These exhortations were given by me between 1999 and 2005. That was a long time ago, and I have grown a lot since then. They may not reflect my current beliefs.
Our faith in God is not a one sided thing. God cares for us and loves us, as a father loves his children. There is something very special, however, about the love that God shows, and the New Testament has a special word for it. God’s love for us is his grace.
This point is made in Ephesians 2, verses 4 to 9:
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.
It is by grace that we have been saved. Salvation does not depend on doing great works, or on being pure and sinless. That is a good thing, because nobody could do works great enough to ensure salvation, and nobody could live a pure and sinless life. I say nobody, but of course there was one man who did: our Lord Jesus Christ. “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.”
Consider what Paul has to say about Grace in Romans 3 verses 23 to 25:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be an atoning sacrifice through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
Being justified freely by grace is an example of the forbearance of God. God could annihilate us all because we are sinful. Instead, because he is forbearing, he freely justifies us by grace. God’s grace is more than just his love for us, is his love towards us, that which he is filling to give us because he loves us.
Paul gives some examples of God’s grace in the next chapter of Romans. He mentions Abraham in Romans 4 verses 1 to 5:
What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Abraham’s faith was counted for righteousness through grace. That is a wonderful thing. Abraham was one of the most Godly men there has ever been, yet even he could not be justified by works, he could not work himself to righteousness. He could not earn salvation. But because he was faithful he was regarded as righteous by grace. It is through grace that we can obtain righteousness, and by no other way. Grace is the way that we get something we cannot possibly earn.
In the next verse Paul quotes David’s Psalm 32 verses 1 and 2:
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.
Is this not a perfect description of the recipient of grace? Transgression forgiven, sin covered. Grace is more than just God’s love for us, it is his forgiveness, his compassion. It is something so beautiful that it needs it’s own name. It is his grace.
The grace of God is unlimited. This does not mean that God will do anything and everything we ask him to do for us. This would simultaneously make a mockery of the majesty of God and be damaging to us as individuals. Consider Paul’s words in 2nd Corinthians 12 verses 7 to 9:
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
Had God removed the thorn from Paul then, by his own admission, Paul would have become conceited. The thorn’s presence was an act of love, an act of grace, that made Paul a better human being.
Last week I needed a filling replaced. This wasn’t the most comfortable of experiences. It meant I had to have an injection in my gum, and there was some sort of metal clamp put into my mouth at one point. Despite the local anaesthetic the drilling itself was not enjoyable. At no point during the whole experience did I tell the dentist to stop, or wonder why the dentist was doing this all to me. I knew that in order to avoid the agony of a rotten tooth several months down the line I needed to trust my dentist as she worked on my tooth.
I think that’s what it is like when we are tormented by thorns in our flesh and God does not remove them. We are being made stronger, more Christ-like. Paul understood that having the thorn removed would have lead to his becoming conceited, and he knew that that was a bad way to be. It’s important to realise that Paul didn’t understand this at first. He had to ask God three times before he realised why he needed the thorn. So many times when we are tormented we can’t understand why things are the way they are. It’s like going to the dentist and not understanding about tooth decay. Although the grace of God is unlimited, our understanding of our current circumstances is normally all too limited. No matter what is happening, however, it is good for us in the long term.
There is another example from Paul’s life where he endures hardship and can explain to us how that hardship helped him to grow spiritually. In 2nd Corinthians 1 verses 8 to 10:
For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;
In Asia, Paul and his companions were in a situation where they couldn’t depend on themselves. They had to depend on God. As a result they learned to trust God.
The thorn prevented Paul from becoming conceited. The trouble in Asia made him learn to trust God. Both of these things were sent from God, and were manifestations of his grace, although Paul couldn’t see it at the time.
Its not central to the subject of grace, but there is an important lesson here. Paul continued to grow spiritually throughout his life. Despite his experiences on the road to Damascus he still needed to learn to trust God and he still needed to learn not to be conceited. Paul needed to grow spiritually. Despite being chosen for doing so much for the early church, despite being one of the authors of the New Testament, he needed to grow, and he grew throughout his life. We shouldn’t be ashamed to grow; we should be ashamed not to grow.
We are here this morning to remember the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is because of Jesus Christ that we are under grace. The wages of sin is death. If we had to earn our salvation we would all fail. But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. A gift is not something that you earn. It is something that is given to you by grace. Eternal life in the Kingdom is something that God wants to give us. Fear not little flock; it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
It is through the work of Jesus Christ that we have access to this wonderful thing called grace. We are not given the wages that we deserve, but we are promised the gift of eternal life.
I want to finish with a reading from Hebrews chapter 4, verses 14 to 16:
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.