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Monday, October 27, 2014

"Beat God to the Punch" (Eric Mason)

TITLE: Beat God to the Punch: Because Jesus Demands Your Life
AUTHOR: Eric Mason
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B and H Publishing, 2014, (114 pages).

What a strange title. How can anyone be faster or better than God? How can anyone simply beat God to the punch? In a provocative title, lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania uniquely shows us what it means by God's grace, where mercy is quenches God's wrath; grace overwhelms works; and where God does not come to batter us into pieces but to better us into whole people. For grace will lead us to the very place that no other works of human efforts can ever reach. Only in Christ can God's perfect demands be met. Only in Christ can holiness be achieved. Only in Christ can we beat God to the punch.

According to Mason, God swings three punches at us in the form of "His wrath, justice, and judgment." On our own, we will be knocked out not by punching back but by quenching them "under the weight of the cross." The law helps us see God's righteousness and holiness. Grace helps us see mercy and love. The rest of the book articulates this bout of law vs grace and eventually lands on a grace saturated eternity.

Mason asserts right from the start that grace begins with the person of Jesus Christ. He reveals God's grace in fullness. He invites discipleship and people who follow Him to imitate Him. He shows us that contrary to the Jewish world at that time where the disciples chose who to follow, Jesus chose His disciples. Grace is not about some monetary or moral reward. It is recognizing the "collision of human and divine expectations" and choosing to conform to the latter. Secondly, grace can and needs to be experienced. Mason continues with five aspects of God's grace:
  1. Grace is rooted in who God is (divine and holy)
  2. Grace is rooted in God's loving kindness (love and mercy)
  3. Grace comes as a Person (in Jesus)
  4. Grace symbolizes something (like wrath) that was withheld from us
  5. Grace is the means we respond to God.
Talking about grace is not some kind of motivational talk that makes a lot of noise on the outside but empty on the inside. It is miraculous because it starts from the emptiness of man and culminates in the fullness of man's potential. All by grace. Readers learn about examples of how Jesus changed people, such as Peter.

Thirdly, Mason puts together an oxymoronic phrase "how grace works." How is it grace if it is worked for in the first place, we may ask? He spends time combing the Scriptures for names to describe Jesus. The underlying belief is that the Name will indicate the calling. While recognizing the name describes what we are expected to do, the way we beat God to the punch, is not to chase God but to be chased instead. This is the beauty of grace that not only captivates us but captures up to the place where we are all winners in Christ.

Fourthly, Mason goes back to history to trace the historical progression of thought about the topic of grace. Augustine as a "theologian of grace," we learn that believers must submit themselves to the grace of God in all things. Grace for Martin Luther was such a "priceless discovery" that he was able to stand against the Roman establishment. John Calvin goes further with a "duplex gratia" a double grace of justification and sanctification. There are summaries of the First Great Awakening (Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield); Second Great Awakening (Charles Finney, Lemuel Haynes); Abolitionist and Civil Rights Movement (Richard Allen, Martin Luther King Jr), and so on.

Finally, we learn that it is not exactly us beating God to the bell, but God in His grace, allowing us to be crowned. Mason's summary table provides us with key points of how grace changed key thinkers through history. It is grossly simplified but helps to whet one's appetite to learn more.

So What?

The title is provocative simply because grace is provocative. It defies what the world has always be telling us, that we ought to work for our keeps. We must do things in order to get stuff. We must work hard so that we will not be poor. The truth is, the gospel shines a light on these fallacies because of three things. We are already poor. We are grossly imperfect. We are sinners. That is why we need grace. Mason keeps the whole topic interesting and simple. I am impressed that he is able to squeeze so much into a small volume. The title of the book can be a little disturbing for some readers, and it obviously does not exactly describe the book's content. Nevertheless, just like the old proverb that teaches us not to judge a book by its cover, we ought not to judge a book by its title.

This is essentially about grace. Many of us sing "Amazing Grace" without much appreciation about how amazing grace is. The music and the lyrics are catchy but the concept of grace sometimes fail to jump out of the music scores or Powerpoint slides. It is hope that books like this from Eric Mason can help stem the tide of people offering lip service to the famous hymn, but to really understand and appreciate the heights, the depths, the width, and the eternity that comes from God by grace through faith in Jesus.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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