When you look at the cross of Christ, what do you see? What do you feel? Does it elicit any emotion from you at all?
Some people see death. Some people see primitive and obscene imagery bordering on “cosmic child abuse”. Some people see hope. Some people feel life, while others feel shame and guilt.
When I look at the cross I see a gift. When I look at the cross, I feel love. When I look at the cross, I become instantly overwhelmed by the grace that abounded on that cross. Like Joseph, whose brothers sold him into slavery meaning for evil, God meant it for good “to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen 50:20), the Pharisees meant the cross for evil, but God meant the cross for good. I’m hoping that by reading this post, you, too, can be as overwhelmed by grace as I have been.
Doing a simple word search over at Blue Letter Bible tells me that the Greek word for grace (charis) can be found over 150 times in the Bible. This is a significant number of occurrences, but the definition of grace that I’m interested in for this post is:
The merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues. (http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?strongs=G5485)
There are, certainly, many other definitions of grace out there, but Strong’s definition from the Greek stands out to me as the best when we’re talking about the kind of grace that is poured out for us in the atoning death of Jesus Christ. I hope to break down this definition so that you can understand and become as overwhelmed by the grace that this definition embodies as I am!
Already, I can see that this definition is going to raise some objections, particularly the part that says, “exerting his holy influence” and “turns them to Christ.” I hear the objections in my ear already: “but what about free will?!” To which I point the objector to Jonathan Edwards’ Freedom of the Will. This is not a topic for this discussion. We will continue with an understanding that our “free will” is held captive to sin and we are unable to choose freely until grace abounds.
If we are to properly understand the scripture and the doctrine of original sin, we must needs embrace the idea that we are completely and utterly dead in our sin. We have no righteousness in us. Nothing good is in our hearts or our souls (see Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13, Romans 6:17-18). Dead people can’t save themselves.
It Is Grace Alone That Turns Us to Christ
The Parable of the Terminally Ill Man
On several occasions I’ve heard a parable of a man who is terminally ill lying in the ICU of the hospital unable to move. On the tray before him is a spoon. In that spoon is the miracle cure that can save his life. Unfortunately, his body is too weak to grab the spoon to administer it himself. Luckily for him, Jesus is there to grab the spoon and bring it to his mouth, now if the man simply opens his mouth (of which he is capable), Jesus can pour it in and the man will be saved. If he chooses not to open his mouth, he will certainly die. It’s up to the man to decide whether to accept the medicine or to decline it. The man hears doctors and nurses yelling, “Come on, man! Open your mouth! Accept the medicine!”
In Dr. R.C. Sproul’s landmark book “Chosen By God,” he makes it very clear that this metaphor breaks down in light of scripture at the first sentence. Scripture doesn’t tell us we’re sick. Scripture tells us we are dead! We are stiff. Rigor mortis has set in. We are not able to open our mouths at all whether we want to or not. It doesn’t matter how many times our doctors and nurses yell at us, “Come on, man! The medicine is right there! Take it!” We are dead. They are yelling into deaf ears. Instead, God by his merciful kindness walks over to us, forces open our mouths, pours in the medicine and begins to administer CPR. Suddenly, our heart starts beating for the first time, our ears are opened and we finally hear the shouts of the doctors and nurses and we finally answer, “I did. By the grace of God, I was able to take the medicine! Praise be to God!”
Now tell me, which of the above two scenarios elicits a greater feeling of grace to you? The first instance doesn’t look like grace at all to me. It looks like helping me do what I want to do. If I want to live, I’ll let Jesus help me live. If I want to die, I’ll tell Jesus no. In the first scenario, instead of the man replying “By the grace of God, I was able to take the medicine,” he can only reply, “With the help of Jesus and the urging of those around me, I decided to take the medicine.”
Left to Our Own Devices
Left to our own devices, we would never come back to life. Since we are dead, we don’t have any thoughts of life. We don’t know what life looks like. We don’t know what life feels like. All we know is death. In fact, we love the death, and we want nothing but the death. The life seems like a messy place. The life seems like it’s a lot more difficult. There seems to be a lot more rules to life than in death. It looks like you actually have to “do stuff” in life, where you can just “be yourself” in death.
God is perfectly just in allowing us to stay in this state. He is perfectly just in leaving us to our own devices – I mean, that’s where we’d rather be, right? It seems a lot more comfortable over here. Unfortunately, left to our own devices, we are setting ourselves up for total and eternal destruction. We are left in a state of sinfulness that a righteous and just God cannot ignore. While he can leave us in a state where we don’t want to have anything to do with life, we have to ultimately pay the price for remaining in death. This is eternal torment. This is fire and brimstone. This, my dear friend, is the bad news.
Raised Again to New Life
We may have heard the Gospel thousands of times over the course of our lives. We may have sat in church pews from childhood, but it all just rang hollow. This is because our sinful nature has so twisted our hearts and our minds that it renders us incapable of having any positive response to it. We would rather stay in our own little comfort zone and left to our own devices, and God is perfectly just in leaving us there. Luckily, God does not always will that all of us stay there. Even more luckily, God decides to show His grace by personally reaching into your heart and converting you.
In the gracious act of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, we are now able to respond positively to the Gospel. This regeneration is when the Holy Spirit enters our soul and changes our hearts of stone into flesh and brings us to faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Most of the times regeneration is referred to being “born again.” Without God’s grace, those of us who are Christians wouldn’t have had a chance to become a Christian. We wouldn’t even have given a second thought to becoming a Christian. We would be left to our own devices.
Without grace, there is no faith.
Without faith, there is no standing before a righteous and holy God.
With grace, there is faith absolutely.
With faith, we may enter into the presence of a righteous and holy God – blameless and perfect – through the blood of Christ.
How wonderful is it to know that you are part of the grand plan of redemption before the formation of the earth? How overwhelming is it to know that before God said, “Let there be light,” He knew you, and He knew that He would be gracious to you?
Grace Keeps, Strengthens, and Increases Our Faith
How gracious is God that He not only brings us back from the dead, but also uses grace to sanctify us?! Sanctification is a necessary part of a Christian’s life. Sanctification is the gradual and constant moving from flesh-like (sinful) living to Christ-like (righteous) living. Sanctification is the part that the dead you saw in the life of a Christian as “stuff that I like to do that they tell me I shouldn’t do,” that really turned you off to the idea. If you can’t “do you,” then what’s the point?
Now, because of God’s grace, you’re able to see the foolishness and sinfulness in thinking that way. Because of God’s grace, you are able to see the benefits of Christ-like living in both your life and the lives of those in your sphere of influence. Because of God’s grace, you’re able to see the good that happens even in the midst of the evil that is happening in the world around you. Because of grace, you are able to understand the grace that was shown to you on the cross. Because of God’s grace, you can see the common grace that he lays out before all people – even unbelievers have jobs, have spouses, have food, have houses.
Finally, because of God’s grace, you are finally able to see that without God’s grace, you can do nothing. You are a dead man walking with no hope for a future and no chance at salvation. When grace abounds for you, I hope it overwhelms you. When it overwhelms you, I hope it leads you to praise Him, and when you praise Him, I hope it is to glorify his magnificent, gracious Name.
I think the benediction given in Numbers 6:24-25 is the perfect way to end this post:
The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.