Grace upon grace

What exactly is the “Amazing Grace” of God? The Bible never gives us a one-statement definition, but it is filled with the idea from one end to the other and with numerous stories that illustrate/teach us what it means. The idea of grace comes from an old Hebrew term that meant “to bend, to stoop.”

The best example is found in Luke 15 in the parable of the prodigal son, when God is shown to be like a father who is moved with compassion, running, bending, even falling on the neck of a dirty, shabby, shoeless, sinful son, and kissing him profusely.

Psalm 103:13-14: “The Lord is like a father to His children, tender and compassionate to those who fear Him. For He knows how weak we are; He remembers we are only dust.”

But why? 1 Chronicles 17:16 – “Then King David went in and sat before the Lord; and he said: ‘Who am I, O Lord God? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far?”

That’s the passage that inspired the song “Amazing Grace.” Why should King David, murderer and adulterer, receive the magnificent grace of God? Why should the apostle Paul? Why should we?

Every time the Bible teaches us about God’s grace, it makes it very clear that we don’t deserve it. We do not deserve to be saved, and there is nothing we can do to change that. Grace is what we receive from God because He is good and kind and merciful and loving, not because we are.

Augustine would say – “God always pours His grace into empty hands.” We can’t buy salvation; we can’t impress God with our pain; can’t satisfy Him with our sacrifices (Hosea 6:6). He does not sell salvation to the highest bidder.

Grace is not merely a free gift, but a free gift to those who deserve the exact opposite and it is given to us while we are without hope and without God in this world.

Grace is what we need, but absolutely don’t deserve! But grace is what God offers each one of us!

Psalm 84:11 – “For the Lord God is our sun and our shield. He gives us grace and glory. The Lord will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right.”

Romans 3:23-24: “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

In the Old Testament, God’s people knew that He would save them through His mercy and grace, but they did not understand “how.” They simply had to trust that God would forgive them of their sins. With the coming of Jesus and the New Covenant, we can now see God’s great plan for the ages: Ephesians 1:4-8: “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.”

Whether a person lived under the Old Covenant or the New Covenant, the great plan of God is to save people who want to be saved by the power of the gospel – the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and the shedding of His blood:

Romans 1:16 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”

Ephesians 3:11 – “This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The blood of Jesus covers the sins of the saints in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament:

Romans 3:25-26: “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 declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.”

Hebrews 9:15 – “…Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant.”

I. Grace upon grace

God has always extended His grace to people who want to be saved! But He doesn’t just offer His grace: John 1:16 – “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.” NASB

What does “grace upon grace” mean? John 1:16 – “From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.” NLT

A saving grace: God initially saved us by His grace. We could call this a “saving grace,” for it is a grace that has redeemed us from our past sins (Romans 5:1-2: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God”).

Saved people are those who have been cleansed of their sins and put into a right relationship with God.

Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

A strengthening grace: God also gives us grace to see us through our trials. We could call this grace “strengthening grace,” for it is a blessing that empowers us to face all the difficulties and struggles that come to us. Paul prayed that God might take away his thorn in the flesh. God told Paul He would not remove the thorn but would give Him the grace to bear it. He did not get healing, but he got strengthening help.

2 Corinthians 12:9 – “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” NKJV

2 Corinthians 12:9 – “Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” NLT

We need God’s grace and strength, because life here on this earth is hard. Life is tough and full of troubles – sometimes it may feel like we are caught between “the devil and the deep blue sea,” i.e., between “a rock and a hard place,” but there isn’t anything we face in this life that God can’t help us through.

Jeremiah 32:27 – “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?”

In Romans 8:35, Paul mentioned tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword, and then said: “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

He could say this about us because we have saving, strengthening and sustaining grace.

A sustaining grace: God also gives us a daily grace to keep us saved. We could call this grace a “sustaining grace,” for it is a type of mercy that keeps us in Him:

1 John 1:7 – “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

Not only has God saved us, but He also keeps us saved. In His loving-kindness, He continually cleanses us. Through our choice and His choice, His grace saves us and sustains us and keeps us saved and shelters us within the confines of His salvation.

We need God’s sustaining grace because the Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement where I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, “O God, forgive me,” or “help me.”

Psalm 61:4-5: “Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings! For you have heard my vows, O God. You have given me an inheritance reserved for those who fear your name.”

Psalm 63:7-8: “Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely.”

“He holds on to us, and we hold on to Him.”

An overcoming grace: God’s matchless, transforming grace is the great theme in the Scriptures, both in the New Testament and the Old. There really is nothing like the grace of God! From it, all else flows! Titus 2:11 – “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men…”

Psalm 106, for example, is a song that features a scathing rebuke of several specific sins committed by Israel to include immorality and idolatry; yet it presents to us one of the brightest and most hopeful pictures of God’s enduring mercy and grace in the Bible!

When the nation of Israel chose to sin, they fell from His grace and found themselves under God’s strong hand of judgment. God would continually offer them His grace: Isaiah 1:18 – “Come, let’s talk this over, says the Lord; no matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can take it out and make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you white as wool!” TLB

When they realized their need, they would cry to God for mercy:

Psalm 106:47 – “Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, to give thanks to Your holy name and glory in Your praise.”

Psalm 106 teaches us that, if we let it, God’s grace can overcome any sin. It says, in effect, “If God can reclaim and sustain Israel, if He can cleanse and heal this sinful nation, restoring it through His grace, He can save anyone who is willing to obey God.”

When Israel returned to God in penitence and obedience, He extended to them His tender hand of forgiveness and fellowship.

Psalm 106:43-45: Many times He would deliver them; they, however, were rebellious in their counsel, and so sank down in their iniquity.” “Nevertheless He looked upon their distress when He heard their cry; and He remembered His covenant for their sake, and relented according to the greatness of His lovingkindness.”

As we rejoice over the “many times,” we cannot forget the “howevers.” We must never take for granted the Lord’s grace and fall back into sin.

If God can forgive the sins listed in Psalm 106, then He can work wonders in the life of any sinner who comes to Him now in true repentance! Because of that, we can rejoice in God’s mercy!

Friends, God’s grace is ever-present, wonderfully available to us. It is eternal and has an unfathomable depth. It is stable, continual, and infinite. The cornerstone truth regarding God’s grace is the fact that “…His lovingkindness is everlasting” (Psalm 106:1).

The KJV says, “…His mercy endureth forever.” What He was yesterday, He is today; what He is today, He will be tomorrow! He was gracious, is gracious, and ever will be gracious.

So when we cry, He responds: 2 Peter 3:9 – “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.”

However, we must understand that God’s grace is conditional. It is strong enough for any difficulty; but for His grace to overcome our failures, we must truly repent. God cannot save us without our cooperation. Salvation is “…by grace through faith…” (Ephesians 2:8).

Warning: The Israelites provide an example to Christians of what not to do:

1 Corinthians 10:6-11: “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”

Paul’s use of these examples sounds a warning about falling away from God’s grace. At the end of this list is an exhortation:

1 Corinthians 10:12 – “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.”

II. Conclusion

“Grace is receiving a present we know we don’t deserve, we never thought we would receive, and we never saw coming – not in a million years!” Nothing in this world compares to the grace of God!

When we truly realize that, we should be inspired to say what the psalmist said: Psalm 106:48 – “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting.”

Today God is still calling out to us to come to Him before it’s too late; He is still offering us His mercy and grace.

Matthew 11:28-30: “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

John 6:37 – “…the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”

Even after centuries of inviting, God has not given up calling sinners to repentance. However, some day He will stop inviting. The door will close, and it will be too late to change. We will be what we will be for all eternity – lost in sin or alive in the Lamb.

One truth is certain, God wants us there: Revelation 22:17 – “And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.”

That’s something we don’t have to wonder about!

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