As a little girl, I loved to survey the objects which populated the top of my mother’s dresser. I would dig through the crystal candy dish which contained a tangle of necklaces, earrings, and pins. Next, my attention would be drawn to the bottles of perfume standing nearby. I remember one was called “My Sin”. The name implied an aura of sophistication and glamor, hinting at mysteries I could not see into. Of course, at the time I did not consider the cynicism involved in using transgression as a marketing tool. Nor did I perceive that the project of making sin attractive has been going on since the Garden of Eden.
When I became a believer in Christ, I realized that sin is not a trifling matter. It separates me from the living God. Yet that understanding put me on a path of struggle and discouragement as the goal of sinless perfection proved elusive. I was often focused on external behaviors because I cared so much that others thought well of me. I could host a weekly prayer group in the morning with my friends and spend an earnest hour in intercession, yet by lunchtime be rude to a customer service rep on the phone who wasn’t able to give me satisfaction over some trivial matter.
At some point I read Barbara Duguid’s book, Extravagant Grace: God’s Glory Displayed in Our Weakness. In it, Duguid makes ample use of her own struggles with “falling short of the glory of God” to enlarge our understanding of the doctrines of grace and sanctification. Her teaching companion is John Newton, who composed “Amazing Grace” after sailing slave ships for 20 years and then experiencing a radical conversion to Christ. His writings had been recommended to her when she and her husband Iain were at seminary in Philadelphia.
In studying Newton’s letters she grappled with the question, “Why can’t I stop sinning?” Without ever excusing our sin, Duguid shows that it is a necessary part of our journey here on earth so that we can be refined into Christ’s likeness. Moreover, Christ’s redemptive work on the cross was complete and effective to address all the sins past, present, and future that we will commit in our lifetime.
When it comes to choosing reading material, I don’t usually gravitate towards theology, yet this book made the subject matter compelling with Duguid’s many well-framed and relatable stories. She is starkly honest about her own sin as she turns the spotlight on herself, exposing her anger and jealousy, her “glory-mongering” pride, sexual lust, uncontrolled binge eating, and other areas of weakness. What comes through is the amazing grace of God, through Christ, which she learned to appreciate much more dearly through these trials. You will come away from this book saying more fervently, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds more”.