A Case for Divine Complacency
Fully Satisfied in the Finished Work
The word “complacency” gets quite the bad rap in the church today. But I would encourage you to kick back, recline at the table and enjoy the feast as we consider the complete satisfaction Christ has provided to the believer.
Old puritan preachers and many classic revivalists were strong proponents of divine contentment – when you read the words of Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards and others, the term complacency was used often. It was considered a virtue.
Edwards wrote, “Since I came to this town [Northampton], I have often had sweet complacency in God in views of his glorious perfections, and the excellency of Jesus Christ. God has appeared to me, a glorious and lovely being chiefly on account of his holiness. The holiness of God has always appeared to me the most lovely of all his attributes.”[i]
R.C. Sproul points to Edwards’ use of the word complacency in its basic Oxford Dictionary definition as, “the fact or state of being pleased with a thing or person; tranquil pleasure or satisfaction in something or some one.” Adds Sproul, “I labor the earlier English usage of the word complacency because it is used in a crucial manner in the language of historic, orthodox theology.” Sproul writes:
If we take note of Edwards’ language, his choice of words to describe his enraptured delight in the glory of God, we observe his accent on the sweetness, loveliness, and excellence of God. He reports of enjoying a “sweet complacency” in God. What does he mean? Is not the term complacency a word we use to describe a certain smugness, a resting on one’s laurels, a sort of lazy inertia that attends a superficial sort of satisfaction? Perhaps. But here we see a vivid example of how words sometimes change their import over time.
What Edwards meant by a “sweet complacency” had nothing to do with a contemporary dose of smugness. Rather, it had to do with a sense of pleasure. This “pleasure” is not to be understood in a crass hedonistic, or sensual, sense but rather a delight in that which is supremely pleasing to the soul.[ii]
The Key to Contentment
Holy complacency is all about being satisfied in the divine pleasures of God.
They will be intoxicated with the fatness of your house, and you will give them drink from the wadi of your delights, because with you is life's fountain; in your light we shall see light (Ps. 36:8, Septuagint).
In writing to the Philippian church, Paul urges them to be anxious about nothing (Phil. 4:6) and presents himself as an example of a man who has learned to be content in times of plenty and in seasons of external lack (Phil. 4:11-13). How did Paul muster up this contentment?
Traditional religionists will strive for the annihilation of desire. But that is both gnostic and existential – okay for a buddhist but not a Christian. Paul did not learn to desire “less,” so he could be content with less. In fact, the apostle’s appetites were hot and furious – not lessened. But fulfillment to those desires came neither through worldly ambition nor his own religious efforts.
Paul had learned to be fully satisfied on the fatty ashes of Christ’s sacrifice.
I will satisfy fully the life of the priests with abundance, and My people will be satisfied with My goodness, says the Lord (Jer. 31:14).
Blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied) is the man whom You choose and cause to come near, that he may dwell in Your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple (Ps. 65:4, AMP).
Paul found everything he had ever wanted in the person of Christ – the source of his bliss and fulfillment. Those in Christ truly lack nothing. He had been plugged into an eternal wellspring of grace.
Maybe this satisfaction – this divine complacency – sounds good to you on paper. But how do we tangibly feast on this abundant grace in our daily lives? By faith. That is, simply by trusting. The flavor of faith is not striving, contending or “pressing in” for something. The flavor of faith is rest. It is to trust in what someone else has already accomplished for us. His work was enough to satisfy you perfectly.
Christ has now become our eternal Sabbath Rest.
Satisfied with the Sin Problem
Staunch legalists, strivers and will-power advocates get itchy when you speak too often of grace. They are hell-bent on ridding the church of the wrong type of complacency. Their fear is that you will promote the ever-taboo notion of greasy grace. But I’ll be the first to say that grace is far greasier than anyone would have suspected! Slippery, buttery and dripping with ease and fatness – no one could exaggerate how free and glorious is this grace. Grace is not cheap – it cost Jesus everything.
Your own everything couldn’t afford it.
However, if we are speaking in terms of “license to sin,” that is where the misconception about grace lies. Grace is not simply a “hiding” away of sin – or even a mere forgiveness of your sinfulness. Grace is not just a cover up – as if God the great Santa Clause in the sky is covering his eyes from your wrongdoings – acting as if they don’t exist. He’s not choosing to put you on the “nice” list when you deserve the “naughty” list. Grace does not hide God’s eyes from your sinfulness. That’s what we’ve been taught – but the true gospel is far better.
Grace actually eradicates sinfulness itself. It’s not a cover up – instead it’s an absolute removal of your old heart. Grace is not a freedom to sin, but it is freedom from sin. On the cross, your sinfulness itself was destroyed in His death. Your old sinful self was co-crucified together with Christ. Grace mystically transformed your identity from a sinner to a saint. There’s no mixture left.
Grace does not merely “cut you slack” while leaving you with indwelling sinfulness. Grace fully nailed that “indwelling sinfulness” to the tree – your entire old corrupt nature was abolished as a free gift (Rom. 6, Gal. 2:20).
What I am saying is that there is nothing left for you to do, but simply be who you are – that perfect new you who is one spirit with the Lord (1 Cor. 6:17). Now your chief end is to glorify God simply by enjoying Him forever. As John Piper often says, “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him.”
Does Grace Produce Apathy?
Keeping these things in mind, we must depart from the ridiculous, but sadly common misconception that grace breeds sinfulness. This was the same faulty argument that Paul addressed concerning his Judaizing opponents in Galatians 2. For the Jews to admit their need for grace was an admission of the inadequacy of the law to justify them. The law, being found insufficient, was therefore abandoned as a justifying agency. To invalidate the law - did this mean that Christ therefore was a promoter of sin?
If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! (Gal. 2:17, NIV)
Let me explain this tricky verse from the top. Paul is not suggesting that “we” believers must continually seek justification – nor is he saying here that believers are still sinners. He is speaking of those who are still bound in religion, who have not yet found the complacent satisfaction of their perfection in Christ. Bible translator Kenneth Wuest opens up this verse:
The Christian Jews, in seeking to be justified in Christ, were shown to be sinners just like and in the same class as the Gentiles. When they sought justification in Christ and thus by grace, it was an admission on their part that there is no justification by works, that the seeker is not justified, and is therefore a sinner. The attempt to be justified in Christ awakens the consciousness of sin, and compels the Jew to put himself on the plane of the Gentile. The Jew who calls the Gentile a sinner, in seeking to be justified by faith, is forced to admit that he is a sinner also. He has found that the law has failed him as a justifying agency.
Paul repudiates the false assumption of the Judaizers who charged that Christ is the promoter and encourager of sin in that He causes the Jew to abandon the law as a justifying agency, and in doing so, puts himself on the common plane of a Gentile whom he calls a sinner and a dog. The Judaizers argued that in view of the fact that violation of the law is sin, therefore, abandonment of the law in an effort to be justified in Christ is also sin. Thus Christ is the promoter of sin.[iii]
It is the law that increases sin. Does grace cause sin? Absolutely not! Paul writes, “The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Rom. 5:20).
I don’t want to overcomplicate this. But I had to lay some groundwork for a very simple idea. Grace does not amplify the drive to sin – religion does that. And more specifically, grace does not incite the one specific sin it is most often blamed for – the sin of apathy.
Grace does not cause apathy – religion does.
Retiring from Self Effort
Let me put this in simple terms now. Someone will say: If you preach grace, people are going to get lazy.
True grace does not produce laziness, but it does breed divine complacency!
The common mindset is that everyone will clock out if we aren’t motivating them with fear, guilt and religion. This is the sick perversion that has masqueraded as Christianity far too long. It is bondage – the spirit of antichrist at work in the pulpit and is diametrically opposed to the gospel.
True grace does not promote apathy or “self-complacency.” It is not freedom to be apathetic – grace is freedom from apathy. Paul had a fiery ambition that drove him preaching all over the Mediterranean from Jerusalem to northern Greece – until there was no place left for him to preach (Rom. 15:23). He was an Energizer bunny! But Paul was not motivated by anything less than the enjoyment of God and the fire of love that burned in his bones. He said, “woe to me if I don’t preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16) He felt a glorious compulsion – an inward fulfillment and delight from spreading this good news. He couldn’t stop himself – he was possessed by the love of God which “compelled” him. The grace apostle achieved far more than the rest.
Paul’s compulsion to serve did not originate from a slavish need to “help God out.” He co-labored only in a sense that he was a "container" of God. The branch passively drinks the sap of the vine and effortlessly bears fruit as a result of it's union. This is more than simple semantics. Instead of Christ with Paul – it was Christ as Paul.
For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).
God does not need your efforts to help prop Him up. Though you serve and do things for the kingdom in this life, yet it is no longer you, but Christ laboring through you “according to the working of his mighty power” (Eph. 1:19). You are living in a state of active retirement. The you is retired, and now the Christ has replaced you. You are simply a vessel, a temple – a container that holds this mighty God.
I consider myself as having died and now I’m enjoying a new existence which is simply Jesus using my body (Gal. 2:20, Distilled Bible).
Even Christ’s continued work through your life is to announce the gospel – that is, the good news that His work has been finished since the foundation of the world. Your entire life proclaims an already completed victory!
Jesus actually meant it when He said, “It is finished.” He didn’t just mean it’s finished for that day. “Wow ... been really tough at the office boys – I’m gonna knock off early and call it a day. Be back again at 9 a.m. to start this all over again!”
The finished work of the cross is such an offense, because it invalidates every other human attempt at spirituality. Though we labor to proclaim the cross, we do not labor to repeat it as religion does. We do not labor to strive toward our own holiness, sanctification or redemption. Just believe it’s yours. Nor do we strive to enter into more of His fullness. For by our union with Christ we are already full of the Godhead (Col. 2:10).
A Better Kind of Complacency
There’s a massive difference between the pleasant satisfaction of divine complacency and the numbing paralysis of lukewarm nominalism. We’ve all seen churches that are dead cold – no excitement, no zealous fervor for the Lord. Their joy and expectancy are sucked dry. They slumber.
The problem of apathy is real, and many John the Baptist types try to address it. It is no wonder that so many – who catch the fire of the Spirit – want to shake and rock the church back to attention. To rouse her from her narcoticized sleep.
And so what do these zealous trumpets do? Unfortunately, they try to get mother church off the couch and right onto the treadmill. They bark at her. They shout at her. They come at her with the whip of the law. To their credit, these voices do have zeal, but it is a zeal “without knowledge” of grace as Paul says in Romans 10 – zeal for self-effort. Pharisees are very zealous. The answer to apathy is not zeal for the law. Instead, we need a zealous appreciation that Christ has finished the job. John the Baptist was great, but there has been a change in covenant.
Grace does not beat the church awake. Grace woos her with the extravagant love of Christ poured out on the cross. Entices her with the fragrant myrrh of His sufferings for her on the cross. It allures her with the promise of divine pleasures that supersede the lesser comforts of this world. Invites her to drink and to be drunk on love (Song. 5:1).
Hunger Versus Satisfaction
In the face of overwhelming apathetic disinterest in the church, many charismatic zealots feel justified in whipping people up into a striving frenzy:
“We’ve gotta get hungry! We’ve gotta get desperate! We’ve gotta cry out for more! We’ve gotta press in for revival!”
There is an inward striving, an internal hernia-popping to push themselves into something they already have. Religion always gets you to work for something that’s already yours.
In fear of growing lukewarm – they say we must constantly stay hungry for God. Intimacy with God becomes a striving work. Such a person tries to remain in a state of dissatisfaction at their current “level” of spirituality. As if by forcing themselves to be unhappy, they will be pleasing to God. Meanwhile, that old virtue of divine contentment in Christ’s fullness gets thrown out the window. It is actually rooted in a lack of faith.
I’m not pressing in anymore. I’ve been pressed into.
I’m not contending anymore. I’ve been contended for.
I’m not a God chaser anymore. I’ve been chased down, roped and hogtied. Bagged and tagged!
So many fast; they pray; they push; they pull. They attempt to get what they’ve already got. But their own efforts have alienated them from grace.
I’m not hungry anymore. I am fully satisfied.
Hunger is the state of the prodigal in the pig slop. Sonship is satisfied on Christ – the Father’s the Fatted Calf.
You may ask – but doesn’t God want us to hunger for more and more of Him? Doesn’t He want us to hunger and thirst after righteousness?
First of all, you are already righteous in Him. But notice the rest of that verse ... He says that those who hunger will be fully satisfied.
Blessed and fortunate and happy and spiritually prosperous (in that state in which the born-again child of God enjoys His favor and salvation) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (uprightness and right standing with God), for they shall be completely satisfied! (Matt. 5:6, AMP)
Our satisfaction speaks of trusting and drinking from all that He has done. The flavor of faith is not thirst ... the flavor of faith is complete satisfaction. Knowing that we sit at the King’s table. This is what Abraham, the father of faith, was commended for. He was, “Fully satisfied and assured that God was able and mighty to keep His word and to do what He had promised” (Rom. 4:21, AMP).
Religious people know that money, material things and the work of their hands don't bring contentment. But they do think that their striving to please God and follow the rules will bring satisfaction. They’re looking to add something onto the cross for extra brownie points. They don’t see that they are still basing their hope of satisfaction on self.
Are you fully satisfied in what He has done? Or are you still praying “More Lord?”
A Language of Unbelief
There is a prevailing language of unbelief in the charismatic church today. A barrage of terminology and ideas that lock people into a never-ending search for God. The point of conversion was not your initiation rite into a lifelong chase after an elusive, fleeting deity. We are not called to be God-chasers, always begging for a little bit more like Oliver Twist. I am no longer even “seeking after God.” He has found me. He and I are in unio mystica.
The New Covenant is a finding covenant. An arrival. An enjoyment of the Promise Land that we have already entered. Isnʼt your claim to Christianity the very boast that you are no longer looking for answers, but that you have found Him? Christianity is the only religion that can scandalously boast that we are no longer seeking, but have confidently laid hold of God. It seems such an arrogant boast! I have all of God! I have arrived! This is the stumbling block of the ages.
Seeking is a pre-Christ action.
One would say, “But doesnʼt He reward those who earnestly seek Him?” That is Hebrews 11:6. Read the beginning of the verse, “And without faith it is impossible to please God.” God is impressed with faith. Believe that you are in union with Him by the finished work of the cross.
The Lord once spoke to an anonymous mystic, asking her this, “If I am the air you breathe, if you are in Me and I am in you, why are you looking for Me?” She said, “At once I felt so close to God that I could never describe it. …”[iv]
Never again fall for the catch phrase of today prompting you to “get hungry” for God. How can I do that, when I’ve been feasting on the Lamb? The admission of hunger is an admission of lack. A hungry child is a sign of bad parenting. It is an assertion that Christ’s sacrifice was not a good enough meal for you. Do you need something more than His cross? Let the cross be the only thing that mesmerizes you. Stop begging for things He’s already given. Stop asking from an Old Covenant perspective. He has already poured out all that Heaven has to offer.
There’s no more need to beg Him to “open the Heavens.” He already did that. He checked that one right off the prayer list when the veil of His flesh was torn and all of Heaven opened with it. If you stop asking for that – and actually believe it exists for you – you will experience that open Heaven every day of your life. A fully supernatural lifestyle.
Are you tired of a performance-based, emotional rollercoaster spirituality? Thinking God is happy with you one day and upset with you the next? Trust in His finished work, not your own efforts. Rest in the knowledge that you are permanently plugged into Heaven, whether you know it or not, feel it or not. He is continually smiling at you. You are basking in permaglory thanks to His work. Don’t doubt just because you’re not experiencing it. It is by first believing that we experience. Manifestations follow faith.
As for me, I will continue beholding Your face in righteousness (rightness, justice, and right standing with You); I shall be fully satisfied, when I awake [to find myself] beholding Your form [and having sweet communion with You] (Ps. 17:15, AMP).
There is an infinitely sweet satisfaction in beholding His face. And how does the believer do this? Because the veil of sinfulness has been removed. We can see Him clearly in the person of Christ. He told of this day long ago through the prophet, “I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit ... ” (Ezek. 39:29).
My whole being shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips (Ps. 63:5).
And so we come to the real root of the issue. Renowned 17th century theologian Jeremy Taylor once quipped, “God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.” God demands joy. God demands that we be satisfied. God demands that we be fat and complacent on the very thing that He is fat and complacent upon. Again, Sproul says:
God’s love of complacency is the special delight and pleasure He takes first of all in His only-begotten Son. It is Christ who is the beloved of the Father, supremely; He is the Son in whom the Father is “well pleased.”
By adoption in Christ, every believer shares in this divine love of complacency. It is the love enjoyed by Jacob, but not by Esau. This love is reserved for the redeemed in whom God delights — not because there is anything inherently lovely or delightful in us — but we are so united to Christ, the Father’s Beloved, that the love the Father has for the Son spills over onto us. God’s love for us is pleasing and sweet to Himself — and to us. ...
[i] George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University, 2003), 112.
[ii] R.C. Sproul, Abundant Love (Article from Tabletalk Magazine).
[iii] Kenneth Wuest, Wuest Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980).
[iv] Fr. Juan Arintero, The Song of Songs: A Mystical Exposition (Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1974, 1992), 403.
John Crowder is an internationally recognized author, speaker and advocate of supernatural Christianity. He is on the forefront of a fresh renewal movement marked by ecstatic joy, miracles and recovering the foundational preaching of the cross of grace. John’s books include Mystical Union, The Ecstasy of Loving God, Seven Spirits Burning and The New Mystics. Visit his ministry online at www.thenewmystics.com.