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Happy Season of Grace! I pray your meditation on the mercy of God this past season has been enriching and life-changing, and I pray that our three-month focus on God’s grace will be just as impactful.
Now, before we dive into our topic for today, I want to encourage you to check out Truth.Love.Family. and its podcast, Truth.Love.Parent. Truth.Love.Parent. is a must-listen for Christian dads and moms who want to worship God better with their parenting. With over 500 episodes, you’ll be sure to find an episode or series that addresses your personal need from the pages of Scripture.
And while you’re checking out TruthLoveFamily.com, be sure to swing by CelebrationOfGod.com for today’s episode notes, transcript, and grace resources.
And with that, let’s talk about our Grace Series.
The first part of this series will help us understand grace as it relates to God and His character. The second part will carefully consider how grace affects our salvation. The third part will look at how God expects us to live in light of His grace. And then the final episode of this series will emphasize how we can celebrate God by giving special attention to His grace.
1. The Season of Grace
This Season runs from December through February and obviously highlights the character trait we’re studying today.
Advent, Christmas, Valentines, and Canada’s Family Day are all amazing times to reflect on the grace of God — each in their own unique way. But we’ll talk more about this on Part 4.
For now, we need to make sure we truly understand what grace really is.
2. The Definition of Grace
We need to start by observing that many Christians today don’t have an appropriate working definition of grace. It’s a name, it’s a blessing, it’s a character quality, it’s how you carry yourself, but is that what the Bible means when it talks about grace? What is it really, and how does it differ from mercy?
On our last season I said that mercy is often defined as God not giving us the consequences we deserve, while grace is God giving us blessings we don’t deserve. And I stand by this easy to remember understanding of the terms.
But this Season we want to mature our appreciation for God and His grace, so we need to dig deeper.
So, let’s start with . . .
A. A Secular Definition
According to Merriam-Webster, there are two appropriate definitions for our understanding.
First, it’s defined as “unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification,” “a virtue coming from God,” and “a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance.”
I think this is the first time in a very long time that I have to congratulate Merriam-Webster for not only acknowledging the biblical understanding of the word, but also defining it pretty well.
And the second definition includes simply, “approval, favor, mercy, pardon, a special favor, privilege, disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency, or reprieve.”
Most generally, those definitions are also good, but including mercy in the list can be confusing. So, let’s consider . . .
B. A Biblical Definition
Did you know that the letter from James was probably the first New Testament book that was written? That means that James’ two references to grace were the first recorded instances of the idea in the New Testament Scriptures.
In James 4:6, he writes, “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’”
The second part of that verse is a loose quotation from a number of sources including Psalm 138:6, Proverbs 3:34, and Jesus from Matthew 23:12.
Let’s look at each of these instances.
Psalm 138:6 reads, “For though the Lord is exalted, yet He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar.” The word translated “regard” means “to see,” “consider,” and a number of other concepts that mostly have to do seeing or accessing something.
Proverbs 3:34 says, “Though He scoffs at the scoffers, yet He gives grace to the afflicted.” The Hebrew word translated “grace” refers to “adornment,” “charm,” and “favor.”
And in Matthew 23:12 Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” The Greek word translated “exalted” refers to being “lifted up” or “made great.”
So, according to the first usage of grace in the New Testament, it appears that God pours favor and benefit on the humble. To some that may seem like a transaction where the humble merit God’s grace by virtue of their humility. Let me just say that such an understanding is incorrect, but we’ll substantiate that biblically in a few minutes.
Now, when it comes to the Gospels, did you know that neither Matthew nor Mark ever use the word “grace”? And did you know that John only uses it four times?
Of the Gospel writers, Luke actually refers to the idea of grace the most, but the Greek word he uses is only translated “grace” one of those times. Luke is also the only Gospel that quotes Jesus using the word, but — what’s interesting — is that Jesus’ use of the word probably isn’t what you’d expect.
Let’s look at a few examples from Luke.
Luke 6:32, “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”
The Greek word often translated “grace” looks and sounds like the name Charis. And that word in Luke 6:32 is interpreted “credit.” Like English, Greek words could be employed in various ways, and this way is referring to a benefit. If you only love those who love you, how does that benefit you? How does that grace you?
In a similar fashion, the only recorded time we interact with Jesus using the word charis is in Luke 17:9. In that passage the disciples had pleaded with Jesus to increase their faith, and Jesus answered them by way of a parable. The parable was intended to teach us that faith is increased by simply doing what we’re supposed to do. That’s why He used an example about slaves and masters, and in verse 9 — referring to a master observing his servant doing his job — we read, “He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?”
In this verse the word charis is translated “thank.”
Now, I share these two examples with you because I want to help us understand that the biblical idea of grace must not be slavishly chained to all of the understandings within the word charis. We need to understand each usage in its context so as to appreciate the truths God’s trying to teach us about His grace.
So, let’s move to Luke 2:40. Referring to Jesus, Luke writes, “The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.”
This usage is move consistent with the idea we’re discussing today, but this verse doesn’t exactly explain what it means to have God’s grace on us.
And so we turn to Luke 1:30 where we read, “The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.’”
Mary, you have found charis with God. Not thanks, not credit; you have found favor.
Now, as we move out of the Gospels, the idea of grace is going to be further clarified for the baby church in the first century. This is one reason Paul uses the word a lot.
Romans 3:23-24 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” Here we learn that the gift of salvation comes by God’s grace.
In Titus 2:11-14 we read, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.”
In this passage, we see grace doing two things.
First, it brings salvation. We could say, the justification that happens in a moment of time.
But second, it instructs. It’s teaches us how to grow in our sanctification. Namely, that we deny sin and live righteously as we make Jesus Christ our one goal and trajectory.
And II Timothy 2:1 teaches that grace makes us strong. “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
Now, when we discussed mercy last time, I quoted from Charles Ryrie’s “Basic Theology.” In a section devoted to the love of God, he wrote “closely related to love are goodness, mercy, long-suffering, and grace. Although distinctions are made, they are not exact. Goodness may be defined as God’s benevolent concern for His creatures. Mercy is that aspect of His goodness that causes God to show pity and compassion. Long-suffering speaks of self-restraint in the face of provocation. Grace is that unmerited favor of God shown to man primarily in the person and work of Jesus Christ. All of these concepts are related and stem from the love of God who is love.”
And Millard J. Erickson builds on this concept when he writes, “Grace is another attribute that is part of the manifold of God’s love. By this we mean that God deals with his people not on the basis of their merit or worthiness, what they deserve, but simply according to their need; in other words, he deals with them on the basis of his goodness and generosity.”
Earlier I said that some may wrongly conclude that we merit grace by being humble, but the reality is that no one can truly be humble who is not already a recipient of God’s grace. When we submit to God, He gives more grace, but when we resist God, He withholds His grace. The interesting thing is that human beings can only ever resist. We’re incapable of submitting to God. Quoting from Psalm 14 and 53, Paul writes in Romans 3:11, “There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God.” Grace is not merited because I can’t humble myself and seek after God in my own power. There is nothing meritorious in me at all. I didn’t earn my salvation, I don’t earn God’s blessing. It’s all a result of God’s unmerited grace.
And instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, I suggest we all lean on Ryrie’s definition of grace, “Grace is that unmerited favor of God shown to man primarily in the person and work of Jesus Christ.”
And this — surprisingly — is not too dissimilar from Merriam-Webster’s definition, “unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification,” “a virtue coming from God,” and “a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance.”
Now, before we move to our third and final point for the day, I want to distinguish between two broad categories of God’s grace.
The first is Common Grace. Common grace is the unmerited favor God pours on all creation. He sends the rain and sun, He restrains mankind from acting on their total depravity, and He convicts us of sin, righteous, and judgement.
Basically, everything in everyone’s life that isn’t death in hell is a product of God’s grace.
So, that means the second is Saving Grace. This is the grace about which we’ve been talking the most today. Saving grace encapsulates the grace that comes to us in Justification as well as Sanctification and will one day come to full-fruition in Glorification.
We’ll explore these concepts more next time.
So, in light of the fact that an all-perfect, all-powerful, all-loving God pours abundant blessing on His defiant enemies to the degree that some of them even become His own adopted children, how are we to respond to such abundant grace?
3. Man’s Response to God’s Grace
Last time I read you a short chapter from AWTozer’s “Knowledge of the Holy,” and I’d like to do the same to tie together the twin ideas of mercy and grace and help us appreciate an appropriate response.
Chapter 19: the Grace of God
“In God mercy and grace are one; but as they reach us they are seen as two, related but not identical.
“As mercy is God’s goodness confronting human misery and guilt, so grace is His goodness directed toward human debt and demerit. It is by His grace that God imputes merit where none previously existed and declares no debt to be where one had been before.
“Grace is the good pleasure of God that inclines Him to bestow benefits upon the undeserving. It is a self-existent principle inherent in the divine nature and appears to us as a self-caused propensity to pity the wretched, spare the guilty, welcome the outcast, and bring into favor those who were before under just disapprobation. Its use to us sinful men is to save us and to make us sit together in heavenly places to demonstrate to the ages the exceeding riches of God’s kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
“We benefit eternally by God’s being just what He is. Because He is what He is, He lifts up our heads out of the prison house, changes our prison garments for royal robes, and makes us to eat bread continually before Him all the days of our lives.
“Grace takes its rise far back in the heart of God, in the awful and incomprehensible abyss of His holy being; but the channel through which it flows out to men is Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. The apostle Paul, who beyond all others is the exponent of grace in redemption, never disassociates God’s grace from God’s crucified Son. Always in his teachings the two are found together, organically one and inseparable.
“A full and fair summation of Paul’s teaching on this subject is found in his Epistle to the Ephesians: ‘Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, where in he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.’
“John also in the Gospel that bears his name identifies Christ as the medium through which grace reaches mankind: ‘For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.’
“But right here it is easy to miss the path and go far astray from the truth; and some have done this. They have compelled this verse to stand by itself, unrelated to other Scriptures bearing on the doctrine of grace, and have made it teach that Moses knew only law and Christ knows only grace. So the Old Testament is made to be a book of law and the New Testament a book of grace. The truth is quite otherwise.
“The law was given to men through Moses, but it did not originate with Moses. It had existed in the heart of God from before the foundation of the world. On Mount Sinai it became the legal code for the nation of Israel; but the moral principles it embodies are eternal. There never was a time when the law did not represent the will of God for mankind nor a time when the violation of it did not bring its own penalty, though God was patient and sometimes ‘winked’ at wrongdoing because of the ignorance of the people. Paul’s close-knit arguments in the third and fifth chapters of his Epistle to the Romans make this very clear.
“The spring of Christian morality is the love of Christ, not the law of Moses; nevertheless there has been no abrogation of the principles of morality contained in the law. No privileged class exists exempt from that righteousness which the law enjoins.
“The Old Testament is indeed a book of law, but not of law only. Before the great flood Noah ‘found grace in the eyes of the Lord,’ and after the law was given God said to Moses, ‘Thou hast found grace in my sight.’ And how could it be otherwise? God will always be Himself, and grace is an attribute of His holy being. He can no more hide His grace than the sun can hide its brightness. Men may flee from the sunlight to dark and musty caves of the earth, but they cannot put out the sun. So men may in any dispensation despise the grace of God, but they cannot extinguish it.
“Had the Old Testament times been times of stern, unbending law alone the whole complexion of the early world would have been vastly less cheerful than we find it to be in the ancient writings. There could have been no Abraham, friend of God; no David, man after God’s own heart; no Samuel, no Isaiah, no Daniel. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews, that Westminster Abbey of the spiritually great of the Old Testament, would stand dark and tenantless. Grace made sainthood possible in Old Testament days just as it does today.
“No one was ever saved other than by grace, from Abel to the present moment. Since mankind was banished from the east-ward Garden, none has ever returned to the divine favor except through the sheer goodness of God. And wherever grace found any man it was always by Jesus Christ. Grace indeed came by Jesus Christ, but it did not wait for His birth in the manger or His death on the cross before it became operative.
“Christ is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The first man in human history to be reinstated in the fellowship of God came through faith in Christ. In olden times men looked forward to Christ’s redeeming work; in later times they gaze back upon it, but always they came and they come by grace, through faith.
“We must keep in mind also that the grace of God is infinite and eternal. As it had no beginning, so it can have no end, and being an attribute of God, it is as boundless as infinitude.
“Instead of straining to comprehend this as a theological truth, it would be better and simpler to compare God’s grace with our need. We can never know the enormity of our sin, neither is it necessary that we should. What we can know is that ‘where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.’
“To ‘abound' in sin: that is the worst and the most we could or can do. The word abound defines the limit of our finite abilities; and although we feel our iniquities rise over us like a mountain, the mountain, nevertheless, has definable boundaries: it is so large, so high, it weighs only this certain amount and no more. But who shall define the limitless grace of God? Its ‘much more’ plunges our thoughts into infinitude and confounds them there. All thanks be to God for grace abounding.
“We who feel ourselves alienated from the fellowship of God can now raise our discouraged heads and look up. Through the virtues of Christ’s atoning death the cause of our banishment has been removed. We may return as the Prodigal returned, and be welcome. As we approach the Garden, our home before the Fall, the flaming sword is withdrawn. The keepers of the tree of life stand aside when they see a son of grace approaching.”
And then Tozer quotes from William Benco Collyer’s hymn “Return, O Wanderer, Return.” It reads, “Return, O wanderer, now return, And seek thy Father’s face; Those new desires which in thee burn
Were kindled by His grace. Return, O wanderer, now return, And wipe the falling tear: Thy Father calls, - no longer mourn; ‘Tis love invites thee near.”
How should we respond to God’s grace? The answer is simple.
First, we must submit to His grace by His grace. Do not reject it. Do not fight it. Do not pridefully try to douse the Son. Instead, lean into it. Embrace it.
And second, be thankful for it. Everything that is not eternal separation from God in hell is a product of His unmerited favor. We don’t deserve anything we’re experiencing right now, both the comfortable and the uncomfortable.
Hopefully, it’s easy for you to recognize God’s grace in the windfalls and the good times. Far too many professing Christians don’t see it the way they should.
But do you see God’s grace in the bankruptcy, cancer, and political losses?
You deserve hell. Living in a country with your political opponent at the helm is so much better than hell! We don’t deserve such grace!
When we truly understand the nature of God’s grace, we must embrace it and praise God for it.
And that’s what I hope you’re preparing to do this Season. I pray you’re excited to study the grace of God, walk in the grace of God, and celebrate the grace of God.
So, as you do that, be sure to follow The Celebration of God on social media so you can be encouraged and reminded by our worship prompts, and — of course — share this series with your friends.
And then join us next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our lives do the same.
To that end, we’ll be digging even deeper into God’s amazing grace in salvation.
The Year Long Celebration of God is a discipleship experience designed to equip followers of Christ to better know, love, and worship Him as they help others in their lives do the same. We exalt God, teach His people how to practically worship Him every day of the year, and train them to disciple others.
Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
AMBrewster is the creator of The Year Long Celebration of God and host of its podcast.