Hypocrites of Grace

We just love to talk about grace. We sing about it, marvel as receivers of it, say it before meals…we think we have a good, healthy handle on what grace means. But I don’t really think we do most of the time. I think we have a taste of what grace means. Surely, we know that we are saved by grace, that it is a free gift of God. We even might have a sense that it is very costly for him to give. But I also think that it offends our sinful nature. On one hand, I am in awe of God’s grace. On the other, I want some control over this costly gift of mine. I want to measure it, I want to earn some more, and I want to judge whether or not someone else deserves this major award. I know, it sounds ridiculous. But I don’t think I’m the only one. Sometimes we may think that grace is measured in relation to the sin we commit. We fool ourselves into thinking that we haven’t pulled too much from God’s reservoir. We hold our moral superiority over those who surely are going to need a much larger dose. As a matter of fact, we say things like, “That person will never change; they are too far gone.” If we don’t say it, we think it. And we are half right. Left to themselves, they won’t. The sinful nature multiplies itself. As a matter of fact, it is God’s common grace keeping a check on it now. And yet, it’s God’s saving grace that has changed my heart, not my own powerful decision-making skills and will power. My will power was weak. It never desired to glorify God. But God’s grace is abounding in measure, and will change every heart that he savingly calls. I love what I learned in James Montgomery Boice’s commentary on Romans regarding Romans 5:20. He was using the NIV, “…But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” Boice points out that the NIV translation is weak here because it uses the word increase to describe two different Greek words. Here’s what he said:
The Greek word that refers to the increase of sin is based on a term (polys) meaning “much” or “many.” So the verb (pleonazo) has the idea of a numerical increase. The NIV translation of this first verb is not bad, since it means to “increase in number,” “grow,” or “multiply.” The second word is different, however. It is the verb perisseuo, which means, “to abound,” “overflow,” or “have more than enough.” This verb does not have to do with numbers so much as with “excess.” However, lest we miss the point, Paul adds the prefix hyper (we would say “super”), which gives the word the sense of “superabundance” or “abundant excess” (618).
He goes on to say that he preferred the NASB and RSB translation, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Even better, he liked the New English Bible’s, “Where sin was thus multiplied, grace immeasurably exceeded it.” Jesus explains this over and over again to the presumptuous in his parables. I think Tim Keller’s book Prodigal God nails it. God is the one who spends extravagantly. So often, we have heard the sermon about God’s grace to the rebellious younger brother. But which brother is more rebellious? Keller points out that the older, self-righteous brother is rebellious clear to the end of the parable. It disgusts him that his father would offer such grace to his immoral brother. How dare he give that squanderous twerp what he has well and good earned? He hated this grace. At the end of the parable we see that even though his father invites him into the party, he doesn’t want to be a part of it. You see, the self-righteous want to control grace. That is such an oxymoron! The self-righteous think that God owes them. Their moral superiority has deceived them into thinking they are in a position to advise God. When we get to this point, we are so delusional that we think that grace is for the smart enough, the do-gooders, the enlightened, and the dutiful. Keller says there are two ways to run from God: by being bad, and by being good. The point about grace is that it is God’s to give. Sometimes that bothers us. I’d like to think that I respond to his amazing grace with worshipful gratitude and extend this very grace to others. How could I ever be thankful enough? How much is enough? There I go measuring again. That is the wonder of the gospel. God’s grace took my sin and gave me the righteousness of Christ. That is abounding—overflowing. Paul says that we are now under the reign of grace. Think about that. The reign of grace! Boice shares a fabulous quote from Martin Lloyd Jones, “Grace always gives, whereas sin always takes away” (638). As receivers of God’s generous grace, we are being transformed into the likeness of his Son, Jesus Christ. With all that he has given us, his own Spirit even, how can we behave like the adversary, who always wants to take away?  I’m finding that I want to go on and on about this matter, like an artist who cannot finish their work. But I will leave you with another brush stroke from Boice:
This means that grace is more than an offer for help. It is even more than help itself. To use the illustration of the two rival kingdoms, it would be possible to say that grace is an invasion by a good and legitimate king of territory that has been usurped by another. The battle is not always visible, because this is a matter of spiritual and not physical warfare. But the attack is every bit as massive and decisive as the invasion of the beaches of Normandy by the Allied Forces at the turning point of the Second World War. The Allies threw their maximum combined weight into that encounter and won the day. In a similar way, God has thrown his weight behind grace, and grace will triumph (634).
Praise God!