CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

God and Grace

Feb 8, 2015

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!

grace 1Yet 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.

[1746 words]

16 Responses to God and Grace

  • Just like you Bill I am imperfect but God has been gracious and preserved my life so many times, even when I faced death through my own folly and impetuousness. And this has been from a very young age. It has been said by my friends that if I had been a cat I would have long ago used up all my 9 lives.

    It is in my case it is very true to say “but for the Grace of God there goes I”. Like many others I need to repent every day as I rely on the Grace of God.

    Leigh D Stebbins

  • Nice article Bill.

    Grace is certainly losing it’s meaning in a lot of modern teaching that I hear through the grapevine.

    The “love is all you need” and “Acceptance” bandwagons have gained a lot of momentum in recent years.

    I really have an issue when people proclaim love and grace as being “The Gospel”. They are certainly key aspects of it but when they are failed to be contrasted to our sinful nature and need for redemption, there is simply no awareness of what we are being saved from. And that is putting it lightly.

    Thanks again

  • Agreed.

    I find that when I focus on the greatness & holiness of God, I am humbled deeply, which in turn causes me to realise how great is His Grace, which in turn causes me to feel a love far above the love I felt under hyper-grace many, many years ago.

  • Excellent

  • Thanks Bill.

    There are times when I despair of ever seeing my self put down and the new life of Christ in the ascendancy.

    These are most often the times when an old ugly sin has re-asserted itself and I have wallowed in it rather than hated it.

    Argh!

  • R.C. Sproul makes a good point I hadn’t previously thought much about. I never assumed Grace was infinite since that would mean everyone is saved. That is contrary to the Gospel. However, I believe the scripture below would apply to those who love God. I can feel the change in myself as I learn more about Christ through the Bible. My desire to no longer sin and seek to emulate the heart of Christ comes from a burning desire for more of the things of God. It is the fruit of the work he is doing in me. Although I continue to be a sinner, it grieves my soul to know that I am.
    NIV
    1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?
    2By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

  • Hi Bill, what would you say to the notion of:

    “Beginning and ending in faith” meaning that the righteousness of God is all about faith; you are saved beginning and ending in faith.”

    “You don’t ‘get in’ through faith then “stay in” through doing good works; your status as right before God is only due to Jesus’ death in your place.”

    “All you need to do is believe.”

    I would tend to agree with Wes that this leaves out our sinful nature and need for redemption.

    To my untrained ears this sounds like it is leaning towards hyper-grace.

    Any opinions welcome.

  • That would be true of all of us John. But growth is possible as we know, and the key is to want such change. Sometimes i just hafta pray, “Lord make me willing to be willing”!

  • “I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved” is a saying I heard once that makes sense of the Christian walk to me.

  • Hi Bill – I wanted to email you this but couldn’t find your email so I’m sending it to you as another comment. I was just listening to something and I thought it really relates to your post about grace, but is kind of the next step, of thanksgiving to God. It’s a 30-minute commentary on the 10 lepers in Luke 17. It’s not from a trained theologian but it makes good points and also has a few funny parts, might be unintentionally funny but I got some chuckles as well as some good reminders. I thought you might enjoy it:

  • So very true of us all, BIll.

    Matt 13:44-46 gives us two parables of how great and precious a gift we have been given. Moreover, how precious is the Saviour that was given for us.

    How easily distracted and swayed, that I forget my passion and longing to know and be known by God and receive that ‘pearl of great worth’ and yet allow my eyes and heart to be drawn in desire and excitement to other things, no matter how ‘good’ they may seem.

  • You were so right to put the Jude scripture last as it is absolutely pertinent. How can grace possibly be extended to those who refuse to accept the basic iniquity of their actions?

    The question now is how do we apply this to the real world? We are fortunate (so far) in Australia because traditionally we have had a real desire for justice but in a world where parental authority and rights and children’s rights are being undermined, people are being forced to employ others irrespective of how the prospective employee thinks, people are being forced by law into actively promoting things that are detrimental, sinful and unjust, the sanctity of life is being undermined all around, etc. etc., this knowledge of justice is being greatly undermined and confused. The Australian people rightly rejected “Work Choices” because it undermined simple justice in the workplace and gave all power to the employer. Workplace justice was implemented badly but the basic principle of transactional justice is correct, is fundamental to Biblical principles and it additionally helps to prevent corruption in the workplace and the people saw this. People support homosexual “marriage” because they think that this is just and correct because of the “equality” argument but because the opposing case is shut down before it is even allowed to be presented, fundamental injustices to children and families etc., are introduced. How can the introduction of euthanasia do anything but introduce a blasé attitude to life especially in those who we need to honour life; doctors and nurses? So often these days we have the means to come up with the correct answers but people just gloss over the issues, ignore the facts and are unable to put themselves in other’s position – there is just so much around to distract people from actually putting the effort in but we are required to put the effort in. Determining what is correct actually develops us to be all that we can be, whereas simply following after pleasure does nothing to develop us and blinds us to our iniquity.

    In Nehemiah the Jewish people’s attempted to fulfil the law and failed pretty miserably but their desire to do so was, none the less, honoured. This is how grace works. Not by ignoring wrongdoing and especially not by promoting it but by helping and teaching those whose desire is to do the right thing.

  • Great article Bill.

  • What I find missing these days, from anyone talking about Gods Grace, is Gods requirement of REPENTANCE. God gives grace to believers and non- believers alike. For non-believers in hope they will repent of their sins and accept His son as their savior. For believers because none of us will ever, NOT, fall short, in this sinful world. God grace, is that He is patiently hoping we repent and turn from our sin, when we stumble. But yes, Gods grace isn’t infinite if we refuse to repent and turn from our sin.

  • Some of the Christian writers need to experience what is the grace of God, it’s nothing like what you find in Philip Yanceys book “what’s so amazing about grace” .. its only those who have hit the rock bottom and reached the end of the rope those people know what is this grace of God is all about…..

  • Jesus is full of grace and truth (John 1:14-16), He also is not in conflict within Himself. Grace and truth flow together, the grace of God enables us to walk in the truth of God. Grace is His divine ability,to do what my human ability can never do. Humility and weakness are two conditions that attract the awesome grace of God.

Leave a Reply