Women & Theology: Book Review of Extravagant Grace
Barbara Duguid, Extravagant Grace: God's Glory Displayed in Our Weakness (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013).
I have been a Christian for a long time, and I still am not a very holy person. I sin constantly. The short list of sins that I struggle with daily includes selfishness, laziness, envy, anger, hatred, self-righteousness, and pride. I am sick to death of these sins. They hurt other people, and they are embarrassing (and often in my sinful pride the latter concerns me more than the former). And even worse, there is a sense that I shouldn’t be struggling with these same sins on a regular basis. If the Holy Spirit is at work in my life, shouldn’t I be sinning less? Isn’t that what sanctification means? If so, am I even a Christian when sin is still so present in my life?
These crucial questions are dealt with in Barbara Duguid’s book, Extravagant Grace: God’s Glory Displayed in Our Weakness. She pulls no punches, frankly acknowledging the presence of both the Holy Spirit and lots of sin in her life. Thus she concludes: “Let’s be honest: if the chief work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification is to make Christians more sin-free, then he isn’t doing a very good job” (30).
But assuming that the Holy Spirit is good at what he does, if he chiefly isn’t trying to make me more sin-free, then what is he trying to do? A few paragraphs later she answers, “God thinks that you will actually come to know and love him better as a desperate and weak sinner in continual need of grace than you would as a triumphant Christian warrior who wins each and every battle against sin. This makes sense out of our experience as Christians. If the job of the Holy Spirit is to make you more humble and dependent on Christ, more grateful for his sacrifice and more adoring of him as a wonderful Savior, then he might be doing a very, very good job even though you still sin every day” (30-31).
Duguid draws from the letters of John Newton (author of the song Amazing Grace), who knew a lot about amazing grace and how it applies to this sanctification business. She sums up one of his insights: “Through his ongoing struggles with indwelling sin, the maturing believer will spend many years learning that he is more sinful than he ever imagined, in order to discover that he is indeed far more loved than he ever dared hope” (61). Throughout the book Duguid shares her own struggles with indwelling sin and how they have helped her understand the grace of God in ever deeper ways. Her confessions are so honest that they are a little shocking, not because the rest of us do not struggle in those ways, but because few are brave enough to admit it in a public forum. Her honesty enables the reader to admit that he or she is just as terrible, but God’s grace in Christ extends even to the sins we hate admitting we still do. This combination of blunt honesty and solid theology results in an extremely encouraging book.
So if you are a Christian who gets frustrated with sanctification, I highly recommend this book. Duguid shows that God is using even your struggles with sin for your good and his glory, and that is an extravagant grace indeed.
Anna Smith graduated from WSC in 2013 with a Master of Arts in biblical studies. She now serves as the admissions coordinator at the seminary. She is very much looking forward to the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.
This post is part of our Wednesday series on Women & Theology. You can find Barbara Duguid's contribution to the series here, and all previous articles here. Come back next Wednesday for more!