Monday, July 7, 2014

Taking Grace for Granted

"The grace of God." It's a common enough phrase ... and, for Christians, one of the two or three most important concepts that can be imagined. But what if someone asked, "What does the grace of God mean to you, personally?"  Not merely a theological definition, but something that you experience on the gut level.  How would you answer the question?  Any Christian will sing "Amazing Grace;" but, on a day to day basis, in your daily life, does it really amaze you?  Or do you take it for granted?


Just so we're all on the same page, exactly what is grace?  In this context - - - the context of God's dealings with man - - - grace can be described as God's unmerited, undeserved favor toward a sinner: it includes mercy and forgiveness and is the key to salvation itself.  And, since all men and women are sinners, it's something that we all need, if we're to escape God's wrath: because no matter how "good" we may consider ourselves, or others may consider us, we are members of a fallen race, totally and hopelessly alienated from God.  And, despite the teachings of nearly every religion on earth - - - Roman Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, most branches of Protestantism, and so on - - - we cannot "earn" our salvation by "good works." Job, who was one of the three most most "righteous" men in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 14:14, 20), said, If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean; Yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me (Job 9:30-31). Jesus said, For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).  When it came to "good works" and "following the Commandments," the scribes and Pharisees were the most outwardly "righteous" people on earth.  Our "morality" and "charity" and "love of our fellow man" won't get us a single millimeter closer to Heaven.  Only the sacrifice of God's perfect Son, at Calvary, could pay our debt of sin, if we receive Him (John 1:12).  That's what "grace" is all about: God giving us the favor and love and mercy that only Jesus Christ deserved.  We receive Him by simple faith: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8, 9). 

That's the "amazing grace" that the old slave trader, John Newton, wrote about in his famous hymn.  And if you've been born again by the Spirit of God (John 3:3-7), you understand that. Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)


But grace goes far beyond our salvation.  It permeates our everyday lives, and it does so .... well, every day.  The "best" person who ever lived on this planet, other than Jesus Christ, deserved nothing but damnation and pain.  (If you can't accept that, or believe it, then it's because you're stuck on yourself: and you think that if a "good" person can earn a place in Heaven, then you can, too.  But you can't.)  Every breath you take, every morsel of food you consume, every moment of laughter or love or joy, is a manifestation of God's grace.  And that's not just true of Christians: that's true of everyone on earth.  If you're an atheist or a Muslim, and you have a measure of good health, it's because God's grace allows it.  If you're a Hindu or a humanist, and you have a roof over your head or someone who loves you, it's an example of God's grace.  Because we each deserve something far worse: because we're members of the race that has rejected God from Eden to Calvary to today. The theologians call this "common grace," because God extends it to all mankind, but there's nothing "common" or cheap about it.  It's God's mercy, and nothing else.

But the grace that gets us to Heaven, by faith in Jesus Christ and dependence on Him alone, is really the subject of this post, which is really aimed at Christians.  The question arises again: does God's transforming, unlimited grace amaze you, or do you take it for granted?

Someone asks, "How could anyone take such a thing for granted?"  Why, Christians do it all the time.  Becoming a Christian is the most important event in a person's life, but it's not always the most outwardly dramatic; and, just as married couples can come to take each other for granted after an initial burst of passion, so Christians are experts at "getting over" their salvation.  They may flame brightly for a month, or a year, but they often grow dim, and hide their light under a bushel.  Yes, they still love Jesus ... just as they love their grandparents.  But they probably think about their grandparents more.
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Just as every person is an individual, different Christians have different ways of taking God's grace for granted.  I'll mention only two: there are many others.
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The Bible teaches that, once a man or woman has been saved by receiving Christ, he or she can never lose that salvation, or become unsaved again.  Some Christians refer to this concept as "eternal security;" others call it "the perseverance of the saints."  Many Christian groups reject this teaching; that doesn't mean that they're not Christians, but it means that they don't understand the Bible very well.  If I can't earn my salvation by my "good works," my "good works" can't keep me saved. My salvation doesn't depend on what I do or don't do, once I've received Christ: it depends on what Jesus did, at Calvary. Once I'm saved, of course, the good works are a product of that salvation: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).  But the good works don't earn the salvation - - - and sin doesn't destroy the salvation.
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That's the tricky part! We're so hung up on the idea that "being good" saves us, that we can't believe that "being bad" wouldn't blow the deal.  But it doesn't; because my sins can't undo what Jesus did on the cross.  So, we sometimes, usually unintentionally, take grace for granted, by toying with sin, or plunging headlong into sin - - - because we know we won't be damned for it, now that we're saved by grace.  That's called "taking grace for granted."
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It's disgusting, isn't it? In fact, it's disgraceful!  But probably every Christian has done it at one time or another, and some do it almost habitually.  "Well, now that I'm saved, I can do what I want!  I can't go to Hell!"
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No, you can't, not if you're genuinely saved.  But you're a fool to think that way.  You're not a damned fool; you're a saved fool.  Yes, go ahead and sin: you'll still get to Heaven, because you can't lose your salvation.  But there are other things you can lose, you dummy (I say it charitably); there are other things you can lose, you dimwit!  Your sins can cost you your health.  (Ever visit a cancer or AIDS unit?) Your sins can cost you your family. (Seen the divorce statistics lately?) Your sins can cost you your freedom.  (You think there aren't Christians in prison?)  And, when God gets fed up, your sins can cost you your earthly life: God slew numerous Christians in the New Testament. (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 11:29, 30.) Yes, you'll still go to Heaven: but what a way to get there!  Anyway, that's an example of taking grace for granted.
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tavern drunks
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Another way we can take grace for granted is by laziness, or cowardice: shirking our responsibilities in the area of the Christian life.  "I don't feel like studying my Bible today; I'm so tired!  Surely God understands!"  Yes, and He also understands that you might not be here to study it tomorrow.  Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away (James 4:13-14).  You're presuming on God's grace to think that you can read the Bible or pray "some other time."  There may not be another time. "Oh, I don't think my co-worker, or my fellow student, is in a very receptive mood today.  I'd better tell them about the Gospel another time."  That might work out ... or it might not.  They might not be here tomorrow, either.  I'm not saying they'll die in a car crash; I'm saying that people move abruptly for many reasons, for many emergencies.  Postpone your witness, and you're taking God's grace for granted.  
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The person who takes God's grace for granted in the deadliest way, of course, is the person who postpones coming to Jesus Christ for salvation. The person who wants to do things his or her own way for a few more years, and then they'll come to Christ.  The person who says, "I don't have to receive Christ today; there's always tomorrow."  Oh?  Is there?  I wonder what the people who died on 9/11 were planning for 9/12, or the next weekend?  Did they have time to get their affairs in order?  Well, what makes you think that you will?

The grace of God is the most wondrous thing in the human experience.  It can't be contemplated or celebrated too much.  But to take it for granted .....  Doesn't God deserve a little bit better than that?

3 comments:

  1. God deserves a lot better than that; not just a little better. Lord, keep us ever mindful....

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  2. AMEN! Without the grace of God I would have been stamped out like the wicked person that I am...long ago.
    God deserves ALL praise, ALL glory, and He will get it no matter what! Can't wait for our Blessed Lord and Saviour, our soon coming King, to return....today would be perfect!

    Excellent blog William. Thank you and God bless you!

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  3. Thank you, sisters. I hope you realize that I'm preaching to myself!

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