Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 07/11/2010 by John Bird.
Recommended. Presents a thoroughly biblical view of grace and suggests ways to live in light of this grace.
According to Jerry Bridges, most Christians agree that salvation is by grace, but "seem to believe success in the Christian life...is basically up to us...We give lip service to the attitude of the apostle Paul, 'But by the grace of God I am what I am' (1 Cor. 15:10), but our unspoken motto is, 'God helps those who help themselves.' " This attitude is one that Bridges sets out to correct in his book Transforming Grace, which is a thorough examination of how God's grace works in the life of a believer after salvation.
Bridges begins, in his warm and pastoral style, by convincing readers that they can do nothing to warrant God's favor. His blessings and rewards are not earned through "merits." Nor are they forfeited through "demerits": "Grace does not take into account merits or demerits at all. Rather, grace considers all men and woman as totally undeserving and unable to do anything to earn the blessing of God." Realizing this, says the author, will free believers from living on a "performance treadmill," where they feel by turns in and out of God's favor depending upon how they measure up to standards set by themselves or others. The key is to remember that "Jesus Christ has already paid for every blessing [Christians] will ever receive from God the Father."
As legalism is the opposite of living by grace, Bridges takes an in-depth look at its various forms. To the extent that Christians see God's favor as connected to their performance, whether they feel that they have obligated God through their "faithfulness," or that they have fallen out of grace through their failure, they are thinking like legalists. This performance mentality leads to another form of legalism: the attempt to conform to (or judge others according to) man-made religious requirements and rules, which can be especially harmful to the Christian life. I find Bridges' handling of legalism particularly helpful. Though I already knew that I tend toward legalism, he helped me see it in greater depth and in areas where I have failed to see it before, both in my judging of myself and others. That, for me, was the greatest benefit of reading Transforming Grace.
Those familiar with Bridges' most popular book, The Pursuit of Holiness, know that, despite his unfailing emphasis on grace, he always insists on the lordship of Christ and obedience to His laws. Lest one isn't pre-aware of that, he makes it clear in this book that "Anyone who thinks, since God's love is not conditioned on my obedience, I am free to live as I please, is not living by grace, nor does he understand grace." God's grace always results in love for His laws and a desire to obey them. This obedience, however, is motivated by the love of Christ, not the desire for reward or the fear of punishment.
Although Bridges makes application throughout all thirteen chapters of his book, the last two are most practical. Chapter twelve deals with the "four principal means" of appropriating God's grace: "prayer, His Word, submission to His providential workings in our lives, and the ministry of others." Chapter thirteen, "Garments of Grace," focuses on character traits that result from and display God’s grace in the life of a believer: gratitude, contentment, humility, forbearance, and forgiveness. These two chapters wrap up the discussion to make for a very balanced book.
Transforming Grace, like Bridges' other books, is well-written and easy to follow. The author takes the time to explain the most basic concepts. New Christians, or those who have yet to be introduced to the truth of grace, would benefit from this book. But there's plenty of substance for those who want it. New Christian or not, this isn't a book to rush through. There's something to provoke deep thought and reflection on every page. I find this book very helpful, both as devotional reading and a practical guide to Christian living, and I highly recommend it.