Aug 302011

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 5:18-21 (ESV)

We began this series focusing on the phrase in Hebrews 13:9, “It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.” What proper diet and exercise is to the strengthening of the body, grace is to the strengthening of the soul (or heart). God’s grace truly is amazing! We have already seen so many facets of grace that give us strength for our daily lives. In Part 1, we learned that we have no life apart from His electing grace. In Part 2, we saw that the grace of God appeared in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. In Part 3, we saw that His throne is a throne of grace. There we find mercy and grace to help in time of need, and we need Him always. In Part 4, we saw that God gives grace to the humble. We demonstrate humility when we cast our cares upon Him. Last week in Part 5, we saw that his grace is sufficient to carry us through every moment of our lives. His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses.

Today, I want us to find strength in the abounding grace of God that is greater than all our sin. This grace that “abounds” (literally “super-abounds”) is a grace that reigns in righteousness leading to eternal life. To introduce these few verses above, let me say that I am so thankful for gifted medical professionals and the advancement of medical science. I’m amazed at all we have learned regarding the human body. Now, when I go to the doctor for a diagnosis of a problem, I want the doctor to tell me the truth. Don’t “beat around the bush”, just tell me what the issue is and what needs to be done about it. I will never really understand and appreciate what true health is unless I know how bad my condition really is.

You will never know and appreciate grace until you realize how desperate your condition was before you were healed by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. In Romans 5, Paul makes very clear that through the transgression of one man, Adam, all men are sinners and are under the just condemnation of God. Let me mention something here to illustrate just how bad our condition is apart from Christ. My good friend and mentor Tom Schreiner sheds light on the subject in his commentary on Romans. He says, “The Jews believed the law restrained people from sin and was instrumental in inclining people to righteous living. Paul, who once held this very view as a zealous Pharisee now proposes a shockingly different alternative. Instead of curbing sin, the law was given by God in order to increase transgression” (italics mine). That’s right, the law magnifies my sin! Even though the law was not given until Moses, the fact that death reigned over everyone is evidence that all were sinners. So, for Paul, and for you and me, the law reveals how sinful the heart really is. I am m in bondage to sin. I am helplessly lost and undone. I am dead in my trespasses and sins (Eph. 2). My condition is worse than I could ever imagine. Unless I understand this, God’s grace is meaningless! Take a moment and think of your past life of sin. The apostle Paul did. In 1 Timothy 1:13, Paul recalls his old life. He was a blasphemer, persecutor and an insolent opponent of Christ. He acted ignorantly in unbelief. Then, “the grace of our Lord overflowed for me” (v. 14)! Grace is God’s unmerited favor. It is receiving that which I do not deserve. His electing grace truly is marvelous!

Think of the condition of your heart at the present time. Do you have a greater sense of the depravity of your heart each day? The law drives us to Christ, because the law cannot save, only Christ can, and the law keeps us in Christ, for it continues to remind us that we cannot live up to it. Jesus lived the perfect life for each of us, so we must look to him continually. Now grace is reigning through righteousness. His righteousness is imputed to us and is a gift of his grace. “Grace manifests its rule by conquering sin so that people are no longer condemned before God but stand in the right before him.” Grace that reigns and provides righteousness inevitably produces a changed life with a sure hope of life eternal. There is no cheap grace here! Read Romans 6:1-2. Being saved by grace is not a license to continue in sin.

God saved us by grace and he sustains us, even this moment, by grace. It truly is “marvelous grace of our loving Lord.” With that in mind, I will leave you with a familiar hymn by Julia Johnston (at least familiar to most). If you know the tune to the hymn, I would encourage you to sing along as you read the words. It will bless you as it did me. A word of warning though: this hymn will stick in your head and potentially may cause you to sing aloud in the car or in the shower or as you walk through the house. Don’t worry what your family says to you, just sing it and glory in the grace of God!

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt.
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the lamb was spilt.

Chorus: Grace, grace God’s grace, grace that will pardon and cleanse within.
Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin.

Sin and despair like the sea waves cold,
Threaten the soul with infinite loss.
Grace that is greater, yes grace untold,
Points to the refuge the mighty cross.

Dark is the stain that we cannot hide,
What can avail to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,
Whiter than snow you may be today.

Sola Gratia

Aug 232011

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

In Part 4, we saw that we can be strengthened by grace because God gives grace to the humble. The humble “cast their burdens on the Lord, for He cares for [them].” Part 5 (today’s post) is related, and to explain I now want to draw your attention to 2 Corinthians 12. I want to ask the question, “What if my burden is not removed? What if, in my casting my cares upon Christ, He sees fit to leave them in my life? Does that mean something is wrong with me? Does that mean my faith is weak or that there is sin in my life?” These are very good questions and they are answered in this text.

The core message of 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 is this: no matter what you are facing today, no matter how desperate the situation and no matter how deeply your heart is hurting, God’s grace is enough. Speaking as a pastor, there is nothing that hurts me more than to see members of my church go through very difficult trials. If it was up to me and I had the power to remove these struggles, I would do it in a second. My church is small. We have 30 members and we average around 40 in attendance each week. But I have some folks in the midst of very stressful, hurtful and difficult trials. Some are physical, some financial, some spiritual, and some a combination of all of these, but they all are very real and they weigh heavy on the hearts of my people. (I’ll come back to this.)

The apostle Paul, in my view, is writing autobiographically in 2 Corinthians 12. In verse 2, he speaks of a man he knows who experienced great spiritual revelations. He was even caught up into paradise – whether in the body or not, Paul did not know. But whatever the case, this was the kind of experience that could have awed a crowd, and “this man” might even have used the experience as a platform to display his great spirituality. But in verse 7, Paul says, “So to keep me from being elated . . . a thorn in the flesh was given to me,” that is, a messenger of Satan to beat him up or harass him. Note that Paul is in fact speaking of himself and note that this event happened fourteen years prior to the writing of 2 Corinthians (v. 2). So many years have passed and yet there is no indication that the thorn is gone, even after he prayed and prayed and prayed. It was not removed.

The purpose of the thorn from the messenger (lit. “angel”) of Satan, whatever it was, was to keep Paul from becoming puffed up with pride. Ultimately, this thorn came from God. Why do I say that? Since when is Satan in the business of humbling anyone? God ordained this messenger of Satan to accomplish His purpose, and that was to keep Paul humble so that his life would be a display of God’s grace. Paul desired that his weakness would be a platform to display the strength of Christ.

Some of you have endured trials for a very long time. You have prayed and prayed and prayed some more and the troubles are still there. Like Paul, you may have faced years of a certain trial. I don’t know all of God’s purposes for the trials that surround you. But this I know: His grace is enough. Do you trust God’s sovereign care for you? Do you trust that God is working all things for your good and His glory? The trials in our lives show us very clearly just how weak we are. We cannot control them. This should humble you, and me, by showing us just how weak we really are. But as we trust in Him and find His grace ever so sufficient, our lives become a display of His power. Only through Christ’s power can I really consider it joy when trials come. Only through Christ’s power can we face each day with hope.

So, let me make this clear: if we are wallowing in self-pity because of our circumstances, we are sinning, and our practices reveal that we really don’t believe what we say we do. After we have prayed and prayed and the issue still remains, we must press on. We will be sustained by His grace. His power will be seen in our trust in Him.

Allow me to give one more word of admonition from Paul’s experience: Let us get the focus off of ourselves and begin to serve others. We should not isolate ourselves from other believers, but rather realize that God can use us to help those who need comfort (2 Cor. 1). Do you see your trials as a means not only to share the gospel with others, but also to exemplify to the world a heart that is deeply satisfied in the sufficiency of Christ? I am not saying that this is easy to do, but this is what the fight of faith is all about.

I know that many who read these words are hurting. Please know that God’s grace is enough. Let’s be strengthened by His grace today, for when you are weak, that is when you are really strong!

Aug 162011

But He [God] gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”.

James 4:6

As I am writing this blog, I am joined by two of my friends. They are not people, just some companions we have around our house. One is a little dachshund named Cleo and the other is a long-haired cat named Princess. Both species of animal (canine and feline) have a certain pride about them. Very often the two are bitter enemies. But not these two! The dog is licking (I guess cleaning!) the cat, and the cat is licking (again, cleaning they say!) the dog. Actually, right now, the cat has folded over Cleo’s floppy ear and is licking the inside of it! (I hope you are not eating lunch!) I thought they made doggy Q-tips for that, but hey, why not! It seemed like an example of humility to me. Dogs and cats are typically fighting, but what I am witnessing is sort of like Jesus washing the dirty feet of the disciples at the Last Supper (John 13). What great condescension and humility was demonstrated by our great Savior!

In James 4, the brother of Jesus speaks regarding the cause of quarrels among them. Their passions are at war within them. Their hearts are filled with wickedness and that leads them to anger, covetousness and idolatry. He calls them adulterous people. At the heart of all quarrels and bitterness is a deeply-rooted pride. Someone has so wonderfully said, “Pride is the only disease known to man that makes everyone sick but the one who has it!” I think we all will affirm that there is pride in our hearts and that this disease weakens our effectiveness for Christ.

But the good news is this: God gives more grace! Actually, he gives grace to the humble. What is humility? How do we know if we are finally humble? If we say we have arrived, then I think it is safe to say that we still have pride! What does humility look like? Is humility making great sacrifices for others? Perhaps, but the Bible gives us a picture of what a humble person looks like. This picture is found in 1 Peter 5:6-7. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

Last week, we looked at the privilege believers have in approaching God’s throne of Grace. We can surely be strengthened by that. James and Peter here will do the same. Notice the main verb, which is a command, “Humble yourselves”. Now notice the participle that modifies the main verb, “Casting” all your anxieties on him. According to Peter, one is demonstrating humility when they are casting all their cares upon the Lord! What is the burden or anxiety that you are trying to carry today? For some it may be financial. It might be physical affliction. It might be a relationship with a family member or co-worker. Are you trying to fix all your troubles on your own? Going back to James, grace is given only to the humble. God will give more grace if we humble ourselves by casting all of our cares upon Him. He has big shoulders on which to carry them. He has strength to bear all of them, not just some of them. After all, Peter says, He cares for us! No one cares for you like He does. So Christian, cast off your pride by casting your burdens on the Lord. God is in opposition to the proud. What a frightful truth! Pride and humility cannot exist together. More grace goes to the humble. “The proud one shall stumble and fall, with none to raise him up” (Jeremiah 50:32).

“How can I be strengthened by grace?” Humble yourself by casting all your anxieties upon him. Be strengthened knowing this: He gives more grace! That’s what my wicked, prideful heart needs: More grace!

Aug 092011

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)

One of the great tragedies of the Christian life is the fact that so very often we only call upon the Lord in times of great trial or stress. When things are going well, we sometimes become apathetic concerning our need of God and His grace, and we go through our day with ne’er a thought of the Divine. But when providence frowns upon us, then, all of a sudden, we humbly bow to Him and seek His help. O friends, I note two things: First of all, we miss so much of knowing God by neglecting to enter into His presence on a daily basis. By his sacrifice, Jesus Christ has opened the way for us to know God personally. Secondly, when will we realize that every moment is a moment that we need Him? There is not a millisecond in my life when I am not completely dependent on him. I just woke up from a good night’s sleep. How about you? You might not have slept well, but you probably slept some. Who was sustaining you when your eyelids were shut and your mind was shut off? It was God. He never sleeps or slumbers (Psalm 121). The fact is there is never a time when I don’t need Him! I think we all will concede this truth.

In Hebrews 4, the author has just told us that Jesus, our great high priest, was tempted in all respects as we, yet without sin. Because of this, believers can go before the throne of grace with confidence to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. I see this time of need as a time when we are facing temptation to sin. So, how is a believer strengthened by grace? Today, I want us to see that we can be strengthened by grace because there is a place where we can run to receive mercy, finding grace to help in our time of testing and temptation.

First of all, notice this: the believer can come to the King (the throne) with confidence or boldness. This should be a characteristic of all Christian prayer. Why do we so often come before the Lord half-heartedly when, through Jesus Christ, we have nothing to fear when we approach Him? Christ has removed all the obstacles barring us from enjoyment of the presence of our Holy God. Believers enjoy a freedom to express their hearts to the Lord since they need not fear condemnation. “There is therefore no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). A believer’s prayer is unencumbered even when he is awed by His majesty.

Secondly, notice this: the majesty of our Holy God would be completely overawing and unapproachable if it were not for grace! It is called the throne of grace! In other words, God is so glorious and pure that my access to Him is completely undeserved! I have no access to God apart from the redeeming work of His one pure Son. In temptation’s hour, we can boldly come before his royal majesty because of His grace! Are you being tempted now in various ways? Believer, go to the throne of your King! It is a gracious throne and a gracious reign.

Thirdly, notice that the believer receives mercy and finds grace to help. What a glorious combination, mercy and grace! Since my heart is filled with sin and so easily succumbs to temptation, I need mercy. I could not stand before God otherwise. But God grants me access to his throne in rich mercy. God is merciful to those that call upon him with a broken and contrite heart. “A broken and contrite heart He will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). When I come boldly to his throne in temptation’s hour, I not only receive mercy but also find grace to help. “Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that will pardon and cleanse within. Grace, Grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin” (Julia H. Johnston, 1910). As we began this series, remember what the writer to the Hebrews said: “It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace” (13:9). It will be good for your spiritual heart today (and your physical heart too!**) to approach boldly the throne of grace. You will be strengthened by grace as you come. He bids us, “Come.”

** Are you stressed and anxious today? Perhaps that reveals your lack of trust in our sovereign God. Stress can have such an effect on the heart that you might think you are having a heart attack! I know. I’ve been there. For four years, from 1999-2003, I had chest pains every day. There were days I thought I was going to pass out and die. God used John Piper’s book, Future Grace, to help me see that much of my anxiety, depression and stress occurred because of pride. Anxiety and depression really are inward-focused pride. They show our trust to be in ourselves rather than in God. It is a great sin to think that I can fix all my problems and all the problems of those around me. I can’t, and you can’t either! As God helps me to trust in His sovereign care over my life, it really helps my physical heart too! We are made up of the physical and non-physical, or body and soul, and they are intimately connected. What affects one can affect the other. So, it’s good for your heart (both physical and non-physical) to be strengthened by grace! Trust Him today. Fight this battle of faith with vehemence. Go to the throne of grace and receive mercy and find grace to help you.

One more thing: if you are stressed, maybe you need to learn to say “no.” Are you trying to please everyone? Are you trying to do everything that people ask you to do? Are you overloaded? Then perhaps you have a deeply rooted fear of man. Learn to fear the Lord only and say “no” when necessary. By God’s grace I’m still learning this, but this I know: my spiritual heart and physical heart feel so much better!

Aug 022011

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)

Last week, we began to look at what it means to be “strengthened by grace” (Hebrews 13:9). We saw, first of all, that apart from sovereign grace we have no life. My spiritual heart has no strength until it is quickened and enlivened by the grace of God, through the Spirit. This is only the beginning!

In the second chapter of Paul’s letter to Titus, he admonishes Titus to teach sound doctrine and to call all those under his charge to live in a godly manner. A sound orthodoxy leads to sound orthopraxy! Sound doctrine will always be evidenced in the context of real life; that is, how we relate one to another. Believers are to live this way, Paul says, because “the grace of God” has appeared. Christ has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. This does not mean that all people will be saved or that the work of Christ is effectual for all. We see in verse 14 that Christ gave himself to “redeem us (believers) from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Jesus appeared to bring salvation, not only to Jews, but also to Gentiles, that is, all ethnic peoples. Christ has redeemed out of the world both Jew and Gentile, not on the basis of works, but by His sovereign choice. Believers are a people for His own possession.

When Paul says that Jesus appeared to redeem us, he speaks of the totality of Christ’s condescension and exaltation. God’s plan was to redeem a people by grace; Christ came to purchase their redemption by his spotless blood. Redemption speaks of the incarnation, His sinless life, His vicarious death, His victorious resurrection, His ascension to glory, His work as our High Priest, and His promise to appear again at the consummation.

So God’s grace is a means of training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live in a manner, in this age, that is consistent with what Christ has done in our hearts. In other words, the lives of Christians should match up with the truths they confess. I pray this is true for all of us.

The grace of God has come! Believers can be strengthened by this grace that has appeared: first to deal with our sin, making us right with God, then to empower us for holy living by the Spirit in this present age, and finally to bring to fruition the consummation of our salvation. Let your heart be strengthened knowing that the grace of God is there from beginning to end!  Think of the words to John Newton’s hymn, “Amazing Grace”. From, “I once was lost and now I’m found”, to “when we’ve been there ten thousand years”, it’s been all grace! We’ve no less days to sing of this grace! Thanks be to Jesus, the grace of God who has appeared!