The Returning Saviour – Colossians 3:1-4

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Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4

The Returning Saviour

When Jesus was ascending into heaven, two angels assured his disciples, ‘This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’ (Acts 1:11).  Christians are looking forward to the return of Christ at the time decreed by God the Father.  Perhaps we allow the world’s mockery of the idea of Christ’s return to rob us of the joy and consolation we should have from this great certainty.  Our hope is centred on Christ and today we consider his Second Coming in Colossians 3:1-4  The Returning Saviour.

1. Our union with Christ

The most basic way of describing salvation is union with Christ in his death and resurrection.  When Christ died and rose again, the Bible tells us that those sinners given to him by the Father in eternity in principle died and rose spiritually with him.  This spiritual death and resurrection become our actual experience at our conversion.  Thus in v3 Paul tells us, ‘you died’ – that is a single, decisive event.  So too in 2:20 we read, ‘you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world’.  When we believe in Christ there is a radical, once-for-all break with our spiritual past of deadness and bondage to sin.

The same language of death and resurrection is used by Paul elsewhere.  Thus we read in Romans 6:4-5 ‘We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death…If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.’  Also Galatians 2:20 ‘I have been crucified with Christ…Christ lives in me’.  It is amazing language.  That is how Christians ought to think of themselves.

A total spiritual change has taken place – we have gone from death to life.  We are united to Christ in his death and resurrection.  Paul says, ‘your life is now hidden with Christ in God’ (v3).  We occupy a totally secure positon.  This fact is invisible to the world and is often misunderstood.  The believer has a wholly new perspective, set out in Galatians 2:20 ‘the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God’.  Christ and his will are central.  All we do is for his glory.  Our aim is to reflect his likeness.

2. The glory of Christ

This whole epistle emphasises the glory of Christ.  Hence v1 speaks of ‘Christ…seated on the right hand of God’, the place of supreme exaltation.  This is the fulfilment of Psalm 110:1 ‘Sit at my right hand’, the Father speaking to the Son.  Christ’s present position is the result of his atoning work and so Paul writes in Philippians 2:9 ‘Therefore God highly exalted him’.  The full price of redemption has been paid, hence the reward of glory is bestowed.  No longer is the glory of Christ veiled as it was on earth.  His seat at the Father’s right hand is also one of supreme authority – Ephesians 1:21-22 describes it as ‘far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given…God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church’.

At the God-appointed end of history, that glory will be revealed to every creature – ‘every eye will see him’ (Revelation 1:7).  There will be no concealment – ‘When Christ…appears’ (v4).  Biblical images emphasise the radiance and glory of the One coming to complete the salvation of his people and judge unbelievers.  He ‘will come back again’ – the promise is in Acts 1:11.  It is a day believers can look forward to with anticipation, not trepidation.  We will meet our Saviour face to face.

3. The glory of believers

At present Christians are being transformed into Christ’s image by the Holy Spirit – ‘from glory to glory’, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18.  We are aware of how we fall short and we long for perfection.  By the Lord’s power one day the transformation will be completed.  We are told in v4 ‘When Christ…appears, then you also will appear with him in glory’.  For believers the best really is yet to come, when Christ completes his work.

Salvation includes the body, hence the certainty of resurrection.  The fullest description is in 1 Corinthians 15, including the assurance, ‘we shall be changed’ (v52).  We will be given ‘glorious bodies’ like Christ’s, as Philippians 3:21 tells us.  We will have bodies suited to life in the age to come, in the new heavens and the new earth.

Believers will share in the glory of their Saviour.  Note 1 John 3:2 ‘we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’.  His image will be perfectly formed in us.  We will be free from all sin, beyond the reach of temptation and the possibility of falling.  The process will finally be complete.  All the efforts of Satan will have come to nothing.  There is much about this we cannot now know, but what we do know should stir our sense of anticipation.  This is what awaits every child of God since ‘no-one can snatch them out of my hand’ (John 10:28).  We will be as like the Saviour as it is possible to be.

This is not revealed to us for abstract speculation or argument.  It leads to practical results.

4. The responsibility of believers

The final glory we anticipate should shape the way we live now.  It is not just a matter of some event in the distant future.  Note ‘Christ, who is your life’ (v4).  He is the source and sustainer of our spiritual life and the one who means everything to us.  Hence we are commanded (literally) ‘keep seeking the things above’ (v1).  We are also told, ‘Set your minds on things above’ (v2).  The focus of our thinking, desiring and willing must be Christ and the things relating to his kingdom, the things revealed to us in the Bible.  Christ commands us in Matthew 6:33 ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’.  That will decisively shape who we are and how we live.

We are to apply the fact of Christ’s lordship to the realities of everyday life.  We fill our minds with whatever is ‘true…noble…lovely…admirable’ (Philippians 4:8).  We are to do all for his glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).  Far from cutting us off from real life, this provides our motivation for living real life for Christ.  We live godly lives in the present because we will share Christ’s glory in the future.  May our hope rejoice your heart today.

David McKay

God’s Gracious Covenant , Leviticus 26:12

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12 I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.

Leviticus 26:12

God’s gracious covenant

The Bible in one sense is a library of 66 books, but in a deeper sense, it is one book, given to us by God.  Some themes stand out particularly prominently in Scripture and serve to hold it all together.  One of these is covenant, which occurs all the way through the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament.  God tells us that he is a covenant God.  This is a word used to describe the relationship between God and his people.  It is actually not a difficult theological word – its basic meaning is clear in the verse we are looking at today – Leviticus 26:12 God’s gracious covenant.

1. The provision of grace

It is vital to understand that in the relationship between God and his people it is God who takes the initiative.  Note the context of the promises of this chapter.  We read in v13 ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt’.  The Lord is reminding them that he set them free and then gave them his law.  The same pattern is evident in Exodus 20:1-2 at the beginning of the Ten Commandments.  The Lord stresses that liberation from bondage preceded the giving of the law.  It is the same in Leviticus 26.  Liberation from bondage is the context for the call for obedience in v3, and that is followed by the promises of blessing for the obedient and of curses on the disobedient.

The whole covenant rests on what God has done.  At a level deeper than the social and political liberation Israel had experienced, the covenant relates to the change of heart and life that is involved in the experience of salvation.  There has to be such a change if the covenant is to be a living relationship.  All sinners, both Jews and Gentiles, are ‘dead in…transgressions and sins’ as Paul puts it in Ephesians 2:1.  Salvation is impossible unless God takes the initiative.  Only God’s grace, his undeserved favour, can bring such sinners into covenant with himself.  That is why it is called ‘The Covenant of Grace’.

Notice what Jesus says in Luke 22:20, at the Last Supper: ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood’.  By his sacrifice on the cross, foreshadowed by the Old Testament sacrifices, he has taken the burden of his people’s sins on himself and has redeemed them.  The price of redemption has been paid by Christ and so Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:7 ‘In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins’.

2. The promise of fellowship

The covenant establishes a warm personal relationship between the Lord and his people.  It is a measure of the greatness of his grace.  He is not a distant God.  He says, ‘I will put my dwelling place among you…I will walk among you’ (v11-12).  God’s walking among his people recalls Eden before the Fall.  God walked with Adam and Eve, but fellowship was lost through man’s sin.  Now God graciously restores the covenant that was broken.

It should never cease to amaze us that this infinitely great and holy God should seek fellowship with us and should make it possible at such a cost.  ‘How great is the love that the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God’ (1 John 3:1).  In the Covenant of Grace God gives himself to us.  He promises, ‘I will be your God’.  We can never exhaust the meaning of those words, but in the full light of the person and work of Christ, we can understand it so much more clearly.  He will be to us everything that we need.  Not only does he save us from sin, he indwells us by the Holy Spirit, enabling us to serve him, and he remakes us progressively in the image of Christ.  All of our spiritual life and growth flow from our covenant relationship with the Lord.

God’s covenant people have real living fellowship with him.  As we use the means of grace, especially Bible study and prayer, we grow in the knowledge of him.  As Jesus tells us in John 17:3 ‘this is eternal life – that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’.  We are addressed by him in Scripture and we address him in prayer.  We are the objects of his infinite love and we respond with a growing love for him.  ‘We love’, we are told in 1 John 4:19, ‘because he first loved us’.

3. The privilege of belonging

We are told in Genesis 1:27 that we are made in the image of God. What does that mean?  The God who reveals himself in the Bible is a Trinity, one God in three Persons, a community.  As those who are made in the image of this God, we are made for community.  It is a denial of our basic nature to live an isolated, solitary life.  Human beings find community in various ways, especially in families, but we find that the craving of the human heart for community satisfied above all in this covenant relationship with the Lord.  That is what we were created to experience.  He promises in this verse, ‘you will be my people’.  He gathers his people into a community, a body.  In the Old Testament, this took the form of the nation of Israel and in the New Testament, it takes the form of the international body of the church.  Together they form one community – as Paul writes in Galatians 3:29 ‘If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise’.

As members of this community, we have a place of service.  The nature of our service is stated in 1 Peter 2:9 ‘that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light’.  All our work, however seemingly unimportant, is to be done for his glory.  That includes telling others about him and what he has done to save sinners.  Such privileges, of course, entail responsibilities.  Our responsibilities include in particular the pursuit of holiness.  ‘Be holy because I am holy’ is the Lord’s command in 1 Peter 1:16.  That holiness is expressed in the obedience described in v3 ‘If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands’.  Because we have received his grace, we do not find the Lord’s commands a burden.  In fact, we show our love for the Lord by obedience.  ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments, Jesus tells us in John 14:15.

In this warm, loving covenant fellowship with the Lord and with his people we find life as he made us to live it.  This is the only path to the fulfilment that every person seeks.  And it is not just for this world.  This fellowship will be enjoyed in full in heaven and in the new creation, when Christ returns.  In Revelation 21:3 we read, ‘he will live with them.  They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God’.

David McKay

Four great facts about salvation – Ephesians 2:8-9

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For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

When somebody is in a difficult situation – maybe financial, or emotional, or of some other kind – family and friends will offer a helping hand if they can.  Their efforts added to what the person himself can do may be enough to see him through the crisis.  Those offering help would expect the person to do as much as he can to help himself.  Then the combined effort will be sufficient.

Often people think that that is how salvation works.  They believe that as sinners we can’t do enough to save ourselves – we need help from God.  They think that we do the best we can and God makes up the shortfall.  The Bible presents a very different view of salvation, as we see in today’s passage Ephesians 2:8-9 Four great facts about salvation.

1. It is by grace

Verse 8 begins ‘For it is by grace you have been saved’.  The word ‘for’ shows that this statement is the conclusion to be drawn from what Paul says in verses 1-7 about the transformation that God has wrought in his people.  He has brought them from being ‘dead in…transgressions’ (v1) to being ‘alive with Christ’ (v5) and he has ‘seated [them] in heavenly realms in Christ Jesus’ (v6).  They have been saved from the guilt and power of sin.

Paul now stresses that this salvation is entirely the work of God from start to finish.  He is sovereign in saving sinners – they do not save themselves.  The same basic principle is stated in Jonah 2:9 ‘Salvation comes from the Lord’.  We find it throughout the Bible.

The key term is ‘grace’.  This is a vital word to understand.  Grace is the love and favor of God shown to the wretched, to the sinful, to those who deserve his righteous condemnation.  It is a love that is determined by nothing in its objects.  It is purely the fruit of God’s own nature.  Psalm 86:15 says, ‘you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God’.  In view of our plight as sinners, this is our only hope.  The gospel is good news because it is a message of God’s grace to helpless sinners like you and me, a grace that saves the undeserving.

2. It is through faith

We need to understand clearly that salvation is not automatic.  It is received only by those who have faith.  This ‘faith’ is not some vague religious feeling or attitude.  The Bible means something very specific by ‘faith’.  Note Acts 16:31 ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’.  Paul is telling us that there is one proper object of saving faith- Christ crucified and risen.  It is the object of faith that gives it its saving power.

Biblical faith requires knowledge of the person and work of Christ.  It also entails assent to the Bible’s explanation of what he accomplished, but it also demands personal trust in Christ as Saviour and Lord.  That’s why in the Bible we have the language of believing ‘on’ or ‘in’ Christ.  It is like leaning our entire weight on him.  Personal trust in him is essential.

What is the result of believing in Christ?  In Romans 5:1 Paul says that we are ‘justified through faith’.  That means we are declared righteous in God’s sight.  Christ is ‘our righteousness’ according to 1 Corinthians 1:30.  His righteousness, in his life of perfect obedience to God’s law and his death on the cross, is counted as ours.

Notice that salvation is ‘through’ faith, not ‘on account of’ it.  Faith is not a contribution we make to salvation.  It is ‘instrumental’, merely the channel God uses to convey salvation to us.  It is like holding out our empty hands for God to fill them.  We must never lose sight of the role faith plays and so become proud of our believing or think that it earns blessing.

3. It is God’s gift

Paul drives home the crucial lesson in verse 8: ‘this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God’.  He could be referring to faith or to the whole of salvation as a gift – it comes to the same thing in the end.  God does not grant salvation as if it were a wage we earn or a debt he owes us.  Calling it a ‘gift’ stresses he is under no obligation to us.

The gift is entirely free to us, but in fact, it had to be paid for.  The gospel tells us that our salvation has been fully paid for.  The only one who could pay the price as our Substitute was the Lord Jesus Christ, one who is both God and man.  By his perfect obedience to the Father in both his life and his death, Christ paid the price fully.  As 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us, ‘God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us’.  The whole burden of our sin and guilt was carried by the Saviour in our place.  Jesus ‘gave his life a ransom for many’, as he himself puts it in Mark 10:45.

Notice that Paul says, ‘you have been saved’.  It’s a perfect tense in the original language, used of something that has already happened and whose effects continue.  Although our full enjoyment of salvation lies ahead in glory, we now have full, permanent possession of salvation and it cannot be lost.  That’s a truth that’s full of assurance and comfort for us.

4. It is not by works

Paul stresses salvation is by grace alone: ‘not from yourselves…not by works’ he writes in verses 8 and 9.  We need to stress this.  We are not saved by a mixture of grace and works – that would destroy the element of grace.  That is the error the Reformers had to combat.  They were correct to affirm that we are saved by grace alone.  We cannot and we need not add anything of our own to salvation.  Nothing we could do is able to supplement God’s grace

Our efforts have nothing to contribute, and grace and works are mutually exclusive principles.  All our efforts are covered by ‘works’, including even religious activities.  Salvation does not begin with God’s grace and then continue by our works.  It is tragic when some Christians live as if God’s grace forgave their past sins, but now they have to maintain salvation by obeying God well enough.  That really denies the power of God’s grace.

The truth about salvation by grace through faith in Christ is humbling.  But it is also so liberating.  We are free from the burden of trying to earn our salvation.  If you have not received that salvation from the Lord, let me urge you to trust in Christ as your Saviour today.

David McKay

Prevailing Prayer – Luke 11:5-13

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Prevailing Prayer

One area of the Christian life where we experience most struggle and defeat is undoubtedly that of prayer.  It may seem that nothing could be easier than talking to God, yet often when we come to pray we find ourselves lethargic and uninterested, with our attention wandering.  There may be various reasons for this, including tiredness or anxiety, but above all, it indicates our lack of sanctification.  It is certainly a point where Satan will be especially active in attacking us.  If prayer is a powerful weapon in our spiritual warfare, his attacks should not surprise us.

The Lord, however, graciously gives us all kinds of encouragements to stimulate our praying.  John Calvin said, ‘There is nothing better to stir us to make our prayers, than a firm assurance that we shall succeed in them’.  The Lord Jesus provides the kind of assurance we need in our passage today.  Let’s look at Luke 11:5-13 Prevailing Prayer.

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity[a] he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for[b] a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Luke 11:5-13 (NIV)

1. A parable (v.5-8)

After providing an example of the content of prayer in what we now call ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ (v1-4), Jesus uses a vivid story to illustrate the right attitude to prayer – ‘the parable of the friend at midnight’.  The situation is easy to visualise: ‘a friend of mine on a journey has come to me’ (v6).  Travel would take place at night to avoid the heat, so the host is caught totally unawares by his visitor – ‘I have nothing to set before him’.  We can imagine the reaction of the sleeping friend.  Most of us would say, ‘Don’t bother me’ (v7).  He doesn’t want the trouble of waking his family, who would probably be sharing the room with him, preparing food for the visitor, and generally being burdened.  But the friend at the door will not give up.  He stretches friendship to the limit, and beyond, yet he succeeds.  As v8 says, ‘not…because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness (or shamelessness) he will get up’.

What is Jesus’ lesson here?  He argues from the less to the greater – if a human friend in such circumstances would give ‘as much as he needs’ (v8), how much more will our heavenly Father do so?  Consider the comparison Jesus is making: our relationship with the Father is richer and deeper; there is no night with God and he never sleeps or makes excuses; we are not asking on behalf of strangers, but we are his children, fully known and loved by him; our needs are not small (like the ‘three loaves of bread in v5) but are very great, both physically and spiritually; the Father gives great promises to encourage our asking.  He offers no self-interested excuses for not responding.

On all these grounds we can come and expect a positive answer.  We can be bold, not letting anything deter us.  That does not encourage in us an attitude of presumption or a demanding spirit.  Our praying relates to our needs, not to our selfish wants.  Keeping that in mind, we have everything in our favour when we approach the Lord in prayer.

2. A promise (v.9-10)

Building on his parable, Jesus gives us direct encouragement to prayer.  Notice that the commands ‘Ask…seek…knock…’ are continuous tenses, indicating persistent asking and repeated coming to the Lord with our needs, We do not come with the ‘meaningless repetition’ of Matthew 6:7, but we are to come every time we have a need, with no limit to our requests.

Ask’ implies humility and a consciousness of need.  We have to set aside our pride, unlike the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:10-13, who actually asked for nothing.  Asking implies faith in a God who can and will answer.  Without faith, prayer is an empty ritual.

Seek’ implies action, doing what we can to gain what we seek.  We are not to be passive as the means of answer may be at hand.  Above all we should seek a deeper knowledge of the Lord, making use of Bible study along with our praying.

Knock’ – there needs to be perseverance until the door is opened.  We are often commanded to persevere in prayer: we should ‘always pray and not give up (Luke 18:1), ‘Be faithful in prayer’ (Romans 12:12).  God sometimes delays in order to stimulate our prayers.

When we obey these commands we meet with a 3-fold promise – ‘will be given…will find…will be opened’ (v9).  These promises are full of encouragement for Christians.  The response will exactly meet our need, and the Lord knows that need perfectly.  It is not a blank cheque so that we ask for anything we think we would like.  In I John 5:14 we read, ‘if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us’.  That is vitally important.  How do we know what his will is?  Sometimes we not sure, but the closer we are to God, the better we understand his will, and so we know better how to pray.  Verse 10 is a great promise to all who come in this way: ‘everyone who asks receives…’  Every Christian can testify to the many ways in which the Lord has kept his promises regarding answering prayer.

3. A pattern (v.11-13)

To clinch the argument Jesus again argues from the less to the greater.  He uses a very homely image that everyone can identify with – ‘Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish…?’ (v11).  Any good parent wants to provide the best for his child.  When asked for what the child needs (bread, fish, egg), he will not provide what is useless (stone) or potentially harmful (snake, scorpion).  A parent’s love moves Him to give what is best for the child.  Verse 13 provides the application of the illustration to our praying.

Human love is inevitably limited and imperfect, even in the best of us.  Jesus mentions ‘though you are evil’ to take account of our imperfection, yet we ‘know how to give good gifts’.  He then makes the comparison with our perfectly loving and all-knowing Father.  Hence he asks, ‘How much more will your Father in heaven give…?’  Already he has given the greatest gift: ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’ (Romans 8:32).  In particular, Jesus mentions that he will ‘give the Holy Spirit’ to those who ask him’.  Does it surprise you that Jesus speaks particularly about the gift of the Holy Spirit?  The Spirit is, in fact, the chief gift bestowed on the Lord’s people, the one through whom all other provision flows.  We should above all be praying for more of the ministry of the Spirit in our lives.

Based on the nature of our heavenly Father and the rich promises he has made, we can be sure of the perfect answer to our prayers and have the strongest encouragement to give ourselves to prayer.  No matter what our circumstances, we can engage in the ministry of prayer.  We may be locked down, but our prayers can circle the world, a world in the palm of the Lord’s hand.

Rev David McKay

God’s gifts of grace and peace, 1 Corinthians 1:3

Video is available here

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:1-3

God’s gifts of grace and peace

We are living in a very challenging time, with a disease which has brought a large part of the world to a standstill, world leaders very perplexed about the best policies to pursue to deal with this crisis and many people facing an extremely uncertain future.  Who could have imagined even a short time ago that we would be living through such days?

As Christians, however, we have resources from the Lord that enable us to face such challenges.  Today we are thinking about God’s provision for us as we consider the words Paul uses to greet believers in 1 Corinthians 1:3 ‘God’s gifts of grace and peace’.

1. Grace

The first element in Paul’s greeting is ‘Grace…to you’.  He carefully specifies the source of that grace: ‘from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’.  The greeting is set in a clearly and powerfully theological context.  This is not something that the world experiences.  God is immediately at the heart of how Paul addresses believers.  The apostle is not simply expressing conventional good wishes as any letter writer would do – he is speaking about spiritual realities that relate to the people of God and go to the heart of who we are.

Paul begins with the fundamental fact of our Christian identity – we are those who have received grace ‘from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’.  Notice here:

God’s attitude. 

What do we mean by the word ‘grace’?  Fundamentally grace is the love and favour of God shown to sinners contrary to what they deserve.  It is undeserved, unmerited favour is shown to those who deserved judgment and condemnation because of their sins.

Without compromising his perfect holiness, God shows throughout Scripture that he is a God of grace.  In Exodus 34:6 he says that he is ‘the compassionate and gracious God’.  We find the same truth in the New Testament, where Christ is described as ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).  God is characterised by grace to the unworthy.

Whilst there is a grace shown to all men, providing this-worldly blessings, (what we call ‘common grace’), grace chiefly relates to sin and salvation.  It is bound up with the love of God, since ‘God is love’ according to 1 John 4:8.  Grace is the attitude of God to his people in the face of their sin, and so if we do not understand the nature of sin as an offence against a holy God, we will not understand the nature of grace and we will not appreciate how wonderful it is.  It was in grace that God ‘chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world’ (Ephesians 1:4) and provided all we need for salvation.

God’s action. 

All of Paul’s discussion of grace is centred on Christ.  Already we have touched on this.  Grace leads to divine action – saving action since sinners need salvation.  Note Paul’s words in Titus 2:11 ‘the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men’.  It is in Christ that this grace has appeared, it has taken visible form in the Son of God coming into this world for our salvation.

The supreme expression of grace is the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ.  It is his work that provides full salvation for the objects of God’s grace.  Hence ‘it is by grace you have been saved’ (Ephesians 2:8).  Apart from God’s grace we would be lost eternally.  The very centre of the gospel is God’s grace to sinners in Christ.

It is vital to remember that not only does salvation begin in grace – it also must continue by the same grace.  God’s grace enables spiritual growth in Christ’s likeness and also enables spiritual service.  Grace cleanses us from sin when we fail and come to God in repentance.  It is God’s grace that keeps us connected to Christ.  That is why Paul wishes believers ‘grace’ – we need it daily and we always will.

2. Peace

God’s grace provides a multitude of blessings for the Lord’s people.  One of the greatest is ‘peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’.  This is a profoundly spiritual peace.  Peace in biblical language is far more than the absence of strife – it is the fulness of blessing that we enjoy in the family of God.  Note 2 things here:

A permanent possession. 

We have a wonderful statement in Romans 5:1 ‘since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’.  Through the gracious action of God in Jesus Christ, our relationship to God has changed fundamentally and forever.  As sinners ‘we were God’s enemies’ (Romans 5:10), but the sacrifice of Christ has satisfied the righteous requirements of a holy God and turned aside his wrath.  Thus Christ is, as John puts it in 1 John 2:2, ‘the propitiation for our sins’.  God’s enmity towards us is ended and we are at peace with him.

This is a truth we need to hold on to.  Satan will try to shake our confidence in it, reminding us of our sins and asking how such a person could be a real Christian.  We must remember that in Christ we have and always will have peace with God.  That is Christ’s accomplishment and so cannot be lost even by our repeated sins.  We remain ‘children of God’ (1 John 3:1).  God will not and cannot reverse his verdict on his people.

A present provision. 

Peace with God is always a fact, but our experience of it varies.  It can come and go.  Sometimes we do not feel at peace with God:

perhaps because of our sins we lose our peace and it is replaced by fear

perhaps because of our circumstances – in hard and testing times we may lose our sense of peace with God.  We may even wonder if he has turned against us.

That is when we need to recapture the experience of ‘the peace of God which transcends all understanding’ (Philippians 4:7) – that is why Paul includes it as a wish for believers in his greeting here.  It is a very precious blessing.

How may we recapture our sense of peace?  One obvious requirement is avoidance of sin, which robs us of our peace.  On the positive side, we must use the means of grace God provides so that we grow closer to the Lord.  Notice how Philippians 4:6 puts peace in the context of ‘prayer and petition with thanksgiving’.  Worship, prayer, meditating on God’s Word, fellowship with believers – we need all of these sources of strength.

Peace is a precious blessing that we seek for ourselves and for all God’s people.  In the midst of difficult and trying times, may we know that peace which the world cannot give or take from us.