Introducing Grace


Grace.


Pastors explain it. Hymns proclaim it. Seminaries teach it. The Bible is filled with it. But, do we really understand grace?

Grace is God meeting your rebellion with His rescue, your sin with His salvation, and your guilt with His grace. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. Grace declares that you are much less than you thought you were, even as it assures you that you can be far more than you ever imagined.


Grace is Jesus defeating Satan on the cross and on your behalf. Jesus then placed a term limit on sin and danced a victory jig in a graveyard. Grace.


A man named John


His name was John. He knew a thing or two about grace. Like a cold wind that chilled the land, John’s mother died of tuberculous when he was the young age of 6. This painful experience clung like a garment to John. John would years later say, “My dear mother often commended me with many prayers and tears to God; and I doubt not, but I reap the fruits of these prayers to this hour.”



His father remarried quickly and “John’s stepmother was at first attentive, but she soon bore more children of her own and lost interest in John, excluding him from family life.”[1] The result was John joined his father at sea when he was only eleven. Numerous voyages on slave trading ships created a stone-hardened heart that revealed gross and wicked immorality. John said, “I sinned with a high hand.” He prided himself on leading others into temptation and blasphemy.


John was pressed into naval service against his will at the age of eighteen. John says about himself, “I was capable of anything; I had not the least fear of God before my eyes, nor (so far as I remember) the least sensibility of conscience.”[2]

When he was twenty years old, he was kicked off his ship on an island near West Africa. He lived for a year and a half as a slave in poverty-stricken conditions. Later in life he marveled at the seemingly accidental way a ship dropped anchor near his island and the captain knew John’s father and managed to free him from slavery.[3]



A day to remember


He was almost twenty-one, and God was about to close in. March 21, 1748 as the Greyhound battled a violent and tempestuous storm in the North Atlantic, God acted to save the “African blasphemer.” The winds raged. The waves crashed. Canvas sails ripped. The sea seemed angry. Panic seized the men of the ship. John didn’t realize, but the storm was from God. John was assigned to the pumps and heard himself say, “If this will not do, the Lord have mercy upon us all.” The next few hours would decide if the men would live or be cast into a watery grave. John realized that his life seemed as ruined and wrecked as the battered ship. The storm passed and the sun burst from behind the clouds offering hope and life. John spent the rest of the voyage in deep seriousness reading and praying over the Scriptures.


John never forgot March 21, 1748. He would write, “On that day the Lord sent from on high and delivered me out of deep waters.” Fifty-seven years later he wrote in his journal, “Not well able to write but I endeavor to observe the return of this day with humiliation, prayer, and praise.” It is only amazing grace that would take a sinful slave-trading sailor and transform him into a child of the King.

John writes these words, “I stood in need of an Almighty Savior; and such a one I found described in the New Testament.” Later, as a more mature Christian, John believed he was not actually saved at sea, but about six months later.


God’s transforming grace


He continued sailing on slave trading ships for six years until a seizure ended his sailing career. Later he realized the wickedness and vileness of slavery and in 1787 wrote a tract condemning it. Through his friendship with William Wilberforce, Newton encouraged the abolitionist efforts in the Parliament of England.


In his last will and testament, John said the following:

“I commit my soul to my gracious God and Savior, who mercifully spared and preserved me, when I was an apostate, a blasphemer, and an infidel, and delivered me from the state of misery on the coast of Africa into which my obstinate wickedness had plunged me, and who has been pleased to admit me (though most unworthy) to preach his glorious gospel.”

God would bless John with the love of his love, Mary, and they would spend forty years together and adopt two orphaned nieces.


The Lord would richly bless his ministry. John pastored two churches over forty-three years. His mornings were filled with study and afternoons he visited and cared for his congregation. John was a preacher and a pastor.


John found that he was gifted at writing hymns. In 1779 a hymnal was produced with Newton writing two hundred and eighty and his close friend William Cowper penning sixty-eight. Included in this magnificent collection of hymns was Amazing Grace by John and There is a Fountain filled with Blood by Cowper.

Near his death John spoke these striking and truthful words: My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.


This is the man, John Newton, who penned those words that we all have sung:


Amazing grace, how sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me I once was lost, but now I am found Was blind, but now I see


‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear And grace my fears relieved How precious did that grace appear The hour I first believed


Through many dangers, toils and snares We have already come 'Twas grace has brought us safe thus far And grace will lead us home


When we’ve been there ten thousand years Bright, shining as the sun We've no less days to sing God's praise Than when we've first begun


Amazing grace, how sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me I once was lost, but now I am found Was blind, but now I see



[1] Tim Challies, The Hidden Strength of a Weak Mother [2] John Piper, 21 Servants of Sovereign Grace, p. 277 [3] John Piper, 21 Servants of Sovereign Grace, p. 277.

It is noon. The scorching sun bakes the earth with waves of radiating heat. The Master is tired and weary. His feet are hot, sore, and tired. Jesus sits beside the well rubbing his aching feet. His clothes smell like dust from the Samaritan road. His throat is parched and dry. This is a very human man who slumps beside Jacob’s well. He looks longingly into the deep, cavernous well. He longs for cool water. There is no bucket, so there is no relief.


Jesus had chosen to go through Samaria. His disciples were astonished that Jesus deliberately went through Samaria. The Jews and Samaritans hated each other.


A woman from Samaria comes to the well to draw water. She had once been stunningly beautiful, but after a life of wantonness and reckless living, her radiant and lovely face was lined, aged and hard.


Women would exchange pleasant conversation, idle talk, laugh, and even sing as they walked to the well. Once, she had been one of them, but years ago footsteps hurried from her on the dusty road. It began with one, and then two, and now most of the ladies whispered behind her back of the lustful and lascivious rumors that spread like gangrene around the small town. This is the reason she comes to the well in the heat of the day. She prefers the scorching sun to the smoldering resentment and superior glances of other women.

Jesus asks her for a drink. She sharply replies, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” Jesus ignores the sarcasm and ancient feud that existed between the Jews and Samaritans and says to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” Let’s stop here and linger. Do you see what Jesus is saying to her? I know your desire for a fulfilling life. I can give it to you. I can provide for you living water. But you must ask.


The woman replied, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our Father Jacob?” Jesus ignores the scorn. He sees a thirsty soul. Jesus emphatically says, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”


Let’s pause for a minute. What is Jesus saying? Jesus declares, the water I have for you will blot out your tainted past. You will be clean. You will be loved, and you will belong.

There is a long silence as the woman takes in Jesus’ life-giving words. Then the words come gushing out, “Sir, give me this water.”

Jesus’ next words stun her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” She nervously responds, “I have no husband.” Jesus bluntly says, “you are right that you don’t have a husband for you have had five husbands and the man you are with now is not your husband.”


Do you see what Jesus is saying? The first step to flourishing life is confession of sin. Jesus calls her to confront her sinful past.


She glances around, relieved that no one heard him. She takes a deep breath as air fills her lungs. Her mind is racing. How does he know? She changes the subject. “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our Fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Which is it? She mentally patted herself on the back. Let’s see how he answers this question.


Jesus responds, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”


Do you understand Jesus’ answer? Jesus says with penetrating clarity, it’s not about where you worship, or how you worship, but why you worship. True worshipers worship God in spirit and truth.


She was astounded. She had never heard wisdom like this. She nervously said, “when Yeshua comes, he will explain it all.”

Jesus looked at her with deep compassion and said, “I who speak to you am he.” Tears begin to moisten her eyes. Her lips begin to quiver. The shackling chains of sin fall off of her like raindrops from the sky. Years of bitterness toward her father who abandoned her, and mother who neglected her, and women who maliciously gossiped about her, collapse in an endless sea of grace. The staggering weight of guilt and shame has been lifted! The tears start to freely flow as she stares at Jesus. She doesn’t know what to do, so she grabs him and says through parched lips, I BELIEVE! You are the Messiah. The promised one to come.


About this time the disciples nosily draw near to Jesus. They are stunned that Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman. She grabs Peter, hugs him, and shouts, “I believe! I believe!” She looks at John and says, “I am forgiven! I am going to tell everyone what Jesus has done for me!”

This story moves me so deeply because I have been at that well. So, have you. I have stood before Jesus with a parched soul ridden with guilt, shame, and sin. Jesus says, “come and drink freely from the endless river of grace.” Come to the cross and see the Lamb of God absorbing the wrath of God so that you might become a child of God. See his righteous life imputed to you through faith in him. Your redemption is purchased. Your salvation has been accomplished. Jesus has died in your place. Righteousness given. Sins covered by the blood of Jesus. Hallelujah, what a Savior!


Have you been to the well? Have your repented of your sins and placed your complete trust in the finished work of Christ? Have you drunk freely and deeply of God’s endless grace and mercy?



I am reminded from Pilgrims Progress what Christian says at his salvation:


“Thus far did I come laden with my sin, nor could aught ease the grief that I was in, till I came hither. What a place is this! Must here be the beginning of my bliss? Must here the burden fall from off my back? Must here the strings that bound it to me, crack? Blessed cross! Blessed sepulchre! Blessed rather be the Man that there was put to shame for me.”

9 Heart Postures to prepare you to read your Bible



I recently read a short book (Short books are my favorite!) entitled, Before You Open Your Bible by Matt Smethurst. The author gives nine heart postures that will help us correctly and effectively approach God’s Word. Let me summarize them, although I encourage you to get the book. All the quotes in this blog are from the author, Matt Smethurst.


Prayerfully

“I am convinced that a prayerless approach to God’s Word is a major reason for the low-level dissatisfaction that hums beneath the surface of our lives.” Read that quote again. We must learn to approach God’s Word with prayerful intent. Always, always pray and plead with God to open your eyes to the riches found in His Word. Ask the Holy Spirit to unblind you to the glory, sufficiency and beauty of Jesus that is found in His Word. Never read the Bible without praying!




Humbly

“Your Bible is tangible evidence that the Maker of the Universe is a communicator; He’s someone who initiates, who reveals, who speaks.” Every time you pick up your Bible or your electronic device to read the Word of God, remind yourself of God’s unending grace toward you. We should never take for granted that the Lord God would pursue a relationship with us. We should have the same attitude as the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14 when he cried out, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Humble yourself before God. Then and only then will you be ready to receive the glorious treasures found in God’s Word.


Desperately

The Bible is not meant to be a hobby; it is meant to be food that daily nourishes our soul. “Is it any wonder that nibbling long enough from the table of the world would leave us with little appetite left for God? If we’re snacking on cheese puffs, we shouldn’t be surprised when we don’t have room for steak.”

We don’t realize how desperate we are for the Word of God. Jesus quoting Deuteronomy said in Matthew 4:4, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Dear follower of Jesus, today, recognize how desperate you are for the precious Word of God.


Studiously


Psalm 111:2 records these striking words, “Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.”(Emphasis mine)

Studied. This is an interesting choice of verbs. The works of God are great, and they are studied by his people. Jesus told us to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. When you open your Bible is your mind engaged, alert, and active. Are you ready to actively study the Word of God?

We must note this difference. This is not studying like you prepare for an algebra or a physics test. This is study like you spend time with your children or your spouse continuing to pursue and engage with them because of your deep love for them; you delight in knowing them at a deeper level.

We study the Lord out of Love. We are overwhelmed by His unending and matchless grace and we respond with an engaged and alert mind.


Obediently

Deuteronomy 10:12-13 says, “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all our heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statues of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?"

Did you notice the dizzying speed of requirements that God gave Israel? There are five: fear, walk, serve, obey and love. Notice God wants all of you. “God is interested in both your actions and your attitude. Feet, hands, mind, heart-he wants it all.”

Child of God, never forget the importance of obedience. In John 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”


Joyfully

God is happy. We don’t use the word “happy” to describe God. But He is. Infinite joy defines the continual community of the Triune God. His joy stretches back from creation, contained within a triangle of love. Joy is at the heartbeat of God.

John 15:11 Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” The angels announced the coming of Jesus was “good news of great joy!” Psalm 2 tells us the blessed man’s delight is in the law of the Lord. The Bible is bursting with joy that flows down from God as water flows over Niagara Falls.

As you prepare to read the Bible, come with a joyful heart. One more verse. Jeremiah 15:16, “Your words were found and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.”

Get happy in God! Read His Word and may your soul rejoice and sing with gladness! The discipline of reading God’s Word results in deep joy and intense delight.


Expectantly

Matt Smethurst tells a compelling story of living overseas and sharing the gospel with a young atheist named “James.” His secular worldview built up a seemingly impenetrable wall around his heart like the Great Wall of China.

Matt secured the 1979 “Jesus” movie to continue gospel sharing with James. A few minutes into the film Matt became concerned because James was a hip and modern college student familiar with Hollywood’s latest and greatest. He thought the subpar acting and archaic special effects would render the movie ineffective.

As the movie ended, James turned and looked at Matt and said with deep-rooted authenticity, “that was the best movie I have ever seen.”

The gospel doesn’t need our help to make it “cool” or relevant. There is intrinsic power in the gospel.

The gospel is God’s explosive power to save, sustain, and sanctify his children. We must come to the Bible expecting God to move in our hearts. The next time you open your Bible anticipate that God is preparing to move in your life!


Communally

Christianity flourishes in community. God created us so that cultivation of our souls thrives in the garden of gospel community. In essential things: unity; non-essential things: liberty; and in all things: charity. As you immerse yourself in a flourishing and gospel-saturated church culture, your soul will soar.

The practical application of this is to read and discuss the Bible with others believer. Listen and learn how the Holy Spirit has revealed truths about God’s Word to them.


Christo-centrically

Jesus tells us to see Him on every page and find Him in every story of the Bible. Luke 24:27, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Jesus is speaking after His resurrection to two men on the road to Emmaus. Beyond the fact that it would have been epic to be led by Jesus in this Old Testament Christ-centered study, this passage gives us a template to read the Bible with Jesus at the center.

I find three steps helpful to effectively study the Bible. Beneath each step I will list some helpful questions to ask so that you might correctly handle the Word of Truth. A complete list of questions can be found in chapter 6 of Growing Up by Robbie Gallaty.


Observation - What does the text say?

  • What is happening in the text?

  • What are key words in the text?

  • When and where do these events take place?


Interpretation - What does the text mean?

  • How do the verses relate to one another?

  • How does this passage fit into the larger story of the book it is in?

  • How does the passage relate to the storyline of the Bible?

  • How does this passage point me to Jesus?


Application - What does the text demand of me?

  • Is there an application already in the text?

  • Is there a command or exhortation for how we should live?

  • What would the application look like in my life?


I placed in italics two questions under Interpretation. These two questions will help you read the Bible Christo-centrically. Remember, Jesus is on every page and in every story.


Today, open your Bible, place your face in it, and read, study, meditate, memorize and soak in the Word of God!