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 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.

Glory to God

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give glory because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth. (Ps. 115:1)

     God’s glory is a theme that runs through Scripture.  The Lord is glorified in Himself because of who He is, and because of what He does.  Those who know God and approve of His works praise Him accordingly.  The psalmist, in the opening verse, gives glory to God for His lovingkindness and truth.  However, in other biblical passages, believers give glory to God for His judgment against the wicked, such as when the Israelites sing praises to God for destroying the Egyptian army in the Red Sea (Ex. 14:16-31; cf. the Song of Moses in Exodus 15).  In Scripture, God is glorified both in the display of His love and grace toward sinners (Ps. 29:2; 115:1; Eph. 2:4-7), and also in the righteous demonstration of His justice toward unbelievers who defy Him (Rev. 14:7; 16:9; 20:11-15).

     Biblically, the primary purpose of our relationship with God is to bring Him glory (Rom. 11:36; 16:27; 1 Cor. 10:31; Eph. 1:6, 11-14).  We give glory to God because He loves us.  We honor and adore Him because He is faithful to us and we have tasted of His goodness.  We praise Him because His truth sustains us.  God never resorts to strong-arm tactics to extract praise from the believer.  Forced-praise is a contradiction like forced-love.  Love is freely given and freely received, and this makes worship a free and true expression of genuine gratitude to God.  As the psalmist writes, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give glory because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth” (Ps. 115:1).

     To glorify God assumes we are in a relationship with Him and have received His blessings (John 3:16; Eph. 1:3).  But this requires faith in Jesus Christ and knowledge of God’s Word.  Jesus died for the sins of everyone (Heb. 2:9; 1 John 2:2), but His death is effectual only for those who believe in Christ for salvation (Eph. 1:4-7; 2:8-9; Tit. 3:4-5).  Once we are saved, we learn God’s Word that we might live His will and worship as God requires.  When speaking to the Samaritan woman, Jesus proclaimed, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).  The phrase “in spirit” speaks to the new birth, because only God’s people have the spiritual capacity to worship Him who is Spirit in essence.  To worship in “truth” means to worship according to the standard of God’s Word.  Biblical worship is a free and intelligent expression of praise to God in response to His gracious love. 

     It is unfortunate, but there are many who refuse to give God the glory that is due Him.  Unbelievers habitually dishonor God through a lack of appreciation.  Having spurned the revelation of God through creation, they turn their minds toward self; “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:21).  When a person turns away from God, he praises himself, his education, his accomplishments, or his wealth.  This is the way of the world, and the believer must guard himself against these traps.  We pursue what we love, and things of the world can become substitutes that are adored in place of God.  Idolatry is thievery, because it steals God’s glory and gives it to another.  The Lord declares, “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images” (Isa. 42:8).  Men who love the Lord boast in the Lord, and men who love themselves boast in themselves. 

Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (Jer. 9:23-24)

     The believer who knows the Lord and delights in His ways eventually begins to manifest His qualities.  God declares, “I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things” (Jer. 9:24).  The growing believer who is walking with the Lord and learning His Word will eventually begin to manifest the character of Christ, and this brings glory to God.  J. Dwight Pentecost writes:

There can be no higher goal. There can be no higher ambition. There can be no higher purpose than that which the Word of God puts before us as the chief end of the child of God, to glorify God. The greatest goal in the believer’s life is not his own enjoyment of his salvation. His highest goal is not learning the truths of Scripture, nor even teaching and preaching the Word. His greatest goal is to live Jesus Christ so that men may know the Father. God is glorified through the transformation in the life of His child that enables Him to use that child to reveal Himself to men, so that as men respond to that which has been revealed of Christ, they might honor and glorify the Father.[1]

     May we, as believers, “ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name” (Ps. 29:2).  And may we honor Him by learning His Word (2 Tim. 2:15), praising and thanking Him (1 Thess. 5:18), and walking in a manner that pleases Him and edifies others (Col. 1:10). 

Soli Deo Gloria ~ Glory to God Alone

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.


[1] J. Dwight Pentecost, Designed to Be Like Him: Understanding God’s Plan for Fellowship, Conduct, Conflict, and Maturity (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 196.

God’s Mercy Toward Sinners

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, 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)

     When writing to the Christians at Colossae, Paul reminds them of a time before their spiritual conversion when they were physically alive but spiritually “dead” (Col. 2:13).  Biblically, this is the state of all men who have not trusted Christ as their Savior.  According to Scripture, death means separation not cessation.  Unbelievers are physically alive but spiritually separated from God.  Once they believe in Jesus as their Savior, they are given spiritual life and can then begin their spiritual walk with the Lord.  This was true for the Christians at Colossae, who went from a state of spiritual death to spiritual life at the moment they trusted Christ as their Savior. 

     Not being in a relationship with God, the Scripture declares unbelievers in very negative terms as “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18), alienated from God (Col. 1:21), and devoid of the Holy Spirit (Jude 1:19; cf. 1 Cor. 2:14).  It is only at the moment we trust Christ as our Savior that we are given spiritual life and are made “alive together with Him” (Col. 2:13).  According to Scripture, there are two groups of people on the planet: those who are spiritually alive and those who are spiritually dead.  Every person we’ve ever known, currently know, or will ever know, fit into one of these two categories.  That’s it.  There are only these two groups.  Those who have trusted in Christ for salvation are spiritually alive, and those who have rejected Him as Savior reside in spiritual death. 

And you [Christians at Ephesus] were [before salvation] dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course [patterned values] of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air [Satan], of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience [rebellious unbelievers].  Among them we too all formerly lived [before being saved] in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath [enemies of God], even as the rest [of humanity].  (Eph. 2:1-3)

     The apostle Paul does not pull any punches when writing to the Christians at Ephesus about their pre-salvation life.  They were sinners, lost without Christ, and they acted like it.  They were spiritually dead (separated from God), and their fallen nature influenced them to follow the warped values of this world which have been molded by Satan.  Paul is writing to us too.  Before our salvation, “we did what came naturally because it naturally fit into the patterns external and internal to us.  This is evidence that we were dead in transgressions and sins and we, with all other people, were children destined for God’s wrath.  It was a vicious cycle that seemed to have no escape.”[1]

     People who are spiritually dead lack the capacity to live for God, and because they do not have the Holy Spirit within them, can only follow the sinful nature they were born with.  They may be moral or immoral, religious or irreligious, educated or uneducated, but God and His Word are excluded from having any say over their thoughts or actions as they seek to magnify self and live according to worldly values.  Scripture describes the unbeliever as one who is “devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 1:19), and a “natural man” who “cannot know the things of God” (1 Cor. 2:14).  The unbeliever is dead in his sin and helpless to change his spiritual condition.  Without God, his situation is dark and hopeless.  However, God graciously intervenes and disrupts the life of the unbeliever with the good news of the gospel, which states: “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 Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  When the unbeliever trusts in Christ as his Savior, he is born again and made spiritually alive (1 Pet. 1:3, 23).  At the moment of faith in Christ, he is adopted into God’s royal family.  That’s grace!

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were [spiritually] dead in our transgressions, made us [spiritually] alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  (Eph. 2:4-7)

     Though the Christians at Ephesus were at one time “dead” in their sins, God intervened with the gospel, and at the moment they trusted Christ for salvation, He made them “alive together with Christ.”  This life-giving act of God was not performed because of some beauty or worthiness in them, for Paul had already described them in hopeless and desperate terms; rather, it was because of God’s “mercy” and “great love” and “grace” that He acted the way He did.  God never loves or saves men because of any worthiness in them, for if men got what they deserved, they’d all burn forever in the Lake of Fire!  God saves because He is merciful, loving, and full of grace. 

Over against the dark picture of human ruin presented in Ephesians 2:1-3, the Apostle now proceeds…to set forth the only existing hope for man, namely, the fact that God is “rich in mercy for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins.”  With full recognition of the depths to which man has fallen, it is nevertheless declared that there is abundant salvation for all who believe: a salvation which so far exceeds the ruin that it not only reverses all that man lost by the fall, but it lifts him up far above his original unfallen state to the highest conceivable position in heaven, there to share forever the fellowship and the glory of the Triune God.[2]

     God is glorified when He acts in grace toward undeserving sinners.  Men are benefited when they receive God’s salvation by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9).  

Excerpt from my book: The Christian Life 

Dr. Steven R. Cook


[1] Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI., Baker Book House, 2002), 324.

[2] Lewis S. Chafer, The Epistle to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI., Kregel Publications, 1991), 63.