A Framework of Grace (1)
Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2.11-13
There is a tendency, sometimes, to think of the grace of God in merely personal and temporary terms. That is, grace is real to the extent that I experience it, when I experience it. Now it’s true that all who know and follow Jesus Christ experience the grace of God more or less and at different times and in particular circumstances. At such times – when we are gladly aware that God is kindly disposed toward us, and He is communicating that grace to us and empowering us to know and express it – we are confident in the all-sufficiency of God’s grace to help us in our times of need.
But what about the other times? When God doesn’t feel so near? Or we have not been diligent in seeking Him? When we’re going through some trial or season of doubt? Many of us might feel like the grace of God has forsaken us just at the time we need it most. We feel alone, unhappy, and maybe even wondering whether we’re saved at all.
This view sees grace as an occasional shower of blessing, that comes just in time and in just enough supply to sustain us through our normal life. But when troubles or doubts come, we feel we have strayed into a desert, or are languishing in a drought, where gracious showers of blessing are withheld, and there’s not a cloud of relief anywhere in sight.
We need to remember that grace is not just an occasional shot of spiritual steroids, strengthening us according to our needs for a while. God does not extend His grace to us in measured terms. His grace is always sufficient for all our needs, all the time. And this is so because all who have come to know the grace of God have entered a framework of grace, a new economy of grace, in which grace is the air we breathe, the road we travel, and the currency we spend.
And foundational to that framework is God’s gracious covenant.
God’s covenant is the gracious arrangement He has established to unite His people with Himself, bring them into His presence with glory, and make them ambassadors of grace to the world. It entails promises offered by God, responsibilities accepted by His people, and blessings or sanctions according to their obedience to the covenant.
God’s covenant is a major unifying theme of Scripture. While there are – as Paul noted – many covenants in the Bible, these all are but stages or developments of the one covenant of promise – God’s gracious covenant – within which framework the story of redemption and restoration unfolds.
The most prominent feature of God’s covenant is the promises He makes, as outlined in Genesis 12.1-3. The various promises here are all outworkings of the one overarching promise of grace, which may be summarized in the covenant motto: “I will be your God, and you will be My people.” The purpose of God’s covenant is to bind to Himself forever a people upon whom He sets His grace for forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. To accomplish the purpose of His covenant, God has made the entire cosmos subject to it. He rules the heavens and the earth, and everything in them, by grace and holy spiritual power, so that His goodness might come to all His creatures, and especially to His people. God’s people of grace come to know Him as their God within the constraints of time and space; thus, God causes all time and space, and everything in them, to cooperate as His servants in fulfilling the great promise of His covenant (Ps. 119.89-91).
The grace of God is thus active at all times all around us. The way He sustains the cosmos, His governance of our daily lives, His provision for our needs – all these are reminders that we who know Him live within a framework of grace, a sea of grace, as it were, and not merely an occasional shower of blessing; an atmosphere of grace, and not just a gracious breath of fresh air from time to time. We are always carried along and kept in life by the grace of God, which operates in, on, and through all creation to draw and keep His people near to Him.
And His covenant cannot fail, for He has taken upon Himself all the responsibility of ensuring that His grace will be all-sufficient for all our needs.
The promises of grace
Central to God’s covenant are the precious and very great promises He outlined to Abram. He promised to bless Abram with a special and binding relationship with Himself; to make of him a great and influential people, as numerous as the stars of the heaven and the sand of the sea; to keep and provide for him, and to guard him against enemies; and to extend His grace through Abram to all peoples and for all times. These “precious and very great promises” find their complete fulfillment in Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1.4; 2 Cor. 1.20). When we come to know Christ, we enter the framework of grace which is God’s covenant, and we are submerged in, surrounded by, sustained by, and strengthened by the constancy of God’s unfailing promises.
When the psalmist Asaph sensed that something had come between him and the Lord, that he was not experiencing His grace as normally, he realized that it was his sin, his grief, his failure that had blinded him to the reality that God’s grace does not change, and He does not move, because He is at all times faithful to His gracious covenant (Ps. 77.7-12).
The promises of God are given to guide our steps each day. As we live toward the promises, striving to gain them and reaching out to attain them, we engage the all-sufficient grace of God for everything we need. This is a bit like swimming, when we’re more aware of the water, and of its buoyancy and power, because we’re working with it to stay afloat and make progress.
God’s covenant provides the superstructure of grace in which all who have come to know Jesus live, move, and have their being. We are never beyond the reach of God’s grace, and when we feel as though we are, then we must merely breathe our prayers to the Lord, and exercise our bodies to engage His all-sufficient grace anew.
And because of His covenant, He will not fail to renew us in His ever-present, all-sufficient grace.
1. Why do we need to understand that grace is like a sea or an atmosphere, and not an occasional rain shower?
2. What does it mean to “live toward” the promises of God?
3. How would you explain God’s covenant motto – “I will be your God, and you will be My people” – to an unbelieving friend?
Next Steps – Transformation: Begin making note, throughout the day, of all the many ways God surrounds you with His grace. Jot them down. Share them with others. At the end of the day, pray them back to the Lord with thanksgiving. Then do it again the next day.
Grace flows from our relationship with Jesus Christ. The better we know Him, the more His grace will do its work in us. Our book, To Know Him, can help you in drawing closer to Jesus and increasing in Him. Order your copy by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
God's Gracious Covenant (1)
- T.M. Moore
- September 4, 2019
Grace is a sea, not a shower.
A Framework of Grace (1)
T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.