Grace – The Fuel for Worship

The people of God gather on the Lord’s Day to worship Him.
We do this in the power of the Holy Spirit,
out of gratitude to our Almighty God
as He is revealed himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

We humble ourselves before Him by declaring His worth,
confessing His lordship,and rendering to Him honor and glory
according to His Word.

There are many reasons to do this.
None is more compelling than grace.
God’s grace is unmerited favor from an unobligated giver.
God owes us nothing yet gives us His all —
the indescribable gift of His Son.

John Newton, who wrote the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace,”
summarizes the essence of grace
in his simple yet profound testimony in his latter years:

“My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things:
That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior!”

May we embrace Newton’s testimony as our own and delight to cherish this grace ourselves and commend it to others!

The Majesty of a Forgiving Father

Psalm 130:4 sets forth one of the greatest discoveries that we can ever make:
“With you (the LORD) there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”
According to John Stott, this verse “contains a beautiful balance
because its first part brings assurance to the despairing,
while its second part sounds a warning to the presumptuous.”

How easy it is to abuse God’s grace when we lose sight
of what it cost our Lord to rescue us.
Instead, knowing how forgiven we are
should move us to to fear and stand in awe of the Lord
so that we live more and more in a way that honors and exalts Him.

The Cross is not simply a lovely example of sacrificial love.
Throwing your life away needlessly is not admirable — it is wrong.
Jesus’ death was only a good example if it was more than an example,
if it was something absolutely necessary to rescue us. And it was.
Why did Jesus have to die in order to forgive us?
There was a debt to be paid — God himself paid it.
There was a penalty to be born — God himself bore it.
Forgiveness is always a form of costly suffering.

– Timothy Keller, The Reason for God

The majesty of God’s forgiveness is lost entirely
when we lose what has to be forgiven.
What has to be forgiven is not just what we do but who we are,
not just our sinning but our sinfulness,
not just our choices
but what we have chosen in place of God. . . .
When we miss the biblical teaching,
we also miss the nature of God’s grace
in all its height and depth.
In biblical faith it is God’s grace through Christ
that does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.”

– David F. Wells, The Courage to be Protestant

The voice that spells forgiveness will say:
‘You may go: you have been let off the penalty which your sin deserves.’
But the verdict which means acceptance [justification] will say:
‘You may come; you who are welcome to all my love and my presence.’

– Sir Marcus Loane, quoted by John Stott, The Message of Romans

Grace, she takes the blame. She covers the shame, removes the stain.
Grace makes beauty out of ugly things!

– Bono

What a mercy that our Heavenly Father does not leave His wandering child
to the hardening tendency and effect of his backslidings;
but, sooner or later, His Spirit, by the word,
or through some afflictive discipline of love,
recalls the wanderer to His feet, with the confession and the prayer-
“O Lord, pardon my iniquity; for it is great.”
“Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed.”

– Octavius Winslow

And now, when the question returns with personal force,
“Should God mark my iniquities, how can I stand?”
Let faith, resting upon the divine word, answer,
“Jesus is my Substitute: Jesus stood in my place: Jesus bore my sins:
Jesus did all, suffered all, and paid all in my stead, and here I rest.”

– John Owen

The forgiveness of God that delivers from the depths of despair,
guilt, and anxiety is not an end in itself
but it makes it possible for us to fulfill the chief goal of our lives:
To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

– Patrick Miller

Don’t fool and fancy yourself that you must pay your own debt of sin.
George Bernard Shaw  once wrote:
“Forgiveness is a beggar’s refuge… we must pay our debts.”
It is true: The debt of sin must be paid
and that forgiveness is indeed a beggar’s refuge.
However, we will sing King Jesus’ praise throughout eternity
because has paid the debt of sin of beggars like us.

The Reformation: A Time When Men Went Blind, Staggering Drunk…

This coming Sunday we celebrate Reformation Sunday.  We give thanks to God for men like Martin Luther who helped the church recover the biblical gospel of grace. Here’s two of my favorite quotes by writers who capture with force exactly what happened during this time in history (1517-1689 AD).

Robert Capon graphically shares:

“The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two hundred proof grace—of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly.”

Brannan Manning summarizes: In essence, the Reformers recovered the biblical gospel:  That God accepts us sinners not because of any work or supposed merit of our own, but because of His own mercy, on the ground of Christ’s finished work in which by grace we put our trust.  Thus, today we remember that Christianity at the core is “not primarily a moral code but a grace filled journey; it is not essentially a philosophy of love but a love affair; it is not keeping rules with clenched fists but receiving a gift with open hands” (Brannan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel).

May the Lord give us all a deeper understanding of the gospel and all of its implications for our lives and relationships.

The Delight That Removes Distress – 2 Corinthians 8:9

What is distressing to you right now? What is causing you stress? It could be a lingering illness, the shaky economy, joblessness, or spending the holidays with your extended family. How easy it is to succumb to discouragement and depression and to lose hope. How does the Lord strengthen us to face the distressing and discouraging moments and events of our lives?

John Calvin counsels us: “Let us learn to be so delighted with Jesus Christ alone, that the perception of His grace may overcome, and at length remove from us all the distresses of the flesh.”

One way of delighting in Jesus like this is to know and experience the riches of His grace. Let us attempt to parse out in more detail the riches of God’s grace that are set forth in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.

First of all, we have been given new hearts and new lives. II Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” God takes away our hard, stony, and darkened hearts. He then replaces it with a heart of flesh, a heart that is soft and tender towards the Lord.

Secondly, we have received a new record. 2 Corinthians 5:21 states, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Yet some of you may continue to be distressed over a pervasive sense of guilt that you still have about your past or present sin. A guilty conscience can be a terrifying horror.

When you are in distress over your sin, call to mind the counsel of Martin Luther to a monk in distress over his sins: “Learn to know Christ and him crucified. Learn to sing to him and say ‘Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours. You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not’” (Letters of Spiritual Counsel).

Thirdly, we have received new power. 2 Corinthians 1:22 reminds us what God has done for us: He has sealed us and “given us the Spirit as a pledge” (5:5).

We all struggle with a sense of loneliness and powerlessness. Listen to how Martin Luther in his commentary on Galatians shows how the Spirit empowers us to face all that threatens us: “The Law scolds us, sin screams at us, death thunders at us, the devil roars at us. In the midst of the clamor, the Spirit of Christ cries in our hearts: ‘Abba, Father.’” (Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians).

Fourthly, we have received new peace. 2 Corinthians 5:18 tells us, “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” Reconciliation implies a broken relationship. Reconciliation takes place when two estranged parties are brought back into a harmonious relationship through the efforts of a mediator.

Have you ever felt the sting of being rejected, alienated or estranged? Because of sin, we were alienated and estranged from God. We were God’s enemies and now we are His friends because of the work of our mediator. We are no longer separated, but are restored to full fellowship with our King and Lord.

The next time you find yourself distressing over a disappointment or adverse circumstance, heed Calvin’s counsel and deliberately choose to delight in Jesus by recalling the riches of His amazing grace: a new life, a new record, a new power, and a new peace.

Advent Devotional #3: Receiving the Riches of Grace

Have you ever seen or read about someone who devoted themselves exclusively to the preservation of their own life and their own resources with no regard for others? How would you describe their life? I have one word: Misery!

Remember the original Bah-humbug man in “A Christmas Carol ” – Ebenezer Scrooge? He was a cantankerous, old cynic, full of detestable greed. In the words of Charles Dickens, he was “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner. Hard and sharp as flint, from which not steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster… He edged his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance.”

But even a man as hard as Ebenezer Scrooge can be transformed. Even he learns to love and care for others as he begins to know and experience grace.

This process of transformation happens for us as well, as we begin to understand why Jesus, the eternally rich God, became poor so that we might experience His riches.

The Apostle Paul writes to a Scrooge-like congregation to spur them on to meet the needs of suffering Jewish believers in Jerusalem. He doesn’t haunt them with three ghosts, but He reminds them of the invasion of divine generosity in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Please read II Corinthians 8:1-9.

God’s Word is full of paradoxes. This text contains one of the greatest paradoxes in all the Bible: through Christ’s poverty we become rich. The poverty of the eternally rich God makes spiritually impoverished people eternally rich.

Some think this verse means this: “Jesus died so that I might become monetarily rich! It says so right there: ‘So that you might become rich!’” But that interpretation wouldn’t support Paul’s point as encourages the Corinthians to abound in the grace of giving, like the Macedonians, who were poor monetarily, yet gave beyond their means.

The broader context of II Corinthians 8 unpacks these riches in three fundamental ways.

First of all, we are given genuine freedom to serve Christ and others. Here we have the riches of spiritual endowments, otherwise known as grace gifts, which are God-given capacities for service (II Corinthians 8:7 – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in giving). Charis is used both here and in the next verse as a spiritual endowment or gift of the Spirit. We are to excel and abound in using our spiritual gifts.

We excel in faith. We grow in our capacity to trust the Lord more fully, constantly, and unwaveringly. We excel in speech by confidently and boldly sharing our faith. Some of you are trusting God to give you the words and the opportunity to share Christ with unsaved loved ones this Christmas. Who is it that you will speak with this Advent season regarding your faith?

We excel in knowledge. We begin to grow in our grasp of the Bible — its contents, its teaching, its doctrine, and the whole history of redemption. Are you growing in your knowledge of Scripture? We tend to grow complacent. What is your plan for growth in your knowledge of Scripture?

We excel in giving. Generosity is not something that comes naturally but is the result of God’s grace in our lives. Realizing what God has done for us in Christ liberates us from a Scrooge-like mentality. We become like Christ as we act in our context in the same way Christ acted in His — giving our resources and ourselves for others because of our spiritual riches in Christ. Where do you need to fan into flame the gift that God has given you? (See II Timothy 1:7)

Secondly, we are given genuine freedom to love as the sons and daughters of God. Here we see the distinguishing mark of the children of God – earnest, genuine love (8:8). How are you doing at zealously loving others in your life? Where do you need to repent of the lovelessness in your friendships, your marriage, your family, and your church?

Lastly, we are given genuine freedom to live as the sons and daughters of God. Paul speaks of the riches of our eternal salvation in II Corinthians 8:9, and Isaac Watts summarizes it well in this hymn text: “Behold th’amazing gift of love; the Father hath bestowed; On us, the sinful sons of men, to call us sons of God!”

Ebenezer Scrooge is set free from living for himself and serving only himself. He actually begins to live in concert with the meaning of his name Ebenezer, which means “stone of help” (See 1 Samuel 7:12). He raises Bob Crachit’s salary and assists his struggling family. He becomes like a second father to Tiny Tim. He uses his wealth and resources to bless the lives of others. Dickens writes: “He became as good a friend, as good a master, as good a man, as the good old city knew.” Like our passage mentions, he began to know grace and it transformed him. In fact, this transformation enabled him to keep Christmas well. Remember, this was a man who had said: “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”

Have you, like Scrooge, learned how to observe well the Christmas season? Ponder
your own spiritual poverty and your bondage to sin and its attendant consequence of death. But don’t stop there. There was another stone of help that was struck so that you might have life and the eternal riches. Reflect upon and revel in the riches that you have received: the freedom to serve, the freedom to love, and the freedom to live as the sons and daughters of God.

The Power of Grace – E. Stanley Jones

“Grace binds you with far stronger cords than the cords of duty or obligation can bind you. Grace is free, but when once you take it, you are bound forever to the Giver and bound to catch the spirit of the Giver. Like produces like. Grace makes you gracious, the Giver makes you give.”

— E. Stanley Jones, Missionary to India (1884–1973)

Charles Simeon, John Wesley and the Doctrines of Grace

I came across this piece while reading an old sermon on Romans 8.

Here’s Charles Simeon’s record of a conversation he had with John Wesley:

“‘Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have sometimes been called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions, not from impertinent curiosity, but for real instruction…

Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God if God had not first put it into your heart?’ “Yes, I do indeed.’ ‘

And do you despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?’ ‘Yes, solely through Christ.’

‘But, Sir, supposing you were first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?’ ‘No; I must be saved by Christ from first to last.’

‘Allowing then that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?’ ‘No.’ ‘What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?’ ‘Yes, altogether.’ ‘

And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto his heavenly kingdom?’ ‘Yes, I have no hope but in him.’

‘Then, Sir, with your leave, I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is, in substance, all that I hold: and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.’”