The Awesomeness of God’s Grace – Part 1

But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 1 Cor. 15:10

Why would the Apostle Paul speak the words he spoke here? Why would he speak of the grace of God in this manner? It was because he came to understand how unworthy he was. One day, this man realized how useless and how undeserving he truly was before God. Only God could make him otherwise. And thus Paul extolled the praises of God’s grace.

Jeremiah 17:9 makes the point: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

Notice scripture does not say, “The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, but at times it can also be amazingly good, truthful and sinless”. No. (God is not like us. We love flattering people. But God is God and He does not engage in such posturings.)

In fact, the Bible goes even further and tells us that the human heart is not only wicked, but “desperately” so. There is not a scrap of goodness or righteousness in the human soul; only evil resides there.

(We also love to think that we are good people; and when we look at all the “good” we have done, we are tempted to think that our assessment of ourselves is actually true! But the Bible does not even come close to entertaining such a thought, and we, too, should not. I am sure there are a few things that you and I know about our hearts, and it is no exaggeration to say that only through a miracle of God can we find any good in us.)

Inside the human heart there is a spiritual world which is bigger than our known physical universe. And the Bible here declares that this measureless world is full of only evil. That means there are many more things that we do not know about our hearts. There are depths in our hearts that we simply cannot fathom; but, alas! they are depths only of wickedness. That is why the Bible says that no man can know the extent of the wickedness in him.  Only God can know that. He alone can plumb the depths of our hearts.

There is neither white or black, yellow or brown. There is neither rich nor poor. There is neither cultured nor uncultured. Fact is, we are all the same. We are evil through and through.

But through His grace, kindness and mercy, God takes our evil heart, washes it sparkling clean. It is like someone picking up a piece of dung-covered something and, while you would expect that he would bury it away, he instead cleans it and out of it comes the most beautiful gem you ever saw! That gem happens to be us, when God washes us of our sins. Remember God created us in His own image and likeness.

We therefore have absolutely nothing to boast about when it comes to us and God. Indeed, it is a miracle that we can be found in Him. That is why we should be extremely thankful to God for His grace. It is by grace alone that we were reconciled to God, and it is by that same grace that we stand today. The Apostle Paul understood this aspect of grace probably more than anybody else. He said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am…”

That statement reflects the highest point of faith.

But not many believers can live out that statement. Many of us say: “I am what I am by the grace of God and a little effort on my part”. We do so subconsciously, of course. Our faith is that small.

But Paul did not say that. Instead he said, “All that I am, I am by God’s grace alone.”

But that is not all. After He has washed us clean and reconciled us to Himself, God comes to live in us.

The Bible declares, “…greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). God is in us! This is a tremendous scripture. It is also a scripture which we love to think that we know perfectly well; but, again, few of us are really capable of grasping it in its fullness for it can only be fully comprehended through the kind of faith that Paul had.

In the second part of this post we shall see an even more surprising aspect of God’s grace.

[Below: “I Stand In Awe Of You”]

A Definition of Grace

For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. 2Cor. 2:15,16

Has it ever struck you as being odd that when Paul and Silas sang praises to God and the foundations of the prison they were in shook and the prison doors sprang open and every one of the prisoners found the shackles that bound them falling away from their hands and feet and necks (Acts 16)… has it ever occurred to you as strange that none of the prisoners thought of taking their chances and escaping from the prison? When the prison guard came and saw the prison doors wide open he knew for a certainty that all the prisoners had escaped, and he drew his sword to kill himself, to die honorably. Paul jumped up and told him, “Do not harm yourself, Sir, we are all here.”

There is no belittling the fact that the earthquake was an impressive occurrence and there is no doubting the fact that it shook many things in that prison. It would therefore be the most natural thing to assume that the reason the apostles’ fellow prisoners did not run away immediately was because they were too shell-shocked to do anything. There was no other reason to prevent them from taking advantage of this great miracle and running for their freedom.

But I can assure you that something of even grander proportions happened in the hearts of all the men who were with Paul and Silas that night. There is a more profound reason as to why matters did not follow a natural course and why there was neither a stampede nor a mass prison break. I am sure the prisoners did not feel scared or threatened by the events that took place in that prison that night. What I believe happened is that the grace that was upon Paul and Silas so revealed the glory of God in that prison room to the extent that no one had the desire to leave. The prisoners did not want to, or were unable to leave the place where Paul and Silas were. Maybe, even, they wanted to hear more of those songs that Paul and Silas sang. They must have been the sweetest melodies any of them had ever heard in their lifetime!

It could well be that on that day many prisoners accepted the Lord Jesus into their lives and happily chose to serve out their prison terms with joy, in the full assurance that they would be serving God even in prison. Many scenarios arise as to what might have actually occurred in this account, but all point to the power of grace. These men – Paul and Silas – had grace and that grace manifested itself in the way it affected their fellow prisoners. That, I dare say, was of more importance than the physical shaking that the earthquake caused.

I would not want to believe that the prison guard and his entire family decided to get saved because they felt threatened by Paul’s God! Oh, no! On the contrary, the grace of God that was upon Paul and Silas’s lives reached out to them and touched their hungry hearts.

Paul would have explained it this way: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1Cor. 1:18).

What is grace? Grace is not an explanation of the virtues of God. Grace is something that goes from us to impact other people’s lives. It is something that makes people say, “Thank you, Lord, for this man!” Grace can only be found where a life is given. That is why the scripture says “…It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Act 20:35). When someone’s life is given, lost, cast upon the waters through a revelation of the Cross in their lives, the life of Christ will be found in that person and people will be touched by it. The two – our life and Christ’s life – cannot co-exist. One is natural, the other is spiritual. One is life-giving; the other (ours) brings death. One of them must give way to the other.

But again, grace is not something that can materialize in our lives overnight, or even simply because we know scripture. It is the result of a work. It is a result of the working of the Cross in a man’s life. This work strips us of our lives, our carnality. Our natural, carnal lives can only die and give way to the life of Christ when we grasp the revelation of the Cross in our hearts and allow it to work fully in our lives. Only when this work has started in our hearts will we carry the Life of Christ in us and impact people’s lives.

The early Church did not explain grace. They defined grace through the lives they lived. They gave a face to grace. That is the same challenge facing today’s Church.

Grace is Mercy – And Victory (Part 2)

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

In my last post I promised to narrate two incidences in my life where I have witnessed God’s grace – here in the form of His unsolicited mercy – in my life. Well, as I was meditating on these experiences I came to realize I had spoken hastily: there are actually many more occurrences in my life where I have seen the Lord’s grace working in my life than I can narrate. Probably these two stood out more prominently, but the others are no less spectacular.

Time and space does not allow me to narrate both incidences here, so in this post I will narrate only one. If I find the grace to narrate the other one, I will in a later post. Everything, though, is geared to give glory to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let me begin by saying that I was educated in a British school. That doesn’t mean that I went to Britain, no. But our African school had a British principal and we were taught by many British teachers. I remember names like Mr. Kirkwood, Mr. Shaw, Mr. James, Mr. Pragnell, and many others whom I cannot now recall. This school and the teachers built into me an appreciation of the things of God, for which I am eternally grateful. The teachers weren’t necessarily saved, but they had that deep-rooted tradition of worshiping God. Every day we would sing Christian songs, and pray. This kind of lifestyle had a big impact on my later life.

But not everything about the British is praiseworthy – and I hope by saying this I will not be receiving a summonses from The Hague! The flip side of my British upbringing was that I took on a certain trait of not wanting to be disturbed. Later on in life I found that I highly valued my privacy, something that was set to put me on a sure collision course with society at large because Africans generally have few reservations or barriers in their relationships.

It was with this rather egotistic mindset that I moved to Musoma in 1993 and the first morning after I arrived I was subjected to the rudest intrusion into my privacy that I had ever met. Exactly at 5 a.m. I was woken up by the loudest noise I had ever heard at that hour, which I later learned was a Muslim ‘crier’ calling the faithful to prayer over a loud-speaker.

I had never been subjected to such an experience before and I was livid. What right had anyone to wake me up at such an unholy hour? And if he had any right to yell into a microphone at that time, I also had the right to sleep!

Mind you I was saved, but had you shone a flashlight into my face at that moment, you would have turned to stone. I could feel my eyes and they were icicles! I lay there in bed seething and thinking of which appropriate authority I should go see first thing in the morning. At that time I wished I was a lawyer – then I could know the precise clause in the Constitution which guaranteed my right to sleep without interruption! The thought even crossed my mind that I should write a letter to some newspaper editor to highlight this great social injustice.

But the morning light dispersed many of these thoughts and I was not even sure then how I would present my case to a civil authority. I decided to persevere and await the end of the matter. One way or another, I was certain there would be an end to it!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, let me say that I really suffered as my ego was pounded morning after morning, day after day. I could have moved to another location in town, but in Musoma there are mosques strategically situated in every part of town. The agony went on for quite a long time.  I don’t recall having the grace to even pray about the situation. Whenever my thoughts turned in that direction, I would be anything but a fine, young, born-again Christian man.

Then one day, I woke up and it was gone! The condition that had troubled me for so long had simply, in an instant,  vanished from my heart. I remember clearly that I just woke up and I felt this deep peace in my heart. It was like someone had come in while I slept and cleaned my heart – literally. I hadn’t realized how much of a burden I had been carrying! I found myself having the softest, most loving thoughts towards the Muslim crier. At that moment I truly loved him. I felt clearly in my heart that I would even welcome it if they were to affix that loud-speaker to my bedroom window and direct the horn towards my bed!

And that has been it up till today. I have my challenges with regard to the Muslim faith, but I have never had a problem again with the crier. Never. Whatever time he decides to make his move, or however loudly he calls out, whether he be far or near, my heart is always at peace.

I want to make it clear that it is not that I decided to accommodate the situation, or something as simple as that. No. This was a supernatural transformation that occurred in my heart one morning; and it was so tangible that I knew immediately the Lord had touched and helped me.

I did mention that I did not pray about this temptation. That does not mean we should not pray. I would not encourage any such thing. Indeed, we should pray very hard to be delivered from temptation and trials. But I am sure God delivered me even without me praying just to show me His abundant grace, which is not dependent on a formula or any principle.

Our God is a God of compassion

Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother Lk 7:12-15.

We cannot begin to imagine the commotion that followed the execution of this high-end miracle. In fact, the Bible takes note of three things that took place as a result of this sensational deed:

And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people” (v.16).

And this rumour of him went forth throughout all Judaea, and throughout all the region round about” (v.17).

“And the disciples of John shewed him of all these things” (v.18).

Likewise, we today are easily taken in by the “activity”. But don’t get distracted by the hyper-action. Whatever else that was accomplished through this miracle, and whatever importance that was attached to it – and there certainly was much – the Bible nonetheless makes clear the one thing that drove Jesus to resurrect that young man: He was driven by compassion.

Today there is much emphasis on the practical aspect of Christianity, but the “practical” we want to deal on is the works per se, as it were. We want to show off the miracles, the healings, the so-called deliverances, etc.

Yet, with Jesus, the practical was always about the heart. He invariably did all the great works He did out of the deep compassion that filled His heart. This is as it should be for the Bible says the reason that God sent Jesus to earth in the first place was to “to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant” Lk. 1:72. Moreover, “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” vs 77-79.

We see the same pattern of conduct with the early Apostles, as can be seen from what is written in the Book of Acts and the Epistles. The Apostles were not men who overly emphasized the works. They had something else to talk about, something much more profound. They talked about the revelation of the cross, and the power it has to change a man’s heart and make it tender and compassionate like Jesus’ heart was.

Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount? The only reference there to workers of miracles is one that should make us sit and consider more the condition of our hearts rather than the miracles themselves.