God’s Priorities for His Churches: Grace (4)
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. 2 Corinthians 9.8
By the term sufficiency he points out the measure which the Lord knows to be useful for us, for it is not always profitable for us, to be filled to satiety. The Lord therefore, ministers to us according to the measure of our advantage, sometimes more, sometimes less, but in such a way that we are satisfied ― which is much more, than if one had the whole world to luxuriate upon. In this sufficiency we must abound, for the purpose of doing good to others, for the reason why God does us good is ― not that every one may keep to himself what he has received, but that there may be a mutual participation among us, according as necessity may require.
- John Calvin, Commentary on 2 Corinthians 9.8
Mean what you say
“You keep on using that word. I’m not sure it means what you think it means.”
Thus the Spaniard rebuked the Sicilian in the classic film, The Princess Bride, for his frivolous use of the term, “Inconceivable!” If we’re going to use terms, and especially if we’re going to use them frequentlyand importantly, then we ought to make sure we understand them and how they are properly used.
This is a problem in certain sectors of the Christian community. We use certain terms frequently and in important contexts, but I’m not sure always with right understanding. Words like glory and praise and disciple.
And words like grace. Paul longed for the churches he served to abound in grace – in worship, disciple-making, and mission. And unless we long for the same for our churches, we’re not building the Lord’s Church as He intends.
Do we really understand what grace is, and what grace is for? And in particular, do we understand the indispensability of grace for the work of making disciples?
Now might be a good time for a brief reconsideration.
Grace common and special
We have said that grace is not a commodity to be transferred, received, stored-up, and spent. Grace is rather a divine disposition of favor, by which God extends life and its many benefits to undeserving creatures such as we. Grace is often associated with God’s face turning toward us or shining upon us, so that we understand Him to be looking upon us favorably (Ps. 80.19).
Grace reaches us from the eternal and spiritual realm, from God Who needs nothing but loves all He has made, and Who works continuously for the wellbeing of His creatures. All God’s creatures are recipients of His grace. It is for this reason that the psalmist calls on the entire creation to give thanks and praise to God (Ps. 148).
In particular, grace embraces every human being, bringing life, sustenance, and a variety of benefits and blessings. The purpose of God’s so disposing Himself toward people, however, is not merely that grace may be received and enjoyed – that humans may realize a kind of “satiety” and thus be more or less “satisfied”. The ultimate purpose of all created things is to enjoy and celebrate God’s greatness, goodness, kindness, forbearance, and love, to exalt Him as Creator, Sovereign, Redeemer, Savior, and Lord, and to glorify and make Him known by all means.
But for grace to accomplish this work, it must be acknowledged. Grace unacknowledged, that is, grace received and enjoyed by those who do not know the Lord, is what theologians refer to as common grace. Common graceexpresses the Lord’s favor toward allpeople, enabling them to share in common certain benefits of existence.
The properend of grace is that it should be acknowledged, by faith and worship, unto a life of obedience and good works (Eph. 2.8-10). This is a work of the Holy Spirit, and thus makes grace special rather than commonas it accomplishes this end. Special grace leads to a life of discipleship and of becoming increasingly a conduit of God’s grace to others. Those who insist they are recipients of special grace, savinggrace, ought not continue living as those who merely enjoy common grace. And we who are entrusted with the ministry of the Word of God – a ministry of grace – ought not be content to see the grace of God going unacknowledged among His people.
The key to discipleship
Grace is the key to discipleship, and it determines the shape discipleship must take. By grace disciples are justified before God, and by grace He sanctifiesthem by His Word and Spirit, working in every person who believes the Good News of Christ and His Kingdom to transform them into the image of Jesus for a life of good words and good works. As Paul put it in 2 Thessalonians 2.16, 17, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.”
By so living, we prove that the grace of God has reached to and enlivened our soul, enabling us to fulfill Jesus’ call to His Kingdom and glory. God grants us sufficient grace not only to satisfy our deepest longings, but to empower us for doing good works and speaking good words to others, that the glory of God may be more widely diffused and known. This is the life of discipleship, and it is entirely a work of grace. This is the life for which pastors and teachers are appointed to equip the saints of God.
The purpose of grace is thus not merely to satisfy our deep sense of needing to be loved, forgiven, accepted, adopted, and saved. Being a Christian – a disciple of Christ – is not merely about being forgiven, feeling assured of salvation, and knowing how to derive comfort for one’s soul. The purpose of grace is, having accomplished that, having comforted our hearts, to motivate us to love God more, move us as agents of grace in love for our neighbors, and establish us in good words and deeds.
Where gracious words and deeds are wanting, grace, though it may have been received, has not yet been acknowledged as God intends; and the claim of being a recipient of grace remains to be proved. Graceis the proof of God’s love for us; discipleshipis the proof that grace has been receivedand is being acknowledged in a life of loving God and neighbors.
Grace, worship, discipleship
We can see why worship must be above all else a context for experiencing and celebrating the grace of God. Both in public worship and in private, we must search out the wider horizons and deeper fountains of grace, so that our view of God grows ever larger, our fear of and love for Him grow ever stronger, and our obedience flows more readily, richly, and consistently into all areas of our daily lives. Only as we acknowledge God’s grace, in all its many and varied forms, and give Him the thanks and praise He is due, will we obey His will by reaching out in grace to the people around us. And only as we teach, train, and equip believers to receive and acknowledge the grace of God will they fulfill their callings as disciples and followers of Christ.
This is why, as Peter insisted, every believer must endeavor to be always growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3.18). God’s gracious disposition toward us is always greater, wider, deeper, and more all-embracing than we are conscious of at any moment. As we increase awareness of God’s grace, and experience of the forms in which it reaches us, our love for Him will grow, leading to greater obedience and a more consistent life of good works.
Discipleship is about grace – growing in the awareness and experience of grace, so that we are transformed by grace and become agents of grace to the people we encounter every day. Churches are healthy and growing where such grace abounds and overflows, within the Body of Christ and throughout the larger community.
Worship and discipleship
In my third Conversation with Rev. Robert Lynn, we talk about the role worship plays in shaping a church’s self-image. If we get worship wrong, because we do not understand grace, we’re likely to get our sense of who we are in the world wrong as well. You can watch this Conversation by clicking here.
Prayer for Revival
“Paul points out that the grace of God is present in them. Just as it has led their hearts to amend their faults and accept the truth of Christian teaching, so it will assist them, once they have begun, to abound in every good work..”
- Ambrosiaster (fl. 366-384), Commentary on Paul’s Epistles
God has called His people to be bringers of grace and joy to the world. Our booklet, Joy to Your World!, can show you how this can work out in the lives of the people you serve. Order your copy by clicking here.
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T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).