Sovereign Grace is Seen

cage-stage2It is said regarding the young Calvinist, “The first few years in a Calvinists life, he should be caged and only let out of the cage when he learns to love.” This is a most unfortunate observation (let’s admit though, not 100% true all of the time, but enough to justify the stereotype). Understanding God’s sovereign love and grace should actually compel us to be gracious and kind. I know a person truly understands God’s sovereign grace, not by his or her ability to articulate the doctrine, but through his or her actions. I think James would resonate and support this assertion, “Show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith by my works” (2:18).

It’s easy to recognize a person who understands divine grace because we see him or her gracious to others, loving, forgiving, not malicious, not gossips, but truly interested in other’s well being. Divine grace spurs His children on to show divine grace.

Divine Grace

What is divine grace? At the foundation, it is the action and character of God where He gives what we do not deserve. Grace simply means gift. A gift of unmerited favor. At no point does He cease to be gracious. His actions, especially towards His children, lavish grace on us. Consider His grace in a a believer’s conversion and life.

images-1God says, “You were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked . . . lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging in the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2:1-3). This is the life of every unbeliever. The Walking Dead and zombie movies fill our hipster culture. But we don’t have to watch those shows to see the walking dead. God says unbelievers are walking dead in their sins. Unbelievers are dead. Yet, these dead people live in their lusts, indulge desires, and destined for wrath — dead sinners.

We cannot expect unbelievers to live for God’s glory. They do not honor nor even give Him thanks (Romans 1:21). How can they? They are dead! Dead people have dead hearts without the ability to serve, obey, worship Him, or save themselves. Think about a cemetery. Do any people buried there have a shot at crawling out of their coffin and preaching the Gospel? No! Why? They’re dead! That is their nature. It’s simple. Dead people do not make themselves alive. I’m always shocked to hear believers act surprised when unbelievers sin. “Really? You’re shocked he lives by his dead, sinful nature?” We need to understand human nature. [1]

Dead people are destined for wrath. Plain and simple. So how is this problem solved? “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5). Notice who makes dead men come to life. It’s God. The Spirit emphasizes this action directly associates with His character, this God who makes people alive is “rich in mercy, because of His great love.” Believers are alive. Why?

Are we alive because of our ability? Skills? Are we #1 draft picks for God? Did we do something, pay something, chose something, or believe something? No, no, no, no, no, and no! We are alive because God made us alive. Who is the subject of Ephesians 2:4-5? God. What is the verb (action he commits)? “Made us alive.” On no level do we contribute. How could we? We are dead. We are in need of being made alive! We need someone to act on our behalf. And guess who does? Yes, it’s God! Not myself, spouse, pastor, church, or [insert your favorite preacher here].

Why did God make us alive? Because He is rich in mercy and His love is great. Ever heard, “Wouldn’t it be great if [insert really famous influential person here]?” Yes it would. But God wouldn’t save him or her because of the impact he or she could make for the kingdom. He would save her because of His great love, kindness, mercy, and grace. God predestines us to adoption, why? “Because of the kind intention of His will” (Eph 1:5). (Put that in the theological pipe and smoke it for a bit . . . no really, dwell on it).

Dwell on that for a minute more.

 

“I was saved because God is kind.” I am redeemed and forgiven (for ever), why? “According to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us” (Eph. 1:7-8). That’s humbling.Unknown I was made alive because God is gracious, kind, merciful, and loving. But that’s not the entire story. Grace is lavished on us. It’s not a one time distribution from an eye dropper. No, it’s a constant ice-bucket challenge that never ends. God LAVISHES grace on us (Eph 1:8). [2]

God showed us grace and mercy before salvation and at salvation. He continues to show us grace and mercy. He will continue to show grace and mercy. His grace fuels our life. Even when I have a bad day, God lavishes grace. God doesn’t look at believers and say, “Man, he’s having a bad day, I’ll come back tomorrow, and hopefully I can distribute grace then.” His grace is contingent on His character, not our performance.

(keep smoking the grace pipe . . . keep dwelling).

Divine Grace Shown

Think about God’s grace. It’s ever present, ever poured, always shown, and His character. Now, how should we live? “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender hearted, gracing (χαριζόμενοι) each other, just as God in Christ also has graced (ἐχαρίσατο) you” (Eph 4:31-32).

Yes, our translations say “forgiving each other . . . has forgiven you.” But the Greek word here comes from χαρίζομαι — the word for grace. Now, of course the idea of forgiveness fits under this definition. Do not eliminate the need to forgive others. We must be peace-makers, reconcilers, and forgivers (Matt 5:9, 21ff, and 18:23ff). But God uses a word with a broader definition to encapsulate more. Because not only are we to forgive like He forgives us, but we are to gracious to others as He is to us.

images-2“Gracing each other” is found in the Greek present aspect. This does not mean present tense like English does. Instead it means we are to habitually, on-going, and always be gracious. There is no loop-hole or month, week, day, hour, or minute we can take off. We are to ALWAYS, ALL (“all” in Greek means “all”), and ever more be gracious. (If I could pound the pulpit, I would). Our every thought, action, speech, work, service, and love should be gracious. I need to ice-bucket grace others!

This is counter-intuitive. When people give us a hard time, it’s easier to jump ship, turn our back, and pretend they don’t exist. Instead we need to be gracious, realizing God’s love for us is not contingent on my actions, so how can my service towards another be contingent on his actions or abilities? See God doesn’t merely sit in the room and put up with us. Instead He serves, lavishes, loves, and works in our heart to draw us back to Him, conforming us into His image. We grace despite another’s frailties. Yes, we even grace those with different theologies, just like Him.

“How unsuitable is it for us, who live only by kindness, to be unkind! What would have become of us, if Christ had been so saving of his blood, and loth to bestow it, as many men are of their money or goods? Or if he had been as ready to excuse himself from dying for us, as men commonly are to excuse themselves from charity to their neighbor? If Christ would have made objections of such things, as men commonly object to performing deeds of charity to their neighbor, he would have found enough of them.” – Jonathan Edwards

What would our service look like if we graced the same way? Would we merely endure someone? Allow him to sit at the table? Fancy his call? Or would we love and act in such a way to benefit him or her? One is tougher than the other, isn’t it?

Grace is hard work. But it’s godly work honoring and extolling Him. We need to be gracious to others. Love them. Serve them. Even when it means hard work, confessing our own pride, and putting aside our preferences. For the Lord lavishes us the same way.

(btw . . . keep dwelling on His grace! Smoke it! Let if fill your heart)

[1] See here for more details.

[2]. The verb for lavish is an aorist active indicative. This does not mean “past tense” or “punctiliar.” Instead, Paul chooses to not comment on the aspect of this verb leaving it undefined. This means the verb can have an on going idea behind it if the context allows it.  Does the context allow it? I think so.

  • Theodore A. Jones

    “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13
    What is that law Paul is referencing?