26th July 2023
Steven J. Cole offers
How Grace Works
The subject for today, the grace of God and how it works in our lives, is arguably the most important concept for you to understand and live by in the battle to be godly.
Because it is so important, the enemy of our souls has created much confusion and controversy on this topic. But if you can fight your way clear in understanding and applying God's grace, you will experience a close relationship with God and consistent victory over sin.
The classic definition is the best: God's grace is His unmerited favour. Grace means that God showered favour and blessing on those who did not in any way deserve or earn it. They deserved His judgment and wrath. But He showed them favour.
God's pure grace gets polluted from two sides.
On the one side, grace runs counter to the way the world works, so it's difficult for us to grasp it and get used to it. Exceptional performance earns promotions and raises. Sloppy performance will get you 'sacked'.
In the spiritual realm, all of the world's religions, except for biblical Christianity, work on the merit system.
Even the major branches of Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, teach a system of merit-salvation, where you have to add your works to what Christ did on the cross in order to go to heaven.
Most believers who die go to purgatory, where after suffering for a while, eventually you will have enough of your sins purged away and enough merit to qualify for heaven. This merit system of salvation permeates the public mind.
Ask anyone on the street his opinion of how a person gets into heaven and you will hear something about being a good person. It was at the heart of pharisaic, legalistic religion in the times of Jesus and Paul.
But God's grace also gets distorted from another side, which mistakes the grace of God for licentiousness.
Many professing Christians wrongly think that God's grace means that He gives out free passes that allow us to sin, with no consequences for disobedience.
If you emphasize the need to obey God's commandments or do good works, they call you a legalist. If you warn them that their sloppy view of sin will result in God's discipline, they don't want to hear it.
Their mantra is, "I'm not into your rules kind of religion. I'm under grace, not law."
For them, grace means permission for sloppy living.
Our text corrects both of these serious misconceptions of God's grace.
When Paul writes, "For the grace of God has appeared," he is referring to the embodiment of grace in the person of Jesus, who was "full of grace and truth".
It is not that God's grace is missing from the Old Testament.
No one was saved in the Old Testament apart from God's grace.
But as John 1 states the contrast,
"For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realised through Jesus Christ."
God rightly could have sent His Son to condemn us and judge us. But instead,
"For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him."
The KJV and the NIV err by translating that God's grace has appeared to all men.
That never has been true, in that there have always been many that have never heard of God's grace in Jesus.
Rather, Paul means that God's grace that appeared in the person of Christ offers salvation to all that hear of it.
When he goes on to say that God's grace brings salvation to all men, he means, "to all types of people, including those whom the world despises, even to slaves."
No one is beyond the reach of God's grace.
This does not mean that all people are saved or will be saved.
The Bible is uniformly clear that there are two separate, final destinations for all people.
Those who by God's grace believe in Jesus Christ as Savior will go to heaven.
Those who do not believe in Christ will pay the penalty of eternal separation from God in hell.
But the good news of God's grace is that no sinner is beyond the reach of God's grace.
The apostle Paul was a persecutor of the church.
He called himself the chief of sinners. But he experienced God's grace through the cross.
If the chief of sinners found mercy, so can you!
Steve served as the pastor of Flagstaff Christian Fellowship from May, 1992 through his retirement in December, 2018.
From 1977-1992 he was the pastor of Lake Gregory Community Church in Crestline, California.
He graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M., 1976 in Bible exposition) and California State University, Long Beach (B.A., philosophy, 1968).
He enjoys writing and has had articles published in many different publications.
Additional thoughts, (and available on request)
But, there is a major hindrance that will keep you from experiencing God's grace in salvation, namely, your propensity to self-righteousness.
You don't need salvation unless you are lost and you know that you're lost.
If you think that you're doing just fine on your own or that you're going to be able to make it on your own with a little more effort, you won't cry out for a Saviour to deliver you.
As Jesus said,
"I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."
By "the righteous," Jesus meant, "the self-righteous."
The self-righteous Pharisees did not see their need for a Saviour. Those who knew that they were sinners did.
Suppose that you were standing in a long line at the bank, waiting to deposit your money.
Suddenly, I grab you by the arm, jerk you out of line, and forcibly drag you out of the building. You probably wouldn't be very happy with me.
You'd say, "What do you think you're doing? You hurt my arm, you tore my shirt, you made me lose my place in line, and you made me look like a fool in front of everyone in the bank!"
But, one simple fact would change your attitude to one of complete gratitude for the rest of your life:
the bank had just been taken over by terrorists that threatened to kill everyone inside.
In the first scenario, you didn't yet know the danger that you were in.
In the second scenario, you had become aware of the danger and you knew that you were doomed unless someone rescued you.
Before you can appreciate God's grace, you need to know that you are justly under His wrath and condemnation.
You are headed for eternal judgment unless someone intervenes.
To use Spurgeon's phrase, you know that the rope is around your neck.
God's grace cuts the rope, even though you are guilty as charged and deserve to die.
That's how God's grace works.
It saves us and then it trains and motivates us to be godly people in this present age, zealous for good deeds, as we look for the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus, who gave Himself for us.
Bible references avaiable, on request