When times are good
In the experience of most people, there are happy times and sad ones. The happy times typically come when we are successfully enjoying the fruit of our labors—for “every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God” (). The Lord normally allows us to enjoy the results of hard work often enough, that most would agree it’s definitely worthwhile. Then we feel happy.
At such times we also tend to feel confident. We’ve learned certain things that we did not know before. We accomplish goals that were only a dream before. We’re feeling strong and the future looks bright.
But there is always a potential problem at that time. Exactly when we’re feeling the most confident, we also tend very easily to forget something essential: “Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord” (). (See also .)
When times are bad
When times are good, it’s easy to forget that God is the One who deserves the glory. But when times are hard and perplexities shadow our pathway, it’s easier to search our heart and remember something.
What is it? Our incredible need of His grace.
What is grace? It is the favor of God that we do not deserve. We are really not entitled to His favor because we are permeated with sin.
“We have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” ().
Grace for Martin Luther
During this Week of Prayer, we are acknowledging the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation spearheaded by Martin Luther. Let’s see what this notable reformer realized about God’s marvelous grace for fallen sinners—and our serious need of a Saviour:
“Luther . . . entered boldly upon his work as a champion of the truth. His voice was heard from the pulpit in earnest, solemn warning. He set before the people the offensive character of sin, and taught them that it is impossible for man, by his own works, to lessen its guilt or evade its punishment. Nothing but repentance toward God and faith in Christ can save the sinner. The grace of Christ cannot be purchased; it is a free gift. He counseled the people not to buy indulgences, but to look in faith to a crucified Redeemer. He related his own painful experience in vainly seeking by humiliation and penance to secure salvation, and assured his hearers that it was by looking away from himself and believing in Christ that he found peace and joy.”1
Jesus Christ was indeed a Saviour to Martin Luther—and a Friend such as cannot be found among mortals.
“From the secret place of prayer came the power that shook the world in the Great Reformation. There, with holy calmness, the servants of the Lord set their feet upon the rock of His promises. During the struggle at Augsburg, Luther ‘did not pass a day without devoting three hours at least to prayer, and they were hours selected from those the most favorable to study.’ In the privacy of his chamber he was heard to pour out his soul before God in words ‘full of adoration, fear, and hope, as when one speaks to a friend.’ ‘I know that Thou art our Father and our God,’ he said, ‘and that Thou wilt scatter the persecutors of Thy children; for Thou art Thyself endangered with us. All this matter is Thine, and it is only by Thy constraint that we have put our hands to it. Defend us, then, O Father!’
“To Melanchthon, who was crushed under the burden of anxiety and fear, he wrote: ‘Grace and peace in Christ—in Christ, I say, and not in the world. Amen. I hate with exceeding hatred those extreme cares which consume you. If the cause is unjust, abandon it; if the cause is just, why should we belie the promises of Him who commands us to sleep without fear? . . . Christ will not be wanting to the work of justice and truth. He lives, He reigns; what fear, then, can we have?’
“God did listen to the cries of His servants. He gave to princes and ministers grace and courage to maintain the truth against the rulers of the darkness of this world.”2
Luther’s rediscovery of the biblical revelation of God’s amazing attribute of grace was a refreshing contrast to the oppressive human-based teachings that prevailed in the Dark Ages.
“The Lord saw our fallen condition; He saw our need of grace, and because He loved our souls, He has given us grace and peace. Grace means favor to one who is undeserving, to one who is lost. The fact that we are sinners, instead of shutting us away from the mercy and love of God, makes the exercise of His love to us a positive necessity in order that we may be saved.”3
“Not because we first loved Him did Christ love us; but ‘while we were yet sinners’ () He died for us. He does not treat us according to our desert. Although our sins have merited condemnation, He does not condemn us. Year after year He has borne with our weakness and ignorance, with our ingratitude and waywardness. Notwithstanding our wanderings, our hardness of heart, our neglect of His Holy Word, His hand is stretched out still.
“Grace is an attribute of God exercised toward undeserving human beings. We did not seek for it, but it was sent in search of us. God rejoices to bestow His grace upon us, not because we are worthy, but because we are so utterly unworthy. Our only claim to His mercy is our great need.
“The Lord God through Jesus Christ holds out His hand all the day long in invitation to the sinful and fallen. He will receive all. He welcomes all. It is His glory to pardon the chief of sinners. He will take the prey from the mighty, He will deliver the captive, He will pluck the brand from the burning. He will lower the golden chain of His mercy to the lowest depths of human wretchedness, and lift up the debased soul contaminated with sin.
“Every human being is the object of loving interest to Him who gave His life that He might bring men back to God. Souls guilty and helpless, liable to be destroyed by the arts and snares of Satan, are cared for as a shepherd cares for the sheep of his flock.”4
The Pharisee syndrome
“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other” ().
Like the religious Pharisee, it’s easy to forget that we are saved by grace, especially after we have been in the truth for many years. Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ words, “many be called, but few chosen” () and naturally we like to assume we would be among the chosen. Yet we don’t always consider this entire Bible passage in context. One instance of this declaration of Christ concludes the parable found in about the laborers called to work in the vineyard. Those who came early in the morning were promised a penny—and the various ones called over the course of the day, even the eleventh-hour laborers—were promised whatever was right. But when everyone received a penny, the ones who had worked the longest and hardest were resentful of those who had only come in at the last minute. Yet Jesus rebuked them for having such an attitude!
Are we like that? We learn some points of truth, we are on fire for the Lord, we are baptized, we come to church for many years, we develop character, we do good things, we serve in church offices, and we cultivate lots of friendships. Are we not more entitled than the newcomer who has just accepted the truth? Entitled to what? That’s the way those laborers who came early in the morning thought. But do we really deserve better treatment than what we have been promised? No, actually we deserve the death penalty. It is only by the grace of God that we can be saved.
When the Holy Spirit comes upon us in greater measure, “he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” ().
The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. We will begin to feel guilty about things that before we thought were perfectly okay.
The Holy Spirit convicts of righteousness. As we start to take action on the conviction of sin, we will start to do things better. Then the Holy Spirit will encourage us that we are heading on the right track.
The Holy Spirit convicts of judgment. Everything we think and do will be in reference to the Judgment of the omniscient Holy Watcher.
With the presence of the Holy Spirit, we will bring forth fruits meet for repentance through the inspiration and strength of the grace of God, the only way by which we can be saved for eternity. “And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace” ().
Reaping the blessings of grace
“In His divine arrangement, through His unmerited favor, the Lord has ordained that good works shall be rewarded. We are accepted through Christ’s merit alone; and the acts of mercy, the deeds of charity, which we perform, are the fruits of faith; and they become a blessing to us; for men are to be rewarded according to their works. It is the fragrance of the merit of Christ that makes our good works acceptable to God, and it is grace that enables us to do the works for which He rewards us. Our works in and of themselves have no merit. When we have done all that it is possible for us to do, we are to count ourselves as unprofitable servants. We deserve no thanks from God. We have only done what it was our duty to do, and our works could not have been performed in the strength of our own sinful natures.
“The Lord has bidden us to draw nigh to Him and He will draw nigh to us; and drawing nigh to Him, we receive the grace by which to do those works which will be rewarded at His hands. The reward, the glories of heaven, bestowed upon the overcomers, will be proportionate to the degree in which they have represented the character of Christ to the world.”5
Our serious need of grace
“We should never have learned the meaning of this word ‘grace’ had we not fallen. God loves the sinless angels, who do His service, and are obedient to all His commands; but He does not give them grace. These heavenly beings know naught of grace; they have never needed it; for they have never sinned. Grace is an attribute of God shown to undeserving human beings. We did not seek after it, but it was sent in search of us. God rejoices to bestow this grace upon every one who hungers for it. To every one He presents terms of mercy, not because we are worthy, but because we are so utterly unworthy. Our need is the qualification which gives us the assurance that we shall receive this gift.
“But God does not use His grace to make His law of none effect, or to take the place of His law. ‘The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; He will magnify the law, and make it honorable’ (). His law is truth. . . .
“God’s grace and the law of His kingdom are in perfect harmony; they walk hand in hand. His grace makes it possible for us to draw nigh to Him by faith. By receiving it, and letting it work in our lives, we testify to the validity of the law; we exalt the law and make it honorable by carrying out its living principles through the power of the grace of Christ; and by rendering pure, wholehearted obedience to God’s law, we witness before the universe of heaven, and before an apostate world that is making void the law of God, to the power of redemption.
“‘Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour’ (). Let no one try to carry his own sins, for they have been atoned for by the great sin-bearer. The only begotten Son of God voluntarily met the claims of God’s violated law. He was stricken of God and afflicted in our behalf. One with the Father, He was fully able to bear the penalty of our disobedience. By connecting His divinity with our humanity, Christ has exalted the human family. His divinity grasps the throne of the Infinite in behalf of man. As our substitute, He took our sins upon Himself, and now He intercedes before the Father in our behalf. . . .
“It is impossible for us to save ourselves. Only by the efficacy of the blood of Jesus Christ can we be saved. He died on Calvary’s cross for us, and we may be complete in Him; for His sacrifice is all-sufficient.”6
A new outlook
“True happiness is to be found, not in self-indulgence and self-pleasing, but in learning of Christ, taking His yoke, and bearing His burden. Those who trust to their own wisdom and follow their own ways, go complaining at every step, because the burden which selfishness imposes upon them is so heavy and its yoke so galling. Selfishness cannot exist in a heart where Christ dwells; if cherished, it will crowd out everything else. It will lead persons to follow inclination rather than duty, to make self the subject of thought, and to gratify and indulge themselves, instead of seeking to be a blessing to others. Their wants, their pleasures, must come before everything else. In all this they exemplify the spirit of Satan. By their words and deeds they represent his character, instead of the character of Christ.
“All this might be changed; for the grace of Christ is sufficient, if they would come to Him. If they would lay off their self-imposed burden, renounce their allegiance to Satan, and take the burden which Jesus gives them, and let His yoke bind them to Him in willing service, hope and joy would spring up in their hearts.
“Jesus loves the purchase of His blood, and He longs to see them possess the peace which He alone can impart. He bids them learn of Him meekness and lowliness of heart. This precious grace is rarely seen at the present day. . . .
“If we have become the disciples of Christ, we shall be learning of Him—every day learning how to overcome some unlovely trait of character, every day copying His example, and coming a little nearer the pattern.”7
God’s grace for me
“It is difficult to exercise living faith when we are in darkness and discouragement. But this of all others is the very time when we should exercise faith. ‘But,’ says one, ‘I do not feel at such times like praying in faith.’ Well, then, will you allow Satan to gain the victory, simply because you do not feel like resisting him? When he sees that you have the greatest need of divine aid, he will try the hardest to beat you back from God.”8
“Satan will come to you, saying, ‘You are a sinner’; but do not allow him to fill your mind with the thought that because you are sinful, God has cast you off. Say to him, Yes; I am a sinner, and for that very reason I need a Saviour. I need forgiveness and pardon, and Christ says that if I will come to Him, I shall not perish. In His letter to me I read, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (). When Satan tells you that you are lost, answer, Yes; but Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. . . . The greater my sin, the greater my need of a Saviour.
“The moment you grasp God’s promises by faith, saying, I am the lost sheep Jesus came to save, a new life will take possession of you, and you will receive strength to resist the tempter. But faith to grasp the promises does not come by feeling. ‘Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’ (). You must not look for some great change to take place; you must not expect to feel some wonderful emotion. The Spirit of God alone can make a lasting impression on the mind.
“Christ longs to see His people resist the adversary of souls; but only by looking away from self to Jesus can we do this. Cease to bemoan your helpless condition; for your Saviour is touched with the feeling of your infirmities, and today He says to you, Be not discouraged, but cast your burdens upon me. I will take them all, and will bring to pass that which is good for your soul. Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, we shall be inspired with hope and shall see the salvation of God; for He is able to keep us from falling. . . .
“Never has a soul that trusts in Jesus been left to perish. . . . Respond to the calls of God’s love, and say, I will trust in the Lord, and be comforted; for He has loved me. I will praise the Lord, for His anger is turned away.”9 Amen!