(This is the fifth article in a series. You can find the first four articles here: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4).
We’ve seen in our study of Philippians that much of Paul’s instruction is intended to move the recipients to think rightly about their circumstances. He wants them to view the pressures and persecution around them from the perspective of gospel truth. So we are taking time in this blog series to identify a number of gospel truths and explore how those truths might help us to view our circumstances from the right perspective. The truths covered so far include: God is holy; man is sinful; God is wrathful; and, man is doomed.
Now we turn to the “good” part of the good news – God is gracious. What does it mean that God is gracious? It means that He is inclined to grant unmerited favor. We’ve noted in past articles that man is completely helpless in his sin. He cannot cover his sins previously committed, nor can he stop sinning in the future. Further, his root problem is that he has a sinful heart that is naturally bent against God and obedience to God’s law. Man cannot change his own heart and he justly deserves the wrath of God for his sin. His only hope is that someone in a position to change his heart and cover his sin will move to do so. But because he cannot merit this favor, it must come by grace.
The God of the Bible is inclined to grant unmerited favor to the sinner. One of the earliest and fullest descriptions of Himself can be found in Exodus 34:6-7, where Yahweh revealed Himself to Moses: The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."
That God is gracious does not bind Him to grant unmerited favor to any or all sinners. He does so by His own sovereign choice (Rom 9:6-24). To some sinner He demonstrates His wrath; to others His grace and mercy. The prerogative to do either is solely His.
How might this truth inform the believer’s thoughts about his own circumstances? Here are several examples:
A man has a sister who does not know the Lord. She seems beyond hope of salvation because of her adamant denials of her sin and her need for a savior. The man is tempted to despair and at times he even approaches a state of mourning for her soul. The truth of God’s grace could move his thoughts in this direction: “Without the grace of God, ALL sinners are beyond hope. Without the grace of God, I would not have come to know His salvation. As long as there is breath in her lungs, there is hope that God will graciously open her eyes and grant her repentance and faith. I must not despair, but continue to reach out to her with the truth and pray that God would be gracious to her by saving her.”
A woman is caught in habitual sexual sin. She has cycles of sin, depression, repentance, and zeal, but then goes back to her sin. In her weakest moments, she uses the grace of God as an excuse to indulge in her sin, knowing that “God will forgive me.” How could the truth of God’s grace correct her thinking? “Grace is owed to no one. It is guaranteed to no one. To indulge in sin because of God’s anticipated forgiveness is to presume upon His grace, which is a dreadful sin itself. ‘Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? May it never be! How can we who died to sin still live in it?’ (Rom 6:1-2).”
A young man struggles with bitterness toward his father, who sinned against him in a host of ways during his adolescence. He hears from other believers that he must put away his bitterness and be poised to forgive. Yet, his desire is to punish his father for his offenses. The grace of God could shape his thoughts in this way: “My sins against God are far more grievous than my father’s sins against me. I deserved hell for all eternity for rebelling against Him. Yet, God was gracious to me and provided a way for me to be forgiven. I certainly didn’t deserve His favor. How on earth can I gladly receive the grace of God, but then harbor bitterness against someone else?”
What are your current circumstances? At home? At work? In the neighborhood? At church? How might an understanding of God’s grace shape how you view those situations? Remember that we don’t start to be gospel-minded spontaneously without putting forth any effort. We have to make time to do this. Why not take a few minutes right now to apply God’s grace to your thinking about one issue you’re facing?