I want to begin by asking a question: Which person needs God’s grace more: the conscientious, dutiful, hardworking Christian or the most decadent hard-living sinner?
I once heard that grace was defined as making up the difference between God’s righteous law and what we lack in living up to those requirements. No one can merit salvation on their own, but God’s grace makes up the difference. To say this is about God’s grace is like comparing two people’s attempt to jump over the Grand Canyon. It averages about 15 km in width from rim to rim. Suppose one person could jump only 2 meters and another can jump 10 meters. Sure, one person can jump five times farther than the other, but what difference could it make over 15 km? The answer, of course, is NO difference! When God built a bridge over the “Grand Canyon” of sin that separated us from God, He didn’t stop 2 or 10 meters short. He built it ALL the way!
The Bible never speaks of God’s grace as simply making up our deficiencies, as if salvation was based on good works (even a little). All of us need God’s grace. It doesn’t matter if you are Billy Graham or Billy Idol, we all need grace. The most conscientious, dutiful hardworking Christian needs grace as much as the bad, ignorant sinner. We all need the same grace. The sinner doesn’t need more than the saint. We all need the same amount of grace because the currency we possess, that being our good works, is worthless before God.
Here is a little principle I read about the grace of God: To the extent you are clinging to any vestiges of self-righteousness or are putting any confidence in your own spiritual attainments, to that degree you aren’t living by the grace of God in your life. I found these words sobering. This principle applies both to salvation and to living the Christian life. Grace and good works, those things you do to merit favor with God, are exclusive. We cannot stand with one foot on grace and one foot on our own works of merit.
If you are trusting to any degree in your own morality or religious accomplishments, or if you believe that God will somehow recognize any of your good works as merit toward your salvation, you need to seriously consider if you are a Christians. I know I might be offending some with these words, but we must be absolutely clear about the truth of the gospel of salvation.
God says to us in Isaiah 55:1, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters and you who have no money, come buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” The gospel is addressed to those without money or good works. It invites us to “buy” salvation without money and cost. I want to note that it is for those with NO money, not those who don’t have enough. Grace is not a matter of making up the difference but of God providing all the cost of salvation through His Son.
In Romans 3:9-20, Paul declares that all of us are in the same boat… lost apart from Christ. Later in verse 22, Paul says, “there is no difference” between anyone. Ethnicity, status, money, religious or irreligious, decent, moral, to the most degenerate – we are all the same because we all fall short of the glory of God.
When I made the comparison of people trying to jump over the Grand Canyon, it fails to describe the state of humanity from the Bible’s perspective. The illustration assumes people are actually trying to get across. We assume people are trying to work and earn their way to Heaven and despite all their efforts, are falling short of the giant chasm that separates us from God.
Almost no one is making a sincere effort to increase their ability to jump the canyon. Rather most people are rationalizing to themselves that the width is narrower and will be something we can step over ourselves. A moral person might see 10 meters as 8 meters and with a little training and work, it might be less. Almost everyone believes that in the end, God will accept them based upon what they have done in life and will be able to “buy” a spot in Heaven.
In Luke 18:9-14, we find Jesus telling a story about a Pharisee and Tax Collector. The passage begins with these words, “To some who were confident of their own righteousness…” And we know from the story that Jesus showed that humility and the recognition of one’s need for mercy were the key rather than one’s personal justification and righteousness.
One of the great problems today is most of us think we really aren’t that bad. In fact, we assume we are pretty good. In 1981, a book was published addressing the difficulty of pain and suffering in life and it became a best seller. It was called, “When bad things happen to good people.” The title makes the premise that most people are essentially good. Harold Kushner defines good people as “ordinary people, nice, friendly neighbors, neither extraordinarily good nor extraordinarily bad.”
Again, looking at what Paul said Romans 3:10-12, “As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Paul recognized even his Jewishness wasn’t good enough. Being one of God’s chosen people wasn’t good enough. Why? We are all under the bondage and curse of sin. Birthright wasn’t enough. Works aren’t enough. Kushner’s view of people basically being good and Paul’s view of people being basically bad come from a different starting point. To Kushner, good meant being a nice, friendly neighbor… basically to be Canadian! To Paul and other Scripture writers, people are bad because of their alienation from God and our rebellion against Him.
To get a good understanding of why humanity is the way it is, we look back to the Old Testament. Isaiah 53:6 states, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way” That it is the very essence of sin… we have all gone our own way. Your way might be giving money to charity, while another might be robbing a bank. But without any acknowledgment or reference to God, both have gone their own way.
Think about Quebec and many of the people’s attempts at sovereignty and seceding from Canada. The people doing it might be genuinely nice, decent and basically upright people. But their goodness doesn’t matter to the federal government because the only issue that matters is their rebellion. Until that issue is resolved nothing else matters.
Putting this in perspective with God’s sovereign rule over His Creation, we realize that we too need to resolve our rebellion in order to restore the relationship. God’s government is perfect and just. His moral law is described in Romans 7:12 as being “holy, righteous and good.” And the reason we rebel is because we were born rebellious. We were born with the inclination of doing things my way. I want to point out a myth many people have bought into that we become sinful and rebellious. We might think it is a product of our upbringing and environment. But King David dispels that in Psalm 51:5 where he declares, “Surely, I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Before he was born and had the opportunity to sin, he was sinful.
Sin is more than doing wrong things. It is an attitude that ignores God and His Laws. Sin is in many ways a state of being that comes from a darkened heart. In Zechariah 3:1-4, we see this illustrated. “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.””
In this picture, we see Joshua the High Priest dressed in filthy clothes, a picture of his sin and the sins of the people. The picture here isn’t just the sin, but the effects of the sin. It is like pollution. Apart from Christ we are not only dressed in filthy clothes, we are also polluted and corrupted before Him.
That is why the Bible never speaks of God making up our deficiencies by cleaning our own filthy clothes rather, God takes our filthy clothes and gives us new garments. Now you might be thinking why am I belaboring our sin and filth? it is because we can never fully understand God’s grace until we understand our plight as those who need it.
So who needs grace? All of us; the saint as well as the sinner. The most conscientious, dutiful, hard-working Christian needs God’s grace as much as the most dissolute, hard-living sinner. All of us need the same grace because the currency of our good works is worthless before God.
C. Samuel Storms said in his book, “The Grandeur of God,” Grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to bestow it in the presence of human merit. Grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to withdraw it in the presence of human demerit. Grace is treating a person without the slightest reference to desert whatsoever, but solely according to the infinite goodness and sovereign purpose of God.
God’s grace is something all of us needs. It is not something earned or deserved, rather it is the based on God’s love and mercy He has shown to us through Jesus Christ. Baptist pastor Abraham Booth said, “If grace is not free, it is not grace at all.” Truer words were never spoken.
May we see God’s grace as it truly is, a precious gift bestowed to us by a merciful and loving God and may that inspire us to share the Good News of hope and salvation to those around us. We needed it, and so does everyone else.