More “Amazing” Than You Think
It is right to say that God’s grace is “amazing.” But I wonder if it’s even more amazing than the way we typically speak of it. As the song states, it is a wonderful thing to know I am unworthy and imperfect, but counted as holy and as an heir of God’s blessings. It is a delight to know that I was lost, but now am found.
But if you notice, much of how we typically describe grace remains in the region of erasing the negatives about us. This is certainly part of what has happened. The apostle Paul speaks frequently about God’s precious grace in redeeming his life from being one who persecuted the church and transformed him into one who promoted the church.
But think about it like a ledger. If there is red in our ledger–a balance I owe and cannot pay–it is the case that grace cancels the debt. But it does more than that!
Why Would Jesus Need Grace?
If we believe that Jesus was tempted as we are, yet was without sin, how do we make sense of statements like the one Luke makes?
(Jesus) was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was on him.Luke 2:40 (Emphasis mine)
If grace is merely the erasure of our sin, then it would seem unnecessary for Jesus to have it. He didn’t need any forgiveness. I believe passages such as this invite us to think of grace as a positive force at work within the people of God.
How Grace Grows
An early challenge in the church addressed in Scripture is that apparently some people were cheapening God’s grace by using it as a license to go deeper into sin. Jude speaks with great concern regarding individuals who “pervert the grace of God into a license for immorality (Jude 4).” More familiar to us are Paul’s words on the same topic in Romans 6:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?Romans 6:1-2
How does grace increase? Not through increased sin!
No, we see grace increase as the love of God is more present in our hearts and more evidenced in our actions. This is how we can think of Jesus as a person on whom was the grace of God. It didn’t merely mean that he didn’t have a sin balance in his ledger, but that God’s love and mercy were abundant in his life.
We talk about people who’ve made a lot of mistakes as people especially in need of grace, but in fact it is also the holiest people you know who are in much need of grace–to live in to the beautiful vision that God has for them. Grace is never more present than it is in the life of a person whom God is using for good.
Paul does a nice job of holding in tension both his need for forgiveness, but also the positive role that the grace of God plays in his life of service:
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.I Corinthians 15:9-10 (emphases mine)
God’s grace was at work in Paul for forgiveness, and through Paul for God’s glory.
How Grace Helps
I want to talk about the positive side of grace. How does God’s grace help us even beyond the forgiveness of our sins and shortcomings?
Grace-Filled People Are Generous
I love the way John’s Gospel speaks of God’s generosity toward us. It says:
Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.John 1:16-17
Make no mistake, the Law of Moses was a form of grace. Psalm 119, the longest of them all, is one big love song to God’s Law and how it enlightens a person’s life who follows it. To know what God wants us to do was a huge upgrade from speculation, or a person doing “what is right in his own eyes.” But Jesus is more.
In Jesus, in all of the grace and truth we find in him, it is “grace in place of grace already given.” In the Law, we were recipients of grace. In Jesus, God’s grace has only increased. God is generous with us, and when we are empowered by God’s grace at work within us, we also become more generous.
Consider the description of the early church:
And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.Acts 4:33b-34a
Paul speaks similarly of the impoverished Macedonion Christians who insisted on responding materially during a time of great need:
And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.2 Corinthians 8:1-2
When we trust that God is the one who supplies all of our needs, certainly including our deepest need of forgiveness, then we can hold on to the world and our possessions more loosely. God has given us far beyond what we could have requested, and it is a delight to give in a way that requires God’s ongoing sustenance for us. I gladly share what I have, because I know that God will supply what I lack. You can never out-give God.
Grace-Filled People Serve Passionately
There are strong connections between the words for “gift” (charisma”) and “grace” (“charis“) in Greek. In fact, much of the time they are rather indistinguishable in their use and function. Some people refer to the “spiritual gifts” as “grace gifts” as a way to maintain that sense of the term, embedded in the word. In numerous places in the New Testament we find lists of different kinds of gifts.
So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.Romans 12:5-6a
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.I Peter 4:10
The underlying point is that every person who has received forgiveness through grace has also received a purpose through grace. God has given you abilities, experiences, talents, and a number of opportunities to be a participant in the ongoing ministry of Jesus through his church.
Grace-Filled People Stand On A Solid Foundation
Closely related to the idea of giftedness is the idea of unity. Using our gifts for Christ through serving each other leads us to a deeper unity in Christ. Through our difficulties, grace also has an effect of establishing us.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.I Peter 5:10
I love Peter’s description for what a grace-full God does. God makes you stronger. God gives you solid ground. God helps you to steady your feet. As Paul expresses so beautifully in Romans 8, there is no power in the entire Cosmos strong enough to take us out of the grip of God’s love. What God has established will stand firm.
Full of Grace and Truth
Growing in God’s grace means accepting the truth of God’s love and our redemption at a deep level. Satan wants us to believe lies:
- I’m not worthy in God’s eyes.
- I am whatever people say I am.
- I don’t deserve to be part of God’s work in the world.
- My life’s value depends entirely on my performance.
But grace counters these self-limiting lies with the truth about who we are in Christ:
- In Christ, I am counted as righteous, because he is worthy.
- I am who God says I am…his beloved.
- God invites me to be part of his work in the world.
- My life’s value is intrinsic as an image bearer of my Father, now marked with the blood of the Lamb. My performance is one way I respond to the joy of my redemption.
The most grace-filled people you know are not merely the ones who’ve been forgiven the most. They are those who’ve come to truly flourish as redeemed, active participants in the love of God, lived out in service alongside the community of God.
May God’s grace ever abound in us!