Our precious Lord is so very gracious and longsuffering with sinners like me. For so many years, His Spirit lingered and the angels watched, awaiting the time when my heart would be fully turned toward Him. As a professing Christian for 35 years, I had a form of godliness but denied the power thereof. Although I attended services regularly, preached sermons and believed I was born again, I was in fact lifeless.
My heart was empty and my eyes were dry. I was a self-righteous Pharisee with a “checklist” spirituality, and freely criticized all who failed to meet my standards. In short, I was very un-gracious. I even fancied myself a “seeker” and further set myself apart from the crowd who I considered religious hypocrites. My search for “true religion” took me down a path of futility, as I sought holiness through works. I studied doctrines and wrote tracts. I preached the “party line” and “kept the ordinances” as I felt they were delivered. I just knew that my strict adherence to the Word somehow obligated God to accept me and to reward me with eternal life.
And yet, my besetting sins persisted. These sins brought me in tears to the mercy seat so many times; but each time victory was shorter...each time mercy was increasingly overshadowed by guilt, condemnation, and feelings that I was just not good enough to be His disciple. In the mold of a true legalist, I pledged to try harder, work more, and increase my efforts to gaining the prize...only to fall again and again, and question my faith. I was asleep spiritually and needed a wake-up call. For me, that call was God’s marvelous grace! It was inconceivable to me that Jesus had already paid the price for my sins on the cross, and that my salvation could not be earned by works.
We love to hear the testimonies of sinners who were transformed by God’s wondrous grace…leaving sinful lifestyles and sordid pasts. But what about those who are raised in good Christian homes, with loving parents who are regular church-going members? Those who continue in the “straighter than the other guy” path, but with just enough religion to be miserable? Those yearning for the world, but condemned by their consciences? Those who possess zeal, but not according to knowledge? Most blatant sinners know that they are living in a sinful and lost condition. But the soul that lives under a yoke of meritorious works and legalism may not recognize their distance from God. This is very dangerous. Theirs are lives of delusion; they perceive themselves as being righteous and see no need to awaken from their slumber. Brethren, there are many today who fit my description. God will send whatever is needed to awaken each slumbering saint. For me, it was a grace awakening! By the blessed understanding of His precious grace, God breathed new life into me and made these “dry bones” to walk again. Hallelujah!
In 1999, after 30 years of membership in a mainline denomination, the Lord called my family out of that group. We joined with three other families who also felt called out of that denomination. We all felt the Lord leading us in a radically different direction, and sensed that the Spirit was at work in our hearts. In December 2001, we purposed to study the errors of Sabbatarianism. I looked through a sale catalog for a certain book on the Sabbath that I recalled seeing. As I scanned the offerings, the Lord directed my eyes to a book titled Amazing Grace by Charles B. Hodge (Nashville, TN; 20th Century Christian; 1984). I have no doubt that our gracious Lord moved me through His Spirit to purchase this book. This was the blessed beginning to my grace awakening! That may not sound very astonishing to you. But let me explain that the particular denomination that I was formerly associated with does not openly teach and embrace the subject of grace. It is merely “God’s unmerited favor.” They teach that God confers salvation upon a gospel subject upon his faith, repentance, confession, and baptism “for remission of sins” (with salvation coming only after the water). So, any mention of grace might be construed as espousing salvation by grace (or “faith only” as they referred to it). Therefore, if a preacher spent 5 minutes talking about grace, he had better spend 20 minutes qualifying his remarks to remove any doubts that might arise!
The Lord placed a burden on my heart to study grace and to know all that I could about it. The subject of grace had beckoned me on several occasions, but the demands of my job, and other things (...namely Satan!) prevented me from looking into this. The afore mentioned book served to whet my appetite for all that I could find on the subject of grace. One tremendous turning point in my heart was a taped sermon by Brother Denny Kenaston entitled “The Spirit of Law and the Spirit of Grace.” My son had listened to this tape three years earlier, during our move from Texas to Idaho to join the home fellowship. Seeing my enthusiasm for the subject of grace, he found the tape and asked me to listen to it. Total conviction with every word brought me to tears, as I identified with the cold mind of a legalist who was trying to earn his salvation! I had been living under the spirit of the law, trying to earn my reward and holding God a debtor. Being made free from the law by the blood of Jesus, I had turned the perfect law of liberty into a new version of the law that must be kept with the same lifeless rigidity! I frustrated the grace of God! I began to understand for the first time in my Christian walk that we are saved 100% by God’s glorious grace, and that I must produce fruits from a heart of appreciation for what He has done for me, rather than trying to “earn my crown.” In Christ, death has been overwhelmed by victory! Praise God that because of His death and resurrection I now have life! What’s more, I have sufficient grace in time of need, and grace to have victory over besetting sins through the blood of the Lamb! The new-found freedom from the bondage of law is a blessing, and the heaviness of guilt and condemnation is no longer my master. The Lord’s providence continued, as a dear sister in Washington told us we had to hear some tapes by a preacher from India named Zac Poonen. Six tapes later, the “awakening” was becoming more like a floodlight into my dark soul.
Scriptures that I had read for years suddenly leaped from the pages with a freshness and vitality that I never knew before. I prayed for wisdom and understanding and the Spirit opened the Word to my family. I could not read enough about grace. Not typically known as an avid reader, I devoured several books on grace. The Spirit graciously showed me that “when you eat fish, you need to watch out for the bones.” There are a lot of bones out there, in the form of licentiousness or “cheap grace.” Grace is not cheap. It cost Jesus His very life, and must cost us our life! When the Lord shows you something that thrills your heart like grace thrilled mine, you cannot be quiet. As Peter proclaimed before the council, “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard,” (Acts 4:20). The Lord led me to share Brother Denny’s sermon on “The Spirit of Law and the Spirit of Grace” with our fellowship. The Holy Spirit flooded our souls with waves of conviction. Bless God! Over the next few weeks I was led to share five sermons on the subject of grace with our small group. At that time, I did not fully understand salvation by grace, but shared what I had received thus far. I cannot adequately describe the change I felt in my life after the first sharing of this great truth! Grace began to yield fruits in my life as I learned to abide in the Vine. Praise God, for the first time in my life I experienced victory over a certain besetting sin and I felt closer to God than I had in the previous 35 years! I felt God drawing me by His grace and by His Spirit. My Christian walk was fresh and new. It had a power not felt before. There are so many exciting truths connected with the subject of grace. I only want to share a few points at this juncture, namely, the ones that would speak primarily to any reader with a works mentality and legalistic background similar to mine. It is my prayer that God would use these few thoughts as an awakening point for your lives.
1. God is not moved by the deeds that we do.
Perhaps the most profound thought to me, regarding grace, was that there was absolutely nothing that I could do to earn salvation. After all “if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Peter 4:18). Sobering thought! Sadly, it is a highly motivating thought for brethren caught on a performance treadmill. God’s grace showed me that I am a sinner, and can never live a life of perfection that would merit God’s reward. To earn my salvation, I would have to be able to perfectly follow Matthew 22:37-39 “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Or perhaps, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). I would not want to stake my soul’s abode upon fulfilling these to the letter. I realized that all the works that I could muster would only be my “reasonable service.” Jesus gives the parable of the landowner to teach that God does not open His heart and extend His power to His people simply because they have done their duty.
But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do. Luke 17:7-10
The master does not invite the servants to his table, and furthermore does not thank them for their work! Jesus points out that the servants were merely doing their duty, and no more. Let’s make a modern analogy. Suppose I take my family to a nice restaurant and we all order our meal. We are served by a waitress who provides outstanding service. When she brings our food, she pulls up a chair and begins to eat with us! Just because she served us well doesn’t earn her a place at our table! Jesus is saying the same thing...dutiful obedience does not merit us heaven. Jesus is speaking this parable to his disciples. The lesson that He taught His disciples was that obedience—however great its measure or duration—does not qualify a person for heaven or make them worthy of Divine acceptance. Our works do not obligate God to love us! Acceptance of God’s grace moves God to embrace us!
The Apostle Paul speaks of this issue in Romans 11:6 “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” This passage shows how mutually exclusive are meritorious works and God’s grace. It is either one or the other, not 50% us and 50% God. This is true in our justification, our sanctification and our ultimate glorification—it is by grace and not by works. God is not moved or obligated by our works, because Jesus paid the price already. Ephesians 2:4-7 “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” If our justification or our continued sanctification were by works, then our flesh would have reason to boast. Grace keeps us from that. Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. John tells us that we have absolutely no part in our salvation or sanctification. John 1:12-13 “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” He wants His children to walk by faith in grace, not by meritorious performance.
This is exactly what Paul condemned in the Galatians: “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3).
The amazing thing about grace is that when I pray to the God of the universe, He looks down and does not see the sinner that I am. Nor does He see a man that is deficient and lacking, a man that has so far to go and so many works to perform that he will never satisfy the righteousness that His holiness demands. Instead, brothers, God looks at me and sees the sinless perfection of Jesus Christ who died for me. That is the only way He can look upon me! Only when I am covered by the precious blood of the sinless Lamb of God can I come into the presence of a Holy God. And it is only by God’s grace that this can happen…not by my works, not by my penance, not by might, but by Jesus! Would to God that I could adequately express how liberating this fact is to a works-mentality Christian who is laden with guilt and feelings of inadequacy! Grace sets us free, and our gratitude leads us happily to be the Lord’s slave.
2. Grace Empowers Us to Live Victorious Lives!
Another part of my grace awakening was a deeper understanding of what grace is. Again, I perceived grace as simply God’s unmerited favor. Period. That was a nice, tidy, theological truth that was appreciated but never fully realized. The Lord revealed to me that there is more to grace than this. Grace is empowering! It gives us the ability to overcome sin and live holy lives before God. I was relying completely on God’s mercy when I sinned, but did not understand that it is God’s grace that could keep me from falling! Scripture tells us that “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17), and that Jesus came to “save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). The grace and truth that Jesus brought give us the power to overcome! Praise God! In the New Testament, in addition to being His unspeakable gift, grace is also the “divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life” and is what “kindles us to the exercise of Christian virtues” (5485 charis). This grace is the power of the believer to live for Christ, overcome sin and have the victorious life! 2 Timothy 2:1 “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” In this light, think of grace as the following:
Empowering grace: the ability God gives the humble (through His Spirit) to do His will joyfully!
In 2 Corinthians 9:8, we have a powerful passage that speaks of this empowering grace: “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work...” Notice the totality of these seven words in this verse: “All grace…abound toward you... always...all sufficiency....all things.... abound....every good work.” That’s powerful! That’s empowering grace.
Empowering grace is something which God can give in incremental measure! Peter shows this in 2 Peter 3:18; “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” He gives abundant grace when we need it! In 2 Corinthians 9:14-15, Paul says “And by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” He gives us just the right amount—all sufficient! God gives us sufficient grace for all things and for every circumstance, trial, or tribulation. We have enough, and we have it when we need it most. The Hebrew writer notes in Hebrews 4:15-16, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Grace is given when we need it!
James not only confirms that grace is incremental, but also gives us the key to receiving this empowering grace; “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.“ (James 4:6). The Apostle Paul is considered the apostle of grace, having been granted life even though he greatly persecuted the brethren before his conversion. Paul knew that grace and humility go hand in hand. We see in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” God can use our weaknesses to make us strong because when we humbly yield ourselves to His grace, “the power of Christ” may rest upon us!
Another passage that shows the empowering nature of grace is Acts 20:32, “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” Grace builds us up, encourages us, and strengthens us for the fight! The Apostle Paul acknowledged that it was grace that enabled him to fight the good fight. “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Likewise, Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” This grace was unmerited favor, yes, but the difference is in the fact that Paul tapped into this power source and let it guide his life! Grace enabled him to live with his thorn in the flesh and not be exalted by his revelations. Grace empowered him to endure the shipwrecks and stripes and imprisonments. Grace emboldened him to confront Peter to the face in the matter of the Gentile brethren. Grace gave his letters power and authority...“but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
And finally, Titus 2:11-13 “the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ...” Grace teaches us to live godly here in this life! It is concerned with the now. When we fully comprehend just what Jesus did for us, why would we desire to live in sin? It puts Christ in our hearts and the Spirit in our life, and brings the spirit of the Word to rule over the letter of the Law. Grace is the best teacher! Hebrews 12:28 “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”
3. Saved By Grace
There is so much to say about grace. It is one of the sweetest topics I know of. To this day, I still thrill to hear it mentioned. When I sing of it, often a lump rises in my throat and I cannot sing out. The greatest part of my grace awakening is that it led me to be truly born again. One cannot fully embrace the various aspects of grace (e.g., the power to live a holy life; the ability to rest in the finished work of Christ; the realization that God loves us like the Prodigal, and cares for us like the eleventh-hour workers) unless he understands salvation by grace. Ephesians 2:4-10 “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
After opening my eyes to the wondrous truth of grace, the Lord revealed to me that this very grace saves us through faith! Again, the Lord opened the hearts of my family, and we searched the Scriptures concerning salvation. Brethren, it is very difficult to lay aside doctrines that you have embraced for so many years. There is a fear of leaving “the Truth” and going off into error. Your soul’s salvation is no light matter, and we treated it with the appropriate gravity. We began to read the Scriptures with new eyes and a new heart. We studied among our own group, but seemed to be stymied. We sought out those who could give us the opposite perspective, namely someone who believed in salvation by grace. The Lord led me one evening to contact a “remnant” brother whom I had never met, and only heard about. This beloved brother graciously invited us for dinner and study. After our meeting, I still clung tightly to my former doctrines on salvation. But, there was something about this brother and his family that made me feel unmistakenly that I had been with God’s people. All doctrines aside, this family had the aroma of Christ. They did not hold to baptism “for the remission of sins” (as I understood the Scriptures, namely for “regeneration”) and yet I knew that they had Christ living within them. And, I knew I wanted what they had.
What happened next was truly amazing to us. My son Jason, my wife Kayra and I all studied specific passages separately and the Lord brought the same meaning to us all. This was a tremendous confirmation. We truly believe the Spirit was working in our respective hearts and we thrilled to compare revelations. The glorious truth is that salvation is not a plan, but a man—Christ Jesus! I beg you to never forget that. Space will not permit me to discuss this vast topic, but let me share a story about salvation. Chuck Colson tells of a remarkable prison near the city of San Jose dos Campos, Brazil, named Humaita. The Brazilian government turned the prison over to two Christians who purposed to operate the facility on Christian principles. This is not your normal prison—the inmates do all the work! There are only 2 full-time staff members to supervise these criminals. The inmates are “adopted” by families who work with them while in prison and after their release. The prison has operated successfully in this manner for over twenty years! Colson visited the prison and made this report:
“When I visited Humaita I found the inmates smiling—particularly the murderer who held the keys, opened the gates, and let me in. Wherever I walked, I saw men at peace. I saw clean living areas, people working industriously. The walls were decorated with Biblical sayings from Psalms and Proverbs. My guide escorted me to the notorious prison cell once used for torture. Today, he told me, that block houses only a single inmate. As we reached the end of a long concrete corridor and he put the key in the lock, he paused and asked, ‘Are you sure you want to go in?’
‘Of course,’ I replied impatiently, ‘I’ve been in isolation cells all over the world.’ Slowly, he swung open the massive door, and I saw the prisoner in the punishment cell: a crucifix, beautifully carved by the Humaita inmates—the prisoner Jesus, hanging on a cross. ‘He’s doing time for the rest of us,’ my guide said softly.”(Charles Colson “Making the World Safe for Religion,” Christianity Today, 8 November 1993, 33; Max Lucado, In The Grip of Grace; Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 1996, 112-113.)
The wonderful thing about grace is that Jesus died to set men free from the prison of sin. Free from the bondage of guilt. Free from the shackles of shame. The true story about Humaita is powerful to me because it shows that these men were set free from guilt and shame and despair because they realized that Jesus, in death, took all their hideous sins— murder, stealing, and all—and put them on His cross. Yes, Jesus arose from the grave, but this story tells me that I can never allow myself to lose sight of the fact that on the cross of Jesus are all my sins. Jesus paid the price and set me free from sin’s prison. I walked out justified, not merely forgiven. God cleansed me with His Son’s blood, and made Him the propitiation for my sins. Romans 3:25 “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” In connection with salvation, propitiation is a term that means “that which appeases the wrath of God against sin.” Jesus Christ, by His sacrifice on the cross, appeased and turned aside God’s just and holy wrath...the wrath that I should have borne. It is grace that God Himself devised a way for His wrath to be visited upon Jesus, rather than me. It is also God’s grace that sinners like me can appropriate this propitiation through faith in His blood. Hebrews 9:14: “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” In 1 John 1:7, we read, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” The Hebrew writer says “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10)
What the inmates at Humaita realized, and what changed their lives, is that the death of Christ Jesus upon the cross appeased the wrath of God toward them. Jesus was their propitiation. Their sins were forgiven, and their slate was clean. They had great freedom knowing these terrible sins were no longer before God, but were satisfied by the man in the isolation cell. Romans 4:7-8: “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” Since Jesus took my place, why should I want to remain in prison? Inmates count the days until they are free, and when the gates are opened, they do not hesitate...they leave! Why would I want to remain in sin, if my Lord died to free me from it? How blessed are Paul’s words penned in Romans 6:6-23. God through grace has set us free from sin’s prison. There are no fond memories of that place.
Eight months after our “grace awakening,” on August 23, 2002, I asked the aforementioned brother to lead me to Christ. Prostrate under the shade of Idaho pines, I confessed and repented of every sin and shortcoming that the Holy Spirit brought to my mind, repented of my sins, and committed to God my life, my family, my home, and my all. I exchanged my life for His. The Lord redeemed my soul from sin and came to live in my heart. By faith I died with Christ, I arose with him victorious over death and He came to live in me! All because of God’s grace! Having been quickened by His Spirit and set free from sin, I now had a dead body to bury. Since this beloved brother was soon to leave for his new home in Pennsylvania, my wife and I asked him to re-baptize us. This time, it was for a testimony of what the Spirit had wrought in our hearts through faith. Hallelujah!
I cannot describe how grace has changed my life but to say that I now have life! I now have a new heart…a heart awakened by grace! Scales have fallen off my eyes, and I now want to do all I can for the One who gave His all for me—not from works, but from a heart of love and gratitude. Praise God for His goodness and patience. I firmly believe that the Lord brought these truths to me at a time when I would be receptive and able to receive them! I am confident He will do the same for all who seek His face with a pure heart and true faith. Romans 13:11 “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.”
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