I fear we are limiting God’s grace in our lives. I’ve seen two different aspects of God’s grace testified to. We often emphasize salvation is by grace, not works (Ephesians 2:8-9). In this passage, grace is God being merciful and benevolent toward sinners, especially toward the undeserving, to save through faith. We could not do anything to save ourselves, so God in His grace saved us apart from any works of our own when we simply trusted in His Son. This absolutely biblical aspect of grace is rightly preached and believed in the churches. When it comes to salvation through Jesus, it is by faith apart from any works of our own. But there is another aspect of biblical grace that seems to be little known and applied.
Grace transforms a life and enables us to work: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). This aspect of grace presents a very different picture than being saved by faith some time ago. It is an ongoing grace that empowers a person to labor for God. Paul saw that God’s purpose for him was great, and Paul acted upon it, and found the power of God working for him. This is grace plus works.
We see a powerful example of God’s grace with the commissioning of Isaiah (Isaiah 6). When Isaiah was brought into the throne room of God, he saw his own sin in light of God’s holiness and exclaimed that he was a foul-mouthed man who lived among people of foul mouths. A seraph touched his lips with a coal and healed him. He was not struck dead in God’s presence. God did not thunder at him in rage and wrath. God was not as that angry, roaring head at the end of The Wizard of Oz, striking terror in the eyes of all who came. No; instead God threw out the invitation, “Who will go for us?” Isaiah saw that he was unhurt and God was not angry with him. In boldness he stepped forward to answer the call. “Here am I, send me.” God accepted this imperfect person and empowered him to be His messenger. This is the grace of God. He puts sinners to work and equips them on an ongoing basis.
Grace is all the magnificence of God working on undeserving sinners’ behalf for every purpose, for every direction, word, and work. When Moses asked God what name He would be known by, God replied with, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:13-14). Meaning, “I am ever becoming all that you need.” Are you weary? God will be your rest. Are you weak and need strength for the task? God will be your very present help in trouble. Where there is lack, God wants to fill it with Himself. This is the grace Paul found that gave him strength in every situation. Where Paul was weak, God was strong and acted for him. “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
As the word faith has been twisted and misunderstood, so it is with grace. Biblically, faith does not mean “To believe without proof.” Rather, that common usage dictionary definition arises because thinking men have asked religious followers why they believe what they do, and the response was, “Because that’s what our church teaches.” There was no reasoning process that led them to an answer. Thus, faith means to believe without proof. What a tragic distortion that has turned many believers away from the power and life that comes through biblical faith.
Grace is also misunderstood. When an erring brother has been allowed liberty to continue doing the wrong, some in the church have called their reluctance to act as grace. That’s not grace; it’s permissiveness and irresponsibility. God as a good father chastens and corrects His children (Hebrews 12:5-11). Paul in his epistles tells us to deal with the sinning brother in the church by casting him out so his leaven of sin does not leaven the whole lump (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:15-17 how to deal with a sinning brother, and it’s not to ignore him, but deal with the sin. So grace in our church cases has been misunderstood and misapplied.
Paul saw a greater view of God’s grace than most men see. He saw that God is willing to empower sinners like himself, a man who was a blasphemer and who persecuted the church of God. God called him anyway and Paul responded – and found help in every weakness. “Therefore I will boast in my weaknesses, for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) Who in the church boasts in his weaknesses today? Who among us finds the grace of God is sufficient? Are we not rather rugged individualists who do it ourselves and are proud of it? Or perhaps we look to the government to provide for all our needs, not God. And so we miss out on what grace there is for us. We work hard for what we want, or we look to the world to get it. In these cases, there is no personal conviction that God has helped us in our weaknesses.
Paul’s attitude was very different than that among Christians who say, “Poor, poor me. But I’m glad that Jesus still loves me.” This isn’t the grace Paul knew. “By the grace of God I am what I am.” Grace completely transformed Paul into a mighty worker for God. He did not sit around having a pity party. He was too busy doing the greatest work on earth — the will of God for him. God was willing to work through Paul, so Paul gave of himself to see God work. “To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily” (Colossians 1:29). The goodness of God, His grace, working through and in us. Paul knew it and wanted everyone else to experience it.
Is this aspect of grace for you and me? The Bible tells us that the eyes of the Lord search here and there throughout the earth to show himself strong on behalf of those who are loyal to Him (2 Chronicles 16:9). Do we want enabling grace? Then take a stand for God. Turn away from your sins, weaknesses, and weights that drag you down. Tell them one by one, “I will not allow this in my life any more. I will stand for God. I will cut off all my excuses and live for Jesus.” Put the cross ahead of you, and the world, the flesh, the devil, and the fear of death behind you. No turning back.
We eat and drink of Communion, remembering the Lord’s death. But we dishonor Him when we continue in sin, for He died for our sins. He died, then rose again, and from on high He sends the Holy Spirit to His believers. He did not simply die for sins to forgive us, but to empower us to have victory over sins of every kind. Sin keeps us from doing the will of God and enjoying God’s presence. When sin is renounced, the door is opened for greater fellowship and service for God (not for retirement!) With sin out of the way, more of Christ can be known; more of His works can be done through us (John 14:12-13). This is the grace of God. We limit God’s grace when we say it is only forgiveness.
By the grace of God we are saved through faith. But the grace of God did not run out when we first believed! We are to grow in the grace and the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Don’t stop with the idea that God is generous to give us salvation some time in the past through faith. No – God continues to pour out His grace. “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). We are to abound in “every good work,” not merely every good thought! Grace is given to the one who acts on what God says.
Regarding growing in the grace of God, I have found that it begins with giving up small things you depend on. For instance, the Spirit may nudge you to give up your morning coffee and depend on Him instead. When you find yourself being helped without your favorite “crutch,” then He continues to nudge you into ever-greater sacrifices as He sees you are ready for them. As long as we make decisions that keep us in the comfort zone, we cannot grow in His empowering grace. Do you want to know this grace? It will involve bearing your cross daily as Jesus did. He set the example.
Paul strongly urged the believers that they not receive the grace of God in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1). By the grace of God salvation is through faith without works. But it is also by the grace of God that we can work for Him without sin and weaknesses getting in the way. If we think only the first use is correct, then we take the grace of God in vain and continue in the sins from which Christ had died to save us. However, God will empower us, not club us down. He will cheer each winding road we walk, not trip us up every chance He gets. We really do not see how much God desires to do for us!
William Carey wrote, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” We labor according to our expectations. If we see only a little grace, then we labor little. If we see a willing God, then we labor much. This is what I have learned from reading the stories of missionaries: when we make plans based on our knowledge, weaknesses, and abilities, we see little of God’s grace. What did Paul and Isaiah see that we don’t?
God is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all we can ask or think, and perhaps we will not ask or think it because we shrink from a holy God. We think that we are not good enough – yet we think it was good enough to come to God by faith alone for salvation! In that same vein, come to God for strength, in humility seeking from Him what we can’t do of ourselves. We first came to God as passive recipients of His saving power. Now we come to God with an active faith in His continuing power to keep us living above the power of sin. Let’s claim the whole Gospel, not half of one.
This is not a technique that “just works.” If we are self-centered and our motives are based on self-interests, we may not get much of an answer to our prayers for grace. In general, the church is more devoted to the values of the world than the kingdom of God. We want help for losing weight, making money, a happier marriage, keeping bad habits in check, happiness, peace, success, and a thousand more things that have nothing to do with the pursuit of doing God’s will. We have become conformed to the world rather than let our own light shine the glory of God. So if we surrender to God to do His will, grace will be dramatic, with an upsurge of boldness and vitality.
If you once knew that power of grace and it has faded, remember that the apostles prayed again to regain it before setting out to do their work. Don’t assume that God is displeased and has permanently cut it off. Re-align yourself with God’s purpose for your life and get the power again. Why not do this right now before reading further?
“For sin will no longer be a master over you, since you are not under Law [as slaves], but under [unmerited] grace [as recipients of God’s favor and mercy]” (AMP, Romans 6:14). The cross and grace go together. We are slaves of sin or of Jesus. (Pick one.) To let grace be our new master, we yield our mind and body with their abilities to God and His purposes (Romans 6:12-13). We acknowledge that our sinful aspect went into the grave with Jesus after His crucifixion, and our new man rose with Him and is seated above (Romans 6:1-10). This is how God sees your salvation. (Hint: it’s not, “I’m going to heaven when I die.” It’s right now, with victory over sin.)
Where faith and grace are misunderstood, there also is where a church is powerless. When we know what God wants us to do and we act upon it, then faith is recovered. And when we do the will of God asking for God’s help God’s way, then grace is recovered. As faith without works is dead (James 2:26), even so grace is in vain when we attempt living the Christian life in our own strength.
The enemy is still busy in the world to confuse the church and turn it from the true riches. Grace is a great treasure God gives to His church. May we act upon it and recover strength to labor for God.