The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. – Revelation 22:21
I recently took my ministry team to Washington DC to see the Museum of the Bible. We had just completed a Pastor’s Conference and we decided to take a little detour before returning home. We spent our first day in the capital visiting the Lincoln and World War II Memorials, the Washington Monument, and the White House. We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant that had burritos the size of watermelons, and then we rolled our way to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial where we were picked up by an uber cab and made our way back to the hotel. We slept really well that night.
The next day we got up, called another uber and set out on our journey to the Museum. As we jumped into the uber, we were pretty fired up from the conference and our time together. We were four ministers refreshed from a great time of fellowship, Bible teaching and some of the best worship you’ll experience this side of heaven. That uber driver was going to hear the gospel.
I sat in the front passenger seat and my three buddies sat in the back. As we drove away, I introduced myself and asked the driver where he was from. He said he was from Iran. That was my in. I explained that Iran in Biblical times was Persia and we were going to the Museum of the Bible. We talked some more and it turned out he had a degree in history from college. I told him that was great, that the Bible is filled with some incredible history. He was very cordial. We talked a bit more and then I asked him his name. This is when it got interesting. He said his name was “Cyrus.” “Cyrus!” I exclaimed. “Cyrus of Persia is driving us to the Museum of the Bible? In scripture Cyrus of Persia is connected to one of the most incredible Bible prophecies found in the Bible (cf. Isaiah 44 and 45). “Cyrus, this is a divine appointment. This is no accident.”
This is when my buddies and I started sharing. Cyrus, as a history student, said he had read most of the major religious books of various religions and he appreciated all of them. His father had tried to force him to be Muslim but he resisted that. He had seen historically how religions had been a source of much death and war. In an effort to keep the peace and coexist he had adopted a kind of broad impersonal detached religious ecumenicism. That’s when one of my bro Pastor Dom in the back chimed in, “Hey Cyrus, do you know what makes Christianity different from all other religions?” Cyrus thought a bit, and then had to admit he didn’t know. Then, as best I can remember, Pastor Dom answered, “It’s grace. In all other religions people are told what they have to do to be right with God or go to paradise or ‘heaven.’ But in Christianity, God, because He loves us, did something for us, to bring us to Himself. He sent Jesus His son to pay the penalty for our sins on the cross. And to prove it all true, He rose from the dead.”
We shared a bit more on our short ride to the Museum. Cyrus was not altogether receptive. He apologized for not being more receptive. We said there was nothing for us to take offense at. We were blessed to live in a country where such conversations can freely take place. He agreed. That’s why he came to America; to be free. We tried to tip Cyrus but he said he didn’t feel right taking a tip from “friends.” We left him a gospel track. When I said good bye and shook his hand, I looked into his eyes. I could see we made an impression on him. I pray it was a lasting impression. I pray the seed of the gospel found good soil in his heart. I pray it grows to produce lasting fruit unto salvation in him. At least he was told the difference between Christianity and religions. He was told about God’s grace. Pray for our Cyrus of Persia.
The difference between Christianity and all other religions is grace. But what is “grace”? What difference does grace make? Why should we care, as non-Christians and as Christians?
The last verse in the entire Bible concludes with a reference to grace. In Revelation 22:21 it states, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” When, after revealing a scarlet chord of redemption throughout the history of humanity, from the beginning of time until the end, what you conclude with is important. Last words are always important, or at least revealing.
The first half of the Bible, the Old Testament, ends with these words:
- Malachi 4:4 – “Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.”
The Old Testament ends with the Law. The Law is religious. It focuses on things a person has to do to be righteous. The Old and New Testaments are connected. The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed. The New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. The New Testament ends with Grace. The Law was meant to lead us to the cross of Christ which is the symbol of God’s gracious provision for us. Paul wrote:
- Galatians 3:24 – “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”
The Law is used by God to reveal unquestionably the sinfulness of man. But grace is God’s answer to the sin problem of humankind. The New Testament states:
- Romans 5:20-21 – “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more,21 so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
God’s grace is abundant. God’s grace is sufficient. We approach God by grace. We continue with God by grace. We will spend eternity with God in Christ, by grace. Do you know about God’s grace?
The word “grace” is found 141 times and the word “gracious” is found 32 times in the New King James Version of the Bible. Grace is defined in terms of grace, graciousness, kindness, goodwill; a gift, a favor; thanks, gratitude. We find the concept of grace from Genesis to Revelation.
Noah, surrounded by a fallen depraved and sinful world that was ripe for judgment from God, found grace when he looked into the eyes of God (Genesis 6:8). This was centuries before the Law was given (Exodus 20). Even after the Law was given, we see people approach God by His grace (e.g. Moses in Exodus 33:13-17). When God’s people historically had to be disciplined because of their sin, God restored them by His grace (e.g. Ezra 9:8). The prophets were inspired by God to speak of His grace and the opportunity to be forgiven sin and reconciled to God (e.g. Isaiah 26:10; Jeremiah 31:2; Zechariah 4:7; 12:10). But God’s grace is especially revealed in the New Testament in the cross of Christ and gospel.
Grace is the way human beings approach God. That is especially true as a result of their fallenness from sin. Grace can be understood as it relates to two other words, justice and mercy.
Justice is getting what you deserve. Under God’s just system of universal law, the breaking of His law is sin. “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Sin is an act of rebellion against God and His law. Sinful acts are an expression of a dark heart condition. Humanity, since Genesis 3 and the Fall of humanity, are born in sin. David said he was “brought forth in iniquity” (Psalm 51:5). The wicked are estranged from the womb” (Psalm 58:3). All fall short of the glory of God and have sinned (Romans 3:23). Such sin separates us from God who is Holy. “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (e.g. Isaiah 59:1-2).
Sin has a consequence of damnation in hell and ultimately being sentenced to an eternity in the Lake of Fire. Why is such judgment so sever and justly deserving and appropriate? Sin is dynamic, it never is isolated to a single incident. Sin grows and spreads. Sin is the ultimate addiction. Jesus said, “whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34). Sin is like cancer. Sin kills, not only physically, but eternally. The wages or consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23; cf. also Romans 3:10-18). Sin is the root cause of all the pain and suffering in this universe. The God of love therefore, finds sin repulsive and abhorrent because it inflicts pain and suffering on the objects of His affection. The Bible says of God, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness” (Habakkuk 1:13). It’s as though the effects of sin are almost too painful for God to watch.
Because of the metastasizing nature of sin, it only takes one sin act to disqualify someone from heaven (Galatians 3:10; James 2:10). Because of the absolute Perfection of God, one sinful offense is enough to disqualify someone from His presence. God requires we are holy for He is Holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). We are required by God to be perfect as he is perfect as it relates to sin (Matthew 5:48). Sin is serious, even just one sin. Multiply that by the sinful intents of each sinner’s heart, and you can see that sin is a BIG problem for humanity.
Because of the nature of sin, God judges it justly to deserve eternal isolation in fire where it can no longer do any harm. Sin involves a willful decision to rebel against God and His law. Rebellion is in the heart of the sinner. The sinner chooses self over everything and everyone else. The sinner persecutes God’s people, they plunder and pillage, they commit evil and prey on the weak. The sinner tramples and causes trials. The sinner is wicked and deceitful, they are everything God opposes or intended for humanity and those who reside with Him not to be. Sinners are hurtful and harmful. They “bring forth iniquity” conceive and birth trouble, and falsehood. And because of all of this and more, “God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day. If he does not turn back, He will sharpen His sword” in judgment of them (cf. Psalm 7). Sinner, are you listening?
God will not allow a sinner, someone infected with sin, into heaven. Sin is a choice we make. And therefore, it is just and appropriate that God prohibit those in sin from entering heaven. God protects those whose sins have been removed from those who have chosen to remain in their sins. The sinner will get what they deserve; they will get justice.
Mercy is not getting what you deserve. But God is merciful. For that we should all be thankful. Humanity is lost in sin and “dead in trespasses and sins.” The sinner walks willfully “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.” The sinner, turns from God to self and lives after the lusts of the sinful nature and are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3). The sinner deserves the just wrath of God. Even though all of this is true, “God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:4-5). Mercy is not getting what we deserve. And thank God, because He is merciful, He made a way through Jesus so that we wouldn’t have to receive what we justly deserved.
Grace is getting what we don’t deserve. We deserved an eternity separated from God in the torment of the Lake of Fire. God who is merciful made a way for us to deal with the problem of sin. He did for us, what we don’t deserve, He made a way for the sinner to be reconciled to Him. As a just Judge, God made a just way for sin to be dealt with justly. The penalty for sin was not just cast aside or dismissed without payment. No. God provided what no sinner deserved, He, in Christ, paid our sin-penalty of death for us on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:19). All of this He did freely by grace. All of this and its powerful benefit of forgiveness from sin, He did, in Christ, on the cross, and He did it by grace.
God dealt with the curse of sin on the cross of Christ. The Bible states:
- Galatians 3:10–13 (NKJV) – 10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”),
God’s mercy and love are enveloped in His grace. The Bible states:
- Ephesians 2:4–9 (NKJV) –4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Grace is essential to our relationship with God. If it weren’t for God’s grace, we wouldn’t be able to have a relationship with God. If it weren’t for God’s grace, we’d be lost in sin and irrevocably destined to an eternity in the lake of fire. Truly we are who we are by God’s grace. Life is about appropriating by faith, the benefits of God’s grace. That begins with our salvation and forgiveness from sin. It continues in this life once we have received God’s forgiveness for our sins. And it continues from this life to the next. If we are in heaven in the end, it will all be because of God’s grace. The Apostle Paul put it like this:
- 1 Corinthians 15:10 (NKJV) – 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
There’s good reason for the final chapter in the final book of the entire Bible to end with a mention of grace. God is a God of grace. And His revelation is an unfolding of His grace poured out abundantly on humanity.
God’s grace to all. God pours His grace upon everyone. Revelation concludes with the words, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (Revelation 22:21). Of all the things John could have mentioned to conclude this book, he chose to conclude with a benediction of grace. Paul starts his letters with “grace and peace.” The Bible is rich in depicting and relaying the revelation of God’s grace. It’s only fitting that grace be part of the closing words of the Bible. The Bible is Gods’ revelation of His grace.
Grace in the Old Testament. God revealed Himself to Moses as, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (exodus 34:6-7a). Elsewhere scripture records, “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth” (Psalm 86:15; cf. also Psalm 103:8). “The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The LORD is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:8-9). It’s been about grace from the beginning.
God loves to give. The Bible is filled with the giving of God. Grace is a way of describing the giving nature of God. Grace is entirely from God. There is nothing in us that warrants or deserves God’s grace. Grace proceeds from God’s good nature. God’s grace leads us to repentance from sin. God’s grace is always “much more” than expected (e.g. Romans 2:4; 5:12-20). When we look at the Bible we see that God’s grace is “great,” God’s grace is “sufficient,” and God’s grace is “exceedingly abundant” toward us (Acts 4:33; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Romans 2:4; 5:12-20; Ephesians 1:7-8; 2:4-5; 2 Corinthians 9:8; 1 Timothy 1:12-16; 1 Peter 4:9). God’s grace is always “much more” than we expect or can ever comprehend it to be (Romans 5:3,10,15,17,20). God gives grace upon grace (John 1:16)
The gracious benefits of God’s grace. According to Romans 6:23 Gods’ gift of grace is “eternal life.” That provision is inseparably tied to Jesus (John 1:16-17; 3:16; 14:6; 1 John 5:11-12; Acts 4:12; 15:11; Romans 6:23; 1 Peter 1:13). You can’t receive the gift of eternal life apart from receiving Jesus Christ by grace through faith.
But God’s grace is the means by which He bestows on us “all things.” The Bible says:
- Romans 8:31-32 – “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”
God gives us “all things” by His grace. All we need to do is trust Him, and He will take care of the rest (e.g. Matthew 6:33-34; Philippians 4:19). All we need do is to trust that “If God is for us,” and He is, it really doesn’t matter who is against us. And if, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” did such an amazing act of grace, then clearly, “how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” That’s amazing abundant grace.
God does not promise us eternal physical life. Death is not a defeat; it is a blessed coronation to new eternal spiritual life. God gives us a blessed assurance of eternal life with Him (John 5:24; 10:28; 1 John 5:13). Eternal life is not something we receive only in the future. Eternal life is a quality of life we receive and begin right now. That eternal life is characterized by a new attitude to God and His grace. Knowing God’s grace opens the door to the abundant life Jesus spoke of (John 10:10).
Receiving God’s grace. The Bible tells us it is possible to receive God’s grace in vain or without effect. It’s possible to misuse and even abuse God’s grace (Romans 11:6; 2 Corinthians 6:1; Galatians 2:21; 5:3-4; Jude 4). Some abuse God’s grace by defining it in a way that condones indulging in sin. We are saved from our sins by God’s grace through faith in Jesus. But we need to remember that Jesus said to the sinner, “Go and sin no more” not “Go and sin some more” (John 5:14 and 8:11). Some cheapen grace by thinking that it should be used (abused) to sin. The Apostle Paul encountered such wrong aberrant interpretations of God’s grace and said, “Certainly not!” to such thinking (Romans 6:1-2). Grace should free us from sin. Grace should not be abused to excuse indulging in sin (cf. Romans 6:14). There’s a wrong way to “receive” God’s grace. And there is a right way. What should our attitude toward God’s grace be?
We should have a holy expectation of God’s grace. God’s grace is all God and none of us. God’s grace is not dependent on us but on Him. This thought is the basis of a right response to God’s grace.
Pastor Chuck Smith, used by God to redeem thousands of wayward “hippie” youth in the 60s and 70s, and who was the founder of the Calvary Chapel church movement, in his lifetime championed God’s grace. Pastor Chuck has gone home to be with the Lord now, but he defined grace in the following way: “Grace is God acting freely according to His own nature of love.” That’s one of the best definitions of God’s grace I know of. Pastor Chuck was a living example of the grace of God he taught others about.
Grace originates wholly in God, not in us. Nothing in us activates God’s grace. This confuses us because we question why God is gracious to sinners. We can give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, but we question why God is gracious toward those who we feel are worse than us. We are used to climbing our own towers of Babel. We are used to working our way up. We are religious by nature. When God reaches down to help those who don’t deserve it, and then not only saves but blesses the undeserving super-abundantly, its’ hard for us to wrap our mind and heart around that.
Grace is what separates Christianity from all other religions. Religions are all about what a person has to due to appease their god and work their way to heaven. Christianity on the other hand is about grace; it’s about God in love taking the initiative and doing something for us. God’s grace takes the initiative to save us from our sin. That’s unheard of in the religious world.
We have a hard time understanding why God would bless those who are dirty rotten sinful scoundrels. We have a hard time accepting God’s grace gracefully. We think we earn God’s grace, but that is works and not grace. Grace is sovereign. If grace is going to be grace, then there is no human cause for God’s grace. God simply acts graciously upon whom He chooses to act graciously. Think about the implications of God’s grace.
If grace is wholly dependent on God and not us, then our works or human effort can actually short-circuit God’s grace. Short circuiting God’s grace happens when we try to “earn” God’s grace. If we can earn God’s grace by something we do, then by definition, God’s grace ceases to be grace and crosses the line into a wage or reward.
Grace is defined by the word “freely.” In Romans 8:32 it states, “How shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” That’s a rhetorical question. We should expect God to give us, by His grace, freely, all things. But this of course doesn’t mean God gives us things that would harm us. God is not less responsible than an earthly parent. “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? . . . If you then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:11a and 13). God doesn’t relinquish His sovereignty and Almighty nature of omniscience in His acts of graciousness.
The word “freely” means without payment, without obligation or consequence, without restriction, as much as you want. Freely humanity was given permission by God to eat of the trees in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:16). God’s love is “freely” bestowed on His people, even though they don’t deserve it (Hosea 14:4).
Jesus taught His disciples His Father’s grace when He instructed them, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8; cf. also Luke 7:42). The word “freely” here comes from the Greek term dorean which means gratuitously, without a cause, undeservedly. The gospel is all about “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). God’s grace is freely bestowed on us. We don’t earn it. We can’t and couldn’t earn God’s grace. Otherwise it would cease to be grace.
This is the true and right definition of God’s grace, that God freely acts to bless and acts in our lives, separate form anything done by us to deserve His blessed actions. Grace therefore, humbles us. We’re embarrassed by God’s grace. It’s so positively incredible and we are so negatively incredible. We don’t deserve God’s grace. All we can do is receive it by faith. This creates some implications about what our attitude toward God and His grace should be.
In light of God’s grace, what should our attitude toward God’s grace be?
First, we should believe we are going to be blessed by God’s grace. We should expect to be blessed by God though we do not deserve His blessing in any way. No one deserves God’s grace. But everyone can expect God’s grace (Ps. 56:9; 84:11-12; 103:9-10; Romans 8:31-32).
Second, grace is God working in us for His pleasure, not us working to gain God’s pleasure (Zechariah 12:10; 1 Corinthians 15;10; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13). We simply need to surrender and receive God’s grace in our lives and hearts.
Third, trials are not God’s judgment on us, but God’s gracious loving means to build godly character and spiritual maturity in believers (Romans 5:3-5; 8:28-29; Hebrews 12:3-11). Someone has said, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” There’s no cynicism in God’s version of that. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28; cf. also 1 Peter 1:6-9). God’s priority is to prepare us for heaven, not to merely build big bank accounts in this temporal world. The stuff of this world is all going to burn. God has bigger and better things for us. He uses this world to prepare us for His best. We need to trust Him. We won’t be disappointed.
Fourth, the hope to be better is a failure to see yourself as complete in Christ (Romans 6:14; Colossians 2:10; Philippians 1:6; 2:13; 2 Peter 3:18). To be disappointed in myself means I am trusting in myself, my flesh, not God. If we are who we are and what we are by God’s grace, then we should stop striving and start being satisfied in Him. Yes, we “press on” but by God’s grace not our flesh. We are, by grace, complete in Christ.
Fifth, discouragement is the product of unbelief (Num. 13 and 14; Acts 18:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17). Discouragement is based on a failure to believe and trust that God is working and that He will fulfill His word and promise. We walk by faith not mere sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). God’s gracious promise is, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Amen to that!
Sixth, to be proud is to be blind to God’s grace (Proverbs 16:18; 1 Peter 5:5-6). The proud think they are the reason for their blessing and that is spiritual blindness. This is self-delusion. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:5b-7). If you’re proud, you’re on your own. If you want to be blessed by grace, humbly present yourself to God by the grace He supplies.
Seventh, the lack of blessing comes from unbelief rather than a lack of devotions (Joshua 1; Romans 4). We are wrong to think that God blesses based on our faithfulness in devotions. Devotions should be our communion with God. Devotions should be a safe place of God’s grace. When we enter into devotions with a mindset that they will earn us favor with God, devotions distance us from God rather than draw us closer to God. Devotions should be something we thankfully embrace and partake in because of God’s grace. We should seek to free ourselves from ulterior motives in our devotions. Let’s meet with God just to meet with God. By grace we can do that.
Eighth, to teach devotions bring God’s blessings is to reverse God’s order. Devotions do not produce God’s blessings. God’s blessings produce our devotions (Romans 2:4; 3:24; 4:4; 11:6). Devotions, when they are what they should be, flow out of us by virtue of God’s grace working in us. If we draw near to God, He will draw near to us (James 4:7). Just draw near to the One who loves you so graciously.
Ninth, true praise rises spontaneously from my recognition of God’s grace in my life (Romans 11:34-35). When we realize God’s grace in our lives, we can’t help but praise the Lord. “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15).
Tenth, the proper response to Gods’ grace is loving appreciation. Any effort or work we do for God should be motivated purely by a loving appreciation for His gracious provisions. This is why Paul was inspired to write, “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Romans 5:5; 12:1-2; 1 John 3 and 4). The word “grace” is not found in these two verses, but they are full of God’s grace nonetheless.
What’s the difference between Christianity and religions? Grace. Grace that is defined as God’s free blessings and benefits. God simply blesses us because He simply loves us. That is grace. God’s grace is something we need to receive and it is something we need to share (Ephesians 4:29). We need to be agents of God’s grace (Colossians 4:1-6).  Grace is just too good to hoard to ourselves. Grace is so great; it must be shared. Leave a lasting impression on those God brings your way. Share God’s grace by God’s grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 See Chuck Smith – WFT tape #I45133 Romans 6:23 and William R. Newell’s great commentary Romans Verse-By-Verse, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Pub. Kregel Classics, 1994, p. 245-247