In the fall of 2013 I began to prepare my preaching and teaching calendar for the following year. God had placed on my heart a need to focus the majority of 2014 at Graefenburg Baptist Church on the necessity of a Christian’s union with Christ. Many years earlier, this one doctrine had transformed my thinking about my identity and my ability to live the Christian life. The two words “IN CHRIST” would become my rock.
I didn’t have to think long about the primary source I would use to lead my flock into the deep waters of this gospel truth – anything written by Jerry Bridges would be better than anything else. I chose “The Transforming Power of the Gospel” which was a 2012 publication that tied together several aspects of Bridges’ teachings from his other incredible books. We spent an entire Academy semester working through the book church-wide in small groups. I think the good folks at Graefenburg Baptist Church would agree when I say that Bridges’ impact on our lives through those weeks is still building a stronger foundation on which we boldly walk with Christ.
I remarked to my wife last night after learning about Bridge’s passing that he is able to say things in his books in such a way that it is as if I am hearing them for the first time. I cry more reading Jerry Bridges than I do any other author. I just can’t believe what I’m reading.
Books will be written about the enduring legacy of Jerry Bridges. But perhaps the most profound thing anyone can say to a teacher is this: Dear Mr. Bridges, my name is Philip Meade. Because of the way God gifted you, I know Him, love Him, treasure Him, and depend on Him more than ever. I’m a different person because of you. Thank you.
Here are a few (very few) themes Jerry Bridges could make shine like no one else and I found he returned to these areas in almost everything he wrote.
We live in a time where no one wants to talk about sin. I mean, who wants to get all depressed thinking about how awful we are as humans? For Bridges, he always starts with man’s pitiful, helpless, condemnable state. He so beautiful states his reason for doing so: “It is against the dark backdrop of our sinfulness that the beauty of the gospel shines so brilliantly.” The cross will never reach its most penetrating destination of our hearts if we don’t fully grasp how necessary it was. Bridges never ends with sin. Oh no. He keeps moving us along to God’s glorious grace. But that grace isn’t near as glorious without understanding who we are and why we need it.
Daily Embrace of the Gospel
Bridges repeatedly taught that the power of the gospel was not limited to how a person gets saved. The gospel, he says, is our daily power for pursuing holiness. For my writing and teaching, I have crafted Bridges’ teaching on this issue into a little phrase I call “the great misunderstanding.” For churches around the world, the great misunderstanding is that the gospel is “how you get saved” but then living the life of a Christian is up to us. Discipleship is often stripped of the gospel and reduced to strategies, lists, programs, and numbers. This misunderstanding leads to discouraged and guilt-ridden Christians who feel the church to be an oppressive arena of highlighting faults instead of a refreshing home of family and worship. “Those good works,” he would say, “on which we tend to rely for our expectation of God’s blessings actually deserve the curse of God.” All of our good works are favorable to God because they are works in the righteousness and power of Christ. And that requires a daily denial of self and complete reliance on Christ in us.
Those two words have become a staple at Graefenburg Baptist Church. Using those two words, Bridges’ perfectly captures the balance of discipleship. We are dependent on the power of Christ as the Holy Spirit indwells the believer. Apart from him, we can do nothing. And yet, we are responsible to pursue holiness. We can’t just “sit back and let God work.” No, we have to take action and we have responsibility. This teaching pushes back against pride (because we can’t do it) and passivity (we still have a responsibility).
Definition of Grace
Bridges’ definition of grace remains my favorite. Although we normally hear grace defined as “God’s unmerited favor”, Bridge’s takes it a step further and suggests the grace of God is not simply unmerited in a neutral sense, but is rather “ill-deserved.” We deserve God’s curse, not his blessing. Thus, Bridges’ definition of grace is, “God’s blessings through Christ to people who deserve his curse.” Incredible.
Breathtaking: The Righteousness of Christ Is Ours
This is the point that will cause me to warmly embrace Jerry one of these days in heaven and say, “thank you.” Many others have written on the benefits of our union with Christ, but it was Jerry Bridges who brought it home for me. One little word he uses – “breathtaking” – has caused me to weep in joy many times. Read his words and be amazed with me once again:
“Just as Adam was the representative head of all humanity, so Christ is the representative head of all who trust in him as Savior. So just as we must say, ‘When Adam sinned, I sinned,’ we may also say, ‘When Christ died on the cross, I died on the cross.’ Furthermore, we may also say, ‘when Christ lived a perfect, sinless life, I lived a perfect, sinless life.” I realize that this last statement is breathtaking, but that is what Paul was saying in his words, “In Him we might become the righteousness of Christ.”
As I wipe away tears once again after copying that paragraph, I realize that this will always be breathtaking. It will never grow old. But not because of Jerry Bridges. It’s because of the merciful love of God who gave us Jesus Christ.
Farewell, my brother Jerry. I’m the righteousness of Christ. I promise you, I won’t forget it.