What once was hurt What once was friction What left a mark No longer stings Because Grace makes beauty Out of ugly things From ‘Grace’ by U2; songwriters: Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen, Dave Evans, Paul Hewson
Grace – CHARIS: used to describe a charismatic person, someone who is generous and kind, pleasing and beneficial to others. It describes someone whose character is such that they change the attitudes of others.
The Universe is gigantic. It has one name and is described as a single thing. It consists of galaxies and gases, black holes and dark matter and a lot more. It is so vast that we measure it by time rather than distance. It is breathtakingly beautiful. How can such a thing exist without a Creator? We exist on a tiny rock that is spinning through an average size galaxy. It has been filmed from space and is exquisitely beautiful – it shines like a precious stone. We stand on mountains, by deserts, by forests, by rivers and by seas. We take photographs of them, we paint them, write poems and music about them. Because they inspire awe, because they are utterly beautiful. We film nature, living things, we observe them in the wild, we admire it all. We have become deeply concerned for the preservation and stability of all this beauty. We are even willing to accept that the ugly devastation of forests and callous extermination of living things is down to us. I know that grace and beauty are concepts that can have different levels of meaning. Truth and love are similar in that we use them casually and without much thought to their full meaning. We use the same word when we say something like, “I love chocolate!” as when we speak of love for our partner or child, or our love for God. God’s love manifests itself in Grace and Mercy. As a result God gives us what we do not deserve and does not give us what we do deserve. He offers forgiveness and eternal life we do not deserve; he offers to remove the condemnation we deserve. This rests on my turning from my own ways and trusting God. The result is that God’s grace begins a new, beautiful creation in me. In the chapter on conversion we saw how a sinner can become a believer in Jesus Christ – a Christian. Through faith in Christ a remarkable change of attitude and belief, a complete turnaround of lifestyle is possible.
2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
God, Who created the universe, intervenes in human lives, and begins a new creation in them. This comes entirely out of God’s grace. God has chosen to offer sinners a way of escape, a way of forgiveness and hope. There is nothing I can do to influence this or merit this. Either I harden my heart or I yield to God’s command to repent. This needs my acceptance that God is Truth and that what God has revealed in the Bible is the Truth. It needs faith.
Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— (9) not by works, so that no one can boast. (10) For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
This passage describes God’s grace. He willingly and generously accepts us and creates new, useful people for His service. This involves faith in God’s rescue package offered in the Person of Jesus Christ. There is nothing we can do to make God be gracious to us. Even having faith needs God‘s help. John Newton was a slave trader. He lived in the 18th century. He lived a very bad life. A point came where he realised that he was doing wrong, and he called on God to forgive him. He repented, believed, and became a new person. He wrote about this in a very famous hymn:
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
John Newton, like many before and since, was confronted by God’s grace. Grace taught him that he was a sinner and that he should fear the consequences. Grace taught him that God would forgive him. Grace led him into a grace-filled life and gave him assurance that grace would bring him into heaven. That is what he wrote about. Of course, we understand that grace is a kind of name for God. God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The key to receiving God’s grace is realising that we need His grace. We need to realise that our lives are not acceptable to God – we need forgiveness, we need to be rescued. The truth is that God wants to be gracious to us. God’s rescue package will save me from myself and from the ultimate consequence of my actions. I wonder how many people really believe that they deserve to be punished for their wrongdoing? Here are some passages from the Bible that explain about sin, its consequences – and its remedy.
Romans 6:23 NKJV For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Hebrews 9:27-28 NIV Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, (28) so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Revelation 20:15 NIV If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Romans 10:9 NIV That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Romans 8:1 NIV Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus
The Cross – stark naked – no holds barred – tells me that I deserved such a death because of my sin. Conversion describes a complete turnaround, a metamorphosis. Christians are not only saved from sin’s punishment, but they are also saved from sinning. The power that controls human desire and self-seeking is broken. A Christian can stop sinning! This begins with believing and trusting what God says. This comes from realising that Jesus Christ died for ‘my’ sins.
“Yes, there are people who deserve punishment – but not me!” There are many good and lovely things that humans do. We are able to admire the beauty of Creation and want to be a ‘better’ person. However, an honest review of one’s life reveals the selfishness, lies, lusts and pride that contaminate almost all one does. The Four Gospels reveal a Man who was not like this. He demonstrated the Way God expects humans to live. He was full of grace and truth. Reading about Jesus brings us God’s light and love and challenges us to follow the road that Jesus took.
The shocking thing is that Jesus’ own people, including very religious people, wanted to kill Him! In fact, they contrived lies in order to arrest Him and then bullied the Romans into killing Jesus in the most horrible way. Why did they do this? How could they have done this? There is plenty of evidence around us and in us that shouts, “There is something wrong with us!” The Bible describes this wrongness as Sin.
In Genesis Chapter 3, the first man and woman lived in Paradise. They were given just one rule: to leave the tree of knowledge of good and evil alone. They were tempted about this and gave in to the temptation. From that point they gained knowledge of good and evil but, like us, could not easily tell the difference. God dealt graciously with their problem, animals died in their place, but the damage was done. They had ‘crossed the line, trespassed, broken the law’. From then, the human race has been subject to fear of death and has become easy pickings for Satan.
Adam and Eve were tempted via their appetite, the way things appeared and their ambition. The fruit looked good, it would probably taste delightful, and it would make them wise like God. In themselves these thoughts are not sins. However, they can be easily manoeuvred into selfish actions. They can become greed, selfishness and pride. The apostle John warns us about temptation through these three natural things of survival:
1 John 2:15-17 NKJV Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (16) For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. (17) And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
The Lord Jesus was tested through these same things. He was tempted to make food from stones, to make a remarkable appearance among the people that would really impress them, and to worship Satan so that He could have the whole world and be its God. Jesus had none of it. He was not swayed by these temptations. He used the Bible to refute them. He simply said, “It is written ….”. He did not sin. [read Matthew 4:1-11]. Jesus did not need God’s grace. He was and is God’s grace. Through the Lord Jesus Christ everyone can experience the grace of God. His grace works wonders in that it produces godliness. The Law produces condemnation. We are not suitable material for God to employ in His service. Yet He calls us to serve! It is by grace He saves us and by grace that we serve Him.
This prayer makes our position clear:
O Christ, the Master Carpenter,
who at the last through wood and nails purchased our whole salvation;
wield well your tools in the workshop of your world,
so that we who come rough-hewn to your work bench may be fashioned to a truer beauty by your hand.
Martin P.G. Leonard (1889-1963)
Serving God is not about my skills but about what God wants to do through me. Our Father God teaches us, helps us, gives us all we need to serve Him. He does not throw us on the rubbish dump as useless, He takes us from the rubbish and makes us useful. What we do should be for His glory and by His grace.
God’s grace has no favourites, no minimum requirement. He offers the riches of eternal life to all who will repent and come to Him through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV)