The Immeasurable Riches of God’s Grace
Brian Hedges | May 13, 2018
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, near the beginning of his little book All of Grace, tells the story of a minister visiting poor woman he intended to help. He had money in hand to give her, but when he knocked on door, she didn’t answer. Later he found out why: she thought he was the landlord coming to collect rent!
Spurgeon then said: “Now it is my desire to be heard, and therefore I want to say that I am not calling for the rent; indeed, it is not the object of this book to ask anything of you, but to tell you that salvation is all of grace, which means free, gratis, for nothing.” Well, that’s my object this morning: I just want to tell you about “the immeasurable riches of God’s grace.”
I know it’s Mothers’ Day today. This isn’t exactly a Mothers’ Day sermon, but when I think about moms, there’s nothing that I think moms need more than grace. There’s nothing more important that moms can share with their children than the grace of God, and there’s no more important response that we can make to the grace that God has given to us through our mothers than to say thank you, which is related to grace. So, in many ways this does fit, I think, a Mothers’ Day kind of message.
Now, the sermon’s going to be a little bit different this morning in that I’m not going to root in one text. I almost always do that, but this morning I’m going to do what the old preachers used to call a “string of pearls” sermon. That’s where you have one theme with lots of different texts. So, the theme of this sermon is grace, and we’re going to look at maybe two dozen or so passages of Scripture; we’re just going to hit them quickly. But what I want to do is just survey what the New Testament says to us about the grace of God, and I want to go about it in this way: I want us to look at three basic things about grace, and then break these down even further, but I want us to think about:
I. The Magnitude of God’s Grace
II. The Dimensions of God’s Grace
III. Our Response to God’s Grace
Okay? So, that’s the plan.
I. The Magnitude of God’s Grace
Let’s look, first of all, at the magnitude of God’s grace. Here I just want to emphasize how the Bible describes God’s grace in terms of its measure. There are all kinds of ways the Bible talks about this; let me give you some examples.
Here’s the first: in John 1:14 and 16 the Scriptures describe the fullness of grace that we receive through Jesus Christ. You know these verses well: “And the word became flesh,” Jesus the eternal Word became flesh in the incarnation, “and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And then two verses later, verse 16, “For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.”
Now, I read a passage like that and I think about a fountain, a fountain that is full and that is overflowing, and then we receive from the streams of that fountain. That’s the image that comes to my mind here, the fullness of grace that is given to us in Jesus Christ. This passage, of course, shows us that Jesus is this channel of God’s grace, the source of God’s grace. All grace comes to us through Jesus Christ; the only way we get grace at all is through the Son of the Father, the word who was made flesh.
The Scripture uses other words to describe this grace. In Acts 4:33 it is described as great grace. The passage tells us that “with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.”
This was characteristic of the church in Acts. You should read through the book of Acts sometime and just circle every time the word “grace” appears. There’s a lot about grace in the book of Acts, and we want to be a church that’s characterized by great grace, that great grace is upon us.
Here’s another passage: Romans 5:17. Paul says, “For if because of one man’s trespass death reigned through that one man,” of course he’s talking about Adam, right, the first Adam who sinned, and through his sin death came to all. “If because of one man’s trespass death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”
And then two other places in Romans 5 you also have this word “abounding,” or “abounded.” Look in verse 20: “Moreover, the law entered that the offense might abound, but where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.”
Have you ever heard of that old book, written by John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress? He wrote a spiritual autobiography that was called Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. Well, he’s getting his language from this verse, “where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.”
And then you have language of wealth that’s used. So, in Ephesians 1:7, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”
Now, these are just some of the texts in Scripture that describe the magnitude of God’s grace, the wealth or the abundance of God’s grace. I think we have to just stop and really think about these words, because of the way superlative language is misused today. We misuse superlative language. So when you hear a phrase like “amazing grace,” “amazing” just doesn’t mean that much to us anymore, because of the way we use it. We use the word “amazing” in such careless ways.
I was reminded, as I was preparing, of C.S. Lewis’s “15 Rules for Writing,” and this was rule number 14 (if you want to read the other 14 you have to go look it up on the Internet, but here’s number 14); he said, “Use words appropriate for the subject. Don’t use words too big for the subject; don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very,’ otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to take about something that’s really infinite.” That’s good writing advice!
That’s good advice just for everyday life, because we walk out of a movie and we say, “Oh, that was amazing!” We go to a theme park: “It was just incredible!” Or we have a really good dinner or we enjoy a really wonderful song and we say, “It was just wonderful! It just blew my mind!” Really? Dinner? I mean, dinner’s great, but… We use superlative language, so that when we come up against something that’s really amazing and really mind-blowing and really wonderful, there are no words left.
Well, the Bible is not careless with its language; the Bible is very careful with its language, and when the Bible talks about grace being abounding, it means there’s much of it. There’s so much of it.
Let me give you an illustration of how I just began to understand this 20, 25 years ago. I remember one of the very first times I went to Warren Dunes. Many of you, I’m sure, have been there, Warren Dunes. I remember going out there and sitting on the beach and just playing in the sand. I was probably 19 years old at the time. So I was playing in the sand, and I just thought of that verse in Psalm 139 that says, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them they are more than the sand.”
I looked at all these grains of sand in my hand. I couldn’t even count them, the grains in my hand. There were hundreds just in my hand, maybe thousands! And I just started meditating; I just started thinking, and I thought, “You know, handful after handful, pile after pile, dune after dune, beach after beach, desert after desert; all the sands, all the grains of sand on the earth, and the Bible tells me that God’s thoughts towards me are greater than the number of all the sands on the earth!” That is amazing grace. That is something that is all-surpassing.
I was just curious how many grains of sand there are on the earth, so I looked it up, and here’s what I found on NPR. They said that “if you assume a grain of sand has an average size and you can calculate how many grains are in a teaspoon, and then you multiply that by all the beaches and all the deserts in the world, the earth has roughly” (this is very roughly) “7.5 x 1018 grains of sand, which is seven quintillion, five hundred quadrillion grains.” Now, I get lost after a billion or a zillion, so I don’t even know how many quintillion is, but it’s a lot!
But you know what? There’s still a finite number of grains of sand. It’s still finite. It could still be counted. If somebody could live long enough and could figure out a way to actually calculate, it could be counted. But God’s thoughts towards you could never be counted. That’s how amazing the grace is; that’s how vast the grace is.
You remember that song by Gordon Gentan back in the ’80s? Some of you have heard this, I’m sure, “Like the ocean in waves…” There’s another metaphor. Think about the waves of the ocean; you look out at the vastness of the ocean and you just can’t see the end.
“Like the ocean in waves ever seeking the shore
To his children comes the grace of the Lord,
And like a mighty sea, so deep and so wide,
His grace to us is an endless tide.
“Grace upon grace, like the waves on the shore,
Always enough, always more.
Grace upon grace, like the waves on the shore,
All that we need is ours from the Lord.”
There’s a magnitude of grace. There is abundant grace. So we’re exactly right to sing in our hymns about the amazing grace of God or the “marvelous, infinite, matchless grace” of God.
Here’s just a few more of the words, really quickly, that the Bible uses. The Bibles talks about surpassing grace, sufficient grace, glorious grace, riches of grace, immeasurable riches of his grace, and then, on top of all that, grace that is multiplied to you! The magnitude of God’s grace; it’s so great that there’s no way to describe it, but we’re going to try anyway.
II. The Dimensions of God’s Grace
So, we’re going to try to dig into exactly what does this grace entail. So the second point here is the dimensions of God’s grace. As just an illustration, I want to just look at a word that’s used to describe grace in 1 Peter 4:10. Peter says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”
Now, Peter here is talking about the grace that God gives us in terms of spiritual gifts, that God gives grace and through his grace he gives us gifts; we’re going to talk about that here in a moment. But he uses this phrase to describe it, “God’s varied grace.” There’s an interesting word there: it’s the word poikolos (ποικολος) in Greek, and it means “of many kinds” or “varied.”
But it’s interesting; this word is used in the Old Testament in a really well-known story, the story of Joseph. You remember that Joseph’s father, Jacob, gave him a coat of many colors. Well, that’s the word that’s used here. His coat was poikolos; it was a coat of many colors, it was a variegated coat, it was varied in its colors. I think that’s a good metaphor for the grace of God. The grace of God is varied. It has multiple dimensions to it. It’s like a many-colored coat.
Or you might think of it like this: you could think that grace (the way we normally define this, of course, is God’s unmerited favor) - we could think that grace is the light of God’s favor that shines upon us, but to really understand it we need to see that light refracted into its many colors. So that’s what I want to do here for the next 20 minutes or so. I want you to notice ten dimensions to God’s grace in the New Testament, ten aspects of God’s grace. I think this just about covers all of them; I’m lumping some together here, and some of these will overlap with one another, but ten ways to think about God’s grace, or ten dimensions or aspects of God’s grace that we get in the New Testament.
(1) Okay, let’s start with a familiar one: first of all, saving grace. We all know this verse: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast,” Ephesians 2:8 and 9.
Now, I think every Protestant evangelical church is going to have, somewhere in their doctrinal statement, that “we believe in salvation by grace.” We all confess that. But what does that mean? What does it mean that we are saved by grace and not by works? We have to break that down further; we have to understand what it is that God’s grace does for us. So we have to dig into that further. What does God’s grace do for us that saves us? How is it that God’s grace brings salvation in our lives? So, some of the other points here I think will fill that out.
(2) So think, secondly, about electing grace. Look at 2 Timothy 1:8-9. Paul says, “Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works,” sounds a lot like Ephesians 2:8, and now he explains how he saved us and called us to a holy calling: “...not because of our works, but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus - ” when? “ - before the ages began.”
This is sovereign, electing grace. This is grace that you marked you out before the world began, before you did anything good or evil, before you had anything to contribute to your salvation; this grace looked at you, marked you out, and said, “That one; I’m going to save him, I’m going to save her.” It’s sovereign, electing grace.
Now, I know that the doctrine of election is controversial among Christians, but I think it’s pretty clear in Scripture, and I liked the way Spurgeon described it. Spurgeon said, “I believe in the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that if God had not chosen me I should never have chosen him; and I am sure he chose me before I was born, or else he never would have chosen me afterwards; and he must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find in myself why he should have looked upon me with a special love. So I am forced to accept that great biblical doctrine.”
Don’t you feel the same way? When you look at your life, can you see any reason why God would have saved you? If you can’t see a reason why God would have saved you, it must be by grace! Do you know why you came to Christ? Do you know why you believed in Christ? It’s not because you were seeking him; it’s because he was seeking you first. You’re saved by grace.
Paul says in Romans 11:5-6, “So, too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace, but if it is by grace it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” You see, these two categories are mutually exclusive. You can either be saved by grace or you can be saved by works, but you can’t be saved by both. If you’re saved by grace it is no longer by works, and if you’re saved by works it is no longer of grace. And of course, nobody can be saved by works, because you don’t have enough good works to be saved. So it’s either by grace or you’re not saved at all.
An old hymn writer put it like this:
“His love from eternity fixed upon you
Broke forth and discovered its flame
When each, with the cords of his kindness, he drew
And brought you to love his great name.
“What was there in you that could merit esteem
Or give the Creator delight?”
Here’s the answer:
“’Twas even so, Father, we ever must sing
Because it seemed good in thy sight.”
It’s just grace. Why does God love you? He loves you because he loves you. Do you know how freeing that is, that the basis of God’s love for you is not in you? The basis of God’s grace for you is not in your doing. In fact, do you know what the one qualification you have to have in order to receive grace is to not deserve it. So, if you think you deserve it this morning, then you’re not a good candidate; but if you think you don’t deserve it, then you’re a wonderful candidate. If you think you’re not sinful enough to need grace then you’re really in a serious predicament, but if you feel the weight of your sins, then the good news is that there’s grace for you, because grace is what God offers to sinners. Electing grace.
(3) And then justifying grace, number three. Look at Romans 3:23-24: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
This is wonderful news. This is the best news for sinners in the world, that God justifies us by his grace. What is justification? Justification simply means that God pardons all of your sins, and then he declares you as righteous in his sight. He says you are not guilty, you are in the right before the bar of divine justice. That means that no charge against you can stand, it means that no accusation can condemn you, if you’re in Christ. If you believe in Christ, if you are in Christ, then Christ’s righteousness is yours and you are accepted before God, just as righteous as Jesus is righteous.
“Well may the accuser roar
Of crimes that I have done;
I know them all, and thousands more,
Jehovah knoweth none.”
There’s justification. You say, “Well, how in the world can God do that? How can God look at a sinner, how can God look at someone who’s ungodly, who’s wicked, who’s not righteous in themselves and say, ‘I accept you as righteous’?”
Well, the text answers. “We are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” that’s verse 24; then verse 25, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith.” That means that when Jesus died on the cross he died as a propitiation, as an atoning sacrifice. He died to satisfy the just anger and wrath of God against our sins. He took that wrath, he took that judgment, upon himself.
Paul says, “This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” God doesn’t appear to be righteous; he forgives sinners, and he does that without exacting a penalty! How could that be righteous? How can he forgive Abraham for lying and David for adultery? All these Old Testament saints, when you read their stories they don’t really look like saints! How does God forgive them?
Well, he does it because God’s righteousness is demonstrated in the cross of Christ. And then verse 26: “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
It’s the best news in the world. It means that God can be utterly just and righteous in declaring you righteous in his sight because Jesus bore the penalty for your sins, and your sins were then forgiven if you believe in him. It’s justifying grace.
(4) Then, number four, you have quickening or converting grace. Ephesians 2:4-5: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved…”
Notice what Paul says there. He doesn’t say that you were sick in your trespasses. He doesn’t say you just had a bad fever. He doesn’t even say you were in a coma. He says you were dead, and if you’re dead there’s nothing you can do to respond until God gives you live! Paul says, “God gave you life, he quickened you, even when you were dead. He made you alive together Christ, and he did it by grace.”
Remember those words from Wesley’s hymn:
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night.
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.”
The grace of God that quickens us, that bring us to life.
Maybe one of the best stories of grace in all of church history is the story of John Newton. John Newton was a slave trader in the 18th century. That means he was actually kidnapping people and then selling them into slavery. I mean, you talk about awful. He was a blasphemer, he was a wicked, immoral man - I mean, he was just the worst of the lot. He was about as bad a person as you can imagine.
And then God, in a miraculous work of converting grace, reached down and took John Newton and plucked him up out of the mire and turned him into a gentle, godly, humble, gracious man, turned him into a pastor and hymn writer, so that he gave us the words of the most famous hymn in the English language,
“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.”
It was a story of grace, and this is what John Newton said about his own life. He said, “I am not what I ought to be, ah! how imperfect and deficient; not what I might be, considering my privileges and opportunities; not what I wish to be; God, who knows my heart, knows I wish to be like him. I am not what I hope to be, ere long to drop this clay tabernacle, to be like him and see him as he is; not what I once was, a child of sin and slave of devil. Though not all of these, not what I ought to be, not what I might be, not what I wish or hope to be, and not what I once was, I think I can truly say with the apostle, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’”
Saved by grace.
(5) Quickening, converting grace, and then here’s another one: sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace. God’s grace, when it saves us, it saves us thoroughly. It justifies us from sin so that the penalty is removed, and then it sets us on a path towards holiness. Listen to what Paul says in Titus chapter 2: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”
Do you see it? Grace brings salvation and it trains us to do something. You might think of it like this: grace is God’s gymnasium. It trains us. It’s a personal trainer. It’s a cross trainer. It trains us; it gets us into shape. It trains us to say no to certain things and to say yes to certain things. It trains us to give up our sins, to renounce our sins, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age. This is what John Calvin called a double grace, a grace that forgives our sins and then renews us by the Holy Spirit.
Again, the hymn writers are wonderful here. I’m quoting a lot of them here this morning, because the hymns are so helpful, I think, in packaging theology for us in ways we can understand. So no apology for hymns in our church.
Listen to what Charles Wesley said:
“He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free,
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood avails for me.”
There’s the double grace! Cancelled sin - that means the record is cancelled, your guilt, it’s done away with once and forever; but he breaks the power of cancelled sin, too, so that you’re set free from its chains.
Or, Augustus Toplady,
“Let the water and the blood
From thy wounded side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure:
Save from wrath and make me pure.”
There it is again, the double grace, a double cure. It saves us from wrath (that’s justification), makes us pure (that’s sanctification). Listen: you don’t get one without the other. No one is justified who is not also afterwards sanctified. The two always go together. Sanctification begins the moment you’re justified. As soon as you come to Christ in saving faith, he begins to work in your life to change you. Now, that can be a slow, painful process, and none of us are as sanctified as we could be or as sanctified as we should be, but if you’re a Christian you are on the road to holiness. God is making you like the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here are just a couple more texts, really quickly. “Moreover, the law entered that the offense might abound, but where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The reign of grace - that’s grace that reigns, leading us on to holiness.
In fact, that’s what Romans 6 teaches us, just immediately following these verses. Romans chapter 6 is answering the charge of the antinomian: shall we continue in sin that grace might increase? Paul’s already said that where sin increased, where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more. “Okay, then, Paul, let’s sin all we can so that we’ll get more grace!”
He says, “No. No, that’s not it at all, because if you’ve died to sin you can’t continue to live in it.” Then he builds this argument that because Christ died on the cross and you died with him, Christ died to the power of sin, he defeated the power of sin, and in the same way you are dead to the power of sin and now you can live in a new way.
Look at what he says in verses 12 through 14, “Let not sin, therefore, reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For - ” he’s giving the reason now for how and why you should live that way “ - For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
That’s sanctification, the appeal to live free from sin. Notice it’s not the law. The appeal is grace. You’re not under the law, but under grace. You’re under a new master. The law was your old master, and sin worked through the law, but now grace is the new master. I mean, really it’s Jesus who is the new master, but Jesus in his grace, and through the reign of grace you are free from sin. So, sanctifying grace.
And now let’s turn a corner, just for a couple minutes, and let’s think about some of the practical aspects of God’s grace in our personal lives as Christians, because it’s not just saving grace, it’s also grace that covers every aspect of your life right now. Let me give you some examples.
(6) This is number six: equipping, enabling grace. Okay, this is the grace that gives us spiritual gifts to serve one another, and then the power and the energy and the strength to use those gifts. Paul says, Romans 12:4-6, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same functions, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually members one of another, having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us. Let us use them.”
You see, grace is what gives you a gift. God gives gifts according to grace. So your spiritual gifts are grace gifts. Paul says, “As you have received a gift, use the gift.” So one of the responses to God’s grace practically, in our personal lives, is actually to use your gifts to serve others. This is what 1 Peter 4:10 is really about, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”
This means that, in all of our service, the very best that we can do in serving God, whatever the fruit is, whatever the results are, we actually give all the glory to God, because it’s his grace that’s empowering us to do it. Okay? So this is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them,” talking about the other apostles. “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” God’s grace empowering us for service.
(7) Then, number seven, there’s giving grace. Giving grace. You see this in 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9. “But as you excel in everything - in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you - see that you excel in this act of grace also.” He’s talking about the grace of giving, giving sacrificially to meet the needs of others. And then here’s the example, verse 9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
You see another reference to this in chapter 9:7-8: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” We can never outgive God. God gives grace so that you can give, and then he abounds in grace as you give so as to supply every need.
(8) And then number eight (maybe this is the one some of you need the most this morning) there is suffering grace. Suffering grace; that is, grace for you in the midst of your suffering, in the midst of your trials. You remember Paul in 2 Corinthians 12; he talks about how the Lord, in order to keep him from becoming conceited because of the revelations that he had received, the Lord gave him a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass him, to keep him from becoming conceited.
He says (this is verse 8), “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”
What trials are you going through right now? What transitions in your personal life? Maybe some of you have recently had a very negative diagnosis and you’re facing cancer and then chemotherapy and radiation and all that goes with that. Maybe you’ve just had a surgery or you’re about to have one. Maybe you’ve recently lost a loved one, a family member. Maybe you have just those unremitting, ongoing burdens of life. You may have children with difficult health problems and you need grace to carry that, and they need the grace as well.
You may have seemingly unending financial struggles and difficulties; the bills just come in, the ends are always too short, try as hard as you can you just can’t seem to get caught up. You might be facing unemployment. There might be relational difficulties; you might have a marriage that’s just hanging on by threads.
Whatever it is, the Lord says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” There’s grace for our trials.
Here’s another one of the great hymns (do you remember this one?):
“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.”
You see, sometimes when we’re going through trials it doesn’t feel like grace. To the eyes of our flesh, it doesn’t look like grace. It looks like, “What did I do wrong?! Why are you treating me this way, God?” That’s what it feels like when you’re going through it. But the eyes of faith look beyond the trial and says, “God, you say your grace is sufficient, you say your power will be made perfect in our weakness, you’ve promised that you’ll be with us through this trial, and so I’m relying on you right now, I’m trusting in you right now; give me grace.”
You know what? When you call out for it, he will. He will, every single time; he will give you grace. You know what? None of us go through the trials in our lives with faith without benefitting from them, and none of us go through easy times in our lives and then look back and say, “Wow, that’s where God really taught me something.” We don’t think that, do we? We don’t look through the easy times and say, “That’s where God really drew me to himself.” It’s through the trials, and there’s grace for those trials.
Two more, and then we’re almost done; I just want to talk about the response to grace in the last few minutes. Two more dimensions to God’s grace.
(9) There’s keeping grace. Do you ever feel like you might not make it as a Christian? Do you ever have doubts that are so strong that you’re just not sure about something, or do you ever just feel like the temptations are so strong that don’t you if you can keep standing or keep walking, or do you just feel like you’re always on the cycle of repentance and then you blow it again and you repent again and then you blow it again, and you just wonder, are you always going to be on this treadmill? Well, here’s good news. There is keeping grace that sanctifies us and keeps us and renews and restores us.
1 Thessalonians chapter 5: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will do it.” Paul’s not calling on you to do it. Obviously, there’s a cooperative role that we have, but that’s not what he’s doing here; he’s commending us to the God of peace, the God who is faithful, and says, “He will do it.” And then, in verse 28, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” It’s God’s grace that does it.
I mean, we just sang it this morning, didn’t we?
“Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wand’ring heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, Lord; take and seal it,
Seal it for thy courts above.”
1 Peter 5:10: “After you have suffered a little while, the God of grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” Some of those words have the idea of repairing or mending something that’s broken. Do you ever feel broken? God’s grace is what mends you when you’re broken. God’s grace is what restores you; God’s grace is what confirms and strengthens and establishes you. The only way any of us will ever get to heaven is by grace, and by grace alone.
(10) And then, when we get there, what do we have to look forward to? And when Jesus comes again and the new heavens and the new earth, and when it’s all said and done and we reach the eternal state, what do we have to look forward to? This is what we have: we have eternal, never-ending wonders of grace!
Look at this text: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 2:4-7.
Paul just piles the words up in his attempt to communicate something that’s just beyond our imagination. Just look at the pile-up here. God gives us kindness. He gives us grace in kindness, riches of grace in kindness - no, it’s immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness. He does this so that in the coming ages, not just an age but ages, age upon age upon age, “when we’ve been there ten thousand years” kinds of ages; in age upon age, what does God have for us? Only one thing: grace. That’s all you get; you just get grace, if you’re a Christian. If you’re in Christ, that’s all you get is grace, and do you know what I think that means?
I think it means that every need we have, every crevice of our being that feels a hunger or a need or a lack or a want for something, will be filled to the full, to the brim, with the glorious fullness of God in Jesus Christ, giving us never-ending joy! That’s what we have to look forward to: never-ending joy as we bask in the light of God’s grace and his kindness toward us in Jesus Christ!
Brothers and sisters, your best life is not now! It’s coming, it’s coming, and it’s going to be wonderful.
III. Our Response to God’s Grace
So how, then, do we respond to God’s grace? Let me give you three responses.
(1) First of all, receive it. Receive it. Paul writes of those who “receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness.” You have to receive it. This is the basic response to the gospel, right? Receive and believe. Receive the Lord Jesus Christ and believe in him. Receive God’s grace.
Years ago I read a wonderful story in Max Lucado’s book No Wonder They Call Him the Savior. It’s the story of a woman, named Maria, who lived in Brazil. She had a young adult daughter named Christina who grew rebellious and discontent. She didn’t want to live at home anymore, she wanted to see the world, she was tired of the very simple, meager conditions in which they lived. So, very much like the story of the prodigal son, she left. She left home. She took what she had and she left, slipped away, breaking her mother’s heart.
Conditions in Brazil, of course, could be pretty terrible, and her mother knew this, and so as soon as she knew that her daughter had gone through the city she went to a drugstore, before she got to the bus stop she went to a drugstore and she got in a little photo booth and she took as many pictures of herself as she could afford. It was those little, you know, small little black and white pictures. On each one of those pictures, on the back, she wrote a note.
And then she went to the big city and she went to the red light district, she went to all the brothels, she went to the hotels, she went to the bars; she went to every seedy place she could, as long as she had money to do it, and on the bathroom mirrors she taped a picture, hoping that her daughter, in a moment of desperation, would eventually see it.
The weeks go by, and Christina has run out of money. Life is starting to get really hard and she’s thinking about going home, she doesn’t know if she can. Then she reaches the bottom of the stairs in the seedy hotel she’s been staying in, and there she sees a familiar face, the face of her mom. She pulls the picture off the mirror, and she reads what it says on the back: “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home.” And she did.
The gospel tells us that in Jesus we have the portrait of the loving face of God, and behind that portrait, behind all the work of Christ, all that he has done for us, he is saying, “Wherever you are, whatever you’ve become, whatever your sins are, however much you’ve screwed up, however wicked you think you are, however undeserving you think you are, it doesn’t matter; please come home! All will be forgiven.”
That invitation is to you this morning. Whatever you’ve done, whatever you’ve done. You may have stolen 10,000 dollars, you may be a chronic, habitual liar; you might have committed adultery. I don’t hesitate to say this as a gospel minister: you may have taken someone’s life. God will forgive you. He will forgive you if you will come to him in repentance and faith. Come to Christ and receive God’s grace. You have nothing to contribute; you just come with open hands and receive.
(2) Receive it; number two, give thanks for it. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:15, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”
It’s been said that New Testament doctrine is grace, New Testament ethics are gratitude. That’s it, grace and gratitude, and all of your obedience flows out of that, flows out of gratitude to God for his grace. “Thanks be to God!” This is what our worship comes from. “Thanks be to God.” Brothers and sisters, if the grace of God, what we’ve talked about this morning, if this is true, how we should sing of the grace of God! Give thanks to him.
(3) And then finally, number three, continue in it. Continue in the grace of God.
One more text, this one from the book of Acts 13:43, “And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.”
Continue in it! You don’t start in grace and then move on to works, you don’t start in grace and then graduate to self effort; you start in grace, you take every single step in grace, you continue in grace from first to last. The whole Christian life is grace. God is the God of all grace, and all that he has for you in Christ Jesus is grace.
Therefore, this morning, receive his grace, give thanks to him for his grace, and continue in his grace. Let’s pray.
Our gracious God, words really do fail to describe what is indescribable. We can use all of these superlative terms to describe the magnitude of your grace, and we still fall short. These are wonders that really do blow our minds, these are wonders that reduce us to what we really are, on our knees, beggars who are just freely receiving of your goodness. So this morning we just say thank you. Thank you for this grace, thank you for all the grace that you have for us, the grace that we can see, the grace that we can’t see.
Lord, I pray right now for anyone who does not know that grace in personal experience, for the dead person who needs to be made alive by your grace; would you do it right now? Diffuse the quickening ray, flood the dungeon with light, let the chains fall off. May the unbeliever become a believer and receive your grace today.
Lord, I pray for the downcast, discouraged, struggling Christian who’s beset with trials, just hanging on for dear life in the midst of all the pressures and burdens and hardships, and I pray right now that the all-sufficiency of your grace would just overwhelm, that we would see the vastness of your grace, the magnitude of your grace, the sufficiency of your grace.
Father, I pray for all of us this morning, that as we come now to the table, as we continue to sing, and then as we live our lives this week that our lives would be marked by profound gratitude. We are hell-deserving sinners, that’s what we are, and you have shown us immeasurable riches of grace. So, we want to say thank you, and we want to live our lives in response - not to earn anything; there’s nothing to earn, it’s all been given. But we want to live our lives in grateful response to this love and to this grace. We want to give ourselves to you, so help us to do that this morning. We pray it in Jesus’s name, Amen.