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Grace – It's Amazing

The Apostle Paul said, “He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins (Ephesians 1:7).” John Newton discovered firsthand the richness of God’s kindness and grace. His song, Amazing Grace, is the true story of his life. Newton’s song has touched millions of people around the world. Newton was a man that despicably sold other human beings in the slave trade. As he states in the hymn, he was a wretch, but God found him and changed his heart. The hymn reveals Newton's dramatic story of salvation before his ultimate transformation to speaking out against the horror of slavery. “Grace” is one of the most important concepts in the Bible and Christianity. Is there anything that can rival it? No, there isn't anything that comes close. No other religion can match God's marvelous grace. All other religions are merit based. In other words, you must earn your salvation; and one never knows if they have done enough to merit their"god's" acceptance. Of all of God's wondrous works, grace, in my estimation, is the magnum opus.

Grace is the opposite of karma, which is about getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve and not getting what you do deserve. Christianity teaches that what we deserve is eternal death as the price of sin. Paul said in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Notice the word, free. It doesn’t cost you anything, but it cost God everything. You cannot work for it because it’s free, It’s a gift.

Grace is most clearly expressed in the promises of God and embodied in Jesus Christ. So, what exactly is grace? And why is it so amazing? Grace is God’s unmerited kindness and favor toward us. Grace is the love of God shown to the unlovely, the peace of God given to the restless – the unmerited favor of God. In other words, it’s not something we deserve. There is nothing we can do to earn this favor and kindness. God gives us his kindness and grace when we choose to believe in Jesus and his substitutionary death for each of us on the cross.

Paul reminds us of our need for grace. In Rom. 5:6 he says, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.” Maybe you don’t feel utterly helpless. Maybe you feel quite self-sufficient. But God’s verdict concerning all of us is that we are all utterly helpless because of our sinful state.

Candidly, I know of nothing that has the power to change us from within like the freedom that comes through grace.

You may be surprised to know that Jesus never used the word himself. He just taught it and, equally important, he lived it. Furthermore, the Bible never gives us a one-statement definition, though grace appears throughout its pages . . . not only the word itself but numerous demonstrations of it. Understanding what grace means requires our going back to an old Hebrew term that meant "to bend, to stoop." By and by, it came to include the idea of "condescending favor."

The late pastor and Bible scholar Donald Barnhouse perhaps said it best: "Love that goes upward is worship; love that goes outward is affection; love that stoops is grace."

To show grace is to extend favor or kindness to one who doesn't deserve it and can never earn it. Receiving God's acceptance by grace always stands in sharp contrast to earning it based on works. Every time the thought of grace appears, there is the idea of its being undeserved. In no way is the recipient getting what he or she deserves. Favor is being extended simply out of the goodness of the heart of the giver.

We use grace to describe many things in life: A well-coordinated athlete or dancer; good manners and being considerate of others; beautiful, well-chosen words; consideration and care for other people; and various expressions of kindness and mercy.

All those statements remind me of Christ. What a perfect illustration of grace! Think of several examples with me. He stood alongside a woman caught in adultery. The Law clearly stated, "Stone her." The grace killers who set her up demanded the same. Yet He said to those self-righteous Pharisees, "He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone." Under the Law they had every legal right to bury her beneath the rocks in their hands . . . and they were ready. They stood with self-righteous indignation in their eyes, but Jesus intervened in grace – apparently, none of them were without sin, or they could have unleashed their stones.

When His friend Lazarus died, Martha met Him on the road and Mary later faced Him in the house. Both blamed Him for not coming earlier: "If You had been here, my brother would not have died!" There is strong accusation in those words. He took them in grace. With the turn of His hand, He could have sent them to eternity; but He refused to answer them back in argument. He understood their pain. He showed them grace.

When Jesus told stories, grace was a favorite theme. He employed a gracious style in handling children. He spoke of the prodigal son in grace. When he told stories of people who were caught in helpless situations, grace abounded . . . as with the good Samaritan. And instead of extolling the religious official who spoke of how proud God must be to have him in His family, Christ smiled with favor on the unnamed sinner who said, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." Even from the cross He refused to be angry toward His enemies. Remember His prayer? "Father, forgive them . . . " No resentment, no bitterness. Amazing, this grace! Remarkable, the freedom and release it brought. And it came in full force from the only One on earth who could deliver such a divine gift, Jesus, the Son of God. If I choose not to risk, if I go the "safe" route and determine not to promote either salvation by grace or a lifestyle of grace, what are the alternatives? Four things come to mind, all of which are popular. Let me share them with you. 1. I can choose to emphasize works over grace. I can tell you that as a sinner you need to have a stronger commitment to Christ, demonstrated by the work you do for Him before you can say that you truly believe. My problem in doing so is this: A sinner cannot commit to anything. He or she is spiritually dead. There is no capacity for commitment in an unregenerate heart. Becoming an obedient, submissive disciple of Christ follows believing in Christ. Works follow faith. Behavior follows belief. Fruit comes after the tree is well rooted.

Martin Luther's words come to mind: “No one can be good and do good unless God's grace first makes him good; and no one becomes good by works, but good works are done only by him who is good. Just so the fruits do not make the tree, but the tree bears the fruit . . .. Therefore, all works, no matter how good they are and how pretty they look, are in vain if they do not flow from grace.”

2. I can opt for giving you a list of dos and don'ts. The list comes from my personal and/or traditional preferences. It becomes my responsibility to tell you what to do or not to do and why. I then set up the conditions by which you begin to earn God's acceptance through me. You do what I tell you to do . . . you don't do what I tell you not to do, and you're "in." You fail to keep the list, you're "out."

This legalistic style of strong-arm teaching is one of the most prevalent methods employed by many cults. Grace is strangled in such a context. To make matters worse, those in authority are so intimidating, their authority often goes unquestioned. Rare are those with sufficient strength to confront the list-makers.

3. I can leave no room for any gray areas. Everything is either black or white, right or wrong. And as a result, the leader maintains strict control over the followers. Fellowship is based on whether there is full agreement.

Herein lies the tragedy. This self-righteous, rigid standard becomes more important than relationships with individuals. We first check out where people stand on the issues, and then we determine whether we will spend much time with them. The bottom line is this: We want to be right (as we see it, of course) more than we want to love our neighbors as ourselves. At that point our personal preferences eclipse any evidence of love.

I am of the firm conviction that where grace exists, so must various areas of gray.

I can cultivate a judgmental attitude toward those who may not agree or cooperate with my plan. Grace killers are notorious for a judgmental attitude. It's perhaps the single most un-Christlike characteristic in some churches today.

4. I can cultivate a judgmental attitude toward those who may not agree or cooperate with my plan.

Grace killers are notorious for a judgmental attitude. It is perhaps the single most un-Christlike characteristic in some churches today.

A quick glance back in history will prove beneficial. Jesus found Himself standing before the gatekeepers of legalism, the Pharisees. Listening to Him were also many who believed in Him. He had been presenting His message to the crowd; it was a message of hope, of forgiveness, of freedom.

"As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. So, Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, 'If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free (John 8:30–32).”

He spoke about of the liberating power of the truth. Even though the official grace killers rejected His message, He assured them it could make them free. All who embrace grace become "free indeed."

Free from what? Free from oneself. Free from guilt and shame. Free from the damnable impulses we couldn't stop when we were in bondage to sin. Free from the tyranny of others' opinions, expectations, and demands.

And free to what? Free to obey. Free to love. Free to forgive others as well as myself. Free to allow others to be who they are—different from me! Free to live beyond the limitations of human effort. Free to serve and glorify Christ. In no uncertain terms, Jesus Christ assured His own that His truth was able to liberate them from every needless restriction: "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36).” I love that. The possibilities are unlimited.

God’s grace is truly amazing. When John Newton wrote his hymn, he started with the words, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.” Grace is always amazing to those who recognize their sin and their need for forgiveness. Grace is always amazing because it forgives us and brings us into the arms of a loving God. And lastly, grace is always amazing in that it opens our eyes to Jesus, to our need to love others, and to the eternal hope and life he promises. Why not open yourself up to receiving this amazing grace?

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