In the last issue of this little periodical we examined the relationship between grace and man’s depravity. God’s command that His servant Hosea marry the whore Gomer graphically depicts the contrast between the depravity of man and the grace of God.
The person who does not appreciate his propensity to sin will, in all probability, have an inadequate grasp of the grace of God. Man wants to evaluate his worth in the economy of God on the basis of his production. Often this is more true for the Christian than the non-Christian. God evaluates us on the basis of our dependence upon Him. The former emphasizes works, the latter grace. It is childlike dependence that delights the heart of God.
A person said to me, “Christianity is a religion of guilt. It is constantly making me feel The Bible says we feel guilty because we are guilty. Jesus didn’t come to make people feel guilty. He came to forgive the guilty.
It is true that only those who acknowledge their guilt come to Jesus for forgiveness, but Jesus wasn’t the one who made them feel guilty. Their sins did that! Jesus is the Great Physician, and it is no more logical to say that He made a person feel guilty than to argue that the physician makes the patient feel sick.
The grace of God is reserved for those who understand that they are depraved, but Christianity doesn’t make people depraved. Rather, Jesus Christ, by grace, rescues people from the consequences of their depravity.
Grace is not solely a New Testament idea, as already seen in Hosea. All of God’s “greats” understood His grace and related to Him on the basis of it. In this issue we will briefly explore the understanding of grace in the lives of a few of the Old Testament saints.
Exodus 32 finds Moses on Mt. Sinai receiving the Law from God. The Lord informs Moses of the idolatry and immorality of Israel. Because of His anger God says to Moses, “I will consume them, and I will make of you a great nation” (verse 10). Notice Moses’ response to this rather attractive offer in verses 11-14:
And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? (12) Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. (13) Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever. (14) And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.
Moses declines God’s offer for two reasons: (1) God’s reputation would suffer if, having committed Himself to Israel, He changed His mind (verses 11-12). (2) God established an unconditional covenant of grace with their father Abraham, a covenant not based on reciprocity (verse 13). In verse 14 God agrees with Moses.
It is important to note that Moses did not appeal to the Law that God had just given to him. He understood that looking to God’s Law as the basis of their relationship meant that they could never have a relationship. Any conditional covenant with God has within it the seeds of death. Moses knew that man is incapable of keeping conditions established by God.
Moses, the Law-giver, refused to relate to God on the basis of Law! He understood that if he could not relate to God on the basis of grace, there would be no relationship and he was as good as damned. Moses understood the grace of God.
One of the most memorable events in the life of King David was his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah. It is a perfect illustration of a man who understood the grace of God.
In Romans 4, Paul illustrates justification by faith with the life of Abraham. In verses 6-8 he switches from Abraham to David:
Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God inputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
Beginning with verse 9 Paul switches back to Abraham. We are left wondering why Paul inserted David in his illustration. The answer is seen in the fact that if Abraham is an illustration of God’s graciously imputing righteousness to man, there is nothing in the narrative of Genesis to indicate that God ever charged Abraham with wrong. This isn’t to say that Abraham never sinned. Rather, he isn’t charged with sin in Genesis.
When Paul wanted to illustrate grace by God’s NOT imputing sin; Abraham was an inadequate example. So he used David and his being charged with the crime of adultery and murder. “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” This, of course, is a quote from David’s Psalm 32.
Psalm 51 is the penitential Psalm of David “when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” Psalm 51:34 says:
For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be dear when thou judgest.
It is remarkable that man would acknowledge such a crime before the only Tribunal that really counts! In numerous places the Bible reminds us that “the wages of sin is death.” If I knew that I had to forfeit my life for a crime I committed, I would do all in my power to convince the court that there were extenuating circumstances. “The victim provoked me to anger. It was his fault.” “I was temporarily insane. I didn’t know what I was doing.” It wasn’t really murder; the Animonites killed Uriah.” I would do anything to try to get the court to overlook my guilt—–
Unless, of course, I knew that my sin would be forgiven. David voted against himself and in favor of the justice of God, before God’s judgment seat, because he understood the grace of God. He knew that, by God’s grace, God would not impute his sin to him. David understood the grace of God.
Jonah is an interesting study of one who understood the grace of God. Jonah is commissioned by God to preach repentance or judgment to the city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. Assyria was the Nazi Germany of that day. It would be like asking Shamir to preach repentance to the Nuremberg Trials.
As we all know, Jonah rebelled at the thought and went in the opposite direction. God intervened by sending a storm and a large fish. The storm resulted in Jonah’s being thrown to the fish, and the fish was used to return Jonah to his God-given task.
Reluctantly Jonah obeyed God and preached to the people of Nineveh, “In forty days Nineveh will be overthrown.” The city believed Jonah and repented in sackcloth.
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not. (Jonah 3:10)
The last chapter is devoted to Jonah’s negative reaction to God’s forgiving Israel’s archenemy.
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, 0 LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. (Jonah 4:1-2)
The passage tells us that Jonah understood God was gracious. His problem was he didn’t like what God did with His grace. Jonah is an illustration of the truth outlined in the first issue of this series on grace: Men have a love/hate relationship with the Grace of God. They love it when it touches their lives and hate it when God uses it contrary to their approval. We all want to control God’s application of His grace.
Jonah was mad at God, not because he failed to understand grace, but because he knew that God was gracious and, if Assyria repented, God would be gracious to them. Jonah resented God including Assyria as an object of His grace.
The sins of envy and covetousness are also expressions of resenting God’s application of His grace. Often we don’t like God’s generosity directed toward others. Anger over not being able to control the grace of God is a sin easily committed by the believer. Jonah understood the grace of God. We do well to learn from his mistake.
Daniel served God most of his life in a hostile environment without the various institutional aids God’s chosen people felt were necessary in order to follow Him. We catch a glimpse of his heart in Daniel 9. He just finished his devotions in the book of Jeremiah and was reminded that the Babylonian captivity was to last seventy years. According to his calculations, the seventy years had transpired.
Daniel 9:3-19 is his prayer to God in which he acknowledges the justice of God in sending Israel into captivity. In essence he says, “I wish that in these seventy years we had improved in our behavior. Unfortunately, we are as bad today as when You brought judgment upon us. Nevertheless, You promised that in seventy years we could return.” He closes with the following two verses:
0 my God, incline tbine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies. 0 Lord, hear; 0 Lord, forgive; 0 Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, 0 my God; for thy city and thy people are called by thy name.”
Daniel understood that if Israel was to have a relationship with God, it would be because of “Thy great mercies.” “Not because of our performance, but solely by Your grace do we hope to be accepted by You!” Daniel understood the grace of God.
Three applications from the lives of the great men of God:
1. Don’t deceive myself into believing that my relationship with God is based on what I
do. It is easy to err in thinking that I am more deserving of fellowship with God when I
am “good” than when I sin.
2. The path to God is brokenness and dependence. Self-justification is an impediment in my relationship with Him. I am well served when I follow David’s example and vote against myself in favor of God.
3. I must resist the temptation of getting angry with God or arguing with Him over how He dispenses His grace. It is easy to try to be “protective” of God and seek to guard Him from an unwise use of His grace.