|Series Theme: Grace Short Meditations|
Grace Short Meditations: 1. God who Gives
1 Cor 4:7b “ What do you have that you did not receive?
I want to move on to consider a word that has many meanings but which, I suspect, is really very little understood by us Christians, let alone the world outside, a word that has the potential to transform believer and unbeliever alike. It arises mostly, it seems, in the context of salvation and while I do not in any way want to diminish that concept (and we will look at it in the context along the way) I want to suggest that it is much, much bigger. I am going to suggest that ‘grace' is actually anything that comes from God as a free, undeserved gift to us human beings. Please note the word ‘anything'. Let's consider that as our starting point.
We used to have children's books titled “Don't thank me”, I believe they were called. They went something like this: Be thankful for milk – thank the shops for providing milk – don't thank us we only keep it, thank the farmer who provides it – thank you farmer for sending us the milk - don't thank me, thank the cows who provide the milk – thank you cows for producing milk – don't thank us, thank the …and so it goes on back to God.
The truth is that we exist because of God (Heb 1:3) and all good comes from God (Jas 1:17), everything we have has come from outside us, ultimately from God.
Paul's quote, as our starter verse, comes with great clarity in the Message version: “For who do you know that really knows you, knows your heart? And even if they did, is there anything they would discover in you that you could take credit for ? Isn't everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what's the point of all this comparing and competing?”
So you are clever, you are bright, you are handsome or beautiful. How much of that did you contribute to? No, you might have used it or developed it but all the good of you, that was a gift. Some of us wear these things like beautiful clothes that show us off but we fail to realise what is the origin of them.
In the Old Testament, Nebuchadnezzar felt he was all powerful: “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan 4:30) It was only after he had been through a bout of madness did he face the reality of the greatness and goodness of God. All that we have is the gift of God. We didn't earn it, it was given to us freely. That's what grace is. Have you ever seen it that big? Grace is EVERYTHING that is good that comes from God to us, freely given, not earned or deserved. Can we ask the Lord to help us see that as we've never seen it before?
Grace Short Meditations: 2. I am what I am
1 Cor 15:10 “by the grace of God I am what I am”
Yesterday we leapt into the sea of understanding grace with the dramatic claim that everything that is good that we have, comes as a free gift from God. We need to examine that a bit more before we go any further. We may need to tread some of the same ground we covered yesterday because so often we take it for granted.
When we were born, there we were helpless and reliant upon parents. Bit by bit this body grew and developed with a mind that learned with the experience of daily life. Paul was using a more limited view of this when he wrote our starter verse, meaning the ministry he had was what God had put into him, but the truth is that in its biggest sense, grace is EVERYTHING we have received to make us what we are today which is incredible.
Of course it is more complicated than that because much of what we are is because of decisions we have made, things others have said or done and the general upheavals of life in a fallen world, but behind all that is the Providence of God, the hidden hand of God working behind the scenes bringing good to us – most of which we never asked for! That is grace, the free giving of God.
As you move on in years you tend to look back more, to appreciate where you have come from. I have done this various times and what I sense as I look back on my life comes in two forms. The first is that my life was carried along by the circumstances surrounding it. First, there were my parents, then there was my schooling. Second there come specific ‘interventions'. At school there was a headmaster who asked me what I wanted to do as a career. ‘By chance' he happened to ask this question within the week that followed my birthday and someone had given me a book of careers I had quickly browsed. I grabbed at the first one that came to mind, to give him an answer, and then forgot about it.
But he didn't. A few weeks later he called me into his study and said, “If you're going to become a …… we'd better get you into college hadn't we.” He wasn't the sort of man you said no to! That started off a process that brought a string of events that ran right through my life with links all over the place that came from outside me. Opportunities to serve God in leading a children's mission for seven years, opportunities to travel abroad teaching in the Church, and so much more, came from outside me.
My life is a gift of grace. I am in absolutely no doubt about it. I am a receiver, a receiver of God's goodness, of God's grace. Why not take some time to be quiet before the Lord and ask Him to reveal to you some of the ways He has been on your case over the years – and then worship.
Grace Short Meditations: 3. The Gift of Eden
Gen 2:8 “God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.”
It is perhaps the effect of sin, that still lurks in the background seeking to taint our lives, that makes it so difficult for us to grasp the picture of a God who is a constant giver, who loves mankind so much He just wants to keep on giving to whoever will receive from His hand.
When you ‘give' to someone out of love, you don't do it for what you can get back but simply because you want to bless them. That is acting in the image of God, that is grace. If we feel we have to give something in return – they invited us to dinner, so we ought to invite them back – we demolish grace and put value on it, something that needs repaying. The definition of a gift is a thing given willingly to someone without payment or desire for a return.
Consider the first two chapters of the Bible, consider Eden and then Adam and then Eve coming to consciousness of it all. Job declared one day, “Naked I came from my mother's womb” (Job 1:29) a simple and yet profound statement that applies to every one of us, as we noted yesterday. Now back to Eden. Did Adam (and Eve) deserve that life, did they earn it? Did they have any hand in bringing Eden into being, in creating the earth and all the wonder of it? Of course not, it was a pure gift from God to mankind and it was ‘very good'. (Gen 1:31)
Of course it all came as a freebie from God. They never asked for this world but all of it with its incredible provision came as a gift from God for mankind. Yes, we messed it up, but initially (and still in a large measure) it was an incredible gift, this life with such amazing potential. Grace is every free gift that God bestows on mankind. We focus it on salvation but before that need arose, and behind it still today, there is God expressing His love outwards to mankind, to whoever will receive it and appreciate it, and through it, through what we see of Creation, to appreciate Him (see Rom 1:20).
Yes, grace includes the gift of the revelation of God Himself behind all the other provision to us. Every new day a gift of life and opportunity. When we wake up in the morning the temptation is to let worries that arose ‘yesterday' impinge on us and blunt the truth that today is a new opportunity to experience life. It is a day to take opportunities that life gives us, to enter into an awareness of the good things of life that are there – every mouthful of food, every breath we take, every thought we have, every relationship to be enjoyed, i.e. every gift from God.
Let's start by thanking Him for that. Thankful people, the experts tell us, live longer and lead more healthy lives; yes, it's true. Awareness should produce thankfulness, so let's be both aware and thankful.
Grace Short Meditations: 4. To each of us
Eph 4:7 “to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Sometimes when your eyes rove over the word of God, specific words stand out like words catching fire and in our starter verse, it is the words, “to each of us.” We have been pondering, in these first studies in this series, on the suggestion that everything we have that is good is a gift from God. Nothing we have that is good we earned or deserved, it all goes back to God as the source of all life, all of this world.
Paul was, of course in this verse, referring to spiritual things but it is a truth that encompasses life as a whole. Did your favourite celebrity choose to be handsome or beautiful, or that well-known Quizzer choose to be clever? I don't think so.
But look at it another way: each one of us is unique in who we are, yes possibly a combination of ‘nature and nurture' plus the interaction of God in our lives and the decisions we have made through life, as well as the circumstances that imposed themselves on us. Put aside evil if you like (to be considered at a later date), but apart from the ‘decisions' part of that list, can we be grateful and see all those other things as gifts of grace that have made us what we are? There's a challenge to groveling self-esteem!
But let's home in on us as individuals. If the point I have been seeking to make (oh, so inadequately) about all things being a gift of God, if that sounds all rather general it must be true of each and every person and then even more for the Christian.
In the general sense it is what theologians call ‘common grace': “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Mt 5:45) They are the sort of things that every one of us experiences, part of living on this planet. The rain is common to all it falls upon, the sun is common to all who it shines on. The air is common to all who breath it, but then the way each of these things are received is unique to us as individuals.
One person looks out at the rain falling and groans, “Oh no, it's raining again,” while another looks and sees the rain and rejoices that it will be feeding the vegetables they are growing in their garden. The thing about common grace is not so much that it is available for every person, but it is the way we each respond to it.That was Paul's complaint in Romans 1, that God should be seen in all creation but so many are blind to His beauty and wonder seen in it. The greatest film-maker of ‘nature' can still be an atheist, blind to its origin, blind to the fact that it cannot be the outcome of pure blind chance. May we not respond to grace with such blind folly.
Grace Short Meditations: 5. An empty starting place
Job 1:29 “Naked I came from my mother's womb.”
As we continue to reflect on the wonder of this ocean of grace that surrounds us, continue to focus our sight in order to grasp something of the wonder of ‘grace', we will be rerunning the same ground again and again because these are paths that we walk (sorry to change the analogy) and so often we do so without thought and thus we rob ourselves of the wonder of these things and we rob God of His glory.
Stop and think of the changes in ‘you' that have taken place since birth that has brought forth this being today called ‘you'. When you were born you hardly had any consciousness, awareness was something that grew. That's how you were designed to grow. As the days and weeks and months passed, your ‘awareness' gradually focused so that you were able to identify and, in a small measure, respond to this being who was there for you that you would eventually identify as your ‘mother'. I am aware that I have written a previous series about appreciating who we are, but when it comes to considering ‘grace' the ocean is so great we must cover many of these things again. In the previous study we referred to common grace but now the most common provision – life itself – has become very personal. We each experience this gift in a different way.
But in the second paragraph above, where we considered the changes that have taken place in us since birth, we brought out a whole raft of expressions of grace that we take for granted – consciousness, awareness, recognition, thinking, identifying, responding, and communicating. As I say, things we take for granted until they are removed. Blindness, deafness, mental impairment, all in some way diminish our ability to appreciate and use those things we have been considering, things I have been trying to suggest are expressions of God's grace.
Now I know there will be some of us who will be struggling with these thoughts. We are happy to relish the ideas of grace that go with the salvation we have experienced (and we will get there) but one thing I have become aware of over the years and which I believe needs us to address, is the goodness of God seen in His daily provision for us, and because we ignore these things, as I said above, we fail to appreciate them and fail to be thankful and we fail to glorify God. If we do glorify Him it is in the very narrow band of our religiosity.
But the Bible starts in Genesis with God's provision of this world and we may struggle because of atheists ideas of evolution, but we need to see, even if that is the way God brought this world into being, it was HIM who brought it in a purposeful way and honour Him in that.
Grace Short Meditations: 6. A Purposeful Grace
Phil 3:14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
To listen to some you might think that grace was just something we received when we turned to Christ – and of course it is – but it is so much more. We have been saying that every good thing that we have in our lives is a gift from God, unearned, undeserved, but freely given and so often received without thought.
But if grace is something for daily experience, it is an experience that will come every single day of our lives and, I would suggest, is coming for a purpose. God's love doesn't want us or His world to stay the same, He wants to redeem it, and so not only does He want to change us by His grace, He wants us to be part of changing the world by His grace.
Life is going somewhere. Death, the cynic might say, and in a sense that is a truth, even though it is only partial. For us as believers post death is the fullest experience of eternal life, and that is the goal that Paul was talking about, but before this verse he had already said, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me,” (v.12b) so twice he uses a phrase his master had used. Jesus said, “I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day,” (Lk 13:33) as he aimed for the final Jerusalem conflict. Each time the phrase is used it refers to a purpose or goal. The grace of God has been imparted to us for a purpose, to achieve something, that we've referred to in the first paragraph – to change us and to change the world.
Now at this point the enemy whispers, “who can impact and change the world?” Ever heard of the ‘butterfly effect'? One small thing on one side of the world can cause amazing consequences on the other side of the world – and this is you and me today, capable of doing one small thing, one act of kindness, goodness, encouragement, that changes another person. That is grace – who you are, what you can do and achieve.But how can we impact the world for good? How can we act into life to impact the world around us for good? We thought of the butterfly effect, now think of a stone being dropped into a pond with ripples going out across the whole pond. How can you and I receive grace and impart grace to others. Start with small ways, by blessing others, praying for others, encouraging, reaching out to in love, helping, building up, listening to, giving to, all ways that, like the stone in the pond, ripple outwards to bring change for good. How will that person we encouraged go on to act, what will they do to bless someone else? The film called it ‘paying it forward'. The truth is little grace impacts!
Grace Short Meditations: 7. More Grace
Jn 1:16 “we have all received grace in place of grace already given.”
Three things have been standing out to me as I have been pondering on ‘grace'. First it is the free, undeserved gift of God to us. Second, it is something we so often take for granted. Third, it is everything good that comes to us courtesy of God. But then this verse came before me and stretched me some more.
Grace had been ‘already given' and we have pondered that already, when we've said that every good thing is a gift of God. We are surrounded by goodness, even though we are often blind to it. A stimulus to our spiritual lives might be to think every morning of some new aspect of goodness in our lives that we become aware of, and then thank the Lord for it. Become more aware of the grace there is there in our lives, even before we touch on our salvation.
But John is thinking about ‘the Word' Jesus and he is saying that with the coming of Jesus, more grace came. The ‘prior grace' John refers to, was the Law, God's explanation of how His design for mankind works that He wanted Israel to live out. Yes, the Law was an expression of God's grace, a map freely given to Israel showing them how to live. That was a prior expression of grace that all Israel knew but which, again, they mostly took for granted and even forgot about. But it was there in the background, God's provision of ‘how to', how to live righteous lives, holy lives, and healthy lives, how to put life back together again when things have gone wrong. It was all there – grace!
But now a new grace is available that comes through the Son, not necessarily an outworking of knowing him (although that is true) but of experiencing him, us being “in Christ” (Rom 6:11, 8:1, 1 Cor 1:30) and him in us (Rom 8:10). He who is full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14) has become one with us and we thus experience him, his grace flowing in us, his power, his character transforming us. This is the grace that comes with our salvation.
Let's just quickly reiterate things that come to us when we come to Christ, things that are in reality expressions of God's grace, things we didn't earn or even deserve but which He gave anyway. It starts with forgiveness; we turned to Him confessing our sin, declaring our belief in Jesus, and He just forgave us. We didn't merit it but He gave it. Then comes cleansing, setting free from the past. Another free gift. Then he declared we were justified and put right in the eyes of justice, we were redeemed, bought from the old life and taken into a new life. Then we were adopted and called children of God. And so it goes on. Do you daily thank Him for these things or do we take them for granted and thus fail to honour Him for them? Let's be a thankful people.
Grace Short Meditations: 8. Serving & Sustaining Grace
Jn 4:34 “‘My food,' said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”
Grace comes in what might appear unexpected ways sometimes. Some of us don't like talk about ‘serving' for it suggests work, maybe hard work, serving sounds menial, lowly, unexciting. Similarly talk about “doing the will of God” makes some of us feel uncomfortable because it suggests a standard or goal that we feel is difficult to achieve. But if we feel these things, it is simply because we misunderstand, we don't realise how different the kingdom of God is.
When Jesus spoke about getting food, sustenance, from doing his Father's will he was introducing his disciples into a completely new concept – in the spiritual world at least. In the natural world we talk about a sense of fulfilment, a sense of happiness from achievement, but in the spiritual world it is far more than that, it is actual life sustenance that comes to us as we step out to do the things God puts before us (Eph 2:10), things the Spirit quietly nudges us into. This sustenance is grace.
Food is a gift from God, an expression of His grace. Spiritual ‘food' comes to us as we do the Father's work, to express His love, His goodness, His holiness, the revelation of Him to the world through Jesus. It happens as we respond to His Spirit, sometimes as He speaks to us through His word, sometimes as He simply whispers into our spirit. It happens as He guides us (yes, guidance is an expression of His grace) and as we respond so a spiritual energy is released and we are fed, strengthened and built up AS we serve.
Thus ‘work' for God is not hard as we let Jesus take the burden (Mt 11:30) and as we move alongside him in serving, so we are fed, so we receive and are blessed – and this is grace.
The corollary of this is telling. Solomon understood these things when he wrote of the other side of these things: “Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless go hungry.” (Prov 19:15). And in his other written work, “Through laziness, the rafters sag; because of idle hands, the house leaks.” (Eccles 10:18) Those who shy away from serving God sink into an apathy or lethargy that is far from fulfilling and are forever hungry and unfulfilled. When such ‘laziness' occurs, the home starts to collapse (even the so-called house of God, the Church).What contrasts: fulfilled and filled, unfulfilled and empty, life or lethargy. Remember again Mt 11:30 - a yoke? Sounds like hard work! No, to the contrary, it's sharing with the gentle and humble in heart and it brings rest for our souls – it feeds us grace. It's a yoke that is easy and light. Let grace come as we make ourselves available to Him.
Grace Short Meditations: 9. A Growing Grace
Lk 2:40 “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.”
This was Jesus, a human body growing up. One paraphrase put it, “ God's blessing was upon him,” and another simply says, “God was blessing him.” i.e. the Father was imparting goodness, His own very presence into this human body of an already divine child. That was grace, both the act of doing it and what He gave. Thus later, as we recently saw, John was able to describe Jesus as “FULL of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14) There's an interesting concept: of a person being filled (an ongoing process) with grace like a jar being filled until it is full. When we are filled, Scripture refers to us being “filled with the Spirit”, (Eph 5:18, an instruction) an instant event and a conclusion of a process. Supreme grace!
But the concept of grace that grows is a familiar one in Scripture. Jesus taught a parable of the smallest of seeds that grows into a large plant (Mt 13:22), Paul taught about the church, the body of Christ growing (Eph 4:16, Col 2:19) and even the not-so-intellectual apostle Peter wrote of us growing up in our salvation (1 Pet 2:2). Paul spoke of the gospel growing and spreading (Col 1:6) and of us growing in the knowledge of God (Col 1:10) and our faith growing (2 Thess 1:3). Again Peter wrote of us who are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.” (2 Pet 3:18). Growing in grace, by grace! All of the work of grace produces growth, even in itself!
But perhaps one of the most wonderful pictures of grace that flows and deepens and grows is seen in Ezekiel's vision of the river that flows out of the temple (Ezek 47), a river that gets deeper and deeper and deeper the further it flows out away from the Temple, the house of God, the place of its origin. Initially it was merely ‘trickling' out (v.2) but as he followed the angel following it, it became ankle-deep, then further down knee-deep then waist-deep and then so deep you couldn't cross in it and had to swim in it. And then, wonder of wonders, as it flowed into salty water it made it fresh and wherever it flowed everything lived. On its banks fruit trees grew, constantly bearing fruit. If this isn't a picture of the life-bringing grace of God, I don't know what is!
See the key points from that vision: grace comes from the presence of God. If flows out from His presence to His world. As it flows it gets deeper and deeper. Wherever it flows, it brings life, transformation, and fruitfulness. THIS is God's provision for you and me, His very life that we call grace, that flows out to us, in us and through us and the more it flows, the more it spreads life and fruitfulness. Hallelujah!
Grace Short Meditations: 10. Transforming Grace
Acts 11:23 “When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad.”
This was Barnabas, sent from Jerusalem to Antioch to see what God had been doing there. God had been working through believers scattered by persecution, who had gone to Antioch, shared the Gospel , so that, “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” (11:21). The Spirit had brought conviction and repentance and then new birth – all expressions of grace, the working of God, freely given. It's how the kingdom of God is extended, how God is glorified, as His grace is expressed in these ways and lives are transformed, new creations (2 Cor 5:17) of grace. That is you and me – works of God, works of grace to extend grace under His leading.
So the church in Antioch (and anywhere else for that matter) was a result of the working of the grace of God. At one point in history Antioch was simply a town full of superstitious pagans, their lives, “under God's curse, doomed forever for their sins, going along with the crowd, full of sin, obeying Satan, their lives expressing the evil within them, doing every wicked thing that their passions or evil thoughts might lead them into.” (Eph 2:1-3 Living Bible applied). That's what they would have been like, just like any other pre-Christian unbelievers around the world.
And then some Christians turned up (no doubt prompted by the Holy Spirit) and started sharing the Gospel. At this point the Holy Spirit really got to work and started convicting many of those unbelievers and very soon the town had a church – believers growing in grace as the grace of God continued to work transforming them and bringing others to faith.
The free undeserved gift of God came into Antioch first in the form of a bunch of faith-filled believers, then in the form of the word of God spoken out, then in the form of the convicting Spirit, then in the form of the life-transforming Spirit who brought about numerous new births, then in the form of teaching by the incoming believers, then in ongoing transformation as faith was built, vision was expanded and grace was extended in gifts of prophecy, teaching and apostleship. And when Barnabas turned up from Jerusalem he recognised all this.So let's ask ourselves (Pandemics aside) is this what we have been seeing in our own locations, grace abounding and transforming lives and building church and transforming communities? I suspect, if we're honest about the church in the West at least, the answer has to be largely, no. So what do we do about that? (Pandemics aside) We wait on the Lord, pray our hearts out, make ourselves available, take whatever opportunities He gives us and then look for this all to happen.
Grace Short Meditations: 11. Visible Grace
Acts 6:8 “Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power.”
I don't know about you but sometimes I think we Christians just use words to fill sentences and yet we so often don't really think what they actually mean. They seem to fit the sentence, they seem to be in the right place, and yet when challenged we struggle to define them, such simple words such as love – and grace!
Back near the beginning of this series I used the phrase, ‘we leapt into the sea of understanding grace', for it does seem that in reality the meaning of this little word that turns up all over the New Testament requires an ocean of understanding, it is so simple and yet so profound.
So, take for example our starter verse today: “Stephen, a man full of God's grace. It seems so harmless and many of us will have read it many times, skimming over it with little thought but it seems to me that there is a slightly unnerving truth in this short verse, that is both challenging and unsettling. What do I mean?
Well, they could SEE God's grace in this man, it made him stand out, so much so that Luke could record this description of him. We've been saying again and again that we are all recipients of God's grace, but I wonder if people could say of me, “They are full of grace”?
So there is the challenge, that although we are ALL receivers of God's grace, we may not all reflect that grace so abundantly – but it is certainly a goal to pray and work for.
But how does grace increase in us? By being in His presence so that His glory is reflected in us (2 Cor 3:18). That has to be one way. That doesn't mean just the traditional ‘quiet time' in the morning (but I hope you do experience Him then) but it is as the famous Brother Lawrence emphasized, living in the presence or God, or living in the awareness of God's presence, so it natural to talk to Him at any point in the day, maybe even prompted by His still small voice at any point in the day. As we live like that, grace will abound even more, we will receive it more AND express it more.
Ah but, you say, I'm too busy to be consciously aware of God all the time! I agree but two things to note. First, I don't think God wants us to be aware of him every moment. It might have been relatively easy for Brother Lawrence in the quietness of a kitchen preparing vegetables, not so easy when teaching children at home or running a business from home, but perhaps sometimes in the day that awareness might break through. Second, learning to sense God is, I believe, a learning process. When we confront a difficulty and need His grace, we can always pause and ask for it. It will be there.
Grace Short Meditations: 12. Continuing Grace
Acts 13:43 “Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.”
Following on from yesterday, think of life as being lived in an environment of grace. I think Luke in Acts simply meant that having received God's grace at new birth, Paul and Barnabas were encouraging the new believers to live their lives, experiencing that ongoing same grace.
We stop doing that when we make life full of rules or ways we OUGHT to live but, think back to the moment of your conversion, you had nothing of that in your mind then, you were just full of the awareness of God and His call on your life and everything else you left up to Him to work out in you. And then time passed and we complicated it. But living ‘in the grace of God' is living in the light of His glory filling your mind and vision. Let's get back there!
OK, like yesterday I hear some crying out, “Living in the light of His glory filling my mind and vision? You've got to be joking. You just don't know my life!” No, I agree with you, I don't know your life and I don't know the pressures upon you, but isn't this series about just this – receiving His grace in all circumstances? It's not only the kids, the business, the job, the family, health problems, money problems and so much more. All of those things are very real in a fallen world, especially a world so packed full of things, of people, of information, or activity, as it is in the West in the twenty-first century. But isn't that the point, because of those things we NEED His grace even more?
The person who lives in a part of the world where food is really short, where there are warring factions in their country, where water so often runs short, when medical facilities are fifty miles away, they don't have the time to have your worries, the grace they need is just to survive. Be honest, we in the West are clueless most of the time, we don't know how well off we are and, yes, we have earned our position and worked really hard for it, but perhaps because of that position we need God's grace just as much as the child in poverty stricken, war torn, disease ravaged, parts of the world. God warned Israel about the perils of affluence when they entered the Promised Land because self-sufficiency can so easily become an idol, we something worship.So, imagine this spectrum of lives in the world from those who struggle with pride and self-sufficient idolatry in the West to the person in places where simple survival is the name of the game. No, they are not the same but we all need this grace, we all need to receive it, grow in it and be seen to be full of it. The differing circumstances simply show the differing needs for it. We all need to continue in it.
Grace Short Meditations: 13. Jesus' Grace
Acts 15:11 “it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved.”
Everything about Jesus' attitude towards us screams of grace. He looks at us, not on the basis of what we deserve but on the basis of his unlimited love. He doesn't desire good for us because we deserve it but, to the contrary, because we don't deserve it but need it.
If we consider the ‘fine print' of the Gospel, Jesus went to the Cross to carry your sin and mine, to take your punishment and mine, and the New Testament indicates his resurrection is the proof of him and his work on the Cross being totally accepted by the Father. He went to the Cross, NOT wanting to go through the awful experience but knowing it was the only way for justice to be satisfied: “not my will, but yours be done.” (Lk 22:42) Jesus' grace in that situation was pushing through the human fear barrier on your behalf and mine. That was stage 1, him doing what needed to be done to satisfy justice on your behalf.
Stage 2 was him sending his Holy Spirit to convict you and when you responded in repentance, stage 3 of his grace was him applying his death to your account so you were ‘cleared'. Stage 4 of his grace is him at his Father's right hand overseeing the work of his Spirit as He works in and through you.
So to summarize, everything he has done and is doing, shows he wants us blessed, in a good place with him and the Father, receiving all His goodness and love so that we will be transformed into those who can be more fully appreciating the wonder of who He is and His love for us. In that way God will be glorified and honoured as He should be, in that way our lives will be transformed for the better. That is what salvation is all about.
When we do that we are in harmony with what is; God is worthy of all praise and honour (Rev 5:13) and as His grace flows in us we start seeing that, sharing in it, being one with Him, becoming more and more what we were designed to be, bringers of praise and honour. May it be so.
Yes, the expressions of grace that come to us through Jesus are works of transformation, from guilty sinner to saved son, from lost and helpless to knowing and in control, as he works to express his Father's heart that reaches out to redeem us, lift us out of the works of the dominion of darkness into the works of the kingdom of light of the Son. It is a kingdom of transformation and revelation, of restoration and healing, reversing the works of the Fall and preparing us for a new life in eternity reconciled to the Father, a life of peace, harmony, joy and blessing – such is the work of the grace of the Son.
Grace Short Meditations: 14. Good-News Grace
Acts 20:24 “the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace .”
If the things we laid out in the previous study cannot be seen as ‘good news' I don't know what can be. I am always amazed at the vicious denunciations of crusading atheists (whose voices do not seem so loud these days) when I consider all the good that coming to Christ does. I am surprised to hear survey results that say there are more people in the older generations who would profess to be atheists and can only conclude that it is because they get overwhelmed by materialism and stop thinking, for any thinking person who would take time to study both the Christian faith and even the poor attempts to follow it, would see a people changed for the good, certainly not perfect but also certainly adding to the sum of goodness in the world.
It is often difficult to testify to God's goodness in the face of a hurting and cynical world and we often get bogged down with thoughts of evangelism and when we focus on the mechanics, we lose sight of the wonder.
So I say again, where else in the world can you find a message that says, “God loves you and is wanting to freely pour out His loving goodness into your life to transform it, to set you free from the negatives of life, so you can enter into a God-energized life through what Jesus did for you on the Cross?”
His grace means forgiveness, cleansing, setting free from the past, receiving all His resources to live animated and energized and vibrantly, being given a new identity – child of God (Google it and sing the song loudly and boldly, “I am a child of God”.) That is what this ‘good news' is all about, a life of abundance of love and goodness and joy that has been enabled by Jesus and now empowered by the Holy Spirit, glorifying God (as He should be).
So why is it that so many see Christians in their midst, hear the good news filtering through the airwaves, and yet stay unchanged, stay impervious to the wonder of the goodness of God? Perhaps there are a number of reasons. Maybe from our side we need to speak out more often and share the good news and testify to how it has so wonderfully blessed us, maybe we need to be proving the reality of it by expressing our love towards others through good works that soften hearts. From their side, the Bible says there is a blindness that comes from the words of the enemy which will only be overcome by the works and words of the Lord combined with our prayers, testimonies and good deeds.
It IS good news, this news about God's grace that comes freely to us through Jesus. It does deserve a better hearing. What will we do?
Grace Short Meditations: 15. Unified Grace
Rom 1:7 “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
I don't know if you have ever thought about it like this, but the Father and Son in heaven have one mind, one heart, one purpose, one aim – for you to know their grace (enabling) and their peace (outcome). There is a combined effort in heaven to make this happen and we are on the receiving end of that as the Holy Spirit administers that one heart to us here today.
You know I sometimes think we take all this for granted because if you ever take the trouble to put these truths alongside the things that come out of other world religions, you find they are unique.
Nowhere else do you find the claims that the Bible makes, that from the beginning the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit (yes, what we refer to as the Trinity, the threefold expression of the one person that is God Almighty, Creator and Sustainer of all things) was working on our behalf.
Nowhere else is there a God who reveals that He knew the effect of giving us free will would have, knew that that strange concept of ‘justice' would insist on demanding that all our failures and wrongs need attending to, dealing with, punishing, straightening out and changing – and would take steps to deal with all that that brought about reconciliation between the Holy God and sinful mankind.
Nowhere else do you find a God who sends part of Himself to the earth to reveal and demonstrate His love for us on a daily down-to-earth basis, and step in and take that punishment that justice demands of us.
Nowhere else is there a God who steps down into our affairs, reaching out to woo us to Himself, draw us into a place whereby we can be set free from all the negatives of this fallen world and come close and receive all of the goodness He seeks to hand out to us on a daily basis.
Nowhere else are there these claims that God Himself has desired this from the outset and that His Son is the embodiment of His desires to achieve these things and that His Spirit is here working, day by day into our lives with all of His good provision – grace – to bless and transform us.
Sometimes when we are praying for people in church, the leader says something like, “Let's just stretch out our hands to …. as we pray for them.” We are identifying with them, seeking to be a channel through whom the Spirit flows to them. I have the same picture except it is the Father and Son, both stretching out hands to YOU and me, saying, “Receive our grace and know our peace.” Open your hands, close your eyes and receive it, right now.
Grace Short Meditations: 16. Grace & Salvation
Titus 2:11 “the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.”
The grace of God has appeared! Paul was writing in the previous verses to slaves (or servants) and their masters and was basically saying that now that God had revealed His grace through His Son Jesus, that should impact all aspects of life, all stations and roles in life. Once we might have lived one way that was self-centred and godless, but now we have entered into a God-centred life that has been focused by Jesus. One year we were living in ignorance and then this grace appeared to us. It came either as we might have been reading the Bible or, more likely, as someone shared the good news of Jesus with us and brought us the hope of a new life.
Yes, the hope was put in front of us. As Paul is saying, salvation was being offered to us, offering an experience of something called grace, the sheer goodness of God expressed as forgiveness of sins and the offer of adoption as children of God. And it is an offer that is held out to everyone and no one excluded. We only exclude ourselves.
But do you see that? To ALL people. Salvation IS God's grace, as His attitude towards us AND as His ongoing actions towards us. God doesn't think nice thoughts towards us, He acts for our good and brings change. Ah change! He offers it, we have to take it, we have to receive this grace in whatever form it comes – and it does come in a whole variety of ways.
Paul continued to Titus, “It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions.” (v.12) Wow! God's grace TEACHES US to reject an attitude that forgets God and focuses on personal desires. This grace calls us to change, to turn from godlessness and from self-centredness and turn to God. Instead of a life energized by human desires we become those energized by God Himself.
Desires are right and proper in the right context but when they ignore God's teaching, His grace to help us understand the right and best way to live, and His presence with us, then we are walking on quicksand and the end result will be disaster. No, grace offers salvation which is a God-led life that puts Him before personal whims.We need to rerun this ground so that we truly take in the importance of it. God's grace reaches out to us in the form of the Gospel being shared with us and when the Spirit convicts us, we surrender to Him. The lives we had led before we came to God were ungodly and were motivated by, as Paul says, ‘worldly passions', or as the Message version hints, motivated by self-indulgence. Perhaps we sometimes miss out on the grace of God because we are still self-indulgent. Shame.