God's justice and his mercy, I would not know how to live.”
Brothers and sisters, grace is not self-centered, but it is the personal God. We see that the personal God becomes the deepest bottom line in our lives. So when my aunt encountered any persecution, she might be nervous, but nothing can take away joy. John Piper has a book named God Is the Gospel. The nature of God – his glory, righteousness, and holiness – is the gospel. And all discipline from God is also the gospel. God’s discipline of, training of us, and eventual taking of us to the renewed country, these are the grace of God. So it is the Lord who helps us to return to God, and we also know that the growth of our lives is inseparable from Jesus Christ, and inseparable from the justice and mercy of Christ.
The cross of Jesus Christ, according to Timothy Keller, convicts the deepest. You cannot redeem yourself by your own actions. You cannot rely on the behavior of a group of people to redeem you. You cannot rely on all the good behavior and merit of everyone in the world to redeem you. All these are not enough. Only God himself could become the sin offering, and then he was able to redeem us out of sin. So our sins are certainly deeper than we can imagine. If we do not recognize his holiness, glory, and righteousness, we do not know how deeply we have sinned against him.
But his love does make us confident. In the universe, the greatest one is gazing upon us and making us join his fellowship. What can take our peace and our joy away? What pit is so deep that he cannot redeem us? So we know we are such sinners that we humble ourselves and esteem others better than ourselves. Because of the love of Jesus Christ, we are capable of loving. We become willing to do everything good which in our nature cannot be done.
God's grace is displayed in his law and grace. We always hear the story of John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace,” like this: Newton grew up in a culture accustomed to slavery, then, he was tempted by greed to become a slave trader. He was the captain, and once in a storm in the sea, he suddenly found life insecure. He needed God to rescue him; he needed to return to the gospel. So he prayed, and he began to change all of his life to break with slavery. This is the story we often introduce as the background of “Amazing Grace.”
In fact, this is not true. In fact, when he was in the storm, he really completely woke up and decided to turn to God, but he was still tied up by deep sin. He landed and went to the minister and went to find books, but he came back to continue to be a slave trader. Then, he earned money and went into debt, and was even involved in gambling and adultery. He said he remembered the days of that period as just like a dog going back to his vomit. When John Newton had no money left, he again went to trade slaves. He said he repeated and repeated this for a long time. He said it was only because of his health, or he would not have stopped his work trading slaves.
Later he landed and worked for a while, and then he determined to work for the Lord and become a minister. Throughout the whole process, he slowly realized that the slave trade was so terrible; it was not allowed in God's glory and holiness. So over a very long time, he came out of it and suddenly found himself really a downright sinner. So when he was old and talking to others, in just thirty minutes he could talk about his slave experience and his own deep sins, as well as how great the grace of Jesus Christ was that rescued him from sin. That is why his song touched so many people, for he did know that he was blind and could now see.
In the process of Christ’s redemption, as it says in 1 Corinthians 10, he has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us. His redemption is not over after you confess; in his glorious nature, in his grace, mercy, justice, and holiness, he will shape us and make us more aware of sin and more willing to rely on him. That is the only way you can grow.
Let us see the sanctification there is in the gospel. The law of God is so high that the more we approach him, the more we find that we are dust, nothing. We also experience God with love and benevolence, and he can deliver us from any deep pit. When we begin to believe in the Lord, our cross is small and our prayers are very simple. We say, "Lord, forgive all my sins, all the sins in my thoughts and words, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen." After such prayer we feel comforted, and our knowledge of God is very shallow at the beginning of the faith, so that we know little of Jesus Christ’s salvation.
But when you approach God, you will find that your sin is even deeper than you imagined. You find his holiness and his glory attracts you when you experience the loving Lord, and you are enlightened to find there is sin. Before when I came to church and conflict with co-workers, I discovered that we cared so much about face. We had an idol deep inside to be recognized; as long as people did not recognize me, I would fight to the end. Once again, when the light of Jesus Christ sheds upon you, you are able to say, "Lord, forgive me, because your salvation does not leave me." So our lives can once again be saved and renewed by his gospel, and the cross in our life becomes larger and larger. Finally, we say that we worship him in the whole of life.
When I was young, I felt there were so many elders who were hypocritical in the churches of China. For they always said: thank the Lord, thank the Lord for everything. I thought, “You have been going through this for sixteen years, why do you still thank the Lord?” So I thought it was hypocrisy, but afterwards I realized they have a true and beautiful relationship with the personal God, the glorious, holy, just, and merciful God, the God who is both a lamb and a lion. Their lives have been renewed, and as they experiencing him and be with him, they keep a good relationship with God and are reluctant to leave him. So at the end they could say, “I have only one goal, and Jesus Christ is becoming the ultimate goal in my life.”