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.

Grace – The First Amigo

An Undefinable Word

Grace is a subject that is broad and deep. I could take years examining the word of God and not adequately plumb the depths of grace. If I had an unlimited vocabulary and perfect writing skills, I would not be able to adequately communicate the beauty of His grace. There just are no words for it. So I will do the best I can to share what I have learned. But to describe it accurately is to try to accurately describe a beautiful sunset painted on the canvass of the sky. To adequately communicate its affect on the human souls is more difficult than to describe in detail the joy of watching one’s child be born…or their first intentional smile!

A Theological Description

God’s grace is that perfection or attribute of God that enables Him to have mercy on us. It is that part that strives with a rebellious person like me…and you. Like every other perfection (or attribute) grace just isn’t an adjective, it isn’t even just part of God. Grace IS who God is. Just like He is love, righteous, holy, just, etc. God is grace and He sheds His grace on us. Now how He sheds grace on humanity can be different but make no mistake that all of humanity experiences God’s grace one way or another.

 

Important Distinctions

Common Grace

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.                   – Matthew 5:44-45 NASB

Common grace is shed on all mankind, not just the elect. We see it in not only the rain cited in Matthew 5, but also in the healing of diseases, feeding the hungry, withholding judgement of those who scoff at God, murder others, and commit all sorts of unrighteousness. We even saw it at the beginning of man’s rebellion when God was gracious to Adam and Eve by making them clothes and graciously allowing them to live rather than execute judgement on them immediately. God’s common grace is that grace that everyone enjoys whether they recognize it as being from God or not.

 

Saving Grace

But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.  – Acts 15:11 NASB

 

The saving grace of God is on full display during the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. In Acts 15 the Council has been convened to discuss the issue of gentiles getting saved. A question arose that centered around the issue of whether the gentiles needed to become Jewish and hold to the Law before they could be saved. It was an honest argument that later turned into a legalistic requirement by some. Anyway, the result of that discussion is the verse quoted above: ALL mankind are saved by the grace of God.

 

In Ephesians 2 Paul states

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.                                            – Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB

 

Some Questions for Thought

God’s grace is what saves us. So what does this have to do with justification and sanctification? And what about security? Can we once saved ever be not saved? Does God’s grace keep us as well?

All these questions are good ones that need straightforward answer. They all will be addressed in the next few weeks as we continue to consider the three amigos of grace, justification and sanctification. It may get a little tangled, but there are very important things to understand about these three amigos and how they apply to life. We’ll also be able to understand how each is distinct from the other but how each works with and enhances the other. I hope you stick around for the ending. It is really awesome.

And I do mean AWE-some

 

 

I’m Baaaaaack

I’m baaaaack! I’m not sure how many missed me in the weeks since my last article, but I’m back at my keyboard refreshed, full of ideas (not sure how many will make to this page), and full of thankfulness. So where was I?

In a very real way I experienced in real time God’s radical grace. No I did not get saved again (once is all one needs). No, I experienced God’s radical grace through the birth of our daughter, Rebeka Alain. She was born on May 20, 2016 after 22 hours of labor. Yes,  I wrote 22 hours of labor. Twenty-two. Wow! That was some kind of labor! Watching my most recent child arrive safely was once again an awe-inspiring experience. She was tiny at birth and still is kind of tiny. But she is a rather large reminder of how God is gracious to us every single day.

I realized how gracious God is to us every day when I was holding little Rebeka. He graciously delivered to us an little baby to our family. She is healthy though small. She is a little beauty. And a reminder of God’s graciousness to us. I shouldn’t need a reminded of God’s graciousness toward us, but I do. But isn’t that the way we all are?

Each day we wake up to magnificent sunrises or rain feeding the ground so our crops may grow. Bit still we look for God’s favor. God paints our sunsets with brilliant hues of blue, yellow, and red. He paint the sky more beautifully than any of the so-called master artists of history. And still, we look for God’s favor.

We seek to invent ways of God granting grace to us and our children but ignore the signs of grace all around us. We do this to our shame. We have become so ignorant because we have treasured knowledge rather than wisdom. We lose sight of the beauty of God’s creation in the science of botany. We analyze, theorize, and master the nuances of why the sky is painted with brilliant colors and lost the simplicity of appreciating the One who painted the evening sky.

We have eyes but we don’t see. We have ears, but we don’t hear. We read, study, memorize, and regurgitate things but we lack wisdom. All these things happen because we choose to do them. We make choices each day that blind us to the simple – yet radical – grace of God.

I have decided to try as much as I can to slow down and actively recognize the many ways God displays His grace to me. Today (Sunday) He shared His grace with me through the humility of my Pastor. I’m not sure how He will display it tomorrow but I do know I will be seeking to recognize it.

________________

When you recognize God’s grace – His radical, loving, undeserved grace – in your life, it changes you. Please share your grace experiences with me in the comments or through email. There are many out there…if we only choose to recognize them.

Go!

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God calls us to exercise faith in Christ’s sacrifice of the cross.

 

Do you like leaving home in the middle of a moonless, starless night? I don’t. But I did exactly that when I was in Boot Camp aboard MCRD Parris Island, SC. I was in Individual Combat Training at an old airfield aboard Parris Island. This was to simulate a night movement when in combat. It was also meant to develop trust between us as recruits and in our leaders, the Drill Instructors.

We were roused from our sleep by one of our Drill Instructors. We had to break camp, pack our backpacks and form up along a road all in the pitch black darkness of night. It was so dark I could not see more than six inches in front of me. It was dark! I was able to tell where we needed to go by holding onto a strap on the pack of the recruit in front of me. It was this way for everyone. We had no idea where we were going but we had to go and we had to believe the one leading us knew exactly where he was going.

We went through the woods, up hills, down hills, around bends, and finally arrived at a resting place. But it wasn’t just some old resting place, it was Elliot’s Beach. What’s there? Gas Chambers. We had to enter a gas chamber, experience being blinded by that gas, and then trust the instructors to get us out of the gas to safety. That was a lot of fun. We then continued to march to our final destination. Throughout this ordeal, we would march at a near run (it was called a force march) clutching tightly to the strap on the recruit on front of us. We simply had to go where we were led. We had faith that the leaders would lead us where we needed to be. In essence, we were led by the grace of the leaders where we needed to go.

We had to exercise faith to get where we needed to go. We had to make a choice. God’s Radial Grace is a lot like this experience.

God’s grace leads us where we need to be. You can bet that if God has shown you His Radical Grace and bestowed it on you, He will take you where you need to be. Do you need an example? Would that help? Lets turn to Genesis 12 for what I believe is a wonderful example of just how God’s Radical Grace is guaranteed to take us where we need to be.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” – Geneis 12:1-3 NASB

In this passage we see the beginning of God’s plan to bring salvation by grace through faith into the world. While this passage pertains specifically to Abram, there is application to us today. Let’s unpack this and see what God wants us to learn about His Radical Grace this week.

 

It begins with a command

Verse one begins with a simple command that must have been difficult to hear: You go! God told Abram to leave the only place he knew as home, leave his family, his surroundings – Abram was told to leave.Basically God told Abram to leave all that he knew. Leave it all behind. That is no easy task. But surely God had something good in mind and would share that with Abram. Well, not really. Continuing with the passage, God chooses not to tell Abram where he is going at the moment. There is only a promise that God would lead Him to that place and reveal it to him at some later date. My journey in darkness in boot camp was a  lot like this. “Just follow me” God tells Abram. But this wasn’t all that was happening.

God made some specific promises to Abram if he did indeed leave and go where God was graciously calling him. God promised to make Abram into a great nation, God would bless Abram, God would make Abram’s name great, and Abram would be a blessing. Now those are some really good promises. Surely Abram had to do something to earn those things. Well sort of. But it isn’t what you are probably thinking.

 

The syntax here in Genesis 12 is interesting. There is what is termed an indirect volitive chain. I don’t want to bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that this chain is a way of guaranteeing the outcome for an obedient heart. These syntactical devices begin with an imperative, followed by a series of other verbs.  This combination demonstrates that whenever the action that was commanded is performed, then the promises made in the following verses of the chain are guaranteed to pass.

So what was God doing? And what does this have to do with God’s Radical Grace?

God was implementing His plan to bring salvation into the world. Remember that salvation is by grace through faith. In a very real way, God’s Radical Grace gets its first publicity here. God is proclaiming His intention to save by grace by extending a gracious call to Abram. 

Look at what is promised to Abram. a great nation, a great blessing given, fame, and Abram would be a blessing. But how is all this somehow gracious of God?

Abram was descendant of Noah’s son Shem. He was polytheistic so he obviously didn’t share the same faith as Noah. He was just another one of many who believed there were many gods who controlled everything. But God chose to intervene in this one polytheists life and change the course of history forever. God graciously interrupted Abram’s road to nowhere, placed him on the road to heaven, and in the passing of time brought salvation to the world. Through the journey that Abram took once he left his homeland until he died, God graciously provide for his needs. Does this sound familiar?

God calls us to exercise faith in Christ’s sacrifice of the cross.

God further states that if we exercise faith, our destination is secure and waiting for us – eternity with Him in heaven. All we need to do is obey that call. There is no promise that the road we will walk is going to be easy. There is no promise that we will not experience sadness or challenges. God promises that our destination – heaven – is sure. God promises to show us that place one day. Until that day we need to hang on to God as He graciously leads us to Him.

God chose to bring us to Him. God chose to bring salvation to the world even though the world rejects Him. God chose to love us in spite of our being unlovable. Just like Abram, we were on the road to nowhere good and God intervened and interrupted our lives to offer us a way out. A way to spend eternity with Him as His friend.

God did all this, just like He did with Abram, by His grace.

God’s grace. It is radical!

 

 

 

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.

Grace is

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God is gracious towards me and you.

In my last article I stressed that grace is who God is. God is grace. Of course that is just one of His coequal attributes, but it is the one we are focusing on at the moment. So does it end there? Simply say “God is grace” and that is all we need to know about Him and His radical grace? Not by a mile.

Who we are informs what we do. This is true of you and me. Our being – the true person we are – is always shown through our actions. If we are a kind person, our actions will show that. If we are cruel, then we will show we are cruel. We can cover ourselves for a while, but the true person always – ALWAYS – shows through the mask we try to wear. The same is true for God. Well, except He doesn’t try to hide who He is. But who He is always shows through to us, if we are willing to open our eyes and behold it.

 

Grace is, at its core, unmerited favor. It is something that is not earned or deserved.

It is something that actually cannot be earned and is not deserved. But it is given nonetheless. So imagine if you and I were grace. We not only possessed grace, but were actually grace. We would find someone to shed that grace on, wouldn’t we. The same is true for God. He doesn’t need to look far in order to find those who are in need of grace does he?

The world He created is full of rebellious, sinful people who continually look for their own good. This present generation is a sight to behold. We sin and like it. We rebel and want more of it. We are a stiff-necked people. Proud of our insubordination. Proud of our sin. Proud of our godless culture. We exclaim “We are wise!” and thus demonstrate or foolishness. We are a needy people who believe we have abundance. We are a sorry lot indeed.

We deserve to be punished. We deserve to be forgotten, wiped off the face of the earth. Yes we do. But you know what? We aren’t the first group of malcontents that God has endured. We aren’t the first groups of self-absorbed, self-righteous people He has wrestled. No, we aren’t the first. And we won’t be the last.

 

Grace Informs

God, being a God who is grace, acts according to His being. He will never contradict who He is. Back in Exodus, we see an event where  God acts upon His nature – acts according to His being. Let’s take a look at what is done and what we can glean from it.

Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship. He said, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even though the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your ownpossession.” Exodus 34:8-9 NASB

 

Moses, knowing who God is, is now asking God to act according to His being, not according to who the Israelites were. The first thing I notice is that Moses was quick to bow down in worship.The Hebrew word translated bow is qadad. It means to shrivel, bends one’s neck, stoop down in deference. Think of Moses on his knees, then bending even more so his face touches the ground. This is how he is before God. It is a position of humility.

While in this humble position of submission, he asks God basically a couple of things, with one predicated on the other. He first asks if [he] has found favor in God’s sight. That word for favor – chen – can mean grace.  Wow, Moses was looking for grace. The way Moses asks this is tantamount to asking that God grant grace to him. But this isn’t for Moses. And yet again we see the heart that made Moses such a great leader. His concern was for the people of Israel.

He then asks God to 1) go along with Israel; 2) forgive their sin; and 3) take them as His possession. In other words, Moses is asking God to act graciously towards the nation. I don’t think Moses was questioning whether God is the God of grace. No, I think Mose was counting on that.

Among the request for gracious action is the reason that graciousness is required: we are obstinate and sinful. Now there is some honesty! How we could use some of that today.

So what happened? Well, God acted according to who He is, not what Israel deserved.

He was – and is – gracious towards them.

I need to stress that none of God’s attributes operate in isolation from His other attributes. Also, non of His attributes is more important or more powerful than the others. This may sound strange and difficult to grasp, but it is true.

So God’s holiness does not operate independently of His love, righteousness, or grace. So too, His righteousness – which demands a payment for sin – does not operate independently of His love. Grace is sort of the bridge between these two. It kind of connects His love with His holiness. This is a very imperfect analogy but it is the best I can do. Somehow, these seemingly contradictory attributes work in perfect harmony. His grace allows Him to not to exact a payment from those who have wronged Him and sinned against Him.

He has expressed His grace is a number of ways. Think about the salvation you enjoy. It is by grace.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB

The fact that God came to us in the form of a man is an act of grace.

 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9 NASB

It was His grace that took Him to the cross for sins committed by us. It was His grace that hung Him on that tree – that old rugged cross – for your sins and mine.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace. Ephesians 1:9 NASB

There are many other ways God demonstrates His grace to us. Some of them are obvious. Others aren’t so obvious. But they all are demonstrations of who He is.  Take time this next week to look for His grace in your life. Take time to write those grace moments down. Reflect on them. I dare you to look for His grace in your life. If you do, you’ll find much more than you think is there.

God is gracious towards me and you.

God’s Radical Grace

 

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Have you ever thought about the nature of God’s grace? We don’t often do that but we should. We should contemplate what He has done for us. We should think about the effect it has on us. We should recognize the fruit it bears through us. But we don’t.

Grace has been described as amazing, wonderful, and matchless. But have you ever really thought about God’s grace? Most, sadly, have not. Many in the Church have figured out what grace is and is not. Usually this is done through consulting a lexicon. Grace is defined as unmerited favor. Well there ya go! Grace is simple and direct. Unmerited favor. Let’s move on to something more interesting.

Grace isn’t one of the sexy doctrines. If grace was a piece of art, it would be perceived as a simply line drawing. Simply black ink on a white sheet of paper. Nothing more, nothing less. We see this in the teaching of the church. We tend to teach about the exciting things – missions, tongues, etc. but rarely do we go deep on God’s grace. Why is grace found to be so boring?

One reason is we may think we have it all figured out. We define it, grasp it, and then move on. But in our hurry to declare ourselves wise regarding grace, we show ourselves fools for having missed out on one of the deepest, most beautiful doctrines and actions of God. When we define it simply without attending to the meaning of it, we see God’s grace as a simply a vehicle to get us from sin to righteousness. It is a black-and-white drawing of a map. That is all. Next, much more exciting doctrine is next.

Grace is not a punchline and it isn’t simple. Grace is not a shallow doctrine to be understood with simple phrases and trite sayings. Grace is not a simple drawing. No, God’s grace is a masterpiece. It is an oil painting, full of contrasts that seem incongruous until the Master’s intent is revealed in the totality of the painting.

Grace is full of wonder and awe. Grace touches every part of our being. It rules and reigns supreme in a life that has been touched by it. A person who has been touched – truly touched – by God’s grace is never again the same. A grace-touched person is like his  Master. The grace touched person is a one who simply is a certain way, defying the simple definitions

Grace affects every facet of life. It changes us and remakes us. Learning about God’s grace – more importantly living God’s grace – is a revolutionary thing. Being touched with God’s grace makes me and you different.

Grace is often misunderstood and misapplied. Confused with a license to sin, grace gets a bad rap. Grace is also abused when it is used to excuse bad behavior and fail to hold everyone accountable to God’s standards.

Grace is ignored by others, opting for rules and regulations where God’s grace has provided freedom. Yes, God’s grace is not simple…but is is simply beautiful!

Grace is vibrant. Grace is alive. Grace is the way we live and have been enabled to live. Grace is beautiful, freeing and restraining as well.

Grace is amazing, wonderful, and matchless. And God’s grace is…

 

Radical.

God’s radical grace saved a sinner such as I. God’s radical grace is something worth understanding. Understanding grace is worth the effort and the struggle.

To understand God’s radical grace – a tall order to be sure – is to get a peek into the very nature of God. Experiencing God’s radical grace is the starting point for each Christian. It is also a main ingredient in the portrait God is painting of each Christian’s life.

Are you willing to give trying to comprehend God’s radical grace? Are you willing to join me on a journey to understand and appreciate God’s radical grace? I hope so. But be warned. To begin this journey is to begin a journey on being radicalized. For no one who experiences and understand God’s radical grace ever returns the same person.

No one.