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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Part 2 - Receiving Grace

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Receiving Grace

Hello, I'm David Guzik, and I want to welcome you to these special recordings that we're making for those in our Blue Letter Bible family on the subject of getting grace. This is the second part of the series, where I'm going to talk about the subject on how grace is received. I mean, after all, most of us know something about God's grace, and if you'd like some introductory material, I’d refer you back to the first in the series that we recorded, the message called "What is Grace?" But in the second message, I want to talk about how we don't really benefit from the grace of God, at least not in our experience, until we actually receive it. And so, what we want to gain from this time together, thinking about God's Word and God's truth, is how God gives grace and how we can practically receive it.

You know, one of the great places to start when you're thinking about how God gives grace is to begin at a very famous passage. And that famous passage is from the book of Ephesians 2:8-9. In Ephesians 2:8-9, the Apostle Paul wrote this:

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; [it is] the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."

And in that place, Paul makes it very clear, and very dramatically tells us that it is through the grace of God that we receive this rescue in Jesus Christ. But he also tells us something else—that we receive that grace through faith. And that not of ourselves, referring both to the salvation, I believe, and to the faith. You see, this is a wonderful idea—that we receive the grace of God through faith. But, maybe we're getting one step ahead of ourselves. Maybe it's first to come back to the idea of where grace comes from. And again, we touched on this a bit in our first message, but it's worth talking about again, especially focused on the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Simply said, we would say grace comes from Jesus. Remember what it says in John 1. I'll read to you verse fourteen, and then verse seventeen. It begins in verse fourteen:

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...full of grace and truth." John 1:14

And then out into verse seventeen:

"...grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." John 1:17

You see, the great message of God's Word is that grace comes from a person, and that's the person of Jesus Christ. We don't look primarily to the institution of a church for grace. Though, and please listen to me carefully here, Jesus does use the church to display and to spread His Grace there's no doubt about it. But Jesus is the giver through His church—the church is the instrument, and we need to keep that in mind. I would also say this: we don't look primarily to ceremonies and sacraments for grace, though there is grace to be received in what God commands. Again, I don't want to be misunderstood on that point. But we come back to the idea that Jesus is the giver. Baptism and the Lord's Supper are instruments. They're important instruments, they are often undervalued instruments, but they're instruments nevertheless. Again, when Jesus came to us, He came to us with a life and with a ministry full of grace. When Jesus came into our world everything, about it said grace. So, He is the One, understandably and primarily, that we go to to receive the grace of God.

You see, just the fact that Jesus came to the world proved God's undeserved love to us. Think about it just for a moment: did mankind, either as a group, or perhaps as any one individual, did we deserve the departure of God the Son from Heaven? We didn't take a popular vote down here on earth to reform ourselves the coming of the Messiah. And God certainly did not look down from heaven and say, "Well, my, my, there's a group of people who are so good they deserve a Savior." Now, Jesus came into a hostile, God-hating world that was steeped in sin. Jesus did not come because mankind deserved a Savior. He came because of God's love for very lost people. The very coming of Jesus showed the grace of God, but His whole life also showed the grace of God.

You know, Jesus never really used the word grace, except in the sense of thanksgiving in His teachings. That particular word from the ancient Greek language isn't in the mouth of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels. Yet, it would be through the Apostle Paul later that God would receive reveal more of His specific teaching of grace. But, even though Jesus rarely use the word, He often taught about the idea of grace. You see, the life and ministry of Jesus exemplified the grace of God in action. Jesus' love for sinners and social outcasts showed God's unmerited favor. Those tax collectors and prostitutes and other sinners that He drew near to, they didn't receive His love because they were worthy of it—they received it because grace was being lived out through Jesus Christ.

Now, if Jesus only showed the love of God to those who deserved it during His earthly ministry, then there would have been no sick people healed. There would have been no demoniacs delivered. There would have been no sinners forgiven. The entire life and ministry of Jesus were marked by God's grace. But if I have to think about where the grace of God was most powerfully displayed in and through Jesus, I wouldn't say specifically it was through His life. I would say it was by His death. Nobody can read what the Gospels say about the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus without noticing that Jesus died for the undeserving. And nobody did anything to earn that kind of love, but God gave it out of the treasure of His grace. You see, on the cross at Calvary, God showed the riches of His love in the greatest measure. But in contrast, the sin and the hatred of men was also shown at Calvary, and you can say that was shown in the blackest degree. I mean, what could be worse than for people to murder the God of perfect love and righteousness, and to take joy in it? But, that's what happened at the cross. You see, the best of God's love and the worst of man's hatred had it out at the cross. And I'm here to tell you that the empty tomb of Jesus proclaims that the love and the grace of God emerged victorious in that battle.

But, the death of Jesus on the cross not only shows us the grace of God. It allows grace and forgiveness to be given to the believer without any violation of God's righteousness or justice. This is an important, and sometimes neglected, aspect of Jesus' work at Calvary. You see, God couldn't just say to guilty sinners, "Well you're off the hook now by my grace." That would be a complete violation of God's righteousness and justice. You wouldn't think much of an earthly judge who just decided to let lawbreakers off the hook because the judge happened to be in a nice mood that day. You would rightly say that such a judge was incompetent. You might even move to work to have that judge removed from his judicial bench. But, you see, God is not an unjust judge. He doesn't let us "off the hook" at the cross. Rather, if I could use this phrase without being irreverent, He put Jesus on the hook for us. You see, the judgment that we rightly deserved was poured out on Jesus as He stood in the place of sinful humanity. The cross doesn't sidestep God's justice—it satisfies His righteous law. That penalty has been paid, but it was paid by Jesus, and not by the believer. So, the cross allows God's grace to operate for man's rescue without violating either the righteousness of God or the justice of God.

You see, the cross was a day of judgement for Jesus. Jesus, who knew no sin, was made sin for us. He took the judgment that we sinners deserve. But here's the sober truth—there's also a coming day of judgment before God's great, white throne. And everyone who stands before God on that day will be judged and condemned, because their names were not found in the Book of Life. Today, God offers all of humanity the opportunity to choose their day of judgment. If we decide to trust in Jesus and repent of our sins, then all of our sins are considered to have been judged in Jesus on the cross of Calvary. If we decide to reject Jesus and hang on to our sin, then you could say that we choose to be judged at the great, white throne of God, and will bear our penalty ourselves. See, the great truth to realize is that God's righteousness requires all sin to be judged. And you could say this—that all sin in the universe will be judged. It's just, there's a sense in which we as individuals have the choice of where that sin, where we'll, be judged. Will it be judged in the finished work of Jesus on Calvary, or will it be judged by us in our own eternal separation from God? But again, the life of Jesus demonstrates the grace of God. It demonstrates it in His coming to the earth, it demonstrates it in His life and ministry, it demonstrates it in His death, it demonstrates it even in the resurrection of Jesus.

The resurrection of Jesus was a remarkable demonstration of the goodness and the grace of God. Jesus' resurrection was inevitable. As the Apostle Peter spoke in Acts 2:27, on the day of Pentecost, it was inevitable that Jesus rise from the dead. But, because of grace, we can share in Jesus's inevitable victory over death. See, God would have been entirely justified in reserving the power and the benefits of the resurrection only to Jesus. Jesus deserved that victory over death, and we do not. But, by God's unspeakable grace, He allows us to share in Jesus's triumph over death. He gives us the promise of resurrection in eternal life, and He gives it to us in Jesus Christ. That is the gracious gift of God. So Jesus' resurrection glory is a preview of ours. He's the first fruits of the resurrection, and it's all about the grace of God. Well, this is what is truly wonderful about God's grace, and how it is given to us freely in the person and the work of Jesus.

So, if Jesus Himself is this great God of grace, a Savior of grace, a life of grace, a demonstration of the grace of God, if we can say that grace comes from Jesus, then ask yourself the question, "How do we receive the grace of God?" Well, I mentioned it at the very beginning, so let me come back to this point. Fundamentally, we receive the grace of God by faith. Remember, let me read that verse to you again, from Ephesians 2:8-9, where the Apostle Paul, of course, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote this:

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; [it is] the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." Ephesians 2:8-9

Now, I don't want you to think that this is the only place in the Scriptures where God speaks to us about grace being received by faith. There are many other places. Let me just read two of them to you now, both from the book of Romans. In Romans 4:16, the Apostle Paul also wrote this. He said:

"Therefore [it is] of faith that [it might be] according to grace, so that the promise might be sure..." Romans 4:16

To get that connection there, Paul is once again connecting the reception of God's grace to faith. And then, we can say again from Romans 5:2, where again, under the inspiration the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul wrote this. He spoke of Jesus, and I'm quoting the verse:

"...through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." Romans 5:2

And that's an important point—we have access into the grace of God by faith. So, if anybody were to ask me the simple question, "How do we receive the grace of God?" the shortest answer I could give, and then I would bring an explanation after it, which, of course, I'm going to do in our time together here, is I would say, "Well, we receive the grace of God from Jesus. He is the great distributor of grace, the source of grace, if we can say that. But we receive it by faith." If I could go back to that Ephesians 2:8-9 passage, where he says that we "have been saved by grace through faith," it's important to note there that Paul, and I know I'm speaking a bit technically here, but I think it's important. Paul doesn't tell us that we're saved by faith, but that we're saved by "grace through faith." I know sometimes that those of us who talk about the Bible and theology, we like to make super-fine distinctions that don't really seem to mean much to people. But I want you know this is an important distinction—the work of our salvation is accomplished by God's grace, and that saving grace is received by faith. You see, God gives what some theologians like to call "common grace" to everybody. As Jesus said in another place, "the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike," [Mat 5:45] and that means that there's something of God's blessing, God's goodness, in this world for everybody to enjoy. But the riches of God's rescue, the treasure of His saving grace, that is reserved for those who will receive that grace by faith. And Paul echoes this thought. Again, in Romans 5:2 that I just read to you before, where he tells us that our access into grace is by faith. We come into this position of grace that is God's unmerited favor that results in our salvation or rescue. We come into the position of grace by faith.

Now, I do need to make the distinction that I'm speaking from a human perception. And I don't want to step on any toes that would really emphasize the idea that we receive the grace of God purely on God's initiative, and that has nothing to do with human reception. But certainly, anybody would agree that in our experience of the grace of God, as we try to live a life of grace, and the experience of that grace, that it comes in and through our faith of accepting what Jesus Christ has done for us. Now I do also have to add here, that when we say that we must receive grace by faith, we remember that faith in and of itself is not a deserving work by which we earn the grace of God. There's always a danger of thinking that faith is something of a work, and that it's by faith that we earn God's favor. Brothers, sisters, genuine faith will bear the fruit of good works and it can't be separated from them. But faith itself merely sees the offer of God and believes it to be true. Faith looks at the promises of God and it says, "I believe that those promises are for me."

In simple terms, faith is refusing to call God a liar. It takes God's word at face value. And it trusts that both God and His Word are truly reliable. When we do not have faith, we deny that God's Word is true, and that we really do call Him a liar when we don't have faith. What merit is there in not calling God a liar? That's only common sense. We need to take seriously what God says about the position of grace that He's given to us in Jesus Christ. And we need to believe that promise with faith, and take God at His word. I remember many years ago, hearing a story about a man who taught a Sunday school class full of small boys. One day, in that class, he offered a boy in the class some treasure. I think, in the story that I heard, it was a brand new wristwatch. That was back in a day when people really used wrist watches. I guess today, if you wanted to update the story, you would say it was a smartphone or something like that. But, when the boy was offered a wristwatch, he thought it was just a trick. He feared that his classmates would laugh at him when the trick was revealed. And so, kind of calculating the social situation, the boy refused the watch. So, what did the teacher do? He offered it to the next boy, but the next boy followed the example of the first boy, and one by one, each boy in the class refused the watch because the offer seemed to be too good to be true for them. Now, you can really believe something like that happening in a class full of Sunday school boys. Each one of the boys believe that the teacher just wanted to trick them. But, the last boy in the class was bold enough to accept the watch when the teacher offered it to him. And when the teacher actually gave it to him, the other boys were amazed and a bit angry. But, the teacher used the whole situation to show them that, no matter how good a gift is that's offered to you, you have to believe the word of the giver, and you have to receive that gift before it does you any good.

You see, you could even say that, in a technical sense, that the watch was given to the boy as soon as the offer was made, but he only enjoyed it, he only put it on his wrist and could tell time with it once he received it by believing the truth of the offer. I remember hearing another story, again, this is many years ago, and I don't know if it means anything to you. But, I looked this up online just to verify the story because it seems so unusual that I wondered if it was really true. But, it is true, that in the year 1829, a Pennsylvania man named George Wilson was sentenced by the United States court to be hanged for murder and robbery. Well, there was an appeal made to President Andrew Jackson, and Andrew Jackson pardoned him, and I don't know why Andrew Jackson pardoned him, but he did—a man who was to be hanged for murder and robbery was pardoned by the president. But, here's the tricky part of it—George Wilson refused the pardon. Wilson insisted that he was not actually pardoned unless he accepted the pardon. Now, that was a point of law that was never raised before, and President Jackson called on the Supreme Court Justice to decide, and so the Supreme Court met, they deliberated, and Chief Justice John Marshall gave the following decision. He said this:

"A pardon is a paper, the value of which depends upon its acceptance by the person implicated. If it is refused, it is no pardon. George Wilson must be hanged."

And he was hanged. Even so, we can make the analogy of God's offer of a pardon of salvation in Christ is offered, but only those who trust in God and His word will gain the benefits of that pardon. They have to receive it by faith. Now, we understand, and I don't mean to get too deep in the weeds on this, but really, we understand that even our response of faith is the gift of God's grace. It all comes back to His grace from beginning to end. But at least as we experience it, God makes the offer and we respond in grace. You could say that our response of faith is important to the working of grace, because it completes the connection. It completes the connection of our receiving what God gives. We need to empty our hands of what is false and serving to self, and then we need to receive what God so freely offers.

Now, this is the work of God in us. We would not have the faith to believe, we would not have the faith to receive, if God did not previously do a work in us. And therefore, we understand all the more that even our response of faith cannot be a deserving work which earns grace under salvation. It merely receives it. I like it that in Acts 18:27, the writer of the book of Acts, that is, the physician Luke, he described a group of converts in the early church as "those who had believed through grace." Think about that phrase just for a moment. They believed, but even their belief was through the grace of God. Their belief, like all true faith, was a work of God's grace in their life accomplished by God. Now, why did God do it all this way? Why did God emphasize that grace must be received by faith, not by human accomplishment, not by association with a religious institution, not by the performance of a ceremony? God emphasized that it has to be by faith, and therefore the institution apart from our faith can be empty, the ceremony apart from our faith can be empty. God may use an institution or a ceremony or sacrament together with faith to communicate to us the grace of God. But why did God make faith so important to this?

Again, if we go back to Ephesians 2:8-9, we understand what God writes there. We understand that He says there, in that passage that "...[it is] the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." You see, if we could deserve the grace of God, if we could earn the reception of God's grace by our association with a particular group, if we can earn the grace of God by the performance of the ceremony, then someone might have cause to boast that their own great works brought them the rescue that they need from God. Think of what a horrible place heaven would be if salvation were in fact of works, and that if it was not of grace! Everybody would brag about how faithful they were, how many they had led to Jesus, how much they gave for His cause. There would be a lot of false humility and arguments in heaven about who was the most humble person. Listen, that would make heaven a terrible place, not a wonderful place. But, we should thank God that he decided to work out our rescue in a manner that denies all of our boasting. Here's the problem—oftentimes, we want a salvation of works so that we can brag. Even if that bragging is only in the inner man, or the inner woman, there's something about earning it ourselves that pleases us. You see, we may do those outward good works or demonstrate the strength of our own faith to prove to other people what good Christians we are or even how saved we are. It goes against our natural desire to appreciate a system where salvation is given, but boasting is excluded.

And this is one reason why the natural man, that part of us apart from the work of God in us, the natural man hates grace. It hates the system of salvation that's based upon it. Grace is a system that takes no regard of man's deserving. It only looks at God's gracious giving. God's grace denies any expression of our pride. It tells us that we owe God, and that God owes nothing to us. Now, this is why the proud person refuses to come to God, or at least to come to God by God's appointed system of grace. Pride already assumes that it has the favor of God, and that there is no need to receive the salvation that Jesus alone brings. Pride demands to be seen in its own merits. Grace refuses to acknowledge those merits. Pride considers itself better than others for superficial reasons, but all people are equal under God's grace. And pride gives self the preeminence. Grace gives God the preeminence. No wonder that God says and He repeats it three times in the Scriptures in Proverbs, in 1 Peter, and in James and that's why I don't mind repeating it often, that wonderful statement that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble [Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5]. And the humble receive the grace of God from Jesus Christ, again, not primarily from an institution, not primarily through a ceremony, though God may use institutions and ceremonies. But, primarily through faith in Jesus as Savior, as Lord, as wonderful High Priest, and the Glorious One who loves us so much.

Now, let me speak finally on one issue that I haven't dealt with yet, but I think it's very important for us to kind of end with. I want to talk about the issue of how do we know that we have received grace. You see, faith itself can be something of a tricky thing. There's no "Faith-o-meter" on our forehead that changes from red to green when we have enough faith. There's no "Grace-o-meter" on our wrist or on the back of our hand that, again, changes color or gives an indication that we have actually received the grace of God. How do we know that we have received God's grace? Well, that's a question that has a big answer. Let me give one approach to this that's based on a list that a man named William Newell wrote several years ago. William Newell was a great Bible commentator. He didn't write many Bible commentaries, but the ones he wrote were really good. And one of his best commentaries is a work on the book of Romans. It's called Romans: Verse-by-Verse. And in his commentary, he has a wonderful section called "A Few Words About Grace." And in that section, "A Few Words About Grace," he divides it into four parts. And I want to read to you under the third part of those four called, "The Proper Attitude of Man Under Grace." Here he goes, he says this:

"To believe and to consent to be loved while unworthy is the great secret."

Here's a way that you can know that you have and are receiving, because I think it sort of an ongoing work, that you have and are receiving the grace of God by faith. One way you can know it is that you believe and you allow God to pour out His love on you, all the while recognizing your fundamental unworthiness. Many people put off receiving from God because they don't feel worthy to receive. Some of us never really receive God's love because we're convinced that we're undeserving of such a gift. Grace tells us this—the fact that we are not worthy doesn't matter in the slightest. Grace is not grace unless it is given without a thought of merit in the one that it's given to. As one writer said when reflecting on the Apostle Paul's understanding of grace, he said this:

"Only those who are prepared to acknowledge that they are unworthy can put their faith in the giver of grace."

Let me put it to you this way—you really don't need to seek God's grace; you need to accept it. It is offered freely to those who will receive it by faith. Many people go through their entire life without knowing, and let's just say, knowing in an experiential sense, the grace of God, because they won't receive it unless they feel as though they've earned it. Grace that must be earned is not grace at all. Don't be fooled by the lie that tells you, you have to wait until you feel deserving. Matter of fact when you do feel deserving here in danger of pride. So, to believe and to consent while unworthy, to be loved while unworthy, that is the great secret of God's grace. Let me just read to you, and I'll do it sort of quickly, the other points Newell makes in this particular part of his little piece on "A Few Words About Grace." And the second point he makes is, "to refuse to make resolutions and vows for that is to trust in the flesh." The more vows and resolutions we make, that shows that we're really not operating on the basis of faith, but we're trusting in ourselves. The third one he lists is, "to expect to be blessed, though realizing more and more lack of worth." That is oppression's demonstration of faith in God as the giver of grace. Number four, he says that "the person under grace will testify of God's goodness at all times." Number five, "we will be certain of God's future favor, yet ever more tender in conscience towards Him."

We understand that the favor of God is given to us freely in Jesus Christ, yet there is a wonderful and powerful thing. The work of God's grace upon our life makes our heart more tender towards Him, especially in the conscience. Number six in Newell's seven-point list, and so we're almost done with it. He says that "we will rely on God's chastening hand as a mark of his kindness." You see, when we receive the grace of God from Jesus Christ, and receive it by faith, by the way it's the faith that God Himself gives, but we've already talked about that. When we receive all of that, then we realize that, even when we are in a season where we sense we are under the chastening hand of God, it's because He loves us. It's because He has His favor towards us, and we can rest in that, instead of being tormented by it. And then, I like this last point that Newell made in this little list. He says simply that "a man under grace, if like Paul, has no burdens regarding himself, but many about others." If the work of grace does anything in us, it makes us less self-focused, because again, when I talk about receiving the grace of God by faith, we understand that we're not talking about faith in our self. God forbid! We probably could do with a little less faith in our self, and much more faith in Jesus Himself, our Lord and Savior, the One who loves us so much and demonstrated that love once and for all by His perfect life and His matchless gift on the cross.

Brothers, sisters, in this special recording that I make for you, our Blue Letter Bible family, I want you to thank God for every way that He has poured out His grace upon you, but specifically remember that you receive the grace of God from Jesus, and you receive it by faith. Even that faith is the gift of God's grace. So, if you want to pray and ask that God would, in fact, give you more faith to receive His grace, that's a fine prayer to pray. Just remember, that to whatever extent that God may use a community or institution to be the vehicle of His grace to you, you still receive it by faith. Whatever sense that God may use a ceremony or sacrament to bestow His grace upon you, you still receive it by faith. It is fundamentally received from Jesus Christ, and it is received by faith. That is how we receive grace.

Part 1 - What is Grace? ← Prior Section
Part 3 - What Does Living in Grace Look Like? Next Section →
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