We have been in a series called “God Is…” where we have looked at a lot of different verses in the Bible that help us to better understand the various aspects of God’s character. Our goal is to make sure we see God, not as we want him to be, or maybe as we have always thought him to be, but as he truly is.
We only know and understand God because he has chosen to reveal himself to us. He has a desire to be known.
So, we’ve looked at how God is Infinite, big and vast, and God is Sovereign, in control, God is Holy, set apart and righteous, and God is Jealous, desiring to be first place in the lives of his people with people fully devoted to Him. As we have looked at each of these characteristics, it would be very easy for us to walk away with concern, possibly even being afraid of this God, because when we think of a big, holy, sovereign, jealous God, and we think about ourselves, we may think, “Who am I ? There is no way I can measure up to THAT.” It might scare us a bit.
In fact, if we take those words and shift them just a bit, where God is the angry, jealous, control freak perfectionist, which is what sometimes those outside the church think of God, we can understand why some people never want to give that kind of God a look. But hopefully during this series, we’ve seen that he is jealous, and holy, and sovereign because he wants the best for us.
I hope it has also reminded us that God is not like us. He deserves to be thought of a little differently than we think of the coworker we go and grab a beer with after work or as the “man upstairs.” But what we don’t want to do is let it cause us to become scared of him. Instead, we should revere him, hold him in high esteem.
And if some of the characteristics of God we’ve mentioned before give you pause, then today is a good day to be here. We have been trying to slowly, week by week, reveal who God is, balancing all these characteristics together to build a more complete picture of God. And today we see that God is Gracious.
The Grace of God in Scripture
As we have traveled through this series, our goal has been to show you that the basis for these characteristics isn’t something that we have made up. We haven’t sat around a room and said, “Well, what do you think God is like?” and then written characteristics down, creating some type of deity wish list. Instead, we have gone to the Bible and seen how each characteristic is revealed either by God’s own testimony or by the testimony of those who had encountered him, and oftentimes both.
The graciousness of God is no different. We can begin in Genesis: God had made a covenant with Abram and told him that he would bless him and that his descendants would be numerous. Up to that point, Abram and his wife Sarah had no children. But here we read:
Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. —Genesis 21:1
A little later in the story, when Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments from God on Mt Sinai, we read:
And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” —Exodus 34: 6-7
This passage may sound a bit familiar. It is at this same time where God revealed himself to also be a jealous God, something Ryan talked about last week. If we jump to the Psalms, we see the same idea repeated.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. —Psalm 103:8
And here is just one more example in the book of Joel. Joel was a prophet, the people were experiencing difficulty, and he was calling them back to God. We read:
Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. —Joel 2:13
And we could continue on, but what I find significant here is that from the very beginning and running all through the Old Testament, we see and read about the grace of God. This is not something we typically associate with God in the Old Testament. Usually, we think God was mean and harsh and we want to scoot past the Old Testament to get to the more loving God of the New Testament. But here we see that God didn’t become a gracious God in the New Testament. He was, is, and always will be a God of grace.
The New Testament continues to reveal the same graciousness to us. In fact, there are 154 occurrences of the greek word for grace, “charis.” Here are just a few examples.
In Peter’s first letter, he wrote,
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. —1 Peter 5:10
One hundred of the New Testament references to grace are used by the Apostle Paul in his writings. It was obviously something he felt very strongly about. In his letter to the Corinthians, he wrote,
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. —1 Corinthians 15:10
And in a letter he wrote to the church at Ephesus, we read:
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
We could go on and on, but I think the case is made. God is Gracious.
Even though this is a word we often use in church and have even sung about, what does it mean that God is gracious? How do we define grace?
Interestingly, the word used for grace in the New Testament wasn’t a common, everyday word people used. In fact, it was a Christian word previously unknown to Greco-Roman ethics and theology. Simply put, grace is God’s loving-kindness to the undeserving. Or as Theologian J.I. Packer put it,”God operating in love toward his people.”
It is the favor shown to people when they have absolutely no basis for demanding it, God’s unmerited favor toward humanity, a generosity or mercy shown because the person showing it wishes to do so. It is based solely on the giver, rather than the worthiness of the recipient.
Grace is free and cannot be earned. It cannot be worked for, paid for, or achieved. In his book Christian Theology, Millard Erickson 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.”
When used to describe God, we need to understand that grace is not something God does, but it’s who he is. This grace isn’t something God gives, but it is the giving of himself.
When we think of grace, we need to understand its uniqueness to Christianity. One commentary I read this week put it this way: Grace is what makes us Christians. Grace is completely dependent upon God. It is needed to become a Christian. We cannot make ourselves Christian, regardless of what we do. There are other religions that you can make yourself. You can make yourself Buddhist. You can make yourself Muslim. But you cannot make yourself a Christian. It is only by the grace of God alone. That is the message of Christianity.
Grace is the summary word for the gospel. But to fully understand grace, there are some underlying presuppositions we have to know and understand to even see a need for grace.
Presuppositions of Grace
For grace to be necessary, we must see a need for it and we must believe there is someone who can meet that need. Let’s begin with the need for grace. This is a tough one for many people.
Is there a true and genuine need? How we answer that question depends on a couple of factors.
First, how do we see our sin? Unless we understand the depth of our sin, that we don’t just need help, we need life, unless we see our need for freedom, redemption, and reconciliation, we won’t see a need for grace. Grace isn’t necessary if man doesn’t have a sin problem.
Building on that, if we think that the payment for sin is anything less than death (Romans 6:23), we won’t see a need for grace. This ties back in with our discussion of the holiness of God. If we think his righteousness and holiness has nothing to do with us, we will minimize grace. What good is grace if we don’t need saving from anything? Grace will be merely a suggestion not a necessity.
Also, if we think there is something, anything, that we can do to take care of this problem ourselves, if we think there is an activity that puts us on God’s good side, or a check we can write, we won’t see a need for grace. Grace isn’t necessary if we can repair our relationship with God ourselves.
So, we must see a need for grace first. How indispensable is grace to us, not as a suggestion or something that makes life easier or enhances how we live, but as something required, critical even, that we cannot live without?
We must also believe there is one who can meet that need and is willing to do so. And since we have established that the Bible clearly teaches that God is a gracious God, we need to see if he is willing to offer us grace. And of course that is an easy question to answer. We have to look no further than Jesus himself to see the embodiment of grace displayed for the world to see.
It is in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that we see God acting to save sinners (that’s you and me.) It is in salvation that we experience God’s grace.
The passage from Ephesians we looked at earlier, exemplifies that God is not only gracious, but he is willing to extend that grace to us. We have the opportunity for salvation. We have the opportunity for life. And we need to see that salvation and grace go hand in hand. You don’t get one without the other. If we don’t believe these premises, then we will always fail to see a need for grace, which is also failure to see a need for God.
The Costliness of Grace
Even though it is a free, undeserved gift given to us by God, grace was very costly. I heard one pastor put it this way: When it comes to free gifts, they are not all the same. If you go to a trade show or a training event for work and a vendor there gives you a goody bag, or some swag — you know the kind, the stuff with their logo all over it — most of that is just junk. You might find a notepad you use or an ink pen, but most of it doesn’t really change your life. How could it? Most of it ends up in the garbage can.
But what if someone gave you a costly gift? Say you needed a surgery but didn’t have the money to pay for it. And someone comes along, sells everything they have, putting themselves into poverty so they could pay for your surgery. It’s a gift that you need, but it is also a gift that is costly. And it is a gift that will radically transform your life.
And we can never, we must never, forget that the gift of salvation that we have by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is entirely free to us. There is nothing we can do to earn it. Ever. But it cost God dearly, the death of his one and only Son, Jesus, on the cross.
Cheap gifts have little impact, but a gift like this should generate a response in us.
Our Response to Grace
What is the proper response? Simply this: Receive it.
When someone offers you a gift like this, don’t refuse it. Don’t turn it away. Don’t look at it and say, “What’s the catch?” You need it like the air you breathe. Receive the gift of grace that God is freely offering you. Some of you need to do just that. Stop saying, “I don’t need it.” Yes, you do.
And recognize you cannot work for it or earn it. Paul writes:
And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. —Romans 11:6
For others, I think a topic like this shows where we have been desensitized. We’ve been in or around church, we hear words like grace or salvation and we think, “That’s nice. Thank you pastor for that lovely sermon.” But grace is not meant to be lovely. And the further in time we get from our experience with the grace of God, the harder it is to remember just what an amazing, joyous, life-changing moment it was. We lose the wonder and awe of it.
And when we lose that, we forget that grace isn’t just a gift received to be put on a shelf, but it should radically reorient who we are and how we live. God does not have strings attached to his gift, but when we truly see it for the necessary and costly gift it is, we WANT to reorient our lives, who we are, and how we live.
We should not respond by ignoring it and continuing to live in sin. Paul addresses this in Romans:
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
The thing I want us to understand today is that even though you are not owed grace and you do not deserve grace, you desperately need grace. It is the reality you need for life. It is a reminder that God values you and seeks you despite your own sin. In spite of our rebellion and failure, God does not withhold his love from us. He gives this love freely and it is ours to receive without condition or merit. And that is good news.
One final thought: I am convinced we often don’t fully understand and appreciate the grace of God, because if we fully understood it, if we were still captivated by it and saw it for the amazing grace it truly is, then we wouldn’t, we couldn’t keep it to ourselves. We would display that grace in how we live.
Do you know what happened time and time again when people encountered Jesus? When people encountered Jesus and experienced the grace of God in the New Testament for the first time, they couldn’t contain themselves. Even when Jesus told them to keep it quiet, to keep it to themselves, they couldn’t. They were overwhelmed and amazed by him and by salvation. They shared with anyone and everyone they could about Jesus.
Yes, they shared what had happened, the healing they had experienced, the forgiveness they now knew, but it usually ended with them saying, “You have to come and see this for yourself. You need to hear what he says and see what he can do.” And it is because of the transformation the people saw in their lives, that they agreed and went and said, “I will check this out.”
When we fully understand the grace of God, we won’t huddle ourselves in buildings like this and be content with an “us and no more” mentality. We will want everyone around us to be able to experience what we have. We will live out grace. We will speak grace. It will ooze from every pore of our being. We need grace. And we should live grace for all the world to see.
How will you respond to God’s grace today? Will it be a doctrine we believe or a virtue we exhibit?