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Posts Tagged ‘grace’

Are we amazed at grace?

Doubtlessly, one of the most widely-sung and best-known hymns of Christianity is “Amazing Grace”:

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me!

Perhaps familiarity has bred dull thinking. Have we lost the significance of the words “amazing” and “grace”?

I think that there is far too much of the Pharisee within all of us. You remember our Lord’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. Luke records that Jesus “told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.” A Pharisee and a tax collector went into the temple to pray. In our culture we hold neither Pharisees nor tax collectors in esteem, especially with the nefarious activities of the Internal Revenue Service coming to light in recent months. In Jesus’ day, Pharisees were among the most highly esteems persons in Judaism. They were conservative, hard-working, and honorable men.

We often think of Pharisees as those self-righteous Jews who went around condemning anyone having a good time because some religious law somewhere was being violated. That the Pharisees were self-righteous is true. The reality of the matter, however, is that most people who condemn the Pharisees as being self-righteous are themselves self-righteous. Excusing one’s own trespasses while denouncing those of others is a ubiquitous human trait.

The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable does little more than articulate a pervasive human condition: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”

We would not be so crass as to voice such a description of ourselves. When we observe the sinful lifestyles of others, however, how often do we have the attitude of the Pharisee?

Clay Layfield, minister of worship at First Baptist Church in Eastman, Georgia, pointed me to a new hymn entitled “Not in Me.” We plan to introduce it to our congregation one Sunday evening soon. “Not in Me” was composed by Eric Schumacher and David Ward with the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in mind, and you can hear it here. Look at the first verse:

No list of sins I have not done,

No list of virtues I pursue,

No list of those I am not like,

Can earn myself a place with You.

O God! Be merciful to me—

I am a sinner through and through!

My only hope of righteousness

Is not in me, but only You.

The hymn rightly notes that nothing in us warrants God’s acceptance of us—not the sins we have not done, not the virtues we have esteemed, not a comparison with those we deem less worthy for whatever reason. Our depravity permeates all of our being; our “only hope of righteousness is Christ alone.”

The second and third verses continue the theme:

No humble dress, no fervent prayer,

No lifted hands, no tearful song,

No recitation of the truth

Can justify a single wrong.

My righteousness is Jesus’ life,

My debt was paid by Jesus’ death,

My weary load was borne by Him

And He alone can give me rest.

 

No separation from the world,

No work I do, no gift I give,

Can cleanse my conscience, cleanse my hands;

I cannot cause my soul to live.

But Jesus died and rose again—

The pow’r of death is overthrown!

My God is merciful to me

And merciful in Christ alone.

Only an awareness of ourselves in our sinful state and an awareness of what God has done on our behalf can help us understand that God’s grace is indeed amazing.

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

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Most people will tell you that they are hoping to go to heaven because they feel their good outweighs their bad. Such thinking, however, is foreign to biblical Christianity. The Bible clearly declares that all of us are sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Therefore, all of us deserve eternal death (Romans 6:23).

Maybe you have heard of the man, believing that life was unfair to him, cry out to heaven, “God, just give me what I deserve!” There is hardly a more dangerous prayer because the best of us deserve the wrath of God.

God, however, did not simply leave us in our sins so that we might face his just and unavoidable wrath. The apostle Paul reminds us that “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:4-5a). Salvation does not begin with man’s realization of his sinful con­dition and consequent search for a solution. He does not have that desire or capability within his sinful nature. Salva­tion begins with God. It was the kind and loving God who saw man in his lost condition and chose to save him.

Al­though man deserves to perish eternal­ly, God desires that he repent (2 Peter 3:9). Man has fol­lowed the way of this world and the spirit of Satan (Ephesians 2:2). He has lived to fulfill his own lusts, showing that in his nature he de­serves God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3). God, though, gave his Son to be man’s Savior, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).

William Barclay writes accurately, “God is character­ist­ically the Saviour God, whose last desire is to condemn men and whose first desire is to save them.” It is God who “so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). It is God who “shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It is “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

No person will ever enter heaven on the basis of his good works. All who spend eternity with God will do so because of the grace of God through repenting of their sin and believing in the Lord Jesus. The Bible states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

If you are a true Christian, you have much for which to be grateful this Thanksgiving season. God has not left you to toil in a vain attempt to earn your salvation. In his infinite mercy he has freely given you eternal life through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ upon the cross.

If you have not turned from your sin and believed on Christ, do so today. He took the wrath of God due believing sinners and counts all such believers righteous in his sight. “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [God the Son] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

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