GOD’S GRACE IN US
Written by Doug Ponder on August 4, 2013
Grace to You
Instead of beginning his letters, “Dear John,” the apostle Paul preferred the following greeting: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:2). He talked this way because God is a God of grace. He isn’t just “gracious.” God is grace in the same way that he is love. Grace flows from God like a river falling down the side of the mountain. It radiates from him like the light and heat of the Sun.
So God is a God of grace. Got it. But what is grace anyway? Sometimes people throw this word around without taking the time to explain what they mean. In its simplest definition, grace is unearned and undeserved favor. In God’s case, grace is all the love, kindness, good will, and blessing that God gives us, in spite of the fact that we don’t deserve these things and could never earn them if we tried.
Roadblocks to Grace
Sometimes grace can be hard to understand because we live in a performance-based culture. Most of what we do is based on a system of merit: you work hard in school to earn good grades; you earn good grades to earn acceptance in a better college; you work hard in college to earn a better job; you seek a better job because you want to earn more money, etc. It’s the same way with relationships, too. As the old saying goes, “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” None of these are like God’s grace. His grace can’t be earned—which is a good thing. Imagine trying to be good enough to deserve the favor of the God of the universe!
Grace is undeserved, but it’s not automatic. Indeed, the sole reason why we don’t receive God’s grace is because of our pride. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). Pride comes in many forms. Sometimes people think really well of themselves, and they suppose that they have need for God. Other times, people elevate their thoughts of themselves above God’s thoughts. This often happens to people with “low self-esteem.” They may say, for example, “I know that God says I’m forgiven, but I just can’t forgive myself.” To ignore what God says, or to flatly contradict him, is really another form of pride. They are not thinking too low of themselves; they are thinking too low of what God has said about themselves.
Partakers of Grace
The truth is that we are all people in desperate need of God’s grace. In fact, in one sense we are all ‘partakers of God’s grace’ (Phil. 1:7) whether we know it or not. Specifically, we benefit from God’s common grace given to all people, as seen in the goodness of every gift in God’s creation (Jas. 1:17). We deserve none of the delights of the world, yet God blesses us with them in abundance.
Secondly, we are also partakers of God’s tolerant grace, which patiently withholds the just punishment we deserve and calls us to repent (2 Pet. 3:9). This grace is meant to humble us, for God’s kindness leads us to repentance from the sins against which God’s righteous judgment is poured out—either on Jesus, or on those who persist in prideful rejection of him.
Those who do belong to Jesus, however, are also partakers of God’s redeeming grace, which forgives us, cleanses us, and renews us. And the beauty of God’s grace is that because we didn’t have to do anything to deserve it, there’s nothing we can do to lose it either. To receive his redeeming grace we only need to recognize our need to be saved from sin and death and trust that God is willing and able to do so. The cross and the empty tomb of Jesus are unfailing proof of both.
Grace in Us Brings Fruit
God will rescue his own, and he always finishes what he starts (Phil. 1:6). God can promise this because the same grace that forgives us continues to work in us to make us more like Jesus (Rom. 8:29). Knowing this brings a harvest of change for the good—“fruit” as Paul calls it—in the lives of those who belong to Jesus. That’s why Paul prays that the Philippians would be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:9-10). He knew that God’s desire for them, and for us, is that “[our] love may abound, along with knowledge and discernment, so that [we] may be kept pure and blameless” on the day when Jesus returns (Phil. 1:9-10).
God’s Grace in Us Brings Joy
The grace of God at work in Paul is also what enabled him to endure his imprisonment with joy (Phil. 1:12-14). In spite of his opponent’s desire to silence him, Paul saw the good news of God’s grace spreading even faster than before! He rejoiced, even in prison, because his hope rested in Jesus alone. And not only that, Paul also rejoiced when he learned that some people were preaching the good news of grace out of envy and selfish ambition (Phil. 1:15-18). Instead of caring about his reputation, Paul rejoiced that the word of God’s grace in the death of Jesus Christ was being proclaimed even in pretense.
Paul knew that the grace of God was so wonderful that he even went so far as to say, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Which means that death, the enemy that so many fear, has become nothing but the vehicle that takes us to be with God. Jesus has defeated death, so we have nothing to fear. To die is gain. To go on living in the present, however, means “fruitful labor” Paul says (Phil. 1:22). “To live is Christ!” was Paul’s way of saying, “My life’s aim is to live for Jesus.” And why shouldn’t it be? When you grasp the grace that you’ve been shown by God in Christ, then you’ll want to live the same.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.