Device 8. By working them to rest in their performances; to rest in prayer, and to rest in hearing, reading, and the communion of saints.
This is the final device Thomas Brooks defines as a weapon Satan uses to prevent Christians from “holy duties and religious performances.” Both of those terms require explanation in today’s language. To do that, we’re going to talk some about what has been called the “root vs. fruit” dichotomy, with a little help from pastor and author John Piper.
But first, let me offer a bit of theological background.
The “duty” we owe God is one of response to his grace, not from fear of his wrath. Think of the first 11 chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans. In those magisterial words, Paul explains it is impossible to please God through our actions and works. He shows it was Christ who satisfied the Father once and for all through his sacrificial death on the cross.
And so in chapter 12 he begins, “Therefore, in light of God’s mercies, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” Christ has made us holy and acceptable. We cannot do this by our works.
And yet, in our blood-bought holiness, we may collectively as his church offer ourselves sacrificially, yet still living. God spares us mercifully, just as he spared Isaac through Abraham’s obedience, receiving instead the unblemished ram he himself provided.
Our “performances,” as Thomas Brooks calls them, are the outworking of that collective sacrifice. We wouldn’t use this word today. It connotes images of entertainment, of performers on a stage playing roles and delivering rehearsed thoughts and ideas. Instead, we might think of these as “good works.”
Regardless of what we call them, the acts in which we engage should be fueled by grace, not law. But this is an idea Satan despises. In his hatred of God’s grace, he uses two tactics against us.
- He tries to shackle us once again to a burdensome religious obligation. So he convinces us God will not be pleased with us unless we are always dutiful, always performing.
- If that doesn’t work, he uses an opposing scheme. Satan will lure us into looking not to Christ as our assurance of salvation, but to the works God produces in us by faith. We become the object of our own worship.
It is this second tactic that is the subject of Brooks’ eighth device.
Piper explains root vs. fruit
In 2010 I attended the Together for the Gospel Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. This event brought some 7,000 men together to hear preaching on “the unadjusted gospel” from some of the finest biblical teachers in our nation.
I was unprepared for what I would experience the second night of the event, when John Piper preached. During his sermon, he admonished us with his concern that many of us were making this very mistake – looking to the fruit of our righteousness instead of the “root” of it – Christ himself.
Piper’s sermon was like a gut punch. I was still reeling from its impact hours later. He was right. I had fallen for the subtle temptation to look to my own good works as proof of the validity of my faith, rather than Christ.
In four brief remedies, Thomas Brooks closes this chapter of his book reminding and encouraging us to keep our gaze fixed firmly forward on our true Source of hope and peace.
Remedy 1: Give yourself an honest grade
Have you heard of the concept of impostor syndrome? It’s the dual phenomenon that demonstrates the inverse relationship between our abilities and our perception of them.
In other words, we tend to think we aren’t as good as we really are at some things, but think we’re better at those at which we are not.
Impostor syndrome explains why terrible singers audition on American Idol and are inconsolable when rejected. It also explains why talented people fear putting their art or creations into the public sphere where others might appreciate and admire them.
And perhaps it explains why we Christians sometimes think our good works are what justify us before God.
In his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, the classic author John Bunyan wrote: “The best prayer I ever prayed had enough sin in it to damn the whole world.” This seems at first to be a monstrous exaggeration. But given God’s demand of perfection and abhorrence of sin, it is not.
If it weren’t for Christ having done all good works perfectly on behalf of those who trust in him, our spiritual fruit would be worthless. We look to the root – to Christ – not to the fruit – our works – for our justification.
Remedy 2: Give your works their proper value
I had the privilege of seeing a good friend in a local theatre production on a recent Saturday night. Wanting to congratulate her after the performance, I found she was not among her fellow actors. So, wandering backstage I called for her, only to find she was alone, preparing to leave for the night.
“Why are you back here already?” I asked.
“Because it’s a church night and this girl needs Jesus!” was her answer. Her obligations to the theater having concluded, all that mattered was getting to bed on time so she could be at church the next morning.
Do we sometimes “need” prayer, fellowship, serving, giving, study and meditation more that we need Jesus? Do we rely and depend more on the devotion we offer the Lord than on the person, himself?
Rituals make poor solace. Habits of grace cannot replace the giver of grace. Let us not turn our free expression of gratitude toward God into an idol. They will become like wood and stone that will not hear us, cannot provide for us, and will eventually burn in the fire.
Remedy 3: Give your heart an objective test
Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is a classic religion vs. relationship study. Couched in the Pharisee’s prayer is an exposure of his heart’s true treasure. And in the tax collector’s humble repentance, we see his treasure as well.
The Pharisee’s prayer actually begins well. “Lord, thank you.” Don’t we teach disciples to begin their prayers with adoration and thanks? Yet it’s the next two words that reveal the truth. “Lord, thank you that I …” His thankfulness has nothing to do with God’s attributes, provision, or forgiveness, but his manufactured righteousness.
This is what resting in our duty and service looks like. This is its result, its fruit. It centers on self and produces superiority, false humility, and hard-heartedness. Rather than thankfulness, it leads to outright hatred for the one whose gift of faith makes our works possible.
The most heartbreaking example of this in the New Testament is the parable of the lost (often termed “prodigal”) son. The ungrateful second-born demanded his share of the estate. This wicked son might as well have said, “Father, I wish you were dead. But I’ll happily take your stuff.”
It’s the dog that bites the hand of the person who feeds him. It’s the poison plant that pricks the gardener’s skin. Loving our duties in place of God will lead to spiritual death. But according to Brooks, remembering the Lord, our first love, and thanking him for the grace-fueled duty he produces in us, leads to life.
Remedy 4: Give your soul its needed rest
Sheep don’t rest. Not when they’re hungry, anyway. Their instinct is to always move. Keep eating, keep grazing, keep foraging, keep moving. The next blade of grass or clover blossom is always so inviting.
The soul that has not learned to rest in Christ is always moving, too. Keep striving, keep serving, keep working. “Sunday is no longer the day of rest, it’s the day of volunteering!” (a statement I once heard a church nursery coordinator exclaim). The frenetic pace of holy activities never stops.
Resting in Christ, himself our place of rest, is an act of obedience. We give our time in service trusting that the fruit of our work will be multiplied to bless many other souls. Can we not also give our time in rest, trusting that God’s good work will continue in our absence?
This entire chapter has been about defeating Satan’s devices that cause us to avoid holy duties and religious service. But here we are, with a reminder about rest. Jesus taught us that laboring in his name is a light burden. He also taught us he would be our rest from our toil in the law.
As Christians we can hold both things in balance. We can work hard from our position of acceptance in God’s family. We can rest peacefully knowing as the Father rested from his work, as the Son sat down at his right hand, as the Spirit reminds us to rest our minds and hearts in him, our rest is itself a holy duty.
This post concludes chapter 3 of Thomas Brooks’ Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices. Our next post begins chapter 4, in which Brooks confronts Satan’s schemes of doubt, questioning, and discomfort.