The Amigo of Grace – again!

Grace delivers us from bondage to laws

and frees us to enjoy God in an enriching

and satisfying relationship

 

In order to grasp the reality of God’s grace we must first understand the reality of our own sinfulness. If we are convinced that in spite of the little vices which we all have, we are basically good people deserving of God’s favor, then we shall see no need for His grace. If we believe that God is obligated to let us enter Heaven because we have tried to keep His laws and done the best we can, then grace is totally unnecessary. The whole concept will appear absurd. But if we accept God’s assessment of our lives—that we are unrighteous, deceitful, desperately wicked, guilty, condemned sinners, incapable of measuring up to God’s standard and unworthy of His acceptance—then a deep appreciation for His grace will begin to dawn on our sin-dulled minds. We will get to know the God of all grace.

We learn a valuable lesson about grace from observing God’s gracious actions toward us in salvation. Just as the root meaning of the New Testament word involves joy and pleasantness, so we notice that God’s grace has an uncanny way of transforming the unpleasant into the pleasant. He takes an unbeliever, chained to his wretchedness and sin and bound for the bitterness of an eternal hell, freely gives him the lovely garments of Christ’s righteousness, then assures him of Heaven’s glory and beauty. What a transformation! That is God’s grace for salvation.

Then He continues to act toward us in grace. Not only does He bring delight to our drab existence by giving us the gift of eternal life, but He keeps on giving us good things to meet our needs and brighten our lives. For example, He gives us the resources to build us up and set us apart more fully to Himself, progressively replacing the ugliness of our daily sin with the attractiveness of holy living. That was Paul’s message to the Ephesian elders:

 

And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which

is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those

who are sanctified – Acts 20:32 NASB

 

That is grace for sanctification.

Sanctification is not slavishly submitting in the energy of the flesh to somebody’s man-made list of do’s and don’ts in order to enhance our own reputation or earn points with God. It is laying hold of God’s gracious plan to become more like Christ for His glory and praise. Grace delivers us from bondage to laws and frees us to enjoy God in an enriching and satisfying relationship. We will be motivated to please Him from within rather than pressured from without. We delight in pleasing someone who never stops giving good things to us.

God also provides grace for Christian service. We have a tendency to get carried away with our own abilities, and we begin to think that God is rather fortunate to have us on His team to do His work. We may feel that He is obligated to prosper us when we do serve Him. Those attitudes often lead to failure. The Apostle Paul admitted without shame that he was unworthy to serve Christ: “I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power” (Ephesians 3:7; cf. also 2 Corinthians 8:1-2).

We do not deserve to have the pleasure of serving the eternal God, but He has bestowed that privilege on us by His grace. We serve Him not to obtain His favor, but because we already have it. Any success we may enjoy will be the gift of His grace. He freely gives us the abilities and strength we need to serve Him. He transforms our feeble, bungling, embarrassing, unpleasant efforts into an effective, satisfying, and rewarding ministry that brings glory to Him. It is all part of His gracious actions toward us.

The Look

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But what does grace look like? Would you or I recognize grace each time it happens?

In recent articles I have discussed what grace is and our need for grace. But what does grace look like? Would you or I recognize grace each time it happens? My first reaction was an unqualified *Yes*. But as I thought about this more my first reaction seemed to be incorrect. Sometimes grace doesn’t look like what we expect. For the next few articles we will be looking for grace in all the right places. I think you may be surprised by where we find grace.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him – Genesis 2:18-20 NASB

In Genesis 2 we see a more detailed view of creation as described in chapter 1. I want to focus on God and his created man. Notice a few things about this passage. First, notice that God acted graciously in finding a helper for him. He created all the beasts of the field and birds of the sky for his created man. All these creatures were made to help out man. However, not one of them was suitable for him. How can this be?

A big clue to this is the meaning of the word translated helper here. The Hebrew word here is the word kenegdo. The literal meaning of this word is according to the opposite to him. This puts a different spin on the term helper doesn’t it. The search was for a companion for the man but none of the animals brought to the man are suitable for him. Not one of them meets the need that the man has. So what does God do in response to this? Does He say “Oh well dude. Better get accustomed to being disappointed. Life will be hard, deal with it.” No, God showed his man grace.

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.”  – Genesis 2:21-23 NASB

God graciously provided exactly what Adam needed.

From the man God took a rib. God performed the first surgery in history as an act of grace. That’s pretty cool. Anyway, God took a rib and formed it into a suitable helper for the man. Remember that the term helper means one who corresponds to him. God is making someone who will complement and complete him. How gracious is that!

God chose to make a companion for him. God didn’t start from scratch either. God took from Adam’s side and fashioned it into a companion. The woman reflected Adam well. She was a perfect compliment to Adam. All that Adam needed in a companion, the woman had. God graciously provided exactly – EXACTLY – what Adam needed. How gracious is that!

God has been gracious to man throughout history. He makes provision for our needs and He does this out of His grace, not our desire. This is how grace looks. This is God’s grace to man. But it doesn’t end here. In the coming articles we explore other acts of God’s grace to give us a fuller picture of it. Some of the examples I’ll use may not seem too gracious but rest assured they are.

He makes provision for our needs and He does this out of His grace, not our desire. This is how grace looks.

Look for God’s grace in your life. You won’t have to look too far or too long to discover it. When you do discover it, thank God for it. His grace abounds in your life and  mine. Let’s rejoice in that grace! Let’s celebrate that grace! Let’s experience that grace, all to the glory of God.

God is Grace

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What do you think about when you hear the word grace? Well I can easily define it as unmerited favor. But is that what I think of first when I hear the word grace? No, and I doubt that is what you think of first. Perhaps you think of a hostess gliding around a packed party with a smile on her face, gleefully handing out food and drink. Maybe you think of a kind-hearted or courteous person. Then again you could think of someone with great diplomatic skills or one who seemingly endures many insults from others while never returning insults. The word grace could mean any of these things. But none of this things should be the first thing we think of when we think of grace.

Grace Is the Essence of God’s Being

The setting I want you to consider is Exodus 34. We are on Mt. Sinai – again. Moses is getting the tablets with the 10 Commandments replaced. He had shattered the original ones because of his anger towards Israel for worshipping a golden calf while he was getting the first set of tablets from God. Moses, following God’s orders, made a couple more tablets and quietly ascended Mt. Sinai to present himself to God so that God would write again His Law for Israel.

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of theLord. Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “TheLord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; Exodus 34:5-6 NASB

So God is going to explain to Moses just who He is. Do you notice the second adjective God uses here? Yep, there it is: gracious. The root word in Hebrew means to bow down. The idea is to bow down to those below Him. This shows God’s willingness to reach with affection and care down to the poeple of Israel who do not deserve that affection or care. Israel could make no claim on God – they had just been sternly rebuked for worshippinga golden calf. They had demonstrated in no uncertain terms their depravity. And yet God, in revealing Himself to Moses, basically said “I stoop to them to show them kindness, affecton and care.” Wow. But is doesn’t end there.

who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; Exodus 34:7a NASB

Take a look at how God illustrates HIs graciousness: He forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin. NOw God is granting these things to a people who have demonstrated time after time that they don’t deserve these things.

Before we go any farther, let me state unequivocally that God establishes the same attitude in the New Testament

 After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himselfperfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10 NASB

It is God who will sustain us after suffering, according to Peter. Now notice how Peter refers to God her: God os ALL grace. That means that God has an inexhasutible amount of grace from which to draw on. You see, grace isn’t something God has. It is who He is. This is the nature of God. (To be sure there are other attributes that God has that are equally important and equally present. We’ll discuss those another time)

God give great and wonderful gifts without strings attached. He gives them without us earning them or deserving them. When we stand before Him at the end of time to be judges, our salvatio is not an issue. No, our reward is the only thing at issue. Now think about this. The works we have done will be tested as with fire. The ones we performed with wrong motives or just within our own power will be burned up. Regardless of what others may have thought about the work, to God it is worthless if done in our own strength.

The works that survive the fire of His judgement are the ones that will las. These are the ones that we performed by the power of His Holy Spirit – God dwelling in us. Now here is the good stuff. God, Who empowers us to do good, and in fact is the only reason we can do good, rewards us for the good work He accomplishes through us. Now THAT is gracious!

Grace is a difficult concept for us to understand because it is so unlike the way we human beings operate.

We were placed on this earth for God’s glory, not our own. So when we fulfill that purpose He is pleased. This doesn’t mean that life will be easy for us. It doesn’t mean we will always have an abundance of material possessions. What it does mean is that as God works on me and you – as He purifies us, forgives, sanctifies, and makes us holy through the trials and tribulations of life, our attitude, our very being should glorify Him. We shouldn’t wait to be in a big house with fancy rooms to say God is good. We should not rejoice only when life is comfortable. In fact the best rejoicing we can do is when we have a lack – at least a perceived lack – in material things. When we do that, we give glory to God and put on disply His graciousness to us. For if He wasn’t gracious to us, we would have nothing.

 

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My family and I live in a 1200 square foot rancher style house. There are nine of us stuffed in there. Soon we will have another so there will be ten of us living in 1200 square feet. We eat, sleep, do schoolwork and (sometimes) have friends over. We live in close quarters, that is for sure. There are times I have to do some work at home but I don’t have a dedicated home office. So I work in my bedroom or in the living room. Our house is loud most of the time – that happens with nine people living in a small space. But we have no plans on moving. We have no plans to upsize our home. We would rather downsize our possessions. Why? Because God is good. All the time. And since He is good all the time, we would rather save the extra cost of doubling our house size by buying another home by being more efficient in our current one. If we can do that, then we will have extra money to spend on things that really matter rather than on things that just make us more comfortable.

When we mess us and sin, He is gracious not to cast us aside. He isn’t waiting to slap us down or make us feel downcast. No, He has said in 1 John that when we sin we need to confess it (agree we are sinners) and He is righteous and just and will forgive us and cleanse us. He does this not because of us. No, He does this because of Him. He is gracious to us. He gives us, the undeserving rebels we are, His love, compasson, and kindness.

So if we have a lack – be that lack is in space, stuff, or other more important things – we will always seek to glorify God where we are. Because where we are is a good – no, great – place to be. We are the recipients of God’s radical grace. Grace that stoops down to us and shows us love and compassion. Grace that forgives our sin, heals our bodies, mends our broken hearts. He doesn’t have to do these things, but He simply chooses to do these things.

That is the way He is.

 

True Compassion

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Being loving to the lovable isn’t anything special. Be compassionate on those who are nice is nothing great. But to love the unlovable and be compassionate on the rebellious ones…Wow. Just. Wow.

 

When we remember all that God did to deliver His people from Egypt we should be amazed. God performed miracle upon miracle to get His people out of that place and to glorify His name. One would think that the ones who were delivered would never forget about the wonderful things God did. But they did forget. Boy, did they ever forget!

But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery.  -Nehemiah 9:16-17

Just as the people recalled God’s goodness, they also remembered their ancestor’s rebellion. Look at how they are referred to in this passage. They are called arrogant, stiff-necked and disobedient. They did not listen and did not remember. They chose to go in a different direction than God had for them. They sure were kind of “out there”. Lets look at a few things in this description.

First they became arrogant. Have you ever seen this type of transformation take place? It is a sight to behold. But it is a sad thing to witness too. To see a previous humble servant of Christ get full of himself and believe that everything is all about him is sad indeed. Politicians, singers, bands and writers have suffered through this type of transformation.

Next they became stiff-necked.  Now what does this mean? Well, the best way I can explain it is that they rebelled and rebelled obstinately. So think of someone so set on rebellion that they have no other course of conduct available. That is sad isn’t it?

They disobeyed, didn’t listen and didn’t remember. They were a mess.They chose their path and walked down it. They left God and His precepts. This rebellion led them to their destination. And that destination wasn’t freedom. No, that destination was slavery.

Before we get all full of ourselves and criticize Israel for doing this lets consider how many times we have done the exact same things. Have you ever wandered? Ever refused listen to the Holy Spirit and either doing something or not doing something He is prompting? Me too. Too many times in fact. But we should be encouraged by the person we know as God. Look at the next verse or two:

But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.Therefore you did not desert them,   -Nehemiah 9:17

Grace and compassion

God shows His graciousness towards Israel. Notice how God is described: forgiving, gracious and compassionate. Are you known by those words? When I ask myself that question, I’m not too pleased with the answer. I often can be one of those three once in  awhile but I have a difficult time being all three all of the time. Maybe this is true of you too. But thankfully God is not mankind. He is all these things.

The final sentence here is spellbinding to me: Therefore you did not desert them. Think about the statement being made. God had every right to desert Israel. Hey, for that matter, they had already deserted Him! God would have been fully justified in leaving them behind. But He didn’t.

Similarly we wander from God, We don’t listen or obey. We judge, hurt and become proud. God has every reason to desert us – we have already deserted Him. But, just like God’s actions towards Israel, He doesn’t desert us. What a loving and compassionate God we serve!

And what’s more there seems to be no limit to what God endured with the Israelites.

When there were idols

even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies.    -Nehemiah 9:18

The Israelites, I’m sure you remember, decided to have an idol. When Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, the people below cast themselves an idol and gave the credit for their deliverance from Egypt to this newly-minted golden idol. That had to hurt.

When they wandered

Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them.   -Nehemiah 9:19

Remember the wandering in the desert? That would have been a great place for God to say “I’ve had enough of you. I’m leaving. Figure everything out for yourselves.” But God did not do that. He lovingly and compassionately led them through their sojourn in the desert. He used a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Interestingly, in the Temple, there was smoke or cloud in the most holy place where the glory of God would reside. Finally, He gave His Spirit to guide them.

These folks had it all. Boy, I wished we had this type of guidance today. But you know, we do. We have it even better. We have the Holy Spirit – God Himself – dwelling inside our mortal body. He guides. He instructs. He leads. Think about that. God Almighty lives in us so that He can guide us. Do we listen and follow like we should?

When they complained

You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.    -Nehemiah 9:20

The Israelites complained while wandering in the desert. They complained about the heat. They complained about the food (the Hebrew word Manna means What is it!) It seems they were always upset about something and never thankful for anything. What a bunch of whiners! I bet God really taught them a lesson for all their whining. He did. Just not the lesson that may have popped into your head.

God kept feeding them. God kept giving them water. God sustained them for forty years. An entire generation of people were sustained by God. Their clothes remained in good condition as did their shoes. Their feet never swelled up in spite of all the walking they did. Yeah, God taught them a lesson alright. He taught them  a lesson about love and compassion. How we need that lesson today.

Being loving to the lovable isn’t anything special. Be compassionate on those who are nice is nothing great. But to love the unlovable and be compassionate on the rebellious ones…Wow. Just. Wow.

 

So how are you doing showing compassion and love to everyone around you? Don’t make the mistake thinking loving someone means you never disagree or even rebuke their conduct. Love will be present in those situations. Compassion will be there too. Perhaps God is tugging at your heart as you are reading these words like He is tugging at mine as I write these words. Maybe we need to redouble our efforts to show compassion and others to others in spite of how others are…or how they act.