As Christians we can honestly say if we are anything, it is by the grace of God. We are in God’s family and that changes us and everything else! I want to speak of the grace of God, that river of love, flowing from the throne of God to the heart of the needy sinner. This passage shows that grace operates in a threefold way.
First, grace liberates men and women (11). It liberates us from the slavery of sin. This was the purpose of the Savior’s death on Calvary. “I am…sold under sin” (Rom 7:14). This explains our predilection to pride, jealousy, lust, temper, and countless other vices. It is true of every person who is outside of Christ, regardless of how cultured or refined they might appear. They are in bondage to their sin.
John Newton was the son of a sea captain engaged in the slave trade. After his mother died, John joined his father’s crew at the age of eleven. Immorality, debauchery, and misery followed that decision. Rejected by his father and imprisoned for a time, Newton later served on slave ships where he so incurred the hatred of his employer’s wife that he became a “slave of slaves.” Newton’s conversion came as a result of a violent storm at sea in which he almost died. He was saved from drowning and he was saved from his sin! At the age of 39, he became a minister of the gospel and pastored for 15 years in London. He wrote many hymns. But his personal testimony is recounted in the world-famous hymn:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come.
Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
But grace also liberates us from the sentence of sin. Jesus has not only redeemed us from a sinful lifestyle, but from the sentence of death that works in us. As a triumphant Savior, He is both “just and the justifier” of those who believe in Him (Rom 3:26). God removes our death sentence!
Then we see that grace educates men and women (12-13). It educates us to deny what God condemns (12a). God condemns godlessness. Sin ruined our character and corrupted our conduct, leaving us very unlike God. But grace enables us to overcome that which mars our life. God also condemns worldliness. Worldly perversions (“the lust of the flesh”) are appetites and desires that are perverse or misdirected–unholy tastes for things that are harmful. Worldly distractions (“the lust of the eyes”) are the longings for those transient things of the world that seduce people then leave them achingly empty. And worldly ambitions (“the pride of life”) are assertive egos that grasp at glory and long for prominence. By the grace of God worldly perversions, distractions, and ambitions can be conquered!
Grace also educates us to develop what God commands (12b-13). We must develop a soberness in relation to ourselves. This self-control comes only by the grace of God operating in us. We must also develop a righteousness in relation to others. Oh, the clashes, schisms, and divisions in human life everywhere: husbands and wives divorcing; employers and employees in conflict. But the grace of God has appeared, breaking through the darkness of man’s personal turmoil and training us to live righteously in this age. And we must develop a holiness in relation to God (13). This is taking on the character and likeness of Jesus Christ. The more we gaze at His glory and understand His Word, the more His likeness will be stamped upon us.
Finally, we see that grace consecrates men and women (14). Grace-filled service should be characterized by a fervency of spirit. God has prepared a ministry for us of good works. Our service should be born of reciprocal love. Isaac Watts wrote in When I Survey The Wondrous Cross:
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Grace-filled service should also be characterized by faithfulness. Every true servant longs to hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matt. 25:21). The person who knows the grace of God won’t quit but will be faithful in service to the end. God desires faithfulness more than success. A young Christian soldier in the army was often mocked by some in his barracks while praying beside his bunk at night. On the advice from his chaplain, he began to omit his usual habit but his fervent heart was convicted. He returned to prayer with persecution rather than peace without prayer and the result was that, after a time, ten of his companions began kneeling with him in prayer. Later, reporting to his chaplain, he said, “Isn’t it better to keep the colors flying?”