"GROWING IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF JESUS CHRIST" Loving The Brethren INTRODUCTION 1. Growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ has an inward focus as evidenced by... a. Building upon one's personal faith b. Striving for excellence as an individual goal c. Increasing one's own knowledge d. Controlling the passions and desires of the self e. Bearing up under trials with a positive attitude 2. It also has an upward focus... a. With the addition of godliness b. I.e., a pious conduct based upon a desire to be pleasing to God 3. Then there is the outward focus... a. With the addition of brotherly kindness - 2Pe 1:7 b. Followed with the addition of love - 2Pe 1:7 -- Both affecting how we act towards other people [In this study we will direct our attention to brotherly kindness, certainly a necessary element in developing a Christ-like character...] I. THE DEFINITION OF BROTHERLY KINDNESS A. THE GREEK WORD IS PHILADELPHIA... 1. A compound involving two words: a. "phileo" (love) b. "adelphos" (brother) 2. It literally means "the love of brothers" B. AS USED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT... 1. It describes the love which Christians cherish for each other as brethren (Thayer) 2. Christians were charged to display this virtue - He 13:1 3. They were to increase in it more and more - 1Th 4:9-10 4. They had been purified for this very purpose - 1Pe 1:22 5. Ro 12:10 reveals that it is through brotherly kindness we can have "kind affection" toward one another [It is brotherly kindness, therefore, that provides a true sense of family in our association as members of the Lord's body. Why is such love of the brethren important...?] II. THE DEMAND OF BROTHERLY KINDNESS A. NECESSARY TO KNOW GOD... 1. Without sincere love for brethren, any claim to know God or love Him is impossible - cf. 1Jn 4:7-8,20-21 2. If we truly desire to know God (and grow in the knowledge of Jesus), then it is essential to develop brotherly kindness! B. NECESSARY TO BE JESUS' DISCIPLES... 1. Jesus made love for brethren an identifying mark by which the world can know we are His disciples - Jn 13:34-35 a. Right doctrine is certainly important - 2Jn 9 b. But the world pays little attention to what is perceived as minor doctrinal differences c. What people do notice is love in a world filled with hate d. Especially when such love is observed among individuals who come from various social, economic, and racial backgrounds 2. Any attempt to proclaim New Testament Christianity... a. Will fail to appeal to those in the world b. Unless it is accompanied by a visible demonstration of true brotherly kindness among Christians! C. NECESSARY TO ANSWER JESUS' PRAYER FOR UNITY... 1. Unity among brethren is also very important, as indicated in the prayer of Jesus - Jn 17:20-23 2. The unity made possible through the cross of Christ is maintained as we endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace - Ep 4:3 3. Crucial to that endeavor is "bearing with one another in love" - Ep 4:2 a. There will be times when brethren sin against one another b. Where brotherly kindness prevails there will also be forbearance and forgiveness c. This provides time for repentance and reconciliation necessary to remain united 4. Unless we develop brotherly kindness, churches will be prone to split at the earliest indication of conflict! [I trust that we see the importance of adding brotherly kindness. How does one go about doing this...?] III. THE DEVELOPMENT OF BROTHERLY KINDNESS A. REQUIRES PURITY OF SOUL... 1. Brotherly kindness can easily be misdirected, especially in a sex-crazed society 2. Through obedience to the gospel, our souls are purified - 1 Pe 1:22-23 a. We have been born again by incorruptible seed b. Sincere and fervent love of the brethren is now possible -- If we desire true brotherly kindness, make sure that we have purity of soul! B. REQUIRES BEING TAUGHT BY GOD... 1. Those taught by God need little to be said - cf. 1Th 4:9-10 2. The Father teaches the meaning of love through the giving of His Son - 1Jn 4:9-10 3. The Son demonstrates true love by the example of His sacrifice - 1Jn 3:16 -- The more we reflect upon the love and sacrifice of Jesus, the sooner we understand the true meaning of brotherly kindness - cf. Jn 13:34 C. REQUIRES SPENDING TIME WITH BRETHREN... 1. This I have gleaned from personal experience a. The more I am around people... b. The more I come to know them personally... c. The more I share experiences with them (both good and bad)... -- The easier I find it to "fall in love" with them! 2. It is not much different than with one's own physical family a. I had no choice who my three physical brothers would be b. But as we experience life together our love and appreciation for one another deepens -- I find it to be the same with my brethren in Christ; spend time together! D. REQUIRES PRAYING FOR BRETHREN... 1. This also is gleaned from personal experience 2. Pray fervently for your brethren, especially those with whom you may have a personality clash 3. It is hard to remain angry or maintain a strong dislike for someone when you spend time praying for them -- "Pray for one another" (Jm 5:16), and there will be brotherly kindness! [Finally, a few thoughts about...] IV. THE DISPLAY OF BROTHERLY KINDNESS A. AS IT AFFECTS OUR ATTITUDE TOWARD BRETHREN... 1. Brotherly kindness will lead one to be considerate a. A brother who is strong will be considerate of his weak brother - Ro 15:1 b. Where a brother may have liberty in Christ, he is willing to limit that freedom if it is beneficial to the spiritual well-being of his brother - 1Co 8:13; Ga 5:13 2. Brotherly kindness that will lead one to be cautious a. About what they say about them - Jm 4:11a b. About judging a brother - Jm 4:11b-12 B. AS IT AFFECTS OUR SERVICE TOWARD BRETHREN... 1. Brotherly kindness will lead us to truly care for one another - 1Th 5:14 a. To warn the unruly, to comfort the faint-hearted b. To uphold the weak, to be patient with all 2. Brotherly kindness will prompt us to pursue the right things - Ro 14:19 a. Things that make for peace b. Things by which we may edify one another CONCLUSION 1. As we give thought to... a. What it means to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ b. What it means to develop a Christ-like character -- May we appreciate the importance of developing a strong love for the brethren! 2. We may think that we have a strong love for the brethren... a. Indeed we might b. But we need to always increase more and more! - cf. 1Th 4:9-10 And so may this prayer be fulfilled in us: "...may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints." - 1Th 3:12-13
"GROWING IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF JESUS CHRIST" Seeking To Please God INTRODUCTION 1. Remember that growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ requires... a. The development of eight graces b. In conjunction with each other c. With all diligence -- Where we gradually produce a Christ-like character 2. Reasons to grow in this knowledge include... a. Grace and peace are multiplied in this knowledge b. All things pertaining to life and godliness are provided through this knowledge c. Spiritual myopia and amnesia are avoided by this knowledge d. We will never stumble if we abound in this knowledge e. An abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom will be ours! 3. Thus the development of a Christ-like character... a. Begins with the foundation of faith (conviction and trust) b. To which we add the quality of virtue (striving for excellence) c. Manifested by increasing in knowledge (regarding God's will) d. To which we add the grace of self-control (mastering one's desires and passions) e. Along with the perseverance to bear up trials and temptations 4. As we continue with our text (2Pe 1:5-8), we see that we are to add godliness.... a. Note that it is connected with perseverance b. We shall observe that this is a very logical connection [As we've done previously,let's first seek to discern the meaning of the word...] I. THE DEFINITION OF GODLINESS A. THE GREEK WORD IS EUSEBIA... 1. Literally, it means "to worship well", "to be very devout" 2. Vine describes it as denoting "that piety which, characterized by a God-ward attitude, does that which is well-pleasing to Him" 3. ISBE describes it as "character and conduct determined by the principle of love or fear of God in the heart" -- We might summarize it as pious conduct done with a desire to please God B. CONTRASTED WITH HYPOCRISY... 1. There is pious conduct or godliness that is hypocritical a. Against which Paul warned - 2Ti 3:1-5 b. Displayed by those who are "lovers of pleasure" rather than "lovers of God" 1) Such piety or godliness is just an outward form 2) Done only to be seen by others, to impress them, for the purpose of self-glorification c. Against which Jesus warned - Mt 6:1-18 2. True godliness is characterized by a "God-ward attitude" a. I.e., seeking to be seen and approved by God, not man b. Devoted to the will of God, desiring to please Him -- Unless we have this "God-ward attitude", any act of piety is simply hypocrisy C. CONNECTED WITH PERSEVERANCE... 1. Perseverance (bearing up under trials) is commendable, if done for the right reason - cf. 1Pe 2:18-20 2. The right reason to persevere is godliness! a. Persevering out of a desire to please God b. Not to please man or ourselves [Therefore it is essential that we add godliness to perseverance, or we will be bearing up under trials for all the wrong reasons! There is more to be said about...] II. THE DEMAND FOR GODLINESS A. NECESSARY TO BE A DISCIPLE OF CHRIST... 1. Remember that godliness is pious conduct done with a desire to please God 2. Jesus had this desire to please His heavenly Father - Jn 8:29 3. If we are to be Jesus' disciples, we must seek to please God, not men - Ga 1:10 4. The apostles' taught the disciples that they might please God - 1Th 4:1-2 -- Unless it is for the purpose of pleasing God, all our piety is in vain! B. PROFITABLE FOR ALL THINGS... 1. Paul wrote how godliness was profitable for all things - 1 Ti 4:7-8; 6:6 a. Profitable for the life that now is - cf. Mt 6:33; Mk 10: 28-30 b. Profitable for the life to come - cf. Mk 10:30; Ro 6:22 2. Peter wrote of how it was beneficial in view of the things to come - 2Pe 3:10-14 a. The universe, the earth, and all its works will be destroyed b. For this reason we should focus on holy conduct and godliness, which gives promise of the life to come (the new heavens and new earth) -- Godliness is the only true wealth worth striving for! C. A SOURCE FOR POWER... 1. Paul warned about those with a form of godliness, but denying its power - 2Ti 3:5 a. Implied is that there is true godliness b. And this true godliness contains "power" 2. Indeed, if our conduct pleases God, He empowers us! a. He works in us as we strive to do His will - Php 2:12-13 b. He strengthens us by His Spirit in the inner man - cf. Ep 3:16 c. With a power beyond comprehension - Ep 3:20 d. Enabling us to stand strong in the strength of His might - Ep 6:10-13 -- Do we desire power from God in our daily living? Then godliness is necessary! [How does one go about the task of "adding" godliness to their life...?] III. THE DEVELOPMENT OF GODLINESS A. REQUIRES EXERCISE... 1. As Paul counseled Timothy - 1Ti 4:7-8 a. Just as physical exercise provides benefit for healthy living b. Even more so, spiritual exercise provides benefit for godly living 2. The type of spiritual exercise needed - cf. 1Ti 4:12-16 a. Set a good example for others b. Give attention to reading (esp. the Word of God), exhortation, doctrine c. Make good use of your abilities and opportunities d. Focus your efforts on such things, and your progress will be evident -- As Peter would say, it requires "giving all diligence" - cf. 2Pe 1:5 B. REQUIRES ABSTINENCE... 1. From disputes and arguments over words - 1Ti 6:3-4 2. From men who wrangle over words - 1Ti 6:5 3. From materialism and the love of money - 1Ti 6:6-10 -- Yes, we must flee these things, all the while pursuing godliness! - 1Ti 6:11 [Finally, a few thoughts about...] IV. THE DISPLAY OF GODLINESS A. WE MUST GUARD OUR MOTIVES... 1. Many people are pious, having a form of godliness, but for the wrong reason a. They view it as a means of gain - cf. 1Ti 6:5 b. For some, to get wealthy c. For others, to get healthy d. For others, to get popularity 2. There is only one proper motive for pious conduct a. To please God! b. This is the motive that pleases God -- The display of true godliness will be for one reason, to glorify God! B. WE MUST NOT DENY ITS POWER... 1. Some have a form of godliness, but deny its power - cf. 2 Ti 3:5 a. They think that they can do it on their own b. They do not acknowledge the need for God's help 2. As we seek to be godly, we must acknowledge God's help - cf. Ph 4:13 a. By His grace we can become what He wants us to be b. By His Spirit we can become godly - cf. Ro 8:13-14 -- What degree of true godliness we may attain, is possible only with God's help! CONCLUSION 1. It is God's desire that we live godly lives, and for this end we are told to pray: "...that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence." - cf. 1Ti 2:1-3 2. It is our desire to please Him that sanctifies our conduct... a. Making our efforts holy conduct b. Rather than self-righteous acts done to earn salvation, impress others, or some other personal gain 3. Can we see why we must add godliness as we seek to grow in the knowledge of Christ? a. As we strive for excellence (virtue)... b. As we increase in knowledge... c. As we display self-control... d. As we bear up under trials (perseverance)... -- It is godliness (pious conduct seeking to please God) that ensures that our efforts will not be for the wrong reasons May we therefore add godliness to perseverance as we seek to grow in both grace and knowledge while waiting for our Lord's return: For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ," - Tit 2:11-13
|by||Bert Thompson, Ph.D.|
The first discovery of dinosaurs in recent times occurred in the spring of 1822. Gideon Mantell, a country doctor from Great Britain with life-long passion for collecting fossils, set off by horse and buggy to treat a patient in the English countryside. His wife Mary Ann went along to keep him company. While Dr. Mantell tended to his patient, Mrs. Mantell took a stroll and came across a pile of stones alongside the road. Among those stones, she saw what appeared to be some large fossilized teeth. She scooped them up and took them back to show to her husband who was amazed, never having seen such huge teeth before. He went to the nearby rock quarry from which the stones had been cut and found more teeth similar to those found by his wife. Although he showed the teeth to several scientists, none agreed with him that they were from some kind of previously unknown creature. However, he was stubbornly sure that they were. In 1825, he finally named the long-dead owner of the teeth Iguanodon ("iguana-tooth") since the teeth were like those of an iguana, but much larger. Several years later, more teeth like these were discovered in a different quarry. Now, no one doubted that Iguanodon once existed. Meanwhile, huge bones of another creature- named Megalosaurus- had been dug up farther away in Oxford shire. By 1842 enough of these fossils had been discovered to convince the leading British anatomist, Richard Owen, that a whole tribe of huge, lizard-like reptiles had lived in the past. Based on his studies, Dr. Owen (who worked at the British Museum of natural History in London) named them “dinosaurs” (from the Greek words deinos and sauros, translated by him as “fearfully great lizards”)- known to us today as “Terribly great lizards.”
The question no longer was, “Did the dinosaurs exist?” The question was, “When did the dinosaurs exist?” And therein lies the controversy, even today. Evolutionists believe that dinosaurs evolved more than 165 million years ago, and became extinct approximately 65 million years ago. Those of us who accept the Bible as God’s Word and have looked at the evidence know better, of course, because we understand that God created everything in six days (Exodus 20:11). Dinosaurs di not “evolve.” Rather they were created by God and lived on the Earth at the same time as man. Imagine how wonderful it would have been to live back then, and to see a 100-ton dinosaur. Imagine too, how powerful and how awesome God must be-if He has the power to create something as majestic as dinosaurs! Then, remember that this powerful, awesome God loves you!
How Do We Prove There is a God?
Both scientists and non-scientists use experiments to prove or disprove things. For instance, suppose you wanted to know why your bicycle tire keeps going flat. You might hold it under water to see if any air bubbles trickled up, or you might put your ear close to it to listen for the pssshhh sound of an air leak. Whatever method you choose, one of your five senses is involved—sight, sound, touch, taste, or hearing. In fact, all science experiments depend upon the five senses. Without those senses, science has no way to find answers.
But some things in this world cannot be tested by using the five senses. For instance, things like love cannot be touched, seen, smelled, tasted, or heard. Do you love someone? Of course you do. Is there any way you can perform an experiment on that love by using your five senses? Can you weigh love? No. Can you see what color it is? No, again. Can you put it in a bucket and feel if it is hot or cold? Certainly not! There are some things in this life that cannot be proved or disproved by using the five senses.
The same is true of God. We will not be able to prove that He exists by seeing, touching, tasting, smelling, or hearing Him. But, don’t be fooled when people say that we cannot prove God exists because we cannot use our five senses on Him. Many things (like love and God) cannot be discovered by experiments, yet we still know for certain that they exist. Suppose you were walking on the beach and saw a trail of human footprints in the sand, but no one else was around. Even though you couldn’t see anyone, you still would know that someone had been there because you could see the tracks. In a similar way, even through we can’t see God, we can see His "footprints" in the Universe, and we can know for certain that He does exist.
Discovery is devoted to showing you some of the evidence for the existence of God, such as design in the Universe, the law of cause and effect, and mankind’s morality. We hope that this evidence will help you have the courage to stand up for God.
Did Jesus Really Live on the Earth?
Hercules. Snow White. Cinderella. Peter Pan…. Jesus? What is Jesus doing in a list of make-believe characters? Did someone make a mistake, or is this really where Christ belongs? Believe it or not, some people actually think that Jesus is nothing more than a fantasy figure that we have all imagined. Some skeptics believe that Christians have been deceived into thinking that there really was a man named Jesus, when actually there wasn’t.
So, how do we know that there ever was a man named Jesus who lived upon the Earth? Is there any evidence available that proves Jesus actually walked the streets of Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago?
Even though the New Testament proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus actually lived, it is by no means the only historical evidence available. Around the year A.D. 94, a Jewish historian by the name of Josephus mentioned Jesus’ name twice in his book, Antiquities of the Jews. In section 18 of his book, Josephus wrote: "And there arose about this time Jesus, a wise man, if indeed we should call him a man; for he was a doer of marvelous deeds, a teacher of men who receive the truth with pleasure." Then, in section 20, Josephus documented how a man named Ananus brought before the Sanhedrin "a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others."
About 20 years later Tacitus, a Roman historian, wrote a book surveying the history of Rome. In it he described how Nero (the Roman Emperor) "punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called)." He went on to write that "their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilatus" (Annals 15:44). Even though Tacitus, Josephus, and other historians were not followers of Christ, they did have something to say about Him—and they even verified that Jesus was a real person Who was so famous that He attracted the attention of the Roman Emperor himself!
A final reason to believe that Jesus actually lived upon the Earth is because our entire dating method is based upon His existence. The letters "B.C." stand for "before Christ," and the letters "A.D." (standing forAnno Domini) mean "in the year of the Lord." So when a history teacher says that Alexander the Great ruled much of the world by 330 B.C., he or she is admitting that Alexander lived about 330 years before Jesus was born.
All of this evidence proves that Jesus was a real person, and not just some imaginary character.
The True Story of Man’s Origin
According to the theory of evolution, humans evolved from ape-like creatures many millions of years ago. This idea is absolutely false, and in Discovery we want to show you why it is false. However, once we have established that humans did not evolve, we must find the real explanation for their existence. Fortunately, the Bible tells the true story of man’s origin.
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." This is the first sentence in Genesis, the first book of the English Bible. The first two chapters of Genesis tell how God created the Sun, Moon, sky, land, plants, animals, and everything in this Universe in six, 24-hour days. But there was one special creature that God created who was not like any of the animals.
On the sixth day of creation, God said "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). In order to make man, God formed him from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. His name was Adam. Adam was one of God’s greatest creations; he could walk, talk, think, make decisions, and do many other things that the animals could not do. But there was one problem; Adam was very lonely because none of the other creatures was a suitable helper for him. For this reason, God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep. As Adam slept, God took one of his ribs and used it to form a woman whom Adam called Eve. Adam and his wife Eve were the first two people to walk on the Earth. They did not evolve from ape-like creatures over a long period of time. God created them on the sixth day of the first week.
Even Jesus spoke about Adam and Eve when He said, "from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female." If evolution were true, the Universe would have existed billions of years before humans ever existed. That would mean that Jesus did not tell the truth. But we know that Jesus always told the truth. And we know that humans have been on the Earth "from the beginning of creation"—the sixth day of the very first week of creation to be exact.
You are a human being who has been made in the image of God, exactly like your ancestors Adam and Eve. Don’t be fooled into thinking that humans evolved, because they did not!
Esther—Queen of Courage
What Bible characters come to mind when you think of courage? The apostle Paul? David? Or perhaps Daniel in the lions’ den? Most of the time we only think of men when people mention heroes of the Bible. But the Bible also talks about courageous women—like Ruth, Hannah, and Mary. In the Old Testament book of Esther, we learn of another brave woman whose courage often is overlooked.
When Esther was a young Jewish woman (with no mother or father, but only a cousin named Mordecai to look after her), Ahasuerus (a-haz-u-E-rus), King of Persia, was searching for a new queen. King Ahasuerus decided to hold a beauty pageant to help him decide who the new queen should be. Beautiful girls from all over the kingdom were brought to his palace to be treated with special oils, spices, and food. Esther was so beautiful that she won the favor and approval of the king more than any other girl. He set a crown on her head and made her queen.
About 4½ years after being crowned queen, one of the king’s royal officials named Haman became very angry with the Jews and wanted to destroy all of them (this would have included Queen Esther!). When Esther’s cousin Mordecai heard about the plot, he asked Queen Esther to go and beg the king for mercy on behalf of the Jewish people. The only problem was that the king had isolated himself in the inner court, and anyone who approached him without being called upon could be killed. [Believe it or not, talking to the king without being invited (even if you were the queen) would mean risking your life.] But Esther was courageous enough to face her fears in order to save her people.
When the king saw Esther, he held out the golden scepter and welcomed her into his presence (Esther 5:2). After she begged him to spare her life and the lives of all Jews, the king not only saved the Jews from being killed, but he wrote new laws that protected them from any other attempted attack on their lives.
By her example, Esther teaches us that we can overcome fear with God’s help. Just as she stood up for what was right, God expects us to do the same. For "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7).
The Mercy and Grace of God
|by||Bert Thompson, Ph.D.|
The academic discipline of Christian apologetics is concerned with offering a reasoned defense of historical, New Testament Christianity. The English word “apology” derives from the Greek apologia, which means to “defend” or “make a defense.” Various biblical writers acknowledged the legitimacy of such activity. The apostle Peter, for example, wrote:
But sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer [Greek, apologian] to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15).
Paul, in his epistle to the Philippians, stated that he was “set for the defense [Greek, apologian] of the Gospel” (Philippians 1:16). Paul’s writings, in fact, teem with sound arguments that provide a rational undergirding for his readers’ faith. Christianity is not some kind of vague, emotionally based belief system intended for unthinking simpletons. Rather, it is a logical system of thought that may be both defended and accepted by analytical minds.
In any defense of Christianity, a variety of evidence may be employed. Such evidence may be derived from science, philosophy, or history, to list just a few examples. It is not uncommon to hear someone mention studies from within the field of “Christian evidences.” Such terminology simply is a reference to an examination of the evidences establishing Christianity as the one true religion of the one true God. Regardless of the source or nature of the evidence, however, the ultimate goal is to substantiate the case for the existence of God, the inspiration of the Bible, the deity and Sonship of Christ, the validity of the creation account found in Genesis 1-2, etc.
Much of the evidence attending the truthfulness of Christianity can be examined within broad categories such as those listed above. But these do not tell the whole story, for within each major area of study there are important subcategories that offer additional insight. An illustration of this point would be a study of the inspiration of the Bible. It is possible to examine various arguments that establish the Bible as being God’s inspired Word. Generally speaking, however, such a study may not examine such things as alleged internal contradictions, supposed historical inconsistencies, and other such matters. In order to respond to such charges, one must “dig a little deeper” into the evidence at hand.
The same is true of the evidence that establishes the case for the existence of God. It is not a difficult task to assemble evidence that represents a compelling case for God’s existence. Yet that evidence often may not touch on other equally important matters that have to do with God’s personality and character (e.g., things like His eternality, His justice, His relationship to other members of the Godhead, etc.). Information on these topics must be derived from separate, independent studies.
One of the areas that Christian apologetics seeks to address in relation to the existence of God is Hisnature. It is not enough merely to acknowledge that God exists. Rather, it is necessary to know something about Him, what He expects from mankind, and how He interacts with His creation. By necessity, any investigation into the nature of God eventually will have to address the topics of His justice, His mercy, and His grace, because these are a part of His eternal nature. That is the purpose of the present study.
THE MERCY AND GRACE OF GOD
The mercy and grace of God are at the core of one of the most beautiful, yet one of the most heart-rending, accounts in all the Bible—the story of Peter’s denial of His Lord, and Jesus’ reaction to that denial. Christ had predicted that before His crucifixion Peter would deny Him three times (John 13:36-38). Peter did just that (John 18:25-27). First, he was asked by a maid who controlled the door to the court of the high priest if he was a disciple of Jesus. Peter denied that he was. Second, he was asked by servants of the high priest if he was indeed the Lord’s disciple. Again, he denied knowing Jesus. Third, he was asked if he was with the Lord when they arrested Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. One last time, Peter vehemently denied the Lord. The cock crowed, and the Lord looked across the courtyard. As their eyes met, the text says simply that Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61-62).
When next we see Peter, he has given up. In fact, he said “I go a fishing” (John 21:3). Peter’s life as a follower of Christ was finished, so far as he was concerned. He had decided to go back to his livelihood of fishing. No doubt Peter felt that his sin against the Lord was so grievous that even though he now believed the Lord to be risen, there could be no further use for him in the kingdom. It was, then, to his original vocation that he would return.
It is a compliment to Peter’s innate leadership ability that the other disciples followed him even on this occasion. As Peter and his friends fished one morning, the Lord appeared on the shore and called to them. When they brought the boat near, they saw that Christ had prepared a meal of fish and bread over an open fire. They sat, ate, and talked. As they did, the Lord asked Peter, “Simon, lovest thou me more than these?” (John 21:15). Peter assured Christ that he did. But Christ appeared unsatisfied with Peter’s response. He inquired a second time, and a third. After the last query, the text indicates that Peter was “grieved because Christ said unto him a third time, ‘lovest thou me?’ ” (John 21:17).
Peter’s uneasiness was saying, in essence, “What are you trying to do to me, Lord?” Jesus was asking: “Peter, can you comprehend—in spite of your denying heart—that I have forgiven you? Do you understand that the mercy and grace of God have been extended to you? There is still work for you to do. Go, use your immense talents in the advancement of the kingdom.” Jesus loved Peter. And He wanted him back. Jesus simply was putting into action that which He had taught personally. Forgive, yes, even 70 times 7 times!
Perhaps during these events one of Christ’s parables came to Peter’s mind. He no doubt was familiar with the teaching of the Lord in Luke 7:36-50 (see the similar account found in Matthew 18:23-35). Jesus was eating with Simon, a Pharisee. Simon saw a worldly woman come into the Lord’s presence, and thought: “This man, if he were a prophet, would have perceived who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39). Simon’s point, of course, was that Christ should have driven away the sinful woman. But Jesus, knowing Simon’s thoughts, presented a parable for his consideration.
Two servants owed their lord; one owed an enormous debt, and the other only a small amount. Yet the master forgave both of the debts. Jesus asked Simon: “Which of them therefore will love him the most?” (Luke 7:42). Simon correctly answered: “He, I suppose, to whom he forgave the most” (Luke 7:43). Jesus, through this parable, was saying to Simon: “I came here today and you would not even extend to me the common courtesy of washing my feet. This woman entered, cried, washed my feet with her tears, and dried them with her hair. I have forgiven her. She, therefore, should love me the most.”
This woman had been a recipient of God’s mercy and grace. She gratefully expressed devotion for the forgiveness offered by the Son of God. Simon was too religious to beg, and too proud to accept it if offered. It is a sad fact that man will treat forgiveness lightly so long as he treats sin lightly. The worldly, fallen woman desperately desired the saving mercy and grace of God, and accepted it when it was extended. Christ’s point to Simon was that man can appreciate to what he has been elevated (God’s saving grace) only when he recognizes from what he has been saved (his own sinful state).
In this context, Christ’s point to Peter becomes clear. “Peter, you denied me, not just once, but three times. Have I forgiven you? Yes, I have.” Peter, too, had been the recipient of God’s mercy and grace. He had much of which to be forgiven. Yet, he had been forgiven! The problem that relates to mercy and grace is not to be found in heaven; rather, it is to be found here on the Earth. Man’s first problem often is accepting God’s mercy and grace. His second problem often is forgiving himself. We do not stand in need of an accuser; God’s law does that admirably, as the seventh chapter of Romans demonstrates. What we need is an Advocate (1 John 2:1-2)—someone to stand in our place, and to plead our case. We—laden with our burden of sin—have no right to stand before the majestic throne of God, even with the intent to beg for mercy. But Jesus the Righteous has that right. He made it clear to His disciples, and likewise has made it clear to us, that He is willing to be just such an Advocate on our behalf. The author of the book of Hebrews wrote:
Having then a great high priest, who hath passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (4:14-15).
The entire story of the Bible centers on man’s need for mercy and grace. That story began in Genesis 3, and has been unfolding ever since. Fortunately, “the Lord is full of pity, and merciful” (James 5:11). Even when Cain—a man who had murdered his own brother—begged for mercy, God heard his plea and placed a mark on him for his protection. God never has wanted to punish anyone. His words to this effect were recorded by Ezekiel: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? saith the Lord Jehovah; and not rather that he should return from his way, and live?... I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord Jehovah” (18:23,32). Similarly, in the times of Hosea sin was rampant. Life was barren. Worship to God had been polluted. The effects of Satan’s rule were felt everywhere on the Earth. The Lord, suggested Hosea, “hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor goodness, nor knowledge of God in the land” (4:1). Evidence of God’s mercy and grace is seen, however, in the words spoken by Hosea on God’s behalf:
How shall I give thee up, O Ephraim! How shall I cast thee off, Israel!... my heart is turned within me, my compassions are kindled together. I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee; and I will not come in wrath (11:8-9).
The wise king, Solomon, said that those who practice mercy and truth will find “favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man” (Proverbs 3:4). Many are those in the Bible who desperately sought the mercy and grace of God. Cain needed mercy and grace. Israel needed mercy and grace. Peter needed mercy and grace. And to all it was given, as God deemed appropriate. We must come to understand, however, several important facts about God’s mercy and grace.
God is Sovereign in His Delegation of Mercy and Grace
First, we must realize that God is sovereign in granting both His mercy and His grace. When we speak of God’s sovereign nature, it is a recognition on our part that whatever He wills is right. He alone determines the appropriate course of action; He acts and speaks at the whim of no outside force, including mankind.
When humans become the recipients of heaven’s grace, the unfathomable has happened. The apostle Paul wrote: “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.... For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 3:23; 6:23). God—our Justifiable Accuser—has become our Vindicator. He has extended to us His wonderful love, as expressed by His mercy and His grace.
Mercy has been defined as feeling “sympathy with the misery of another, and especially sympathy manifested in act” (Vine, 1940, 3:61). Mercy is more than just sympathetic feelings. It is sympathy in concert with action. Grace often has been defined as the “unmerited favor of God.” If grace is unmerited, then none can claim it as an unalienable right. If grace is undeserved, then none is entitled to it. If grace is a gift, then none can demand it. Grace is the antithesis of justice. After God’s grace has been meted out, there remains only divine justice. Because salvation is through grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), the very chief of sinners is not beyond the reach of divine grace. Because salvation is by grace, boasting is excluded and God receives the glory.
When justice is meted out, we receive what we deserve. When mercy is extended, we do not receive what we deserve. When grace is bestowed, we receive what we do not deserve.
Perhaps no one could appreciate this better than Peter. It was he who said: “And if the righteous is scarcely saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?” (1 Peter 4:18). Paul reminded the first-century Christians in Rome that “scarcely for a righteous man will one die: for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die. But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8).
Yet because it is a free gift, and unearned, it remains within God’s sovereign right to bestow it as He sees fit. A beautiful expression of this fact can be seen in the prayers of two men who found themselves in similar circumstances—in that both were under the sentence of death. In Numbers 20, the story is told of God’s commanding Moses to speak to the rock in the wilderness, so that it would yield water for the Israelites. Rather than obey the command of God to speak to the rock, however, Moses struck it instead. The Lord said to him: “Because ye believed not in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them” (Numbers 20:12). Years later, God called Moses to the top of Mount Nebo, and allowed him to look across into the promised land, but He vowed that Moses would not enter into Canaan with the Israelites. Moses begged God to permit him to go (Deuteronomy 3:26), but his plea was denied.
Yet king Hezekiah, likewise under a sentence of death, petitioned God to let him live, and God added 15 years to his life. Moses wrote: “The Lord would not hear me...,” and died. But to Hezekiah it was said: “I have heard thy prayer” (2 Kings 20:1-6), and his life was spared. What a beautiful illustration and amplification of Romans 9:15: “For he saith unto Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” God is sovereign in His mercy and His grace.
God’s Grace Does Not Mean a Lack of Consequences to Sin
Second, we must recognize that God’s granting mercy and grace does not somehow negate the consequences of sin here and now. While mercy may ensue, so may sin’s consequences. Perhaps the most touching story in the Bible of this eternal truth is the story of king David. How could a man of David’s faith and righteousness commit the terrible sins attributed to him? David was about 50 years old at the time. Fame and fortune were his as Israel’s popular, beloved king. He had taken his vows before God (see Psalm 101). He had insisted on righteousness in his nation. The people had been taught to love, respect, and honor the God of heaven. David, their king, was also their example. He was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14).
But he committed the sin of adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12), and then had her husband, Uriah the Hittite, murdered. One cannot help but be reminded of the sin of Achan (Joshua 7), when he took booty from a war and hid it under the floor of his tent after the Israelites were commanded specifically not to take any such items. Achan said, “I saw..., I coveted..., I took..., I hid...” (Joshua 7:21). Is that not what king David did? But Achan and David also could state, “I paid.” Achan paid with his life; David paid with twenty years of strife, heartbreak, and the loss of a child that meant everything to him.
Nathan the prophet was sent by God to the great king. He told David the story of a rich man who had many sheep in his flock, and of a poor man who had but one small ewe that was practically part of the family. When a visitor appeared at the rich man’s door, the rich man took the single ewe owned by the poor man, and slaughtered it for the visitor’s meal. Upon hearing what had happened, David was incensed with anger and vowed, “As Jehovah liveth, the man that hath done this is worthy to die” (2 Samuel 12:5).
Nathan looked the powerful king in the eye and said, “Thou art the man” (2 Samuel 12:7). The enormity of David’s sin swept over him, and he said, “I have sinned” (2 Samuel 12:13). David, even through his sin, was a man who loved righteousness. Now that Nathan had shown him his sin, he felt a repulsion which demanded a cleansing that could come only from God. His description of the consequences of sin on the human heart is one of the most vivid in all of Scripture, and should move each of us deeply. His agonizing prayer is recorded in Psalm 51. David cried out: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness.”
David needed a new heart; sin had defiled his old one. He likewise realized that he needed to undergo an inner renewal; pride and lust had destroyed his spirit. So, David prayed for a proper spirit. He could do nothing but cast himself on the mercy and grace of God. David laid on the altar his own sinful heart and begged God to cleanse, recreate, and restore his life. God did forgive. He did cleanse. He did recreate. He did restore.
But the consequences of David’s sin still remained. The child growing in Bathsheba’s womb died after birth. In addition, the prophet Nathan made it clear to David that “the sword shall never depart from thy house,” and that God would “raise up evil against thee out of thine own house” (2 Samuel 12:10-11). David’s life never would be the same again. His child was dead. His reputation was damaged. His influence, in large part, was destroyed.
David learned that the penalty for personal sin often is felt in the lives of others as well. He had prayed that those who loved and served the Lord would not have to bear his shame. But this was not to be. The shame of the one is the shame of the many; as God’s people, we are bound together. More often than not, what affects one of us affects all of us.
It is to David’s credit that once his sin was uncovered, he did not try to deny it. Solomon, his son, later would write: “He that covereth his transgressions shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
Mercy and Grace are Expensive
Third, we should realize that the mercy and grace God uses to cover mankind’s sins are not cheap. They cost heaven its finest jewel—the Son of God. The popular, old song says it well:
He paid a debt He did not owe
I needed someone to wash my sins away.
So now I sing a brand new song—amazing grace
Christ paid the debt I could never pay.
Jesus’ death represented His total commitment to us. As Isaiah prophesied:
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.... He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors (53:4-6,12).
Paul wrote that “Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Grace does not eliminate human responsibility; rather, grace emphasizes human responsibility. Grace, because it cost God so much, delivers agonizing duties and obligations. It is seemingly a great paradox that Christianity is free, yet at the same time is so very costly. Jesus warned: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Paul summarized it like this: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me. I do not make void the grace of God” (Galatians 2:20-21).
Grace does not make one irresponsible; it makes one more responsible! Paul asked: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid” (Romans 6:1-2). God’s grace is accessed through willful obedience to the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25). It is God’s law that informs us of the availability of grace, the manner in which we appropriate it, and the blessings of living within it. The testimony of Scripture is abundantly clear when it speaks of the importance of the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5). We are to be obedient to God by returning to Him from an alien, sinful state, and, once redeemed, through our continued faithfulness as evinced by our works. Grace and works of obedience are not mutually exclusive.
Neither are grace and law mutually exclusive. One who is “in Christ” does not live under the dominion of sin, since Christianity is a system of grace. The apostle to the Gentiles stated: “Ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). He cannot mean that we are under no law at all, because in the following verses he spoke of early Christians being “obedient from the heart to that form of teaching” delivered to them (6:17). These Christians obeyed God’s law, and were living faithfully under that law. They understood that “faith worketh by love” (Galatians 5:6). The terms “law,” “works,” and “grace” are not at odds, but like all things within God’s plan, exist in perfect harmony.
We Are Saved Through Grace
Fourth, let us remember that our salvation is by atonement, not attainment. Because salvation is a free gift (Romans 6:23), man never can earn it. Unmerited favor cannot be merited! God did for us what we, on our own, could not do. Jesus paid the price we could not pay. From beginning to end, the scheme of redemption—including all that God has done, is doing, and will do—is one continuous act of grace. The Scriptures speak of God “reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses, and having committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Peter stated:
Knowing that ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, from your vain manner of life handed down from your fathers; but with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19).
God has promised mercy and grace to those who believe on His Son (John 3:16), repent of their sins (Luke 13:3), and have those sins remitted through baptism (Acts 2:38; 22:16). Subsequent to the Day of Pentecost, Peter called upon his audiences to: “Repent ye therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). The word for “blotted out” derives from the Greek word meaning to “wipe out, erase, or obliterate.” The New Testament uses the word to refer to “blotting out” the old law (Colossians 2:14), and to “blotting out” a person’s name from the Book of Life (Revelation 3:5). One of the great prophetical utterances of the Old Testament was that “their sin will I remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).
Our sins were borne by Jesus on the cross. He paid our debt so that we, like undeserving Barabbas, might be set free. In this way, God could be just, and at the same time Justifier of those who believe in and obey His Son. By refusing to extend mercy to Jesus on the cross, God was able to extend mercy to me—if I submit in obedience to His commands.
There was no happy solution to the justice/mercy dilemma. There was no way by which God could remain just (justice demands that the wages of sin be paid), and yet save His Son from death. Christ was abandoned to the cross so that mercy could be extended to sinners who stood condemned (Galatians 3:10). God could not save sinners by fiat—upon the ground of mere authority alone—without violating His own attribute of divine justice. Paul discussed God’s response to this problem in Romans 3:24-26:
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood...for the showing of his righteousness...that he might himself be just and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus.
Man’s salvation was no arbitrary arrangement. God did not decide merely to consider man a sinner, and then determine to save him upon a principle of mercy. Sin placed man in a state of antagonism toward God. Sinners are condemned because they have violated God’s law, and because God’s justice cannot permit Him to ignore sin. Sin could be forgiven only as a result of the vicarious death of God’s Son. Because sinners are redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, and not their own righteousness, they are sanctified by the mercy and grace of God.
Our Response to Mercy and Grace
What, then, should be our response to mercy and grace?
(1) Let us remember that “blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). It is a biblical principle that unless we extend mercy, we cannot obtain mercy. Jesus taught: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). We would do well to recall the adage that “he who cannot forgive destroys the bridge over which he also must one day pass.” If we expect to be forgiven, then let us be prepared to forgive.
(2) Let us remember that mercy and grace demand action on our part. Mercy is to feel “sympathy with the misery of another, and especially sympathy manifested in act.” Luke recorded an example of Christ’s mercy in healing ten lepers who “lifted up their voices saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us’ ” (Luke 17:13). Did these diseased and dying men want merely a few kind words uttered in their direction? Hardly. They wanted to be healed! When the publican prayed so penitently, “God, be thou merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13), he was asking for more than tender feelings of compassion. He wanted something done about his pitiful condition. Mercy and grace are compassion in action.
(3) Let us remember that nothing must take precedence over our Savior. If we have to choose between Christ and a friend, spouse, or child, Christ comes first. He demands no less (Luke 4:25-35)—but His demands are consistent with His sufferings on our behalf. He insists that we take up our cross: He took up His. He insists that we lose our life to find it: He lost His. He insists that we give up our families for His sake: He gave up His for ours. He demands that we give up everything for Him: He had nowhere to lay His head, and His only possession—the robe on His back—was taken from Him. Yes, the costs sometimes are high; but the blessings that we receive in return are priceless. He dispenses mercy and grace, and offers eternal salvation to all those who will believe in and obey Him.
In Luke 15, Jesus spoke of a wayward son who had sinned against his father and squandered his precious inheritance. Upon returning home, he decided to say to his father: “make me as one of thy hired servants” (15:19). He was prepared for the worst.
But he received the best. His father, “while he was yet afar off,...was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). The son did not receive what he deserved; he receivedwhat he did not deserve. He received mercy and grace. His father wanted him back!
Does our heavenly Father want us back? Oh, yes! Paul wrote: “For ye were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). Let us yearn for the day when we can stand before His throne and thank Him for granting us mercy and grace—and for paying the debt we could not pay, and the debt He did not owe.
Vine, W.E. (1940), An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell).