In Europe during the early 1500's, a German monk named Martin Luther uncovered a message that soon began to change the face of Christianity. Since then his teachings concerning the grace of God have been at the very heart of the Protestant church. We know of course, that these teachings were not originally his. He and others, following in the footsteps of Saint Augustine of Hippo, became the founders of a systematic, theological approach to the Grace of God, and the Reformation was born!
Yet, how many of us today who come under this large umbrella of Protestant Christianity, truly and fully understand the working of the grace of God in our lives? Why has this critical issue been reduced to the debate over a false dichotomy between faith and works, or to the controversy over the law verses grace?
And what is the result? Today untold thousands of believers in Christ remain passive and helpless in dealing the personal challenges of their own lives, and often completely ineffective in their role of offering the good news of the marvelous grace of God to those around them!
Is it possible that many are long overdue for a fresh revelation of God's amazing Grace? Could it be that the time has come for us all to renew our love affair and heart's preoccupation with the One Who is full of Grace and Truth - our Lord Jesus Christ?
Among the many things that were said of those early saints in Jerusalem, a passage in Acts 4:33 is particularly intriguing:
"with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all."
It was also said of the believers of that era, that .... "they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." (Acts 2:42)
The North American church at the end of the 20th Century has a great deal of knowledge, organizational and political power, financial clout and worldly wisdom. But how many of us miss the ability to give such powerful witness to the resurrected Christ as did these primitive saints? How many wonder of the great grace that was upon them all?
This writer's personal quest has led him back to the teachings of the apostles. A lifetime could and should be devoted to the beliefs of these holy men who were chosen by Christ Himself, but certain basic concepts are readily perceived -- by the help of the Holy Spirit and His illumination of course!
The doctrine of the grace of God in Christ was more than just a concept to them! John so powerfully wrote:
John 1:16-17: "And of his fulness have all we received,
and grace for grace.
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."
1 John 1:1: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;"
Something happened to these people! They saw, and looked upon, and handled and received the very Life and Grace of God in Jesus Christ! Where previously they had the law, which told them what to do, what not to do -- now they had His enabling power within them to fully live!
But how easy it has been for us to simply reduce the New Testament into just another list of rules! How we have forgotten the very context in which the New Testament commands were given! After having tried and failed in their own human efforts, these men and women of God came to know victorious living by the generosity of God in Christ!
Listen to the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:10: "But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me."
"Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;" (Ephesians 3:8)
"But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ." (Ephesians 4:7)
And the apostle Peter confirms:
1 Pet 4:10 "As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."
2 Pet 3:17-18: "Therefore, dear friends, since you
already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried
away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." (NIV)
While the religions of men continue to place heavy burdens upon the people, the teachings of the apostles are aimed at challenging us all to receive God's most gracious gift of Himself! Think of it! Some of Paul's most scathing rebukes were to the churches of Galatia, whose members were beginning to trust in their own obedience to certain laws and rituals! Some had forsaken the very fountain of Life, and had begun digging wells of their own self-righteousness! (Jeremiah 2:13)
The apostles' message of grace was never an excuse to sin! In fact it was the very opposite! It removed every excuse for living in sin! More than that, God's grace brought the power to serve others, freely sharing this very good news with all!
"For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;
Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." (Titus 2:11-14)
Are you living in the so called "age of grace," where some glory in their shortcomings? Or are you truly growing in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, becoming a living witness to the power of His resurrection?
This is a day when we need to renew our commitment to the "testimony of the Gospel of the Grace of God." (Acts 20:24-25)
This good news is both powerful and life changing! More than that, it is world changing! It is the Good News of the Kingdom of God -- His reign of righteousness, peace and joy within us, by the power of the Holy Ghost (Romans 14:17), which is already being revealed in the earth today!
How many of us are tired of a weak, watered-down gospel, that leaves you pretty much where you are right now? The only difference might be is that you can be made to feel just a little bit better about yourself!
But how many are hungering and thirsting after God Himself, knowing that in Him, and Him alone we are made full, complete, ever growing unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ? (Ephesians 4:13)
By the grace of God in Christ we are purified, to live righteous and holy in His sight! And all of this is freely poured out unto us as we humble ourselves at the foot of the cross!
But according to James, the proud, the self-righteous, the arrogant are without hope.
"But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' " (James 4:6 NIV)
Who among us wants to be found opposing God? Or worse yet, God opposing us?
Let us therefore accept the sacrifice of Christ for us, and "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)
"Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." (Hebrews 10:19-25)
Hebrews 12:15: "Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;"
My brothers and sisters, may we always guard against any self confidence or self righteousness that may rise up in our midst. May our trust always be in Christ alone. Our theories, our ideologies, our hopes and dreams are vanishing at the revelation of Jesus Christ, and the wonderful news is that we have already found certain hope in Him!
1 Pet 1:13-16: "Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy."
Our eyes have been so blinded to the grace and truth that has already been given unto us in our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ. But today your truth is making us free indeed.
We humble ourselves before you, and gratefully receive your abundant and amazing grace. From this time forward, may we grow both in our ability to receive the working of your grace in our lives, as well as in our ability to share it with others. For in this way we continue together to learn more of you.
In the Name of Christ Jesus our Lord,