Saving Grace and Serving Grace

Grace is God’s unmerited favor and help. I started learning about it early in life, but school isn’t out yet. My godly grandfather etched the words of the hymn “Amazing Grace” into my memory by frequently humming, whistling or singing that hymn, his favorite, in his home, in the car, at work and in the assembly. It meant so much to him because, he said, he was a wretch who had been saved by grace and he would never forget it. It would do us all good to share that sentiment. Nothing gives more hope and blessing to mankind than God’s amazing grace. The Bible couldn’t be clearer than it already is when it declares, “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, cf. Rom. 4:1-5). Salvation is a gift of God, by grace, and those of us who know what that means can add our “hallelujah, amen!”  The grace of God is a comfort, a relief and an assurance to the one who believes.  Hebrews 4:16 encourages all believers to come boldly to the “throne of grace” to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. I wonder if any of us has any idea how great and boundless a resource God’s grace is. By it He has saved us, and by it He provides for us throughout our entire life. How true are those well-known words, “Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
Having said all that, I wonder if we are aware that God’s grace is supposed to work out in practical ways in our life?  We should treat others with grace, as God treats us. We should speak with grace (Eph. 4:29; Col. 4:6). Christian behavior and speech should distinguish us from the unsaved. We should neither behave nor talk like the world.
With respect to the Christian life, God’s grace is not a pillow on which to lie back and relax. It is not a bed of ease, nor an excuse to do nothing nor to live like the worldlings. This would be to pervert the grace of God. Paul insisted that he had not received the grace of God in vain. He knew that God intended it to have a practical effect in our lives, and his own life graphically demonstrated that fact. Let’s consider briefly some of the practical applications of grace that the Bible gives us:
  1. In 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9 we see the example of our Lord Jesus, and the great sacrifice that He made when He came into this world and went to the cross bearing our sins. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be made rich.” This statement is not made just to fill us with awe, gratitude and worship, but also teach us something about sacrificial giving. The grace of God was expressed in a gift of great sacrifice. One who was rich, by grace became poor. The Apostle invites us, as it were, to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow the Lord in the matter of sacrificial giving. How does the grace of God work out in the matter of our offerings?
  2. In Ephesians 4:7 we learn that there is grace to serve in the assembly. Here it refers to the spiritual gifts that our risen Lord has given for the healthy functioning of the church. The words, “But unto every one of us is given grace” (v.7) correspond to 1 Corinthians 12:7 which says, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” [for the common good]. By God’s grace each believer has a function in the assembly. No one is there just to observe or occupy a seat! Ephesians 4:12 emphasizes this, saying, “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” God has given each of us grace to do the work of the ministry, that is, to serve in some way in the local assembly. There are no useless members in Christ’s body. So, how does the grace of God work out in our assembly service?
  3. In Titus 2:12 we read powerful words about God’s grace. Grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present age. Hardly a soft pillow for relaxing!  Grace in action in our lives leads to separation from the world, not imitation of the world. It leads to denial, that is, to saying “no.” It leads to serious living, not frivolity and constant joking. It leads to righteous behavior, not to cheating, dishonesty, or corner-cutting.  And it produces godliness, which is piety, or devotion to God and the things of His kingdom. In Matthew 6:33 we are instructed to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. We don’t do this in an effort to earn merit or favor with God, but rather because we have been favored by Him! Today the evangelical community in general is at an all-time low tide as far as devotion to God and separation from the world are concerned. According to Titus 2:12 the problem is that we are failing the lessons that grace teaches. It is absurd to say that by God’s grace I don’t have to do anything, because God’s grace teaches us to behave as His special people. Is the grace of God visible in our separation, holiness and devotion to the Lord?
  4. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-12 the Scriptures teach us that there is grace for suffering. There are groups that insist that if we have faith we do not have to suffer, but they are gravely mistaken. To a suffering Apostle who pled in prayer to be relieved, the Lord replied, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” When we suffer physically, and pass through all kinds of trials and difficulties, we have the promise of God’s all-sufficient grace. Grace can give us strength to bear suffering and not lose focus on spiritual realities. It can keep us from becoming chronic complainers who, as one brother put it, “enjoy ill health,” which means they enjoy complaining and talking continually about themselves and their pains and problems. By God’s grace we have something better to talk about! It can make us strong when we are weak, and cause us to glorify God when that is the last thing that others would think of doing. Grace sustains us in difficulties and turns our gaze upward. Everyone goes through difficulties from time to time and we all suffer in some way in this fallen world, but the Christian’s sufferings are different, for he is sustained by grace. Are we focused on the grace of God, and do we think it is sufficient? Can others around us tell?
  5. In 1 Corinthians 15:10 the great Apostle of grace forcefully reminds us that grace is for working, serving, not coasting through life taking the path of least resistance. “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 labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”  Paul clearly states that having received God’s grace, he worked. In this context he affirms that he did not receive the grace of God in vain, referring to his work. Hebrews 12:28 speaks of having grace to serve acceptably. In the life of the truly born-again Christian, God’s grace is a dynamo, a mighty source of energy for living the Christian life. Some appear to have been still-born. Others, as one brother said, were born with tired blood and went downhill from there. But a proper understanding of grace includes this wonderful truth, that God’s grace gives us power to serve, to labor tirelessly for the Savior. Not to gain anything, but in response to the great love of God. Salvation is the cause, and works are the effect. No wonder James declares that faith without works is dead! True grace moves us to labor for the Lord,  not to go through life taking it easy, watching others serve. In the military the watchword is “never volunteer.”  But in Christianity we have the opposite. “Here am I, send me,” should be our prayer, or in the words of the newly converted Saul of Tarsus, “What wilt thou have me to do?” Grace puts us in the family, and puts divine love in our hearts, love for God, not for self. How is the grace of God seen in our labors? Can we, like Paul, say, “I labored more abundantly...”?
We thank the Lord for His saving grace, and forever we will sing His praises for that reason. But what about His serving grace? What evidence is there of the grace of God in our lives?  Are we controlled by grace? What do we DO with the grace of God?