Chapter 4: Belonging

8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Opening Prayer: Heavenly Father, I know that You are smarter and wiser than me, because You created this world and all living creatures. I don't understand why You gave me the gift of life, and I don't understand Your plan for my eternal future. Please open my heart and mind to grasp Your love for me and what I should do next because of Your love. Amen.

God's grace ensures your place

The joyful people assured me that my eternal future depended on something called "grace." They said that if I got it right, my joy could begin immediately and last forever.

At first, it was difficult to understand the differences between grace and some other concepts such as justice, mercy, fairness, right or wrong. Let's spend a few minutes explaining what I learned about the other words first and come back to the concept of grace.

Justice

Justice is receiving exactly what you deserve, no more and no less. Justice implies a system of laws, supported by an authorized law-enforcement system. Perfect justice means that every lawbreaker is swiftly caught and punished. It also implies that innocent people are never wrongfully punished. The word first appears in Genesis 18, as God is describing Abraham:

19 For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.

God knew that Abraham had great personal integrity, and that he would not only keep God's law but also teach it to his family and enforce it in his household and his community.

Mercy

Mercy is forgiveness or leniency toward a person or group that is guilty of breaking a law (sinning). The lawbreakers deserve a specific punishment, but receive mercy in the form of reduced punishment or a complete pardon. The word merciful first appears in Genesis 19:

15 And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city. 16 And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him; and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.

The city of Sodom was guilty of flagrant sin, and Lot was not completely innocent of Sodom's guilt. Lot had become comfortable as a man of wealth and power in Sodom. Lot preferred God's way of doing things, but had become soft and carnal.

The angels came to rescue Lot as a favor to Abraham. However, the Bible says that Lot lingered - unwilling to distance himself from his comfortable life in Sin City. The angels could have marched out in disgust and left them all behind. Nevertheless, the angels showed God's mercy to Lot by dragging him and his family away from Sodom.

Fairness

Fairness is having every person treated equally under the law, regardless of the differences in age, character, race, economic status, attitude, accomplishments, prior behavior or personal charm. The noisy, complaining brat receives exactly the same allowance as the hardworking, quiet, compliant child. The frivolous lawsuits of a convicted felon are given the same weight as those of honest citizens.

Communism is the theoretical epitome of fairness; everybody gets the same income regardless of what he or she actually contributes to the community. Fairness allows no favorites and rewards no excellence.

Fairness is a concept dear to modern society, but is not a biblical concept. The Bible speaks of justice (described above), but the word "fair" normally refers to physical appearance in the King James Version.

Right and Wrong

Right and wrong are determined by law. Right is compliance with the law. Wrong is breaking the law, knowingly or unknowingly. Notice that all these concepts imply the existence of a legal system. Without law, there is no framework for justice, mercy, fairness, right or wrong. All these concepts depend on the legal system for their contextual meaning. In an Islamic country, "justice" means imprisonment or execution for people who are proven "guilty" of believing in Jesus or making friends with Jewish people.

The Bible explains God's concept of right and wrong. The Bible gives us a thorough picture of God's Law, with examples of good and bad performance. Best of all, the Bible tells us about Jesus, who complied with every aspect of the Law and was absolutely innocent before God. Jesus qualified for Heaven on His own merits.

Unfortunately, you and I are not capable of meeting every requirement of the Law, from birth to death. We have already sinned, and are sure to fail in the future.

Our performance will always come short of God's standard, which is perfection. Perfect justice, then, requires eternal punishment for our shortcomings, because the Law says, "The soul that sinneth shall die." (Ezekiel 18:20) You and I qualify for Hell on our own merits.

Backwards as it sounds, God gave us a Big Loophole: an escape clause from the sentence of death that Justice demands. The Big Loophole enables us to get the Heaven that Jesus deserved, because Jesus paid the punishment that we deserved. That is not fair. That is an example of God's grace.

Now we can define grace

Grace - sometimes called "unmerited favor" - means receiving a benefit or reward that we did not earn or deserve to receive. It is a gift. The first appearance of grace in the Scripture is in Genesis 6, verses 6-8:

6 And it repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart. 7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. 8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.

Notice that God, the great Lawgiver, was grieved because of the sins of men. Men were violating whatever Law was available to the human race before the Flood. Noah wasn't perfect, but he had a healthy relationship with God. Noah actively sought to please God, and found grace in God's eyes.

Grace means receiving a benefit because the recipient pleases (finds favor with) God. The term also applies to finding favor in the eyes of an earthly ruler, as we see in Genesis 39:

1 And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmaelites, which had brought him down thither. 2 And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. 3 And his master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD made all that he did to prosper in his hand. 4 And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand. 5 And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; and the blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field.

In this example, Joseph had a right to become bitter and turn against God. He had not been treated fairly by his brothers. But he continued to trust and worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Joseph found grace in the eyes of God. In turn, Joseph found grace in the eyes of his Egyptian master, Potiphar.

The term also applies to finding favor in the eyes of a person of nearly equal stature, as in Genesis 32:

3 And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4 And he commanded them, saying, Thus shall ye speak unto my lord Esau; Thy servant Jacob saith thus, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed there until now: 5 And I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and womenservants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight.

Jacob and Esau were approximately equal in terms of stature in their communities. But Esau held the upper hand in terms of power. Esau controlled the land of his father, Isaac, and was able to muster 400 men to meet Jacob.

Some important concepts have already emerged:

We see an amazing interchange between God and Moses in Exodus 33:

12 Then Moses said to the Lord, "See, You say to me, 'Bring up this people.' But You have not let me know whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, 'I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight.' 13 "Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people." 14 And He said, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." 15 Then he said to Him, "If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. 16 "For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth." 17 So the Lord said to Moses, "I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name." (NKJV)

This conversation reinforces several of the earlier points: that grace flows from greater to lesser, that the greater can expect deference from the lesser, and that the person seeking grace does more than the minimum required. We can learn more from this conversation:

If you grasp this principle of intercession, it will change your life.

"I thought that only super heroes like Moses can talk to God like this."

That's what I thought. But the Bible says that talking to God makes ordinary people into super heroes. This Scripture passage hints that God has a range of possible outcomes for every event. The intercessor uses his position of grace and influence to lobby for God's very best outcome.

The principle is very clear. Any of us can intercede. Very few of us actually do. The "take-home" principle here is that by God's grace toward us, we can find favor in His sight and can intercede with Him to achieve world-shaking results if we're willing to try.

In the New Testament

The first New Testament appearance of grace (finding favor) is in Luke 1:

26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

In this passage, it is clear that grace is flowing from the Greater to the lesser. Mary had found favor with God, and God gave her the most extravagant reward in history. She was permitted to carry the Lord Jesus in her womb from conception to birth. Mary was entrusted with the most sacred job of parenting in history, despite the hostility and gossip of disbelieving neighbors.

This is a marvelous example of God's grace. Mary obviously had pleased God in the past, and God knew she would put all her heart and soul into her ministry to Jesus. But Mary couldn't begin to deserve that honor. It was a gift from God.

The concept of grace next appears in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. Let's start with the context, verses 1-5:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Here we get a peek at the true nature of Jesus. He is God, and He created all things. He gave life to all creatures. He is described as light: the only ray of hope that we have in this dark world.

Notice verse 5: "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." The word "comprehended" translates a compound Greek word katalambano meaning to seize eagerly. Jesus brought the light of His life into the world, to give us eternal hope. But we didn't eagerly seize it. We didn't get it.

Many of us still don't get it very well, but God continues (for a little while longer) to make the light of Jesus available to us. God's love and grace are very evident in verses 10 through 17:

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth... 16 And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (NKJV)

These verses absolutely take my breath away every time I read them. We humans are so out of contact with God that most of the folks in Jesus' day didn't recognize Him. God could have performed justice by vaporizing all the unbelievers on the planet after Jesus' crucifixion. But because of His mercy, He has reserved judgment for nearly 2,000 years.

Verse 12 is really amazing in its scope and simplicity, so let's read it again:

12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. (NKJV)

Everybody who receives Him and believes (trusts) in Jesus' name qualifies for God's extravagant grace, and is permitted to be adopted as a child of God. The word "receives" translates the Greek word lambano, which can also be interpreted "gets it" or "understands."

It took me several months of study to "get it." It was hard to accept that trusting in the completed work of Jesus Christ could qualify me for eternal life and for an implant of God's own eternal nature in our hearts. This is pure grace.

Grace: The Big Loophole

This is the Big Loophole. This backwards principle is our key to surviving the spiritual warfare all around us and entering Heaven.

All God requires from us is a change of attitude and a willingness to submit. The Bible calls this repenting: turning from our old ways and turning toward Jesus, to follow Him. This tiny bit of effort enables us to find favor with God. Our faith - trusting in the completed redemptive work of Jesus Christ - qualifies us for God's extravagant grace.

This is pure grace, pure unmerited favor. If you think you deserve eternal life because of your natural goodness, then you still haven't received it. You still haven't repented of your self righteousness.

God's grace is the core principle of the Gospel message, in Romans 3, verses 23 and 24:

23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Paul reinforces this principle in Romans 6, verse 23:

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

These verses changed my entire attitude toward God when I first read them. It was difficult to believe that I was a bad person, but easy to accept that I came short of God's standard of perfection, embodied in Jesus.

How do you compare to Jesus?

None of us come up to God's standard of perfection. In fact, Paul specifically deals with this issue in Romans 4, verses 4-8:

4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. 6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, 7 Saying, "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. 8 "Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin."

If you are less than Jesus in any respect, then your works come short of the glory of God, and you cannot earn Heaven on your own merits. This is not an insult, but a statement of fact.

In his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 4-9, we see why we should be grateful for grace:

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. (NKJV)

Before we responded to the Gospel of grace, we were servants of sin, dead to the things of God. Now we are called to be dead to sin and servants of God.

What does it mean to "grow in grace?"

Good question. We find saving grace (favor) with God by responding in faith to the Gospel message. Then, out of a heart of gratitude to God, we seek to please God by doing more than the minimum required. God is God, and has all the power. He could demand perfect obedience, but knows we are not capable of it. His heart is responsive to the attitude of our hearts. It pleases God when we sincerely obey His commands and seek His face out of gratitude and faith in His Word.

The more we act in faith, the more blessings we will receive, both now and in Eternity. Sin, by definition, will pull us away from the center of God's will. Our short-sighted pleasure seeking can cost us untold blessings.

Jesus makes a precious offer in Matthew chapter 11, verses 28 to 30:

28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (NKJV)

Jesus offers you rest from your religious burdens.

Jesus offers you His "yoke" - an opportunity to be a contributing member of His body here on earth. Jesus offers you a yoke of service that is easy and light compared to the bondage you formerly submitted to.

Jesus offers you the opportunity to spend time in fellowship with Him - He who is gentle and lowly in heart. Jesus offers you rest for your soul and durable joy in His presence.

The Real Confrontation

Before you can receive God's grace, you must confront the issue of your own sin. You must understand that all sin is horrible in God's eyes. If God didn't care about sin and its consequences, He would not have sent His Son to pay the price for sin on the cross at Calvary. If you could be saved by your own religious works, then Jesus was a fool for dying on your behalf. Hint: Jesus was not a fool.

All sin is punishable by eternal damnation in Hell. You have already committed sin. Your penalty awaits you. Somebody must pay the penalty for your sin, and you must decide who will pay. Will it be you or Jesus?

You can chose to serve your own sentence in Hell, and God will honor your choice. Or you can make a quality decision to submit to the Lordship of Jesus, and receive the gift of eternal life and your new born-again nature.

There are only two choices here. If there is a third choice, then God Himself is ignorant of it.

Receiving the Gift

Are you willing to receive His gracious gift? If so, take a moment and pray the simple prayer of faith that will enable you be born again and saved by God's grace:

The Prayer of Faith: Heavenly Father, I truly want to receive Your Son Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I confess that my best effort comes short of Your standards. I know that Jesus died a terrible death on a cross to pay the price for my salvation. I put my faith in Jesus' sacrifice for me, and repent of trying to earn Heaven by my own good works. Please send your Holy Spirit into my heart, to give me a new "born-again" nature, that I may life forever in Heaven with You. Fill me with your love and joy, that I may find rest for my soul. I pray these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

If you prayed that prayer sincerely, your life will be different forever. If you prayed that prayer, the Holy Spirit now lives in your heart. The Holy Spirit will supernaturally enable you to understand the rest of this book.

If you can't bring yourself to pray the prayer quite yet, then bookmark this web page so you can find it quickly. Without the power of the Holy Spirit, you are helpless against the attacks of the enemy. Later, when you realize you can't make it on your own, you can return to this page, pray the prayer and begin your victorious new life.

Closing Prayer: Father, this is very strange to me. Help me to understand what your grace means for me, and how I can grow in the grace that you offer me. I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.
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