“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.” – John Newton
“[T]he greatest and best man in the world must say, By the grace of God I am what I am; but God says absolutely – and it is more than any creature, man or angel, can say – I am that I am.” – Matthew Henry
I became a Christian at age 6, responding to an invitation to give my life to the One who died for me at a Billy Graham crusade. I had grown up in a Christian home, with my dad serving as a pastor of small Baptist churches. Grace was clearly explained to me, and when I responded to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him, I accepted His free gift of grace. Ashamedly, however, a few years later I had some unbiblical thoughts that until now I have not told anyone. I remember around the ages of 7 and 8 thinking, “I am probably God’s favorite person.” “I must have done something good for Him to save me.” It’s no surprise then that I took pride in my goodness, lived as if I was somehow perfect and looked down on others who I thought were not. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I truly grasped that I was a sinner and that any goodness in me was not because of me but because of Christ working in me.
Has that ever happened to you? Maybe not at first. Maybe you accepted Christ later in life and your life before was such a wreck that you never lost sight of the fact that any goodness in you was God’s grace at work in your life. But as time passed you no longer thought that grace was enough. You needed to do more, become a better person on your own to remain in God’s grace.
I believe grace is a simple yet profound concept that takes only a second to accept but a lifetime to understand.
Grace acknowledges that we “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23). If we were perfect, completely good in our human nature, we would not need grace. To receive grace implies that grace needed to be given.
Although we confess and believe this, sometimes we struggle with being consistent in our interpretation of Scripture. How? I have seen this happen when interpreting and applying God’s choosing of Abraham, for example. People ask, why would God only choose Abraham and his descendants as “His chosen people?” Isn’t that unfair or biased of God? So we answer this question by pointing to things about Abraham that would make God choose him. If we can say Abraham was just a good guy, then God doesn’t come out as unfair and biased (so we think). We thus title sermons or lessons in this way, “The kind of man (or person) God uses,” or “The three qualities God values.” We preach a good man whom we can follow, which results in applications that are works-driven and manipulative (if I do this then God has to do this).
This is why Paul says to Jews in his day who believed this, “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” (Rom. 4:1-3) A few verses later Paul further clarifies that this righteousness was a “righteousness of faith.” Faith is a response to grace, to God calling people to Himself. So even faith isn’t something that one can boast about!
Grace is cheapened when we have the perspective that we deserved it. I’ve noticed that when we start trying to examine the qualities of Abraham that made him the person God chose, we end up with this idea that Abraham deserved to be chosen. The reason the concept of grace is so powerful is because we do not deserve it. When we realize there’s no reason, nothing good that we have done, that even one fault, one sin is enough to make us underserving of a relationship with God, then we see the act of God in Jesus Christ on the cross for what it truly is – the greatest act of love and grace.
God is not unfair or biased in grace. He was just by paying for sins upon the cross, by taking the penalty of death so that those who accept His grace have already had their sins paid. And it is because “the wrath of God was satisfied” that He offers grace to you and to me.
So let’s remember:
1. Any goodness we have is because of the grace of God! Do not mistake your goodness as something apart from God’s grace.
2. When you preach or teach about Abraham or anyone else God used in Scripture, preach that the person did not deserve to be chosen but was chosen because of God’s grace! What followed from grace was faith and good works, not the other way around. Be consistent and careful in your interpretation of Scripture.
3. Remember that God’s grace keeps you in His grace. Yes, grace results in worship, righteousness, good works, and praise, but good works does not keep you in God’s grace. His grace is big enough to carry you until that day when you meet Him who set you free.