I once met a man who was frustrated in seeking a new career. He had gone to dental school to become a dentist, but after spending time and money getting the education, he discovered he lacked the dexterity to be a good dentist. For whatever reason, he lacked the strength and skill in his hands to use the dental instruments.
This problem can affect a person in numerous other endeavors. You can learn all about carpentry but lack the ability to hammer a nail straight. You can learn a sport and not have the ability to perform it well. The coach will tell you, “I cannot put in what God left out; no matter how much you want to play.”
Singing, the arts, and a number of other things can be loved and desired, but never attained because certain natural abilities are missing.
The law was given through Moses but the law did not provide the ability to perform the principles it demanded. It left the devotee frustrated and defeated. Paul’s frustration with the law is indicated in Romans 7:18 (KJV):
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” [emphasis mine]
Paul wanted to paint the picture of the glories of God’s precepts, but he lacked the artistic talent. He wanted to score high in the competition against his base nature, but he was uncoordinated and unskilled. The “how to perform” element was missing.
He lacked a grip on the law of God.
Jesus was also a law-giver, establishing a new covenant. However, distinct from Moses, along with His truth He provided grace. In Christ, truth or law is complemented by grace. In Christ, there is a resource by which truth can be performed. That resource provides the ability to grip truth and to live it out.
If we use the analogy of a sword for truth, then grace provides the grip to wield it effectively. Grace provides the strength and the skill to victoriously use truth in the battles of life. The ministry of the Spirit that Jesus inaugurated enables the truth-seeker and the lover-of-the-law to grip truth for life and living. When we hear the sermon, read the Bible, or read a book with important biblical principles, we can grip the truths that we received and begin living by them. We need not be frustrated by a loose or slippery grip.
“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” Hebrews 2:1 (KJV)
For Paul, God’s grace was more than something given, idly sitting somewhere; it was something at work within him. He indicates this when he stated,
“… by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon 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.” 1 Corinthians 15:10 (KJV)
It was God’s grace that gave him the ability to grip God’s calling and purposes, holding onto them and laboring by the grace of God.
Memory may slip and character may be weak, but the grace of God will give you the grip you need on His truth — the truth that sets you free and overcomes the bondage of Satan’s lies.
Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Grace is Greater
How difficult is it to push a button on the dishwasher? My vote is “not very,” but that isn’t the point. What made the whole thing ironic is that I was in the middle of writing a sermon on “happiness.” Let me explain …
My wife and I were staying at a condo we’d rented in Florida. We had to check out by 10 a.m. on Friday. Before checkout the renter is asked to do a few things: strip the sheets off the bed, put all the towels in the hallway, take out the trash, then load and start the dishwasher. My wife assigned me dishwasher duty. At about 10:05, an older man and a couple of women walked into the condo, spotted me, and said, “Ummm, we are here to clean. You were supposed to be out of here by 10.”
I apologized, thanked them and told them we were headed out the door. We grabbed our stuff and made our way down to the car. Just before we reached it, the guy came out of our room and yelled down to us in the parking lot, “Hey! Thanks a lot for starting the dishwasher. There’s only a few <BEEP things you’re asked to do and you couldn’t bring yourself to push the <BEEP button?”
I’d just finished writing a sermon explaining that because we have God, our circumstances don’t have to rob us of joy. So, you might think I would respond humbly.
Instead, I thought, Oh, you want to overreact and get sarcastic? I can speak that language. I yelled up at him, “I’m so sorry you had to push that button. I’m sure that had to be exhausting,” and then laughed condescendingly. He yelled back at me, with a few more choice words, and I yelled back at him.
The last thing I heard is him calling me “a worthless <BEEP <BEEP.” I got in the car and slammed the door. I sat there steaming about how I’d been disrespected.
My wife said, “Let’s just go.” Instead of listening, I said, “Oh, no. That man needs to hear some hard truth.” I got out of the car, and then heard my wife tell me, “Say a quick prayer on your way up.”
I headed up the stairs to confront Mr. “Can’t push the button on the dishwasher in the condo but has plenty of energy to yell at me from the third-floor balcony.” After the first flight of stairs, I felt convicted and embarrassed. By the second floor I was telling God I was sorry, and almost immediately it was impressed upon me that I needed to apologize and give the man a tip for his extra work. I opened my wallet, to realize I only had a single bill — which was more than I intended to give him. I thought, Well, apparently giving the man a tip is not what God wants me to do.
I walked into the condo, and he started yelling again. I sensed a voice inside me saying, One more round!
Even though I didn’t feel like it, I said, “I want to apologize. I’m sure it’s frustrating to come in and clean up after someone who doesn’t do the little things. I’m sorry. I want to give this to you for the extra work you have to do and as a way to say thank you.” I held out the money. Almost immediately his eyes welled up with tears. He said, “Well, I wasn’t expecting that,” and began to apologize. Now my eyes were filled with tears. I think we both wanted to hug it out, but instead we just shook hands.
I walked back down the steps, not feeling proud of that moment, but instead brokenhearted it had reached the point it did. I asked myself, How many similar moments had I forgotten about the wisdom from Hebrews 12:15, and missed God’s grace because of my pride?
I wondered: How many times had God wanted me to show grace and humility but I was too arrogant and self-righteous? I sat down in the car, teary-eyed. My wife asked, “What happened?” I told her. She patted me on the leg and said with a smile, “Oh, it’s so cute. You’re growing up.”
It was her playful way of letting me know she was proud of me, but the truth is, when it comes to extending grace over the little things, I should’ve grown up a long time ago.
Maybe you’ve heard countless sermons about grace. Or even read books about grace. But my prayer is that you’ll see this word again for the first time. I tend to think grace is best and most fully understood not by way of explanation alone, but through experience. Otherwise, it really doesn’t have much effect.
I’ve sat through several seminary classes on the subject of grace. I’ve memorized Bible verses that describe grace. But what’s taught me the most? My own story and the stories of others who’ve fully experienced grace.
It’s my prayer you won’t miss grace, but rather will powerfully experience the grace effect in your life — and no matter what you have done, no matter what has been done to you, you will personally experience the truth that grace is greater.
Lord, I am amazed by Your grace in my life. Help me see, understand and be overwhelmed by Your grace again, as I was the first time. Help me to not simply comprehend Your grace, but live it and give it to others. Enable me even today to extend grace to those around me at work, school, home or church, throughout my community. Lord, Your grace is greater than my hurts, mistakes and circumstances. I am grateful. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Grace and Mercy
Scripture Reading — Ephesians 2:1-10
God … is rich in mercy … ?it is by grace you have been saved.
Ephesians 2:4-5 —
Yesterday we reflected on the difference between praise and thanksgiving. Today let’s think about the difference between grace and mercy. Did you notice how both words are used in today’s Bible reading? In verse 4 we read that God is rich in mercy, and in verses 5 and 8 we read that it is by grace we have been saved. What’s the difference? Maybe the best way to explain is to say that mercy is shown when a person does not get what he deserves, and grace is shown when a person gets what he does not deserve. I once heard a preacher illustrate this by asking us to imagine we had been stopped by a police officer for speeding. He said, “If the officer is merciful, he will let you off with a warning instead of a ticket.” The preacher continued, “But suppose the officer then reached into his wallet and gave you a hundred dollars before sending you on your way. In that case, he would be following up mercy with grace.” God’s mercy and grace work in a similar way. When we believe in Jesus, we are spared from the punishment we deserved. And there’s more?we also receive the riches of God’s grace that he freely pours out on us. So let’s offer rich thanksgiving to God! Remember to thank him for giving us what is good. And remember to thank him for not giving us what we deserve.
Lord, your mercy is amazing, and your grace never ends. Thank you for sending Jesus to die in our place and for all the riches we have in him. We pray in his name. Amen.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations … lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:18-20 NASB
Robert Finley was born in Pennsylvania to Christian parents who had come to the New World from Scotland. Attending Princeton College, he prepared for a career as a teacher of languages. But as his son James later wrote, “there were great and pressing calls for ministerial labor in the new settlements of the Carolinas and Georgia.” Robert responded.
This was a bold decision. The “country was in an unsettled state” with “the gloomy clouds of war” hanging over the land. Tensions were high between the colonies and the English government. There also were strong divisions within Americans. Some advocated independence while others remained loyal to England. Eventually these divisions exploded in a violent revolution.
Going to the mission field meant leaving behind friends and family for life in a rugged, often untamed region, without any financial support. There, they faced constant peril and violence. All of his wife’s brothers were killed, and Robert himself was wounded.
But as James wrote, Robert trusted “in God for help and direction.” In the face of dangers and unknowns, he refused to back down and continued preaching the Gospel. Today, Finley is hardly a footnote in history. But he was a hero of the faith. He was more concerned with serving his Master than the world’s rewards. He was willing to leave everything behind to fulfill the Great Commission.
This still is our command until the end of the age.