Category: Grace


Sovereign grace combines two of God’s attributes, His sovereignty and His graciousness. Both of these characteristics of God are so vast that many volumes have been written about each. Briefly though, sovereign grace is the melding of the two into a thrilling truth that gives us a glimpse into the mind and heart of our great God. The sovereignty of God means that He has total control of all things past, present and future. Nothing happens that is out of His knowledge and control. All things are either caused by Him or allowed by Him for His own purposes and through His perfect will and timing (Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 8:6). He is the only absolute and omnipotent ruler of the universe and is sovereign in creation, providence and redemption.

The grace of God is His unmerited favor toward those who have not earned it. There are numerous examples of God’s grace in the Bible, both to His people and those who rejected Him. Mary found grace in the eyes of the Lord who bestowed upon her the privilege of bearing the Savior of mankind (Luke 1:28). She may have been a godly young woman, but nothing she could have done would have made her worthy of such a blessing. She was the recipient of God’s grace. The Apostle Paul admitted that he was a servant of God by His grace and it was by that grace that he labored effectively for the cause of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:10). As Christians we, too, benefit from God’s grace. “For by grace are you saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). Our very salvation and position in Christ is due to His grace through the faith that He gives us (Hebrews 12:2). Even those who hate God receive His grace in every breath He allows them to take and through His common grace to all creation: “For He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Even the atheist enjoys the effects of God’s grace through His beautiful creation and His provision of the resources necessary for food, clothing and housing. God doesn’t owe these things to us, but He provides them to exhibit His grace.

The sovereign grace of God is noted most often by theologians in the matter of election. We see it best explained in Ephesians 1:5-6: “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” God sovereignly chose those He would save through His gracious act of sending His Son to die on the cross for their salvation. They were unable to save themselves or—like Mary—to merit God’s favor because of their transgression of His Law. “But the Law entered so that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20). Therefore, Christians are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

God in His sovereign grace has chosen to save those on whom He has set His love (Romans 9:8-13). They are picked out of the stream of helpless men and women cascading into hell. That is a humbling truth and should result in immense gratitude on our part. Why did God bestow His sovereign grace on believers? Not because we deserve salvation but to demonstrate “the riches of His glory” (Romans 9:14-23). Therefore, our only proper response is “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).

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  Second Peter 3:18 tells us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.” To grow in grace is to mature as a Christian. We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9), and we mature and are sanctified by grace alone. We know that grace is a blessing that we don’t deserve. It is God’s grace that justifies us, sanctifies us, and eventually glorifies us in heaven. The sanctification process, becoming more like Christ, is synonymous with growing in grace.

We grow in grace by reading God’s Word and letting it “dwell in us richly” (Colossians 3:16) and by praying. Those actions by themselves don’t mature us, but God uses these spiritual disciplines to help us grow. Therefore, maturing in our Christian life is not about what we do, but about what God does in us, by His grace. Understanding and applying God’s grace in our lives is important. We are not to impair it by being proud, because God says that He resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Grace is that attribute of God that enables us to break free of our sinful nature and follow Him. It gives us strength and protects us. Without God’s grace, His favor, we would be hopelessly lost in this world. The more grace we have and ask God for, the more mature as Christians we will be.

To grow in grace does not mean gaining more grace from God. God’s grace never increases; it is infinite, it cannot be more, and according to the nature of God, it could never be less. He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him should be saved (John 3:16). How much more grace could there possibly be than that? But to grow in grace is to grow in our understanding of what Jesus did and to grow in our appreciation of the grace we have been given. The more we learn about Jesus, the more we will appreciate all He has done, and the more we appreciate His love and sacrifice for us, the more we will perceive the never-ending grace of God.

Peter also confirms that we need to grow in our knowledge of Jesus and to have that intimate relationship with Him because the more we know of Him, the more of Him will be seen in our lives. Paul said in Colossians 3:1–4: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

The Scriptures contain all the knowledge we will ever need to learn of God, His Son, and His Spirit, at least in this life. God`s desire for those He has saved is their sanctification and transformation. He wants us to become more holy like Himself. He wants to transform us into the image of His Son. The way to do this is by meditating on the Scriptures and applying their principles to our lives as we yield to the conviction and power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. Then we will prove 2 Corinthians 3:18: “We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord.”

Grace on Display

1 Timothy 1:12-17

I. Introduction: What are the limits of God’s grace? Are some people so deeply entrenched in wickedness they can’t turn to the Lord? Amazingly, the answer is no. God can transform lives and circumstances no matter what kind of sins someone has committed.

II. Message:

A. Life Before Grace

  1. Before we trusted Jesus as our personal Savior, we were sinful (Eph. 2:1-3).
  2. Saul of Tarsus, better known as the apostle Paul, called himself the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).
  3. He was highly educated, well trained in his career, and zealous about Judaism. But he violently persecuted the church and blasphemed the name of Jesus (Acts 7:58-60; 8:1-3; 9:1-2; 22:3-4; 26:9-11).
  4. Paul is the perfect example of God’s grace. No sin is too great for the Father to forgive (1 Tim. 1:13-14, 16).

B. Life by Grace

  1. Grace is possible only because of Christ’s death on the cross. It’s impossible to do enough good deeds to earn salvation.
  2. God instantly made Saul into a new creation on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-6).
  3. Salvation happens at God’s initiative, not ours. No one can take credit for getting saved (Eph. 2:8-9).
  4. Jesus’ death covered the sins of the entire world—no one is an exception. If you trust Christ as Savior, you cannot have sinned so badly that God won’t save you.

C. Life in Grace

  1. After his salvation, Paul’s actions changed (1 Tim. 1:8-12). Grace isn’t about adding good deeds to your life; it’s about inner transformation (e.g. caterpillar to a butterfly). God makes us new people and transforms our thoughts, actions, and desires.
  2. After his salvation, Paul’s attitude changed. He had humility because of his past, gratitude for God’s grace to him as a sinner, and compassion for those who didn’t yet know the Lord (1 Tim. 1:15; Rom. 9:1-4).
  3. When we experience God’s grace, we want to serve Him on a daily basis (1 Tim. 1:12). This doesn’t have to be in an official church setting or role. Instead, it can happen as we simply reach out to others throughout the day.
  4. We must be willing to suffer persecution in our service to the Lord.
  5. Although we are forgiven in God’s eyes, we still face the natural consequences of our sin.

III. Closing: Before his conversion, Paul would never have imagined that one day his teaching would impact the entire Christian church. No one is so evil that he or she cannot be transformed by the grace of God. His forgiveness is life-changing!

Ephesians 1:3-9

Imagine an elderly couple living in a dilapidated farmhouse. They can barely afford the few groceries and medicines that they need. There isn’t even enough money to keep the heat on all the time.

Then a short while after they both have died, a huge deposit of oil is discovered on the old homestead. All their years of poverty were lived out sitting on top of untapped wealth.

Sadly, many Christians go through life like that elderly couple. Such believers have distilled Christianity down to its most basic elements: God saved me and someday I’ll go to heaven. Though Jesus offers an abundant life now (John 10:10), they aren’t living it. Spiritually poor believers fail to tap into the reservoir of God’s grace. Eternity begins the moment we are saved; there is no reason to wait until heaven to enjoy the Lord’s riches.

God has lavished His grace upon believers. We receive righteousness, freedom from legalism, and an unbreakable union with our Father. In return, He desires that we invest time and energy in our relationship with Him. As we open ourselves to the Father, everything He has to offer pours freely into our lives. Our connection with Him makes it possible for us to live joyful, contented lives overflowing with blessing.

True wealth isn’t measured by your bank account or automobile. As fellow heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17), believers have access to God’s riches, which include unspeakable joy, unconditional love, and peace beyond understanding. Invest in your spiritual life, and enjoy these blessings of grace.

Romans 6:11-13

God’s mercy is everlasting. Sometimes, though, a Christian becomes convinced that His forgiveness has limits. This usually happens when the person has repeatedly confessed a sin but finds himself returning to the habit anyway. Satan whispers that the Lord must surely be weary of this constant sin/admission cycle. As always, the Enemy lies. The truth is that a believer cannot sin his way out of God’s grace, no matter how many times he confesses the same wrongdoing.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paid our past, present, and future sin-debt. This means that no matter how great our offense or how often we sin, God’s grace covers every transgression. He forgives as often as necessary.

Anytime I post on this topic, a few people will ask if I am promoting grace as a license to sin. The Lord’s mercy is not a “get out of jail free” card. His forgiveness is infinite, but that does not mean we can get away with sin. As a loving Father, God disciplines His children. He shows us where we have gone wrong and how we can correct our actions to return to the path of righteousness.

God desires that each of His children grow in righteousness and reflect the nature of His Son Jesus Christ. He understands that maturing our faith is a lifelong process. Sometimes we will make mistakes and fall into sinful patterns from which we must be restored. Our Father is pleased to draw us back into a right relationship because His grace in infinite. No sin will ever be greater—or more frequent—than His capacity to forgive.

Galatians 6:2 states, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (emphasis added). What exactly is the law of Christ, and how is it fulfilled by carrying each other’s burdens? While the law of Christ is also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9:21, the Bible nowhere specifically defines what precisely is the law of Christ. However, most Bible teachers understand the law of Christ to be what Christ stated were the greatest commandments in Mark 12:28-31, “… ’Which commandment is the more important of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’”

The law of Christ, then, is to love God with all of our being, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In Mark 12:32-33, the scribe who asked Jesus the question responds with “…to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” In this, Jesus and the scribe agreed that those two commands are the core of the entire Old Testament Law. All of the Old Testament Law can be placed in the categories of “loving God” or “loving your neighbor.”

Various New Testament scriptures state that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Law, bringing it to completion and conclusion (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23-25; Ephesians 2:15). In place of the Old Testament Law, Christians are to obey the law of Christ. Rather than trying to remember the over 600 individual commandments in the Old Testament Law, Christians are simply to focus on loving God and loving others. If Christians would truly and wholeheartedly obey those two commands, we would be fulfilling everything that God requires of us.

Christ freed us from the bondage of the hundreds of commands in the Old Testament Law and instead calls on us to love. 1 John 4:7-8 declares, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 5:3 continues, “This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome.”

Some use the fact that we are not under the Old Testament Law as an excuse to sin. The Apostle Paul addresses this very issue in Romans chapter 5. “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:15). For the follower of Christ, the avoidance of sin is to be accomplished out of love for God and love for others. Love is to be our motivation. When we recognize the value of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, our response is to be love, gratitude, and obedience. When we understand the sacrifice Jesus made for us and others, our response is to be to follow His example in expressing love to others. Our motivation for overcoming sin should be love, not a desire to legalistically obey a series of commandments. We are to obey the law of Christ because we love Him, not so that we can check off a list of commands that we successfully obeyed.

The key to understanding this issue is knowing that the Old Testament law was given to the nation of Israel, not to Christians. Some of the laws were to reveal to the Israelites how to obey and please God (the Ten Commandments, for example). Some of the laws were to show the Israelites how to worship God and atone for sin (the sacrificial system). Some of the laws were intended to make the Israelites distinct from other nations (the food and clothing rules). None of the Old Testament law is binding on us today. When Jesus died on the cross, He put an end to the Old Testament law (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23-25; Ephesians 2:15).

In place of the Old Testament law, we are under the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2), which is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). If we obey those two commands, we will be fulfilling all that Christ requires of us: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40). Now, this does not mean the Old Testament law is irrelevant today. Many of the commands in the Old Testament law fall into the categories of “loving God” and “loving your neighbor.” The Old Testament law can be a good guidepost for knowing how to love God and knowing what goes into loving your neighbor. At the same time, to say that the Old Testament law applies to Christians today is incorrect. The Old Testament law is a unit (James 2:10). Either all of it applies, or none of it applies. If Christ fulfilled some of it, such as the sacrificial system, He fulfilled all of it.

“This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). The Ten Commandments were essentially a summary of the entire Old Testament law. Nine of the Ten Commandments are clearly repeated in the New Testament (all except the command to observe the Sabbath day). Obviously, if we are loving God, we will not be worshipping false gods or bowing down before idols. If we are loving our neighbors, we will not be murdering them, lying to them, committing adultery against them, or coveting what belongs to them. The purpose of the Old Testament law is to convict people of our inability to keep the law and point us to our need for Jesus Christ as Savior (Romans 7:7-9; Galatians 3:24). The Old Testament law was never intended by God to be the universal law for all people for all of time. We are to love God and love our neighbors. If we obey those two commands faithfully, we will be upholding all that God requires of us.

One side says, “Salvation is by grace and grace alone.” The other side counters, “That idea leads to lawlessness. God’s righteous standard in the Law must be upheld.” And someone else chimes in with, “Salvation is by grace, but grace only comes to those who obey God’s Law.” At the root of the debate are differing views on the basis of salvation. The importance of the issue helps fuel the intensity of the discussion.

When the Bible speaks of “the law,” it refers to the detailed standard God gave to Moses, beginning in Exodus 20 with the Ten Commandments. God’s Law explained His requirements for a holy people and included three categories: civil, ceremonial, and moral laws. The Law was given to separate God’s people from the evil nations around them and to define sin (Ezra 10:11; Romans 5:13; 7:7). The Law also clearly demonstrated that no human being could purify himself enough to please God—i.e., the Law revealed our need for a Savior.

By New Testament times, the religious leaders had hijacked the Law and added to it their own rules and traditions (Mark 7:7–9). While the Law itself was good, it was weak in that it lacked the power to change a sinful heart (Romans 8:3). Keeping the Law, as interpreted by the Pharisees, had become an oppressive and overwhelming burden (Luke 11:46).

It was into this legalistic climate that Jesus came, and conflict with the hypocritical arbiters of the Law was inevitable. But Jesus, the Lawgiver, said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). The Law was not evil. It served as a mirror to reveal the condition of a person’s heart (Romans 7:7). John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Jesus embodied the perfect balance between grace and the Law (John 1:14).

God has always been full of grace (Psalm 116:5; Joel 2:13), and people have always been saved by faith in God (Genesis 15:6). God did not change between the Old and New Testaments (Numbers 23:19; Psalm 55:19). The same God who gave the Law also gave Jesus (John 3:16). His grace was demonstrated through the Law by providing the sacrificial system to cover sin. Jesus was born “under the law” (Galatians 4:4) and became the final sacrifice to bring the Law to fulfillment and establish the New Covenant (Luke 22:20). Now, everyone who comes to God through Christ is declared righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 9:15).

The conflict between Jesus and the self-righteous arose immediately. Many who had lived for so long under the Pharisees’ oppressive system eagerly embraced the mercy of Christ and the freedom He offered (Mark 2:15). Some, however, saw this new demonstration of grace as dangerous: what would keep a person from casting off all moral restraint? Paul dealt with this issue in Romans 6: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (verses 1—2). Paul clarified what Jesus had taught: the Law shows us what God wants (holiness), and grace gives us the desire and power to be holy. Rather than trust in the Law to save us, we trust in Christ. We are freed from the Law’s bondage by His once-for-all sacrifice (Romans 7:6; 1 Peter 3:18).

There is no conflict between grace and the Law, properly understood. Christ fulfilled the Law on our behalf and offers the power of the Holy Spirit, who motivates a regenerated heart to live in obedience to Him (Matthew 3:8; Acts 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Timothy 1:14). James 2:26 says, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” A grace that has the power to save also has the power to motivate a sinful heart toward godliness. Where there is no impulse to be godly, there is no saving faith.

We are saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9). The keeping of the Law cannot save anyone (Romans 3:20; Titus 3:5). In fact, those who claim righteousness on the basis of their keeping of the Law only think they’re keeping the Law; this was one of Jesus’ main points in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:20–48; see also Luke 18:18–23).

The purpose of the Law was, basically, to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Once we are saved, God desires to glorify Himself through our good works (Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 2:10). Therefore, good works follow salvation; they do not precede it.

Conflict between “grace” and the “Law” can arise when someone 1) misunderstands the purpose of the Law; 2) redefines grace as something other than “God’s benevolence on the undeserving” (see Romans 11:6); 3) tries to earn his own salvation or “supplement” Christ’s sacrifice; 4) follows the error of the Pharisees in tacking manmade rituals and traditions onto his doctrine; or 5) fails to focus on the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

When the Holy Spirit guides our search of Scripture, we can “study to show ourselves approved unto God” (2 Timothy 2:15) and discover the beauty of a grace that produces good works.

What is the mercy seat?

The writer to the Hebrews talks about the arrangement of the tabernacle of the Old Testament. The tabernacle was the portable sanctuary used by the Israelites from the time of their wandering in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt to the building of the temple in Jerusalem (see Exodus 25–27). Within the tabernacle was the ark of the covenant which included the mercy seat (Hebrews 9:3-5 NKJV).

The ark of the covenant, the chest containing the two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, was the most sacred object of the tabernacle and later in the temple in Jerusalem, where it was placed in an inner area called the Holy of Holies. Also within the ark were the golden pot of manna, such as was provided by God in the wilderness wanderings (Exodus 16:4) and Aaron’s almond rod (Numbers 17:1-13). On top of the ark was a lid called the mercy seat on which rested the cloud or visible symbol of the divine presence. Here God was supposed to be seated, and from this place He was supposed to dispense mercy to man when the blood of the atonement was sprinkled there.

In a manner of speaking, the mercy seat concealed the people of God from the ever-condemning judgment of the Law. Each year on the Day of Atonement, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the blood of animals sacrificed for the atonement of the sins of God’s people. This blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat. The point conveyed by this imagery is that it is only through the offering of blood that the condemnation of the Law could be taken away and violations of God’s laws covered.

The Greek word for “mercy seat” in Hebrews 9:5 is hilasterion, which means “that which makes expiation” or “propitiation.” It carries the idea of the removal of sin. In Ezekiel 43:14, the brazen altar of sacrifice is also called hilasterion (the propitiatory or mercy seat) because of its association with the shedding of blood for sin.

What is the significance of this? In the New Testament, Christ Himself is designated as our “propitiation.” Paul explains this in his letter to the Romans: “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Romans 3:24-25 NKJV). What Paul is teaching here is that Jesus is the covering for sin, as shown by these Old Testament prophetic images. By means of His death, and our response to Christ through our faith in Him, all our sins are covered. Also, whenever believers sin, we may turn to Christ who continues to be the propitiation or covering for our sins (1 John 2:1, 4:10). This ties together the Old and New Testament concepts regarding the covering of sin as exemplified by the mercy-seat of God.

God being merciful basically means that, when we deserve punishment, He doesn’t punish us, and in fact blesses us instead. Mercy is the withholding of a just condemnation. Throughout the Bible, God gives many illustrations of His mercy. God fully demonstrates His mercy in Jesus Christ.

God was merciful to the wayward Solomon in 1 Kings 11:13. God was merciful to Israel in captivity (Psalm 106:45; Nehemiah 9:31). David illustrated God’s mercy when he showed kindness to Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9:7). God’s mercy was illustrated every year on the Day of Atonement, when the high priest entered the Holiest Place and sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice before the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:14).

Another illustration of God’s mercy is found in Matthew 18:23–27. In this parable, Jesus describes a rich ruler who was owed a large sum of money. The ruler ordered that money be collected, but then the debtor came and begged for mercy. The ruler, in turn, graciously forgives the debt. Here’s the point: we owed God a debt we could never repay, and He has freely forgiven us that debt in Christ! Interestingly, after the ruler in the parable forgives the debt, the person who owed the money refuses to forgive someone else. The ruler then judges that ungrateful person. God requires us to be merciful and forgiving to others here on earth (see Matthew 6:15). We who have been forgiven so much have no right to withhold forgiveness from others.

Mercy is coupled with other attributes of God in Psalm 86:15, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (ESV). God’s mercy is rooted in His love for us. He is merciful, in large part, because He is love (1 John 4:8). As sinners, we deserve punishment (Romans 3:23). God’s righteousness requires punishment for sin—He wouldn’t be holy otherwise. Since God does love us and is merciful, He sent His Son (John 3:16). The fullness of His mercy is seen in Matthew 27. Jesus is brutally beaten and murdered on our behalf; Jesus received our just condemnation, and we received God’s mercy.

Because of His love for us, God wants us to be with Him. His mercy is required for that to take place; there is an inseparable connection between God’s love and mercy. Jesus laid down His life and became the sacrificial lamb (Isaiah 53:7; John 1:29) so that God’s mercy could be extended to us. Instead of punishing us for our sin, God allowed His Son to take the condemnation in our place. That is the ultimate act of God’s mercy (see Ephesians 2:4–5). To our eternal benefit, “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13b).