Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone
Posted: Thursday, August 4, 2011 1:09 pm
The Messenger, August 4, 2011
The Grace of God
By SAM RICHARDSON
Special to The Messenger
On a cold November Indiana evening, a friend and I headed back to our college in Illinois from a Vols football game in Knoxville. I was driving and in a hurry.
As I swerved at 95 mph through the traffic, I noticed red and blue lights in my rear view mirror. I was scared: caught, guilty of breaking the law, no excuses. As the police officer approached the car, all I could think about was how much the ticket was going to cost and how I did not have the money to pay it.
As I handed the officer my license, he asked me if I always drove like a maniac. I answered his questions sheepishly. Unexpectedly, the officer said, “Please slow it down, and have a good evening.” He let me go on my way without a ticket. I could not believe what just happed! I exhaled a huge sigh of relief.
This story, although an imperfect illustration, reminds us of God’s grace. I was guilty with no excuses. The police officer had every right to condemn me and give me a ticket. But he chose to let me go, with no actions of my own to persuade him.
But God’s grace is far greater. God chooses of His own free will to freely bestow grace upon us guilty sinners, through no merit of our own. In his book “Knowing God,” J.I. Packer puts it, “The grace of God is love freely shown toward guilty sinners, contrary to their merit and indeed in defiance of their demerit.”
We sinners neither earn nor deserve grace. In truth, we deserve judgment and punishment. But God in his infinite love became a man and died on the cross to save us from our sins. Packer says that the New Testament tells us “how our Judge has become our Savior.”
Packer claims that “grace and salvation belong together as a cause and effect.” As Paul points out in Ephesians 2:5, God forgives and saves us “even when we are dead in our trespasses.” We cannot act towards our salvation because we are spiritually dead. Dead people cannot act of their own free will.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9)
Packer suggests that modern man’s high achievement in science has caused us to have high opinions of ourselves. We believe that we are basically good people. We dismiss a guilty conscience as “a sign of disease and mental aberration rather than an index of moral reality.”
Because we think we are basically good, we believe we can curry God’s favor and place Him in a position where He cannot refuse us Heaven. We believe only the truly bad people, like Hitler, Stalin or child molesters, go to Hell or are annihilated.
This is why the idea of Karma (the good or bad that you do comes back to you) has become so appealing to modern men and women: If we are basically good, then God is required to provide us with good things, including Heaven.
What we must realize is that our relationship with God has already been lost: We are dead in sin. It is beyond our power to gain anything from God. Instead, He freely provides us with grace through Jesus Christ. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 ESV) Or as Bono of the musical group U2 puts it, “You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma … And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that ‘as you reap, so you will sow’ stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff … I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. … It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.
How then should we respond to God’s grace? By accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and living a life that is pleasing to Him. It is God’s will that once we receive His grace, we will be moved to give ourselves over to “good works” and show our gratitude by doing what He requires.
Editor’s note: Sam Richardson serves as a deacon at Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Troy.