I think that the greatest question ever asked was that question put forth to Jesus by the ruler as recorded by Luke.
Luke 18:18 (NKJV) Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
The question is the most important question that anyone can ask. Who doesn't want to have eternal life? Everybody wants it, but do we know how to get it? Depending on who you ask that question you will get a variety of answers. Answers such as: be a good person, go to church or many other such things that you are to do. But the Bible tells us that we can only be saved by the grace of God.
Romans 3:24 (NKJV) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
The word "justified" means: "to declare righteous." It a legal act on the part of God. We see here that we are justified "freely by His grace." The word "freely" is the Greek word dorean. It means: "for nothing, gratuitously, gift wise or with out a cause." The cause of our justification is in God and not in us. The word "grace" means: "free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only Judgment."
"Freely by His grace" is redoubled to show that the act of justification is all of God. Nothing in this act of justification belongs to, or proceeds from man.
Ephesians 2:5 (NKJV) even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV) 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.
Verse 5 says that grace is the cause of our salvation, whereas, verse 8 says that grace and nothing else is the cause. The only way anyone ever gets to heaven is by the grace of God. Yet the majority of people today who think they are going to heaven think they are going there because of something they do, or don't do. Men think that they can earn their way into heaven. But Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit.
Matthew 5:3 (NKJV) "Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
We don't like to think of ourselves as needy people. We tend to see ourselves as self-sufficient, independent and not needing anyone. But the Bible clearly declares that we are not only needy, we are spiritually bankrupt.
Christ begins the Beatitudes with the need we have to recognize that we are poor in spirit. No one can enter the Kingdom of God on the basis of what they have done. Poverty of spirit is the only way in. As long as you are not poor in spirit, you can't receive grace. You can't become a Christian unless you are poor in spirit.
Proverbs 16:5 (NKJV) Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; Though they join forces, none will go unpunished.
1 Peter 5:5 (NKJV) Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."
The only way to enter God's Kingdom is to confess your unrighteousness and your inability to meet God's standards. You must see your need before you can receive His grace. Much of the church today seems to have the attitude of the first century church at Laodica:
Revelation 3:17 (NKJV) "Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'; and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked;
I think many in the church today have the attitude that, "I have need of nothing." And you cannot come to God unless you realize that you are spiritually bankrupt.
Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." The word that Jesus used for "poor" is the Greek word ptochos. The verb form in the Greek text means: "to cower and cringe like a beggar." In classical Greek, that word referred to someone who was reduced to begging in a dark corner for alms. It doesn't just refer to someone who is poor, but to someone who is reduced to begging. The Greek word penes was used when talking about normal poverty; It referred to a person who was so poor that he could barely maintain a living from his wages. Ptokos means that a person was totally dependent on the gifts of other people. Beggars were usually crippled, blind, or deaf. They couldn't function in society and had to plead for grace and mercy from others. They had no resource in themselves.
Man is not penes, he is ptokos. He is absolutely incapable of improving his spiritual condition, and is totally dependent of God's grace.
A person who is poor in spirit has no sense of self-sufficiency. He recognizes that he is spiritually bankrupt. We see an illustration of this attitude in:
Luke 18:9-14 (NKJV) Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 'I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' 13 "And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' 14 "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
This tax collector was poor in spirit. He realized that he had no merit with God, and cried out for mercy. The Bible tells us that he was justified, declared righteous. Then it says this, "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." In order to receive God's grace, we must come to God in humility-- that is in total dependence upon Him.
Now, you may have never thought of it this way, but you are spiritually bankrupt. You and I and every person in the world are spiritually bankrupt. Paul teaches this in:
Romans 3:10-12 (NKJV) As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. 12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one."
This is spiritual bankruptcy. We have no assets, nothing we can turn over as partial payment for our debts. And all our efforts to earn favor with God are considered as filthy rags:
Isaiah 64:6 (NKJV) But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.
Man owes God a debt that we have no means whatsoever to pay. Man, every man, is spiritually bankrupt. Salvation is a declaration of bankruptcy. But what kind of bankruptcy did we declare? In the business world there are two options, popularly known as Chapter 7 and Chapter 11. Chapter 11 deals with what we could call a temporary bankruptcy. This option gives you time to work through your financial problems. It gives you time to pay your debts, to work yourself back into a position of good standing.
Chapter 7 is for the person or company that has reached the end of their financial rope. You are forced to liquidate your assets and pay your creditors what you can. This is the, "I'm broke and can never pay off my debts" type of bankruptcy.
So, what kind of bankruptcy did we declare when we came to God in faith? Was it Chapter 7 or Chapter 11? Was it permanent or temporary? It was permanent! We have nothing that we can give to God to pay off or reduce our debt.
As devastating as permanent bankruptcy is in the business world, it at least means that you are free from your past financial debts. Your debts weren't fully paid, but at least they were canceled. You are free from your past debts but not any that you incur in the future.
But the good news of the Bible is that, in the spiritual realm, there really is total, permanent bankruptcy. Our debts were paid in full by Jesus Christ. And not only has the Christian's debt been paid in full, there is no possibility of going into debt again. Jesus paid the debt of all our sins: past, present, and future. This is GRACE!
Colossians 2:13 (NKJV) And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,
We are forgiven! This is true not only of our justification, but for our Christian lives as well. God is not keeping score, granting or withholding blessings on the basis of our performance. Our sin debts, all of them, have been paid by Jesus Christ.
All of the Christian life is a matter of grace. We are brought into God's eternal kingdom by grace; we are positionally and practically sanctified by grace; we are motivated to obedience by grace; we receive strength to live the Christians life by grace; and we receive both temporal and spiritual blessings by grace. The entire Christian life is lived by grace.
Grace is God's free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only Judgment. Grace stands in direct opposition to any supposed worthiness on our part. Please understand that grace and works are mutually exclusive.
Romans 11:6 (NKJV) And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.
Romans 4:4 (NKJV) Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
Grace is God's free and unmerited favor. It you have to work for something, it is not free and it is not unmerited, it is earned. Our relationship with God is not based on merit, it is based only and completely upon grace.
I think that most Christians understand that salvation is all of grace. We deplore and anathamize those who add works to grace. All Christians know that we are saved by grace alone but many think that once you are saved, you have to work to stay in God's favor. They tend to base their personal relationship with God, on their performance, instead of on His grace. This is wrong! All of the Christian life is by grace. My daily relationship with God, as well as my salvation is based on the infinite merit of Christ alone. John Newton, the writer of the hymn "Amazing Grace" put it this way, "Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home." Grace saves, grace sustains.
In his book, Transforming Grace, Jerry Bridges gives this very picturesque illustration of grace:
There is a beautiful story in the life of King David illustrating God's grace to us through Christ. Mephibosheth was the son of David's bosom friend, Jonathan, son of Saul. He had been crippled in both feet at age five. After David was established as king over all Israel, he desired to show kindness to anyone remaining of Saul's house "for Jonathan's sake." So Mephibosheth -- crippled and destitute, unable to care for himself and living in someone else's house-- was brought into David's house and "ate at David's table like one of the king's sons" (2 Samuel 9:11)
Why was Mephibosheth treated like one of David's sons? It was for Jonathan's sake. We might say Jonathan's loyal friendship with David "earned" Mephibosheth's seat at David's table. Mephibosheth, in his crippled and destitute condition, unable to improve his lot and wholly dependent on the benevolence of others, is an illustration of you and me, crippled by sin and unable to help ourselves. David, in his graciousness, illustrates God the Father, and Jonathan illustrates Christ.
Just as Mephibosheth was elevated to a place at the king's table for Jonathan's sake, so you and I are elevated to the status of God's children for Christ's sake. And just as being seated at the king's table involved not only daily food but other privileges as well, so God's salvation for Christ's sake carries with it all the provisions we need, not only for eternity but for this life as well.
As if to emphasize the special privilege of Mephibosheth, the inspired writer mentions four times in one short chapter that Mephibosheth ate at the king's table (2 Samuel 9:7,10,11,13). Three of those times he says he "always" ate at the king's table. But the account both begins and ends with the statement that Mephibosheth was crippled in both feet (verses 3,13). Mephibosheth never got over his crippled condition. He never got to the place where he could leave the king's table and make it on his own. And neither do we.
We need to be sure we have a biblical view of grace, for grace is at the very heart of the gospel. To not understand grace, is to not understand the gospel. The gospel is addressed to those who are bankrupt.
Isaiah 55:1 (NKJV) "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price.
The invitation is to those "who have no money." Grace is not a matter of God's making up the difference in what we lack, but of God's providing all the cost of salvation through Jesus Christ.
To say the grace of God makes up the difference of what God requires of us, is like comparing two people's attempts to leap across the Grand Canyon. The canyon averages abut nine miles in width from rim to rim. Suppose one person could leap out about thirty feet from the edge while another can leap only six feet. What difference does it make? Sure, one person can leap five times as far as the other, but relative to nine miles, it makes no difference. Both leaps are worthless for crossing the canyon. When God built the bridge across the "Grand Canyon" of our sin, He didn't stop thirty feet or even six feet from His side. We don't have to make the last six feet on our own. He built the bridge all the way across. Salvation is not of grace plus works, it's all grace! You may think that this is basic and beyond saying, but all religions add human works to grace. Religion teaches that grace alone is not enough. The Judeazers taught faith plus works:
Acts 15:1 (NKJV) And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."
They taught that faith alone wasn't enough, you must also be circumcised to be saved. There are many today who teach a faith plus works salvation.
Catholic theology says, "By my deeds I can not only earn merit for myself, but if I earn more merit than I need to get into heaven, my extra merit goes into the treasury of merit to be applied to somebody else to get them out of purgatory." What that says is, "Not only can I by my merit earn my own salvation, but I can over earn it and apply what is left to someone else's salvation." This is salvation by grace plus works and this is denying the sufficiency of Christ's work.
All Christians know that salvation comes only by grace. But when it comes to living the Christian life, we act as if God's grace only makes up what our good works lack. We believe God's blessings are at least partially earned by our obedience and our spiritual disciplines. We know that we are saved by grace, but we think we must live by our spiritual sweat.
If you sometimes feel you deserve an answer to prayer or a particular blessing from God because of your hard work or sacrifice, you are living by works , not by grace. Or let's say that you sinned and soon afterward you had the opportunity to share the gospel. Could you have shared the gospel with complete confidence of God's help? If not, you are not living by grace. We are legalistic by nature; that is, we innately think so much performance by us earns so much blessing from God.
Grace does not take into account merits or demerits at all. Rather, grace considers all men and women as totally undeserving and unable to do anything to earn the blessing of God. C. Samuel Storms, writing about grace, says this:
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. (The Grandeur of God, page 125.)
By his death Jesus completely satisfied the justice of God for all who trust Him, which required eternal death as the penalty for sin. The pictures that the Bible gives us of God's grace are that of complete and total forgiveness.
THE BIBLE SAYS OUR SINS ARE:
1. REMOVED FROM US AS FAR AS THE EAST IS FROM THE WEST.
Psalms 103:12 (NKJV) As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
How far is the east from the west? If you go north, how far can you go before you are heading south? Just to the North Pole. If you go east, how far can you go before you are heading west? Forever! You will never be going west. East and west never meet. God is saying that our sins have been removed an infinite distance from us. He is saying that forgiveness is total, complete, and unconditional.
2. BEHIND GOD'S BACK.
One of my favorite scriptures on God's complete forgiveness of us is:
Isaiah 38:17 (NKJV) Indeed it was for my own peace That I had great bitterness; But You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, For You have cast all my sins behind Your back.
When something is behind our back, it is out of sight. It can no longer be seen. When something is behind the back of the Omnipresent God, it is GONE! Listen carefully, believer; God no longer "sees" either our deliberate disobedience or our marred performances. Instead, He "sees" the righteousness of Christ, which He has imputed to us.
2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV) For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Do you see yourself as righteous as Jesus Christ? If you don't, you are not living by grace. If you are not as righteous as Christ, you are headed for Hell.
3. CAST INTO THE DEPTHS OF THE SEA.
Micah 7:19 (NKJV) He will again have compassion on us, And will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea.
God has hurled our sins into the depth of the sea to be lost forever, never to be recovered, never to be held against us. Are you beginning to see that God's forgiveness is complete and irreversible? Let's look at another one:
4. BLOTTED OUT.
Isaiah 43:25 (NKJV) "I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.
When you trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior, God removes your record from the file. He doesn't keep it there or daily add the long list of sins you continue to commit, even as a Christian.
God not only blots our sins from the record, He also remembers them no more. This expression means He no longer holds them against us. If you have trusted Jesus Christ alone for your salvation, you are no longer under the condemnation of God.
Romans 8:1 (NKJV) There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
We are not under the condemnation of God any longer, nor will we ever be because we are in CHRIST. Everything He is and has, we are and have. Paul said in Colossians that we are free from accusation.
Colossians 1:21-22 (NKJV) And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight;
I like the way the NIV put verse 22:
Colossians 1:22 (NIV) But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.
Does "above reproach" and "free from accusation" describe the way you think about yourself? If you don't see yourself this way, you are not living by grace.
If you have trusted Jesus Christ, and Him alone, for your salvation, then all the expressions of God's forgiveness are true of you. He has removed your sins as far as the east is from the west. He has put them behind His back and hurled them into the depths of the sea. He has blotted them out of His record book and promised never to bring them up again. You are free from accusation, not because of anything whatsoever in you, but because of His grace alone through Jesus Christ.
Author Philip Yancey has written a best-selling book entitled, What's So Amazing About Grace?. In an early chapter he writes:
Grace comes free of charge to people who do not deserve it and I am one of those people. I think back to whom I was - resentful, wound tight with anger, a single hardened link in a long chain of "ungrace" learned from family and church. Now, I am trying in my own small way to pipe to the tune of grace. I do so because I know, more surely than I know anything, that any pang of healing or forgiveness or goodness I have ever felt comes solely from the grace of God. I yearn for the church to become a nourishing culture of that grace.
Abraham Booth, a Baptist pastor from England, who lived over 200 years ago wrote this:
For divine grace disdains to be assisted in the performance of that work which peculiarly belongs to itself, by the poor, imperfect performances of men. Attempts to complete what grace begins, betray our pride and offend the Lord; but cannot promote our spiritual interest. Let the reader, therefore, carefully remember, that grace is either absolutely free, or it is not at all.
May God help us all to understand and live by His amazing Grace.
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