I was thinking about the grace of God again last night – always a good thing to be thinking about. I am painfully aware of how undeserving I am for anything good that comes my way – even that fact that I am living to a ripe old age. That God chooses to bestow grace upon me at all is just incredibly amazing.
Of course when I was a non-believer, shaking my fist at God, it was remarkable indeed that he was gracious toward me. Yet perhaps even more incredibly, he shows me grace as a believer when I am still so often a selfish, self-centred and self-controlled person.
If anyone thinks I am some great Christian they have to think again. While there has been much progress made since my conversion of long ago, there is still so very much growth and change needed. The simple truth is, if I were God, I would have given up on me long ago. I am far too impatient and uncharitable to put up with a guy like me!
Yet God has shown me grace all these years. That is not to say he has always been pleased with me, or that I have not grieved his Spirit often, but his mercy and grace have nonetheless continued. Daily I fail to be what I should be as a Christ follower, and often I live as if I were just a pagan.
Sure, this bothers me, and I say this to my great shame. But I repent, I cry out for more of God. And in his grace he shows me great forbearance, mercy and longsuffering kindness. I deserve none of this of course, but that is exactly why it is grace. The Bible speaks so much about this wonderful topic.
Simply listing and commenting on some of the great passages could fill hundreds of articles. It might be best just to let these passages speak for themselves. We need to read them, reread them, meditate upon them, and praise God for them:
John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Acts 20:24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
Acts 20:32 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.
Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Romans 5:15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
2 Corinthians 13:14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
2 Corinthians 8:9 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.
Ephesians 1:4-7 He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship 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. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.
Ephesians 2:4-9 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
2 Timothy 1:9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.
Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
1 Peter 5:10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
These are utterly wonderful and terrific verses which speak about a wonderful and terrific reality. We can never get enough of God’s grace. We can never talk about it too much. We can never delight in it too much. But as wonderful and mind-boggling as His grace is, we must also keep in mind other vital biblical truths.
If we emphasise the grace of God, but neglect or minimise other truths about who God is, then we can easily go into error. And that sadly is what we find too often. Many of the popular teachers of grace today are in fact teaching an unbalanced, unhelpful and unbiblical hyper-grace.
By ignoring or downplaying other truths, like the holiness of God, the importance of obedience in the Christian life, and the ongoing need for sanctification, repentance and godliness, these teachers are giving believers partial truth only.
But as we know, every cult and heresy out there has developed because they emphasised partial truth, but not all the truth. They did not proclaim the whole counsel of God. We dare not presume upon the grace of God. We dare not take his mercy, patience and grace for granted. The biblical warnings about this are ample, and they are sobering. Let me offer just a few passages about how we can damage, distort and pervert the matchless grace of God:
Romans 6:1-2 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?
Galatians 1:6-7 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all.
Titus 2:11-12 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age
Hebrews 12:15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.
Jude 1:4 For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.
Cheap grace is no grace at all. His grace is a transforming grace, and if our lives show no fruit of a new birth, with a growing desire to please Him and turn away from all known sin, then we have good reason to ask if we are really in fact saved.
Indeed, some of the verses I mentioned above about the wonderful grace of God also contain the idea that his grace is meant to result in our growth in holiness. He “called us to a holy life” (2 Tim. 1:9), and he called us “to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Eph. 1:4), and so on. Grace and holy, obedient living always go together.
If you exalt in the grace of God, but do not also exalt in the holiness of God, then you do not really know about God’s grace. Yes his grace is marvellous and matchless, and the more I live as a believer, the more I see my need for his wonderful grace every day of my life. And yes I continue to blow it and fail my Lord. That is why I need his grace so desperately.
But we dare not be presumptuous about his grace. We dare not presume that his grace is without any condition or response on our part. I have often quoted R. C. Sproul on this. In various places and in various formulations he has made some very important remarks about all this. Let me here conclude with two ways in which he has expressed this biblical truth.
We hear all the time about God’s infinite grace and mercy. I cringe when I hear it. God’s mercy is infinite insofar as it is mercy bestowed upon us by a Being who is infinite, but when the term infinite is used to describe his mercy rather than his person, I have problems with it because the Bible makes very clear that there is a limit to God’s mercy. There is a limit to his grace, and he is determined not to pour out his mercy on impenitent people forever. There is a time, as the Old Testament repeatedly reports, particularly in the book of the prophet Jeremiah, that God stops being gracious with people, and he gives them over to their sin.
God’s grace is not infinite. God is infinite, and God is gracious. We experience the grace of an infinite God, but grace is not infinite. God sets limits to his patience and forbearance. He warns us over and over again that someday the ax will fall and His judgment will be poured out.