To illustrate the grace of God, I have often told the true story of my friend who bought a brand new Jaguar convertible upon returning as a veteran from Viet Nam. While still wearing his army fatigues, my friend set out early one morning driving down a lonely stretch of road in Oklahoma. Deciding to see just how fast his car would go, he allowed it to accelerate to its maximum speed. Just as he came to the crest of a small hill, he reached top speed. And there, just over the hill, out of sight until it was too late, was a highway patrolman with his radar. My friend knew it was all over, although it took him a mile or so to bring the car to a stop, where he sat waiting for the policeman to catch up with him.
The patrolman stopped his car and slowly proceeded to approach my friend, waiting with driver’s license in hand. “Do you have any idea just how fast you were going?” he asked. “Not exactly,” my friend sheepishly replied. “One hundred and sixty-three miles per hour,” the policeman responded. “That sounds about right to me,” my friend said.
My friend did not expect the patrolman’s next statement: “Would you mind if I took a look at that engine?” he asked. “Not at all,” my friend said. A half hour or so later, the two men finished a cup of coffee at a nearby coffee shop before the patrolman drove off, never having given my friend a ticket!
I used to say that if the officer paid for the coffee, this was grace.41 But it really is not the kind of grace of which the Bible speaks. In response to Moses’ request to see God’s glory (Exodus 33:18), God allowed Moses to see a portion of it:
5 And the Lord descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the Lord. 6 Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 34:5-7).
God’s glory is seen, in part, by His grace. He is gracious and compassionate (verse 6). But, in addition, God also does not leave the guilty unpunished (verse 7). God’s grace does not overlook sin; it punishes sin, but in a way which forgives those who are guilty.
I therefore must revise my illustration, adding a little fiction to more accurately describe the grace of God. As my friend broke over the top of that hill at 163 miles per hour, he slammed on the brakes, causing the car to go out of control, smashing into the police car, nearly destroying it and shaking up the police officer badly. Instead of letting my friend go, without a ticket, the officer must write out a ticket, and then pay the fine himself. He must not allow my friend to pay for anything—even the coffee. Now that would be grace, the kind of grace the Bible speaks of, the grace of God toward those who are saved.
Our lesson considers the grace of God, a subject so immense we could spend eternity trying to fathom it. Consequently, I will attempt to summarize some of the essential elements of God’s grace by calling your attention to three stories in the Bible which describe the grace of God. The first story is of Jacob and the grace of God (Genesis 25-32; Hosea 12:2-6), the second of Jonah and the grace of God, and the last is about Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). In these three stories, we will encounter a man who finally ceases striving with God and men and casts himself on the grace of God (Jacob). We will consider a man who is a prophet, and yet he hates the grace of God (Jonah). And we will see a woman who is the recipient of God’s grace, while she stands condemned by some of her self-righteous peers (the woman of John 8:1-11).
Jacob is not the first example of God’s grace, but he is one of the most striking examples in the Old Testament. It seems to have taken Jacob 130 years to begin to grasp what it means to live by the grace of God (see Genesis 47:9). There is one crucial turning point in Jacob’s life where he begins to rely upon the grace of God. It is that turning point, recorded in Genesis 32:22-32 and more carefully interpreted in Hosea 12:2-6, upon which I would like to focus our attention.
Even before his birth, Jacob was a man who struggled with others.
21 And Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why then am I this way?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples shall be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger.” 24 When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. 26 And afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them (Genesis 25:21-26).
When the boys were grown, Jacob sought to get ahead by striving with his brother:
27 When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. 28 Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 And when Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; 30 and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom. 31 But Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 And Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” 33 And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright (Genesis 25:27-34).
The final blow to the relationship between Jacob and Esau occurred when Jacob deceived his father into thinking he was Esau, thereby obtaining his father’s blessing (Genesis 27). In reality, it was Jacob who was to rule over Esau. Isaac seems to be trying to reverse the fact that Jacob would take the place of the first-born, just as God had indicated (Genesis 25:23). But Rebekah and Jacob were wrong in the way they obtained Isaac’s blessing. Once again, Jacob was striving with men and not in a way that commends him.
As a result of his deception, Esau was furious with Jacob, so his parents sent him to Paddan-aram to obtain a wife (Genesis 27:41–28:5). On his way, Jacob had a vision which indicated the land he was leaving was the “gate of heaven” (28:10-17). It was to serve as a strong incentive for Jacob to return and not stay permanently in Paddan-aram. After his dramatic vision, Jacob made a covenant with God, one which shows him still striving and failing to rest in God’s grace:
20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, 21 and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. 22 And this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house; and of all that Thou dost give me I will surely give a tenth to Thee” (Genesis 28:20-22).
Some might look at Jacob’s promise as a kind of “faith pledge.” I see it otherwise. Look at all the “if’s.” Jacob’s commitment to God is based on God’s performance in meeting Jacob’s needs, as Jacob defines them. If God: (1) protects him on his journey, (2) provides him with adequate food and clothing, and (3) brings him home safely to his father’s house, then Jacob will have the LORD as his God, and then he will give him a tithe. The order is just the opposite of what God requires of us. We are to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and then “all these things” (like food and clothing) will be added to us (Matthew 6:33). Consider how Jacob’s offer contrasts with these words from our Lord:
25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25).
Jacob’s “deal” with God is one with which even Satan would agree:
9 Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 “Hast Thou not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But put forth Thy hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse Thee to Thy face” (Job 1:9-11).
And so we find the same old Jacob in Paddan-aram “serving” his uncle Laban. He is once again striving with men, seeking to get ahead at the expense of others. Not until after Jacob leaves Laban’s house and the land of Paddan-aram does he finally come to grips with grace. As Jacob is about to enter into the land of Canaan, he knows he must face his brother Esau, and this poses a considerable threat to his safety. A wrestling match with an angel of the LORD seems to be a significant turning point for Jacob:
22 Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 And he took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had. 24 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 And when he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 And he said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” 31 Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. 32 Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip (Genesis 32:22-32).
From this account alone, it would be possible to reach the wrong conclusion. We might wrongly suppose that Jacob actually overpowered the angel (an amazing feat!) and that due to Jacob’s persistent striving with men (and God) over the years, he has finally prevailed. God is now at Jacob’s disposal.
But that is not the way it was. We know from the story that this “angel” was really God (verse 30). Could Jacob overpower God in a wrestling match? We know further that while the struggle appeared to be an even match, when the time came, the angel struck a crippling blow to Jacob by smiting his thigh so that his hip was dislocated (verse 25). Jacob is now in no position to bargain with God at all. The interpretation of this story is given centuries later by the prophet Hosea speaking to the nation Israel, whom Jacob personified.
1 Ephraim feeds on wind, And pursues the east wind continually; He multiplies lies and violence. Moreover, he makes a covenant with Assyria, And oil is carried to Egypt. 2 The Lord also has a dispute with Judah, And will punish Jacob according to his ways; He will repay him according to his deeds. 3 In the womb he took his brother by the heel, And in his maturity he contended with God. 4 Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed; He wept and sought His favor. He found Him at Bethel, And there He spoke with us, 5 Even the Lord, the God of hosts; The Lord is His name. 6 Therefore, return to your God, Observe kindness and justice, And wait for your God continually (Hosea 12:1-6).
Wayward Israel is being rebuked by Hosea the prophet. They are about to be disowned by God for a period of time, the times of the Gentiles. They have not trusted in God nor have they obeyed His covenant with them. They, like the harlot Gomer, are reaping what they have sown. But there is a way back, a way to enter into God’s blessings, into His grace. That way is by humbly beseeching God for grace. This is what Hosea tells the nation Israel that Jacob had to do (remember that Jacob’s name was changed to “Israel” in Genesis 32:27-28). All of his life he had been striving with God and with men. He had been trying to get ahead by his own cunning, cheating, and effort. But when the angel struck the crippling blow to Jacob, he had no way to “force” the angel to bless him. All he could do was weep and beg for mercy (for God’s favor). Jacob finally learned how God’s blessings are granted to men—not by grabbing, but by grace. While Jacob quickly forgot this lesson (note how he will cling to his sons in Genesis 37-43), it was nevertheless a significant turning point, for at least once Jacob sought God’s blessing by grace.
Grace was the basis of God’s dealings with Israel as it was for His dealings with the Gentiles. When rightly understood, the Law was a gift of divine grace. Israel’s entrance into the blessings of God’s covenant was to be by grace (Deuteronomy 30:1-14). The other prophets spoke of God’s grace as the basis for His dealings with His people and the basis for Israel’s hope and praise (Isaiah 30:18-19; Jeremiah 3:12; Joel 2:12-14; Amos 5:15). As a prophet of God, one would expect Jonah to delight in the grace of God. Such is simply not the case.
In Jonah 1, the heathen sailors are gracious to Jonah as they try desperately to save his life at the risk of their own lives. They pray to God, concerned that they not take the life of an innocent man. But Jonah shows no grace toward them. He seems to care little that he has endangered their lives by his rebellion against God. They have to virtually drag the truth from him, that he indeed is a prophet of the one true God, the God who made the heavens and the earth.
In Jonah 2, God spares Jonah’s life by a means that appeared to be his destruction—a giant fish. Jonah was drowning. Only moments of life remained. Suddenly he was enveloped in darkness. Around him were slimy walls of flesh. The odor must have been ugly. He had been swallowed by a fish! It was an even slower death which seemed to await Jonah. And then he must have realized the fish was actually his salvation. While inside the fish, Jonah composed a prayer recorded in the second chapter of Jonah. A more careful look at Jonah’s prayer reveals it is really a poem. More precisely, it is a psalm. As we look at the marginal references in our Bible, we realize it is a psalm in which Jonah uses many terms and expressions found in the psalms.
However, this “psalm” is like the psalms of the Book of Psalms only in form and in vocabulary. It is not like any of the psalms of the Bible in terms of emphasis or theology. Jonah speaks too much of himself, of his experience, of his danger, of his agony. He speaks too little of God. He speaks of looking and praying toward God’s holy temple (verses 4, 7). He speaks in a derogatory manner of pagans and elevates himself in comparison:
8 “Those who regard vain idols Forsake their faithfulness, 9 But I will sacrifice to Thee With the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the Lord” (Jonah 2:8-9).
What is missing is any reference to his own sin or any hint of repentance. This is especially interesting in that Jonah is in “captivity” as a result of his sin, and he does make reference to God’s temple. Consider, however, this text which very precisely outlines how a sinful Israelite is to repent:
36 “When they sin against Thee (for there is no man who does not sin) and Thou art angry with them and dost deliver them to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to a land far off or near, 37 if they take thought in the land where they are taken captive, and repent and make supplication to Thee in the land of their captivity, saying, `We have sinned, we have committed iniquity, and have acted wickedly’; 38 if they return to Thee with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their captivity, where they have been taken captive, and pray toward their land which Thou hast given to their fathers, and the city which Thou hast chosen, and toward the house which I have built for Thy name, 39 then hear from heaven, from Thy dwelling place, their prayer and supplications, and maintain their cause, and forgive Thy people who have sinned against Thee” (2 Chronicles 6:36-39, emphasis mine).
Solomon not only indicates that an Israelite who is in a distant country may turn to God’s holy temple and pray for forgiveness, he also gives the very words a repentant Jew should use to express that repentance:
37 `We have sinned, we have committed iniquity, and have acted wickedly’ (verse 37).
When we look down the corridor of Israel’s history, those who truly repented for their sins and the sins of their nation followed this pattern set down by Solomon:
6 Let Thine ear now be attentive and Thine eyes open to hear the prayer of Thy servant which I am praying before Thee now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Thy servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against Thee; I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 “We have acted very corruptly against Thee and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which Thou didst command Thy servant Moses (Nehemiah 1:6-7).
33 “However, Thou art just in all that has come upon us; for Thou hast dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly. 34 For our kings, our leaders, our priests, and our fathers have not kept Thy law or paid attention to Thy commandments and Thine admonitions with which Thou hast admonished them” (Nehemiah 9:33-34).
5 We have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly, and rebelled, even turning aside from Thy commandments and ordinances (Daniel 9:5).
Would anyone dare say Jonah’s “psalm” is an expression of repentance? He speaks of the Gentiles as sinners and of himself (and, by inference, all Jews) as righteous (Jonah 2:8-9). From Jonah 1, this is hard to defend. Jonah, the prophet, is acting like a pagan, while the pagan sailors are worshipping the God of Israel.
Some have pointed to the last words of Jonah’s pseudo-psalm as a last ditch expression of repentance:
9 “Salvation is from the LORD” (verse 9).
I think not, although I have only recently come to this conclusion. This statement, “Salvation is from the LORD,” is also a citation from the Psalms. Consider the more complete expression of this statement in Psalm 3:
6 I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people Who have set themselves against me round about. 7 Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God! For Thou hast smitten all my enemies on the cheek; Thou hast shattered the teeth of the wicked. 8 Salvation belongs to the Lord; Thy blessing be upon Thy people! Selah (Psalm 3:6-8).
Note especially the last words of verse 8, the words Jonah did not include but which I believe he implied. Jonah wanted God to save His people Israel and to condemn the Gentiles to hell (as chapter 4 makes very evident). His words in Psalm 2 express relief more than they express praise, they focus on Jonah more than on God, and they hope for the deliverance of the Jews but not the Gentiles. Remember that Jonah had been commanded to preach to the people of Nineveh and had refused! He did not want these unworthy Gentiles saved, only the worthy Jews.
Does this sound harsh? It is, and it is also true. That is what the Book of Jonah is all about. Jonah the rebellious, unrepentant prophet, is a picture of the nation Israel. He illustrates the refusal of the Jews to be a “light to the Gentiles,” to take the good news of God’s grace to the heathen. The Jews thought God had chosen them because they were better, more worthy, and that He had rejected the Gentiles, condemning them to eternal hell because they were not worthy of His blessings.
If Jonah were repentant, he would have turned around; he would have changed his heart and his actions, as the word repentance implies. This means that he would have immediately headed for Nineveh, where God had previously commanded him to go. Instead, chapter 3 begins with a repetition of this command. He is not going to Nineveh until God demands it, again. And so he reluctantly goes to Nineveh, where he proclaims the message God gave to him.43
If you want to see genuine repentance, do not look at Jonah; look at the Ninevites. The people of the city believed in God (verse 5) and began to fast. The entire population repented and demonstrated this by fasting. Even the cattle were included in this fast. The king, likewise, repented and fasted, which he appears to do without personally hearing Jonah but having heard his message second hand (see verse 6). The king called the fast, and he led the nation in repentance with a certain sense of confidence that God was gracious and that He might relent their destruction if they did repent. This has good biblical basis:
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, 6 “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. 7 At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; 8 if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it” (Jeremiah 18:5-8).
12 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping, and mourning; 13 And rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness, And relenting of evil. 14 Who knows whether He will not turn and relent, And leave a blessing behind Him, Even a grain offering and a libation For the Lord your God?” (Joel 2:12-14).
And so God did relent of the evil He had threatened through Jonah, and the city was spared (3:10). This is where Jonah really gets steamed at God. Imagine this, Jonah, the prophet, warns men of God’s righteous wrath toward sinners, and this sinner Jonah is angry with God and not even reluctant to fully vent his anger Godward. I do not find God’s grace to the Ninevites so amazing as His grace to Jonah. He should have been a tiny little pile of human ashes by now, and yet here he is, shaking his fist in the face of his God. And God says to him so gently, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” (verses 4, 10).
Jonah’s prayer in chapter 4 is absolutely amazing. He protests against God on the basis of His grace, compassion, lovingkindness, and turning from calamity (verse 2). This is the only place in the Bible where a person protests against God rather than praises Him for these attributes. Such attributes are the essence of God’s glory according to Exodus 34:6. They become the basis for men’s intercession, requesting divine forgiveness for sinners (Numbers 14:18). They are the basis for men’s repentance (Deuteronomy 4:31; Joel 2:12-14) and the reason God perseveres with this stiff-necked people (Nehemiah 9:17, 31). They are the basis for God’s acts of salvation (Psalm 116:5) and forgiveness (Psalm 103:8-10). They are the motivation and basis for men’s praise of God (Psalm 111:4; 145:8). Yet Jonah finds these attributes repulsive and disgusting, the basis for protest to God.
As the story unfolds, we finally find Jonah happy. In spite of the fact that God has forgiven the Ninevites and called off the day of destruction, Jonah constructs a little booth outside the city, hoping God will still destroy it, and he will have the pleasure of watching it go up in smoke. In the intense heat (which Jonah had no reason to suffer), God graciously gave Jonah a plant to provide him with shade. And then God took the plant away, which made Jonah even more angry. God inquired of Jonah as to whether it was right for him to be angry regarding the plant. Jonah assured God he had every right.
For a long time I thought Jonah’s sin was that of selfishness and preoccupation with his own comfort. Finally, I have come to see what I think is the underlying message of this book. Jonah was angry about God’s grace. He was angry that God showed grace to the Ninevites. He was happy that God showed grace to him in the shade plant, but he became furious when God took it away. Jonah did not deserve that plant, and he most certainly did not earn it. It was a gift of God’s grace, and God could give it or, just as freely, take it away.
Jonah wanted God’s blessings. He expected God’s blessings. And he was angry when God took these blessings away or gave them to others. Jonah wanted God’s grace, but not as grace. He wanted the benefits and blessings of God, but as one who deserved them rather than as an unworthy sinner who did not deserve them. This is what angered Jonah about God’s dealings with the Ninevites. He had to admit this was grace, but he loathed grace. Grace humbles the recipient of God’s blessings. Grace indicates the unworthiness of the recipient. Jonah wanted to be blessed, but not on the grounds of grace.
Jonah’s problem is precisely that of the Jews, both then and now. Jonah was self-righteous. Self-righteous people do not want to confess their sins and beg God for grace. They think they are worthy of God’s blessings, and they are only angry when God does not jump through their hoops and fulfill all their desires. Jonah, like the Israelites of his day, and like the Jews of Jesus’ day, were self-righteous sinners who expected God’s blessings as though they were deserved, and they were angered whenever God showed grace to the unworthy. Jonah, like many then and now, loathed the grace of God.
2 And early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. 3 And the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” 6 And they were saying this, testing Him, in order that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground. 7 But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground. 9 And when they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the midst. 10 And straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 11 And she said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more” (John 8:2-11).
We know that when our Lord came to this earth, He was the personification of grace and truth (John 1:14). One incident in the life and ministry of our Lord tells us much about the grace which our Lord shows to men. While He was in the temple teaching, the scribes and Pharisees sought to embarrass Him by dragging before Him a woman who had just been caught in the act of adultery44—the “very act” (verse 4). Being self-righteous, these hypocrites were not worried about the wrath of God toward their own sin, because they looked upon others—such as this woman—as sinners. Since Jesus showed such compassion on sinners and since He spent so much time with them, the scribes and Pharisees sought to put Jesus in an impossible situation. They sought to make Him either look soft on sin or to take a hard line on sin and lose face with the people by putting this woman to death.
They reminded Him that the Law required this woman to die. They were right, of course, but it also required the death of the man (see Leviticus 20:10ff.; Deuteronomy 22:22ff.). They then demanded that He give His opinion as to what should be done with this woman. Would Jesus dare challenge the Law of Moses?
Jesus was more interested in the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees than in putting this woman to death. If sinners were to die (for the wages of sin is death—the soul that sinneth shall die), then let the sinless one throw the first stone. No one could quite work up the courage to claim sinlessness. No one dared claim to be righteous enough to pronounce judgment and begin the execution. And so all this woman’s accusers disappeared one by one, from the oldest to the youngest.
Jesus then spoke to the woman, asking her where her accusers were. She responded there were none left to accuse her. Jesus then said, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way; from now on sin no more.” It is clear from these words that this woman had sinned. Why then did our Lord not condemn her? He alone was “without sin.” He alone could have cast the first stone. Instead, He told her He did not condemn her and that she was to go her way, but not to continue her life of sin.
Why could the Lord Jesus do and say these things? Why didn’t Jesus obey the Law by casting a stone at this woman? The reason is simple and can be summed up in but one word: grace. Jesus’ purpose in His first coming was not condemnation but salvation. He came to seek and to save sinners. He could rightly refuse to cast a stone at this woman, not because the Law was wrong, but because His purpose in coming was to suffer the death sentence Himself. He came to die for that woman’s sins, and thus He would most certainly not cast a stone at her. He was not minimizing her sin, or its consequences, but rather He was anticipating that day when He would bear the punishment for sins on the cross of Calvary. That, my friend, is the grace of God, the grace which our Lord came to provide through His substitutionary death in the sinner’s place.
There is no word sweeter to the sinner’s ears than the word grace. And there is nothing more repulsive to the self-righteous than grace, for the self-righteous deny their sins and demand God’s blessings as those who deserve them.
Have you ever thought you were too sinful for God to save? Then grace is the good news that God has for you. Your salvation is not based upon how good you are, and your salvation is not prohibited by how sinful you have been. Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and the apostle Paul tells us he wins first prize for being the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). You will have to stand in line behind Paul (and me) if you wish to think of yourself as too sinful. You are never too sinful to be saved, only too good, too self-righteous, too self-sufficient. Nowhere is grace more eloquent, more glorious, more precious, than when it stands in contrast to sin—our sin.
Before we become too smug in our condemnation of men like Jonah, let me ask if you have ever been mad at God. I venture to say that you have, whether you recognize and admit it or not. And why were you mad at God? Because you felt God did not give you what you deserved. You were mad because God was not dealing with you on the basis of something other than grace. Grace is not obliged to give the unworthy sinner anything. And the unworthy sinner has no grounds for protest if God withholds His grace, for it was not something he earned or deserved anyway.
Grace is such wonderful news, such a glorious offer, to those who are sinners, because they know they deserve nothing other than God’s wrath. Grace is only repulsive to the self-righteous. Grace is also the basis for humility. Grace declares that all men are equal in their lost condition. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). All are worthy of suffering eternally in hell. Every sinner is lost and doomed and soon to be damned, apart from the grace of God. Grace not only declares all to be equally lost, grace declares all who are saved are equal as well. We are not saved by good works, by our efforts or merits. We are saved by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, by His substitutionary death in our place, and His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father. Grace puts all men on level ground. There is no room for boasting regarding grace, except for boasting in the One who has been gracious to us.
Grace is the rule of life, and it is also the dominant theme of our lives as we live in this world and serve God in His church. We are to show grace to others, just as God has been gracious to us. Grace is also under attack by those like Jonah and the Jewish religious leaders of New Testament times. We must always be on guard against those who would undermine grace.
Of all the truths which should stir your soul, prompt your worship and service, and produce humility and gratitude, it is the truth that God is a God of grace, and that grace has been manifested in the person of Jesus Christ. If you would receive the grace of God, you must do so by accepting the gracious gift of salvation God has provided in and through Christ. May our hearts and minds be continually awe-struck with the “wonderful grace of Jesus.”
In God mercy and grace are one; but as they reach us they are seen as two, related but not identical.
As mercy is God’s goodness confronting human misery and guilt, so grace is His goodness directed toward human debt and demerit. It is by His grace that God imputes merit where none previously existed and declares no debt to be where one had been before.
Grace is the good pleasure of God that inclines Him to bestow benefits upon the undeserving. It is a self-existent principle inherent in the divine nature and appears to us as a self-caused propensity to pity the wretched, spare the guilty, welcome the outcast, and bring into favor those who were before under just disapprobation. Its use to us sinful men is to save us and make us sit together in heavenly places to demonstrate to the ages the exceeding riches of God’s kindness to us in Christ Jesus.45
‘It is the eternal and absolute free favour of God, manifested in the vouchsafement of spiritual and eternal blessings to the guilty and the unworthy.’46
`Grace is a provision for men who are so fallen that they cannot lift the axe of justice, so corrupt that they cannot change their own natures, so averse to God that they cannot turn to Him, so blind that they cannot see Him, so deaf that they cannot hear Him, and so dead that He Himself must open their graves and lift them into resurrection.’47
Since mankind was banished from the eastward Garden, none has ever returned to the divine favor except through the sheer goodness of God. And wherever grace found any man it was always by Jesus Christ. Grace indeed came by Jesus Christ, but it did not wait for His birth in the manger or His death on the cross before it became operative. Christ is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The first man in human history to be reinstated in the fellowship of God came through faith in Christ. In olden times men looked forward to Christ’s redeeming work; in later times they gaze back upon it, but always they came and they come by grace, through faith.48
But nothing more riles the natural man and brings to the surface his innate and inveterate enmity against God than to press upon him the eternality, the freeness, and the absolute sovereignty of Divine grace. That God should have formed His purpose from everlasting, without in anywise consulting the creature, is too abasing for the unbroken heart. That grace cannot be earned or won by any efforts of man is too self-emptying for self-righteousness. And that grace singles out whom it pleases to be its favoured objects, arouses hot protests from haughty rebels.49
42 Other Old Testament texts which are profitable for a study of the grace of God are Genesis 6:8; Deuteronomy 8:11-20; Nehemiah 9 (all); Psalm 6:1-3; 103:6-18; Isaiah 30;15-18; Joel 2:11-17; Zechariah 12:10--13:1.
43 I very much doubt he did so with zeal or with joy. He probably did as poor a job as possible, meeting only the minimum requirement of obedience. I can safely say this on the basis of chapter 4.
44 How interesting that the man was not brought forward. Surely they knew who the man was if she had been caught in the “very act”. What hypocrisy!
45 A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 100.
46 Abraham Booth, The Reign of Grace (as cited by Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 60.).
47 G. S. Bishop, as cited by Pink, Attributes, p. 64.
48 Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, p. 102.
49 Pink, Attributes of God, p. 61.