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by Jacob Ninan
The grace of God is the bridge through which the all perfect God crosses over to us who are imperfect in every aspect of our being and life. It comes in not only when He meets with us the first time and enters into a relationship with us in our fallen condition but also in every subsequent aspect of His dealings with us throughout our life. Without grace we cannot have any connection at all with God. But God’s grace opens before us our unlimited access into God’s presence and every blessing He has for us.
Grace stands in absolute contrast to what we can achieve by our efforts; anything we may do to impress God with our goodness in order to qualify for acceptance from Him will turn out to be totally futile. By grace God takes away what we really deserve, and gives us instead what we can never deserve. It is a gift that can only be received by empty hands through faith.
All man-made religions offer suggestions about how we need to do one thing or another in order to come to the place where we please god enough to get into his or her (!) good books. Whether it is through extraordinary feats of accomplishment through self-denial or self-infliction or accumulation of good deeds, it is all about our meeting a certain standard of acceptance from god. But the true and living God operates through ‘grace’, knowing fully well that no man can ever reach His level by self-effort, and offers acceptance freely as a gift. In simple terms, what He wants us to do is to go to Him with an acknowledgment of our failure to rise to His level and our impotence to ever be able to do that. He tells us that His justice has been met fully in that Jesus, His Son, has been punished in our place for all our sins. He forgives and accepts us through ‘grace’. Grace operates here as ‘unmerited favour from God’.
It seems to the natural human logic that ‘grace’ is so unreasonable because it does not punish the sinner but gives him blessings which he does not deserve. This is the offence of the Gospel to those who are wise according to this world. But to those whose spiritual eyes have been opened by the grace of God, it is clearly most logical that God made this way of salvation that causes the holiness of God to meet with the sinfulness of man when the love of God met with the helplessness of man.
We tend to think that if we have not committed any of the ‘gross’ sins that some others have, we should find it easier to get accepted by God. That is because we underestimate the infinite perfection of God’s holiness. We can get the right view if we understand that anything sinful of unholy in us, however small we may think it is, is enough to cut us off completely from God’s presence. In other words, there is no way anyone can get near to God except through His grace.
On the other hand, all are equally sinners in God’s eyes and His grace is able to deal with ‘gross’ sinners exactly in the same way as it deals with any other sinners. The ‘worst’ sinner that we can imagine can be accepted through grace just as well as anyone else. This is something ‘ordinary’ sinners find it difficult to digest. They are either unwilling to take the position before God as sinners because they compare themselves with ‘gross’ sinners and think they are not so bad, or they find it difficult to believe that God has accepted these ‘gross’ sinners and that all are at the same level now as forgiven sinners! But grace is a great equaliser.
Those who easily recognise they are sinners and receive forgiveness freely from God are so thankful to God for His grace, but those who do not think much of themselves as sinners take grace for granted! This difference will show in their lives where some people become zealous to turn away from sin and to serve God while others live an ordinary life with nothing much to show for their conversion (2Cor.7:9-11).
It is possible that we understand grace only as this unmerited favour from God which we do not have to work for or can boast in (Eph.2:8,9). If, after finding acceptance from God on the basis of grace, we continue to live as we did before, relying on this unmerited favour to keep forgiving our sins, then it may indicate that we have not heard rightly about grace at all. Many emphasise the fact that no effort of man can ever be sufficient to meet with the holy demand of God, and then extrapolate it to imply that therefore after he is accepted by God man does not need to do anything but to receive everything from God as gifts. That is where James balances the score by pointing out that if our faith does not produce a response from us in the way of tuning our lives according to the way of God, such a faith is not real but imaginary (Jas.2:14-26). In other words, if our conversion is genuine, it will change our life; our life will show our faith acting through grace.
Our spiritual life has two types of need, broadly speaking, one for mercy from God for forgiveness of our sins when we fall, and the other for help when we are fighting against temptations to sin in all the different situations of life. The grace of God meets both needs, offering us unmerited mercy for our sins and also help to overcome when we are tempted (Heb.4:15,16). If we understand salvation to mean only forgiveness of sins and entering into heaven when we die, we will miss out on an overcoming life which the grace of God can lead us into. But Jesus came not only to save us from our sins but also to give us an abundant life (Jn.10:10), and for that also He gives us ‘grace to help’ when we face the choice of giving in to our desires or doing the will of God.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit.2:11,12). In other words, if we receive grace from God, we would be able to live the life that God wants us to live, and not merely keep on receiving forgiveness. God’s grace is sufficient to meet all our needs as we go through the different challenges of life, if only we believe and seek for it. We would be foolish to be accept a lower level of life because of disobedience or unbelief (Heb.3:18,19).
One proof of our receiving the grace of God is our inclination to show grace to the others around us. If we truly realise and recognise that every blessing from God is undeserved from our side, we begin to treat others not on the basis of what they deserve but how God has treated us. One aspect of this is in ‘accepting’ others with all their flaws and peculiarities just as the Lord has accepted us (Rom.15:5-7). A greater challenge, perhaps, is to forgive those who have hurt us, as God’s word tells us, just as Christ has forgiven us (Eph.4:32;Col.3:13). We may think they do not deserve it, and we are right in that! But it is when we remember that we too were forgiven as a gift of God’s mercy and not because we deserved it, things move into a completely new paradigm. This becomes a test of our own forgiveness. If after we receive forgiveness freely from God as a gift we refuse to forgive others in the same fashion, God warns us that we could lose our own forgiveness (Matt.18:23-35). Our refusal will show that we have not been able to acknowledge our own undeserving position before God. We may have got among God’s flock by climbing over the wall rather than through the Door.
The grace of God is truly amazing. The more we see it, the more amazing it becomes. That will be one of our pleasures in heaven to understand how truly great His grace has been towards us. “In the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph.2:7).
-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, August 2017
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