Dr. Richard L. Strauss
January 13, 1980
Moses was a man who truly longed to know God. In the first message in this series we heard the desire of his heart when he cried out to God, "I beseech You, show me Your glory" (Exodus 33:18).
That desire led to an exciting encounter with God. It was early the next morning that he cut two new tablets of stone to replace the ones he had broken in anger when he found the people had worshipped a golden calf. Then, tablets in hand and all alone, he climbed Mt. Sinai and waited.
"Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed His name, the Lord. And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, 'The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness'" (Exodus 34:5-6).
Moses never saw God's face on that occasion but God did assume some visible form and allowed Moses to get a limited glimpse of His radiant glory. It was a privilege afforded very few people in all of human history. We would suppose that what God revealed about Himself on such an extraordinary occasion as this would be extremely important. And it was.
The first thing He revealed was that He is merciful. That is, He is compassionate, sympathetically conscious of our needs, tenderly concerned about us in our distress. That is certainly significant.
The second thing He said about Himself was that He is gracious. And that is the trait we want to explore today.
What do you think about when you hear the word gracious? Maybe you have the mental image of a charming hostess with good taste and a pleasant personality, gliding around the room with a tray of hors d'oeuvres. Maybe you think of a person who is kind and courteous, agreeable and easy to get along with. Or maybe you envision somebody with great tact and diplomacy in dealing with other people. Gracious could mean any of those things when applied to us. But how do you picture a God who says He is gracious. What do you think came to Moses' mind when God made this claim?
1. Grace Is the Essence of God's Being
There is no question but that God is telling Moses what He is like, explaining to him the essence of His being. And He uses a word that expresses His tender affection to those who deserve nothing, His desire to do them good, freely and unconditionally.
When He said He was gracious, it meant that God is filled with an inclination to show favor to guilty people who have no claim to it whatsoever. He is even willing to forgive their sins and deliver them from punishment when they are totally unworthy of such kindness. He mentions that specific aspect of His graciousness in the next verse, "...forgiving iniquities and transgression and sin" (Exodus 34:7).
That God is gracious means that He is favorably disposed to us: guilty and undeserving people. It means that He loves to bestow benefits on us without demanding compensation in return. Grace cannot be earned and cannot be repaid. That's the meaning of this Old Testament word in its original form, the root meaning "to bend" or "to stoop."
The New Testament establishes the same truth. 1 Peter called Him "the God of all grace" (1 Peter 5:10). All grace! He has an inexhaustible supply of good gifts which are adequate for every conceivable need, and which are available to everyone who will receive them. This New Testament word originally referred to something that caused joy, delight, and pleasure—something attractive and charming. But it came to have the same idea as its Old Testament equivalent, that of showing kindness and goodwill to the undeserving.
One of the first things we learn about the eternal Word who became flesh and dwelled among us is that He was full of grace (John 1:14). His ministry would be marked by favor freely extended to the guilty and undeserving. We could expect nothing less from a God who is full to overflowing with an innate fondness for giving, for showing kindness to those who have no merit in themselves.
2. Grace Is the Basis of God's Actions
That's the way God is, but the way He is always affects the way He acts. God's grace causes Him to seek undeserving objects to whom He can give toward who He can act graciously. And He doesn't have to look very far. His world is filled with sinful rebels who have turned their backs on Him, resisted His will, defied His authority, and who deserve nothing from Him but punishment.
The nation Israel was among them. If there was ever a people who spurned God's love, it was them. But Moses understood the implications of God's grace.
"Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. 'Lord,' he said, 'if I have found favor in Your eyes, then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance'" (Exodus 34:8-9).
He is saying, "God, if you really are a God of grace, then be with us even though we don't deserve Your presence. Forgive our sins even though we are obstinate people. Let us be Your own special possession even though we deserve to be cast off and destroyed." He was asking his gracious God to act in a gracious manner. And He did.
How can He afford to do that? How can a holy God extend His love to guilty people who deserve to be condemned and freely forgive them? We need to remember that none of God's attributes operates in isolation. All are beautifully interwoven and intertwined so that when He acts it is with His whole being.
His holiness does not operate apart from His love. And when the unconditional love of a holy God is expressed toward worthless undeserving sinners, that is His grace. Grace is the bridge between God's holiness and His love. It allows a holy God to act in loving ways toward guilty people.
It was grace that allowed Him to relinquish heaven's riches and enter earth's history in poverty to provide poor sinners with the riches of eternal salvation.
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9).
It was grace that led Him to Calvary where He offered Himself as a sacrifice in our place, and where He shed His life's blood so that we might be forgiven of sin's guilt and delivered from sin's penalty. Paul speaks of Jesus Christ:
"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace" (Ephesians 1:7).
It is God's grace that provides salvation for every sinful person.
"For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people" (Titus 2:11).
It is His grace that applies that salvation to the lives of those who believe.
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).
It is His grace in which we now stand, secure in the knowledge that He will one day receive us into glory.
"Through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:2).
We have the security of our salvation today because it's dependent on God's grace, not on our goodness. It is all of His undeserved favor.
Now I have to admit that these concepts are not very popular in our day, if indeed they are even understood. In order to grasp the reality of God's grace we must first understand the reality of our own sinfulness.
If we are convinced that in spite of the little vices we all have, we are basically good people deserving of God's favor, then we shall see no need for grace. If we somehow believe that God is obligated to let us into heaven because we have tried to keep some of His laws and done the best we can, then grace is totally unnecessary. The whole concept will appear absurd.
But if we accept God's assessment of our lives—that we are unrighteous, deceitful, desperately wicked, guilty, condemned sinners, incapable of measuring up to God's standard and unworthy of His acceptance, then a deep appreciation of His grace will begin to dawn on our sin-filled minds. We will get to know the God of all grace.
We learn a valuable lesson about grace from observing God's gracious actions toward us. Just as the root meaning of the New Testament word involves joy and pleasantness, so we notice that God's grace has an uncaring way of transforming what is unpleasant into pleasantness. For example, He takes an unbeliever, chained to his wretchedness and sin and bound for the bitterness of an eternal hell, freely gives him the lovely garment of Christ's righteousness, then assures him of heaven's glory and beauty. What a transformation! That is God's grace for salvation.
And then He keeps on acting toward us in grace. Not only does He bring delight to our drab existence by giving us the gift of eternal life, but He keeps on giving to meet our needs and brighten our lives. For instance, He gives us the resources to build us up and set us apart more fully to Himself, progressively replacing the ugliness of our daily sin with the attractiveness of holy living. That was Paul's message to the Ephesian elders:
"Now I commit you to God and to the word of His grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32).
That is one of my favorite verses. Grace builds us up and sets us apart for God's glory. That is God's grace for sanctification. Sanctification is laying hold of God's gracious assistance to become more like Christ, for His glory. Grace delivers us from bondage to laws and allows us to enjoy God in freedom of a joyous relationship.
The same thing is true of Christian service. We have a tendency to get carried away with our abilities, and begin to think that God is pretty lucky to have us on His team to do His work. That is usually when we fall flat on our faces.
"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe" (Hebrews 12:28).
We do not deserve to have the pleasure of serving the eternal God, be He has bestowed that privilege on us by His grace. We serve Him not to obtain His favor, but because we already have it. And He freely gives us the abilities and strength we need to serve Him successfully by His standards. He transforms our feeble, bungling, embarrassing, unpleasant efforts into an effective rewarding ministry that brings glory to Him. It is all part of His gracious actions toward us. That's God's grace for service.
Then there is grace for suffering. Most of our suffering is simply the result of living in a sinful world. Some of it is the result of our own foolish and sinful choices. In either case, God has no obligation to help us through it. But He does.
When the Apostle Paul faced a painful physical disability, God was right there to meet him.
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me" (2 Corinthians 12:9).
God's grace can transform the unpleasantness of suffering into the pleasantness of knowing Christ's power.
The God of all grace has grace available for every need. He invites us to come boldly to His throne of grace, the reservoir of His never ending supply, and there obtain grace to help, whatever our need might be (Hebrews 4:16). It's there for the taking. As John put it:
"For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace" (John 1:16, NASB).
I love that verse. (It's our memory verse this week.) God just keeps pouring it on, filling the believer's life with grace, piling one gracious provision on top of another, transforming one unpleasant circumstance after another into joy and pleasure.
3. Grace Is the Aim of God's Children
Getting to know the God of all grace and become the receptacles into which He keeps pouring His grace is obviously going to have an effect on our lives. We can't experience God's grace without changing in some areas. We are going to become more like Him, more gracious, giving people—people with true charisma. We are all familiar with that term. It's used quite a bit in both the secular and spiritual worlds. When we hear it we usually visualize someone with the personal magnetism of leadership who incites loyalty and enthusiasm. But we misunderstand charisma as God views it.
We are like the little boy in the cartoon who was surrounded by a group of admiring girls. Off to the side, two jealous friends were evaluating the situation. One said to the other, "He hasn't got charisma. He's just got a bag of jelly beans." The world has a poor imitation of the real thing—a mere bag of jelly beans. Only the believer who has begun to enjoy the reality of God's grace in his life can exemplify it. This charisma is God transforming us from the unpleasant people we were into the pleasing image of His Son. And that will affect some surprising areas of our lives.
For one thing, it will put a song in our hearts.
"Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts" (Colossians 3:16).
To know that our eternal salvation depends not on us, but on the grace of God, keeps us singing all day long. To know that our gracious God promises to work every detail of our lives together for good can keep us singing even in the darkest hour of affliction.
Paul and Silas knew about that. They sat in a Philippian jail cell beaten and bleeding, racked with pain, locked firmly in stocks. Yet at midnight, the Bible tells us, they were singing praises to God (Acts 16:25). Incredible? Not when you have gotten to know the God of all grace. His grace can transform the most miserable of circumstances into opportunities for rejoicing.
God's grace will also affect our speech.
"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:6).
This word grace is rich with meaning as we've seen, and in this context most of that meaning seems to be applicable. It's easy to let harsh words, cutting words, unkind words, selfish words, stubborn words, thoughtless words, rude words, complaining words, and gossiping words come tumbling out of our mouths. We say we're just sharing facts but what we are really doing is gossiping and back-biting, or complaining and criticizing. It's so easy to do. But God wants our words to be saturated with grace—not sugar coated and sickening sweet, but genuinely attractive, kind, considerate, pleasing, favorable, beneficial, and thankful. All that is involved in grace. And that's true charisma.
God wants that grace to govern our speech always. Don't miss that: Let your speech be always with grace. Courtesy and kindness are especially important when speaking to unbelievers, which this context points out (see Colossians 4:5-6). But a good dose of God's grace will affect everything we say to everybody: to our wives, our husbands, our children, our parents, our friends, as well as the folks who don't seem to like us very much. It may even help us bridge that gulf between us. Paul told the Ephesians that gracious speech ministers grace to the hearers (Ephesians 4:29). God's grace can transform the unpleasantness of tension and friction into the pleasantness of harmony and fellowship.
God's grace will also help us know when not to talk.
"For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly" (1 Peter 2:19, ESV).
It says literally, "For this is grace..." It's the Greek word for grace, here. It is an evidence of God's grace in our lives when we are willing to suffer for doing what is right, without arguing or retaliating.
"But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God" (1 Peter 2:20).
It's translated here as "commendable" but again, in the Greek the verse ends literally with, "...this is grace before God." God's grace at work in us lets us return good for evil and so transforms an explosive situation into one that gives glory to God.
That's God's grace. It becomes our grace as we get to know Him.
Most of us would be willing to admit that we could use a great deal more of God's grace. We know that there is a never-ending supply and that it is there for the taking. We know that receiving it does not depend on whether or not we deserve it. But we are still not sure how to get it so that it begins to affect our lives.
Solomon made and interesting comment in the Proverbs that both Peter and James quoted in their epistles. Here is the way James put it:
"But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: 'God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble'" (James 4:6). Literally, God gives grace to the humble.
The humble are those who see themselves as God sees them, and are willing to admit their weaknesses and needs. If we don't see any need for changes in our lives, then obviously we are not even going to be open to receiving God's grace. The flow of grace begins when we admit our weaknesses, shortcomings, failures, and sins—when we acknowledge our need.
But there is a second step. We hear much in ecclesiastical circles about the means of grace—the way God ministers grace to our lives. The Bible clearly mentions only one means that I am aware of, and this is FAITH. We see that principle at work in salvation: "For by grace are you saved through faith" (Ephesians 2:8). Faith is the agency that releases God's grace. We see it again in Romans 5:2, "...we have access by faith into this grace."
Whether it is grace for salvation, grace for sanctification, grace for service, grace for suffering, grace to keep us singing, grace to govern our speech, or grace for any other need, we experience it by believing God. We need to believe we desperately need His grace. We need to believe that He has enough grace available to help us, and that He is willing to share it with us. We need to believe that it will be adequate to transform our burdens into blessings.
When we truly believe, all that remains is to open up our hearts to the God of all grace and receive what He has to offer.
"Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16, NKJV).
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
If you've never trusted the Lord Jesus as Savior in your life, you've probably had some instances where you've longed for some spiritual reality. There's been an emptiness there you've tried to fill. Maybe you've tried to fill it by being religious, by keeping God's laws and doing good things. That vacuum in your life will never be filled by those things. God made that vacuum to be filled by His grace. Not until we recognize our utter worthlessness before God and our total need for His grace, and the all-sufficiency of His sacrifice, will we be able to experience satisfaction.
Why not believe God, that He has grace sufficient for eternal life: the joy of eternity in His presence. Faith will bring to your life the reality of God's grace.
For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.
John 1:16 NASB
Continue to AT-14: Rich in Mercy