I want to talk to you about grace. Grace is my favourite Christian concept. Grace is God’s free, unmerited, undeserved and unearned favour. God has shown every one of you grace, and he wants you to take more grace from him.
Take a breath! That’s grace. The book of James tells us that, ‘every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of heavenly lights’ (James 1:17). The apostle Paul told the people of Athens that God ‘gives everyone life and breath and everything else’ (Acts 17:25). Are you good at anything? That too is grace. He gives us talents and abilities. ‘By the grace of God I am what I am’ (1 Corinthians 15:10). Does anything ever make you happy? Paul told the people at Lystra that God ‘has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy’ (Acts 14:17).
The greatest gift of grace is what we celebrate at Christmas. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16).
The amazing thing about this verse is who the recipients of this gift are. In John’s writings ‘the world’ does not refer to the planet, nor does it simply refer to a morally neutral people. In John’s writing, ‘the world’ refers to humanity in rebellion against God. ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Roman 5:8). That’s grace! He offers to bring sinful people like us from death to life, from guilt to forgiveness, from the wide path leading to hell to the narrow one leading to heaven, and from life without purpose to life in all its fullness.
But grace does not stop when a person becomes a Christian. We are not simply ‘saved by grace’. We live in grace. He goes on forgiving (1 John 1:7) us and promises to keep us to the end (John 6:39). He transforms us in grace, working with in us to will and act according to his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). He is renewing us day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5), and it must flow out of our hearts (1 John 4:19). The apostle Paul spoke of working for God, and then adds, ‘yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me (1 Corinthians 15:10). Living for Jesus is not the Christian’s way of paying God back for all he has done for us; the joy of living for Jesus is actually his gift to us.
This Christmas morning a five-year-old wakes up to receive a wonderful gift from her parents. How do they want her to respond? Would they be happy if she went into their room with her piggy bank and suggested that she pay them back ten cents a week (with the pocket money they gave her)? No! They want her to delight in the generosity she has received. They want her to be happy. They want her to go on depending upon their generosity. That is what God wants too. He does not want us to be so foolish as to try to pay him back, but to go to him and ask for more and more grace. He is a generous giver, who needs us for nothing, and delights to give the best of gifts!