Christ—The Ultimate Expression of God’s Grace
the word “ultimate” is somewhat overworked in our society. Anywhere you might care to look you will find folks attempting to provide some kind of “ultimate” expression. We have all heard of “the greatest game ever played” or “the supreme work of art.” It may be the ultimate for awhile, but before long someone will replace it with another. Religion has not been excluded from these attempts. In Micah 6:6–7, we read of human attempts to provide the ultimate sacrifice for sin. These attempts began with a calf and progressed to human sacrifice. Those sacrifices resulted in failure for two basic reasons: First, none of the sacrifices mentioned in this passage were really man’s to give. Everything on earth belongs to God. We are merely stewards entrusted with a few possessions during our lives on earth. Second, none of these sacrifices had the power to atone for sin; therefore, man has nothing to offer and, even if he did, what he gave could not remove his sin. Man alone cannot provide the ultimate sacrifice to God. He is lost in his sin and personally helpless.
God, however, knows of man’s inability to atone for his own sins. God had this knowledge from the beginning and thus planned to make provision for His creation. This knowledge of our weakness, coupled with His love for us, prompted Him to make a sacrificial gift of His only begotten Son. This magnificent display of love shows how important man is in the eyes of God. God gave Jesus, a perfect, innocent lamb, for the sins of wicked man—the innocent dying on behalf of the guilty. Here was the sacrifice that could remove the guilt of man and atone for his sin. In the giving of His Son, God provided the ultimate expression of love.
An examination of John 3:16 reveals the pertinent facts about this great gift of grace in simple, thrilling language. In this passage, Jesus claims that the origin of the gift is “God.” This is the God who created, revealed His will, and blessed humanity. God’s motive is simply “love,” a love which is of such quality and depth that we really only begin to comprehend it. Furthermore, Jesus says that “God so loved.” The word “so” indicates the intensity of the love. He did not merely “love,” He “so loved!” The quality of the love corresponds to the quality of the gift. We understand God’s love through Jesus Christ. The recipient of the great love is “the world.” The action God performed is seen in the word “gave.” He makes no demands of repayment and He requires no overwhelming burdens for men to bear in payment for His grace. He “gave” us a gift in the purest sense of the word. The gift was “His only begotten Son” and the purpose of the gift was “eternal life” for you and me.
God does not rejoice in the prospect of anyone perishing. His aim for man in Eden was paradise and eternal life, but man lost this by sin. He regained it in the forgiveness of sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. In this way God becomes the Justifier of mankind through the provision of Christ. The purpose of the gift of Christ at Calvary was the redemption of man. It is the offer of eternal life. The circumstances of our eternal life depends upon our reaction to God’s action. Throughout the whole of Scripture there are only two reactions possible—we may obey and be saved, or disobey and be lost. Jesus, then, is expounding the positive side of God’s gift in this passage.
This gift of God’s Son is the focal point of all human existence. Everything that God has revealed to man relates to the gift of Christ. It is this event that gives the Old Testament purpose and the New Testament authority. This gift is the very thrust of all revelation. The sacrificial Son is the reason we sing, pray and rejoice with unspeakable joy. His gift is the reason for all commands, promises and attendant blessings that God expresses in His Word. Without it, we would still be groping—searching for an “ultimate expression” that would repair the breach in our relationship with God. We would ever be searching, never finding, and always failing. With this gift, we can express ourselves completely as we frame our lives within the supreme and final statement of God’s gracious love for man. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Christ—the ultimate expression of God’s grace.
Receiving God’s Grace In Vain
W. C. Hinton, Jr.
in the powerful fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul refers to certain basics of the gospel, to his preaching to those brethren, and to the appearances of the Lord. Then he gives an exclamatory statement of his own condition: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not found vain” (verse 10). God has favored mankind exceedingly by making it possible for him, as well as Paul, to learn to love and obey the truth that makes men free. How grateful we ought to be!
God’s grace meets our greatest need—salvation. “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men” (Titus 2:11). Urgings, facts and beauties of this salvation are communicated through the Word “which is able to build you up, and to give you the inheritance among all them that are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). Demands are made of the committed so that they are neither dull nor bored. A life of labor must follow one into the realm of salvation (see 1 Corinthians 15:10; Galatians 2:20–21; Titus 2:11–12; Ephesians 2:10). What God does, He does extremely well; so that His grace is sufficient—more than adequate to meet our needs as seen from Romans 5.
But our attention needs to focus on Ephesians 2:8–10. In speaking of salvation, Paul says “for by grace have ye been saved through faith.” We must appreciate the stress made on the fact of the two sides of salvation. Salvation in God’s way clearly takes two. A clear-cut example is seen in Jesus’ lament over the city of Jerusalem: “I would have gathered … but ye would not” (Matthew 23:37). Or again, in the familiar story of Naaman, the cleansing (grace, if you please) was effected only after the one in need had complied with the specified conditions. Grace—the divine side—shows us God’s love. He planned/purposed and developed the means to redemption and spiritual blessings found in His Son. But Paul also said “through faith”—and here we see the human element. Rewarded faith is always live, active, working and obedient. It is by the means of this faith that we gain for ourselves the divine blessings. By the grace of God adequate provisions have been made, but men are not saved by mere provisions. God provides food and water for man but if he will not, for whatever reason, eat or drink—he will die. In Acts 2, Peter declared the provisions made by God and then urged them to “save yourselves.” Peter also observed, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respector of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34–35).
It is hard for people to admit that they are, or might be, lost. Lost is a dreadful word that stirs up chilling thoughts. Lost in the midst of a blinding blizzard, off the charted path in the churning, raging seas, or the lone pilot with dead instruments in the center of a storm cloud frantically searching for the airport are mild and can in no way be compared to one being lost eternally. But what does it mean to be lost? It means all the forethought, energy and yearning of the heavenly Father and His Son is thwarted by one refusing to accept God’s loving offer in His Son to renew a relationship, to pick up the pieces of life and self and become a child of the King—worthy of life eternal. On the other hand, we see that punishment of the lost is demanded by the righteousness of God—justice must be served. Two powerful forces act upon the stubborn will of man—love and goodness. “For the love of Christ constraineth us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). “The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Romans 2:4). Both of these forces are seen in the scene of the cross and thus make its drawing power tremendous (John 12:32). Yet, some hearts are too tough to be touched by the tenderness of love and need to be shocked. To so move people was Jonah’s task in Nineveh; “in forty days Nineveh will be overthrown” brought them all, king to peasant, to repentance. The punishment of the impenitent makes us know that “God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
And it means that the sinner is ruined. You know, life is not easy. There are bitter trials, financial reverses, sicknesses, accidents, disloyalty of trusted friends, unrequited love and other trying experiences. Still, these cannot be compared with the horrors of hell. Standing there on the brink of eternity, lost, one might well reflect on Jesus’ penetrating question: “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” The rich man of Luke 16 cried out in pain, being in torment. It does not cease—“they have no rest day and night” (Revelation 14:11). And, although millions will be in hell, there will be the utter and complete loneliness, each engrossed in his own suffering with no thought or time for others. The final decree will echo in one’s ears, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41). Then think of the regret and remorse. Abraham told the rich man of Luke 16, “Son, remember.” Memories will drive us up the walls! Wasted years! Unaccepted opportunities! And worst of all, perhaps, is the hopeless despair of no relief or end in sight. Hell is eternal!
It is a frightful thing to think that God has made such abundant provision of His grace, and yet we can void it all. Paul said, “We … beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1). Being lost is such a tragedy, such a waste, so unnecessary—for Christ died to prevent it from coming to pass in our lives. What are you doing about it? Are you maybe not far from the kingdom? Hasten to activate your faith, commit your life, strike out for the high ground of mountain-top living. Or have you once been in the kingdom, enjoyed the blessings, experienced God’s generous grace—and for thoughtless reasons of little value turned your back on God? If so, it was the poorest decision you ever made. Retrace your steps and reclaim the crown so that you will not disappoint yourself or God. Dedicate your life to helping others, “snatching them from the fire”—and give thanks to God that you had the disposition and determination to come to your senses and set in order the proper priorities. Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift—the Son of His love!
Man’s Plight Without God
“for the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The deadly consequences of sin should alarm all men, for all have sinned. The results of sin may be observed with the eye or perceived with the heart. They will always affect man spiritually, and sometimes even physically. Sin’s bitter fruit may be tasted in time, but most certainly in eternity. Sin has its season of pleasure, but always returns for just payment. Man always pays dearly: He exists separated from God (Isaiah 59:2).
Until one knows his condition without God, he cannot properly appreciate God’s grace. The extension of grace implies need. As long as man feels self-sufficient, he has no need. But let him begin listening to the commentary of God upon man’s sins. Let him start paying attention to the symptoms of emptiness that self-indulgence fails to fill. Then, grace will begin to glisten as never before.
Sin cannot appear without arousing God’s judicial wrath. Because God is holy, He must punish sin. So when man sins, his relationship with God is one of enmity (Romans 5:8, 10). No penitence nor renewed promise can change the fact that sin has occurred. Yet, after “missing the mark,” what more can man offer God? Bondage in sin becomes his wretched fate (Romans 7:14, 24). God cannot overlook sin. He must be just. Man cannot plead innocence. He must have mercy.
When Jesus looked at men, He saw darkness, sickness, and death. These folks had the ability to see (Matthew 4:16). They possessed good appetites, and were physically active (Mark 2:15–17; Luke 9:62). But they were lost in sin. No greater picture of man’s helplessness could be drawn. For we never expect life to spring from a corpse, health to emanate from a disease, or light to issue from darkness. God wants us to know that we still need deliverance from above though we may be functioning well according to worldly standards.
Man can choose to live without God. He begins by eliminating God from his thinking and enthrones himself. Instead of a God-centered life, he possesses a Self-centered life. The result is never pretty. Obeying the mandates of his lust, he soon “waxeth corrupt” (Ephesians 4:22). His ways may be in step with the age, but he fails to perceive that Satan has inspired their direction (Ephesians 2:2). Man may become more sophisticated without God, but never better.
Without God, man’s reasoning becomes so dark that God gives him up to experience the degrading consequences (Romans 1:26–32). Sexual perversion becomes worse until the worldly sages can distinguish between “softcore” and “hardcore” pornography. Man soon loses “natural affection.” The worldly-wise will allow murder, if committed in abortion clinics. Making money takes precedence over creating strong families. Occasional lying finds acceptance alongside good business ethics. Man’s values are twisted. His life is confused.
Living without God, man tends to finally view his life as God viewed it all along: “vain,” void of lasting good (1 Peter 1:18). He views life as “living on the perfume of an empty vase”—or “a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities.” His “good life” has become a facade hiding his crumbling hopes. Faith, hope, and love are borrowed words with empty sounds, because he has denied their true substance and power.
Such are the sad results when man plans his way without God. Man’s road is paved with neglect and ingratitude. It always ends in degradation and despair. With sorrow, man can look at his road and honestly say, “I did it my way.”
Helplessness and hopelessness characterize man’s condition without God. But it is when he sees the vanity of man’s wisdom that he longs for the grace of divine teaching. It is when he sees his true helpless condition before his Creator that he yearns for the terms of reconciliation from his merciful Judge. He follows closely behind his Deliverer, for he knows that without his gracious Savior, he is lost.
What Is Grace?
It’s probably just a preacher’s story, but it conveys the right idea about grace. I heard the lamented Jack McElroy tell it when I was yet a teenager. An old Indian was asked to explain grace. He made a circle of dry straw around a bug and lit a fire. The bug moved first one way and then another, but there was no way he could escape. Then the wise old man took a stick and placed one end within the burning circle. The bug soon climbed on the stick and was lifted to safety. Said he, “That’s grace.”
Most illustrations have their weaknesses. God did not start the fire around man; man sinned in violation of the clear law of God and is responsible for his own lost condition. It is God who provides a way of escape when man is incapable of devising one for himself. The word “grace” means undeserved or unmerited favor. Grace is the opposite of merit. God’s mercy, grace, love and kindness are closely associated in providing salvation for man (Ephesians 2:1–10).
The grace of God makes possible all kinds of blessings, both physical and spiritual. In Him we live, and move, and have our very being. In this sense God blesses all, sending rain, sunshine, and fruitful seasons upon the just and the unjust. It is the spiritual blessings, however, in which we are most interested now. Perhaps no passage of Scripture more clearly demonstrates what grace is than Ephesians 1:3–14.
In Ephesians chapter one the apostle Paul shows the ways in which God has shown His grace toward man. It must be observed that Paul is writing to saints who are faithful in Christ Jesus (verse 1). The things he says are true of those who are already Christians. God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (spiritual or heavenly realm) in Christ (verse 3). Notice some of the ways in which He has blessed us.
1. He chose (or elected) us in Christ before the foundation of the world (verse 4). This election took place in Christ who is God’s elect (Luke 9:35; 1 Peter 2:4). We may choose whether to be in Christ. Without God’s grace there would have been no choice.
2. He foreordained (or predestined) us (verse 5). This was not done on an individual basis, but in Christ. The saints have been foreordained unto adoption as sons of God through Christ.
3. He provided redemption (forgiveness of sins) through the blood of Christ (verse 7). Note that this was according to the riches of His grace which He lavished upon us.
4. He made known to us the mystery of His will (verse 9). God’s secret plan for the salvation of man, which had been hidden for ages, is now revealed to the saints.
5. He made us a heritage (verse 11). Rather than the concept that we have obtained an inheritance, the footnote (and the American Standard translation) seems to be the correct idea. God has made us His own possession. This same thought is brought out in verse 14, “the redemption of God’s own possession.” What a tremendous thought! We belong to God. Out of all that He created, only the saints will live with Him throughout eternity.
6. He sealed us with the Holy Spirit (verses 13–14). As a result of our having heard the word of His grace, and having believed it, God has sealed us with the Holy Spirit. This means that He has marked us as His own. From our view-point the Holy Spirit is a pledge or earnest of the inheritance we will someday receive.
It is no wonder that Paul three times exclaims that all of this is according to the grace of God (verses 6, 7, 14). “Amazing grace! how sweet the sound.” Joseph Scriven said it for many of us in his beautiful song:
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.