God’s Grace

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.”
Romans 3:23-26 NLT

Paul made a profound statement, unequivocally through the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, when he said, “God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight”. Just a few words, easy to say but rooted in the God-experience Paul enjoyed. What is this grace? Why is it so powerful? And how can we take advantage of it?

Grace, and in particular God’s grace, is a very fundamental truth for the Christian life. Without God’s grace we are a deluded people, wasting our lives on something pointless. But here’s the thing, because of His love for mankind, God chose to allow His Son, Jesus, to take on board our sins so that we could become righteous before Him. That’s grace. The acronym, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense is so true. Grace isn’t something tangible. We can’t measure it, or prove that it exists through some scientific analysis. It’s not built into our education system. It doesn’t appear on our statute book. It is only available to us through another unmeasurable word – faith. The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Grace and faith walk hand in hand. But together they form an eternal combination. Our salvation depends on the grace of God, and our faith assures us that He means what He says, and what He did, through Jesus.

God’s grace is freely given, gifted to us, and is more valuable than anything man can devise. We have done nothing at all to deserve it. In fact, we deserve God’s judgement, not His grace. Earlier in Romans 3 we found just how depraved and wicked humanity is. And we think of the Apostle Paul, who was guilty of murdering the early Christians through his mistaken belief that they were a deviant sect that had to be eliminated. Yet even though he deserved the punishment meted out to murderers, through God’s grace he had an encounter with Jesus. An encounter so profound that it totally transformed his life. Saul the Pharisee became Paul the evangelist and writer of letters that have touched and helped millions of people over the time since he wrote them, and will continue to do so far into the future.

The saddest thing, though, is that most people have rejected this gift of grace. Imagine someone, perhaps a total stranger, offering you a package, all nicely wrapped up and one that you know contains something valuable. And yet, you turn away, rejecting it. Well, that is what most people do, and have done. The one thing that can assure us a future with God in an amazing place called Heaven, is despised and rejected. It doesn’t make sense somehow.

Most people feel uncomfortable in accepting a gift. They feel obliged to do something in return. But with God’s gift of grace, there is no response required. His gift is freely given without any expectation of repayment. His gift is not a loan either, requiring to be repaid one day. Through the gift, something of God is transferred to us, enriching our lives. And by accepting what He gives us, we also accept so much more, as He works in our lives, aiding our transformation into the people He wants us to be. 

Truly, the song “Amazing Grace” is just that, God’s amazing grace. “How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see“. Words to dwell and meditate on; words penned by a man who really came to experience God’s grace. We have our own stories of amazing grace to tell as well. Let us not hold back as we walk this world, telling others about this free gift from God.

Dear Father God. Once again we thank You for Your free gift of salvation through Jesus. We worship You today. Amen.

All Have Sinned

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.”
Romans 3:23-26 NLT

A bigger than usual number of verses today. But what Paul wrote is a concise yet profound exposition of God’s love and grace, and this Biblical paragraph cannot really be subdivided. These verses start with the reality that no human being is capable of achieving God’s righteous standard. Why is that? God requires all those in His presence to be sinless, but through Adam, sin polluted everyone ever born. Once a sinful act has been committed, then exclusion from God’s presence is mandated. Paul said “we all fall short of God’s glorious standard”. I always think of it as an examiner setting a pass mark for an exam, for example 70%. Those sitting the exam may find that they have all failed, with a range of marks varying between 20% and 50%. But it is no good for the one with 50% saying he is better than the one with 20% – they have both failed the test by failing to achieve the pass mark. “God’s glorious standard” is unachievable by sinful human beings.

Thankfully God has supplied a remedy so that we can achieve His standard. And it is all through His grace. Jesus was and is the only sinless human being. He is divine because He is the Son of God, part of the Trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. But He was born to a human being, a young peasant girl called Mary, as part of God’s gracious rescue plan for mankind. Jesus became human so that He could sit the exam instead of us, and, being sinless, He achieved “God’s glorious standard” with 100%. 

For us pilgrims, we managed to stumble across this amazing truth. It may have been that someone had shared with us what Jesus did, and something within us responded to God’s grace. We may have picked up a Bible one day and discovered the truth for ourselves. We may have, in a moment of crisis, happened to walk past a church and entered there, finding the grace we needed at just the right time. But however it happened, there was a day when we believed in Jesus. 

Around us are many people who have not yet made that step of faith. They are still quite ignorantly making their way through life, blissfully unaware of what is coming towards them. They fail to realise that, by default, they have chosen a life separated from God because of their sin. So we pilgrims must take every opportunity to share the truth about Jesus with our friends and families. It may not make us very popular. In some countries it can lead to imprisonment and death. But share Jesus we must. We can’t keep this amazing truth to ourselves. It’s very simple – everyone, without exception, has sinned, and through His love for mankind, God has provided a remedy. That’s it!

Dear Father God. Thank You for Your grace and mercy. Every time You look at us You see Jesus and His righteousness. We don’t deserve Your mercy, but we’re grateful. Amen.

The Third Flying Angel

“Then a third angel followed them, shouting, “Anyone who worships the beast and his statue or who accepts his mark on the forehead or on the hand must drink the wine of God’s anger. It has been poured full strength into God’s cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. The smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshiped the beast and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name.””
Revelation‬ ‭14:9-11 NLT

It’s time for the third flying angel to make his appearance in John’s vision. And his message is grim. It will obviously be delivered at a time when people are newly acquainted with the beast’s demands, and still have a choice about whether or not to wholeheartedly embrace the statue worship and accept the beast’s mark, the 666 reference, on their hands or foreheads. So just in case there were any who were having doubts about this, an angel appears. He gives them a stark warning – if they choose the way of the beast they will spend eternity in his company. He used words designed to instil terror into his hearers. Words such as fire, sulphur, continual torment. 

From the messages delivered by the three angels it is easy to question why the peoples in the global nations still rejected God and His grace. Everyone by now has heard the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus, the Son of God, and what He did for mankind through the cross at Calvary. They now know that the party is over. Their sinful and wicked ways, the immorality of their life styles, has come to an end. And here we have the last warning. Worship the beast, receive his mark, and there’s no way back. In spite of all this, most of the people still alive at this time rejected the angels’ messages. Why? What were they thinking?

In my meanderings around the community where I live, I occasionally have the opportunity to share about Jesus and what He did for mankind, and in particularly for what He has done for me. I find that most people I meet are aware of a spiritual life after death. Not something they want to talk about, but the awareness is there. But I have been taken aback by the anger in some that is directed against anything to do with God. They blame Him for so much. For the death of a loved one. For the state of the economy. For their ill-health. For a natural catastrophe (even insurance companies refer sometimes to an “Act of God”). And I have heard rants against churchgoers, and all that is wrong about them. Are these the sort of people who will hold out to the end, preferring eternal torment to repentance and a life with God? Do we find that inexplicable?

Jesus experienced unbelief and resistance even in the face of His miracles. We read in John 12:37, “But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him.” Why would that still be the case even in His day, when the people were in the presence of the Son of God? The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:4 wrote, “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.” Scripture is even more revealing in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12, where we read with a reference to the beast, “This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth.”

It is so sad when we read these verses. To think that eternal life with God is so close. So accessible. And what makes the situation even more distressing is that there are those in our families, and groups of friends, who will be counted amongst those deceived by satan. What can we do? Thankfully, we are not in a hopeless place, because our loving Heavenly Father is a gracious and loving God. He wants no one to end up in that place we call hell. So we pray. We passionately pray. We call out to Him for our loved ones, that His mercy and grace will somehow penetrate hardened hearts and draw them into that place of grace where they embrace God’s son with love and acceptance. 

Dear Father. We pray for our loved ones today. And we’ll keep on praying until they too find Your grace and mercy. Thank You for Your love and acceptance of every sinner who repents. 

Seated on High

“For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of His grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all He has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.”.
Ephesians‬ ‭2:6-7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

As Paul continues with his Epistle, he sets out some truths that must have appeared as strange to Ephesian ears as they are today. Paul in many ways was a spiritual pioneer. He had received a glimpse of Heaven, which he wrote about in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 – “I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago …. and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.” Such a revelation fuelled his grace-filled writings, seeding them with God-truths. And he glimpsed the fact that we have been raised “from the dead”. And we are now seated with Christ in Heaven, united with Him. A “wow!” moment for sure. However, it gets better. Not only are we seated with Christ in Heavenly places, we are united with Him. Imagine it! With Him we will be party to victory over all the things that drag us back in this life. Sickness, death and so on. One thing for sure – we will not be sitting back passively, enjoying the comfort of Heaven. We get a glimpse of what we will be up to from reading the Book of Revelation.

The next verse, with its revelation that God wants to use us as examples of the “incredible wealth of His grace and kindness toward us”, has to be an understatement of staggering proportions. Incredible for sure. God’s grace is without limit. He pours out His love and kindness without measure. Such God-qualities demonstrate power far beyond human comprehension. We who are Christians are truly overwhelmed that He has chosen us to share in His glory. And the only way we can respond is with a deeply thankful heart. In fact our thanks cannot really scratch the surface of what God really deserves. He has done so much for us.

And so we plod along our pilgrim road, facing into our day to day issues. Dodging the traffic. Eating, drinking, working and sleeping. But inside there is the inner glow of the realisation that we are already there, seated with Jesus in Heaven. And we share how good God has been to us with others, in the hope that they too will be united with Christ. 

God’s Grace

“But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)”‭‭.
Ephesians‬ ‭2:4-5‬ ‭NLT‬

In the last blog post, we considered the enormity of our perilous status before God. Paul reviewed the sinful state of mankind, and the role of the devil in corrupting and contaminating the world, leaving rebellious and sinful people in the firing line for God’s anger. Thankfully, Paul reminded us that there is a “but” in God’s world. “But God…”. And it is when we read this that the realisation that God has a solution to our sinful state brings us to our knees in deep thankfulness. You see, in our sin pandemic, God’s vaccine comes quietly, effectively and completely, bringing healing and forgiveness for our rebellious and sinful natures. 

But what is this “But”? Paul goes on to mention four key words – “mercy”, “love”, “life” and “grace”. God’s mercy is without dispute. The very fact that we are allowed to complete a pilgrimage through our lives, free to make choices in the way we live, in the way we view God, can only point to a merciful God. And not a God who is stingy and mean, dispensing the bare minimum of mercy. Paul emphasises that God is “rich in mercy”. His mercy is present in copious quantities, providing every opportunity and more for a rebellious world. And Paul explains that God is merciful because He loves us. How can God, rejected by so many, love us? Finding that most people effectively shake their fists in His face declaring that He is unnecessary for their lives, even if He exists? But love us He does, again without limit. God never says, for example, that He will only love us on a Sunday if we go to church. It’s all the time. 24/7. Regardless of where we are and what we are doing. Paul then draws an analogy with a corpse. A dead body. Because that is what sinful people are. That’s what sin does to us. It kills us spiritually. The “but” is completed by God giving us life, the same life that came “when He raised Christ from the dead”.

Finally, in these two verses, Paul points out that we have been saved through God’s grace. The acronym, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense amply describes what this grace is. Unmerited favour. From a God who cares for every human being regardless of race, age, or sex. I recently tried to share the love of God with a man who lives in the village close by. But his sad response was that he had looked into “all this religious stuff”. It wasn’t for him he said – he wanted to join “the party that’s going on downstairs”. There was an opportunity accorded to him to grasp God’s grace and turn towards God, but he rejected it. Sadly, unless the seed planted bears fruit – and there’s always time for that – God is patient, kind and gracious – he will find out that the party he hoped to join might not be quite what he expected.

We have been saved. Well, those of us who have responded to God’s love by embracing the wonderful Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself. Believing in Him. Responding to His love and mercy by declaring His Lordship over our lives. Accepting His Life-giving Spirit. All by His grace. What else can we do other than fall to our knees in deep thankfulness? 

The Sins of our Ancestors

“O Lord, how long will You be angry with us? Forever?
How long will Your jealousy burn like fire? 
Do not hold us guilty for the sins of our ancestors! 
Let Your compassion quickly meet our needs, 
     for we are on the brink of despair.”
Psalms‬ ‭79:5, 8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This is not a comfortable Psalm to read, with its references to blood shed and misery, death and destruction. The Psalmist equates the reason for the devastation to God’s extreme displeasure with the Jewish nation, accusing God of acting in anger and jealousy against His people. But in the middle of his lament, is an appeal to God, for His compassion to displace the judgement. Asaph, the Psalmist, obviously believes that God is acting now because of the misbehaviour, the rebellion, the unfaithfulness, of previous generations. And he perhaps questions the fairness of such action. But God was quite clear – in Exodus 34 God said through Moses, “I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected— even children in the third and fourth generations.” Eventually God will act in judgement against guilty people, people who stack up their individual and national sins until He can stand it no more. But nevertheless, Asaph pleads with God to have mercy, to show compassion, on his people in a time of a national disaster, a time of despair. Perhaps the chink of light in this verse of warning is the reference to the guilty. Thankfully God is a God of compassion and love, as well as One of judgement, of anger and jealousy. And Asaph appeals to Him to show compassion, in the process forgiving the people for the sins of their ancestors. And to quickly come and mitigate their guilt and despair, to provide what they need.

So the inevitable question. How relevant is this Psalm in 21st Century societies? It’s a warning to us all. God is “slow to anger, quick to bless”, thankfully. Otherwise the rebellion and sins of our nations would have led to our destruction long ago. I probably wouldn’t even be here, writing this blog. And that is the key – God allows mankind to exist, even when acting sinfully, because of His grace and mercy. He gives everyone an opportunity for repentance, for embracing Him while there is still time, during our lives here on earth.