Occasionally I hear it said, "Somebody ought to write a book…". We tend to use that phrase when we come across a subject it seems no one has ever addressed. I can suggest a few titles for the brave author who would undertake such a task. Somebody ought to write a book called "Untouched Texts in Scripture". Another good title would be "Unsung Heroes of the Bible". Or maybe "Unpopular Truths From Heaven". But my favourite would be "Topics I Never Heard Preached Among Fundamental Baptists". And the first chapter of this book should be called "Grace Displaced".
We Baptists can sing all the verses to Amazing Grace blindfolded, and we know Ephesians 2:8,9 (but not verse 10) frontways, backways and sideways and quote it at least twice in any sermon. There might just possibly be a fundamentalist somewhere in God’s creation that has read a book about grace. But that’s just about the limit to our knowledge about God’s grace.
For instance, just to illustrate our ignorance of grace, let’s try a little quiz on the subject:
1. Which New Testament writer uses the word "grace" most frequently? (That wasn’t too difficult, was it? Of course, it was Paul.)
2. How many times did he use "grace" in all its forms in his writings. (Would you believe 139 times? Peter, once; John, four times; and Luke twenty four times.)
3. How many definitions of "grace" are listed in ISBE (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)? (Five. Another author lists seven.)
4. What is the most common definition of "grace" among Christians? (Unmerited favour)
5. What is the great error of Roman Catholicism regarding "grace"? (Roman Catholics believe that observance of the sacraments brings "infused" grace through which God empowers them to do works acceptable to God. This "infusion" of grace must be a continuous experience, which makes it impossible for a Roman Catholic to ever be able to say he is saved.)
6. What is the great error of Protestantism regarding "grace"? (Protestant theologians tend to believe that grace is effectual in salvation, actually justifying the believer, but they do not generally believe that grace enables the believer for service.)
These are some of the questions which provoked a study on the subject of God’s Grace. Consider with me a few of "the exceeding riches of His grace…toward us through Christ Jesus":
I. The Unexpected Kindness of the Grace of God
The Grace of God includes the unexpected kindness of God. "That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus." Eph. 2:7 As members of a fallen race we rightly deserve the judgment of God, but His Grace is shown in His great kindness toward us.
There is the "prevenient" (before salvation) kindness of Grace bestowed upon all men. Paul refers to this aspect of Grace in Acts 17:25 when he says, "…He giveth to all men life and breath and all things.
There is the kindness of "saving" Grace in Titus 2:11, "For the Grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men."
And there is the kindness of "heavenly" Grace in Eph. 2:7 "That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us…"
A lovely illustration of the kindness of God’s Grace is seen in King David’s treatment of Mephibosheth. The Jebusites had taunted the King with the boast that the citadel was so strong that the lame and the blind could be left to guard the walls and gates. So angered was the king by this that he declared that the lame and the blind would forever be excluded from the king’s palace and its environs. But when the King sat upon the throne, grace prevailed and was displayed in his kindness to Mephibosheth, the crippled grandson of Saul (II Sam 9). So, too, we will enjoy the kindness of the Great King at His banqueting table, trophies of His Grace. The Grace of God is seen in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
II. The Limitless Generosity of the Grace of God
There is no text in Scripture that teaches the generosity of Grace more clearly than II Cor. 8:9 , "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might become rich." What a wealth of truth there is in this verse! The pre-existence of Christ is in this text, else when was He ever rich? The impoverishment of Heaven for the enrichment of earth is here. Here is the humiliation of Christ that men might be glorified at last. Here is a parallel text to II Cor. 5:21, "For He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." Surely with all our sins laid upon Him, in God’s sight He was (for a few hours) the most "sinful" man that ever lived, that in God’s sight we might become the most righteous men that ever lived. (By this I mean, not that Christ literally became a sinner, but that our sins were imputed to Him that the righteousness of God might be imputed to us.) This is the generosity of Grace!
I hesitate to attempt an illustration of this generosity, as no earthly thing can truly compare to God’s Grace. But suppose for a moment you are walking down the footpath one day, and you are utterly penniless. No food, no shelter, your clothing is in tatters, and you have no prospects but starvation. A stranger walking toward you with a leather pouch in one hand addresses you with gentle words, "Here, hold out your hands."
And when you comply, he opens the bag and pours your hands full of pearls, real pearls, hundreds of pearls, a king’s ransom.
While you stand in shocked silence, he turns away and approaches another poor wretch and repeats the act, impoverishing himself in order to enrich others.
Such is the generosity of the Grace of God. Limitless, abundant, and available to every poor sinner who will receive "His unspeakable gift."
III. The Divine Enablement of Grace
Here I must make a confession. It is a confession of great ignorance on my part. Thirty seven years ago the Saviour found me and saved me, but I must confess that I never heard or read until recently that the Grace of God enables the believer in Christ. By this I mean that God graciously provides the ability and power we need to serve Him acceptably. (I trust many of you are way ahead of me on this.) Consider these verses:
I Tim. 1:12, 14, "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry…And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus."
I Cor. 15:10, "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."
Gal. 2:8,9, "(For He that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) And when James, Cephas, and John , who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision."
In each of these portions of Scripture there is reference to Grace being Divine enablement. In fact, the apostle uses the very word "enabled" in I Tim. 1:12, and it is related to God’s grace in verse 14. If we read these verses carefully and thoughtfully, we will see the enabling aspect of Grace.
Another text that describes Divine enablement (without using the word "grace") is Phil. 2:13, "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure." Enabling Grace is here described as that working of God in us which causes us to desire and do His will. The willing and the working, both come from God. That certainly excludes boasting, doesn’t it? I like the definition of enablement which says, "It is God doing in and through me that which is impossible for me to do naturally."
If you are like me, you are wondering whether this could be true. (After all, we weren’t taught this in cemetery. Oops, I meant seminary.)
Well, then, why not run it through the grid of Scripture? Where did Samson get that superhuman strength if not by God working in him to will and to do His good pleasure? And where did Moses acquire the leadership skills needed for the Exodus of Israel from Egypt? And where did Joshua learn to be the military leader he was? Or how did David compose the inspired songs for his nation? And tell me, please, how Paul, a former blasphemer and persecutor of the church, became the pioneer missionary of the New Testament? These exploits of faith did not arise from personality, intellect, or university degrees. In every case it was the Grace of God enabling them to do God’s will.
IV. Examples of Grace
If it is true that Grace enables the believer to serve God, there should be evidence of it in the New Testament. Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the evidence is abundant. The bad news is that Fundamental Baptists seem to be lacking in enablement. You be the judge.
Examples of Divine Enablement:
1. Acceptable Service to God – Heb. 12:28
2. Spiritual Gifts – Romans 12:6
3. The Fruit of the Spirit – Gal. 5:22, 23
4. Understanding of the Scriptures – I Cor. 2:7-16
5. Godly Speech – Col. 4:6
6. Preaching Christ – Eph. 3:8
7. Godly Use of Natural Gifts – Col. 3:16
8. Giving – II Cor. 8:1
9. Right Responses to Suffering – II Cor. 12:9, I Pet. 2:19,20 (Look up the words "thankworthy" and "acceptable")
10. Ministering to the Helpless – Luke 6:33 (look up the word "thank")
A careful study of these passages of Scripture will reveal several surprises. In most of the verses will be found a direct reference to the Grace of God. In some examples (Spiritual Gifts, Giving, Right Responses to Suffering, and Ministering to the Helpless), the examples themselves are called "graces". In other verses the word "grace" is not used in the text, but the examples are clearly the workings of God in the believer. A relevant text is also found in Acts 11:23, "(Barnabas) came and (saw) the grace of God…" Just think of that! Visible Grace! So what did he see? He saw at least some of the "graces" listed above. Oh, to be part of a church with visible grace!
Over the past few years, I have come to the conclusion that there is no acceptable worship, work, or witness that does not come through the enabling Grace of God. All of our service for God must have His working in us. Scripture records numerous attempts by men to serve God without grace. We dare not assume that God will bless our ambitious, self-centred, vain glorious, profit seeking, carnal efforts to appear religious to others. Sooner or later we must learn the lesson that "strange fire" is not acceptable to a holy God.
Applications we must make
Evan Roberts once described a meeting he had with a group of Baptist ministers in Wales. I was especially struck with his comment that one of the ministers was "destitute of grace". It has been some years since I read that comment, and I have puzzled over it, wondering what it meant. I think I may have a clue. I think it means that the minister gave Evan Roberts the impression that he did not need God’s help to serve Him acceptably. Enabling grace had been displaced. Displaced by some modern humanistic substitution.
In our churches grace is often displaced by pretence (as in drama), or by professionalism (as in background tapes for a special item), or by entertainment (as in humorous sermons). The indictment of our Lord against the church in Sardis (Rev. 3:1), "…thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead" may apply to us. This was the church with the wrong name. I wonder if that could apply to us? Should the church I pastor be called "Graceless Baptist Church"? (Or should yours be called "Faithless Baptist Church"?) Have we displaced the Grace of God by trusting our own abilities, rather than casting ourselves upon the Lord helplessly and depending entirely upon Him for the enablement we need?
The church is thrilled to bits when some brave saint "jumps over spaghetti". In other words, he or she has done some small thing anybody could do. In their own strength. Without God’s help. But God hasn’t called us to "jump over spaghetti". He’s called us to "jump over the moon", so to speak. And none of us can do that in our own strength. The callings of God require the gifts of God. We have forgotten the words of Dan. 11:32b, "but the people that do know their God shall be strong and do exploits."
Our Bible Colleges
Our Bible colleges are not exempt from the displacing of Grace. Many of our Bible College principals have the two volume biography of Charles Spurgeon on their shelves. (They are called "The Early Years" and "The Full Harvest".) It would do us good to pull them down (and blow off the dust), and read what he says about the men he accepted into his college and the ones he refused. (You will find his words in chapter 27 in the first volume, and chapter 7 in the second volume.) It is striking that Mr. Spurgeon took no one into the college who had not already demonstrated a call from God to preach His Word. In other words, the Divine enablement had to be there first before a man could begin his theological studies. In our day we no longer look for the Divine enablement before we accept a man. If his body is warm and he is literate enough to fill out an application, we will have him.
Two great errors have spread through the ranks of Fundamentalism as a result. 1)We have encouraged our people to believe that preaching ability (enabling grace) is something you can get from an institution of higher learning. We don’t find that in the Bible. That error came from a desire to copy the seminaries that gave modernism to the churches. 2) We have men without God’s enablement standing in the pulpit, men who completed their studies, received their diplomas, and went out to pastor unsuspecting churches. Their feathers are all permed and perfumed, and they seem to have all the "manners" a minister ought to have. But Grace is lacking. (Compare this situation to Paul’s words to the Corinthians in I Cor. 2:4,5, "And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.") The lack of enabling grace for the ministry is evident in the lack of proficiency. Many of our ministers have no help from God, and their churches are dying. Oh, we have drama, and entertainment, and programmes, and promotions, and organisation, and fellowship meetings, and websites, (and sometimes big crowds!), but somewhere along the way we have lost that Unction which comes only from God. Many of our ministers do not have the enabling Grace of God. I solemnly fear that we pastors and missionaries and evangelists and Bible college principals will stand before the Judgment seat of Christ in shame because we have encouraged men to train for the ministry who evidence no call and no grace for the ministry. How much better it would be for us to be lovingly honest with our men, men who aspire to the ministry, but do not display the grace needed, and to tell them truthfully, "Brother, I do not see evidence that God has graced you for the ministry. Let us ask the Lord what He does want you to do instead."
Our Church Members
The saddest result of all is that our church members have come to believe that they, too, can serve God acceptably without His help. From the ministers who are "destitute of grace" the church members have learned how to "make a fair shew in the flesh." (Gal. 6:12) The desire to be seen, to appear successful, and to achieve impressive results have motivated the microsaints with minimal grace to seek positions of influence in the churches. But their gifts do not match their positions. The present day slide of the church into cheap theatrical events, gross worldliness, and the complete lack of interest in prayer is proof positive that individual believers no longer believe in the utter dependence of Christians on God for enabling Grace.
Is there any hope?
There is always hope for those who are willing to look only to the Lord for help. The words of James 4:6 are a great help to us, "But He giveth more grace. Wherefore He saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." Here is a verse that contains three promises. Note the last promise first, "(God) gives grace to the humble." Heaven’s abilities are available to us on a daily basis, but there is a condition. "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up," James 4:10. If we would have God to work in us, we dare not boast in our own abilities or have confidence in the flesh. The second promise is, "God resisteth the proud." Literally, God "raises up an army" against our pride. Has he laid siege to the citadel of your proud will? The wonderful, enabling Grace of God is not available to proud saints, only to the humble. The third promise is, "He giveth more grace." Grace is not a once only gift. There is more grace available. It is a perpetual supply, available at a moment’s notice (Heb. 4:16).
There is a great golden tap beside Heaven’s gate, and thereby all the needs of the saints are met. The sign above it reads, "Grace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ." The path that leads to the tap was once well trodden, but now is all overgrown. Methinks I see the saints following another path, a path that leads them to the broken cisterns of the world. Why is the abundant supply of God’s Grace neglected? Simply because the tap is set very near the ground, and everyone who would partake must kneel to fill his vessel. Grace is available only to the saints with dusty knees.
Seven Signposts that Point the Way
How does this work out in practical, everyday life? I confess again to you that I am but a recent traveller on this path, and am still making new discoveries everyday. Thus far I have found seven signposts that mark the way to Grace Abounding. If we would have great grace in the churches again (Acts 4:33) it will be necessary for us to follow the signposts (and add to the list any signposts you discover for yourself).
1) We must cease admiring the "successes" of religious leaders who employ the wisdom of the world to build their ministries into "mega-church" empires. ("For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." I Cor. 1:19)
2) We must abandon all hope of serving God or doing His work without His help. ("…for without me ye can do nothing." John 15:5)
3) We must believe that God alone has the ability to equip us for service, and that He knows best what we should do for Him. ("But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will." I Cor.12:11)
4) We must seek to learn in which areas God has given us enabling grace to serve Him. ("For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith." Romans 12:3)
5) We must be content with His gifts and callings for us. (Take note that John the Baptist never aspired to be an apostle.)
6) We must be willing to stand alone in our (grace enabled) service for God if necessary. Sadly, it seems that every denomination is riddled with Pharisees who praise the dead saints and persecute the living. Only let a child of God set his foot on the path to Abounding Grace, and all the Shimei’s of Israel will arise to "curse…, cast stones…, and (slander)" him (II Sam. 16:5-8). If you would have enabling grace, you may have to leave the crowd behind.
7) And we must pray that God will give us more Grace. His resources are infinite, and His supply is in proportion to our humility and faith. "He giveth more grace…" James 4:6a
"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." II Cor. 9:8
(Used with permission)