The Amazing Grace of God
The Amazing Grace of God
The Greek word for “grace” is the word “charis”. This word is variously used and often the meaning is that of God’s favor. When relating to our salvation the term means God’s unmerited or undeserved favor. By unmerited, the meaning is that after man sinned, man could not atone for his own sins. After any man or woman violates God’s law, there is no amount of good works they can perform to have that sin removed (Titus 3:5 “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness”). One writer noted, “God’s grace does mean that God was not obligated to man. Man sinned against God, and God had no further obligation to him excepting the obligations which grew out of His love for man” (Spiritual Sword, January 1976, p. 8). If man is to be saved, then man must be forgiven and this forgiveness is completely undeserved, even if there are conditions attached to it, like faith, repentance, confession and baptism. Paul said, “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10), even though Paul had to be baptized to be saved (Acts 22:16).
Even David in the Old Testament recognized that the only way a person could be accounted right with God (righteous) is for that person to be forgiven, “Just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins are covered” (Romans 4:6-7).
In Luke 7:40-42, we learn that it does not matter how much we have sinned in terms of the debt we have incurred. Even one sin or a few sins constitute a debt that we are unable to repay. The notorious sinner and the “good moral person” both have the same problem, neither can atone for their particular sins.
In Matthew 18:24 our sins against God are compared to a man who owed a king ten thousand talents, which was a tremendous debt. Jackson notes, “Ten thousand talents is an enormous debt of some $10,000,000. In Palestine a laboring man's daily wages were one shilling (approx. 17 cents). It would have taken the servant more than 200,000 years to pay off that debt!” (p. 49). Barclay observes that this debt “was more than the total budget of the ordinary province. The total revenue of Idumaea, Judaea, and Samaria was only 600 talents; the total revenue of even a wealthy province like Galilee was only 300 talents. Here was a debt, which was greater than a king's ransom. Suppose the debts to be paid in sixpences. The 100 denarii debt could have been carried in one pocket. The ten thousand talent debt would have taken to carry it an army of about 8,600 carriers, each carrying a sack of sixpences 60lbs in weight” (p. 214). Even sinning once is like owing a million dollars to the bank with nothing but a weekly paycheck that would not even make a dent in the interest.
Why Do not More People Take Advantage of God’s Grace?
Recently I received a denominational publication that said, “80% of all churches in America are non-growing churches (this includes every denomination). 95% of all Christians (that is, all people professing to believe in Christ) have never led another person to Christ. 98% of all growth in the American church is church transfer. 80% of all churches retain 10% or less of their visitors. Most people who are looking for a church will visit seven churches. If not satisfied, it will be 10 years before they come back to church”.
“Well I Have Not Killed Anyone”
This is certainly the attitude that I had at one time. “Maybe people who are really bad need to become part of some church, but I am doing just fine”. This is the attitude that the drug addicts and prostitutes need Jesus, but I do not really need His help. Yet many verses in the Bible point out that there are many other sins besides murder that result in spiritual death. God even condemned a couple for what many today would call a little white lie (Acts 5:1-10). James reminds us that failing to do the right thing is also a sin, “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin” (4:17). It is also further pointed out that the violation of any law of God is serious, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). Even showing partiality, like paying more attention to a rich visitor than a poor visitor is sinful (2:9). While murder and adultery may involve more physical consequences in this life, any sin will cut us off from God. We can even commit a sin when worshipping God! (1 Corinthians 11:27) I do believe that many people in our society feel that they really have not sinned against God or done something evil unless they have done something that would put them in jail. People need to be educated that there are many things are that “legal” in our society that are sinful. God’s standard of morality and man’s are not the same (Matthew 5:44-48; 5:28). In addition, note the following “standard” of judgment on the last day:
Matthew 25:31-46 "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32"And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. 34"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' 37"Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? 38'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39'And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' 40"And the King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' 41"Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' 44"Then they themselves also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' 45"Then He will answer them, saying, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' 46"And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
“I Never Claimed to Be Perfect”
Some people resent God calling them a sinner, their reasoning is, “Hey, I never claimed to be perfect”, “I did not ask to be born into this world”, and “I never said I agree with the moral standard in the Bible, so why am I condemned for not following it?” First, as long as people view “sin” as nothing more than “human imperfection” they are missing the point. God created men and women with limitations, Adam and Eve both had human limitations in the garden, for example, and they were not all knowing. Yet, having limitations does not equal being a sinner. The sins condemned in the Bible are something far beyond human imperfection (Romans 1:28-32). The writer James does not link sin with human imperfection, rather he links it with sinful lust(James 1:13; 1 John 2:15-17). If we think we sin because we were created with limitations, then we will resent God’s rules and His command to repent. Second, being born into this world means that one is being given the opportunity to be with God forever. Third, the standard presented in the Bible is still true whether or not a person accepts it. The Bible does not cease to be true just because someone does not like what it says (John 17:17; Acts 13:46). Fourth, such a person needs to read the Bible and seriously contemplate the standards presented therein. Concerning the fruit of the Spirit, Paul noted, “against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:23), which seems to imply that no law condemns such character traits.
“I Do Not Judge So I am Immune From Being Judged”
I find a number of people who seem convinced that if they do not “preach” to anyone or “condemn” anyone that God will not condemn them. Some think that Matthew 7:1 teaches such an ethic, yet if it does, Jesus violated His own ethic, for the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) does issue condemnation upon many people (5:20,22,28-32,47; 6:1-5,7,16; 7:21-23). In contrast, people need to realize that they will be in trouble for not making some judgments (Ezekiel 3:18-19; Ephesians 5:11; 2 Timothy 4:2-4). Let us note the proper application of James 2:13 “mercy triumphs over judgment as well”: Please note that James is not teaching that mercy is the opposite of keeping the commands of God, rather, showing mercy in the context involves keeping the command to love your neighbor as yourself. Those who continue to despise the poor can expect to receive no mercy at the judgment. The law of liberty cannot be contrasted with mercy; rather it defines, commands, and exhorts Christians to be merciful. For example, when we approach a brother or sister privately concerning a sin in which they are involved, we are showing mercy. James is not teaching that being merciful covers habitual rebellion to God in other areas of our life, or makes up for not being a Christian. But rather, if we are doing the best we can to abide by God’s law, and seeking forgiveness for when we sin, showing mercy to those in physical and spiritual need, then God will extend mercy to us at the last day (1 John 1:5-10).
“God Is Too Picky”
My first response to such a complaint would be “Where?” “Give me an example”. Such an argument fails to realize that God’s concern for preciseness when it comes to keeping His laws is for our own good. I find that people who complain about God’s exactness, turn right around and argue for preciseness when they are in positions of authority, are trying to run a successful business, defend a client, make a contract or when they are personally wronged. Secondly, since God is a holy and righteous God (1 John 1:5), I would argue that God is never “picky”. God has never given a useless or unimportant detail in any of His laws. God does not exist to simply make legislation for the purpose of making legislation. God is completely holy, and all wise, therefore, He never binds upon man something that is unnecessary or picky. God’s own personal response to the accusation that it is impossible to please Him is found in Matthew 25:24ff. Far from being impossible to please, unreasonable, and just waiting to condemn people, see the picture of God that is presented in John 3:16; Ezekiel 18; Matthew 11:28-30; 1 Timothy 2:4-6; 2 Peter 3:9.
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017