The Grace of God, Part III (Romans 12:1-21)
Grace in the Christian’s Daily Walk
Happiness to some is seeing the bad guy get what he deserves. Some time ago while I was in college, my partner Ted and I were washing the dormitory windows. Dan, the dorm’s persistent practical joker, decided to shake the ladder Ted was standing on. Ted responded by wringing out his sponge on Dan’s head, and that’s when all the trouble really started. From there it went from bad to worse, eventually flooding the hall and drenching Ted. Ted went to change his clothes and refill his bucket. I minded my own business (for once) and stayed on my ladder washing windows.
A few minutes later Ted re-appeared with dry clothes and a full pail. Just about this time, George, the head resident, came into the room where I was washing the windows to see what all the commotion was about. I was on the outside of the window, and George was on the inside peering out and talking to Dan on the ground two stories below. Suddenly Ted’s pail protruded from the window beside us, and the plunging water swamped Dan, who stood sputtering below. Now Ted didn’t know that George, the head resident, was in the room beside the window from which he drenched Dan. And George was unaware of Ted’s intentions until it was all over. All George could do was to try to catch the culprit. All I could do was to give some advice to Ted: “Run, Ted!” It was to no avail. Ted ran into George’s waiting arms. George looked Ted squarely in the eye and said, “Man, Ted, you got him dead center!” With that George turned around and went back to his room. Even old George enjoyed seeing a fellow get what he deserved.
This basic desire to see justice meted out is what keeps us glued to our television sets until the very end of the program. We want to see the villain get what he (or she) has been asking for. I think that is why so many of us like to watch “Little House on the Prairie”—we can’t wait to see that snooty Mrs. Olson humiliated. And that woman is such a great actor that we delight in her downfall.
If happiness is seeing the wicked come to justice, then misery is watching people get things they don’t deserve. We can all identify with the vexation of the psalmist, who agonizes over the prosperity of the wicked (cf. Psalm 37, 73). It doesn’t seem right that a man should be rewarded for doing evil. For this reason some find it very difficult to rejoice when a sinner becomes the recipient of the grace of God. The scribes and Pharisees were angry that Jesus spent His time with the unworthy (Mark 2:16). The “unprodigal” son of Luke 15 was angered by the grace of his father toward the “prodigal” son, who had acted so foolishly. The laborers who worked hard all day for an agreed wage were angry with the master who paid those who worked fewer hours the same wage (Matthew 20:1-16).
If it is difficult for us as sinners to accept the grace of God in our lives (and it is), it may be even more difficult for us to accept the grace of God in the life of another, especially when we know that person to be undeserving. Have you ever had the experience of struggling over the success of a classmate when they have become more successful or prominent than you? Have you ever said to yourself, “Why should he have succeeded? He only got C’s in class.” Grace is hard to receive, and it may even be harder to accept when others are its recipients.
Humanly speaking, there is one thing harder to accept than grace being given to one whom we don’t really like. The most difficult thing of all is for us to give grace to one we know to be undeserving, when they have been spiteful to us and grace is at our expense. And yet the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments has commanded us to be gracious to others.
“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him” (Exodus 23:4-5; cf. also Proverbs 25:21-22).
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you; in order 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” (Matthew 5:43-45).
Until now we have been speaking of the grace of God as it was demonstrated in Jesus Christ, providing a just salvation by His Son, according to His choice, and without any merit on our part. Having spoken of God’s grace to His saints we must now come to grips with one of the practical realities of the doctrine of grace: the demonstration of God’s grace through His saints. Our final lesson on the grace of God will deal with the grace of God demonstrated in the daily lives of the saints.
Grace as Motivation
The most commonly used method of motivation is either fear or guilt. “If you don’t do such and such,” we tell our children, “I’ll spank you.” That’s fear. “If you don’t teach this Sunday school class, your priorities are all messed up.” That’s guilt. Fear and guilt can be proper motives for the Christian, but grace is a far better motive for serving God and others. I notice this in Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians as he is encouraging their diligence to carry through in their commitment to contribute financially to the needs of the saints:
I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:8-9).
How easy it would have been for Paul as an apostle to simply order the saints to “cough up” and complete the giving they had previously committed to do. Perhaps they had lost some of their initial enthusiasm to give, especially if their own budgets were feeling the pinch. Instead, Paul encouraged them to give, reminding them of the grace of God in providing salvation at so great a cost to Him. Neither fear nor guilt, but only grace could motivate the kind of giving which ministered to others and brought glory to God.
Grace is a wonderful motivation for Christian service. It appeals to our highest aspirations and emotions. Paul spent the first eleven chapters of his epistle to the Romans expounding the grace of God. Not until chapter twelve did he turn to the matter of our Christian obligations. And when he finally did so he began with a reminder that it is grace that should prompt the saints to a life of sacrificial service:
I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1).
As we can see in this verse, grace is not only the motivation for service, but it is also the motivation for worship. Grace in the Bible is not only used of the gracious acts of God toward men, but of the grateful response of thanksgiving and praise from men toward God. That is why we often call mealtime prayers “grace.” The writer to the Hebrews stressed the need for grateful thanksgiving when he wrote:
Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude [literally, “let us have grace”], by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28).
Worship and grace are virtually inseparable. Repeatedly in the Psalms the writer would praise God for His faithfulness and mercy. Perhaps this same kind of response is implied in 1 Corinthians 14:26:
What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, …
If not, it is clearly stated in Colossians 3:16-17:
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you; with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness [literally, “grace”] in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
Worship and service are always to be done with gratitude, and gratitude is always an appropriate response to grace.
I have always been troubled by the way some people approach the Lord’s Supper (or communion service), for it is often inconsistent with the doctrine of grace. They fail to understand what is so clearly stated in 1 Corinthians 11:27:
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.
What the New American Standard Version has translated “in an unworthy manner,” the King James Version has rendered “unworthily.” Both translations stress the fact that the word employed is an adverb, not an adjective. In spite of this, countless Christians warn those about to partake of the bread and the cup that they should not partake of these if they are in an unworthy condition. As a result, communion often begins with a kind of introspective soul-searching, as if to rid ourselves of the sins which make us unfit to partake.
Now let me ask you, is that what Paul has told us to do? No! The manner in which the Corinthian Christians partook of the elements was unworthy of the body and blood of our Lord. Some were drunk and unruly, not waiting for the rest to arrive (1 Corinthians 11:21, 33). How could such a drunken act ever be honoring to our Lord? No wonder these Christians were disciplined for their conduct (verse 30).
But if the death of our Lord on the cross of Calvary was a work of grace, then how could any Christian ever suppose that he could possibly come to the point of being worthy of the Lord’s table? That is the point of it all. We are not worthy. He alone is worthy, and He has given Himself for lost sinners. Let us never come to the Lord’s table apart from remembering that it is a reminder of grace, and men are never worthy of God’s grace. We worship at the Lord’s table because of the gratitude and praise which grace occasions.
Grace also motivates prayer. One of the great hindrances to my prayer life is the feeling of unworthiness. When I am particularly aware of sin in my life, I hesitate to go to the Lord because I know that while He is holy, I am not. The writer to the Hebrews says that this thinking fails to grasp grace as the basis for prayer:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence, to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Do we struggle with the pull of sin? Our Lord has partaken of human frailty, and while He did not succumb to temptation, He is sympathetic with our temptations. While we have failed, He did not. Consequently, we may come to Him as One who is both merciful and mighty. In His might He gives the grace to overcome sin, and in His mercy He gives forgiveness. Since grace is not overcome by sin, but sin by grace, we can come to Him with confidence in prayer. What better place for the sinner to come than to the “throne of grace”?
Grace has motivated Christians to pray throughout the ages. It was the grace of God which encouraged Nehemiah to appeal to God on behalf of the wayward people of Israel:
“But they, our fathers, acted arrogantly; they became stubborn and would not listen to Thy commandments. And they refused to listen, and did not remember Thy wondrous deeds which Thou hadst performed among them; so they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But Thou art a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness; and Thou didst not forsake them” (Nehemiah 9:16-17).
The record of Daniel’s moving prayer reveals that he had a firm grasp of God’s grace. His petition is a request that God will continue to act in grace toward Israel:
“And now, O LORD our God, who hast brought Thy people out of the Land of Egypt with a mighty hand and hast made a name for Thyself, as it is this day—we have sinned, we have been wicked. O Lord, in accordance with all Thy righteous acts, let now Thine anger and Thy wrath turn away from Thy city Jerusalem, Thy holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Thy people have become a reproach to all those around us. So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Thy servant and to his supplications, and for Thy sake, O Lord, let Thy face shine on Thy desolate sanctuary. O my God, incline Thine ear and hear! Open Thine eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Thy name; for we are not presenting our supplications before Thee on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Thy great compassion” (Daniel 9:15-18).
What is particularly interesting about Daniel’s prayer is what he doesn’t say. In 9:2 we are told that Daniel had read in Jeremiah’s prophecy that the end of Israel’s captivity was near, and so also the time of her return to Palestine. Since this return was a part of God’s revealed plan, Daniel could have approached God on the basis of His promise and held God to His word. Daniel could have claimed this promise of God, but instead he chose to cling to the grace of God and appeal to Him as a God of mercy and grace.
How different are the prayers of the unrighteous, who know not the grace of God:
“The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people, swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get”’ (Luke 18:11-12).
Only those who know the grace of God have the confidence that they can petition a God who will hear and answer because of His mercy and compassion.
And so the grace of God serves to motivate the saint to serve, to worship, and to pray.
Grace as the Means
What grace encourages, grace also empowers. Grace inspires the desire to serve God, but desire alone is not sufficient (cf. Romans 7:14ff.). Grace also enables us to do those things that we want to do to please God.
Every Christian knows that it is by grace that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8). What some Christians are not aware of is that it is also by God’s grace that we stand. “Grace is greater than all my sin,” the song writer has observed, and so it is. Grace not only overcomes sin to save us, but it keeps us secure in that salvation.
Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:1-2).
The same grace that saves also sanctifies:
Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God (Acts 13:43).
“And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32f).
The sanctification of the Christian is a growth in grace:
Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were thus occupied were not benefited (Hebrews 13:9).
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18a).
Grace also provides the means for Christian service. Serving grace has been granted to all who believe:
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift (Ephesians 4:7).
We will not be surprised, then, to learn that the term employed for spiritual gifts is the Greek word charisma, a derivative of the Greek term for grace, charis:
And since we have gifts [charismata] that differ according to the grace [charis] given to us, let each exercise them accordingly … (Romans 12:6a).
As each one has received a special gift [charisma], employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace [charitos] of God (1 Peter 4:10).
Christian service is not a matter of self-effort, but of divine enablement. Spiritual ministry brings about spiritual results. Anyone can teach, but only Spirit-empowered teaching transforms lives. Anyone can tell another about salvation in Christ, but only the Spirit of God can take that message, impress it upon the heart, convict of sin, and bring about spiritual life. Christian service is a ministry of grace:
For our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our conscience that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you (2 Corinthians 1:12).
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed (2 Corinthians 9:8).
As we minister by the grace of God we are caused to be humbled by the fact that any results are to the glory of the God who works in us through grace. Also, we are stimulated to greater diligence because He is faithful:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me (1 Corinthians 15:10).
And for this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline (2 Timothy 1:6-7).
In times of special need greater grace is available to the saint (cf. James 4:6). This “greater grace” is particularly needed in times of suffering and tribulation. Comfort and hope in times of testing are said to be the result of grace:
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).
When Paul suffered his “thorn in the flesh” he appealed to God to remove it, but God’s reply was that His grace would be sufficient for him to endure it:
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ my dwell in me. 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 Corinthians 12:9-10).
The grace of God is appropriated to those in weakness and inability, not to those who are strong.
Peter, likewise, did not promise the removal of suffering and persecution, but he did assure his readers of sufficient grace to endure:
And after you have suffered for a little, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you (1 Peter 5:10).
Grace as the Manifestation of the
Character of God Through the Lives of Christians
While grace and truth were personified in our Lord Jesus Christ, grace is also to be manifested in the lives of the saints. He has saved us “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Ephesians 1:6). As a result we can see that grace is a guiding principle for the Christian’s conduct in the world.
Early in the book of Acts the church was born as the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost. In the introduction to the book of Acts, Luke implied that what “Jesus began to do and teach” (1:1) the Holy Spirit continued to do through the church (1:2ff.). In Acts 4 Luke reported that “abundant grace was upon them all” (4:33). The first example which Luke chose to illustrate this grace was the generosity of the saints in responding to the financial needs of others. Barnabas was cited as a specific example of this grace (4:36-37), while Ananias and Sapphira provided a contrast to it (5:1-6). Nowhere is the grace of God more evident than in the way people use the financial and material resources God has given them. When God gets hold of our wallet, brother, that’s grace!
As an encouragement to the Corinthian saints, Paul wrote of the generosity of the Macedonians, who willingly gave out of their poverty (2 Corinthians 8:1ff.). Three times in verses 1-7 Paul referred to their giving as a work of grace (8:1,6,7). Their giving would demonstrate the grace of God to the needy and would bring about praise to God:
Because of the proof given by this ministry they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you (2 Corinthians 9:13-14).
God’s grace is also demonstrated in the life of the Christian through the words that he utters:
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29).
Our words have tremendous power to heal or to hurt, to encourage or to exasperate. In Ephesians 4 Paul teaches that falsehood cannot edify. He says that we once used our tongues to lie, but this cannot continue (Ephesians 4:25). Some people think they are being gracious by telling an untruth, or at least by failing to say anything and thereby leaving a false impression. It is not gracious to see a brother or sister persisting in sin and yet to remain silent:
Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (Proverbs 27:6).
While it is always wrong to lie or deceive, telling what is truth is not necessarily going to demonstrate grace. The truth told in the wrong way can be just as damaging as a lie. In our day and time, honesty has become a virtue, and “letting it all hang out” has become the way of the world. Often times this is just an excuse for venting our feelings of bitterness, anger, and hostility. Earlier in Ephesians 4 Paul has told us to speak the truth in love (4:15). In Philippians truth is not the only standard for what we contemplate:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things (Philippians 4:8).
The book of Proverbs has much to say about speaking in such a way as to benefit the hearer:
The lips of the righteous bring forth what is acceptable, But the mouth of the wicked, what is perverted (10:32).
He who despises his neighbor lacks sense, But a man of understanding keeps silent. He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, But he who is trustworthy conceals a matter (11:12-13).
The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, But the mouth of fools spouts folly (15:2).
The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, And adds persuasiveness to his lips. Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (16:23-24).
Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances. Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear (25:11-12).
Speech that is gracious is first true, then timely, and finally tactful. To be truly gracious our speech must focus upon the One who is full of grace and truth and upon the good news of the gospel, which is the message of God’s grace to men:
Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person (Colossians 4:5-6).
While Paul’s words above apply to every conversation, they seem to be specifically aimed at our conversation with those outside the household of faith. We must be gracious in our conversation, tactfully whetting the appetite of those who are being drawn toward spiritual things.
Perhaps the greatest opportunity to manifest the grace of God is in granting forgiveness to those who sin against us. In the passage we have cited previously (Matthew 5:43-45) our Lord told His listeners that the standard of the world with regard to those who sin against them is too low. The world says we are to love our friends and hate our enemies. If we are to be like our heavenly Father, Jesus said, we must demonstrate grace to those who sin against us. The “common grace” of God is seen in His provision of the sun and the rain. These He gives to the good and the evil alike. If we are to be God-like, that is, if we are to be gracious as God is, then we must be kind to our enemies as well as to our friends.
Did you ever stop to realize that grace can only be shown where sin has occurred? We can only be gracious to others when they have sinned against us. That is necessary by virtue of the definition of grace. Grace is not only undeserved, but it is the opposite of what is deserved. Justice is served when the evildoer is punished. Grace is granted when the evildoer is forgiven at the expense of the victim. If we are to show grace to others, the only opportunity we have to do so is when they sin against us. If this is true, then grace begins where most of us want to stop.
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).
Romans 12 is a wonderful exposition on the expression of grace in the life of the Christian. Chapters 1-11 of the epistle have defined the grace of God. Now in chapter 12 Paul exhorts us to demonstrate grace. Verses 1 and 2 use God’s grace (“the mercies of God,” chapters 1-11) as the motive for our service. Verses 3 through 8 speak of spiritual gifts (graces) as the means of our service. Verses 9 through 21 describe the manifestation of grace in the Christian’s life, reaching its epitome in our gracious response to those who sin against us.
Grace is never overcome by sin. “Where sin increased,” Paul wrote, “grace abounded all the more (Romans 5:21). When others sin against us, grace should abound in us. Grace should never be overcome by sin, but grace should overcome sin. Thus in Romans 12 we see grace as the motive, the means, and the manifestation of God in our service to Him.
As I now see it, grace is not only the keynote of God’s character, but it should also be the dominant note of our lives as well. Grace is the principle which should motivate, empower, and regulate our conduct in the world.
As I look through the epistles of the apostle Paul I am struck by the fact that grace is one of the first words from the pen of the apostle, just as it is usually one of the last. Grace is the alpha and omega of Paul’s letters. In Romans 1 Paul wrote, “ … Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:7). In the final chapter of this great epistle Paul concluded, “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (16:20). Now this was not the accepted way to introduce and conclude a letter in Paul’s day, and yet nearly every epistle of his is similar in this regard. Paul uses the term “grace” so freely simply because it is such a vital part of the Christian’s walk. “It is grace that taught my heart to fear,” as the hymnist has written, just as it is grace that “will lead me home.”
May I suggest that no principle would so radically transform your marriage than the principle of grace. Rather than negotiate and barter in marriage, suppose that you make the commitment to live according to the principle of grace. When a harsh or critical word is spoken, respond with grace rather than to make a defense or to retaliate. Rather than to wait for your mate to earn your favor, give it unearned and unsolicited, just as God has done for you. Let this same principle apply in your relationships with your friends, your neighbors, your fellow workers, and especially your enemies.
I must tell you that there is no way that you can demonstrate God’s grace until you have first of all experienced it in your life. You must acknowledge that you are a sinner, deserving of God’s wrath rather than His grace. You must believe that grace has been given only in the person of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. You must understand that grace was accomplished only as justice was satisfied by Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary where He bore the penalty for your sins and mine. To experience God’s grace you must receive His righteousness and accept the salvation which He offers by trusting in His Son.
While the true Christian has experienced the grace of God in salvation, he or she cannot produce grace by will power or good intentions. Grace comes only from God. The grace which you and I are to show others is the grace which God gives to us and through us. The “means of grace” that the Bible talks about are His Word (“the word of His grace,” Acts 20:32), His Spirit (“the Spirit of grace,” Hebrews 10:29), prayer made to the “throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16), and the grace that is given to the saints which enables them to build up another (Ephesians 4:7; 1 Peter 4:10).
May we find the grace of God sufficient for our every need, and may others see the grace of God through us “to the praise of the glory of His grace.”