We now go from everyone’s favorite The Love Of God, to the favorite attribute of the Reformation, The Grace Of God. It is appropriate to look at these attributes in this order since God’s grace flows out of his love. Before we begin, if you are new to this study you can find all of the previous lessons using the Knowing God category link. There are also study materials for the book available at william.meisheid.com.
Dr. Packer begins this chapter stating how common it is within Christian churches “to call Christianity a religion of grace.” He then goes on to note how grace, far from being a sort of “celestial electricity” is essentially a “personal activity–God operating in love toward people.” That statement explains the order of the last two chapters, since the grace of God flows inexorably out of his love. Packer immediately notes what the student of Greek learns very quickly, that both agape (love) and charis (grace) are primarily Christian words, pulled from the dustbin of Greek usage and made most prominent. Then he makes a damning statement: “…there do not seem to be many in our churches who actually believe in grace.”
Grace, at its heart, passes on the acclaim as exampled by Paul, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” 1 Corinthians 15:10. Packer then says that the church is full of people who do not live those words, instead giving mere lip service to their intent. He lays the root cause at misbelief, at taking for granted something at such a deep, root level of their lives that they don’t even question it, instead taking for granted that which is necessary for true faith to sprout and grow in the heart’s soil. He then divides that necessity into four basic truths, against which the spirit of the current age rails with all of its fervor. Without accepting these four truths, Packer argues, one cannot grasp the essential meaning of grace. They are:
1. The moral ill-desert of man.
2. The retributive justice of God.
3. The spiritual impotence of man.
4. The sovereign freedom of God.
Man’s failure and impotence and God’s justice and sovereignty. In essence understanding grace requires submission of our wills and understanding of ourselves to God, something man, since the fall, has always had problems with. It is echoed down through history by the hearts that assert, “I don’t need your help or charity” and rooted in the genesis of the self-made person, the icon of American individualism. Let me qualify that I am not talking about taking responsibility for your life and actions or disrespecting hard work and industry. With the right heart those things are absolutely necessary to meet the demands of God. As Paul says:
Therefore, my dear ones, as you have always obeyed [my suggestions], so now, not only [with the enthusiasm you would show] in my presence but much more because I am absent, work out (cultivate, carry out to the goal, and fully complete) your own salvation… Amplified Philippians 2:12a
Work out (the word carries the meaning of intense, uninterrupted labor carried on to completion) your salvation. Be responsible, work hard, and be industrious in all your efforts to perfect your life in Christ. That part most people can respect. Yes, I have to accept responsibility and make the effort. What is skipped over is the second half of the verse, the qualifier in the next verse.
…with reverence and awe and trembling (self-distrust, with serious caution, tenderness of conscience, watchfulness against temptation, timidly shrinking from whatever might offend God and discredit the name of Christ). [Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight. Amplified Philippians 2:12b-13
The essence of this grace that God gives us, his effective work within us, Packer notes is undeserved. It cannot be earned. It reflects a state of being, which to me is one of the hardest things said in the Gospels:
Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” Luke 17:9-10
Instead, we want credit for what we have done. We want to elevated, rewarded, told how great we are. We want to be acknowledged as the victor, given the props for our efforts. Instead, to use the parlance of the street, God disses us.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faithand this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.
It is a gift. It is grace. It is not you. It is God. It is no wonder we no longer sing the amazing song penned by Isaac Watts, especially its fourth verse.
A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
In they hands I fall;
Thou art the Lord, my righteousness,
My Savior, and my all.
So you say we are worms. Are we? How does that jibe with your argument last week that we are all saints not sinners. That is a good, right, and proper question and shows me that you have been taking these lessons to heart. The quick answer is attitude. A saint knows that they are adopted by grace into the family of God, that they have been rescued from the orphanage of sin and death. A sinner struggles to find their own way in the world, trying to make their own family, their own identity. A saint knows they once were lost, but now they are found. A saint understands that as guilty sinners, we fall as helpless worms into the arms of God, who weaves about us a cocoon of grace and then empowers us to be reborn into butterflies of light, his adopted children and brothers of Christ Jesus, our Lord.
A saint is no longer a worm, but it is good to remember that from which we were rescued. What I argued against last week was allowing that orphanage of sin and death to define us even after grace has reborn us into butterflies of light. The song does not say we stay helpless worms, only that is where we started from until we fell into the hands of God, the loving Father who fashions us from darkness into light. Our fundamental nature has changed as Paul says so gloriously.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17
Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Colossians 6:15
It is not our efforts (circumcision–or its rejection), but God’s adoption (our new creation). Glory be! That flips everything upside down, doesn’t it? So, are you a saint or a sinner? Are you a butterfly or a worm? As Joshua told the children of Israel at the Jordon river crossing, “Choose this day who you will serve.” Yourself or God, it’s your choice. I’ve made mine and I have been testing these Butterfly [caps on purpose] wings for 29 years. Make yours.
May the grace of God fill your soul unto life everlasting and may his sustaining grace carry you through each and every day, nourishing you through the dry times, uplifting you during the down times, and in the end bringing you into the habitation prepared for you from the foundation of all creation.