I smiled into my coffee as I remembered my first impression of Ian Hammond: I probably should not repeat it. Two years ago, our first conversation erupted into an argument, but I knew today would be very different because today Ian is a person I greatly respect.
“I’m so glad I can ask you some questions today, Ian,” I said sitting across from him at Cups.
Ian looked up from a book he was reading and said, “I am glad you asked to talk about these three words. Everything in my spiritual progression has been related to the law, the gospel, and grace.”
Two years ago, he looked really intense, as if he were a crouching lion, ready to attack. Today his countenance was gentle and at peace. He already looked like a pastor; he had the right kind of navy blue socks.
“Yes, I think that these three words have confused me and many people at MC into walking anxiously in the Christian life. Ian, I know that you are really different. Tell me what you have learned.”
“Well, I believe there are two texts in the Bible that are most important to show how these three words relate.
The first is in Galatians, which is the most important book on this subject, by the way, and Chapter five verses three and four say, ‘And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.’
“Mary Kate, you know the context in this verse is that false teachers were promoting that to be saved one must be circumcised; that is Christ plus the ceremonial. Paul says if you believe that, you have adopted a view of salvation plus works and you are obligated to keep the whole Law. The entire Bible is clear on this. You see, grace and works- righteousness are mutually exclusive.
“Grace is receiving apart from giving anything– it is a gift. The second text is Romans 4:4-5, describing faith as a gift received and a wage is earned.”
“That’s a really great way of explaining justification,” I thought to myself, “How a person is justified, or made right before God. It reminds of the Old Testament, how God says ‘the righteous shall live by faith’”.
“Ian,” I said,” How did this understanding of salvation by grace alone change your life? Is this what has given you such transformation?”
“Yes, I was converted before I came to MC, but my experience here showed me that everyone else was holier than I was. I remember thinking, ‘I haven’t made much progression.’
“My assurance of salvation was undermined. I plunged deeper into sin and this was by design. At this destitute moment, I cried out to God that there was nothing good that I could bring to my salvation.
“When I was brought to that low point, miraculously, my personal struggles took a turn for the better and things like reading the Bible were no longer difficult because I understood them as a means of grace, an avenue for encountering God.
“Paul tells us that we are not perfected by works of the Law but by the same way we entered into salvation: by hearing with faith.”
“Ian, that is wonderful. But, wouldn’t you agree that Scripture confirms that the Law is a good thing?”
“Oh absolutely. We know the Law is good because it reveals to us that we are sinful and need the gospel, and the Law tells us how to love God and how to love others. We must first properly place ourselves in relation to the Law.
“The key is the way Christians relate to the law, and this is unique among all other religions, belief equals salvation which results in works.”
“Ah,” I thought to myself, “This order is shown in Ephesians 2:8-10.”
“So Mary Kate, the way you grow in grace as a Christian is the same way that you were justified. The Law exposes your deeds in sanctification and the gospel is the means of change by the grace of God.
“To walk by the Spirit, you walk by hearing through faith. This is why we should love reading the Bible. The Bible is the voice of God and reading it is not a duty but a delight. It is kind of like eating. We have to eat to survive and generally we take pleasure in eating because it tastes good.”
I am so thankful to have friends like Ian who share truth that imparts life and freedom.
Often, many people feel as though they must be exceptional Christians in order to take part in ministry, but the fact is that anything good in any of us is only by the grace of Jesus Christ. Every blessing comes from Him, and by His grace through faith, we can walk in Him today.
– Mary Kate Barthel, Contributing Writer