Philippians 4:23 “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”
How do people change their behaviour and beliefs? Paul would never be in Philippi again, and this letter was the first piece of New Testament writing the Christians there had ever had. Soon they will be getting copies of his other letters, and then gospels and writings by other apostles will reach them and they will have the New Testament. That will change them won’t it? Yes indeed. How will it change them? In three ways:
i] By its commandments and warnings.
The Lord himself use both of these in abundance. “Remember Lot’s wife!” said the Lord Jesus. He encouraged his disciples to mortify remaining sin by bringing the fear of judgment to bear on them. We respond to warnings don’t we? “Don’t park on double yellow lines. Keep the speed limit. Study hard.” You know what will happen if you disobey those laws? You will suffer pain. So people’s behaviour does change by the promise of rewards and the threat of punishments. This very letter contains some warnings: “watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh . . . many live as the enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction . . .”, and there are many more in the Bible. But there is another way the New Testament will change us:
ii] By making us think seriously.
Paul says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” There is that famous phrase, “the power of positive thinking.” It’s a great phrase. Don’t dismiss Jesus Christ with the phrase, “Oh, that’s religion.” Think positively about this person who’s had more influence on the world than any other man. We are meeting people who are trapped in the cycle of poverty, or of bad relationships, or of drugs and alcohol, and they have started to believe they can never get out of those traps, and some never do. Many people who lived in eastern Europe and Russia have learned to depend on Caesar for everything. Some of them never think that they can get by with initiative and drive and creativity. They are living by a learned dependence and ingrained sense of helplessness. Men who have been years in prison, even in the Russian Gulag, found they couldn’t cope with being released and decisions to be made, and choices all the time. They craved for prison again. Transforming such people means changing their thinking. Jesus Christ has come to set prisoners free and most people are prisoners of very narrow minds. Yesterday in the Times one of their writers was describing an evangelical Christian of the early 19th century as being “caught in the straitjacket of fundamentalist religion.” Don’t let that phrase, ‘fundamentalist religion’ fool you. We are talking about supernatural and revealed Christianity. And we believers are the ones who are supposed to be in a straitjacket? We are not the men denying the redeeming grace of Christ, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, new life in God, education by the living word of God. What a straitjacket trying to exist in God’s creation for three-score years and ten without such realities. Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians to make men think.
iii] Most importantly of all, by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ being with our spirits.
This is absolutely central to our lives. You see it in this letter, how it begins with Paul saying the word ‘grace’, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2), and how it ends with our text, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (v.23). That is also exactly the way I begin and end our Sunday evening services. Grace is the alpha and omega of the faith. It is the grace of a person, the Lord Christ.
1. WHAT IS GRACE?
Grace is a characteristic of God. God is a gracious God. Grace is a part of God’s very nature. Grace is an attribute of God. He would no longer be God without his grace – any more than he could be God if he were not omnipresent. For example, freezing at 32 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level is not merely a characteristic of water, it is an attribute of water. If that attribute were removed, the liquid in question would no longer be water, because a liquid that has different attributes is not water. God is grace. God the Father is grace, God the Son is grace, and God the Holy Spirit is grace. This is something we can rely on. God is always gracious, and we can delight in that reality, and enjoy the consequences of his being a God of grace. We believe in his grace, and sinners can be saved because God is gracious.
Grace is God’s undeserved favour and unmerited love. Grace is God blessing when he is not bound to bless, and when he has no obligation to bless. On man’s part this grace of God is utterly undeserved. It depends on a free decision of God and not on any worthiness at all in man. It exclusively comes to sinners through the Lord Jesus Christ. Think of the familiar mnemonic of GRACE: ‘Great Riches At Christ’s Expense.’ Only because of his works, and not because of anything we have done do the multiform blessings of eternal life become ours. If a judge freed a guilty prisoner that would be his mercy. If he paid his fine that would be his kindness, but if he adopted him into his family and made him his son and heir that would be his grace. It was because of God’s grace that Israel was chosen as his people. They were pathetic, grumbling and complaining, quick to make an idol and bow down before it, but he had set his love on these unlovely people, forgiving them and bringing them back to repentance again and again. That is his grace. The Lord Jesus restoring Peter after he denied him and saying to him, “Feed my sheep” is an example of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The way he continually forgives our own familiar pattern of sins is because of his limitless grace. The grace of God is his great heart of love.
The church has largely fallen into the wretched habit of taking grace for granted, and sentimentalising it. For us this is what God is supposed to be like, his main characteristic is that he is a God of grace. But the Christians of the New Testament are flabbergasted that the God who created the universe, the God of light and righteousness, the God who drove our first parents out of Eden and set cherubim with a flaming sword at the entrance to prevent fallen man returning to the tree of life, the God of Sinai’s 10 Commandments, the God who cannot look on iniquity – that this God is a God of grace. They found it simply staggering, especially when they considered the implications of the crucifixion of God the Son.
The Christian hymn-writers have caught their sense of wonder – “Amazing grace . . .Amazing love, how can it be that Thou my God shouldest die for me? . . . I stand all amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene . . . Love so amazing so divine demands my soul my life my all . . .I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me . . . And when I think, that God His Son not sparing, sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.” The universe is full of wonders – the super nova of outer space, the microcosmic world of the atom, the genetic code, the growth of a baby in its mother’s womb – wonder upon wonder, but they all pale into insignificance beside the marvel of God’s grace. Words fall short of it. It is an inexpressible gift
2. WHAT HAS THE GRACE OF GOD DONE?
i] God’s grace determined to send his Son to be our Saviour.
It was not that there was a gathering of all the wisest and best and most religious people in the whole world and they all devised a scheme by which the effects of our sinfulness could be overcome: “Let God’s Son become the Lamb of God to deal with our blame and shame.” No. It was not that having devised this scheme they put the proposition to God: “We ask you and plead with you that you would give your Son,” and that they kept on asking until he agreed. No. It was not like that at all. The initiative was entirely God’s. The plan was conceived by him. It was his love alone that devised it. God the Father gazed around heaven. His eyes were fixed on Michael and Gabriel the archangels. One word from him and they would have done whatever he asked. How resplendent and powerful and holy they are, but the bottom line is that they are spirits, and how could spirits redeem men and women? So he looked at his Son, and we know that all that God the Father has his Son has too. He is 100% divine. He has the glory and attributes and all the characteristics of God. He is infinite, eternal and unchangeable. He creates and sustains; he hears and answers prayer. He is the judge of mankind. He was in the beginning with God, and he has all the names and titles of God. All the angels of God worship him, but before one of them was made God the Father loved God the Son and the Son loved him in return. There was never a more loving Father and never a more beloved Son, and it was this Son that God determined that he would give, his only-begotten Son. It was this Son who freely and humbly agreed to come for our redemption. It was all because of the grace of God. So Paul tells Timothy that “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” (2 Tim. 1:9).
So Jesus came, so freely and lovingly, to be conceived by Mary and born in a stable in Bethlehem. He who was rich yet for our sakes became poor. There was not one divine attribute that he set aside when he became a man. There was no divestiture of his omnipotence or his omniscience or his omnipresence. Rather, there was an addition to his divinity of true humanity. The incarnation was growth not diminution. God the Son clothed himself in the garments of our clay. He was veiled in flesh so that his divinity was hidden in a carpenter’s shop in Nazareth and in an eloquent rabbi exhausted after his preaching so that he slept in a ship. What there is in our dust is all that constitutes the manhood of the second person of the godhead, God the Son, when he entered our world.
It was even to the cross of Golgotha that he came. That was the apex of God’s grace in our redemption. There is something in the very nature of what God is in himself, and always must be, that requires atonement, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. That is how it is with the only God there is. The bondage of sin requires redemption and God’s grace provides that atonement. If I give my body to be burned or give away all my goods to feed the poor all of that cannot atone for the way I have abused my children or hit my wife. Let me illustrate it like this. You went to the supermarket last week and in your change the check-out girl gave you a twenty pound note instead of a five pound note and you said nothing. In the night your conscience began to trouble you, and so the next day when the Christian Aid collector knocked on your door you slipped a five pound note into her envelope and gave it to her. Did that atone for your theft? Of course not. Nor did the hundred pounds you gave to your church on Sunday, nor going back to the shop and explaining the mistake and giving back double. That was what you should do, but it did not atone for your sin. Even that restitution itself was not sinless, and even for that very action atonement needed to be made – as atonement needs to be made for our righteousnesses. It is Christ who atones, Christ alone, because he is the infinite holy Son of God. He has been appointed to this work and he has dedicated himself to do it. God has imputed our sin to his Son on Golgotha. To his Son alone. Search the universe, the heavens, the earth, under the earth, throughout history, before history, when history shall end, and you will discover that only in one place and one time was our redemption secured and that was when God the Son lovingly and freely stood in our place outside the city wall, and on that central cross was made sin for us. As the Christian poet says”
“Forth from the realms of light my best Beloved came,
And dress’d Himself in human flesh that he might meet
The vengeance due to me: and when on Calv’ry’s top
The cross appear’d, in all its poignant points, and all
Tremendous woes, my Jesus took it all way.”
Both the plan of salvation and its accomplishment was divine. There was no human-divine co-operation. There is that great insistence in the Word of God that all alone and all by himself he made atonement. You were as useless to Christ in redemption as his disciples and his family who all stood a great way off. None of the angels in heaven made the slightest contribution to our redemption. His mother Mary was a mere spectator. All the Old Testament saints then in heaven did nothing. All alone he took the responsibility. All alone he bore the anathema. All alone he entered the place of woe and stood in the wrath of a sin-hating God identifying himself with me and bearing my condemnation. He accomplished our redemption all alone because he loved us, and it was a perfectly adequate and superabundant achievement. Nothing was left undone for the saints to pray for, or for purgatory to further mop up. At the end he could shout in triumph, “Finished!” That is the victory of grace in the death of Christ. So it was grace that sent Christ to be our Saviour.
ii] God’s grace determined that a vast and numberless company of sinners should be the beneficiaries of Christ’s atonement.
Such a royal death of the King of kings cannot be in vain. He must be more than a survivor, more than the resurrected one. He must be the head of his redeemed people and they must come from north, south, east and west in their multitudes. The Father is so delighted with the Son’s work that he has said to him, “Ask of me and I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance.” He has given to Jesus Christ a vast company like the stars in the heavens. All of them Christ loved. All of them were on his heart as he hung on the cross. All of them he redeemed. For all of them he makes intercession at the right hand of God, and so he is able to save them to the uttermost.
I am saying to you that God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit saved all these people. Now there are many who find this offensive, and the reason they do is that it exalts God, and it humbles men. A theologian writing a century ago said, “It is easy for any soft humanist . . . to hold up to horror or ridicule our fathers’ doctrine of predestination . . . It is easy because we believe in man . . . whereas they believed in God. We are supremely concerned about human happiness whereas they were engrossed with the glory of God. We are preoccupied with human freedom, and are not interested (as they were above all) in the freedom of God. We are greatly interested in freedom of thought, and little in the freedom of grace; much troubled about freedom of action, and little about freedom of the soul.” Our thought is predominantly man centred and not God centred, and because we can do so many things we think that our salvation must be related to our work, and right there we make our big mistake, a mistake so great, that, if it is not corrected, it will lead us to destruction.
So let me make this as clear as I can. The Bible teaches that God chooses a vast number of people to fill his heaven. He will have them saved. He will not have the humbling of his beloved Son to that death to rest in uncertainty and any human boasting – “I reckon I made a pretty smart choice when I voted for Jesus”. Those the people God chose are the ones for whom Christ made atonement. Before we chose Jesus, God has chosen us. Indeed it is because God chose us that we chose him. That is what we mean by salvation being through the grace of God. That is what I believe the Bible teaches. Check it out. Now why are some of you offended by this? Is the word ‘predestination’ found in the Bible? Is the word ‘election’ found there? Is God the author of this choice? Yes. Then why do you find it difficult to believe it?
You say, “It removes all initiative for me; it removes me from the entire salvation process; it means the end of evangelism; it is insulting, actually – that’s what it is.” But you haven’t faced up to your own condition, or you wouldn’t think like that, let alone say those words. You are thinking you are in a pretty healthy spiritual state, and that you are capable enough of deciding for God if and when you want to, but that is not the case. You are not like Adam in the Garden with a free will. You are like fallen Adam driven out of the Garden with every imagination of the thoughts of your heart only evil continually. We are a race which has been corrupted by sin, our wills, and our emotions and our intellects all having been affected. Every element of our personalities has been polluted by sin. The Bible describes us as being dead in our sins, with a spirit of enmity against God in our hearts. Do you see why it cannot be left to our own choices? We would always say no. Every Christian here says, “Do you know, if God had not taken the first step, I would still be out there living like the devil. I would still be out there drinking and cursing and swearing and committing fornication. I would still be out there without any hope, broken and depressed and suicidal. But God has come into my life. He took the initiative.”
Do you believe that you were different from other men? Better? More worthy? Do you think that you were really not that bad – an improvement on so many others, not spiritually blind, just somewhat short-sighted; not dead, just a bit sick. If so, certainly you will believe that you can take at least some credit that you came to Christ. But if you know that you were “dead in trespasses and sins,” then you must know that it was God’s grace that has made the difference in your life, or you would never have come to him.
iii] God’s grace determined that new life and saving faith should be given to all he had chosen.
One of those people whom God determined to save lived in Greece in a place called Philippi. Her name was Lydia. How did God ensure that she should receive the grace of God. By a mighty act God compelled his apostle Paul to go across the sea to Macedonia. God opened doors and closed doors and directed Paul so that one day he came to a riverside and met Lydia with her friends. God gave Paul the gospel of Jesus Christ to preach to her. As he preached God opened her heart and she responded in faith to what she heard. She believed the message and chose Christ.
This picture of the opening of the heart is also described in the Bible as the giving of a new heart, a heart of flesh for a heart of stone. It is described as the giving of new life. It is described as a resurrection from the dead. It is described as a new creation. It is described as a birth from above. That too is a divine act, not the action of men. All these terms are the description of the same great act of God’s powerful action. Paul says, “By grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Sometimes people will lament, “Oh for a new start in life!” God gives his people new life to start living.
Do you find that unacceptable? Do you think that that denies your free will? Harry Kilbride, a friend of mine, once wrote these words, “I heard a preacher say the other day, ‘God will never mess with your free will.’ Well, I am sure glad that God ‘messed with’ my free will. Though raised by a godly father I rebelled against all that and turned way from the things of God. No-one made me do it. I wanted to do it. My will was to live for pleasure not to live for Christ. Then, on March 2, 1954, in the Harringay Arena in London, God looked down in mercy upon my sinful shrivelled up soul. He saw that my polluted will was taking me headlong to hell, and in grace God worked a miracle. Billy Graham was the preacher and the Holy Spirit was the power. I didn’t even ‘go forward’ at the invitation. I was too rooted to my seat as God did what only he could do. The scales fell from my eyes, the chains fell from my heart and I became a new person. That is sovereign grace.”
You ask me if I deny that men must be invited to trust in Christ. Do I believe that we have no part to play but just wait for God to save us? Not at all! I believe Christ must be offered as Saviour to everyone, and the hearers pleaded with and beseeched – even with tears – to respond. All men are under obligation to come to Christ when they hear the invitation of the gospel, that it is a sin to delay, that there is power in the word of God as the Spirit applies it to their hearts that enables them to come. I believe that every single man is responsible to hear and obey the gospel. I believe in 100% human responsibility, as I believe in the 100% sovereignty of God’s grace. I believe in them both. God chooses and man chooses, but man will choose salvation because God has chosen him. How you can reconcile God’s sovereignty with our own responsibility we are not told, but both are taught in the Bible. Man is certainly not a puppet nor a robot. He has that proper freedom which responsibility brings, but man will not freely come to Christ unless God in his grace constrains him. Man is truly responsible, and God is sovereign.
Let me use this illustration: there is the famous dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Imagine that in that dome lives a pigeon. It has never been anywhere else. That is its world and it is so happy there. All day long it listens to the organ music and the chanting and looks down on the visitors as they wander around, and in the evening there are magnificent concerts to hear. There is another bird whose home is Nelson’s column and occasionally it flies across to St. Paul’s. Now these two birds converse with one another through a pane of glass. The one says, “Isn’t St Paul’s dome wonderful?” The other replies, “I just marvel at it every day. It is so beautiful in all its concave magnificence.” “ConVEX magnificence,” corrects the other. “No no,” relies the first bird, “I live inside the dome. I’ve spent my whole life here. It is a concave dome.” “Not at all,” says the pigeon from Nelson’s column, “I am an educated bird. I know the difference between concave and convex. This dome, the dome of St. Paul’s, is convex.” “Then we are looking at two different domes,” says the other, “for I am looking at it now, and I want you to know that it is concave.” “It is convex, birdbrain,” says the other, and flies off.
Now the verger listening to those two birds squabbling would probably say to them both, “Silly little birds, both of you are right. Why do you quarrel over things you do not comprehend?” The bird in St Paul’s says, “Because a dome can’t be both convex and concave at the same time.” “O yes it can,” said the verger. If those birds had a greater understanding they could see why. So it is that both God’s gracious sovereign choice and also our own responsibility to respond to it are both taught in the Bible. Both must be believed and both preached comprehensively and clearly, not some mishmash, watered down apology erected somewhere in the middle.
When I speak to you who are unconverted I call on you to repent and believe the gospel. I offer Jesus Christ to whoever of you will call upon him. I do not water that down. I know that each unsaved person listening will be held accountable for his or her decision. However, when I teach this truth to Christians here I call upon them to bow down before our gracious and sovereign God and glorify that grace that chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.
John Reisinger says, “Imagine you are a four-legged sheep caught in a thicket from which you cannot free yourself. You are cold, hungry, thirsty, and your throat is sore from bleating. The more you struggle to get free, the more the briars dig into your flesh and cause the blood to flow. Finally, in utter despair, you resign yourself to your pitiful situation, quit struggling, and prepare to die. If, in that most hopeless situation, you heard the familiar voice of a shepherd calling your name, what would you do? You would cry, “Baaaa! Baaaa!” as loudly as you could.
“Well, let me tell you that if you are a two-legged sheep in the same condition, you will react exactly the same way. If you are caught in a thicket of sin and cannot get lose, and the harder you try to get free the more you fail because the bonds of sin get stronger, and you are hungry, tired, and thirsty, then I have good news. There is a gracious Shepherd calling your name. Cry out to him. Cry, “Baaaa! Baaaa!” as loudly as you can. Tell him how sick you are of sin and its awful consequences. Tell him how totally helpless you are and how desperately you need his grace and power. He will be at your side in a moment. He will free you from the thicket of sin, bind up your wounds, give you bread and water, and put you on his shoulder and carry you safely back to the fold.
“The only person who will not cry out “Baaa! Baaa!” is the person who either does not believe he is caught in a thicket of sin, but imagines he is totally free, or the person who loves the sin despite the misery it brings. If you are a chosen sheep, you know what it is to be set free from the thicket. You have tasted the Bread of Heaven and have drunk the Water of Life. You will praise forever him who loved you with an everlasting love and washed you in his own precious blood.” (“Chosen in Eternity”, John G. Reisinger, New Covenant Media, Frederick, MD 21703, 200, pp. 38&39).
3. WHAT WILL THE GRACE OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST DO FOR OUR SPIRIT?
What does our text say? “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (v.23). Why does the apostle say, “with your spirit”? Men and women are not mere animals – “naked apes”, as the phrase was common in the 1960s – and so we can resist the wickedness of such exhortations as “Give in to your feelings! Go with the flow! Seize the moment! If it feels so right it can’t be wrong.” That is the level at which animals function. They act by their instincts. They don’t possess a conscience. If they have some basic hunger or urge then what could be more natural for an animal than to satisfy it? There are the people who cry, “Hurrah for the sexual revolution! How frustrating and dull life was before it,” so they claim. “Men were expected not to act upon all their sexual desires, and this of course turned them into hypocrites. Now all us know that there is nothing worse, morally speaking, than a hypocrite, and that there is no torture more acute or terrible than frustrated desire. So hurrah for the sexual revolution!” What wickedness such a philosophy has created! What destruction of a million families. How many single parents and father-less homes has that animalist religion spawned? Man is not animal. He is spirit as well as body. He can look up and see the stars. He can consider the brevity of life, the wonders of the creation and see the handiwork of its Maker both by day and night. He can understand the message of the Bible if he should read it.
We know that we have the same number of genes as a monkey, and 2,000 fewer than a mustard weed and 15,000 fewer than a rice plant! We share 98.9 per cent of our DNA with the chimpanzees, but because man is spirit he can take an ape’s skull in his hand and turn it round and round wondering all the while how similar it is to his own. But apes are not spirit, and so they don’t take human skulls, weigh them, analyse them, put them under a microscope, subject them to carbon-dating and cry “Eureka!” Because man is spirit he can also speak. A child of four years of age can string together hundreds of words using complex rules of grammar. You have to be spirit to speak. “Why do animals never speak?” asked a wise man. “Because they have nothing to say!” He answered his own question. Man has a great deal to say about sun, moon and stars; about origins and destinies. He can write a letter and read a letter which ends with the words, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” and he can say, “Amen! I understand that and agree with that.” He can know that the only way he can become a complete man is by that grace of Christ.
There are people with vast wealth, and boundless energy, and great cultural achievements, but they have known nothing of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Consider the falls of some politicians that we have been told about in the recent past. All that has happened to them because they neglected their spirits, and were strangers to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. I recently came across some words of the American playwright, David Mamet: “We’re spiritually bankrupt. We don’t pray. We don’t regenerate out spirit. These things aren’t luxuries. There has to be time for reflection, introspection and a certain amount of awe and wonder.” (Times 6 May, 2003). Does Mamet know the living God? To whom are we to pray? Without a knowledge of the living God we are spiritually bankrupt. Don’t we know the truth of Mamet’s comments? Evil thoughts and imaginations and desires – what havoc they work in us. A sense of wrong, or a grudge, jealousy, envy, lust – those are the things which cause us trouble. How much unhappiness and wretchedness we would avoid in this life if the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ were with our spirit.
It is true for every individual Christian that we need the grace of the Lord Jesus to be with us, or perhaps we should see Paul referring in these words to the whole corporate spirit of the body of Christ there in Philippi. May the spirit of your congregation know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ working in you mightily as you evangelise, as you love one another, as you worship and as you pray. What a difference to our whole life as a fellowship when the grace of the Lord Christ is with us day by day. If I went 80 miles south of Aberystwyth to the Welsh industrial town of Llanelli I might be asked by a Christian, “How’s the ‘hwyl’ pastor?” The Welsh word refers to the spirit. How are you in the faith? Is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ with your spirit?
What does the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ do to our spirit?
i] Christ’s grace gives assurance.
If God has loved you before you were born and, in the mystery of his grace, chose you to be his own, do you think he will ever let you go? Never. Never! Of course if 99 of the links were forged by grace in the heat of Golgotha’s inferno, but one link was forged entirely by us while God stood by and watched then all our lives we would be worrying about that one link. The strength of a chain is its weakest link. But if all the links in the golden chain were cast by God aren’t we safe? And were they not all cast by God? “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Roms. 8:29&30). Who can break such a chain and separate us from the love of God? “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Roms. 8:38&39). “Things future, nor things that are now
Nor all things below or above;
Can make Him His purpose forgo
Or sever my soul from His love” (Augustus Toplady)
If Christ’s grace is with your spirit you will know that nothing will separate you from God’s love.
ii] Christ’s grace stimulates evangelism.
Does this surprise you? Perhaps you imagined that believing in sovereign grace would discourage evangelism. It should do the very opposite. Why? Because we all know from both Scripture and experience that man by nature is either opposed to or indifferent to the gospel. Again and again those of us who have tried to witness to unsaved friends and neighbours have been discouraged by lack of response. Nevertheless we never lose hope because God has said that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. He will have a people called after his name. The Lord Christ has said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (Jn. 6:37). Don’t you just love that ‘will.’ They will come. God has made up his mind. When Luke gives a summary in the book of Acts of the progress of the church he says it in this way, “Then as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). When Paul was afraid outside of the city of Corinth responsible to take the gospel of Christ to that city a word from God came to encourage him, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack you, and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10).
God’s purpose is the salvation of sinners and so those engaged in this work are not wasting their time and energy. Of course, if we believed that it was entirely up to man’s ‘free will’ then we would have cause to be despondent, because what the sinner needs the most he desires the least. He would never come. That confidence drove the great evangelists and missionaries in the history of the church to keep preaching, such as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, William Carey, and Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and reap a great harvest. They did not believe that salvation needed psychological techniques and manipulative gimmicks to get a response. It was God’s business, so they were men of holy love and courage and integrity. When they centred their message on the divine diagnosis and remedy then God honoured it.
iii] Christ’s grace promotes worship.
This most of all. The truth that salvation is by God’s grace humbles us, but it also exalts our God doesn’t it? It gives God all the glory. When a sinner sees this he doesn’t say, “I think I made the smartest choice a man could make. I chose eternal life.” He knows that it was the mighty God who set his love on him. God knew all about us; he had seen the file. He understands us better than our own spouses or parents, but he still loves us with a love that continually forgives and will never let us go.
Then our worship has to be God-centred. If it is to fasten attention on God’s saving grace to adore and praise the Lamb and have communion with him, it is obvious our response must be God-centred. And this is one of the places the professing church has gone astray; it is confused about worship because its approach to worship is this, “What am I going to get out of it, and what kind of buzz am I going to have; am I going to leave self-affirmed, feeling good about myself? Am I going to be moved?” We have come with all the wrong reasons and are asking all the wrong questions. We shouldn’t be asking what we are going to get out of this but what God is going to gain. How will his name be blessed and his loveliness portrayed? As we fasten our attention on God and seek his glory and commune with him, our hearts will break. We will be exuberant; we will rejoice with trembling; we’ll serve the Lord with fear. We will indeed be moved from the depths of our being because we sought him. Just as in a marriage relationship, if we seek our own well being, our marriages are wrecks. But, if we seek the well being of our spouses, we find our marriages to be fulfilling.
I ask you this very simple question, if an unconverted person comes to a worship service and leaves feeling good, who has not been present? God. The unconverted cannot come into the presence of God as we’ve described it and feel good or fulfilled. His conscience is going to be scratched with the strong claws of the Lion of Judah. He’s going to be probed. As Paul says, he’s going to fall down before the Lord, his heart laid naked and bare before God. Then God saves them – that way. We are so foolish to take that which is God’s and profane it and adulterate it trying to package it for the world. We are changing God’s glorious and holy celebration into an outreach enterprise, and he is no longer the centre of attention; he’s no longer honoured and glorified in our worship. But when an entire congregation knows they are what they are by the grace of God then all of them give glory to him with one heart and one mouth. There can only be diluted worship when God’s grace has been diluted, and how dangerous that is. It is the worship of death. As Langston Hughes wrote:
“Cheap little rhymes
A cheap little tune
Are sometimes as dangerous
As a sliver of the moon.
A cheap little tune
To cheap little rhymes Can cut a man’s throat
iv] Christ’s grace strengthens and sustains our spirit.
Grace is not a sentiment or a divine attitude or feeling. Grace is God’s omnipotence saving and sanctifying his people. Grace is strength. Grace is the total commitment of God. He holds nothing back. He spares not his own Son. With him he freely gives us all things. You see it perfectly in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. He is telling them about his thorn in the flesh, and how the Lord refused to remove it. Paul knew constant weakness, distress and tribulation. He longs for deliverance but he was told this by the Lord, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Then you see the next parallel phrase in the Lord’s tender reply to Paul, “For my strength is made perfect in weakness.” The grace of Christ is the strength of Christ upholding his hurting servants. His grace can change every circumstance, and strengthen every weakness, and cheer every distress, and lift every burden, and bear every responsibility, and handle every privilege. All those things are experienced by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So there is no need for God to remove the thorn in the flesh. Paul can do all that God plans to have done through him by his grace. What is put forth in grace is the energy of Almighty God. Christ’s grace is his commitment to us of the power that spoke to the winds and waves in the boat and there was a great calm; the authority that was evident as he preached in the synagogue; the dominion he exercised over death and demons. When we say for ourselves that our spirit has been touched by grace we are not saying that we are in the grip of a great sentiment, or that we are the objects of a great mood, but that we are gripped by the might of the Creator of the heavens and the earth. The one who conquers the grave has us in his grip.
I suspect that for us the concepts of ‘power’ and ‘grace’ are kept in two different compartments, but that is not the case in the Word of God. In the Scriptures there is the closest possible relation of God’s power and God’s grace, and I am saying that this is the wonder of our spirits being sustained by grace that it is the power that helps us in our time of need.
I cannot end better than with the closing words of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones as he came to the conclusion of his studies in this magnificent letter: “My beloved friends, we live in an uncertain world, an uncertain life; no one knows what is going to happen to any one of us. There are an almost infinite number of possibilities. Can we end our considerations of this mighty epistle on a grander note than this? Whatever may happen in life or in death; whatever may take place in any conceivable situation or circumstances, whatever may be your lot, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ will be sufficient. It will hold you, it will sustain you, it will even enable you to rejoice in tribulation, it will strengthen you, establish you, hold you, keep you, answer your every need and take you through. Ultimately it will present you faultless, perfect, in glory in the presence of God. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Life of Peace: Studies in Philippians 3&4,” Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1990, p. 271).
15th June 2003 GEOFF THOMAS