The Manifold Grace of God

GraceGrace is unmerited favor. It is the kindness one person grants to another who does not deserve it. Grace (χάρις charis) refers to “a beneficent disposition toward someone, favor, grace, gracious care/help, [or] goodwill.”[1] This definition speaks of the attitude of one who is characterized by grace. A gracious act is “that which one grants to another, the action of one who volunteers to do something not otherwise obligatory.”[2] Others may not understand or accept what is offered by grace, but this is not for want of attitude and action on the part of the giver, where the benefactor freely confers a blessing upon another and the kindness shown finds its source in the bounty and free-heartedness of the giver. Once grace is received, it can, in turn, lead to gracious acts to others (Matt 5:43-45; Luke 6:32-36). In this way, grace leads to grace.

The Need for Grace

Saved by God's GraceEveryone needs God’s grace, because we are all born in sin. We are sinners in three ways: 1) we are sinners by imputation of Adam’s original sin (Rom 5:12-21), 2) we are sinners by nature (Psa 51:5; Rom 7:19-21; Eph 2:3), and 3) we are sinners by choice (1 Ki 8:46; Rom 3:9-18). Adam’s sin the Garden of Eden is the first and greatest of them all. Because of Adam’s rebellion against God, sin and death entered the human race and spread throughout the universe (Rom 8:20-22). Paul wrote, “Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned [when Adam sinned]” (Rom 5:12), for “through one transgression [of Adam] there resulted condemnation to all men” (Rom 5:19a), and “by a man [Adam] came death, by a man [Jesus] also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all [who believe in Him] will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:21-22). All of Adam’s descendants are born into this world spiritually dead in “trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1), and are by nature “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3), “separate from Christ…having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12), “alienated” from God (Col 1:21), helpless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies (Rom 5:6-10). From a biblical perspective, we are all born totally depraved. According to Lewis Chafer, “Theologians employ also the phrase total depravity, which does not mean that there is nothing good in any unregenerate person as seen by himself or by other people; it means that there is nothing in fallen man which God can find pleasure in or accept.”[3] Total depravity means we are helpless to save ourselves.

Grace & Judgment

God’s grace does not ignore righteousness or judgment. God is righteous and He must condemn sin. He can either condemn sin in the sinner, or in a substitute. According to Merrill F. Unger, “since God is holy and righteous, and sin is a complete offense to Him, His love or His mercy cannot operate in grace until there is provided a sufficient satisfaction for sin. This satisfaction makes possible the exercise of God’s grace.”[4] Christ is our substitute. He bore the penalty of all our sins and satisfied every righteous demand of the Father, for “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2; cf. Rom 3:24-25; 1 John 4:10). God’s grace follows from His judgment. According to Lewis Chafer, “grace is what God may be free to do and indeed what He does accordingly for the lost after Christ has died on behalf of them.”[5] God’s love for sinners moved Him to provide a solution to the problem of sin, and that solution is Christ who died in our place. Once we have trusted in Christ for salvation—and trusted in Him alone—God is then free to bestow on us forgiveness and eternal life, as well as numerous other blessings that are beyond our imagination to grasp. For those who reject God’s salvation by grace, they are left to trust in themselves and their own good works to gain entrance into heaven, and this will fail miserably for those who choose this course. In the end, these will be judged by their works, and because those works never measure up to God’s perfect righteousness, they will be cast in the Lake of Fire forever (Rev 20:11-15).

Common Grace & Special Grace

There is a common grace God extends to everyone, whether they are good or evil, and this does not depend on their understanding or attitude toward God or others. God simply extends grace to all, and all receive it. Jesus said of the Father, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45). Paul said, “In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways [in rebellion]; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16-17). In these passages, God’s grace is freely given to all, and this because He is gracious by nature.

However, there is special grace given to those who will welcome it. Special grace refers to those blessings that God freely confers upon those who, in humility, turn to Him a time of need. First, there is saving grace that God provides for the lost sinner who turns to Christ in faith alone (Eph 2:8-9). Second, there is a growing grace for the humble believer who studies and lives God’s Word (2 Pet 3:18). Third, there is a grace God gives—a divine enablement—to help a believer cope with some life stress (2 Cor 12:7-10). Humility and positive volition are necessary requisites for those who would receive God’s special grace, For “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5; cf. Jam 4:6).

Saving Grace

GiftGod’s grace is never cheap. Our salvation is very costly. Jesus went to the cross and died in our place and bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us. He is righteous. I am a sinner. He paid my sin debt in full. There’s nothing for me to add to what He accomplished. The sole condition of salvation is to believe in Christ as my Savior. He died for me, was buried, and rose again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4), and we know “that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again” (Rom 6:9). Salvation is not Jesus plus me. It’s Jesus alone. He saves. My contribution to the cross was sin and death, as Jesus took my sin upon Himself and died in my place. Peter wrote, “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). We are brought to God solely by the death of Christ. Salvation is never what I do for God; rather, it’s what He’s done for us through the cross of Christ. All of this consistent with the character of God, for He is gracious by nature. Scripture reveals, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6), and, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15). God the Father is described as “the God of all grace” (1 Pet 5:10), who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16), who “gives grace to the afflicted” (Prov 3:34), and provides salvation “by grace” through faith in Jesus (Eph 2:8-9; cf. Acts 15:11; Rom 3:24). Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:29). Grace is undeserved favor. It is the love, mercy, or kindness that one person freely confers upon another who deserves the opposite (Matt 5:44-45; Rom 11:6; Eph 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5-7). The kindness shown is rooted in the goodness and open-handedness of the giver. Jesus is an example of grace, in that He cared for others, healing and feeding many (Matt 4:24; 14:15-21), even to those who refused to show gratitude (Luke 17:12-19). He acted out of His own goodness, for the benefit of others, with a full knowledge the majority would reject Him and abuse His kindness (John 3:19; 12:37).

Good works have no saving merit before God (Isa 64:6; Rom 3:28; 4:1-5; Gal 2:16, 21; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5; cf. Phil 3:4-9). We cannot save ourselves any more than we can jump across the Grand Canyon or throw rocks and hit the moon. But God, because of His mercy and love toward us (John 3:16; Eph 2:3-7), did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He provided a solution to the problem of sin, and that solution is the cross of Christ (1 Cor 1:18). God the Son—the second Person of the Trinity—came into the world by human birth (Luke 1:26-35; John 1:1, 14), lived a perfectly righteous life (Matt 5:17), was always pleasing to the Father (John 8:29), and willingly died in our place and bore the punishment for our sins. Jesus lived the righteous life that God demands and committed no sin (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and He died for us on the cross and paid the penalty for all our sins (Isa 53:1-12; Mark 10:45; Rom 5:6-10; 1 Pet 3:18; 1 John 2:2).

The Cross of ChristJesus died once for all sin. And His sacrifice on the cross was a substitutionary death in which He paid the penalty for all our sins. Unlike the Old Testament animal sacrifices “which can never take away sins” (Heb 10:11), Jesus “offered one sacrifice for sins for all time” (Heb 10:12). This means there is nothing more to be offered for our salvation, for “by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb 10:14). Jesus’ atoning death on the cross was a one and done event. After Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, He said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). The phrase it is finished translates the Greek word τετέλεσται tetelestai, which is a perfect passive indicative of the Greek verb τελέω teleo, which means “to complete an activity or process, bring to an end, finish, complete.”[6] According to Edwin Blum, “Papyri receipts for taxes have been recovered with the word tetelestai written across them, meaning ‘paid in full.’”[7] It means whatever debt we owed to God has been paid in full, and there’s no further payment required. This is why salvation is never by our good works (Rom 3:28; Gal 2:16, 21; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5). Good works in the life of the Christian should follow salvation (Eph 2:10; Gal 6:9-10), but they are never the condition of it! When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we accept His payment for our sin-debt. He gets all the glory and we get all the benefit. And “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1).

In order for us to be reconciled to God, we must simply trust in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; 20:30-31; Acts 4:12; 16:30-31). When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), and receive the righteousness of God as a free gift (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). The cross is God’s righteous solution to the problem of sin, as well as His greatest display of love toward sinners. At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness required, and pardons the sinner as His love desires. To understand the cross of Christ is to understand the heart of God toward a fallen world He wants to save.

Christians are to Model Grace

As Christians, we display common grace to everyone and special grace to believers. Concerning unbelievers, Jesus told His disciples, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). This is done by grace, for the enemy does not deserve the love extended to them. When believers show this kind of gracious love, we are acting like our Father in heaven, for He is unconditionally good to everyone (Matt 5:45). Paul communicated both common and special in his letter to the Galatians where he wrote, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people [common grace], and especially to those who are of the household of the faith [special grace]” (Gal 6:10). And, as Christians, our speech should be characterized by grace. Paul wrote, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col 4:6). This means our speech should be biblically attractive to others, especially those who are positive to God.

Why Believers Show No Grace

One would think that grace would flow from grace. That is, those who are shown grace by God would show grace and mercy to others. Paradoxically, this is not always the case. I am amazed at Christians who welcome God’s grace, but show no grace to others. Many are mean-spirited, condescending, harsh, unforgiving, and speak with a critical spirit. This is contrary to the character of God and the teaching of Scripture. When it comes to our sin and unworthiness, the truth of Scripture is, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psa 103:10). God has not treated us as we deserve. In fact, He treats us much better than we deserve; but again, that’s grace. The Lord is a God who loves, forgives, and shows great compassion toward the undeserving and has done so toward us. Yet some believers refuse to give grace to others, who are themselves undeserving. Jonah, for example, was a prophet of God who became angry when the Lord showed grace to Israel’s enemy, the Ninevites, and withheld judgment when they humbled themselves and repented of their sin (Jonah 3:1-10). Jonah became angry at God’s display of grace, saying, “I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2). The contradiction is that Jonah personally enjoyed God’s grace, but then selfishly wanted God to withhold it from others. I also think of the story Jesus told about a servant who owed a great debt, and when the man could not pay, he pleaded with his master, who felt compassion and graciously forgave his debt (Matt. 18:23-27). However, the man who had received forgiveness from his superior, later refused to forgive another man who owed him a very small amount (Matt. 18:28-30). The man who was shown grace refused to show grace to others, and the Lord called him “wicked” (Matt 18:32). I’ve often pondered why some, who rejoice in God’s grace, refuse to show grace to others. I think there are several reasons.

  1. Ignorance of God and His Word. Some believers fail to understand grace as a characteristic of God (Ex 34:6; Psa 86:15; Prov 3:34; John 1:14; Eph 1:6; Heb 4:16; 10:29; 1 Pet 5:10), and that He directs His people to be gracious and loving to others (Matt 5:44-45; Luke 6:27-28; Col 4:6). Grace is not automatic in the Christian life. It must be learned and actively applied. As believers learn about God’s grace, they can then actively share it with others.
  2. A legalistic mindset. Legalism is the belief that one can earn God’s favor through religious practices and good works. This mindset prevents people from experiencing God’s grace because they don’t think they need it. Why would they? Their religious lives and good works lead them to think they’ve earned God’s favor. But this has consequences in relationships with other people. If we earn God’s favor, then naturally we’ll only show favor to those we feel have earned it too.
  3. A judgmental spirit. It seems as though some people come out of the womb with a judge’s gavel in their hand. These stand in the place of God rendering judgment on others according to their own arbitrary standards and expectations. Often this judgmental spirit takes the form of gossip, maligning, and badmouthing others. Such a critical spirit lacks the capacity to show grace because everyone is guilty, and some more than others. In some ways, running others down is a subtle form of self-praise.
  4. Arrogance. Arrogant people don’t show grace. In fact, they lack the capacity because they’re so self-absorbed, consumed with thinking about themselves and their own life, they have no room in their thinking and speech to show grace to others. I’ve heard it said that “arrogant people never see their own faults, only the faults of others,” and I think there’s merit to the statement.
  5. Refusing to forgive. An unforgiving spirit makes it difficult to show grace. Forgiveness means we release someone from an offense or debt they owe us (or a debt we think they owe us). Forgiveness releases them from paying the penalty for their crime (real or imagined). Forgiveness does not mean continuing to tolerate abuse (physical, mental, sexual, etc.), but it means we continue to seek God’s best in their life by prayer and biblical discussion. By refusing to forgive, we end up harboring hatred, and there’s no room for grace in a hate-filled heart.

How do we overcome these obstacles to grace? First, it starts with knowing what the Bible teaches about the gracious character of God. We cannot live what we do not know, and knowledge of God’s character and Word necessarily precedes living His will. We show grace only as we learn and experience it ourselves. Second, we must learn to see everyone from the biblical perspective, as undeserving of God’s grace and love. Then, with eyes open, we choose to love the unlovely and show them grace. We treat them better than they deserve. We seek God’s best in their lives. Third, learn to discipline the mind and will daily to think and act in grace. As we encounter unpleasant people, or those who have hurt us (i.e., family, friends, co-workers, etc.), we can consciously extend grace to them by showing love, kindness and mercy. Fourth, be ready to be hurt. Showing grace can be very difficult because it places us in a vulnerable spot where we may be hurt, sometimes on an ongoing basis. By faith we’re okay with absorbing the pain others inflict, much like our Lord (1 Pet 2:21-24). We know God is with us, to shield and sustain us as we do His will (Psa 18:30; 55:22; Isa 41:10; Phil 4:6-7; Heb 4:16). Since we’ve tasted of the grace of God, let us also be gracious to others.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lesson

Related Articles:

 

[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1079.

[2] Ibid., 1079.

[3] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993), 118–119.

[4] Merrill F. Unger et al., “Grace” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 504.

[5] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol 7, 178.

[6] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 997.

[7] Edwin A. Blum, “John,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 340.

Our Spiritual Blessings in Christ

BibleAs God’s children, we simultaneously live and operate in two realms. Physically, we live in the material world that God created (though damaged by our sin), and it is here we spend our time learning, working, playing, resting, and touching the lives of those whom God places in our path. It is here we must advance by learning God’s Word and living wisely in His will (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18). Making good choices from day to day—rooted in God’s Word—is paramount to this life, as well as the one to come. As believers, we are to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt 6:33), and trust that “God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19). This requires faith (2 Cor 5:7; Heb 10:38; 11:6). But we also live in a spiritual realm that touches things real, but unseen. As Christians, we are to be led by God the Holy Spirit, to be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18), and to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16). Furthermore, we face attacks from the spiritual realm, as Paul warns us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). As advancing Christians, we are to “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col 1:9). And because the mind is the primary battleground, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Knowledge of God and His Word provides a basis for living effectively in both the physical and spiritual realm. God’s Word reveals He’s provided us a portfolio of spiritual blessings that benefit us in this life and, if understood and applied, will result in great rewards in the eternal state (1 Cor 3:14-15; 2 Cor 5:10).

As Christians living in the dispensation of the church age, God has bestowed on us many good things. Though He blesses some Christians materially (1 Tim 6:17-19), His main focus is on giving us spiritual blessings which are far better. Paul wrote that God “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). According to Harold Hoehner, “Every spiritual blessing (eulogia) refers to every spiritual enrichment needed for the spiritual life. Since these benefits have already been bestowed on believers, they should not ask for them but rather appropriate them by faith.”[1] Warren Wiersbe states:

In the Old Testament, God promised His earthly people, Israel, material blessings as a reward for their obedience (Deut 28:1–13). Today, He promises to supply all our needs “according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19), but He does not promise to shield us from either poverty or pain. The Father has given us every blessing of the Spirit, everything we need for a successful, satisfying Christian life. The spiritual is far more important than the material.[2]

Some of our spiritual blessings are as follows:

  1. We are the special objects of His love: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8), and “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
  2. We are forgiven all our sins: “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14; cf. Eph 1:7; Heb 10:10-14).
  3. We are given eternal life: Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand (John 10:27-28; cf. John 3:16; 20:31).
  4. We are made alive together with Christ: “God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5).
  5. We are raised up and seated with Christ: God “raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6).
  6. We are the recipients of God’s grace: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9).
  7. We are created to perform good works: “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph 2:10).
  8. We are given freedom in Christ: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1; cf. Gal 5:13; 1 Pet 2:16).
  9. We are given a spiritual gift to serve others: “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10; cf. Rom 12:6-8; Eph 4:11).
  10. We are children of God: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are” (1 John 3:1a; cf. John 3:6; Gal 3:26; 1 Pet 1:23; Tit 3:5).
  11. We are made ambassadors for Christ: “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20).
  12. We are gifted with God’s righteousness: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21; cf. Rom 4:3-5; 5:17; Phil 3:9).
  13. We are justified before God: “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus…For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom 3:24, 28).
  14. We have peace with God: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1).
  15. We will never be condemned: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).
  16. We are given citizenship in heaven: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20).
  17. We are transferred to the kingdom of Christ: “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13; cf. Acts 26:18; 1 Th 2:12).
  18. We are all saints in Christ Jesus: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household” (Eph 2:19; cf. Eph 1:18-19).
  19. We are made priests to God: “He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Rev 1:6).
  20. We are God’s chosen: “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:4; cf. Rom 8:29-33).
  21. We are the recipients of His faithfulness: “He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you’” (Heb 13:5; cf. Phil 1:6; 1 Th 5:24).
  22. We have been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life: “We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4; cf. Rom 6:10-13).
  23. We are members of the Church, the body of Christ: “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom 12:4-5), and “He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22-23; cf. Col 1:18).
  24. We are indwelt with the Holy Spirit: “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16; cf. 1 Cor 6:19).
  25. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit: “having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:13b; cf. 2 Cor 5:5).
  26. We are enabled to walk with God: “I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal 5:16).
  27. We are empowered to live godly: “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Pet 1:3).
  28. We have Scripture to train us in righteousness: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).
  29. We are guaranteed a new home in heaven: “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).
  30. We are guaranteed resurrection bodies: “I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:51-53).
  31. We have special access to God’s throne of grace: “Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).
  32. We will be glorified in eternity: “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col 3:4), for Christ “will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Phil 3:21).

The Gifts of GodIn these blessings from God we observe “the riches of His grace” (Eph 1:7). These are bestowed on us at the moment we trusted Christ as our Savior, and we come to know and appreciate them the more we study God’s Word and grasp His goodness toward us. Such blessings are intended to motivate us to service, to live a life in appreciation for all God has done for us. With Paul, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Eph 1:18-19a).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Harold W. Hoehner, “Ephesians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 616.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 9.

Suffering that Builds Christian Character

No one likes suffering, and generally, we try to avoid it. However, some suffering is unavoidable, as there are people and circumstances beyond our ability to influence. This is part of the human experience. But we are not neutral, and though suffering is inevitable, how we handle it is optional. If we greatly fear suffering, then we may be tempted to avoid it at all costs, and the weakening instinct of self-preservation might handicap us from maturing in life. God wants us to grow up and become mature Christians (1 Cor 14:20; Eph 4:11-14), and suffering is sometimes the vehicle He uses to help get us there.

As Christians, we realize some fear is rational and healthy, and this helps regulate our words and actions. Rational fear might also be labeled as healthy caution, which is a mark of wisdom. When driving on the highway, it’s good to be slightly cautious of other drivers, as this can help us avoid an accident. And, when entering a relationship with another person (i.e., friend, business partner, spouse, etc.), a little caution can save us much heartache. Solomon tells us, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov 13:20). Here, an ounce of prevention will save us from a pound of trouble.

Biblical Self-TalkSometimes, we’re the source of our own suffering, as we make bad choices that affect us physically, socially, financially, etc. The wise will learn from their bad choices—even choices done in ignorance—and be better. And sometimes our mental and emotional distress is the product of irrational fears in which we manufacture imaginary negative situations that upset us. These are the mental dramas we construct in our thinking in which we are under attack by someone or something and feel helpless to stop the assault. These self-produced mental plays can include family, friends, coworkers, or anyone we think has the power to hurt us. But we have the power to redirect our thoughts, shut the story down, change the characters, or rewrite the script any time we want. Of course, this requires introspection and the discipline to manage our thoughts. As I’ve shared in other lessons, the stability of the Christian is often predicated on the biblical content and continuity of our thinking. It’s not only what we think, but we keep on thinking that provides mental and emotional equilibrium.

As a Christian, suffering can be viewed either as a liability or an asset. A liability is a burden, a drain on one’s life and resources. However, an asset is a benefit, something that adds value to life. If we’re able to frame life’s difficulties from the divine perspective, then we can thank God for the trials He sends our way, because we know He’s using them to humble us and shape us into the persons He wants us to be. How we view the trial determines whether it makes us bitter or better. But such an attitude is a discipline of the mind.

Paul-4In Paul’s second letter to the Christians at Corinth, he recorded an incident in which he’d been caught up to heaven and “heard inexpressible words” (2 Cor 12:4). But Paul’s heavenly experience came with a price. The Lord knew Paul would become prideful because of the experience, so the Lord gave him a “thorn in the flesh” that was intended to cause him suffering and humility (2 Cor 12:7). Though Paul did not like the suffering, he eventually came to understand it was divinely purposeful. Twice he declared it was given “to keep me from exalting myself” (2 Cor 12:7). The word “exalt” translates the Greek verb ὑπεραίρω huperairo, which means “to have an undue sense of one’s self-importance, rise up, [or] exalt oneself.”[1] It means one becomes prideful. Elsewhere in Scripture we learn “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Prov 16:18), and that God “is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5b).

Paul asked God, on three occasions, to take the discomfort away (2 Cor 12:8). But God denied Paul’s request, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9a). God’s grace (χάρις charis) in this passage refers to His divine enablement to cope with a problem that He refused to remove. God’s grace was the strength necessary to cope with a problem that was greater than Paul’s ability to handle on his own. And God’s grace was in proportion to Paul’s weakness. The greater Paul’s weakness, the more grace God gave. This was a moment-by-moment grace, sufficient for Paul’s need.

ThornAs Christians, it’s legitimate that we ask God to remove our suffering; however, what He does not remove, He intends for us to deal with. This was true with Paul. God did not want to remove Paul’s discomfort because it served a purpose, and that was to keep him humble, to keep him close to the Lord. When Paul understood what God was accomplishing in him through the suffering, Paul chose to embrace it, knowing it came with divine help to shape him into a better person. Paul responded properly, saying, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor 12:9b). This was done by faith and not feelings. Furthermore, Paul said, “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). The word content translates the Greek verb εὐδοκέω eudokeo, which means “to take pleasure or find satisfaction in something, be well pleased, [to] take delight.”[2] Paul was not a victim of his suffering, as he chose to frame it with a healthy biblical attitude. This also fulfills the command to “Do all things without complaining” (Phil 2:14), and to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; and in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:16-18).

Elsewhere, Paul said, “we exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:3-5). And James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jam 1:2-4). Exulting in tribulations and counting it all joy when we encounter various trials is a discipline of the mind and will, in which “we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Warren Wiersbe states:

Our values determine our evaluations. If we value comfort more than character, then trials will upset us. If we value the material and physical more than the spiritual, we will not be able to “count it all joy.” If we live only for the present and forget the future, then trials will make us bitter, not better. Job had the right outlook when he said, “But He knows the way that I take: when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). So, when trials come, immediately give thanks to the Lord and adopt a joyful attitude. Do not pretend; do not try self-hypnosis; simply look at trials through the eyes of faith. Outlook determines outcome; to end with joy, begin with joy.[3]

Weakness is a blessing if it teaches us to look to God more and to ourselves less. And we cease to be the victim when we see suffering as divinely purposeful. This is not always easy, but the alternative to faith is fear, and fear brings mental slavery to the circumstances of life. By framing his weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties from the divine perspective, Paul was able to see them, not as a liability, but as an asset that worked for his benefit to help shape him into the person God wanted him to be. From God’s perspective, Paul’s Christian character was more important than his creaturely comforts. And Paul needed to have a character that was marked by humility, not pride.

It is true that God desires to bless us; and of course, we enjoy this. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b). But it’s also God’s will to advance us spiritually, and this means He will send us trials that are intended to burn away the dross of weak character and refine those golden qualities He wants to see in us. We trust that when God turns up the heat, that He also keeps His hand on the thermostat, regulating the temperature. And when we desire and pursue spiritual maturity as an important goal in our Christian life, then we can become content, pleased, and even find delight in the hardships, because we know God controls them and sends them our way for our good. And this is done by faith, and not feelings.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1031.

[2] Ibid., 404.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 338.

A Look at Grace

“Let your speech always be with grace” (Col 4:6)

The Bible teaches us about the concept of grace. The Hebrew noun חֵן chen appears 69 times and is commonly translated as favor (Gen 19:19; 32:5; 33:8; 34:11; 47:25; Ex 33:12-17). Mounce states, “grace is the moral quality of kindness, displaying a favorable disposition.”[1] The Hebrew verb חָנָן chanan is used 56 times and is commonly translated gracious (Gen 43:29; Ex 22:27; 33:19; 34:6). Yamauchi states, “The verb ḥānan depicts a heartfelt response by someone who has something to give to one who has a need.”[2] God’s loyal or faithful love, חֶסֶד chesed, is used in connection with His demonstrations of grace (Psa 51:1-3). A loving heart tends toward gracious acts.

grace-rock-blueThe Greek word χάρις charis appears 155 times in the New Testament and most commonly refers to the unmerited favor that one person shows toward an underserving other. It is noteworthy that Paul uses the word 130 times. According to BDAG, grace refers to “that which one grants to another, the action of one who volunteers to do something not otherwise obligatory.”[3] Chafer adds, “Grace means pure un-recompensed kindness and favor. What is done in grace is done graciously. From this exact meaning there can be no departure; otherwise, grace ceases to be grace.”[4] The word χάρις charis is also used to express thanks (1 Cor 15:57; 2 Cor 9:15), or attractiveness (Luke 4:22; Col 4:6). The greatest expression of grace is observed in the love God shows toward underserving sinners for whom He sent His Son to die in their place so they might have eternal life in Christ (John 3:16-19; Rom 5:6-10). Thank God for His wonderful and matchless grace to us!

God is Gracious

Jesus Healing SickThe Bible reveals God is gracious, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6), and, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15). God the Father is described as “the God of all grace” (1 Pet 5:10), who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16), who “gives grace to the afflicted” (Prov 3:34), and provides salvation “by grace” through faith in Jesus (Eph 2:8-9; cf. Acts 15:11; Rom 3:24). Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:29). Grace is undeserved favor. It is the love, mercy, or kindness that one person freely confers upon another who deserves the opposite (Matt 5:44-45; Rom 11:6; Eph 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5-7). Jesus is an example of grace, in that He cared for others, healing and feeding many (Matt 4:24; 14:15-21), even to those who refused to show gratitude (Luke 17:12-19). He acted out of His own goodness, for the benefit of others, with a full knowledge the majority would reject Him and abuse His kindness (John 3:19; 12:37).

Grace is Undeserved

The Gospel of GraceGrace is given to the helpless and undeserving (e.g., Barabbas; Matt 27:15-26; cf. Rom 5:6-8), and it cannot exist where there is the slightest notion that people can save themselves, or think they deserve God’s blessing. Grace is all that God is free to do for people based on the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. I think it was Stott who described grace as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Man-made religion rejects grace and seeks to earn God’s approval through works of the flesh. In grace, God does all the work and unworthy sinners receive all the blessing (Eph 3:7). In man-made religion, people do all the work, and it is falsely supposed that God is pleased with their efforts (Luke 18:9-14). According to Scripture, we are totally unable to save ourselves or others, for “No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him—for the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever” (Psa 49:7-8). Concerning salvation, grace and works are opposite to each other; for “to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due” (Rom 4:4). But if salvation “is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom 11:6). Biblically, we are helpless and ungodly (Rom 5:6), sinners (Rom 5:8), enemies of God (Rom 5:10), and “dead in our transgressions” (Eph 2:5). Furthermore, our own righteousness has no saving value in God’s sight (Isa 64:6; Rom 8:3-4; 10:3-4; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 2:11; 3:5-7). As having any saving merit, Paul regarded his own righteous efforts as filthy dung (Phil 3:8).[5] But God, because of His great mercy and love (Eph 2:4), sent His Son into the world to die in our place and bear the punishment for our sins on the cross (Rom 5:8). Peter wrote, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). And John stated, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

God’s Grace Leads to Righteous Living

Grace is boundless, and though it covers all our sins (Rom 5:20-21), it does not mean the Christian is free to sin. To draw such a conclusion fails to understand what the Bible teaches about grace, and more importantly about the righteous character of God. Grace never gives believers a license to sin (Rom 6:1-2), but rather instructs us to deny ungodliness, to live righteously, and to look forward to the return of Christ Jesus who is our blessed hope (Tit 2:11-14; cf. Jude 1:4). Grace teaches us to produce good works which God has previously prepared for us (Eph 2:8-10; Tit 3:5-8). As a system of law, the Christian is under the Law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2) and not the Law of Moses (Rom 6:14; 7:6; Gal 5:1-4). As Christians, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), who instructs (John 14:26), and strengthens us to do God’s will (1 Th 4:7-8; Jude 1:20-21). We are directed to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), to walk by means of the Spirit (Gal 5:16), and to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). Divine commands are compatible with grace, so long as they do not become a substitute for it.

Common Grace and Special Grace

Common grace refers to the undeserved kindness or goodness God extends to everyone, regardless of whether they are righteous or unrighteous, good or evil. God’s common grace is seen in His providing for the necessities of life (i.e., sun, rain, air, food, water, clothing, etc.). This grace depends totally on God and not the attitude or actions of others. Jesus said, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:44-45). Paul said, “In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways [in rebellion]; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16-17). Here, God’s grace is most obvious, in that He provides the necessities of life and even blesses those who are unsaved and hostile toward Him. His love and open-handedness toward the undeserving springs completely out of the bounty of His own goodness. And this behavior is what God expects of His people, commanding us to love our enemies and pray for those persecute us. This is accomplished by faith and not feelings.

Special grace is that particular favor God shows to those who have trusted in Christ as their Savior (John 3:16; Eph 2:8-9). Christian theologians have recognized other categories of special grace, but our salvation is the most notable.[6] Paul states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). Faith is non-meritorious and the only way to receive God’s grace, as Paul wrote, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom 3:28). When we trust in Christ as Savior, accepting that His death, burial, and resurrection forever satisfied God’s righteous demands concerning our sin (1 Cor 15:3-4; 1 John 2:2), then we receive forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7), eternal life (John 10:28), and God’s gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). Furthermore, we are said to be “in Christ” (Rom 8:1; cf. 1 Cor 15:22), having been “rescued us from the domain of darkness” and transferred “to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13), and blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). Once saved, God’s special blessings cannot be forfeited. However, though we are positionally righteous before the Lord, He directs us to surrender our lives to Him (Rom 12:1-2), to learn and live His Word (2 Tim 2:15; Col 3:16), to grow to spiritual maturity (Eph 4:15; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18), and to live righteously as He directs (Tit 2:11-14). But our sanctification requires humility, for “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5).

Some Christians Refuse Grace to Others

grace_7One would think that grace would flow from grace. That is, those who are shown grace and mercy by God would show grace and mercy to others. Paradoxically, this is not always the case. I am amazed at Christians who welcome God’s grace, but show no grace to others. Many are mean-spirited, condescending, harsh, unforgiving, and speak with a critical spirit. This is contrary to the character of God and the teaching of Scripture. When it comes to our sin and unworthiness, the truth of Scripture is, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psa 103:10). God has not treated us as we deserve. In fact, He treats us much better than we deserve; but again, that’s grace. The Lord is a God who loves, forgives, and shows great compassion toward the undeserving and has done so toward us. Yet some believers refuse to give grace to others, who are themselves undeserving. Jonah, for example, was a prophet of God who became angry when the Lord showed grace to Israel’s enemy, the Ninevites, and withheld judgment when they humbled themselves and repented of their sin (Jonah 3:1-10). Jonah became angry at God’s display of grace, saying, “I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2). The contradiction is that Jonah personally enjoyed God’s grace, but then selfishly wanted God to withhold it from others. I also think of the story Jesus told about a servant who owed a great debt, and when the man could not pay, he pleaded with his master, who felt compassion and graciously forgave his debt (Matt. 18:23-27). However, the man who had received forgiveness from his superior, later refused to forgive another man who owed him a very small amount (Matt. 18:28-30). The man who was shown grace refused to show grace to others, and the Lord called him “wicked” (Matt 18:32). I’ve often pondered why some, who rejoice in God’s grace, refuse to show grace to others? I think there are several reasons.

  1. Ignorance of God and His Word. Some believers fail to understand grace as a characteristic of God (Ex 34:6; Psa 86:15; Prov 3:34; John 1:14; Eph 1:6; Heb 4:16; 10:29; 1 Pet 5:10), and that He directs His people to be gracious and loving to others (Matt 5:44-45; Luke 6:27-28; Col 4:6). Grace is not automatic in the Christian life. It must be learned and actively applied. As believers learn about God’s grace, they can then actively share it with others.
  2. A legalistic mindset. Legalism is the belief that one can earn God’s favor through religious practices and good works. This mindset prevents people from experiencing God’s grace because they don’t think they need it. Why would they? Their religious life and good works lead them to think they’ve earned God’s favor. But this has consequences in relationships with other people. If we earn God’s favor, then naturally we’ll only show favor to those we feel have earned it too.
  3. A judgmental spirit. It seems as though some people come out of the womb with a judge’s gavel in their hand. These stand in the place of God rendering judgment on others according to their own arbitrary standards and expectations. Often this judgmental spirit takes the form of gossip, maligning, and badmouthing others. Such a critical spirit lacks the capacity to show grace because everyone is guilty, and some more than others. In some ways, running others down is a subtle form of self-praise.
  4. Arrogance. Arrogant people don’t show grace. In fact, they lack the capacity because they’re so self-absorbed, consumed with thinking about themselves and their own life, they have no room in their thinking and speech to show grace to others. I’ve heard it said that “arrogant people never see their own faults, only the faults of others,” and I think there’s merit to the statement.
  5. Refusing to forgive. An unforgiving spirit makes it difficult to show grace. Forgiveness means we release someone from an offense or debt they owe us (or a debt we think they owe us). Forgiveness releases them from paying the penalty for their crime (real or imagined). Forgiveness does not mean continuing to tolerate abuse (physical, mental, sexual, etc.), but it means we continue to seek God’s best in their life by prayer and biblical discussion. By refusing to forgive, we end up harboring hatred, and there’s no room for grace in a hate-filled heart.

Bible With PenHow do we overcome these obstacles to grace? First, it starts with knowing what the Bible teaches about the gracious character of God. We cannot live what we do not know, and knowledge of God’s character and Word necessarily precedes living His will. We show grace only as we learn and experience it ourselves. Second, we must learn to see everyone from the biblical perspective, as undeserving of God’s grace and love. Then, with eyes open, we choose to love the unlovely and show them grace. We treat them better than they deserve. We seek God’s best in their lives. Third, learn to discipline the mind and the will daily to think and act in grace. As we encounter unpleasant people, or those who have hurt us (i.e., family, friends, co-workers, etc.), we can consciously extend grace to them by showing love, kindness and mercy. Fourth, be ready to be hurt. Showing grace can be very difficult because it places us in a vulnerable spot where we may be hurt, sometimes on an ongoing basis. By faith we’re okay with absorbing the pain others inflict, much like our Lord (1 Pet 2:21-24). We know God is with us, to shield and sustain us as we do His will (Psa 18:30; 55:22; Isa 41:10; Phil 4:6-7; Heb 4:16). Since we’ve tasted of the grace of God, let us also be gracious to others.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Topics:

[1] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 937.

[2] Edwin Yamauchi, “694 חָנַן,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 302.

[3] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1079.

[4] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Grace (Philadelphia, PA: Sunday School Times Company, 1922), 4.

[5] Paul referred to his own righteous works as dung, which translates the Greek word σκύβαλον skubalon, which means fecal matter. It would appear that Paul used this word for its shock value, in order to contrast human righteousness as a mean of salvation with God’s gift of righteousness (Phil 3:9; cf., Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21).

[6] Biblically, there are other categories of special grace in addition to saving grace. First is prevenient grace, which refers to the preparatory work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the one who will believe in Christ for salvation (John 16:8-9). Prevenient grace precedes saving grace. Second, provisional grace, which is the provision of God for His children so they might advance to maturity and fully live the spiritual life (Eph 1:3). Third, growing grace, which is the opportunity to learn and apply biblical truths and principles to the situations of life (2 Pet 3:18). Fourth, cleansing grace, which is the kindness God shows His erring children in forgiving their sin after salvation and restoring fellowship (1 John 1:9). Fifth, enabling grace, which is the provision of God that enables the believer to face adversity (2 Cor 12:9-10). Sixth, dying grace, which is the strength God gives His children as they face death (Psa 23:4). Seventh, the rule of grace, which means grace becomes the operating principle that governs our beliefs and behaviors (Tit 2:11-14; cf. Gal 5:4).

King David – the Good and the Bad

     The Bible describes David as a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14; cf. Acts 13:22). This is a huge compliment, but what does it mean? God certainly knew David’s heart and what kind of king he would be, for He informed His prophet, Samuel, saying, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). The statement of David being a man after God’s own heart occurs within the context of Saul’s disobedience to the Lord. Samuel told Saul, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you” (1 Sam 13:13), and again, “you have not kept what the LORD commanded you” (1 Sam 13:14). Saul had disobeyed God’s command through His prophet, so the Lord promised to take the kingdom from him and give it to one who would be more obedient. David was that man. He was an obedient king, for the most part, and subsequent kings were measured by him (1 Ki 3:14; 9:4-5; 11:4-6, 31-34, 38; 14:7-8; 15:1-5; 11-15; 2 Ki 14:1-4; 16:1-3; 18:1-3; 22:1-2). David set the bar for what it meant to be a good king, and this allowed others to have a standard to guide them. However, we should not conclude that David was perfectly obedient and kept the Lord’s will in all matters in his life. He did not. No believer ever does, for there are none who are sinless, except the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Jo 3:5). But David obeyed the Lord in important matters, and apart from a few major offences, he did not generally commit egregious sins.[1]

David_and_Bathsheba_by_Artemisia_Gentileschi     In fact, David personally acknowledged his sins, saying “my iniquities are gone over my head; as a heavy burden they weigh too much for me” (Ps 38:4). He also wrote, “For evils beyond number have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to see; they are more numerous than the hairs of my head, and my heart has failed me” (Ps 40:12). Among David’s recorded sins, the most offensive was his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah (2 Sam 11:1-17). Scripture tells us that David had slept with Bathsheba and had her husband, Uriah, killed; and “the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the LORD” (2 Sam 11:27). What is commendable about David is that he handled his sin in a biblical manner by confessing it and seeking the Lord’s forgiveness. Concerning Uriah and Bathsheba, David said, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Sam 12:13; read Psalm 51 for the longer version of David’s confession). And upon his confession, the prophet Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam 12:13). Here we see God’s grace and government at work; for though David was forgiven and restored to fellowship with God, there were still consequences for his actions and the Lord dispensed judgment upon David and Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:14-18).

     On another occasion, David followed Satan’s temptation and “sinned greatly” by taking a census in Israel (1 Chron 21:1, 8), presumably because he was trusting in his military strength rather than the Lord. When God judged David for this, David confessed his sin and declared, “I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing” (1 Chr 21:8a). It is a hallmark of a mature believer to own his sin and humble himself before the Lord through confession. Not only did he confess his sin, but he also sought the Lord’s forgiveness, saying, “Please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly” (1 Chron 21:8b), and “I am in great distress; please let me fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are very great” (1 Chron 21:13).

images     Furthermore, David practiced the sin of polygamy contrary to the Law of Moses, which specifically commanded the king of Israel, that “he shall not multiply wives for himself” (Deu 17:17). From Scripture we know the names of eight of David’s wives: Michal (1 Sam 18:27), Abigail (1 Sam 25:39-42), Ahinoam (1 Sam 25:43), Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:24), Maacah, Haggith, Abital and Eglah (2 Sam 3:2-5). And he had other wives and concubines that are not named, as Scripture reveals, “David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron” (2 Sam 5:13a). Interestingly, the Bible says nothing about David’s practice of polygamy, and though it is a sin according to Scripture, it was apparently tolerated in David’s life, perhaps because it never resulted in his wives leading him into idolatry as it had done with his son, Solomon (see 1 Kings 11:1-11).[2]

     But doesn’t this seem unfair? That David could commit such heinous sins as murder, adultery, and polygamy and still be called a man after God’s own heart, as well as being the standard of a good king to all subsequent kings in Israel? I think there’s an answer to this, and it is found in two words; grace and humility. Grace on God’s part and humility on David’s part. There is a pattern in David’s life: when God charged David with acting contrary to His will (as His righteousness demands), David accepted it and humbled himself before the Lord, accepting whatever came to him; preferring forgiveness alone, but accepting punishment also, if that’s what the Lord decided. David knew that grace is a chief characteristic of God (Ex 34:6; Psa 86:15; Pro 3:34; John 1:14; Eph 1:6; Heb 4:16; 10:29; 1 Pet 5:10). For this reason, David could say, “the LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness”, and that “He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever” (Psa 103:8-9). The Bible reveals God is gracious, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6), and, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15). God the Father is described as “the God of all grace” (1 Pet 5:10), who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16), who “gives grace to the afflicted” (Prov 3:34), and provides salvation “by grace” through faith in Jesus (Eph 2:8-9; cf. Acts 15:11; Rom 3:24). Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:29). Grace is undeserved favor. It is the love, mercy, or kindness that one person freely confers upon another who deserves the opposite (Matt 5:44-45; Rom 11:6; Eph 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5-7). The kindness shown is rooted in the goodness and open-handedness of the giver.

     The other word is humility. Humility is a lowliness of mind, an inward quietness before the Lord that reflects a poverty of spirit. The humble know they need God and seek Him for wisdom, guidance and strength. Humility is not a natural quality, nor does it come easily, but it is what the Lord requires of His people (Mic 6:8; Eph 4:1-2; Phi 2:3-4). The humble live with a constant sense of their weaknesses and inabilities to cope with life apart from God, and are keenly aware of their sinful nature and propensity to turn away from the Lord and befriend the world. Humility is not a sense of worthlessness, but unworthiness of the Lord’s love and blessings. The humble realize they deserve nothing good in this life, and any blessing they receive is from God’s grace. Though David had his failings, he realized God is gracious and forgiving to the humble believer, as Scripture states, “for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5). For this reason, David could say:

He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psa 103:10-14).

     David was not perfect, and neither are we. But I want to close with the point that we too can be described as a person “after God’s own heart” if we walk daily with Him and prioritize His commands in our lives, and humbly accept His correction when He gives it. To be a person after God’s own heart meant David was primarily disposed to seek God’s will rather than his own, as was the case with Saul. David desired to know God’s will and walk in it, and to lead others to do the same. To be a person after God’s own heart is to love what He loves, to walk with Him in the same direction He is going, to be sensitive to what pleases Him and to obey His commands. David had this kind of heart, saying, “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart” (Psa 40:8), and “make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it” (Psa 119:35; cf. 11, 24, 92).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. David – A Better King  
  2. Saul – The King who Failed  
  3. Contrasting Good and Bad Leaders  
  4. Characteristics of a Christian Leader  
  5. What is Integrity?  
  6. Walking with God  
  7. The Basics of Grace  
  8. God’s Great Grace  
  9. Living by Grace  

[1] Biblically, some acts of obedience are more important than others, and some acts of sin are more egregious than others. For example, Samuel, told King Saul, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam 15:22). Solomon wrote, “To do righteousness and justice is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice” (Pro 21:3). Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees, “you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23). Likewise, some sins are worse than others and bring greater judgment. Jesus told His disciples not to be like the Scribes, “who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers”, saying, “These will receive greater condemnation” (Luke 20:47). Concerning the citizens of Chorazin and Bethsaida, Jesus said, “it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you” (Matt 11:22). The apostle John, writing to believers, states, “All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death” (1 Jo 5:17). These are obvious statements that show some acts of obedience are better than others, and some acts of sin are worse than others. Furthermore, of the 613 commands given in the Mosaic Law, only 15 demanded the death penalty, namely: intentional murder (Ex 21:12-14; cf. Gen 9:6), attacking or cursing a parent (Ex 21:15), kidnapping (Ex 21:16), habitual rebellion against God (Deu 17:12), sacrificing to pagan gods (Ex 22:20), cursing God (Lev 24:15-16), working on the Sabbath (Ex 35:2), being a false prophet and leading Israelites into idolatry (Deu 13:1-5), religious human sacrifice (Lev 20:2), the practice of divination, sorcery or witchcraft (Ex 22:18; Deu 18:9-14), adultery and premarital sex (Lev 20:10-14; 21:9; Deu 22:20-22), sex with an animal (Ex 22:19; Lev 20:15-16), incest (Lev 20:11-12, 14), homosexuality (Lev 18:22; 20:13), and the rape of a married woman (Deu 22:25-27).

[2] In fact, there was an incident in which two of David’s wives were captured by Amalekites who made a raid on the Negev and Ziklag (1 Sam 30:1-5). David sought the Lord in prayer (1 Sam 30:6-8a), and God said, “Pursue, for you will surely overtake them, and you will surely rescue all” (1 Sam 30:8b). In this account, God gave David victory (1 Sam 30:9-17), and “David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and rescued his two wives” (1 Sam 30:18).

God’s Imputed Righteousness

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Rom 4:3-5)[1]

     Like most people in the world, I work for a living. I work for an agency that agrees to compensate me for my labor. Each day I work, I put the agency into debt. The agency relieves its debt every two weeks when it deposits money into my checking account. For a brief moment, my employer owes me nothing. However, when I go back to work, I put the agency back into debt, and we repeat the process. In this arrangement, my paycheck is never considered “as a favor, but as what it due” (Rom 4:4). I do the work and my employer pays me. That’s it. There’s no grace between us. My paycheck is NEVER considered a gift, but what is owed to me. Sadly, many apply this same way of thinking to their relationship with God. The assumption is that if they do good works, God will compensate them with salvation. And, as long as they continue to do good works, He keeps them saved. This is a works-salvation. There is no grace here, only the repetition of work, work, and more work. And if they stop working, the pay ceases. There’s no more salvation; only the fearful expectation of judgment.

     But there’s good news. The Bible reveals that God offers salvation, not by good works, but by grace. Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9), and, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Tit 3:5). The amazing truth of Scripture is, “the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom 4:5). Did you catch that? Don’t miss it. God gives something to “THE ONE WHO DOES NOT WORK.” Do you want what God has for you? Stop trying to work for it! It’s a gift. Freely given and freely received. How is it received? By faith. We simply trust God at His word. We believe God when He tells us our salvation was accomplished in Christ, who died for our sins, was buried and raised again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4). And who receives it? Not the good person, but the ungodly; the one who deserves it the least. That’s me and you. And what is given? What is credited to our account? Righteousness. God’s own righteousness is given to the ungodly person who does not work for it, but simply believes in Him. That’s grace!

The gift of righteousness     But some might raise the question: how can a holy God justify unworthy sinners? How can He give something to someone who deserves the opposite? How is this just? Well, I’m glad you asked. The answer is found in Jesus and what He accomplished for us at the cross. At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness requires, and saves the sinner as His love desires. At the cross Jesus voluntarily died a penal substitutionary death. He willingly died in our place and bore the punishment that was rightfully ours. Our guilt became His guilt. Our shame became His shame. The result of the cross is that God is forever satisfied with the death of Christ. There’s no additional sacrifice or payment needed. Jesus paid it all. When we believe in Jesus, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14; Heb 10:10-14), and then God imputes His righteousness to us. The apostle Paul calls it “the gift of righteousness” (Rom 5:17; cf. 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). God’s righteousness is not earned; rather, it is freely gifted to us who believe in Jesus as our Savior.

The Meaning of Imputation

     The word “imputation” itself is an accounting term used both in the Old Testament and the New Testament (Gen 15:6; Ps. 32:2; Rom 4:3-8; Gal 3:6).[2] Moses wrote of Abraham, saying, “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned [חָשַׁב chashab] it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). David writes, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute [חָשַׁב chashab] iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Ps 32:1-2). Moses and David both use the Hebrew חָשַׁב chashab, which in context means “to impute, reckon to.”[3] Moses uses the verb in a positive sense of that which God imputes to Abraham, namely righteousness, and David uses the verb negatively, of that which God does not credit to a person, namely iniquity. Allen P. Ross comments on the meaning of חָשַׁב chashab in Psalm 32:2 and Genesis 15:6:

Not only does forgiveness mean that God takes away the sins, but it also means that God does not “impute” iniquity to the penitent: “Blessed is the one to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity.”  The verb (חָשַׁב) means “impute, reckon, credit”; it is the language of records, or accounting—in fact, in modern usage the word is related to “computer.” Here the psalm is using an implied comparison, as if there were record books in heaven that would record the sins. If the forgiven sins are not imputed, it means that there is no record of them—they are gone and forgotten. Because God does not mark iniquities (Ps. 130:4), there is great joy. The same verb is used in Genesis 15:6 as well, which says that Abram “believed in the LORD, and he reckoned it (וַיַּחְשְׁבֶ֥הָ) to him as (or, namely) righteousness.” The apostle Paul brings that verse and Psalm 32:2 together in Romans 4 to explain the meaning of justification by faith: when people believe in the Lord, God reckons or credits them with righteousness (Paul will say, the righteousness of Jesus Christ), and does not reckon their sin to them.[4]

     The apostle Paul cites Abraham’s faith in God as the basis upon which he was declared righteous before Him, “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited [λογίζομαι logizomai] to him as righteousness’” (Rom 4:3).[5] Paul uses the Greek verb λογίζομαι logizomai, which means “to determine by mathematical process, reckon, calculate, frequently in a transferred sense.”[6] Abraham believed God at His Word, and God reckoned, or transferred His righteousness to him. After pointing to Abraham as the example of justification by faith, Paul then extrapolates that we are justified in the same way, saying, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited [λογίζομαι logizomai] as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited [λογίζομαι logizomai] as righteousness” (Rom 4:4-5; cf. Gal 3:6). Paul then references David, saying, “David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits [λογίζομαι logizomai] righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. ‘Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account [λογίζομαι logizomai]’” (Rom 4:6-8). 

     Paul twice uses the Greek verb ἐλλογέω ellogeo to communicate the idea of an exchange between persons (Rom 5:13; Phm 1:18). The verb ἐλλογέω ellogeo means “to charge with a financial obligation, charge to the account of someone.”[7]  Paul tells his friend, Philemon, concerning his runaway slave Onesimus, “if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge [ἐλλογέω ellogeo] that to my account” (Phm 1:18). Paul has not wronged Philemon, nor does he owe him anything; however, Paul was willing to pay for any wrong or debt Onesimus may have incurred.  

Paul is giving us an illustration of that which God has done for us in Christ Jesus. As the Apostle assumed the debt of Onesimus and invited Philemon—who had been wronged—to charge that debt to him, so the Lord Jesus Christ took the debt that we owed to the injured One—to God—and He charged Himself with our debt and set His righteousness down to our account.[8]

     In a similar way, Jesus paid for our sin so that we don’t have to, and in exchange, we receive God’s righteousness. This idea of an exchange between persons means that one person is credited with something not antecedently his/her own. Our sin is our sin, and Christ’s righteousness is His righteousness. When Jesus took our sin upon himself at the cross, He voluntarily accepted something that belonged to another, namely us. Jesus took our sin upon Himself. On the other hand, when we receive His righteousness as a gift, we are accepting something that belonged to another, namely Christ. By faith, we accept that which belongs to Jesus, namely, His righteousness. Jesus’ righteousness becomes our righteousness. Paul references the exchange that occurred at the cross when Jesus died for our sin, saying, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21), and he personally spoke of the righteousness “which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil 3:9).[9] Once we receive God’s righteousness, we are instantaneously justified in God’s sight.

Justification is a divine act whereby an infinitely Holy God judicially declares a believing sinner to be righteous and acceptable before Him because Christ has borne the sinner’s sin on the cross and has become “to us … righteousness” (1 Cor 1:30; Rom 3:24). Justification springs from the fountain of God’s grace (Titus 3:4–5). It is operative as the result of the redemptive and propitiatory sacrifice of Christ, who has settled all the claims of the law (Rom 3:24–25; 5:9). Justification is on the basis of faith and not by human merit or works (Rom 3:28–30; 4:5; 5:1; Gal 2:16). In this marvelous operation of God the infinitely holy Judge judicially declares righteous the one who believes in Jesus (Rom 8:31–34). A justified believer emerges from God’s great courtroom with a consciousness that another, his Substitute, has borne his guilt and that he stands without accusation before God (Rom 8:1, 33–34). Justification makes no one righteous, neither is it the bestowment of righteousness as such, but rather it declares one to be justified whom God sees as perfected once and forever in His beloved Son.[10]

     It is sometimes difficult to accept this biblical teaching, because our behavior does not always reflect our righteous standing before God (even princes sometimes fail to live by the royal family code). However, God’s Word defines reality, and we are justified in His sight because of His righteousness that has been gifted to our account. The righteousness of God that is credited to us who have trusted in Jesus as our Savior.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. Biblical Righteousness: A Word Study  
  2. The Righteousness of God  
  3. Theological Categories of God’s Righteousness 
  4. God’s Righteousness at the Cross 
  5. The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer
  6. A Dispensational View of God’s Righteousness 
  7. God’s Righteousness in the Future 

[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible (1995).

[2] Biblically, there are three major imputations that relate to our standing before God. First is the imputation of Adam’s original sin to every member of the human race (Rom 5:12-13; cf. 1 Cor 15:21-22). Every biological descendant of Adam is charged/credited with the sin he committed in the Garden of Eden which plunged the human race into spiritual and physical death. Jesus is the only exception, for though He is truly human (Matt 1:1; Luke 3:23-38), He was born without original sin, without a sin nature, and committed no personal sin during His time on earth (2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Adam is the head of the human race and his fall became our fall. This is the basis for death and for being estranged from God. Second is the imputation of all sin to Jesus on the cross (Isa 53:4-6, 10; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 2:9; 1 Pet 2:21-24; 1 John 2:2). God the Father judged Jesus in our place (Mark 10:45; 1 Cor 15:3-4; 1 Pet 3:18), cancelling our sin debt by the death of Christ (Col 2:13-14; 2 Cor 5:18-19). This was a voluntary imputation on the part of Christ who freely went to the cross and took our sins upon Himself (John 1:29; 10:11, 15, 17-18). Third is the imputation of God’s righteousness to those who believe in Jesus for salvation (Rom 4:3-5; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:8-9). The righteousness of God imputed to the believer at the moment of faith in Christ results in the believer being justified before God (Rom 3:22, 24, 28; 4:1-5).

[3] Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, M. E. J. Richardson, et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 360.

[4] Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 1, (Grand Rapids, Mich., Kregel Publications, 2011), 710-711.

[5] The translators of the Septuagint use λογίζομαι logizomai as a reliable synonym for חָשַׁב chashab both in Genesis 15:6 and Psalm 32:2. Paul then uses λογίζομαι logizomai when making his argument that justification is by faith alone in God (Rom 4:3-5; Gal 3:6).

[6] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 597.

[7] Ibid., 319.

[8] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things Which Become Sound Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 40.

[9] Though the word “impute” is not used in some passages, the idea is implied. Isaiah writes of the Suffering Servant Who “will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (Isa 53:11), and of God as the One Who “has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness” (Isa 61:10). And Paul writes of “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe” (Rom 3:22), and of being “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24; cf. 5:17; 9:30; 10:3-4; 1 Cor 1:30; Gal 2:16; 3:11, 24).

[10] E. McChesney and Merrill F. Unger, “Justification,” ed. R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 729.

A Song of Ascents – Psalm 123

A Song of Ascents. To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens! 2 Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He is gracious to us. 3 Be gracious to us, O LORD, be gracious to us, for we are greatly filled with contempt. 4 Our soul is greatly filled with the scoffing of those who are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud. (Psa 123:1-4 NASB)

    A SongPsalm 123 is one of fifteen songs of ascent (Psa 120 to 134), of which four are attributed to David (Psa 122, 124, 131, 133) and one to Solomon (Psa 127). The Mishnah states these psalms were sung on the fifteen steps that led up to the temple; however, it is more likely they were sung by pilgrims as they traveled up to Jerusalem, as stated in Psalm 122:1-2 and 125:1-2. Whether Jerusalem or the temple, these psalms were intended to prepare the worshiper’s mind to look to the Lord in faith. Spurgeon states, “Yet we must use our eyes with resolution, for they will not go upward to the Lord of themselves, but they incline to look downward, or inward, or anywhere but to the Lord.”[1]

     The opening verse is singular, “To You I lift up my eyes” (Psa 123:1a), whereas the second verse is plural, “so our eyes look to the LORD our God” (Psa 123:2b); this makes the prayer both individual and corporate. And where is the focus of their attention? It is to God who is “enthroned in the heavens!” (Psa 123:1b). This anthropomorphic language pictures God seated upon His throne and is a recognition of His sovereignty, for “the LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Psa 103:19). It is God who reigns supreme and has the authority to effect change in His creation. He cares about what happens on the earth. His people know that it is He who “raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of His people” (Psa 113:7-8).

     These humble worshipers approach the Lord with a servant’s heart, singing, “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He is gracious to us” (Psa 123:2). Here is a picture of humility and submissiveness; for just as servants cannot act on their own initiative or authority, and constantly watch for their sovereign’s gesture, so these humble believers look to the LORD their God, until He is gracious to them. And what is their desire? They twice request, “Be gracious to us, O LORD, be gracious to us” (Psa 123:3a). The repetitious appeal for God to be gracious underscores their desire to meet some pressing need. Though God is the sovereign Lord of the universe, He is no tyrant to be feared by those who are humble. These worshippers confidently approach God because they know something about Him; they know He is a God of grace. On numerous occasions the Bible reveals the LORD is “compassionate and gracious” (Exo 34:6a), “a God merciful and gracious” (Psa 86:15a), “a gracious and compassionate God” (Jon 4:2a), and “a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate” (Neh 9:17a; cf. Psa 103:8, 116:5; 145:8). This gracious disposition is true of all three Persons of the Trinity. God the Father is described as “the God of all grace” (1 Pet 5:10), who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16), who “gives grace to the afflicted” (Prov 3:34), and provides salvation “by grace” through faith in Jesus (Eph 2:8-9; cf. Acts 15:11; Rom 3:24). Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:29). Grace is undeserved favor. It is the kindness and goodness that one person freely confers upon another who does not deserve it. There is a common grace that God extends to all, in which “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45). This blessing is upon all people and is rooted in the goodness and open-handedness of the Giver, not the worthiness of the object. However, apart from common grace, there is special grace that God gives to the humble, for “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5b). God’s grace will meet their needs, and their humility is the open hand that receives it. 

     Why do they need God’s grace? Because they “are greatly filled with contempt” (Psa 123:3b). The word filled is a translation of the Hebrew verb שָׂבַע saba, which means to be sated, filled, satisfied, have enough. The word usually refers to something positive, such as being filled with food (Ex 16:8; Lev 25:19; Psa 132:15), but here it has a negative connotation of being filled with something hurtful, namely “contempt” (בּוּז buz), which refers to the despising or belittling that one person verbally casts into the ear of another. And the afflicted are described as being “greatly” filled (רָב rab), which means they are overflowing with contempt. Other translations read, “we’ve had more than enough contempt” (CSB), and “we have had our fill of humiliation, and then some” (NET). Their souls were injured by “the scoffing of those who are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud” (Psa 123:4). Those who are at “ease” (שַׁאֲנָן shaanan) live secure lives, free from the affliction that often accompanies those whom the Lord is perfecting through some trial. The “proud” (גָּאֲיוֹן gaayon) are those who see themselves as self-sufficient and who operate independently of God; they see no need for grace, and have none to give. Theirs is the hand of oppression and they cannot abstain from violence; they care little about the harm they inflict. Unfortunately, when others think little of us, we are all too quick to think little of ourselves and to reject the consolations of a friend. “Scoffing” (לַעַג laag) is the ridicule, mocking, or derisive speech they use to poison the souls of their victims. It is deeply hurtful to be regarded as unimportant or insignificant by others, and the wicked have no consideration of those on whom they trample verbally. “The reason people ridicule what they oppose, aside from it being so easy, is that it is demoralizing and frequently effective. It is effective because it strikes at the hidden insecurities or weaknesses that almost everybody has.”[2]

Summary

     These worshipers ascended, not just to Jerusalem or the temple, but to God who is enthroned in heaven. And as a watchful servant looks to his/her master, so these persecuted believers look to the Lord until He is gracious to them; and they need His grace, for the scoffing of the proud has greatly wounded them. Overall, there is intentionality in their mindset as they look to the Lord, for their natural proclivity—and ours as well—is to look anywhere and everywhere other than to the One who sustains in times of trouble.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. God’s Grace is Sufficient  
  2. Living by Grace  
  3. The Basics of Grace  
  4. The Lord is My Shepherd – Psalm 23 
  5. Choosing the Faithful Way – Psalm 119:25-32 
  6. God’s Word Sustains Us – Psalm 119:89-96 
  7. Establish Our Footsteps – Psalm 119:129-136 
  8. Seek Your Servant – Psalm 119:169-176 

 

[1] Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. 3 (McLeon, Virginia, MacDonald Publishing Company, ND), 41.

[2] James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 107–150: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 1090.

God’s Grace is Sufficient

     God will, at times, place us in difficult situations in order to humble and teach us. This happens because it’s our natural proclivity to be prideful and to rely on our own strength and resources. When this happens, He gives us hardship so we’ll cry out to Him for strength and guidance, and He always comes through.

God’s Grace     The apostle Paul learned a valuable lesson about God’s grace, but first he had to suffer beyond his ability to cope. The incident occurred when he received special revelation from God and this led him to be puffed up with pride (2 Cor 12:1-6), and the Lord gave him a “thorn in the flesh” to humble him (2 Cor 12:7). No one knows what the “thorn in the flesh” was, but it caused Paul a great amount of suffering. He prayed three times for the Lord to take it away (2 Cor 12:8), but God refused to remove it because it served His purpose. However, the Lord did not leave Paul without the means to handle the suffering, as He told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9a). Paul wanted the thorn removed. God said no. But then He gave Paul grace that was sufficient to deal with the suffering. The word grace (χάρις charis), as it is used here, refers to divine enablement. It is the strength necessary to cope with a problem that is greater than our ability to handle on our own. God gives grace in proportion to our weakness. The greater our weakness, the more grace He gives. This is a moment by moment grace; always sufficient for the need, and the need is always changing. A problem for many of us is that we think about tomorrow’s problems from the standpoint of today’s grace. But tomorrow’s problems are different than today’s problems, and we cannot expect to deal with tomorrow’s problems with today’s grace. Today’s grace is for today, and tomorrow’s grace will be given to us tomorrow, when we need it. We simply trust the Lord that He sees our needs and will provide for us in each moment. We become relaxed when we realize and accept this.

     When Paul came to understand God’s grace and how it worked in his life, he responded properly, saying, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor 12:9b). Paul’s weakness, which ebbed and flowed, was always matched by God’s power to do His will. Paul learned to depend on God, day by day, hour by hour, and moment by moment, as the need required. Because God’s grace is always sufficient for the need, Paul could actually boast about his afflictions and weaknesses, for when he was weak, God would supply His strength. Weakness is a blessing if it teaches us to look to God more and to ourselves less. Paul applied this to all of his situations, saying, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). Our weakness and God’s power are simultaneously at work in us, much like they were in Christ when He faced the cross, or in Paul, as he dealt with his thorn in the flesh. “The greater we sense our weakness, the more we will sense God’s power (cf. Eph 3:16; Phil 4:13).”[1]

This grace of Christ (13:14) was adequate for Paul, weak as he was, precisely because (gar, “for”) divine power finds its full scope and strength only in human weakness—the greater the Christian’s acknowledged weakness, the more evident Christ’s enabling strength (cf. Eph 3:16; Phil 4:13). But it is not simply that weakness is a prerequisite for power. Both weakness and power existed simultaneously in Paul’s life (note vv. 9b, 10b), as they did in Christ’s ministry and death. Indeed, the cross of Christ forms the supreme example of “power-in-weakness.”[2]

     We struggle with suffering for at least two reasons: 1) because it leaves us feeling helpless and vulnerable, and 2) because it’s an affront to our pride. We don’t like to think of ourselves as weak. But suffering is our friend when it exposes our weakness and leads us to lean on Christ every moment of every day, for it’s in that hardship that our faith grows and God’s grace is greatest.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Basics of Grace  
  2. God’s Grace to Save  
  3. Not of Works  
  4. Living by Grace  
  5. God’s Favor Toward His People  
  6. Why Believers Show No Grace 

[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 2 Co 12:9.

[2] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 397.

Not of Works

     One of the things I emphasize when presenting the gospel is that salvation is completely the work of God and not the work of people. We are saved by what Jesus accomplished for us at the cross and not by any good works we produce. Good works should follow salvation, but they are never the condition of it. The following Scriptures reveal that good works have no saving merit before God.

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. (Rom. 3:28)

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Rom. 4:5)

Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. (Gal. 2:16)

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity (2 Tim. 1:9)

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5)

     The Bible reveals that we are helpless to save ourselves (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3), and human works, however noble or great, have no saving merit in God’s sight. How then are we saved? We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Grace is God’s unmerited favor toward us. Grace is sometimes used as an acronym for God’s riches at Christ’s expense. This is correct. God richly provides our salvation through the death of Christ (1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Pet. 3:18). There is nothing we bring to God to be saved. He is completely satisfied with what Jesus did for us at the cross. By faith we trust in Christ alone to save us from our sins and eternal separation from God (John 3:16-18; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14). The challenge for us is to stop trusting in human works to save us and to cast ourselves completely on Christ as our Savior.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

Treating Others with Dignity

     Treating OthersWhat does it mean to treat others with dignity? Dignity most commonly refers to the honor we confer on others. Scripture directs us to “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, and honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17). The word honor translates the Greek word τιμάω timao, which means “to show high regard for, honor, revere.”[1] We honor all people because they are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).[2] We honor those in authority (i.e. the king) because they are divinely appointed ministers of righteousness (Dan. 2:21; Rom. 13:1-4). Above all, we are to honor God (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:15-16).

     Dignity can refer to one’s character or accomplishments. Paul told his friend Titus, “in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified” (Tit. 2:7; cf. 1 Tim. 2:2; 3:4, 8). The word dignified translates the Greek σεμνότης semnotes, which refers to a pattern of moral behavior that warrants praise from others. In this sense, honor is not fitting for a fool (Prov. 26:1, 8).

     The noble woman in Proverbs 31 is described as wearing dignity like clothing. The passage reads, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future. She opens her mouth in wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (Prov. 31:25-26). “Strength and dignity” are the developed attractive qualities of her character, which qualities are obvious to others who hear her words of “wisdom” and “the teaching of kindness” that flows from her lips.

     There is also a dignity we are to show to people because of their status in society. It can be the honor we give to the aged (Lev. 19:32), our parents (Ex. 20:12), widows (1 Tim. 5:3), church elders (1 Tim. 5:17), or a person in a high office, such as a king or public official (1 Pet. 2:17). Honor and respect are not the same. We may not respect the values and actions of others, yet we can honor them as parents or public officials. Dr. Thomas Constable explains this well.

Respect is not the same as honor. We may not respect someone, but we can and should still honor him or her. For example, I have a friend whose father was an alcoholic. My friend did not respect his father who was frequently drunk, often humiliated his wife and children, and failed to provide for his family adequately. Nevertheless my friend honored his father because he was his father. He demonstrated honor by taking him home when his father could not get home by himself. He sometimes had to defend him from people who would have taken advantage of him when he was drunk. Similarly we may not be able to respect certain government officials because of their personal behavior or beliefs. Still we can and should honor them because they occupy an office that places them in a position of authority over us. We honor them because they occupy the office; we do not just honor the office. Peter commanded us to honor the king and all who are in authority over us, not just the offices that they occupy…Honoring others is our responsibility; earning our respect is theirs.[3]

  1. At the most basic level we dignify people by recognizing their value as human beings who are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Being made in the image of God means people have the capacity to reason, feel, and make moral choices (Gen. 1:26-27). We honor people by appealing to their intellect with honesty and truth, being sensitive to their feelings, and respecting their right of self-determination (i.e. the right of a person to control their own life).
  2. We dignify people when we address them properly by their office (i.e. mother or father, senator, judge, etc.), title (i.e. doctor, officer, pastor, etc.), or simply as sir or ma’am. Public speech is a common way to honor others (Dan. 2:4; 6:21; Acts 26:1-3), or dishonor them (Matt. 15:4).
  3. We dignify people by showing love (Rom. 13:8), doing good (Gal. 6:10), and treating them as important (Phil. 2:3-4). The mature person demonstrates the highest form of dignity by loving his enemies (Luke 6:27-30), and blessing those who persecute him (Rom. 12:14).
  4. We dignify people when we use language that recognizes their sacrifices and courageous choices. We should offer praise for military personnel, police officers, firemen, medics, and others who place themselves in harm’s way for our protection and benefit. I’m a little biased here, but I also think we should praise those who care for the elderly, orphans, homeless, and the disabled in our communities. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1004.

[2] It is because people are made in the image of God that murder is wrong (Gen. 9:6), as well as cursing people (Jam. 3:8-10). Both murder and cursing are regarded as an attack on the image of God.

[3] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 1 Pet. 2:17.

Helping the Poor

     HelpingIt’s a fact of life that the poor always exist (Matt. 26:11). There are differing degrees of poverty, and some of the poorest in our society are homeless.[1] There are various reasons why a person becomes poor. Some are poor because of their own bad choices (Prov. 24:30-34; cf. 13:18; 23:21), while some are poor because of the bad choices of others (Mic. 2:1-2; cf. Jer. 22:13; Jam. 5:4).[2] Some look for a hand up, while others want a hand out. Our ability to help is sometimes hindered by our lack of resources, and other times by the recipient’s unwillingness to receive what we offer. It’s possible that giving money to the poor may harm them if it facilitates a destructive drug addiction or fosters laziness. Certainly, we don’t want to do that. Scripture promotes a strong work ethic, saying, “if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). This assumes that a person is able to work and that work is available, but that he/she chooses to be lazy, which is wrong. If we know the person and the situation, then certainly giving money might encourage laziness. Helping the poor in society is always a good thing, but compassion must be coupled with wisdom.

     Scripture reveals God has compassion on the poor (Ps. 72:13), helps the poor (1 Sam. 2:8; Psalm 12:5), is a refuge (Ps. 14:6), saves those who cry out to Him (Psalm 34:6), rescues the afflicted (Psalm 35:10), provides for them (Psalm 68:10), lifts them up (Ps. 113:7, and seeks justice for them (Ps. 140:12). God also works through the agency of others to care for the poor.

     Helping the poor is a demonstration of grace.[3] Being gracious to the poor means listening to their cry for help (Prov. 21:13), giving to meet their need (19:17), and defending their social rights (31:9). Such actions honor the Lord (Prov. 14:31), who “will repay him [the giver] for his good deed” (Prov. 19:17; cf. 28:27). Below are a few Scriptures that address helping the poor:

If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother. (Deut. 15:7)

How blessed is he who considers the helpless; the LORD will deliver him in a day of trouble.  (Ps. 41:1)

There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered. (Prov. 11:24-25)

He who despises his neighbor sins, but happy is he who is gracious to the poor. (Pro 14:21)

He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him. (prov. 14:31)

One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed. (Prov. 19:17)

He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor. (Prov. 22:9)

He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses. (Prov. 28:27)

In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1 John 3:17)

     Simple ways to help the poor include: 1) spending personal time with them and treating them with respect, 2) sharing the gospel of Christ, 3) giving kind words and praying for them, 4) sharing Bible promises, 5) personally delivering freshly prepared meals or snacks, 6) giving clothes and blankets, 7) sharing information about local charities that might help them, 8) giving money, 9) volunteering at a homeless shelter, 10) offering gift cards that can be used at local restaurants such as McDonalds or Taco Bell, 11) giving to a local church that helps the poor, 12) and giving to a local charity such as Meals on Wheels or the Salvation Army. May our hearts be open to helping the poor. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] I was homeless once during the summer of 1989, living on the streets of Las Vegas for several weeks. Previously I’d stayed at a Salvation Army shelter on two separate occasions. My time of homelessness was predicated on a severe drug addiction that nearly killed me. Some of what I write about in this article is based on personal experience, some from observation, and some from a biblical perspective. Thankfully, God rescued me from the many poor choices that ruined me. 

[2] Certainly there are those who suffer a mental illness that prevents them from being lifted out of poverty.

[3] Those who have tasted of God’s grace are more likely to show grace. Sadly, there are some who show no grace to others.

Why Believers Show No Grace

“Let your speech always be with grace” (Col. 4:6)

     God of GraceThe Bible reveals God is gracious, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6), and, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Ps. 86:15). God the Father is described as “the God of all grace” (1 Pet. 5:10), who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16), who “gives grace to the afflicted” (Prov. 3:34), and provides salvation “by grace” through faith in Jesus (Eph. 2:8-9; cf. Acts 15:11; Rom. 3:24). Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29). Grace is undeserved favor. It is the love, mercy, or kindness that one person freely confers upon another who deserves the opposite (Matt. 5:44-45; Rom. 11:6; Eph. 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5-7). The kindness shown is rooted in the goodness and open-handedness of the giver.[1]

     God is gracious to us and treats us better than we deserve. More so, He calls us to be like Him and to show grace to others. This means loving our enemies and being kind to those who hurt us. Jesus said, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:44-45), and “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28; cf. Rom. 12:13-21). This is done by faith, not feelings. It is accomplished when we look to God and obey Him, drawing on His love and grace. John wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8), and, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).

Why Do Some Refuse Grace to Others?

     Some ChristiansOne would think that grace would flow from grace. That is, the one who is shown grace by God would show grace and mercy to others. Paradoxically, this is not always the case. I am amazed at Christians who welcome God’s grace, but show no grace to others. Many are mean-spirited, condescending, harsh, unforgiving, and speak with a critical spirit. This is contrary to the character of God and the teaching of Scripture. When it comes to our sin and unworthiness, the truth of Scripture is, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10). God has not treated us as we deserve. In fact, He treats us much better than we deserve; but again, that’s grace. The Lord is a God who loves, forgives, and shows great compassion toward the undeserving and has done so toward us. Yet some believers refuse to give grace to others, who are themselves undeserving. Jonah, for example, was a prophet of God who became angry when the Lord showed grace to Israel’s enemy, the Ninevites, and withheld judgment when they repented of their sin (Jonah 3:1-10). Jonah became angry at God’s display of grace, saying, “I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2). The contradiction is that Jonah personally enjoyed God’s grace, but then selfishly wanted God to withhold it from others. I also think of the story Jesus told about a servant who owed a great debt, and when the man could not pay, he pleaded with his master, who felt compassion and graciously forgave his debt (Matt. 18:23-27). However, the man who had received forgiveness from his superior, later refused to forgive another man who owed him a very small amount (Matt. 18:28-30). The man who was shown grace refused to show grace to others, and the Lord called him “wicked” (Matt. 18:32).

     I’ve often pondered why some (including me), who rejoice in God’s grace, refuse to show grace to others? I think there are several reasons.

  1. Ignorance of God and His Word. Some believers fail to understand grace as a characteristic of God (Ex. 34:6; Ps. 86:15; Prov. 3:34; John 1:14; Eph. 1:6; Heb. 4:16; 10:29; 1 Pet. 5:10), and that He directs His people to be gracious and loving to others (Matt. 5:44-45; Luke 6:27-28; Col. 4:6). Grace is not automatic in the Christian life. It must be learned and actively applied. As the believer learns about God’s grace, he can then actively share it with others.
  2. A legalistic mindset. Legalism is the belief that one can earn God’s favor through religious practices and good works. This mindset prevents people from experiencing God’s grace because they don’t think they need it. Why would they? Their religious life and good works leads them to think they’ve earned God’s favor. But this has consequences in relationships with other people. If we earn God’s favor, then naturally we’ll only show favor to those we feel have earned it too.
  3. A judgmental spirit. It seems as though some people come out of the womb with a judge’s gavel in their hand. These stand in the place of God rendering judgment on others according to their own arbitrary standards and expectations. Often this judgmental spirit takes the form of gossip and maligning; badmouthing others we don’t like. Such a critical spirit lacks the capacity to show grace because everyone is guilty, and some more than others. In some ways, running others down is a subtle form of self-praise.
  4. Arrogance. Arrogant people don’t show grace. In fact, they lack the capacity because they’re so self-absorbed, consumed with thinking about themselves and their own life, they have no room in their thinking and speech to show grace to others. I’ve heard it said that “arrogant people never see their own faults, only the faults of others,” and I think there’s merit to the statement.
  5. Refusing to forgive. An unforgiving spirit makes it difficult to show grace. Forgiveness means we release someone from an offense or debt they owe us (or a debt we think they owe us). Forgiveness releases them from paying the penalty for their crime (real or imagined). Forgiveness does not mean continuing to tolerate abuse (physical, mental, sexual, etc.), but it means we continue to seek God’s best in their life by prayer and biblical discussion. By refusing to forgive, we end up harboring hatred, and there’s no room for grace in a hate-filled heart.

     How do we overcome these obstacles to grace? First, it starts with knowing what the Bible teaches about the gracious character of God. We cannot live what we do not know, and knowledge of God’s character and Word necessarily precedes living His will. We show grace only as we learn and experience it ourselves. Second, we must learn to see everyone from the biblical perspective, as undeserving of God’s grace and love. Then, with eyes open, we choose to love the unlovely and show them grace. We treat them better than they deserve. We seek God’s best in their lives. Third, learn to discipline the mind and will daily to think and act in grace. As we encounter unpleasant people, or those who have hurt us (i.e. family, friends, co-workers, etc.), we can consciously extend grace to them by showing love, kindness and mercy. Fourth, be ready to be hurt. Showing grace can be very difficult because it places us in a vulnerable spot where we may be hurt, sometimes on an ongoing basis. By faith we’re okay with absorbing the pain others inflict, much like our Lord (1 Pet. 2:21-24). We know God is with us, to shield and sustain us as we do His will (Ps. 18:30; 55:22; Isa. 41:10; Phil. 4:6-7; Heb. 4:16). Since we’ve tasted of the grace of God, let us also be gracious to others.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

 

[1] Jesus is an example of grace, in that He cared for others, healing and feeding many (Matt. 4:24; 14:15-21), even to those who refused to show gratitude (Luke 17:12-19). He acted out of His own goodness, for the benefit of others, with a full knowledge the majority would reject Him and abuse His kindness (John 3:19; 12:37).

God’s Favor Toward His People

For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O LORD, You surround him with favor as with a shield (Ps. 5:12).

     God shows favor toward His peopleWe show someone favor when we treat them with special kindness, granting them a blessing or improving the quality of their life. The Bible speaks both of divine and human favor. Human favor may be either just or unjust, depending on whether God approves. Just human favor is shown to those who have wisdom (Prov. 8:33-35; 14:35), who diligently seek goodness (Prov. 11:27), kindness and truth (Prov. 3:3-4), and who provide service to others (Gen. 39:3-4). David was shown favor because of his service to Saul (1 Sam. 16:21-22), Jesus found favor among God and men (Luke 2:52), and Christians in the early church found favor among men (Acts 2:47; Rom. 14:18). Unjust favor can be shown to someone because they are poor (Ex. 23:3; cf. Lev. 19:15), wealthy (Jam. 2:1-4), or wicked (Prov. 24:23-25). God condemns unjust favor.

     God’s favor refers to the goodness and blessing He shows to others. God’s favor is based on His sovereignty, for He is under no compulsion to act, but does so according to His good pleasure, freely, from the bounty of His own goodness. His favor is often accomplished through the agency of other people as well as through circumstances.

     God shows a certain amount of favor, or grace, to everyone, including the righteous and the wicked.  Jesus revealed, “For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). This is the goodness God shows to all mankind regardless of their character. However, though the evil and unrighteous encounter God’s favor, it does not change them. Isaiah explained, “Though the wicked is shown favor, he does not learn righteousness; he deals unjustly in the land of uprightness, and does not perceive the majesty of the LORD” (Isa. 26:10). Apart from the general favor God shows to all mankind, there is a special favor He shows to some. In the case of special favor, God either directly blesses someone, or creates a favorable disposition in the hearts of others, even unbelievers, so that they treat His people with exceptional kindness.[1]

     The Bible reveals “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8), so God saved him and his family from the destruction of the flood (Gen. 6:10-8:22). Abraham found favor in the Lord’s sight (Gen. 18:3-5), and God promised him a son within a year (Gen. 18:10; cf. 21:2). Lot was granted the Lord’s favor (Gen. 19:19), and was spared the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24-25).

     Joseph had been sold into slavery by His brothers to Midianite traders (Gen. 37:28), who took Joseph to Egypt and sold him to an Egyptian official named Potiphar (Gen. 37:36). However, even in slavery, “The LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man” (Gen. 39:2). God’s presence with Joseph led to God’s blessing. It was God Who granted Joseph favor in the sight of Potiphar, his Egyptian master, and the Lord even blessed Potiphar’s house (Gen. 39:4-5). Later, when Joseph was betrayed by Potiphar’s wife and sent to prison (Gen. 39:7-20), even there “the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer” (Gen. 39:21).

     Later, when God called His people out of Egypt, He again caused others to treat His people favorably. Before the Exodus, God promised, “I will grant this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be that when you go, you will not go empty-handed” (Ex. 3:20-21; cf. 11:3). And God’s Word came to pass, as Scripture states, “Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians” (Ex. 12:35-36).

     Moses, while leading God’s people in the wilderness, requested of the Lord, “let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight” (Ex. 33:13). More so, Moses knew that God’s presence would lead to His blessing; therefore, he said, “For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?” (Ex. 33:16; cf. 34:9). The Lord granted Moses his request, saying, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name” (Ex. 33:17). 

     Ruth found favor in Boaz’ sight and this resulted in many blessings (Ruth 2:2, 10, 13). Daniel had been taken into Babylonian captivity (Dan. 1:1-4) and was subjected to a pagan reeducation program (Dan. 1:5-8). However, “God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials” (Dan. 1:9), so that Daniel could maintain his integrity (Dan. 1:9-16). The Lord’s favor led to Daniel’s promotion within the Babylonian kingdom (Dan. 1:17-21). Later, toward the end of the Israelite captivity, God moved the heart of the Persian king, Cyrus, to show favor to the Israelites by supporting their return to Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple (Ezr. 1:1-8; 7:27). It was during this time that God caused Esther to find favor in the eyes of the pagan king, Ahasuerus (Est. 2:17; 5:2), who helped save Israel from a holocaust (Est. 8:1-17).

     Those who love God’s ways and seek His wisdom open themselves to His favor. The psalmist writes, “The LORD favors those who fear Him, those who wait for His lovingkindness” (Ps. 147:11), and Solomon states, “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man” (Prov. 3:3-4). And finally, “Blessed is the man who listens to me [wisdom], watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts. For he who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD” (Prov. 8:32-35).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] God, Who controls the hearts of others, opens their hearts to view His people favorably and to provide blessing. The hearts of kings and rulers are in His hand to direct as He wills (Prov. 21:1). All good things ultimately come from God, involve Him, glorify Him, and benefit others. 

Living By Grace

     Each time I approach the biblical subject of grace I’m repeatedly uplifted by it, for God has shown me great grace. When I think of my life I’m reminded of Hannah’s prayer, where she says of God, “He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles, and inherit a seat of honor; for the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S, and He set the world on them” (1 Sam. 2:8). I am that poor and needy one He has lifted. My life is full of blessing, and it is the Lord’s goodness toward me. I am in constant need of God’s grace, and He provides it.

     Grace is a characteristic of God. The Father is called “the God of all grace” (1 Pet. 5:10), the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29), and Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). As Christians, when we approach God, we approach Him as One who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16); that is, One whose sovereign rulership is marked by grace. What a wonderful blessing.

     Though there are different nuances to the word grace (Heb. חֵן chen, Grk. χάρις charis), the most common understanding is that it refers to “a beneficent disposition toward someone, favor, grace, gracious care/help, goodwill.”[1] The basic idea is that a gracious benefactor freely confers a blessing upon another without thought of merit or worthiness (Matt. 5:44-45; Rom. 11:6; Eph. 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5-7; Heb. 4:16). The kindness here is by no means obligatory, but rather, finds its source in the goodness, abundance, and free-heartedness of the giver.

     The Bible distinguishes between common grace and special grace. Common grace is that goodness God shows to everyone without exception. The Lord Jesus spoke of the Father’s grace, saying, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). Sinner and saint both enjoy the blessings of God’s grace in the everyday provisions that sustain life. Special grace is that expression of God wherein He provides forgiveness of sins and eternal life to those who trust in Christ as their Savior (Eph. 1:7; 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). Grace and works stand in opposition to each other; for if one can, in any sense, merit what is received, then it cannot be said to be of grace (Rom. 4:1-5; 11:6).

     As believers in Christ, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24; cf. Eph. 2:8-9), and once saved, “the grace of God” instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit. 2:11-12). Grace should mark our words and actions toward others. Paul writes, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6), and Peter says, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10; cf. Eph. 4:7-11; Rom. 12:6; 2 Cor. 9:8). In all things, the believer is to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). 

     be-graciousI want to be gracious like my heavenly Father is gracious. I want to extend grace to others. This includes believers, unbelievers, family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and people in society. I want to be gracious because of who I am and not because of the other person. I want to love the unlovely. I want to help the needy. I want to be open-handed with the resources God has given to me. Will people abuse my kindness? Yes. I’ve learned to expect it, and I’m okay with it. In fact, I want to manifest grace to those who deserve it the least. Is there a possibility that others may mistake grace for weakness and fail to grasp what is being extended to them? Yes. I cannot help that. My being gracious must rest upon my relationship with God and what He provides, not upon the worthiness of others. 

     So what does grace look like? It means helping the needy and expecting nothing in return (Luke 14:12-14), showing godly love (1 Cor. 13:4-8a), forgiving those who don’t deserve it (Eph. 4:32), loving our enemies (Matt. 5:44), blessing those who persecute us (Rom. 12:14), never returning evil for evil (Rom. 12:17), not retaliating when others hurt us (Rom. 12:19; cf. 1 Pet. 2:23), using our freedoms to serve others (Gal. 5:13), and speaking words that edify (Eph. 4:29). This is by no means an exhaustive list, but is a good starting place. I pray God will teach me how to live by grace.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1079.

The Basics of Grace

The Greek word χάρις charis appears 155 times in the New Testament[1] and most often refers to the undeserved favor or kindness that one person shows to another. The favor or kindness can be from God to undeserving persons, or it can be from one person to another. Grace derives from the bounty and open-handedness of the giver, can be very costly to the donor, but is always free to the beneficiary. Here are four uses of Grace in the New Testament:

  1. Grace (χάρις charis) can refer to “a winning quality or attractiveness that invites a favorable reaction, graciousness, attractiveness, charm.”[2] Grace is here presented as that quality about a thing or person that makes it beautiful or attractive to others (see Luke 4:22; Eph 4:29; Col 4:6).

And all were speaking well of Him [Jesus], and wondering at the gracious [χάρις charis] words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22)

Let your speech always be with grace [χάρις charis], as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Col. 4:6).

  1. Grace (χάρις charis) also refers to “a beneficent disposition toward someone, favor, grace, gracious care/help, goodwill.”[3] Here, a gracious benefactor freely confers a blessing upon another without thought of merit or worthiness (Matt 4:44-45; Rom 11:6; Eph 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5-7; Heb 4:16). The kindness here is by no means obligatory, but rather, finds its source in the goodness, abundance, and free-heartedness of the giver. 

“If you love those who love you, what credit [χάρις charis] is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit [χάρις charis] is that to you? For even sinners do the same. “If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit [χάρις charis] is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32-36)

  1. Grace (χάρις charis) also refers to the “exceptional effect produced by generosity.”[4] Grace here is the divine enablement God gives to people that they might do His will.  (Rom 15:5; 15:15; 1 Cor 3:10; 2 Cor 12:9).

And He has said to me, “My grace [χάρις charis] is sufficient for you [to bear this difficulty], for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Cor 12:9)

  1. Grace (χάρις charis) was also used as a “response to generosity or beneficence, thanks, gratitude.”[5] Grace means giving thanks (1 Cor 15:57; 2 Tim 1:3; Heb 12:28).

But thanks [χάρις charis] be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:57)

Facts about grace:

  1. Because Christ voluntarily went to the cross and paid the penalty for our sin (1 Cor 15:3-4), God saves us by grace (Eph 2:8-9), and freely bestows on us wonderful blessings associated with salvation (Eph 1:3). Grace is sometimes referred to as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.[6]
  2. Grace must be learned. The Christian does not automatically think in terms of grace and must learn it through the regular study of God’s word. The ignorant believer—being devoid of God’s word—gravitates either toward legalism or lawlessness. Either activity stems from pride. God is “opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5). 
  3. Grace eliminates pride (Rom 3:27). Some people have great difficulty accepting God’s kindness toward them, or even the kindness shown by others. Pride dissipates when one learns to accept the gracious acts of others.
  4. Grace is given to the undeserving (e.g. Barabbas; Matt 27:15-26; cf. Rom 5:6-8). We bring to God our helplessness (Rom 5:6), sin (Rom 5:8), and death (Eph 2:5), and in return He gives us forgiveness (Col 1:13-14), righteousness (2 Cor 5:21; Phil. 3:9), and eternal life (John 10:28). Faith is non-meritorious and the only way to receive God’s grace (Rom 3:28; Eph 2:8-9).
  5. It is by grace that we are able to draw near to the throne of God (Heb. 4:16) and never by works (Dan. 9:18-19). The person who rejects the gospel rejects the “Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29).
  6. Grace is not a license to sin (Rom 6:1-2); rather, the grace of God instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” (Tit 2:11-14; cf. Jude 1:4).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. Spiritual Blessings in Christ
  2. God’s Great Grace   
  3. God’s Grace to Save  
  4. Believe in Jesus for Salvation  

__________________________

[1] The apostle Paul is the foremost proponent of grace and uses the word 130 times in his writings. 

[2] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1079.

[3] Ibid., 1079.

[4] Ibid., 1080.

[5] Ibid., 1080.

[6] I heard this phrase originated with John Stott. 

A Tribute to a Godly Grandmother

Jeanette Boerner O'DonnellJeanette K. Boerner O’Donnell (4/19/1893 to 12/21/1984) was the only grandparent I knew growing up in Lancaster, California, in the mid 70’s. I was 8 and she was 80 when she came to live in our home for about two years. We stood eye to eye and weighed about the same. She had a crown of silvery hair and kept her shoulders straight when she walked. Her gentle demeanor made others feel welcome. She was loved by those who knew her. 

       Jeanette K. Boerner 1930Jeanette was born in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, and lived there until she moved to California in the 1920’s to attend college (see genealogy). She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1929 and then moved to Lancaster, California, where she was involved in her church. She was gifted in music and played the clarinet, the mandolin and the piano. Her love for God as a young girl continued into her adult life and she was not shy about sharing the Lord with others she met along the way. 

       She occupied the little bedroom near the front of the house. My room was next to hers, cattycorner across the hall. I walked past her bedroom each morning as I headed to the kitchen for breakfast. Usually awake at sunrise, she had the habit of praising God before getting out of bed, and sometimes I could hear her whispering praises to the Lord. This was her habit every morning. She would hold her hands slightly above the bedcovers and count praises on her fingertips. A hundred praises before she got out of bed. She liked to start each day with worship and honor to the Lord and often had tears by the time she finished her hundredth praise; tears and a smile. Her love for God was genuine, and it flowed out of her in praise for Him and love for others. My grandmother believed in godly habits, as they led to godly character. 

open-bibleMy grandmother used to say, “Be disciplined in your life.” By discipline she meant, “do what you ought to do, whether you want to do it or not, because it’s right.” When she spoke of doing what is “right”, she often meant according to the standard of God’s Word. For her, the Bible was the guide for Christian faith and conduct. The Christian was to learn God’s Word and then live it on daily basis. She modeled her Christian faith regularly. She also taught me basic rules of etiquette. She demonstrated politeness and good manners toward others and always had good posture when standing, walking or sitting. As a family, we were very poor financially, but she explained that was no excuse for poor manners, a poor work ethic, or a poor education. Above all, it was no excuse to be poor in love. As Christians, we were to look to Christ, both as our Savior and role model. I must admit, at that time, I did not understand my grandmother, and it took nearly fifteen years of growing up before I began to appreciate her in a fuller way. That’s the way it goes in life. We sometimes learn things we don’t fully understand until later, or we don’t appreciate some people until we grow older. 

       My grandmother was an anomaly to me. She was out of place in the world that I knew. My parents, siblings and friends were consumed with their own lives and were steeped in worldly values. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes, but my grandmother sought the Lord. She was a light in a dark place. She represented the highest and best in good behavior at a time when all others around me represented the lowest and worst. It’s easy to be worldly when everyone around you is worldly, but she chose to be godly and to live by biblical values. 

       She was not afraid to share Christ with others. I was with her once in a department store when she decided to share Christ with the man standing next to her. The man was well over six feet, bearded, scruffy, and wearing a black leather jacket with writing on the back. My grandmother turned to him and asked, “Have you made the most important decision of your life?” I did not understand what she was asking him. About fifteen minutes later she was standing with him over in a corner of the store and was sharing the gospel of Christ with him. She explained that Jesus had died on the cross for his sins and was assuring him that he could receive the gift of eternal life if he would trust in Christ as his Savior. A moment later they both closed their eyes and she prayed with him. She was bold when sharing the Gospel of God’s grace. 

       I remember a conflict I’d had with her once at the house. I’d defied her one morning when she’d asked me to perform a trivial task. I remember looking her square in the eyes and saying “no”. She asked me again to do what she wanted, and again I said “no”. She said, “If you don’t do what I ask, you can spend an hour in your room.” I told her, “No I won’t.” I don’t know why I defied her. She promptly grabbed me by my ear and walked me across the living room and down the hall and put me in my bedroom and said, “stay in your room for an hour and then come out and do what I’ve asked.” I told her “no” and proceeded to wrestle with her. She walked out of the room and shut the door behind her. I grabbed the door and pulled it open, and she pulled it shut, then we tugged on the door back and forth for a few seconds until I finally gave up and sat down on my bed. I sat and read my Curious George book, angry that I was made to stay in my room for an hour. After about twenty minutes I thought perhaps she’d gone away, so I quietly snuck over to the door and gently placed my hands on the knob, and with a quick turn I pulled on the door and was surprised to see my grandmother standing on the other side. She was surprised at my attempt to escape. She quickly pulled the door shut and said, “I’ll stand here the whole hour if that’s what it takes to keep you in your room.” And that’s exactly what she did. Afterwards she let me out and I did what she asked. My respect for her increased greatly. 

       My grandmother moved away after being with us for nearly two years. Eventually she went to live with my uncle in North Hollywood. She stayed there until her death in 1984. She suffered a stroke one day at the house and died a few days later at a local hospital. My older sister Cindy was able to visit our grandmother in the hospital before she died. Cindy kissed her cheek, thanked her for her love, sang a hymn and prayed with her while holding her hand. Though limited by her stroke, my grandmother continued to pray and praise the Lord until she died. Her faith was strong to the end of her life. She was a trophy of God’s grace to all her knew her.

       In closing, there was a great spiritual void in my life after my grandmother moved away. There was no one to help me memorize Scripture or teach me right from wrong. As I grew older the ways of the world filled my soul and I fell into darkness. By the time I was 21 I’d ruined my life with drugs and was living on the streets of Las Vegas, Nevada. I woke one morning to the sound of children walking past the fence near the alley where I’d slept the night before. Years of bad choices and heavy drug use had caught up with me and the few weeks I’d spent living on the streets and at a homeless shelter were enough to wake me to the despair of my situation. Worldly living had produced such a darkness within me, there were times I had considered suicide as a solution to end the misery that was my pathetic life. However, there was hope that morning on the grass. God’s voice broke through, as the influence of a godly grandmother came to my mind. I was thinking about Psalm chapter 1, which my grandmother helped me memorize when I was 8. I kept repeating that Psalm over in my mind, and it helped me focus on God rather than the despair of my situation. From that moment onward I began to look to the Lord and Scripture for guidance. My life has been an uphill climb out of the ash heap ever since then, and I thank God for His blessing me more than I deserve. I am thankful for the godly grandmother He placed in my life at a young age. The biblical seeds she planted took root and have been growing ever since. My life is richer because of her. 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] The Boerner family genealogy: https://boernerfamily.wordpress.com/.  

I am Barabbas

I am Barabbas

       Several years ago I was doing a Bible study and learned that all four Gospels record the prisoner exchange between a notorious criminal named Barabbas and the Lord Jesus (Matt 27:16-26; Mark 15:7-15; Luke 23:18; John 18:40). Barabbas was in jail for insurrection, murder, and robbery, and was surely going to face death for his crimes (Luke 23:18-19; John 18:40). Jesus, on the other hand, was innocent of all the charges brought against Him. Pilate, the Roman Governor who presided as judge over the two men, knew it was “because of envy” that Jesus had been handed over to him to be scourged and crucified (Matt 27:18; cf. Mark 15:10). Pilate knew Jesus was not guilty of the charges leveled against Him and sought to have Him released (Luke 23:20); however, Pilate eventually proved a weak leader who surrendered to the insane demands of the mob who kept shouting “crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21). All of this occurred according to God’s predetermined plan (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28).

     I imagine Barabbas was sitting in his jail cell when a Roman guard came, unlocked his door, and informed him he was free to leave. I suppose Barabbas was puzzled because freedom was not what he expected. Barabbas was in a dark place with no ability to save himself. Outside the prison walls, Jesus was being led away to die as his substitute, the innocent for the guilty, the just for the unjust. I am Barabbas. You are Barabbas. Spiritually, we are all in a dark place without hope, facing eternal death, and with no ability to save ourselves. But there’s good news! Outside our prison is a free and innocent Man who has died in our place, who bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us. Paul wrote:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:6-8)

       It was through a simple presentation of the gospel message that I came to believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior when I was eight, with the result that I received forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7), and eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28; 1 Cor 15:3-4). Steve-16However, I learned that being saved does not guarantee a godly life. The apostle Peter once wrote to Christians and said, “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler” (1 Pet 4:15). It is possible for Christians to commit all the sins Peter stated; otherwise he would never have given his negative command. As a young teenager living in Las Vegas, Nevada (in the 1980’s), I was completely surrounded by worldly-minded people, and I was free to chase after the world and the lusts of my flesh. For nearly seven years I was unopposed in my pursuit of a life of drugs and crime. From the beginning of my rebellion, I used the hardest drugs I could find (Cocaine, LSD, PCP, etc.). I did a lot of bad things when I was a younger Christian and it nearly destroyed me. 

       One Sunday morning in the summer of 1988, I was sleeping on some grass and woke to the sound of children walking past a fence near the alley where I’d slept the night before. Years of bad choices and heavy drug use had caught up with me and the few weeks I’d spent living on the streets and at a homeless shelter were enough to awaken me to the despair of my situation. Worldly living had produced such a darkness within me, there were times I had considered suicide as a solution to end the misery that was my pathetic life. From the time I started using illegal drugs until that morning on the grass, I had not been living as a righteous man, but rather as the wicked, which “are like chaff which the wind drives away” (Psa 1:4). My life at that time epitomized worldliness, as I had rejected God’s authority over my life, and that came with harmful consequences. By excluding Him, I had become my own worst enemy. Though I had excluded God from my life, He had not excluded me from His.

       The Lord loved me and humbled me by divine discipline (Heb 12:5-11). He caused me to suffer for my own good. Like the psalmist, I came to say, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Psa 119:71). The Lord brought me to a place where I was helpless and ready to listen to Him. When my heart was broken, and I had no place to look but to Him, then Scripture my grandmother had helped me memorize when I was a little boy came to mind, and I found hope (Psa 1:1-6; 23:1-6). I was homeless, hurt, hungry, wearing only rags, and more thankful than I’d been in many years. The Lord, who allowed me to destroy my life through bad choices, forgave me and called me back to fellowship with Him (1 John 1:9). I welcomed His love and grace.

       The joy of my salvation was refreshed within me. A fire was ignited in my soul and I was ready to walk with the Lord. I knew I had to be responsible and face my prison sentence and serve time for the crimes I’d committed, and I knew the Lord was with me all the way. My two year prison term was a time of spiritual development as I faced many tests and grew in my knowledge and application of Scripture. As a Christian, my spiritual growth began the day I submitted my life to God. Many worldly people had previously influenced me in an ungodly way, and I was stupid enough to let them. No more. No more hanging around foolish people, or reading worldly books, or watching movies that promote worldly values, or listening to music that glorifies degeneracy. No more. God had blessed me with everything I needed to grow and mature and I decided to lay hold of that life (Eph 1:3; 4:11-13). Oh, I made bad choices along the way and fell into sin, but God continually showed me grace. I confessed my sin and got back to living the spiritual life and “walking in the light as He Himself is in the light” (1 John 1:7). As I grew in my love for Him I learned that “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

      PrisonCellI remember when I first entered prison back in 1989. The medium security prison unit outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, had a practice of placing new inmates into solitary confinement the first twenty one days after their arrival. My cinder block cell was approximately 6 by 9 feet and had a metal bed and toilet. After I completed my stay in solitary confinement, I was released onto the prison yard with the other inmates. I was tested within hours after being assigned my new sleeping quarters, as I was approached by an inmate who offered to sell me marijuana and I refused his offer. I made it clear to him, albeit respectfully, that I wanted to live as a Christian and had no desire to do drugs. I was treated with hostility, even though I gave none. My initial reaction was to return hostility to him, but I knew that was wrong, as the Scripture directs me:

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. (Rom 12:17-19)

       Prison Picture 2I could not control the situation or the other man’s attitude, but at the same time, I would not allow myself to be controlled by it. As a Christian, I had to start living by God’s Word and stop reacting to the sinful attitudes and actions of others as I was previously accustomed to doing. In prison, I was constantly challenged to live by God’s Word and not my circumstances or the pressures of others. This prepared me for living in society after prison. As a young Christian, I came to realize that much of the Christian life is a discipline of the mind and will. A discipline to study God’s Word and to live it by faith on a regular basis. A discipline to walk in truth, to be loving and kind, gracious and merciful, humble and giving, selfless and honest (just to name a few of the Christian virtues). 

Steve in Prison 1989On another occasion, I faced a challenge pertaining to racism when I was at a prison unit in northern Nevada. During meal time many of the inmates would sit separately with blacks on one side of the dinner hall and whites on the other side. This was the choice of the inmates. However, some of my Christian friends were black and some were white, and we would sit together at one table to talk about Scripture and pray. Biblically, we realized that there is only one race: the human race (Gen 1:26-27; Acts 17:26). Not wanting to be a slave to the prison culture, we chose to sit together and have Christian discussion. After a few weeks I was approached by another inmate who told me to “stop sitting with the other men” because it “looked bad.” I knew what he meant. I made it clear to this inmate, albeit respectfully, that I was going to sit with my Christian brothers so we could talk theology and pray together. To be honest, I thought there was going to be a fight that morning as this inmate got in my face and tried to bully me. Though I was somewhat intimidated, Christian courage demanded I stand my ground. To be clear, I was not trying to change the attitudes of the other inmates or reform the prison culture in any way. I think that’s impossible; much like I think it’s impossible to reform the devil’s world. I was simply trying to enjoy fellowship with my Christian brothers, even though I knew it meant standing against the corrupt values and practices of the prison culture. 

       To some degree, surviving in prison means conforming to the environment and getting along as best one is able. Where Scripture is silent this can mean compromise. However, living for Christ means walking in the light of God’s Word, and that meant standing against the values of the prison culture at times in order to obey Scripture. I wish I could say I walked according to Scripture all the time, but I did not. I was learning and applying Scripture during my time in prison, and was learning to pick my battles from one moment to the next. Picking battles is very important, for some battles are more important than others. As we learn God’s Word, we’ll gain wisdom for the moment. 

       Steven R. Cook Doctor of MinistryFour months after my release from prison, in 1990, I actively started serving in jail ministry and continued for over twelve years (until June, 2002). I loved teaching Bible classes several times a week and sharing the gospel with others. I started college in 1992 and completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Services from Wayland Baptist University in 1998. Afterward, I studied Classical Literature for several years at Texas Tech University, and then began graduate school in 2002 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and completed a Master of Divinity degree in 2006. I also completed my Doctor of Ministry degree from Tyndale Theological Seminary in 2017.

Kenny GuinnPardon-1The Lord also blessed me with a pardon. On February 10, 2005, the Governor of Nevada, Kenny Guinn, along with the Nevada Supreme Court and Attorney General, granted me a full pardon for the crime that sent me to prison. In 2006 I had my criminal records permanently sealed. This is the grace of God. The Lord has opened doors of opportunity for ministry and education and undone much of the damage I had inflicted on myself many years before. The fifteen years between the time of my release from prison in 1990 until the time of my pardon in 2005 were very difficult. Convicted felons are generally viewed with great suspicion in society and are automatically denied jobs, places to live and other opportunities in life. I’ve learned that life is not fair and not to expect justice from the world. I accepted my hardship during that time and lived where I could. I worked menial jobs while I was in school, sought to live honorably, and above all kept my focus on the Lord who gave me joy and hope from day to day. Now I choose to live a simple life and work in quiet. I enjoy writing articles and books and teaching a Bible lesson when someone asks. I’ve also been blessed to teach Bible classes at a nearby federal prison since 2018. I am very thankful for all God’s blessings. 

       Above all, I am thankful for the grace of God revealed to me through Scripture. Though I was saved at a young age, it was only through many years of study that I came to understand and appreciate in a greater way what God did in bringing me to Himself through the substitutionary atoning work of His Son on the cross. Biblically, I know it was the Father’s will that Christ go to the cross and die for sinners (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28), of which I am one among many; yet, in a very personal way, I see Christ bearing my sin, being judged in my place and bearing the Father’s wrath that rightfully belonged to me. God’s righteousness and love intersect at the cross, in that He displays His great wrath against my sin and at the same time His love for me, the sinner. At the cross, God punished my sin as His justice required and saved me, the sinner, as His love desired (Isa 53; John 3:16). And all this happened while I was His enemy (Rom 5:10)! Had I been alive in the days my Lord walked the earth, I surely would have led Him to the cross myself and driven the nails with my own hands. I would have lifted up His cross and made Him hang between heaven and earth to die. I am a sinner, but for the grace of God I would burn for all eternity. Yet God, in infinite grace and mercy came to me in my depravity and showed me love when I was not seeking Him, and by His grace gave me eternal life when I turned to Christ and trusted Him as my Savior. My name is Barabbas and today I am a free man.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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God’s Great Grace

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

     Grace (Grk. charis) is the underserved kindness or favor one person shows to another.  It is “that which one grants to another, the action of one who volunteers to do something not otherwise obligatory.”[1]  God was in no way forced to provide salvation for sinners, though He was motivated by His great love to do so (John 3:16).  For God, “being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Eph. 2:4-5).

Speaking first of His mercy, it is defined as that compassion in God which moved Him to provide a Savior for the lost.  If He had been able to save even one soul on the basis of His sovereign mercy alone, He could have saved every person on that basis and the death of Christ would have been rendered unnecessary.  As for divine love, it is an emotion of infinite character, the motivating purpose back of all that God does in saving a soul.  But since God is holy and righteous too and the sinner’s sins are an offense to Him, He might perfectly desire to save a soul and still be utterly helpless to do so in the light of the claims which divine righteousness make against the sinner.  Not until those claims are met can God’s infinite love realize its desire.[2]

       God loves sinners, but He can only be gracious to them because His righteous demands against sin have forever been satisfied by the cross of Christ (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8).  Theologically, it can be said that “grace is what God may be free to do and indeed what He does accordingly for the lost after Christ has died on behalf of them.”[3]  Because Christ has borne all sin and paid the penalty that was due to the sinner, God is now free to show infinite grace to the worst of sinners and offer them not only eternal salvation, but also bestow the greatest spiritual blessings of time and eternity (Eph. 1:3).  The wondrous cross of Christ has made it possible for the worst of sinners to be “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).

       We must be careful that we do not see God acting graciously toward sinners independently of the cross, for that would be dishonoring to Him and all He did for us through the death of His Son.  The perfect satisfaction of His righteous demands against sin had to occur before the display of His infinite grace toward sinners could be manifest.  For “since God is holy and righteous, and sin is a complete offense to Him, His love or mercy cannot operate in grace until there is provided a sufficient satisfaction for sin.”[4]  Christ’s death on the cross satisfied God’s righteous demands toward sin; therefore, grace can be shown towards sinners who do not deserve it.

       Having met the demands of God’s perfect righteousness for sin, the cross of Christ has opened the floodgates of God’s grace!  Because Christ paid our sin debt, we can come to God and receive the free gift of salvation apart from any human works.  Jesus Christ paid the price for my salvation in full.  He paid it all at the cross.  He bore every sin.  He was judged in my place and bore the wrath of God that belonged to me, and now I can receive the free gift of salvation because God is satisfied with His death.  There is nothing I can do to earn my salvation.

Grace is the limitless, unrestrained love of God for the lost, acting in full compliance with the exact and unchangeable demands of His own righteousness through the sacrificial death of Christ.[5]

       Concerning our salvation, Scripture declares, “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).  Salvation is always a gift.  If a person has to pay a price for something, it ceases to be a gift.  A gift means that someone else paid the price, and we receive it freely without cost.  Salvation is a free gift to us, from God, paid in full by Jesus Christ.  What a wonderful gift!

Dr. Steven R. Cook


[1] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 1079.

[2] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Kregel Publications, 1993), 178.

[3]  Ibid., 178.

[4] Merrill F. Unger, “Grace,” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago, Ill., Moody Press, 1988), 504.

[5] Lewis S. Chafer, Grace (Philadelphia, PA: Sunday School Times Company, 1922), 22.

God’s Grace to Save

For by grace [charis] you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

       Charis is the Greek word that is commonly translated grace and it means undeserved favor or unmerited kindness. It is a generous, loving, charitable act that one person does toward another who would otherwise deserve the opposite. It is love shown to one’s enemies. Grace has its greatest manifestation in the Cross of Christ where Jesus, as a substitute, bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to the human race (Rom. 5:6-10). Peter tells us that “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). Christ died in place of the sinner. That’s grace. None of us deserved what Christ did when He went to the cross nearly two thousand years ago, when He hung between heaven and earth and bore the sin of all mankind and was judged in our place, bearing the wrath of God that rightfully belongs to us. How dark the sky must have been that day when, for three hours, Christ bore our sin and propitiated the Father. God’s righteousness and love intersect at the cross at the same time. Righteousness in judging our sin in His Son, and love toward the sinner He desires to save. Grace is manifested every time God offers the free gift of eternal life to sinners. Salvation is received when sinners believe in Christ as their Savior.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. (1 John 5:1)

       All four Gospels record the prisoner exchange between a notorious criminal named Barabbas and the Lord Jesus (Matt. 27:16-26; Mark. 15:7-15; Luke 23:18; John 18:40). Barabbas was in jail for insurrection, murder, and robbery, and was surely going to face death for his crimes (Luke 23:18-19; John 18:40). Jesus, on the other hand, was innocent of all the charges brought against Him. Pilate, the Roman Governor who presided as judge over the two men, knew it was “because of envy” that Jesus had been handed over to him to be scourged and crucified (Matt. 27:18; cf. Mark 15:10). Pilate knew Jesus was not guilty of the charges leveled against Him and sought to have Him released (Luke 23:20), but he proved himself a weak leader by surrendering to the insane demands of a mob who kept shouting “crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21). All of this occurred according to God’s predetermined plan (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28).

       Barabbas was in his jail cell when a Roman guard came, unlocked his door and informed him he was free to leave. I suppose Barabbas was puzzled because freedom was not what he expected. Barabbas was in a dark place with no ability to save himself. Outside the prison walls, Jesus was being led away to die in his place, the innocent for the guilty, the just for the unjust. I am Barabbas. You are Barabbas. Spiritually, we are all in a dark place without hope, facing eternal death, and with no ability to save ourselves. But there’s good news! Outside our prison is a free and innocent Man who has died in our place, who bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us. Today, our prison cell is open, and we are free to leave because another man bore our penalty for us.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:6-8)

       How wonderful it is to read and learn of God’s grace in the Bible. But we must see ourselves as prisoners of sin, enslaved and unable to liberate ourselves from the chains of sin that weigh heavy upon us. If we could save ourselves by works, then Christ died needlessly. If works save us, then grace is no longer grace. It is the humble soul who knows he cannot repay God for His wonderful gift of salvation. It would be an insult of the highest magnitude to offer feeble works of self-righteousness to God in place of the work of Christ. Don’t ever tarnish the glory of the cross by trying to add your dirty human works to it (Isa. 64:6). Don’t ever try to rob God of His wonderful grace by offering cheap works as a means of salvation (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). Salvation is what God does for us through the death of His Son. Salvation is never what we do for God, or even what we do for ourselves. Christ died for us, to save us, and that was an act of God’s grace. It is the empty hands of faith that welcome God’s free gift of salvation. Trust in Christ alone and let your faith rest completely in Him and His work on the cross (John 3:16).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

 

Believe in Jesus for Salvation

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

       To be saved means to be rescued from harm or danger. Based on the authority of Scripture, all mankind is under the sentence of sin and death, and in danger of eternal damnation (Jo. 3:18, 36; Rom. 1:18; 3:9-10, 23). The good news, according to Scripture, is that God saves sinners based on the work of Jesus who died in our place. The only true God—according to Scripture—has punished sin as His justice requires, and saves the sinner as His love desires. But the sinner must receive the free gift of eternal life by believing Jesus is the Savior—trusting in Him alone for salvation.

       Some men dare to trust in themselves that they are righteous and good enough to earn acceptance into heaven. This is wrong according to Scripture, which teaches that all men are dead in their “trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), and “helpless” to save themselves (Rom. 5:6). The Scripture is clear that God saves sinners, “not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy” (Tit. 3:5). By sending His Son to the cross to die in the place of sinful men, God has rejected human good as a way of earning salvation.

       Some might ask how God can be just and at the same time declare righteous those who are guilty of sin? God is just in dealing with sin because He has judged it in His Son who died as our substitute and bore the wrath that rightfully belonged to us (Isa. 53:6). He is also loving toward the sinner and offers salvation to us who accept His free gift by trusting in Christ who died in our place (Jo. 3:16; Rom. 5:8). God is both just and the justifier of the one who believes in Christ for salvation (Rom. 3:25-26).

       Jesus alone is the Savior, and to trust Him for salvation is to have eternal life, and be rescued from eternal torment (Rev. 20:14-15). Jesus is the only Savior, “for there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus stated, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me” (Jo. 14:6). This is good news to those who accept it.

       The gospel is the good news that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scripture” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). It’s as simple as, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.