Ephesians chapter 1 is our passage for this morning. If you're visiting with us, this is our [ninth] study on Lord's Day mornings looking at the character of our God - we've entitled it 'Behold Your God' - looking at His attributes, and what it means for Him to be God. Our last study in this series was 'The Mercy Of God', a fortnight ago, and this is our next which is 'The Grace Of God' - which is related to His mercy.
We're looking at Ephesians chapter 1, and we've studied these verses in considerable depth in our Bible Reading, but we're only looking at a particular element of them this morning. Ephesians 1 verse 5 to begin with - verse 4 says: "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will". That word 'predestinated' in verse 5 always relates to what we are to become in the Lord Jesus Christ. It's not so much speaking of a destination, whether it be heaven or hell, but speaking of a disposition that we will have one day when we are like the Lord Jesus Christ - and because we have been saved by His grace that is the plan that has been set in order.
Then in verse 6 Paul turns in to that great doxology of praise that is repeated throughout this epistle: "To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace".
I would vouch to say that there is no other word in the English language that describes the mind of God, and discloses His thoughts toward us, greater than this word 'grace'. In fact, the word itself is a beautiful word. It has been used in different ways within our English language to describe grace and beauty, but even in the Greek language it is called 'karos' (sp?) - that's the Greek word for grace - even it sounds beautiful to the ear. But even more beautiful than the word itself, is the theme behind it and its definition that we have within the word of God. Is it any wonder that Philip Doddridge wrote:
'Grace 'tis a charming sound,
Harmonious to the ear.
Heaven with echoes shall resound,
And all the earth shall hear.
Saved by His grace alone,
This is all my plea.
Jesus died for all mankind,
And Jesus died for me'.
We could define grace simply as this: that God's grace is Him taking responsibility for our situation. It is an attribute of God, and we have been looking at the attributes of God, but this is a little different in that this attribute is optional, it is voluntary. This attribute of the grace of God lies within His sovereignty - and what I mean by that is simply: God is not obliged to show grace toward His creation. He is a God of grace, but He is not under any obligation to lavish His grace upon us in the way that He has done, revealed within the word of God. But the miracle of grace is this: that He has stooped from the heights of His majesty to the depths of our misery - and grace has only one direction: it is only exercised downward.
We learnt in weeks gone by that God is transcendent, that God is above all things and in everything He is transcendent - we cannot reach Him. So it's logical to realise that if God is to be gracious to any, He is gracious in a downward sense. Grace is often defined as God's unmerited favour, and that is exactly what it is. It is unmerited and it is unmeritable, you cannot earn God's grace, you cannot work for it or strive for it, it is something that God lavishes out of His free, sovereign will - optionally and voluntarily God shows His grace toward us, that's why it's a charming sound! That's why it's harmonious to the ear, that's why heaven and earth echo and resound, and all shall hear!
We've learnt in weeks gone by about God's divine justice, and we have seen that the wages of sin is death, and in God's holiness and in God's justice He demands the sinner's death. It is righteous, it is holy that He does so. But divine grace is that attribute of God whereby He intervenes, He comes in in mercy, He stays the hand of His wrath and justice and that great God sets the sinner free! What a wonderful theme! I'm glad today that this is the theme that we're studying on as we've come from the Lord's table, as we've sung the praises of the Lord Jesus Christ - to realise that we worship a gracious God! We looked a few weeks ago at how God's mercy is deeper than His wrath, we can say that of God's grace, His love, His goodness, His loving kindness endureth forever!
We could define God's mercy, as we did, as God withholding what we do deserve - we deserve hell; we deserve God's justice unrestrained, unexhausted; we deserve not even to live on this earth, not to be given domination of it and control; we deserve to go straight into an eternal damnation - but God's mercy is Him withholding what is our just dessert. If that is God's mercy, God's grace is His giving what we don't deserve. His mercy is withholding what is our right, His grace is giving us what is not our right. Indeed, J.M. Darby said this: 'Grace is great on the part of the one who gives it, and mercy is great on the part of the one who receives it' - and, oh, it is great, isn't it!? Great mercy! Great grace of our God!
You would wonder why a world rejects such grace. Indeed, as believers, as we walk in our pilgrimage on the earth, at times it's very hard for us to accept the grace of God and all that it means. If I could illustrate it to you in this way: if you imagine that you're invited by her majesty the Queen to go to the palace. She brings you into the palace to a great banquet, and you're seated at a table filled with the choicest foods. She, and her house, and her servants, make every effort for you to enjoy that hour in her presence. You have a wonderful time, and as you exit the palace the Queen stands at the door to greet you goodbye - and what do you do? You put your hand in your pocket and you dig down deep, and as you leave her you press into her hand a pound coin - and you're heard to say: 'Now thank you very much for your kindness, I've enjoyed it and I realise it cost you a lot to do what you did, and I want to help you a little bit for your kindness to me'. Now, what would that be classed as? I think in royal etiquette it would be classed as the insult of the highest degree! That 'Her Grace', if you like, brings one of her subjects into her presence, lavishes graciously upon them, and then they feel obliged to pay her back - it is an insult to the giver!
This is the problem that men and women in our world today, and even those in Christ, have with the grace of God - it's difficult for us to grasp it and accept it, why? Because of the old mother pride in all of us! Sin, the mother of all sins is pride, and we feel that we must have something to do with it, we must have a part, we want to contribute - but when God comes to us and He withholds His wrath in mercy, and He lavishes His grace in His graciousness, we find it hard to take in, don't we?
I want to speak to you on grace from three perspectives. First is past grace, the second is present grace, and the third is future grace. Let's look at the first: past grace. This epistle of Ephesians deals quite extensively with the subject of salvation, doesn't it? And we find, right at the beginning of this book, that salvation is a salvation of grace. It starts with grace - why? Because salvation starts with God - that's so important for us to note in this day and age in which we live, where man is given all power, almost, in his own soul. 1 Peter 5 tells us: 'The God of all grace' - salvation is of the Lord, and therefore it is of the Lord of all grace. He even says Himself: 'I am gracious, I will be gracious'.
One of the reasons why men today find it hard to grasp the graciousness of God is because they have not found certain truths that they need to find as a foundation to enjoy the grace of God. The first is this: the moral state of man. Men today find it very difficult to accept the word of God, that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, that there is no difference, no not one, that all are undone under sin. Because of that, man - and even some believers - try to compensate to cover over their inadequacies and their falling short from that grace of God. You see, you have to admit that you're a deep dyed depraved sinner.
The second thing that stems from that is the consequences of sin: that the wages of sin is death. But life today, in general across our world and especially in the West, has lost this concept of justice. They have lost the idea of punishment, that punishment is necessary - and even right down to the family home, we've seen it in recent days, discipline is ignored! Therefore, when it comes to God, there is not seen any need that God should punish sin and that God should banish sin away from Him. But the word of God teaches us that God visits sin upon the lawbreaker, and God comes to him in His wrath because of his sin.
So, there is the moral state of man, there is the consequences of sin, but thirdly there is the spiritual helplessness of man. Man is almost - and I say that's a big almost - able to do anything in the age in which we live! Therefore he has become intoxicated by his own importance, and I believe in many minds he feels that he can reach God of his own will, that he can stem the gap between God and him that is made from his sin. But the fact of the matter is this: that no-one can mend their relationship with God - and the sooner men and women, and believers, realise their moral state before a holy God, realise the consequences of their sinnership, and also realise that they are helpless to mend the gulf betwixt them and God, then they're on the first step to the grace of God! Toplady was right when he said:
'Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfil Thy laws demands.
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone -
Thou must save and Thou alone!'
We've learnt that God cannot just forgive sin - that astounds some people you know, that God who is sovereign cannot just wipe sin away. I say this to you today, as we look at the grace of God, even the grace of God cannot just wipe the slate clean! For in the same way that God's grace cannot be separated from His justice, neither - and listen to this - can the grace of God be separated from the cross of God! Sin must be punished, and the wonder of it all - Hallelujah to the Lamb! - is that the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world, that the justice of God can be placed upon the Lamb of God, and that the righteousness of God can be placed on the child of God! What a cost the grace of God is to God Himself. That grace comes, yes from the depths of God's divine attributes and being, but we must never ever forget that the channel of His grace flows in the Lord crucified, and the Lord risen again!
Oh, was that not the theme of Paul's discourse right throughout all of His epistles, as we've read today in Ephesians chapter 1: 'In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according' - what? - 'to the riches of his grace'! You can't divorce the grace of God from the Crucified One of God, and that's what the world's trying to do today, isn't it? 'God's a God of love. God'll not send people to hell - if you worship God, and you look to Him, and live a moral life' - No! God cannot be separated from the Christ of Calvary! In John 1 and verse 17 we read: 'For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ'. Titus says: 'For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men' - hallelujah for the Lord Jesus Christ, the grace of God!
You can see Him in the Old Testament - isn't it wonderful to think, yes the Old Testament is a book of law, of course it is - but the Old Testament also is a window of grace. You can see it in the life of Noah, Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. It was said to Moses: 'Thou hast found grace in my sight' - God has always been a gracious God, God can never be without His grace, just as the sun must shine, God must show grace all of the time. If there was no grace in the Old Testament you wouldn't have Abraham, the friend of God. You wouldn't have David, the man after God's own heart. You wouldn't have Samuel, the one who could hear the voice of God; Isaiah, who saw the Lord high and lifted up; and Daniel, who was on his face before God three times a day. If you hadn't the grace of God in the Old Testament, Hebrews 11 would be empty! But hallelujah, no one ever was, or ever shall be, saved apart from grace of God. From Abel right to now, whenever grace was found in any man it was found by Jesus Christ - of course, grace and truth came by the Lord Jesus, but yet He was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. Those that worshipped in the old economy through the promises, through the typical teachings and the prophetic pictures and the sacrificial offerings that they gave - were they not pointing towards the Christ of Calvary? Were they not looking forward to Him? And those that are saved after Him are looking backward to the cross, but they are all saved by His grace! All that ever came, came through that grace.
Now it's difficult for us to receive, and even as a believer - if I can illustrate it to you in another way. I remember being with Barbara in a restaurant one time. Maybe this has happened to you: you're sitting there and see someone across the room who you know, and you wave over to them. This happened, and after the meal they were finished and they came over to us and they had a little yarn, and then they went home and we thought nothing more of it. After we finished our meal we went up to pay the bill, and the lady behind the counter said: 'The bill has been paid' - now maybe that doesn't happen to you, but it happens to me now and again! The bill has been paid! Now, there's a mixture of feelings, isn't there? You feel: 'Boy, that's wonderful!', but with many of you - and you'll know what I'm talking about - deep down you think: 'It's been paid? Well, can I not leave a tip?'. Then you feel like going home and ringing the man and saying: 'Now, look that was out of order, it was very nice' - but you know, we feel that we must do something. And then we wreck our brains thinking about how we're going to pay it back, we have to buy a card, or get him a present or something like that - and we find it very difficult not to do anything for anything we get!
Isn't that the truth? In a world where everything has catches and fixes, we look for the small print - and anything that sounds like 'the grace of God that is free and unmerited and unmeritable', we say: 'There must be a catch in that! That can't be true! It can't be transparent, there must be something more'. Yet Paul says: 'By grace ye are saved through faith, that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God - not of works, lest any man should boast'. Just like oil and water don't mix, neither do faith and works. It's hard to accept, and it's harder even to accept that just as God is eternal, just as God is infinite, God's grace is eternal, His grace is infinite - you can't measure His grace, you can't limit His grace, you can't fathom it. How do you understand? You can't understand a grace that is wide as the sea - can't understand! The only way we can really get a bit of a grasp of what this grace is really like, is to compare the grace of God to our great need. That's why I was going over those three points about the moral state of man, the consequences of our sin, the spiritual helplessness of man - because unless you understand our dire need, you'll never ever appreciate the greatness of God's grace.
Sure, we can't even grasp the enormity of our sin, we can't even fathom the great sinners that we are - but what a miracle that we can know: that where sin abounded, grace hath much more abounded! Now think about that for a moment: till the day you die, or the Lord Jesus comes or calls us, we will have committed a complete number of sins. Now, you or I could never think of that number - it might be a number that's bigger than we can count to - but it is a fact that there must literally be an exact number of sins that we have committed, and that is unfathomable, we can't really understand that. That, if you like, is how sin abounds in our life. But the grace of God cannot be fathomed, the grace of God is eternal because God is eternal - there's not a number of times where God can be gracious to you, and that's what that means: 'Where my sin abounded, grace hath much more abounded'!
Grace was a great cost...for we see Jesus, that by the grace of God should taste death for every man. Do you remember Manasseh? Do you remember him? You should read about him, if you've never read about him, in the Old Testament - he's a monster! The things that he did, the barbarity that he showed to his own children - he passed them, sacrificed them, to the fire! The Bible says he filled Jerusalem full of innocent blood, he perverted all society in principle and in practice, making the place worse - God said - than even the pagan nations round about that never knew God. Yet, when you read Manasseh's story, you find that at the end of his perverse, depraved life God showed grace!
Paul. A murderer, a blasphemer, walking on his way, breathing out threatenings and murderings, to Damascus to crucify the Christians - imagine this! From the very depths, the Lord says, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh - and what was his mouth speaking? Blasphemies, murderings, threatenings - yet God, oh, the grace of God - God could meet a man like that, and God could turn him round by His grace, and he could become the noblest martyr and the greatest apostle that ever lived.
What about the Corinthians? Sure 'Corinthian' and 'Corinth' was a byword, it was like a proverb, a nickname for perverseness, immorality of every conceivable kind. They wallowed in abominable vice and outrageous injustice - yet Paul says in Corinthians to them: 'Such were some of you: but ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified'! Oh, that's the grace of God - do you know why? Because the grace of God starts with God - what is impossible with men is possible with God, and possible with the grace of God. The God who takes the initiative, the God who doesn't rely on us, the God who - in the garden, in His grace - prevented Adam and Eve from eating of the tree of life, lest they should live eternally under death and the condemnation of sin. The grace of God that slew an animal and covered their nakedness in the garden by the shedding of blood. The grace of God that in Genesis 3 promised them a Deliverer, a Redeemer, and a Saviour.
Oh, what grace - and what a curse there is on those that don't preach that gospel of grace that we find written in the book of Galatians. But what a wonder to realise that, because of that atoning death at Calvary - think about it - we can now approach the garden that we were once banished from, there's no flaming sword, the prodigal can return home as a son of grace - for salvation, start to finish, is all of grace. What a great message to be able to preach this morning!
That's past grace, and I trust that you've known it - and if you haven't you need to know it now! But secondly there is present grace, because salvation doesn't stop the day and hour you're saved. Salvation continues in grace. James tells us, chapter 4 and [verse] 6: 'But [God] giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble' - now that doesn't mean God gives more grace to some sinners than others in order that they be saved. That's not what it means, but it means that God gives grace to all His children, He provides the grace that they need. What am I talking about? I'm not talking now about saving grace, I'm talking about sanctifying grace and sufficient grace for our suffering. You could sum it all up with the word 'strengthening' - strengthening grace. Can I ask you this morning, believer, do you know anything about this sanctifying grace? Of course you do - but do you walk in the knowledge of it day by day in your life?
As we go to Ephesians 1, we see there that predestination is in relation to holiness, isn't it? That is the reason God saved us, not just to rescue us from hell, but to make us holy, to make us like His divine Son - that we might be conformed to His image. He saves us so that He can start that work, but He lavishes grace upon us, day by day down here, so that we can become more like Him. It's wonderful to know that the grace of God that is able to save us is able to keep us, isn't it? It's great for me to wake up in the morning and know that my destination in heaven has got nothing to do with how well I live this day. Isn't it wonderful? To know that the grace of God is able to keep me from sin, to sanctify me positionally, but also to make me ready for heaven day by day by day, as He changes me into the image of His Son - is He keeping you? Of course He is - but do you know the knowledge of it? Are you aware of the deep assurance that the Lord Jesus is working in you day by day, He is changing you. Paul said in Corinthians: 'God is able to make all grace abound towards you, that ye always having all sufficiency, in all things, may abound to every good work'. Are you abounding in good works? Good works will not save you, but if you don't have good works the chances are you're not saved! For faith without works is dead! But wonderful to know that God doesn't leave us and say: 'You're saved now, you go on ahead and try your best to do good works' - the God that saves us by grace keeps us by grace, He lavishes abundant grace upon us in all sufficiency, in all things, that we might abound!
Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. Christian, if you don't feel you're sanctified today, where the sin abounds in your life, grace can abound today. The grace of God can overcome your sin, it can overcome your backsliding, it can sanctify you in all sufficiency. That's why Peter said that we are to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ - are you growing? Are you? Are you growing in that sanctifying grace?
That grace is also sufficient for suffering. We don't have time to read it but, in 2 Corinthians chapter 12 verses 7 to 9, Paul tells us that because of the many revelations that God gave him, God also permitted that he have a thorn in the side. Paul tells us that three times he prayed to the Lord that He would remove it, but the Lord told him this: 'My grace is sufficient for thee'. Now we can almost say that verse - because it's so famous - without realising the meaning of it. God is saying: 'There is a grace for you that is sufficient, in your suffering, to strengthen you for life's burden'. What is your burden? It's a burden greater than you could ever have a prospect of knowing - you thought this never would have happened to you. You thought what you're going through would have gone to someone else, it would have been written at the date in their diary, not for you - but your nightmare has happened! Is God's grace not sufficient for you? I don't underestimate what you're going through, but does God not say that His grace is sufficient? Does God not tell us in His own trustworthy word, that He will give us what we need in the time when we need it? When our labours are hard, when we are suffering affliction, when we're in spiritual warfare with all the hordes of hell, the enemy, when we're going through life's trials and in our bodily and spiritual weakness - does God not say it's enough? Does God not say: 'My grace is sufficient for thee, for in your weakness my strength is made perfect'?
There is a poem that I love, written by Annie Johnson-Flint, and it preaches itself - listen to it:
'He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labours increase.
To added affliction He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, He multiplies peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
[When we reach the end of our hoarded resources],
Our Father's full giving is only begun,
His love has no limit, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men,
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again'.
Finally, there is future grace. That is grace completing everything, putting the icing on the cake. Do you know you're a possessor of eternal life? People think that you don't get eternal life until you die, and you get to the gates and somebody hands you a package, and says: 'Now put that on, that's eternal life' - we have eternal life now! The Lord Jesus said: 'I give unto my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand'. We are secure, the poet said:
'Engraved as in eternal brass the mighty promise shines,
Nor can the powers of darkness raze those everlasting lines'.
We're saved and saved forever! Now my question to you, believer, is this: considering the past grace of God that saved you, the present grace of God that keeps you, and the future grace of God that will get you to glory - are you relying on it? Are you living in the grace of God? Or are you striving, are you trying in the flesh or in your own works, to live the Christian life? So many do that I believe, they're trying to live, they're trying to pray, they're trying to witness, trying to understand the word of God - and they've been saved by grace, but now they're trying to the Christian life by works! And whenever you hear that word 'trying' beware! You see, that's the trap the Galatians fell into and Paul had to say very strong words to them: 'O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?'. Do you know what he's saying? 'You were saved by the Spirit, do you think you're going to live this Christian life by the flesh?' - not at all, it's not lived by the flesh. Do you know how it's lived? By the grace of God. That's why he said to them, chapter 5 and [verse] 1: 'Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage'. As Newton said: 'This is the grace that will lead you safely home'.
We're in David's Palace, he has his family around him just about to dine. The walls are gleaming with wood and brass. He looks at Absalom with his good looks, Tamar with her beauty, he looks around them all to make sure they're all there - but there is one that is missing. All of a sudden from the depths of the corridor there is heard a 'clump, scrape, clump, scrape, clump, scrape' - Mephibosheth walks through the door, sits down at his own seat, the tablecloth covering his leg. That's what the grace of God is.
Let me say to you, as we close: there is grace for you today that no mountain could ever exceed. There's grace for you today that the deepest abyss could not fathom. There is grace that is able to break the greatest bondage ever known to man, that nothing has been able to break before - like the wildest horse that ever ran along an Arabian beach, there is grace that is able to break the back of such a beast in your life. Think of it! There is nothing too hard for the Lord that grace cannot tame - the grace of God can drive the devil out of your heart, the grace of God can say: 'Let there be light!'. The grace of God can lift the drunkard out of the gutter, the grace of God can take a gun away from a murderer's hand, the grace of God can make a woman of the night pure and clean of all her guilt, and nail her filth to the cross at Calvary and make her a virgin in the Lord! That's the grace of God...the grace of God can lift the dying, deep damned sinner and say: 'Thy sins be forgiven thee'.
Do you say:
'Prone to wander Lord, I feel it.
Prone to leave the God I love.
Take my heart, oh, take and seal it,
Seal it from Thy courts above.
Oh, to grace how great a debtor' - are you not a debtor? I am.
'Daily I'm constrained to be.' - every day
'Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wondering heart to Thee'.
We've surveyed it in the past, the present, and the future. Let us bow our heads, and we are all in need of the grace of God, so this appeal that I make is to all of you. There is a wideness in God mercy, like the wideness of the sea - and if you were to just drop your bucket of faith down into that, there would be plenty to meet your need. Plenty! Whether you're saved or not, God can meet your need today - why not ask Him, by faith trust Him, that He is able.
Father, we thank Thee that Thou art a God of grace, a God of tender compassions and wonderful love. Lord, we bless Thee that grace has saved us, grace will take us home, grace is keeping us at this very moment - and on that day when we look on His face, we will tell the story: 'Saved by grace'. Lord, may we get in touch and tap into the grace that is available for us, and we come boldly now to the throne of grace to find that grace that we need at this moment. Lavish Your grace upon all the heads bowed in this place, and them that are not saved by grace - that through faith they would receive of the Lord today. Now, may the grace of the Lord go with us, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the ninth tape in his 'Behold Your God' series, titled "The Grace Of God" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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