The subject of grace is vital to our spiritual well-being but is a subject that has been in the past controversial and even feared. We need to be cautious and careful and define it more strictly to better understand this important biblical concept.
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We need to become rooted in the important basics of Christian thought and Christian belief and make it relevant and useful for our everyday Christian living. The apostle Paul states in Ephesians:3:17 that we are to grow to a point where we understand a subject to its maximum in the way that God intended the subject to be understood. Here is what he said.
17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— in other words understanding the full dimension of Jesus Christ.
Do we on the subjects and concepts that make up our belief structure really feel that we are growing to the point where we are expanding our limit to the point where we understand everything there is to know about that subject? Now certainly we understand more this year hopefully than the year before. This year with Passover study I felt I understood more about the depth of Christ. But are we continually growing to where we are understanding more and more every year about all those dimensions?
19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Today I am going to cover a subject that is one that we can grow in, and have a fuller understanding, one that I feel I have had a fuller understanding as the years have gone by.
In Ephesians:1:17 Paul writes: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. This is what Paul is wishing upon the people, that they be given extra perception and an opening of the mind of the knowledge that God has before us. Do we feel and are we in that same position of asking God to open our minds to reveal things to us, and expand our thinking on whatever subject it is.
18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power.
I love the first chapter of Ephesians. It is such a tremendously powerful up and onward chapter about encouraging Christians to get more understanding, to take in all of the wondrous things God has set before us.
The subject I want to talk about today is grace. There has been an interest in grace somewhat this past year publicly because of the movie, Amazing Grace, the story about John Newton, the man who had written the very famous hymn, Amazing Grace. He had been a captain of slave ships and had transported 20,000 slaves. And once during a storm when it seemed like he would sink he prayed for God's salvation and he was spared. And he gave his life to God and repented of what he was doing there and became a person who was well known in that particular area.
The subject of grace is vital to our spiritual well-being but is a subject that has been in the past controversial and even feared. Feared because some may think, and we have thought at times, that because grace has been abused, because grace has led to permissiveness and license, and with the abolition of the law in some people's minds, we need to be cautious and careful and define it more strictly so that we may not be tempted to go in a direction that is not healthy spiritually.
How would you define grace? Actually we had Clay Thornton give a little definition when he talked about gracing the path, beautifying the path with flowers. He said that twice in his sermonette. He was right. That is a definition of beautification. If I start here with Mr. Bob Berendt and move along with everyone to give their definition of grace, I am sure we would have a very interesting kaleidoscopic view of the subject. We would have different focuses put on the subject of what grace means to you. This full definition may be just a matter of nuances from one person to another. For some though, the definition may still be unmerited pardon, and that is maybe all a person can say about it. It is God's goodness to me, an undeserving person. Or grace can mean forgiveness of sins. Are these definitions correct? Absolutely! These definitions could not be more accurate. However, is that all there is to the subject of grace? It is actually a very small part in the entire spectrum of the definition of all that is grace.
The Biblical study of grace is not complex. There are only two words used for grace, one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament. There is one Hebrew word for grace fundamentally, and only one word in the New Testament for grace. It is not theological rocket science when we get into the definition of the Hebrew or the Greek word for grace. The Bible has been written over a several thousand year period, so as the word grace appears, which it does in the very first chapters of the Bible, we have different nuances placed upon how it gets across and what it means. When you go to other languages and see what the word for grace is you have other nuances in the way that language may define it. I will give you one example of that here in just a little bit. But the first time the word grace appears is in Genesis:6:8, that Noah was under or within God's grace.
Genesis:6:8. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
So grace is not a New Testament concept. It is not something that Christ brought and was unknown about in the Old Testament. In fact, you will be surprised how much is said about grace in the Old Testament. But the first appearance of the word grace is Noah found grace in the eyes of God. What does this mean?
The Hebrew word is hen, which means graciousness, kindness, favor. Noah found favor in the eyes of God. Hen also can mean beauty, being pleasant, and being well favored. In this particular case, how can we make grace relevant to us? And what does it mean that Noah found grace in the eyes of God? Noah found himself on God's good side. There are many people that I want to be in good graces with. As far as talking about not God at this time, we will get to Him, but it is really not much different when you talk about being in good graces with other people. The person that I want to be in good graces with the most is my wife. And you know if you find favor in your mate's eyes, things go well. Nothing can be stopped. Everything is just great. Small things are overlooked. Big ideas are brought to the fore, discussed with enthusiasm. You also don't want to be not in grace. You don't want to be in a position to where you are not found in favor. Because then nothing goes right. The slightest irritation becomes a big deal. We want to be in good graces with our mate. We want to be in good graces with our employer. You know what it is like when you go to the job and your boss likes you. You are in good graces with him, you are in favor with him. Everything goes right. The smallest things are overlooked. Five minutes late? Hey, no problem, you're a good worker. If you are not in good graces and you are five minutes late it is irritating. We need to be more disciplined around here! We should start at 8:00! Things don't go well. If you are not in good graces, things do not go well. Friendship by its dynamics is based on being in good graces with someone. The reason you gravitate yourself to certain people is you are favored by them and they are favored by you. And you get along. Small irritants are overlooked. But if you are not in good graces with someone because of just not being in good graces, the slightest things irritate and repel people.
God's grace toward us essentially is the same. Jesus called us his friends, and we are in good favor with him. We are in a relationship that overlooks small things and we are on his good side. You might say that being under grace or being in good graces is being on someone's good side, and we want to be on God's good side. We want to as who we are and what we are, our limitations, and so forth, to be on God's good side. We want to when we wake up in the morning and when we pray and talk to God we say, I want to be on your good side. And we know we are on his good side. Noah was on God's good side. In spite of his human frailties, which he had, and they are recorded in the Bible, he was still favored by God.
In the New Testament there is one word for grace that is the Greek word charis. It is the word that is the root for love, charity, the word for gift, and the word charisma and grace itself. Grace means to be acceptable, to be favored. Also, it means it is a gift. It is a pleasure and it is something that is thankworthy.
Sometimes introducing another language and taking a look at how they define grace from the Hebrew and the Greek is of interest. The word in Russian or Ukrainian for grace is lebodotz. You know, right away when you hear that word to a Russian or a Ukrainian the word immediately says it all. It means the giving of good. Obviously, if it is God's grace it is God's giving of good. It is right there. Sometimes our meaning of a word is lost because the word has been abused, or it has been moved around so many times, such as the word grace where it has had various implications made to what it may or may not mean that it's definition is lost by even saying it. The Russian word lebodotz simply means the giving of good, God's giving goodness. It is quite broad, but it covers all those things we cover in those two definitions. It is interesting that the word lebodotz or grace means the giving of good, and the word lohoslowa, which is the word for blessing, means the saying of good.
The problem with some definitions of grace is that they become too restrictive and narrow and they pit concepts one against another. So people get into arguments and sparring about words. You say this means this. I say it means that. It's a conflict.
An important principle in the study of the Bible is when there is one definition and when perhaps there is another definition and another viewpoint it doesn't mean they are contradictory. It could mean they are supplementary, that both are true. The Bible is a book of addition, not a book of subtraction, and different definitions and different ways of defining grace only add to the fullness of that meaning. There is always tyranny in the or, and they say there is power in the and. People say, "Do you believe in grace, or do you believe in the law?" and people create an argument of this sort.
I heard a sermon. Somebody said, do you want Christ or do you want the law? You have the law here and you have Christ there. People get all confused because the argument is set up so poorly. I would say to you, do you want a car with a transmission or one with an engine? Oh, I don't know. Do I want one with a transmission or one with an engine? You go back and forth and get all confused. You want one with both, and windshield wipers too, and tires. You want the whole thing. Some of the way arguments are set up, they are set up to confuse the simple. We don't have to be that way.
God liberally uses the word grace in the Old Testament through the words of David. And again we have the very first use of it back in Genesis when Noah found grace in the sight of God.
Psalm:84:11. We'll just take a look at a number of the passages here that relate to grace in the Old Testament.
Psalm:84:11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.
God is the one who wants to give favor. He wants to give gifts. He wants to give presents. He wants to help somebody's life. And anybody who is willing to walk uprightly he just wants to shower even more to them. This is a statement from David.
Psalm:45:2. You are fairer than the sons of men; Grace is poured upon your lips; Therefore God has blessed you forever.
Here grace is defined as words that come not only from God but come back from you, graciousness and goodness.
Proverbs:3:32. For the perverse person is an abomination to the LORD, But His secret counsel is with the upright. Surely He scorns the scornful, But gives grace to the humble. This is actually quoted in the New Testament but appears first in the Proverbs. God gives his favor, his goodness, his gifts, to those who are humble.
Proverbs:4:9. Talking about wisdom as personification in that of a woman. She (that is, wisdom and understanding) will place on your head an ornament of grace; A crown of glory she will deliver to you.
We see grace as one of the most wonderful things that God wants to give to us. It is far beyond just forgiveness of sin, which is extremely important. That is a very important gift that comes from God, the focus being that it is a gift. It is not something we paid for or bought or in some way earned. But it is a gift in the true sense of grace. But grace is far more than forgiveness of sins. Grace is far more than unmerited pardon. God's grace is the continual showering upon us of knowledge, of glory, of wisdom, of anything you could imagine that is good from God. As the Russians say, the giving of good. That is God's grace. And when you see a definition in its fullness to that extent, you begin to understand the height, the breadth, the depth of the understanding of Jesus Christ. You see all those things he has given to us.
Zechariah:12:10. "And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace (this is a prophecy of God of what he wants to do...he is going to pour out a spirit of grace) and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced (a specific prophecy of Christ) . Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.
Then in Jeremiah:31:2 The fact that Israel left Egypt, that was an act of grace. Thus says the LORD: "The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness—Israel, when I went to give him rest." So God's yanking Israel out of Egypt and putting them into the Promised Land was putting them into a condition of grace. Favoring them, gifting them, caring for them.
So we see that these are only a few of the examples and uses of the word hen, which is the only word for grace in the Old Testament. We see God's giftedness, God's favor, God's special attention given to those whom he chooses to give to.
In the New Testament we have starting in Luke:2:40 the use of the word grace. And the Child(Jesus) grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
And believe me, when he was just a little kid there was probably nothing more important to God than to do everything he could for this little piece of flesh on the earth, to nurture it, care for it, protect it, in every way bring it to fulfill the mission the two of them had decided. The grace of God, every possible attention and favor was given upon him. So see, in this particular case you can't possibly say this is the forgiveness of sins, or unmerited pardon. Those are only part of the definition of grace. And when we think of ourselves being under grace it is not just that we have thrown in our face all the time, he forgave my sins, he forgave the things I said, he has forgiven me the attitudes I have had, he has forgiven me this. As we grow in grace and knowledge we don't think of it from that standpoint of what God has kind of removed from us, but what God has given to us, the understanding he has given to us. I look upon one of the most gracious things God has given to me is understanding of the kingdom of God. I look upon him granting me eternal life, which of course is based upon the fact that you do have your sins forgiven, but nonetheless eternity, eternal life, the knowledge of the future, as his grace.
And you know something – don't tell too many people – but the law of God is part of God's grace. The law of God is part of his goodness toward us, of giving us that light, that direction of how to live. And the argument – are you under the law or under grace – is a construct made to confuse people and to finesse away the law of God, one of the most beautiful things he could have given, which will be the striking feature of Zion in the world tomorrow. God's law is a part of his grace. It is a gift that comes from God. Understanding that law, something that the world does not understand or has just stumbled upon in some parts of it, but God has given us a code to live by. What a beautiful gift, what a beautiful direction, what a beautiful codex, what beautiful ten points. Everything that God gives us that is good, is his grace.
John:1:17. Here's another passage that you need to apply the hermeneutic of "and" instead of "or". For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Now it could appear to some that the law, and usually the word law is pronounced with a certain sobriety and harshness, was given through Moses, but grace and truth (soft tone) came through Jesus Christ. We could also say that there was a period when the law was given to Israel as a code when it came in its form as the Ten Commandments. There was another period in which Jesus Christ emphasized grace and his goodness and giving his life as a gift to make it possible for us to inherit the kingdom of God. In no way does it diminish the law. In no way does it make the law in any way appear to be something that was bad. We are just talking about two different periods in history, what happened in Moses' time and what happened in the time of Jesus Christ. It is not pitting the two; it is talking about the two as a sum and not as differences.
The work of the New Testament church in Acts:4:33. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. It talks about the work of the early church at the very, very beginning. And believe me, if there is anything you can describe as a big help God gave to the New Testament church it was his grace, giving the Holy Spirit, opening unbelievable doors for the church to get off to a fast start in the New Testament. The church was under a great deal of extra grace from God. The apostles had great power. They gave witness to the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. And great grace was upon them all.
One thing I have been praying for, and I can tell this to my friends many of whom we work in preaching the gospel, I am praying for some of the grace that came upon the New Testament church in its start to be multiplied upon our church today, God's opening doors, God's giving power, God's having things happen out there in the internet, tweaking connections and links, multiplying our strength so his work can be done, because it is done through God's grace, through God's power. And through God's grace opening the hearts and minds of people who listen and upon whom the word falls. That is also God's grace. A person's heart opening up, mind opening up, is the goodness of the gift that comes from God. And we as a church in this 21st Century need to be praying for God's grace to be upon us as a church like it was upon the apostles who were all pumped up proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus whom they had been talking to now for seven weeks, until the time he ascended. Talking about how he had died, was resurrected, and preached to them, and how the Holy Spirit was now coming. They were so excited about all of this wonder. I hope that kind of grace and excitement about the pure message can come upon us and we can pass it on to others.
Romans 5: 17. For if by the one man's offense death reigned from the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. There would have been no need for grace unless man put himself in the position of needing it because of his mistakes. Here it talks about the specific aspect of Jesus Christ's grace upon us because it paid for sins we committed, and we know what would have been done to us if they had not been removed. It is a great gift to have that removal from us.
Another passage in Romans, talking about the fact that a calling and a person who is contacted by God in this world, like you were all contacted individually sometime in your life, some 40-50 years ago, some in the last 10 years. All of that is because of God's grace. That was a big, big gift, a very special windfall that came to you.
Romans:11:5. Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
Being called, being elected at this time to be a part of his family, his church, is a manifestation of God's grace. The calling that we received is the grace of God.
Paul goes on to say: 6 And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. Just by its definition, grace, the goodness of God, is not something you buy. It is a gift. The word charis by its very basic definition means a gift. And when you give a gift to somebody there is absolutely nothing in it that is something they buy. You give the gift, You expect nothing in return. A pure gift is one where you have no expectations of receiving anything in return. That is the way the word is said here. It is something you cannot buy or work for or earn points or give miles to God, or whatever it is. It is something that freely comes from him because you are on his good side, because you have become his friend. He wants to give you everything. His grace is so profound that he even wants to name you in his will. How good can it get when you understand the fullness of God's grace? So we see that the narrow definitions we have are just a start and without them we can't get going anywhere. But the full dimension of God's grace and the full understanding of what Jesus Christ does, when you see what it is we are being made in his image, we are having the characteristics he has, we are to be rulers with him, our understanding being opened, we are being elected out of this world at this time, we are being a part of the work of proclaiming the gospel...all of that is part of God's grace, his graciousness and his goodness.
Romans:7:23, some of the workings of grace. The apostle Paul in his day to day existence, all of you live with yourselves and I live with myself, and we know the battles we go through in our body, mind, and spirit. Paul writes: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. This is Paul writing these words a long time after he had become an apostle, probably 20 years after he had been serving in the position of being an apostle, raising up churches, doing these great things. He talks about personal battles that he had. He says about himself: 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. Paul relied upon the help that came from Jesus Christ. He relied upon his goodness. He relied upon all the strength Christ gave him to fight the weaknesses of the flesh. Everyday when we pray in the model prayer asking God to forgive us our trespasses, and as we ask him to give us strength to not do them again, which we probably will, and not to repeat things we have said or done, which we probably will, it is by God's grace that we have the desire, the will, the determination to go on because we are on his good side. He wants to give us that help, and he will give us that help. We should be praying for that help every day. That is for the grace of God. So whatever it is, the battles we fight, God's grace also is a way in which he leads us toward change.
In Romans:2:4: Or do you despise the riches of His goodness (You might as well say grace. God's goodness, everything good that comes from God is his grace.) Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? The primary way in which God directs us toward his world is not through spanking, and not through tragedy. Oftentimes it takes something to dislodge us from apathy, being out of touch, or to make things clear like in the case of John Newton, this storm that almost sank him. But it is God's goodness that leads us to repentance. I point this out to people when we talk about baptism and their journey in life, and how they go on. Sometimes we feel guilty because God has been so good. I know I am not all that great, but God has been good to me. When is he going to put the hammer to me? When is he going to cause me to run into somebody? When is something bad going to happen? When am I going to lose my job? God doesn't want that. But God's goodness leads us to repentance. When we have a good gift we should say wow, he is encouraging me to do things right. To make changes. Now is a good time. It is quiet time to make these changes in life. The goodness, the grace of God, leads us to repentance.
But the apostle Paul, knowing how people are, knew that people would abuse grace. And frankly it has led to some of the theology and some of the way we have applied it in the last 50-60 years. Because people have abused it and made it license to sin. Or have done away with the rules. Thrown the book out with the law of God. And so we have overreacted to another extreme. Paul foresaw that and said in Romans:6:1 : What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Paul had already said God just wants to shower good things upon us over and over again. And God is always forgiving. If we just say forgive me for my sins God will do it. So people say, hey, wait a minute, that sounds great, in a very perverse way of thinking, that if I just continue sinning it will give God more opportunity to be gracious toward me. That is not what is meant. God's goodness should lead us to repentance and to change. This is one of the few places where there is an exclamation point in the Bible. Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! Paul is very emphatic. He says, please, please don't misunderstand. Please get it right. Please understand what is meant by grace and how God dispenses it. How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? In no way does he touch the word grace, in no way does he touch God's goodness, but he grabs sin and says how in the world could we go back to a way of life that hurts others, hurts ourselves, and destroys our relationship with God? How in the world could we ever want to live therein? That is a great part of the volition God puts in us, that he wants us to be spiritually sane. He wants us to see that is bad, therefore don't do it, this is good, do it. Don't try to work yourself in such a way to justify evil behavior. But because of God's greatness and goodness toward us which he so freely gives, put away the evil and look to the good.
So what is grace? It is forgiveness, unmerited pardon. It is the gift of eternal life. It is the law of God. Reconciliation. It is our inheritance, our package. It is what is going to come to us someday. It is the Kingdom of God. His rulership. It is a family relationship. It is the ability to continue on in this life. When you look to the bulging definition of grace, the giving of good that comes from God, it is wonderful and great and is truly amazing. It truly is amazing all the things that God's grace is to us.
Peter writes, as Paul did too in a number of greetings to people he wrote to, such as 2 Peter:1:2, Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. It is part of the greetings. Grace was such a big concept about God's goodness that really was unknown in the pagan gods. Those gods weren't out there to give anything. You were to give to them. But the God that we have, and in the greeting that Peter makes, he says, "grace, grace be to you which comes from God." And peace. Let it be multiplied because of the knowledge that we have. Hopefully we have this knowledge and we are multiplying the knowledge.
I will conclude with 2 Peter:3:18. Grow in grace. I truly hope we can grow to the fullness of every dimension of Christ...length, breadth, width, and height. Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.