“The grace of God is love freely shown toward guilty sinners, contrary to their merit and indeed in defiance of their demerit. It is God showing goodness to persons who deserve only severity and had no reason to expect anything but severity” [Packer*, 132].
Packer’s statement about grace sounds pretty worrisome doesn’t it?
Why is it worrisome? I am one of those persons who deserve severity and guess what, I don’t want it; who would?
But I deserve severity…
And I know that I don’t deserve God’s forgiving grace.
In the previous post [“If We Don’t Understand Grace…”] I comment on Packer’s notion that not all church people share the same beliefs about God and man’s relationship. With this “lack of sharing” as a basis, the doctrine of grace does not mean as much to the church-goer as it should. Packer presents four very good reasons for his conclusion. We are very distracted by the lure of material wealth, the ease of minimizing wrongdoing, the temptation of trying to work our way into God’s favor and the idea that grace is no big deal [extending grace is merely God doing His work]. If we accept his ideas that we fall short in accepting the idea of grace in our spiritual lives, are there reasons why we should change and try to make the acceptance of grace much more important?
We should reject those four reasons for misunderstanding the relationship between God and man because they are just not as significant as the reasons we should try to understand grace and after we achieve some level of understanding, we should then try to accept grace.
Let’s start with the most obvious need for grace. I have already referred to it above.
Packer is dramatic in his description of our lowly state. We need to be “brought right” with God and we can’t be brought right by our own power. Our sinning gets in the way. We need to be justified.
Packer describes sinful man as having the status of a “condemned criminal awaiting a terrible sentence” . We need to have a remission of our sins and the acceptance of our true nature in the sight of God. To get that, all we have to do is put our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior.
It is free.
It only takes a deep, honest expression of faith.
It was not free for God because His only Son had to die for us, for our sins. Packer cites Romans 8: 32: “Why was it that God ‘did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all? ‘ ”
He did it because of His grace. God did not have to do this but He wanted to, to save you and me….merciless sinners. The death on the cross redeemed us. Jesus paid all and mankind benefitted.
I know as a long-time church-goer, that the words in the previous part of this post sound like the “ole-time” evangelist, driving home his reasons to come up during the “alter call.”
But let’s stop a moment and think about what it all means. Whatever cliché you choose to use to describe accepting Jesus as your Savior, your decision signals a turning point in your life. Whether you “let Jesus into your heart”, “decide to make Him your Lord and Savior” or you “confess your sins at the altar and accept His grace” you will never be the same after you make a sincere faith declaration.
You will never be the same because you have been “brought right” with God; you have been justified.
Don’t you need to be pardoned for your sins?
Secondly, grace is God’s motive in our plan of salvation. Getting pardoned is a necessity but it is not the only purpose for God’s extension of grace. Packer relies heavily on the Apostle Paul’s thoughts expressed in Romans, Thessalonians and Ephesians. With grace, God acts on a plan that has been in place for us for our lives. “So we believers may rejoice to know that our conversion was no accident, but an act of God which had its place in the eternal plan to bless us with the free gift of salvation from sin” 135. God promises to carry out His plan for us to completion. Part of that plan is for us to live a life whereby we experience the riches of God’s grace here on earth and after our time is up on the earth, we will experience glorification in Christ after our time on this earth is over. We are elected by God and predestined to be His children. All our sins are redeemed as God claims us as His possession forever.
This is what God has promised us if we will accept His grace. “The stars, indeed, may fall, but God’s promises will stand and be fulfilled. The plan of salvation will be brought to a triumphant completion; thus grace will be shown to be sovereign” .
But it all starts with our profession of faith and God’s extension of grace.
If God’s plan for our salvation is certain, then our future is assured. First Peter 1: 5 says I am “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” Some may think that sinners come before God and confess their sins and then fall back into sin. We all do, but God has that “covered”; the idea is that grace is extended to us to the end of our days. As our faith grows, grace continues and grace will keep us believing in God until the end.
Some misunderstand grace as an encouragement of moral laxity. This is the idea that God’s grace is going to save me anyway so why am I worried about future sin. My conduct does not matter. Packer disagrees: “For love awakens love in return and love, once awakened, desires to give pleasure” . When one receives grace, it is natural to give oneself to good works instead of falling back into horribly sinful habits. Do we sin past justification? Of course we do, but the sanctifying process of growing in our faith leads us to less struggle with our sin instead of more struggle.
As we began to consider the doctrine of grace, it seemed that the concern was that today we don’t seem to understand it, we don’t value it, we don’t appreciate its relevance for life today, but after looking at it, it is easy to see that it is a cornerstone of the Christian faith. We need it in order to live a life in Christ. We can’t be the people of God without it. Without it, God is our Judge; with it, God becomes our Savior.
Packer says that a clear understanding of grace “sweep[s] him [the Christian] off his feet with wonder and joy. We have a chance to go from “a condemned criminal awaiting a terrible sentence to that of an heir awaiting a fabulous inheritance” [132-33].
The person who claims to be a Christian lives a life that is themed by grace, grace received and grace extended. Rather than being confused by the doctrine of grace, misunderstanding it and placing it on the lowest level of our priorities, professing our faith and accepting grace should be a foremost life event. This event should be evident to anyone who is observing the grace-filled Christian. Grace is playing out in their life right before your eyes. Packer closes the chapter on grace with the words, “Do you claim to know the love and grace of God in your own life? Prove your claim, then, by going and praying likewise.”
I would add, prove your claim, then, by living a life of grace.
*J.I. Packer Knowing God