Summary: Exploring the Grace of God by asking Why it’s so necessary; What has it done for us?; Why it’s so amazing; and What are the obligations in response to God’s grace.
One of the most frequently used words in Christian worship is the word ‘Grace’. We bring our services to a close with what we call ‘the grace’. It’s a wonderful benediction because it sends us out into the world with the assurance that God has been with us and will be with us until we meet again in His presence.
We say the words but what do they mean to us? The word ‘Grace’ trips off the tongue easily and pleasantly. I think it’s one of the most beautiful words in the language. Over the years it’s been chosen by many a parent as the Christian name of a daughter, no doubt in the hope that she will grow up to live up to her name! If you’re interested in art you’ll know the famous sculpture “The Three Graces”depicting three goddess sisters from Greek mythology celebrating their beauty.
The word is also used in commerce. When your insurance premium is due or your driving licence is about to expire, out of the goodness of heart of the insurance company or the motor tax authority you may be given an extra few days, the ‘period of grace’, to effect the renewal. You’re still liable and if you fail to comply, you’re in real trouble. To the Christian, ‘grace’ means much more than that, although it’s not easy to put it into words.
C. S. Lewis offers a helpful thought in defining what grace is. During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world were discussing whether any one belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. What about the Incarnation? It weas said that other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. And the Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. "What’s the rumpus about?" he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among the world’s religions. In his forthright manner, Lewis responded, "Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace." So, let’s ask the question.
WHAT IS ‘GRACE’?
The word has a variety of meanings. For example, it may mean that someone has found God’s approval, as when it said, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen 6:8). It’s used in Proverbs to describe someone whose words are kind and loving; their “speech is gracious” (22:11). That’s something that should be a characteristic of all Christians. But even the best of Christians sometimes take liberties.
I read the biography of the late Dr Donald English, an acknowledged leader of World Methodism. He was said to be genuinely “a friend to all and the enemy of none”, as Wesley put it. However, he did on one occasion say to his students: "Oh, occasionally I have been tempted to offer the ‘right knee’ as opposed to the ’right hand’ of fellowship!” I take some comfort from knowing that even the saintly blink occasionally! We all do!
The classical definition of ‘Grace’ is “God’s unmerited favour”. Grace is perhaps the best one word summary of what the Bible is about. An expert in Greek literature says that in those old stories, grace indicated a favour done out of the generous heart of one Greek to a friend without any expectation of a favour in return, but it was never done to an enemy. Grace in the New Testament is used with a higher meaning.
The grace of God is quite different to all others. It expresses the love, the kindness, and the generosity of God toward us. It represents the attitude of the Almighty toward His wandering, rebellious creation. But it’s more than an attitude. It’s God’s love in action on our behalf. Grace is God loving, God stooping, God coming to the rescue, God giving Himself generously in and through Jesus Christ. Under grace, God gives us what we don’t deserve - Heaven; and He doesn’t give us what we do desrve - Hell. God’s grace forgives what it can’t excuse. So let’s find out:
WHY IS THE GRACE OF GOD SO NECESSARY?
In the words of Scripture, we’re all like the people of Ephesus that the apostle Paul described as spiritually “dead in your transgressions and sins” having incurred God’s “wrath” (1:1,3). If we only have a superficial concept of sin, of how it alienates us from God, we’ll have an inadequate understanding of the grace of God. The truth is that we’ve all fallen short of God’s standard.
The late David Sheppard, before he entered the ministry and became a much-loved bishop, was a famous cricketer, who played for England. He was once stumped twice in the same Test Match. Once he was stumped by yards, and once by a few inches. He pointed out that in the newspapers next day, it didn’t say “stumped, but only just”. No, he was out, whether it was by yards or by an inch. He comments, “Some people miss the kingdom of God by miles. Some miss it by inches. But if you’re out, you’re out.” Paul is saying that we all stand condemned but much loved by God. It’s our own doing. But thankfully, God hasn’t left us in our predicament as we discover: