Alfred Place Baptist Church

1:6 Praising God’s Glorious Grace

Ephesians 1:6 “To the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”

We are listening to Paul, a Spirit-filled apostle, as he praises God. It is a model of worship for the church. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” he cries from his heart (v.3). These are not mere words that he is mouthing; this is not a form of worship – as we’ve often felt about ourselves in some church services. Paul’s heart and mind have been captured and overwhelmed by Almighty God. He can’t get over the reality of this God who bestows on an army of contemptuous rebels every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms: “Praise be to our God and Father!” In Christ God has chosen such sinners to be saved: “Praise be to our God and Father!” In his love he has predestined them to be adopted as his own sons: “Praise be to our God and Father!” All this is because of his own sovereign pleasure alone. God has done all this with one great end in view, that all these people, both in this world and the next, will live to the praise of his glorious grace. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for his glorious grace.” The whole tenor of their lives will exalt the wonderful grace of God.

Do you see the implications of this? That there can be great worship only where the worshipper is overwhelmed with the greatness of the grace of God. Better ten people praising a God they know and love than a thousand singing words about the grace of God of which they barely know a thing. It is possible to attend a performance of Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion, or Handel’s Messiah, or a contemporary Christian concert, or a service full of singing, and be stirred by what you’ve seen and heard and done, yet for there to be no true praise of the living God. Do you personally understand how outstandingly gracious is the Lord, and how mind-blowing is his grace? I’m saying to you that it is this grace, so freely given to us, which makes real worshippers, that is, redeemed sinners who are worshipping in spirit and in truth. Let’s cry to God that he will never let us be those who worship him with our lips only.

It is not enough that you are sincere in your beliefs and your singing and your religious feelings. You have to come to an understanding of the wonderful grace of Jesus because that is the Christian religion. Sincerity alone is no safe guide as to what is true and right: not enough for me, nor for any of you. No one believes that if a person in the middle of the night mistakenly, while half asleep, takes pills from the wrong bottle it can have no ill effects because the person sincerely believed he was taking the right pills. No one believes that a person who feels good after a Fascist rally therefore can’t come to harm from what he’s heard. The person who has sparkling eyes and great convictions about what he believes can be as wrong as possible. The tragedy is that the more earnest and excited we are when we are wrong, the further we’ll go before we’re willing to turn around. I’m saying again to you that there can be no deep worship without a deep view of the glorious grace of God because God is grace. Sincerity alone is not enough.

A friend was talking to a group of students about this and he said to them, “Sincerity is to your religious beliefs what the accelerator is to your car. It determines how fast you go, but it has nothing to do with the direction you take. You need the steering wheel for that.” That week end that man was driving three of the young people home and as they went along from this conference centre they got lost. Then the students picked up on the illustration of the accelerator and the steering wheel. One of them teased him: “Go much faster John, and then we’ll be sure we’re on the right road.” Another exhorted him, “Push the accelerator right to the floor then we’ll know we’re heading in the right direction.” They all had a chuckle because they’d all seen it – how stupid is sincerity alone as a guide to what is true. Think of the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, cutting themselves with knives so that the blood gushed out. They all sincerely believed that Baal was a real god. If you get warm feelings or a high glow from religious events that have no appreciation at all of the glorious grace of God in Jesus Christ it only means that you are going to hell at 90 miles per hour instead of chugging along at 10 miles per hour.

The great theme of the epistle to the Ephesians is the grace of God. How can sinners like you have your sins forgiven? We are told in the seventh verse that it’s “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” By what have we been saved? Is it because of our deserving? Is it our good works? Chapter two and verse five tells us, “it is by grace you have been saved,” and then, just in case he is not making it spectacularly clear, he repeats three verses later: “For it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephs. 2:8). How do people become servants of the gospel? Paul tells us, “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power” (Ephs. 3:8). What took him from his beloved fellow countrymen to work with the Gentiles? He tells us again that it was because of God’s grace: “this grace was given to me, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephs. 3:8). In other words grace is one of the chief keys to unlock the letter to the Ephesians. Eleven times the word ‘grace’ occurs here in Ephesians, more than in all the 39 books of the Old Testament put together. The word is found 128 times in the New Testament which is the Testament of grace.

How crucially important, then, that we understand what is God’s grace. See how Paul describes it here: “glorious grace” (v.6). In other words God’s grace shines like the light of the sun at its noonday brightness. Before this grace the very angels wonder. The first-born seraph tries in vain to sound the depth of love divine. So this grace has a quality of numinous divinity about it. It is to be praised by us on earth with the same intensity of adoration as the angels of heaven. Once we have grasped God’s grace we will magnify the sheer glory of God. That is the goal Paul returns to here, see in verse twelve, “for the praise of his glory” and he repeats it again in verse fourteen, “to the praise of his glory.” Don’t you want to fulfil your destiny as a creature made in the image of God by doing that? That is your chief end in life. That is why you were created. That is why God has kept you alive until now. This question will confront you in the great day: he who sits on the great white throne will ask, “Did you live to the praise of my glory?” Everything else you’ll achieve in life will be a handful of pebbles if you fail to do this. Let us then seek to understand God’s grace. Let us seek to understand why Paul calls it “glorious grace”, and then we will have some grounds for praising that grace too.

1 WHAT IS THE GRACE OF GOD?

Grace is God’s unearned rich generosity to moral paupers just like you. Grace is the unmerited favour of God to hell deserving sinners. Grace is God acting freely and redemptively according to his own nature as love, and accomplishing the salvation of favoured fallen men and women. Grace presents sinners with no obligations that they have to fulfil, and no ultimatums. It come from God’s love for you a cold and bored rebel in God’s willingness to rescue you. In other words, if you were to be treated justly by God then there’d be no alternative to his condemning you for what you are and what you’ve done. But God, who is under no obligation at all to be anything but straight with you, instead of condemning you, has come to you in love and through Christ blessed you with every spiritual blessing, chosen you to be saved and adopted you as his child. The motive he has for acting towards you in this wonderful way comes wholly from within himself. It lies in his character and not in ours. The roots of grace go deep into eternity into the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Spontaneously, when there was no outward pressure being brought upon God to behave in this way – before there were men or angels who might have suggested certain things for him to do, when there was no one at all, then God determined to be gloriously good and kind to his enemies. He made up his mind that he would love the unlovely; he would pardon all their sins, even when they killed his only Son; he would accept the elect and reveal himself to them; he would move them to understand and obey him; he would bring them to a full knowledge and enjoyment of himself. He would glorify them in heaven.

If there were any obstacles that would prevent them coming to enjoy his grace then God would overcome those obstacles all by himself. He would cross any mountain and shoulder any burden and suffer any pain. He would leave heaven for earth, and instead of glory take shame, and exchange heaven’s riches for the poverty of Nazareth. He would even taste the appalling death of the cross, all this, that we might become the recipients of his grace. Grace is God’s omnipotence redeeming sinners. Divine grace will save us from all evil. Grace will bring true happiness right into the lives of men and women. Grace will enable men to know the living God. This grace is absolutely free grace. It cannot be bought or earned or merited. There is no price a sinner can pay to get Jesus to do what he’s done for us. It is God’s gift, freely coming from his heart and bestowed on a great multitude. It flows abundantly from that fountain which he has set up on Calvary for sin and uncleanness, about which he declares:

“This fountain, though rich,
From charge is quite clear;
The poorer the wretch,
The welcomer here;
Come needy, come guilty,
Come loathsome and bare;
You can’t come too filthy,
Just come as you are.”

God’s grace makes it possible for him to visit rebels with pardon, and to choose them as his people, and adopt them as his children. Preachers may preach about grace. Congregations may sing about grace. Prayer groups may recite the grace. Elders can intimate about the times and varieties of the means of grace, but it is God himself who alone can bestow grace. It is 100 per cent divine grace.

Just remember the Lord Jesus’ great picture of the prodigal son returning home again. Do you think he could he start to bargain over the farm-gate with his father? Could he plead, “I tithed the inheritance to Distant City Local Church”? No. Could he say, “I worked hard for the first six months that I was in Distant City”? No. Could he plead the old people he had helped, the orphans he had fed, the sick he had visited, and the prisoners he had clothed in Distant City Jail? No. There was none of that at all. It was all parties, wine, women and song until the money that his father had given him had all run out. It was one big splurge. He had taken his inheritance from his father and wasted every penny. He had nothing to plead over the farm gate. There were no mitigating circumstances that could place his behaviour in a better light, and the boy himself knew it, and he didn’t even try: “Father I have sinned against heaven and in your sight and I’m not worthy to bear your name and be known as your son.” That is the sum total of the speech he was going to make; he had nothing to plead. He cast himself on his father’s grace. There were no excuses, but then his father swung the gate wide and ran to him before he got to his land in case he changed his mine. He cut him short half way through those prepared words, and he never got to complete his speech. His father smothered him with love, and embraced him, and held him in his arms and brought that rotter right back into all the privileges of sonship. That is grace.

When men begin to see what God’s grace has done they respond in terms of wonder. They know that the living God is no pushover. He is not a doddering old pensioner with a beard. He is a consuming fire. Our God is light and in him there’s no darkness at all. No man has seen God nor can see God and live. All men without exception are the very opposite of this. Hear me! “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit; the poison of vipers is under their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Roms 3:13-18). The God who shows them grace is a just and holy God, whose righteous wrath against sin has been manifest in the judgment he brought upon rebel angels, and on men in the fall, in the flood, in the death of Israel in the wilderness, in the banishment and exile of Israel and then of Judah too, and most of all in the death and dereliction of his own Son. That this God, who is no namby-pamby milksop deity, should show such grace to sinners is full of wonder to the redeemed: “Amazing love! How can it be that Thou my God shouldst die for me!” “Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.” “Amazing grace!”

3. WHY IS THE GRACE OF GOD ESSENTIAL?

I’ve been saying to you that right here at the beginning of this epistle the apostle introduces us to the concept of God’s grace, and that he will mention it another ten times. It is a key which opens up this letter, and indeed God’s way of salvation, as that is found in the New Testament. Every portrait painter sets the figure of the person he is painting against some kind of background that might explain and make its own comment on the person, or raise questions about the person. Every diamond needs a backcloth to bring out its beauty, say, a deep blue velvet against which that beauty is accentuated. So the grace of God needs its own proper biblical setting, and that is found in the strangest and yet most obvious background, in the utter sinfulness of mankind. He who is not a sinner would not be a proper subject of grace because he wouldn’t need grace, he would need self-improvement. What do men and women need, a course of self-improvement or the grace of God?

How can I make you understand this? Let me remind you of those startling words of Peter about men and women who were at one time inquirers after the Christian faith but who subsequently turn their backs on Jesus Christ. Peter quotes this proverb as he thinks of them, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud” (2 Pet. 2:22). Such people who once knew the gospel but then rejected it and gone back to their old lifestyles are now like pigs rolling in the mud. That is what the apostle Peter says. Let me seize that biblical picture and tell you three things about the state of man, using this mnemonic ‘Pig’. Man is polluted, impotent and guilty. P.I.G. – Pollution: Impotence: Guilt. This is the threefold state of sin in every man, and it is this that necessitates the grace of God.

i] Pollution. Consider the way many men treat women, and how they treat children, and even animals. What polluted lives they live. Think of the way the unborn child is being treated in the western world today. Consider the degradation of pornography, or the violence that lies just under the surface of life which can burst out in rage, grievous bodily harm and murder. Think of racism even in the police force. Think of drunkenness and drug abuse, or what filth a third of people who have access to the Internet are watching even this moment. We live in a polluted generation.

ii] Impotence. In other words, men are helpless to pull themselves by their bootstraps out of the mire of sin in which they live. In a Jungle Book story of Dr. Paul White, he tells the parable of the disobedient monkey who played at the edge of the quicksand and finally ran into that swamp to get a coconut. He tried to clamber out but his struggles made him sink faster. He tried to pull himself out by pulling on his tail over his shoulder. It was all impossible; he couldn’t deliver himself. The swamp got him. So it is with the people who live around us. They live their lives utterly resigned to their unbelief and their addiction to drugs and alcohol and greed and sex and nicotine and television watching. These things have them trapped. But they have a more terrible impotence than that. It is this, that they cannot receive the things of the Spirit and so the gospel is foolishness to them. They cannot come to Christ unless God draws them. They cannot please God. All men are impotent sinners.

iii] Guilt. How often have I told you from this pulpit that this is a moral universe and what a man sows that he also shall reap. It is appointed to men once to die and after death the judgment, and the whole world lies guilty before God. God puts us in the balances and measures our lives by the absolute standards of his law and when he weighs us he finds us wanting. There was a case in the paper last week of the dismissal of a health and fitness and diet instructor who was running a slimming club in Hawick in Scotland. The women taking part in their exercise classes were delighted with how much weight they were losing each week. They were applauding one another as the pounds they had lost were announced at the end of the evening – “Way to go!” Yet when some of them got home and weighed themselves on their own scales in the bathroom they found themselves considerably heavier than the weight the health and fitness instructor had told the class. The man had been tampering with the weights, to change the readings on the scales. That is why he was dismissed. Men can do that sort of thing, and they will. They don’t want to feel guilty before God or under the voice of their own consciences, so they change the law. They call guilt a sickness, and sinning becomes an addiction. This is how they are, they plead. That is their natures, and they can’t help it. They may call homosexual acts an expression of legitimate Christian love. They have altered the weights and balances. But God will weigh every life in his perfect and infallible balances and every mouth will be stopped before him. Jesus Christ alone was weighed in God’s balances and never found wanting.

So that is the condition of man. “P.I.G.” Polluted. Impotent. Guilty. That is the three fold state of man. Pollution affects his moral character. Impotence affects his will. Guilt affects his legal status before God. Pollution makes him offensive to God: impotence makes him helpless to change himself, and guilt makes him punishable by God. Pollution makes him obnoxious to the holiness of God: impotence makes him obnoxious to the demands of the law of God, and guilt makes him obnoxious to the justice of God. The grace of God, to be effective, must provide a triple remedy to remove all three of sin’s components. It must remove the pollution of sin and give him a clean heart. It must remove the stranglehold of sin which makes him impotent and give him the liberty to do God’s will. It must take away the guilt of sin and give man a new status before God. The task of grace is to give the sinner a new heart, a new standing and a new power. You see, as a sinner you have a threefold problem. You have a bad record, a bad heart and a bad master. Imagine that two only of these three were dealt with, any two, and still we were left with the pollution, or we are left with the impotence, or left with the guilt, then how wretched we would be. You need a triple change, and kindness alone, and example alone, and love alone cannot effect a change of such dimensions. It can only be done by the grace that is greater than all my sin, and the effect it can have in my life. Grace must deal with the penalty of sin, the pollution of sin and the power of sin. Grace is God’s omnipotence acting redemptively to change my pollution, my impotence and my guilt. All you need is . . . not ‘love.’ That is a lie from hell. All you need is Christ.

Christ’s grace is never sufficient grace, it is always saving grace. A grace that was sufficient for all but did not save all seems to me to be insufficient grace. I think the phrase ‘sufficient for all’ is an ill-thought-out slogan. Think of a convicted murderer awaiting execution. He contracts tuberculosis and is constantly coughing, cough, cough, cough, day and night. The prison doctor reckons he will cough himself to death before the date of his execution, so he goes to him and he says to him, “I am sorry to see you coughing so painfully. I am going to give you some medicine. It won’t cure you, but it is sufficient to keep you alive until the day they put you in the electric chair.” That is like so-called ‘sufficient grace’. It keeps people coming to church, and hearing the gospel, and singing the hymns, and living a moral life, but it doesn’t save them from hell. Who would call that ‘grace’? The grace I am offering to you will pardon and keep and glorify every single person who turns to him, however bad he has been, if they but come in repentance and faith and ask God to save them for Jesus’ sake. May he do that for you. May he do it today. Give him no rest until you know that he has.

3 HOW DOES THE GRACE OF GOD COME TO US?

The apostle tells us that it is through Jesus Christ. Paul talks of it elsewhere as “the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1), while our text tells us that God’s grace “which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (v.6). The law came by Moses, but grace came in Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:17). In other words grace comes to us at enormous cost, but that cost was met by Father, Son and Holy Spirit, not by us. Pardon and forgiveness never came to us at a moment of God’s weakness but when he was being most mighty. His righteousness, justice and truth are always maintained when he adopts believing sinners into his family. God condones nothing, not even when he shows mercy to us. Think of a boy who has behaved so badly that he is made to stay indoors for a week. All that time he badgers his mother to be let out, but she refuses. Then one day when she is under loads of additional pressures he chooses his moment and cries and argues with her non-stop that she’d let him go out and get some chocolate. “Please, please, please, please, please, please ….” So she cries in desperation, “O go then,” and she gives him a pound. He has received unmerited favour. He did not deserve that pound nor to be let out of the house because of the horrible way he had been behaving. But what his mother has done to him is not to have shown grace to him. Her action was motivated by despair, and frustration, and a longing for peace, and it was at the expense of righteousness. What she did was disgraceful, and in the long run, hurtful to her son. How different is God’s grace to sinners. It is grounded in the total satisfaction of God’s righteousness. It is not given at the expense of true love and divine holiness. It is given at the expense of the incarnation in the womb of Mary, and the obedience of Christ to the law of God, and to his suffering the law’s just condemnation on Golgotha. When God forgives our sin he is faithful and just to do so because of the saving work of Jesus Christ alone.

You have heard people asking questions like, “What did the Romans do for us? What did the Greeks do for us? What did the Victorians do for us?” There are worthy series of educational programmes that answer those questions and show us how indebted we are to people of the past. What did Jesus Christ do for us? Four things:

i] In grace Christ has revealed the fulness of God to us. If you ask, Who is God? What is the nature of God? Then you need look no further than the Lord Jesus Christ. He said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” Don’t remain looking back at Moses and the prophets, and you don’t need to go on further in history to look at men like Mohammed. God had indeed talked to the prophets and they brought the words he said to the people of Israel, but now he has come much closer in the incarnation of his Son. In Christ the fulness of the godhead dwelt bodily on this earth. Who is God? In how the Lord Jesus lived, and in what he said and did, we see the eternal Word made flesh; we have the fulness of the revelation of God. We see God the Son weeping over Jerusalem sinners who are rejecting him. What grace! We see him holding children in his arms. What love! We see him tied to a pillar and a whip is steadily moving up and down his back until the blood runs down his legs. We see him hanging on a tree suspended by nails through his hands and feet and yet speaking forgiveness to another man dying alongside him. We see him drinking that cup of condemnation in our place. This is the true God and this is how much he loves. We see it in Jesus Christ. God does not spare his own beloved Son from all of that because he is desperately and passionately in love with us. That is the grace of God, seen in the incarnate life and ministry of the New Testament Jesus.

ii] In grace Christ has reconciled God to us. God sent his Son on a journey from above the stars, that is, outside creation, into a world dominated by the power of darkness. He came on a rescue mission to people who didn’t want to be rescued, and didn’t appreciate his presence. They loved the darkness, and they tried to extinguish his Light. Yet he kept shining on so brightly. When they were killing him he was praying for them: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He wouldn’t end the enfleshment and come down from Golgotha. Being made sin in our place he must appease the wrath of a sin-hating God towards us. He himself gave up his own spotless life in that dirty and cruel death, and he did it because he loved us and was determined to redeem us. None of us was there in Golgotha helping him. It was his hour of greatest need, but we hadn’t been born, so that all alone he did what he had covenanted to do with his Father before the foundation of the world. He propitiated the justice of God all by himself, taking the condemnation we deserve, so that for us there is none. Our God is reconciled through the cross work of Christ. What grace!

Some of you might be like the man who came for the first time in his life to a gospel church, and there he heard that sinners were saved by grace. He was muddled because the previous week that man’s car insurers had informed him that his policy was overdue, but they were going to give him a two week extension of grace in which to pay. So as he heard that first Sunday about grace he thought it meant that God was giving him an extension period in which he would try to come up with a payment for his sin. It was his first visit to church and so naturally many things weren’t clear to him. It wasn’t surprising that he’d failed to understand the glories of divine grace because there is no parallel in anything around us for the work that Christ has done. For God’s grace to come to us we make no payment at all, for we are penniless. The payment has been made once and for all by Christ. “Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.”

iii] In grace Christ gives us a divine birth – he regenerates us. What did Jesus tell Nicodemus? That that sincere religious man needed a birth ‘from above.’ Only then could he see or enter the kingdom of God. Who is ‘above’? The Lord Jesus Christ is above us. He is in the very heart of heaven. He is at mission control of the cosmos determining the movement of the stars and the fall of the sparrow. He has been given a name that is above every name. He has been given all authority in heaven and earth. All things live and move and have their being in Christ and by him all things cohere. He has been made head of all things to the church, and the God-man began his great saving work on the day of Pentecost. “Christ has done all this,” cried Peter to the crowds in Jerusalem. “He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:33). The one responsible for our new birth is the same Lord Jesus Christ who atoned for our sins. It was he who opened Lydia’s heart. He enables us to repent and have faith. He gives us the new birth for that purpose. Because of this new spiritual life that comes from above we can behave like the sons of God, trusting, repenting and following the Lord Jesus every day. It all begins with the birth from Christ above and it must produce a difference in our lives. Everything else follows.

Let me try to illustrate it like this with another Reisinger-inspired story: Suppose that I left the Prayer Meeting one Tuesday night and my car wouldn’t start. When I turned the key in the ignition there wasn’t even the noise of a ‘click’. I switched on the lights – not a glimmer. I pressed the horn – not a sound. I turned on the radio, but there wasn’t a crackle. The mechanically minded men of Alfred Place gathered around and their judgment was that the battery was absolutely dead. Imagine that I then tried to coax the lights and said to them sweetly, “Lights, if only you would shine then you could put life into my battery.” If lights could speak they would reply, “Ha! If you put some life into the battery first then we would shine brightly enough.” Imagine that I then addressed the horn and said, “Horn, if only you would sound then you could put life into the battery.” If horns could speak this one would reply, “Put some life into the battery first and I will blow loudly enough to awaken all Aberystwyth.” Imagine that I then addressed the radio and said, “Radio, if only you’d play some Mozart on Radio 3 then that would put life into the battery.” If radios could speak this one would reply, “First put some life into the battery and then I’ll play all the 41 Mozart symphonies.” What have I got to do? Disconnect the dead battery, take it home, put it on an overnight charge and return to town with the recharged battery early next morning and attach it to its place under the bonnet. Regenerate the battery and then I can press the horn and it will beep; I can turn on the lights and they will shine; I can switch on Radio 3 and out will pour Mozart.

So it is with the man who is dead in trespasses and sins. His spiritual battery is dead. None of his faculties will work until he is given a new birth from above. When Jesus gives him life then he has illumination, and music in his heart, and power to serve God. Appealing to a lost man’s will, as if that were the source of his power to save him, is like appealing to the car’s lights and the horn and the radio. It is life that the lost man needs, just as the car battery needs life. How mighty is saving faith. It can move mountains, says Jesus. Does a dead man produce that power from within himself to perform such a miracle or is the dead sinner enabled to act like that because God gives him life from above? God regenerates him and then he can repent and believe and serve God.

iv] In grace Christ bought my perseverance. He ensures that I will stick at following him, that I will endure to the end. Why am I here today? Why am I able to preach, and you are given the grace to receive my ministry? Was it because we had good quiet times this morning, or lived better lives this past week than we’d lived the week before? Is it because we haven’t entertained any sinful thoughts today? No. God draws near when we worship him for one reason only: Jesus Christ has purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree, and now God has lifted him up and exalted him, giving him the Holy Spirit which Christ is even now pouring out on us. God has kept us until now, solely on the basis of his grace alone, not because we are a pretty meritorious and deserving bunch of people. What I am saying is this: Jesus paid it all. I mean all. He not only purchased your ability to understand who God is, and redeemed you by his agony and bloody sweat, and made you new people, he has bought for you every blessing and every answer to prayer you will ever receive.

If you are being educated tonight it is because of Jesus. If your heart is being warmed, it is because of Jesus. If you are being warned and rebuked, it is because of Jesus. If you are being built up in your most holy faith, it is all because of the Lord Jesus Christ. Every blessing, and every restoration, and every mercy which is new each morning, and every answer to prayer which you’ll ever receive, every one of them without exception, comes to you from the Lord Jesus. It is all of his grace alone. This what Paul tell us in our text: “God’s glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” God has drawn us into that intimacy of love that he has for his son. Remember when you were a young couple and you gave one another a long hug in the kitchen and your little boy came running up saying, “Me, too!” And you each stretched down and caught an arm and lifted him up and held him between you and the three of you hugged one another in love. That is how it is with the love of the Godhead; you have drawn you into their love. The Father loves you with the same love with which he loves his dear Son, and Christ loves you with the same love wherewith he loves his Father. You are held in the grip of that love of Father and Son for one another. That same love now embraces you. That is the grace of God.

You can scarcely believe it, that God loves you because of Jesus Christ alone; that your sins are forgiven because of Jesus Christ alone; that you are a new creation because of Jesus Christ alone; that you are kept day by day and enjoy every spiritual blessing because of Jesus Christ alone. You are sometimes afraid that if this is how God deals with men then they will become presumptuous, and sit back and do nothing, leaving it all to God. Grace won’t let it happen. There is a sinful itch in every heart to pay some of their way to heaven. I want to say that not all the money in the world can pay that price! There was none other good enough to pay the price of sin. It has all been paid for by Jesus’ grace, and in the gospel you are all being offered the entry ticket to eternal life. It is without money and without price as a gift of divine grace, but if you refuse you must pay it yourself and that will be in hell for ever. That is the choice. His grace has kept us safe thus far and his grace will take us home, or our works will damn us.

Please understand that grace does not help. It is not that we are doing something and grace helps us to achieve it. It is absolute. It is omnicompetent. Grace cannot act where there are claims to desert or ability. Grace can only be grace where there is impotence and guilt and shame. Let grace be grace, and so go to God and say, “Nothing in my hand I bring; Simply to thy cross I cling.” So I plead with you not to try to give some cause to God why he should be gracious to you. Then grace would not be grace. I want you to stand before God today and say, “I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing. So I cast myself on Jesus Christ alone. Just as I am without one plea, but that they blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me come to thee O lamb of God I come.” It is because of everything his Son is and his Son has done that God is gracious to us. That . . . alone. Do you see this?

Harry Ironside of the Moody Church in Chicago was once witnessing to a man who could not see that salvation was through Christ alone and by grace alone. The man was always slipping back into the contribution he had made to his salvation, and the works which he had done. Finally, Harry Ironside said to him, “Sir, the difficulty with your religion is that it doesn’t have enough letters in it.” The man said, “What do you mean?” Ironside answered, “Your religion only has two letters, D.O. Mine has four letters: D.O.N.E.” That is the difference between a religion of works and a religion that is all of God’s grace through Jesus Christ alone.

It is the difference between Christianity and all the other religions. They will all point you to what you have to do, the prayers you have to say and the number of occasions you have to say them, certain foods you must always refused, the pilgrimages you have to go on, the meditations you have to perform, the gifts you have to make to the religion, and so on. Christianity is utterly different. It points to everything Jesus Christ has done. We are accepted by God because of what the Lord Jesus has done. Grace is G.R.A.C.E. – Great Riches At Christ’s Expense. John Reisinger tells the story of a missionary who was witnessing to a Muslim friend whom he loved dearly. The Muslim could never understand the Christian gospel and instinctively thought in terms of rules, of an annual month of fasting, not eating unclean food, pilgrimages to Mecca and good works. He thought Christianity simply had other rules. The missionary was returning home, and would probably not see his friend again. Shortly before he left the Muslim came to see him and he was bearing a gift. He was an accomplished carver and woodworker and he had made a beautiful slender coffee table with inlaid wood and marquetry around the sides. He said, “I want to give you this little table which I’ve made for you as a token of our friendship. I want you to remember me always as a friend even though we go different ways in worshipping God.”

The missionary was very moved by this kindness, but he was also sad because he knew the man had never understood the nature of the grace of God. He prayed for one more opportunity to make things clear to the Muslim. Then he had an idea. He went to a cupboard and picked up a hand plane and approached the coffee table holding it in his hands as if he meant to use it. The Muslim looked nervous and said to him, “What are you going to do?” The missionary said, “There are a couple of bumps there and I’d better plane them out now so that it’s really finished right.” The Muslim protested, getting up and stretching out his hand, “No! No!” he said, “You mustn’t touch it with the plane. If you do anything to it then it will be ruined.” The missionary smiled: “I was only teasing,” he said, “Thanks so much for this. I will always treasure it. It is perfect and it shows your love for me, but do you know what I’ve said to you about the Lord Christ, that when he died Jesus cried, ‘It is finished.’ We don’t have to add our pilgrimages and our fasts and diets and self-denials and good works to get to heaven or we would ruin it because sin is mixed with everything we have done. Christ all by himself has done everything to get us there. That is God’s grace. All we need is the humility to acknowledge that not what my hands can do can save my soul and get me to glory. Sin spoils the best things we do, and so we have to trust in what Jesus Christ alone did.” To supplement the Lord Jesus Christ in any way is to supplant Christ. This Jesus Christ is with us now. He is able to save you. He is willing. Doubt no more.

26th October 2003 GEOFF THOMAS