Just as salvation is not the keeping of an outward, superficial formula, or a recipe of good deeds, or a Religious Duty Checklist to be fulfilled by a person’s exertion of will and effort, so character does not amount to an external set of guidelines to which one musters up conformity in his own strength and willpower. Rather, just as salvation is from Christ, through Christ, in Christ, and to Christ, so character is Christ’s work emanating from within the believer and stemming from the vigorous life of the Spirit dwelling there. And in the case of the unbeliever, character is part of the common grace of God, as a gift to the individual.
Salvation is the work of Christ and character is the work of Christ. He does the work and he gets the glory.
God-centered affirmations point toward the echoes, shadows, and reality of a righteousness not intrinsic to the person being affirmed. These qualities are gifts, coming from outside people and being worked in them. Even without yet being fully complete, these qualities are nevertheless commendable, and are to be seen and highlighted.We can truthfully say to an unregenerate four-year-old, “God is helping you become more . . .” and fill in the blank with qualities such as: careful with your things (as a steward), cheerful around the house as a singer, cautious around dangerous things like hot stoves, and so on. While the child’s growth in character is commended, God is identified as the source.
Before being able to affirm people well, we need to learn to affirm God, the source of everything to be affirmed in people. He is the source, the template, the standard. In order to be on the lookout for what is commendable in people, we should see the commendable in God. And for what should God be praised? “Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!” (Ps. 150:2).
In simplified summary, we see here two things for which God is rightly to be commended: deeds that are mighty and greatness that is excellent.
First, while it would be idolatrous to erroneously praise people for being powerful if “powerful” is taken to mean an underived, self-generated potency, it is fitting to commend people for “mighty deeds,” demonstrating God-given power to overcome things that should be overcome—things like bad habits, temptations, and falsehoods previously believed. It is a mighty deed to put to death sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry (Col. 3:5). Making progress in conquering such diabolical debilitations is commendable, a testimony to the grace and power of God in a person.
Second, praising people for excellent greatness is also fitting when we understand true greatness to be what Jesus explained it to be—serving in the strength God supplies and for which he gets the glory:
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Pet. 4:10–11)
We are stewards of grace. Those who steward well should be commended for it, and God should be praised for giving them the grace to steward the grace given. God is not given the praise he deserves when we ignore or deny the work he is doing in people.
Sam Crabtree, Practicing Affirmation, 19-21.