Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!*—John Newton
Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin.**
Songwriters pen poetic expressions exalting grace. The Apostle Paul uses grace as one of the three words included in his letter openings. And I do mean EVERY letter he penned used grace in the salutation.
But what is grace? Its depth exceeds the ocean which means the average believer (talking about myself here) doesn’t fully understand it. Some days, I’m not sure I have even scratched the surface of the awesomeness that is God’s amazing grace.
Which is why I’ve been thrilled by Pastor Jeff’s recent sermons from the book of Acts. The graphic above is from one of them and it does a great job revealing the duality of grace. By this I mean: grace does a work inside of us (see the left) and that leads to an outward changed (on the right).
I never would have guessed this verse from Acts 11 would reveal SO much about grace.
The “he” in the verse is Barnabas. Once the believers were scattered, a bunch of them settled 300 miles north of Jerusalem in Antioch, a principal city of Syria. When the church in Jerusalem heard about it, they sent Barnabas, who had a history of encouraging new believers, to “check it out.”
And what did Barnabas see in those believers? Grace. Specifically, he was the marvelous grace of God.
If you’re at all like me, you thought, “What did THAT look like?” Read on to discover the answer.
Grace, like every good gift, comes from God (James 1:17). In fact. God gives us a healthy dose of it at salvation (Eph. 2:8-9).
God’s grace changes the way we see sin. This is an important aspect of this gift from above.
Grace shows us sin:
- Inside us is exceedingly sinful and repugnant to God
- In others is part of the human curse; not to be judged or even pitied but to be viewed with understanding (but not compromised standards)
When we accept that our sin is disgusting, we repent of it. We exercise faith in God and depend on His infinite strength to offset our weakness (2 Corin. 12:9) which enables us to do work that pleases Him.
That’s when we experience joy. This joy shines forth and becomes the thing Barnabas saw when he met the believers in Antioch.
Joy is the natural result of experiencing God’s grace. Recall the day you were saved.
On my spiritual birthday, the world looked different. The sky was bluer. People were lovelier (even those I hadn’t really liked before). I could not stop smiling, and two women said I glowed like they imagined Moses might have as he came down from Mt. Sinai.
To maintain this joy, I had to crucify my own desires. It started the next day when the devil said, “You’re not saved. You thought you were saved before, too. Why would God bother saving you?”
I answered the old liar by praying, “Lord, if I’m saved, silence that voice of doubt.”
That shut the devil up. He can’t say anything if God doesn’t allow it. I had prayed the same sort of prayers when I doubted my salvation before, but of course the voice wasn’t silenced because God could only answer my prayer of faith seeking salvation!
The greatest joy in life is serving others using the practical gifts God gives. For me, that means writing and teaching. When I’m doing either of those things, I’m transported into the very presence of the Lord. And if you’ve ever given to others, you know that’s a shortcut to experiencing joy.
That’s what Barnabas called “cleaving to the Lord” in the text verse above. The internal joy of a purposeful heart bled out into the lifestyle of those early believers. And it led to them being called “Christians” (Acts 11:26).
Have you seen God’s amazing grace? Do others see it when they look at you?
*John Newton “Amazing Grace”
**Julia H. Johnson “Grace Greater than Our Sin”