Grace in the Fall

When many Christians read the Bible, it is possible that an underlying notion exists that the Old Testament presents a different picture of our God than that of the New Testament. Not wholly different altogether, but different nonetheless. God expresses His judgment and wrath in an overwhelming sense, whereas, in the New Testament, He is shown as a much more gracious and loving Father. Or so it goes.

And we might read passages like John 1:16-17 and believe it helps underline this thinking:

16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

But I want to suggest to us that our God, as revealed in the old covenant, is full of grace, mercy and love. Of course, Jesus is the greatest expression of God’s love and grace, the exact representation. He is grace and love incarnate. But our God has always been a God full of ferocious chesed and agape from the beginning. And He has always been a just God as well, though I would argue His justice is about making things right, which becomes good news for believers, but bad news for non-believers.

And so, in Genesis 3, maybe the great black mark for humanity, where our first parents ruined it for us all, I still believe we can find great expressions of God’s grace even in the midst of pronouncements of judgment.

Let me suggest 6 points of grace: Continue reading

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Misrepresentation

I must admit that I have a failure in my teaching, preaching, blogging and conversation with regards to theological views. I am not always faithful in representing the ‘other side’.

I might stand up and argue that I don’t mean to do so, my heart is noble, I was pretty sure I represented the other side correctly and a whole host of other excuses. But I still fall very short. Most of the time those reasons are true. I don’t sit around maliciously trying to misrepresent the other side, but I still do it. And I’m leaning more and more this isn’t a good thing.

The two sides I misrepresent the most are dispensationalism and cessationism. I have reformed-covenant leanings, so I do disagree with dispensationalism. I have strong continuationist leanings, so I disagree with cessationism. But, more than that, I find myself misrepresenting these two viewpoints on a regular basis.

Now, here is the thing. There used to be a day when a theological system was pretty consistent across the board. Uniformity existed, at least within a particular framework of theology. But in today’s world, you have so many varying views within one systematic framework that it is hard to keep up with what is out there.

You have the full cessationists and consistent cessationists (and probably others), and then you have at least 20 views within each of those camps. You have classical dispensationalism and progressive dispensationalism (and probably others), and then there are at least 20 views within each of those camps as well.

Still, it’s no excuse in misrepresentation.

Now, I will tell you of one decision I made a while back, even in my young life. In a general sense, I have typically tried not to specifically mention the particular system of theology or person I disagree with. One reason is that the average person won’t know the ‘system’ of theology or the person that might be mentioned. But, more than that, I think the better approach is to address Scripture passages, teach what you believe Scripture teaches on the topic in a holistic manner, and then people can make their decision if they agree or not with the teaching.

I don’t do this always, as when I interact with students of theology or other theologically minded people, I will raise particular names and systems of theology that I disagree with. But, as a whole, I think it better to focus on what you see Scripture teaching and work that out. Don’t bash the ‘bad guys’, but encourage with what you believe is correct teaching.
Yet, when it comes to addressing the other side, informing others about what it says, I am not good at faithfully representing.

Again, it’s hard with all the varying views. Just when I thought I understood what dispensationalists believe or the arguments of cessationists, lo and behold, they no longer believe that. Or, even worse, they never believed it in the first place. And that is when you feel like not only is your foot in your mouth, but that you have taken a nice mile-long wander around in your own mouth.

So, this leaves one humble, one turning towards God, one desiring faithfulness, and one learning that you might just need to shut up and not say anything in the end. Or, possibly, making sure you understand things a little better before spouting off what you think you know. Or, being much more careful and considerate with what you say.

I’m growing, I’m being transformed, I’m learning, but it’s a process. I look forward to faithfully representing the other side.

A Fresh Glimpse of Grace (Part 3)

This is my last article in a short series of where we have looked to regain a fresh glimpse of such an overly used word for Christians – grace. In the first article, I mainly shared how God’s grace accepts. Moving on to my second post we looked at how God’s grace gives. And, finally, in this blog post, I want to communicate that God’s grace allows us to receive.

To get an understanding of how God’s grace allows us to receive from Him, let’s revisit a passage we looked at previously.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

Though God gives us His abundant grace and love, and He accepts us as His beloved sons and daughters, one of the hardest things is for us to truly receive these truths into our hearts. This is where we need the grace of God to draw us into a position of receiving from Him. It does no good to simply read the Scriptures and have a head knowledge of the beautiful things that belong to us who are in Christ. It is only by God’s free grace that we are ever able to receive that free grace.

If it were left up to us, no doubt we would probably wallow in condemnation, self-pity and shame. But it is God’s grace which is lavished on us and draws us to opens our arms, opens our hearts and receive from our Father.

Let’s take a look at something Paul said in Romans 5:20:

Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.

Now, I am very aware that Paul states only a few verses later:

Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2)

So, please hear my heart that I am not encouraging us to continue in sin. Yet, what I am challenging us to realize is that there are certain truths that we have to understand first before other truths will begin to make sense. There is a kind of spiritual principle in grasping this: milk then meat!

Thus, in Romans, Paul clearly states first: ‘Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.’ Thus, as God’s children, I believe we need to drink of this milk first before we move on to handle the meat. I believe the Father wants us to begin by knowing how much He gives (grace upon grace upon grace) and how much He accepts (you are none other than sons and daughters of God) before He expects us to walk out the meaty things of our faith.

Oh yes, we need to be moving towards eating the solid foods and meat (Hebrews 5:11-14). It is a tragedy that many Christians are not looking to mature in their faith. But, remember, no one begins with meat. That is true both naturally and spiritually. And, if you’re thinking, ‘Well, I’ve been a Christian for twenty years, so I need only meat.’ To this, I simply ask – Are you ready for meat? If you haven’t grasped Romans 5:20 first, then I do believe you will have a hard time walking out Romans 6:1-2. Trust me on this one. And, still, even if you do understand Romans 5:20 well enough, there is no harm in revisiting this beautiful truth about the grace of God.

Where sin has increased, grace abounded all the more!

Another thing I have learned in my few years as a Christ-follower is that we cannot display grace for others if we have not first received God’s grace for ourselves. What do I mean by this? Well let me ask you as question: What is the second greatest commandment?

You shall love your neighbor as yourself, right? (Matthew 22:39)

So many times, we focus so much on those first five words – You shall love your neighbor – that we forget the last two words – as yourself. I believe these couple of words are very important. For me, I find it hardest to love others when I am angry at myself, full of contempt and bitterness toward myself for my own sin. It is outright impossible to display grace to others when I have none for myself.

Thus, many times, I have to start by receiving God’s lavish grace for myself and forgive myself. And, once I do receive grace upon grace upon grace for myself, it is amazing that there is much grace available for others.

This is encapsulated by another spiritual principle: grace in, grace out!

If we do not love ourselves, if we do not have grace for ourselves, there is no way we will be able to love others and have grace for them. I am not asking us to embrace a me-first, selfish minded mentality. But I am asking us to consider that we will not be able to love other’s if we don’t first start by receiving such love and grace for ourselves from our Father.

Again, it’s milk then meat. Know that grace abounds much more than our sin. And then, once we have this in our heart, we can take steps toward not continuing to walk in sin. And, of course, this is also by His grace and grace alone.

Secondly, it’s grace in, grace out. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Receive from Him first, so that you can then pour it out to others.

As we close, let us truly walk away with these things deep in our hearts:

  • Jesus is full of grace and truth.
  • Jesus is seated on a throne of grace.
  • God’s grace accepts – we are His treasures and He thinks about us constantly.
  • God’s grace gives – grace upon grace upon grace (like the ocean waves).
  • God’s grace allows us to receive – milk then meat; grace in, grace out.

A Fresh Glimpse of Grace (Part 2)

So, I’ve started a little series on grace, trying to get a fresh glimpse of an overly used word that might have become somewhat vague. To summarize the last article, I shared these major points:

  • The throne of God is a throne of grace, not condemnation or contempt.
  • It is the Lamb of God that sits on the throne of grace. This is given to invoke the gentle heart of Christ towards His own sheep. He is also Master, Lord, and other such things. But it is interesting to consider that the throne of grace is inhabited by the Lamb of God.
  • A helpful definition of grace from one theologian – The absolute freeness of the lovingkindness of God to men finding its only motive in the bounty and freeheartedness of the Giver.
  • God’s grace accepts, meaning, He accepts us completely as His beloved, and He even thinks about us continually.

To consider these four points is enough to set people free, fill them with tears of joy and shouts of laughter. It is absolutely wonderful. But there is more to drink from…

Whereas I have shared so far that God’s grace accepts, in this article, I want to particularly point out that God’s grace gives. Consider this passage:

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

How great is God’s love that it has been lavished on us. The grace and love of God is plentiful, abundant, and there is no measuring stick whatsoever. Hence, John could say His love has been lavished on us. As sons and daughters of God, we receive the unending measure and full lot of the grace of God.

Let’s consider the earlier definition I used for grace:

‘The absolute freeness of the lovingkindness of God to men finding its only motive in the bounty and freeheartedness of the Giver.’

The grace of God finds its motive in the bounty and freeheartedness of God. Again, there is no measuring stick to God’s grace. It isn’t that His grace prevails so long as we do a decent amount of good things today and only a handful of bad things. It is abundant and plentiful, beyond measure.

I know, I know. You know this already, you say. You’ve heard it since your mother’s womb. But, then, why do we get caught up in the lies of the enemy on a regular basis? Why? Maybe it’s because we really don’t know. But moving on…

When considering the word ‘lavish’, I am also reminded of another passage, this time from Paul:

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us… (Ephesians 1:7-8)

This only underlines what we heard from John. Here, it is reiterated that God’s grace is rich and has been lavished upon us. It’s beautiful, it’s rich, it’s lavished upon us. We are soaking in the grace of God, and, for some reason, we can’t seem to get out of it.

I recall John 1:16, which I shared in the last post:

And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

I love what one commentator said concerning this verse:

‘The meaning of verse 16 [of John 1] is that believers are constantly receiving grace in the place of grace. One manifestation of the unmerited favor of God in Christ is hardly gone when another arrives; hence grace upon grace.’ (William Hendricksen, A Commentary on the Gospel of John)

As I pondered this verse one day, God began to speak to me about it. He used something right down the road from where I lived to speak to me. I used to live near the beach in Swansea, UK. As I read this verse, God reminded me of the ocean waves and how they have always been crashing upon the shore. As one watches the waves, you notice a consistency, a rhythmic flow. Just as one wave pushes up on the shore, guess what follows right after it? Another wave. And guess what follows that? Another wave. And then another and another and another…And it has been like that ever since God created the ocean and its shores. Not only that, but it will continue doing such as long as it stands there, maybe even into the new heaven and new earth when they are recreated.

And as God reminded me of the waves, He said, ‘That is how my grace is.’ Wave after wave after wave. As soon as one wave of grace comes upon your life, before you can even have time to drink of that wave fully, another wave follows. And then another wave of grace follows, and then another, and then another…

Hence, this is what Hendricksen was getting at in his commentary on John. But, even more, I believe this is what John was getting at in John 1:16:

And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

It’s grace upon grace upon grace upon grace. Not only does God’s grace accept, God’s grace gives. It is lavished upon us, it is abundant, there is no measuring stick to the grace of God. Our Father is a giving Father. So, open wide and drink it in.

I’ll share some final thoughts on grace in a few days.

A Fresh Glimpse of Grace (Part 1)

A phrase that is very common in every Christian’s vocabulary is the ‘grace of God’. We hear it spoken almost everyday in our Christian circles and we probably say the phrase a lot ourselves. It has become cliché for all Christians, almost as if we have known the words since our mother’s womb.

Because of this, it can become all too vague and familiar, lacking real meaning in our hearts. And it is because of this that I want to get a fresh glimpse of God’s grace.

Hebrews 4:14-16 says this:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

What we have here is an assurance that we can draw near with confidence to the throne of grace. What is amazing to realize is that God’s throne is neither a throne of contempt nor a throne of condemnation, but a throne of grace. Did we hear that – the throne of God is a throne of grace! We think we know this, but do we really? And remember, it is the Lamb of God who is seated of the throne of grace. And it was this Lamb that said:

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

John gives us a beautiful glimpse into the heart and character of Jesus at the beginning of his gospel:

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The Son of God puts on a body of flesh to reveal the Father, for Jesus said, ‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9). And it is John who tells us that Jesus is full of grace and truth, hence our Father is full of the same. It is the Lamb of God, full of grace and truth, and who is now seated on the throne of grace.

After hearing such words, the first ‘glimpse’ we need to see is that God’s grace accepts.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

It’s God’s love that has been lavished on us showing us that we are accepted as His sons and daughters. And if God’s love has been lavished on us, that means it is plentiful, generous and abundant. There is no measuring stick for the love and grace of God for those who are His sons and daughters. They are to receive the full lot. It is this beautiful grace which calls us to the Father’s bosom.

The Greek word for ‘grace’ is charis. One man defined charis as this:

‘The absolute freeness of the lovingkindness of God to men finding its only motive in the bounty and freeheartedness of the Giver.’

Wow! What a great definition for such a great word as grace.

John goes on to say in the prologue to his gospel:

From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:16-17)

The New American Standard translates verse 16 in this way: ‘For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.’

Can we get a glimpse of what we receive as sons and daughters. We come to the one full of grace and truth seated on the throne of grace, and from Him, we receive grace upon grace upon grace. Take a minute to drink it in.

Remember how Jesus taught that ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matthew 6:21). Did you know that the same is true for our heavenly Father? Look at what David said:

How precious concerning me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. (Psalm 139:17-18)

Where your treasure is, there your heart is also. What, or who, are God’s treasures? We are the treasures of God. His heart is with us, He thinks about us all the time. This only proves that the free grace of God accepts. Through His grace, we are accepted as children of the Beloved.

‘For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.’ Let us drink of that grace upon grace daily, for it will never be withheld from our Father. His grace accepts. It is generous and it is abundant. How wonderful to be accepted by our God!

I will share some more thoughts on grace in the next few days.