Category Archives: God’s Grace

What Do You See When You See Me?

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Heb 1:2-3

What do you see when you see Jesus? You see the Father’s heart. You see Calvary’s suffering. You see grace. You see love, embrace, and forgiveness. You see our prodigal lives returning to the father’s house. You see acceptance and approval not based on our performance, but based on Christ’s perfect righteousness displayed on the Cross.

“You are right,” he says,”you are lost, if you look only to yourselves. Who is there who has not lied, murdered, committed adultery? Who does not have this possibility lurking in his heart? You are right when you give yourself up as lost.

But look, now something has happened that has nothing to do with your attitudes at all, something that is simply given to you. Now the kingdom of God is among you, now the father’s house is wide open. And I–I am the door, I am the way, I am the life, I am the hand of the Father. He who sees me sees the Father. And what do you see when you see me?

You see one who came to you down in the depths where you could never rise to the heights. You see that God ‘so’ loved the world that he delivered me, his Son, to these depths, that it cost him something to help you, that it cost the very agony of God, that God had to do something contrary to his own being to deal with your sin, to recognize the chasm between you and himself and yet bridge it over. All this you see when you look at me!”

Helmut Thielicke, The Waiting Father: Sermons on the Parables of Jesus, trans., John W. Doberstein (New York: Harper&Row, 1959), 28. [paragraphing mine]

Paul Ran, Christ Pursued

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit . . . .

John 15:16

Prevenient (i.e., coming before) grace is the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts granting us the ability to receive the gospel. Our sin enslaves us, darkens our understanding, and binds our wills. God by his unmerited favor must go before providing us the ability to accept (or reject) his offer of salvation in Christ. If anyone is hungry for God and seeks salvation, it is the Holy Spirit stirring in their hearts drawing them to something eternal. God’s pursuit is not passive, dilatory, or random. The Holy Spirit wants us, he wants our hearts, he wants our devotion. God pursues us and pursues us relentlessly. Jesus woos us, confounds us, corners us in order to draw us and win us to himself.

Paul ran from Christ; Christ pursued and overtook him. Paul resisted Christ; Christ disarmed him. Paul persecuted Christ; Christ converted him. Paul was an alien; Christ made him a member of the family. Paul was an enemy; Christ made him a friend. Paul was ‘in the flesh’; Christ set him ‘in the Spirit.’ Paul was under the law; Christ set him in grace. Paul was dead; Christ made him alive to God. How does one give reasons for this? He does not give reasons; he sings, ‘Blessed be God who blessed us . . . even as he chose us in him.’

Lewis B. Smedes, Union With Christ (Grand Rapids, 1983), 86-87.

HT: Ray Ortlund

Freedom!

Liberation from Tyranny or Restraint 

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5:1 ESV

Freedom is the ability to do what we want to do. What a Christ-follower wants to do is please their Lord and Savior. Christian freedom is not the freedom to do whatever I want, but the freedom to do what is right by God. Freedom for the Christian is the heart-felt, passionate desire to please their Lord.

By contrast, legalism, that is the law, can only motivate through fear of rejection, punishment, and slavish duty. Legalists are fear-based, proud, and guilt-ridden which leads to touchiness, insecurity, pride, discouragement, and weariness. The legalist believes that they are not valuable to the kingdom of God unless they perform well. They cannot receive Christ’s righteousness for they feel that they are unworthy creatures who have not done enough. Rule keeping is a perversion of freedom: we think by doing we can achieve acceptance by God. Legalism stifles joy and freedom in the Christian life.

On the contrary, the saint is free for he or she is liberated by their righteous standing in Christ: nothing they do or fail to do will change their status as saints in Christ. God’s grace magnifies God’s unconditional love and motivates us by filling our hearts with overwhelming gratitude and appreciative love.

True freedom is not freedom from all responsibility to God and man in order to live for myself, but the exact opposite.  True freedom is freedom from myself and from the cramping tyranny of my own self-centeredness, in order to live in love for God and others.  Only in such self-giving love is an authentically free and human existence to be found.

John Stott, ‘Obeying Christ in a Changing World’, in Obeying Christ in a Changing World, Vol. 1: The Lord Christ (London: Collins, 1977), 28.

Spiritually Blind, Deaf, Lame, Dumb, Dead

The Disability of Sin

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins . . . .

Eph. 2:1 (ESV)

Theologically, disagreement exists between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics over the nature our sin which was inherited from Adam. Roman Catholic teaching prefers the terms, “propensity to sin” and “inclination to evil” to describe our fallen state (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 405). Roman Catholic teaching wants to leave open the possibility that we can in own ability respond to God’s call to faith and repentance.

However, Evangelicals teach the concept of “pervasive sin” and “inherited guilt.” Every aspect of our being is affected by sin–our minds, emotions, desires, hearts, wills, and physical bodies. Evangelicals do not deny that fallen people can do good things, but in relationship to God, no spiritual good can be achieved toward a relationship with him (Rom. 7:18; Titus 1:15; Jer. 17:9; Eph. 4:18).Evangelicals recognize that only God by his grace can awaken us from our dead state and draw us into the life of Christ.

Theologically, God’s drawing is called prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts granting us the ability to receive or resist the gospel. Our sin enslaves us, God by his unmerited favor must go before providing us the ability to accept or reject his offer of salvation in Christ.

[Prevenient] grace  is working quietly at the point of our desiring, bringing us in time to despair over our own righteousness, challenging our perverse dispositions, so that our distorted wills cease gradually to resist the gifts of God (John 6:44).

Thomas Oden, John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 246.

Jesus himself illustrated human lostness by the language of physical disability. By ourselves we are blind to God’s truth and deaf to his voice. Lame, we cannot walk in his ways. Dumb, we can neither sing to him nor speak for him. We are even dead in our trespasses and sins.

Moreover, we are the dupes and slaves of demonic forces. Of course, if we think this exaggerated or ‘mythical’ or frankly false, then we shall see no need for supernatural power; we shall consider our own resources adequate. But if human beings are in reality spiritually and morally blind, deaf, dumb, lame and even dead, not to mention the prisoners of Satan, then it is ridiculous in the extreme to suppose that by ourselves and our merely human preaching we can reach or rescue people in such a plight . . . .

Only Jesus Christ by his Holy Spirit can open blind eyes and deaf ears, make the lame walk and the dumb speak, prick the conscience, enlighten the mind, fire the heart, move the will, give life to the dead and rescue slaves from Satanic bondage. And all this he can and does, as the preacher should know from his own experience.

John Stott, I Believe in Preaching (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1982), 329.

Grace Is Painful

Grace Makes Us What We Are

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

1 Cor. 15:10 NRSV

Grace is God’s heart extending itself towards us as God initiates in us the ability to overcome our weaknesses, failures, and inadequacies. Grace is not the freedom to sin, but the freedom not to sin, and that can be painful. Grace makes our flesh scream for grace says, “no,” to ungodly indulgence. Grace digs deep by exposing the idols of our heart: grace reveals sin, convicts of selfishness, and empowers holiness. Grace is painful because grace challenges us to change. Grace refuses to leave us alone. Grace requires, no, demands that we live in obedience to Christ. Grace resists sin, but also lifts us into the presence of God. Grace reveals God to us in all his glory. Grace purges, but also it cleanses, renews, and strengthens.

All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.

Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor

 

The Amazing Generosity of God

Restoring Not Repaying

I will restore to you the years that othe swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.

Joel 2:25

When we sin, our actions hurt God and others. They create a ripple affect of pain and disappointment. Our families grow discouraged, our friends are disheartened, and the church is not blessed. Instead of being an example of faith and obedience, we give others an excuse not to obey God’s law and Christ’s commands. Our selfishness makes us central instead of Christ. We turn the world upside down.

When we repent, God not only forgives our sin; he heals our pain. God lifts us up from the miry clay and gives us a firm place to stand (Psalm 40: 1-3). God not only releases us from the debt we have created, but he heals the damage we have inflicted on ourselves and others. When we repent, he takes the mess we have made, and uses it for our good and his glory. It always better not to sin, but if we sin and repent, God will take our disaster and develop real maturity. God goes beyond just forgiving, he generously heals, restores, and renews.

Consider the amazing generosity of God. He did not limit His promise merely to restoring the land to its former productivity. He said He’ll repay them for the years the locusts have eaten, years they themselves forfeited to the judgment of God (Joel 2:25). God could well have said, “I’ll restore your land to its former productivity, but too bad about those years you lost! They are gone forever.  That’s the price you pay for your sin. He would have been generous just to have restored them – but He went beyond that. He would cause their harvests to be so abundant they would recoup the losses from the years of famine. He said He’ll repay them, though He obviously owed them nothing.

Jerry Bridges, Holiness Day-by-Day (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2008), 67.

The Reign of God’s Grace

Grace is Empowerment to Live the Christian Life

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

2 Cor. 9:8

God’s grace is Jesus being the desire, ability, and power in us to respond to every life situation according to the will of God. Jesus is our desire for he works in us a hunger for holiness. Jesus is our ability for he enables us to make godly decisions and choices. Jesus is our power for he strengthens us to overcome the world, the flesh, sin, death, and the devil. Grace is the person, Jesus, living his life in and through us empowering every one of us to live a righteous and holy life (2 Cor. 9:8, 2 Cor. 12:1-10, Titus 2:11-14).

We’re brought into God’s kingdom by grace; we’re sanctified by grace; we receive both temporal and spiritual blessing by grace; we’re motivated to obedience by grace; we’re called to serve and enabled to serve by grace; we receive strength to endure trials by grace; and we’re glorified by grace. The entire Christian life is lived under the reign of God’s grace.

Jerry Bridges, Holiness Day-by Day (Colorado Springs, CO, NavPress, 2008), 52.

Grace For Each Person

Special Grace

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work”

2 Cor 9:7-9 NIV

Often, I am my own worst enemy, my worst accuser. I feel that I should be doing or should have done more for the Kingdom of God. I read the biographies of the great saints who have served the Lord and measure my life by theirs. Inevitably, I come up short every time. However, the Lord admonishes me not to be like the Corinthian congregation, “comparing themselves among themselves” (2 Cor. 10:12, NASU). I must remember that God has given me specific grace (1 Cor. 15: 10) to pastor, to preach, to work, to serve, to love in my particular parish with these special people.

I have not the grace of George Mueller, to build orphan houses, and receive by faith all his orphans; I have not the grace of Hudson Taylor, nor the grace of a simple housekeeper, a woman, or girl, to manage her ministry rightly; I have just the grace, the special grace, for the ministry which is committed to me. There is no member of the body, no one saved one introduced by God’s grace into that wonderful mysterious organism, the body of Christ, who has not received, besides the general grace, a special gift of grace for a special ministry in the body. Each member has his (or her) own grace.

Otto Stockmeyer, “The Sufficiency of Grace” in Daily Thoughts from Keswick: A Year’s Daily Readings (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1980), 110.

Grace: Empowerment to Live the Christian Life

Empowering Grace

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thes. 5:23

Empowering grace is Jesus enabling us to overcome temptation, make righteousness right choices, and obey the commands of our heavenly Father. Grace makes it possible for us to do “the righteous requirements of the Law” (Rom. 8:3-4), be a conduit of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), and serve as Christ’s witness in the world (Acts 1:8).

The meaning of sanctification is that the Son of God is formed in us (Galatians 4:19); then our human nature has to be transfigured by His indwelling life, and this is where our action comes in. We have to put on the new man in accordance with the life of the Son of God in us.

If we refuse to be sanctified, there is no possibility of the Son of God being manifested in us, because we have prevented our lives being turned into a Bethlehem; we have not allowed the Spirit of God to bring forth the Son of God in us.

Oswald Chambers, Our Brilliant Heritage (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1996), 73.

Grace: Freedom Not to Sin

Power to Say, “No,” to Ungodliness and, “Yes,” to Righteousness

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age . . . .

Titus 2:11-12

Grace is not the freedom to sin, but the freedom not to sin. Grace is God’s heart extending itself towards us as he initiates in us the ability to overcome our weaknesses, failures, and inadequacies. The foremost characteristic of living by grace is trust in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ: the Cross forgives our past sin through Christ’s death, puts away our present sin through Christ’s burial and triumphs over future sin through Christ’s resurrection. Grace is not an abstraction, but Jesus living his life in us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

To be in Christ—that is redemption; but for Christ to be in you—that is sanctification! To be in Christ—that makes you fit for heaven; but for Christ to be in you—that makes you fit for earth! To be in Christ—that changes your destination; but for Christ to be in you—that changes your destiny! The one makes heaven your home—the other makes this world His workshop.

Major W. Ian Thomas, The Saving Life of Christ/The Mystery of Godliness (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1988), 22.