7-12-3-2 The Grace Of God: Too Good
In the same way as we seem unable to focus our attention for very
long on the ultimate issues of life, so we find it difficult to
believe the extent of God's grace. He is extravagent with His grace-
God “lavishes” grace upon us (Eph. 1:6-8). The covenant God made
with Abraham was similar in style to covenants made between
men at that time; and yet there was a glaring difference. Abraham
was not required to do anything or take upon himself any obligations.
Circumcision [cp. baptism] was to remember that this covenant of
grace had been made. It isn’t part of the covenant [thus we are
under this same new, Abrahamic covenant, but don’t require circumcision].
Perhaps this was why Yahweh but not Abraham passed between the pieces,
whereas usually both parties would do so. The promises to Abraham
are pure, pure grace. Sadly Jacob didn’t perceive the wonder of
this kind of covenant- his own covenant with God was typical of
a human covenant, when he says that if God will give him
some benefits, then he will give God some (Gen. 28:20). Although
he knew the covenant with Abraham, the one way, gracious nature
of it still wasn’t perceived by him.
All flesh is as grass, and yet the Lord speaks as if God treats
us as better than the grass “which is today in the field and tomorrow
is cast into the oven” (Lk. 12:28). Israel had consented to be “bidden”
to the feast; and according to Oriental practice, to accept an initial
invitation to a feast was to commit oneself to respond to the final
notice of it. But “they would not come”, and yet despite this insult,
their divine host had sent forth yet more servants to beg them to
come. The Lord puts behind Him the insult of our rejections, and
graciously pleads with us- even God pleading with men. The whole
history of Israel is eloquent proof of this grace of God. Consider
how the believers were assembled praying for Peter's release, and
then when he turns up on the doorstep, they tell the servant girl
that she's mad to think Peter was there. Or how the Lord Jesus did
such wonderful miracles- and people asked him to go away (Mt. 8:34).
We too have this element within us. We would rather salvation and
forgiveness were 'harder' to attain. The popularity of Catholic
and Orthodox rituals is proof enough of this. It always touches
me to read in the Gospels how the Lord Jesus cured wide eyed spastic
children, crippled, wheezing young women, and sent them (and their
loved ones) away with a joy and sparkle this world has never known.
But the people asked Him to go away, and eventually did Him to death.
A voice came from Heaven, validating Him as the Son of God; those
who heard it involuntarily fell to the ground. But the people didn't
really believe, and plotted to kill him (Jn. 12:37). They turned
round and bayed for His blood, and nailed Him to death. He cured
poor Legion; and the people told the Lord to go away.
There's something in our nature which shies away from the true
Gospel because it's too good to believe. Paul had this struggle
with the Jews, both in and outside of the church. They heard the
offer of life from the Lord Himself, and rejected it: " This
is an hard saying: who can hear it?" (Jn. 6:60). It was just
too good to believe. There is something in our natures which is
diametrically opposed to the concept of pure grace. We
feel we must do something before we can expect anything
from God. And yet in condescension to this, the Father sometimes
almost goes along with us in this. Reflect how the disciples, with
all the petty pride of the practical man wishing to do something
practical for the leader he adores, earnestly asked the Lord: "
Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou (singular)
mayest eat the Passover?" (Mk. 14:12). He told them to find
a certain man, and ask him where the Master would eat Passover with
His disciples. He would show them an upper room furnished and
already prepared. 'There', the Lord added with His gentle
irony, 'prepare for us, not just me but you as well, to
eat. Even though I've already arranged it all, and I'm inviting
you to eat with me, well, I understand you must
feel you do your little human bit, so there you prepare;
although I've already prepared it all'. 'What love through all his
actions ran'. This was grace and understanding and accommodation
of men par excellence. Another cameo of it is found in
the way Martha clearly believed Lazarus was now decomposed, and
it would make a smell if the stone over his tomb was rolled away.
“Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest
see the glory of God?” was the Lord’s response (Jn. 11:40). Clearly
she didn’t have that faith. So, on one level, she shouldn’t have
seen God’s glory revealed in the resurrection of Lazarus (Jn. 11:4).
And yet we read straight away that then, Lazarus was raised- despite
Martha’s ‘unworthiness’ of it. Such was the Lord’s love for them
And this Lord is our Lord. All our sins were forgiven on the cross,
and by baptism we rose up into heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 2:6),
we were translated into His Kingdom (Col. 1:13), we are now
kings and priests (Rev. 1:6; 1 Pet. 2:5,9 cp. Ex. 19:5), we have
eternal life (1 Jn. 5:13). We struggle with these kind of passages
(and there are so many more). We try to find some theological explanation
that makes these words not mean what they say in plain English (or
Greek, or Russian, or Shona). It's too good to believe; that all
our sins are forgiven, that we stand in God's grace, in sure Hope
of His Kingdom. But this is what faith, real faith, is all about.
There are some aspects of our spiritual experience in which the
Father and Son are far harder than we might expect; but there are
many others where they are simply far softer and more thoroughly
positive than we can almost accept. Even John the Baptist had this
problem; for it seems that when in prison he heard of the Lord's
gracious works, he wondered whether this really was the One whose
coming in fiery judgment he had preached.
Grace Of God
I'd like us to reflect on the following examples of where God's
mercy is far greater than the mercy of man- even if we are talking
about very loving and spiritual people. Consider these windows into
the grace of God:
- Elijah told God that only he was faithful, and the rest of
the ecclesia of Israel had turned away. God said that in His
eyes, there were another 7,000 faithful. Paul uses this as an
example of how all of us are like that 7,000- those saved by God's
grace (Rom. 11:4,5). So Elijah was a spiritual man; but by His
grace, God thought much higher of Elijah's brethren than Elijah
- Job felt that " though I were perfect, yet would I not
know my soul" (Job 9:21)- he felt the impossibility
of trusting his own conscience. He felt he wasn't perfect, and
that he was condemned (Job 9:20; 10:2)- although actually God
saw him as perfect (1:2). Job felt that God was searching around
for his every sin (Job 10:6)- although compare this with how positively
God spoke to Satan about him. Clearly God in His grace was more
positive about Job than he himself was.
- Paul lamented on his deathbed that all the believers in Asia
had turned away (2 Tim. 1:15; Gk. apostrupho, to apostasize).
But at roughly the same time, the Lord Jesus wrote to seven ecclesias
in Asia, commending some of their members for holding on to the
Truth. Paul was a man of great love, who really tried to see the
best in his brethren, having been touched by the grace of God.
He even would have given up his eternal life, so that the Jews
would be saved (Rom. 9:3 cp. Ex. 32:32). But even Paul, in the
time of his greatest spiritual maturity, thought that all the
Asian Christians were apostate; when in the Lord's eyes, this
wasn't the case.
- David realized all this, centuries before. He was given a choice
of three punishments which could befall him. He refused to choose.
" Let us fall now into the hand of the Lord; for his mercies
are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man" (2 Sam.
24:14). This has always struck me as magnificent. God is kinder
than men. It's better to be punished by Him than by men. This
puts paid to the Catholic conception of God as a merciless torturer
of wicked men. Clearly the doctrine of eternal torments was invented
by men, not God.
- We mustn't judge our brother, because " to his own master
he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is
able to make him stand" (Rom. 14:4). It may be that Paul's
implication is that God is more likely to uphold His failing servant
than we would be; therefore, let's not condemn our brother, because
God is more generous-spirited than we are in His judgment.
- It could even be that the mercy of God Himself is even greater
than that of His Angels. I say this on the basis that He warns
Israel not to provoke the Angel, because the Angel would not pardon
their transgression if provoked (Ex. 23:21). And yet Yahweh Himself
was provoked and yet He did pardon Israel (Ps. 78:38-40; 106:43-46).
It's no wonder, then, that we tend to doubt the reality of our
own salvation. We're harder than God is, both on ourselves and on
others. It's also no wonder that we have such a terrible tendency
to be hard on our brethren. Of course, God does have a harder side,
which we as sinful men can never overlook. We can, like Abraham,
think that there are more righteous in the city than there really
are. But fundamentally within God's character, the aspect of mercy
is greater than that of judgment (James 2:13). Struggling for adjectives,
Paul wrote of the God " who is rich in mercy, for his great
love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, (who)
hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace are ye saved) ...that
in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace
in his kindness toward us" (Eph. 2:4-8). He delights
in showing forgiveness and mercy; He loves doing it (Mic. 7:18).
As a French proverb says, it's " son metier"
- 'what He's good at, and loves doing'. Let's try to catch something
of this spirit of the grace of God. Let's try to adopt God's perspective.
For what does He require more of a man, " but to do justly,
and to love mercy (as God does, 7:18), and to walk humbly
with thy God" ? (Mic. 6:8).