By Richard D. Dobbins
Paul said, “For by grace are you saved through faith. And that not of yourselves; It Is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).
On the other hand, James said, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).
Paul was telling us that grace is unmerited favor of God. It’s on the basis of what Jesus did at Calvary. James says the way we announce to other people that we are saved is through the good works they see us doing.
Our natural state is spiritual blindness and spiritual rebellion. Any relationship between God and us must be initiated by God.
There are two major theological explanations for this divine initiative, one defined by John Calvin and the other by Jacobus Armenius.
Calvinists believe that God arbitrarily elected some to be saved and some to be lost before He created the world. Those He chose to be saved, He predestined to be saved.
Armenians believe that, because God foreknew those who would respond to the gospel, He could predestinate them to be saved. They explain God’s initiative as prevenient grace-that is, grace that goes before salvation. It comes from “pre” meaning before and “venial” meaning to come.
I think the Word of God tells us that the believer is more secure than the extreme Armenian believes he is. and he is less secure than the extreme Calvinist says he is.
God wants you to feel secure in grace. But not so secure that you are careless in what you say and do. He wants you to be conscientious, but not so conscientious that you feel guilty and on the brink of condemnation all the time.
Prevenient grace is that grace of God which brought salvation into the world; it is the grace that enabled us to come to Christ (see Titus 2:11 and Ephesians 1 :4). You can trace the initiative of God’s grace preparing the way for you to accept Jesus Christ years before you did.
“Sinner” refers not only to what you do, but who you are. And every human being is a sinner. The world consists of sinners who do not believe in Jesus Christ, and sinners who do believe in Jesus Christ. Those of us who do believe in Jesus have had the power of sin broken in our lives so that we are no longer servants or slaves of sin. But if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (see 1 John 1:10).
But thank God the Bible gives us hope that something can intervene with this destructive power, that someone out there loves us enough to redeem us as a human race, as a nation, as individuals.
Two kinds of people tend to put themselves outside the grace of God the one thinks he is too good for the grace of God; the other thinks he is too evil. But the grace of God that brings salvation appears to all of us.
There is no one who does not need God’s grace, and there is no one beyond the reach of God’s grace. Open your heart to Jesus Christ and embrace saving grace as God’s love gift.
When we opened our hearts to God’s saving grace, we began a relationship with God that He wants to continue throughout our lives. So God’s saving grace should be followed by His sanctifying grace.
The word sanctify means to set apart, to make holy or healthy. Sanctification is the provision God has made to set us apart from the world and make us healthy, holy people. Sanctification is an act, it is a process, and it is a state. When you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you are sanctified. Then the process of sanctification begins. The process continues until we see the Lord.
In the Old Testament, God admonishes His people, “Be ye holy, even as I also am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). I got the idea as a child that we are to be austere. We are to frown, not be happy. We are to be rather odd or strange or weird. But when you read that context, that’s not what it means at all. For while “to sanctify” does mean ” set apart,” “to become holy” means “to become unified”-to become healthy, to become one. So God wants us to be as healthy as He is. He wants us to be united within ourselves.
Once we come to Jesus and begin our walk with Him, the same Cross that made our salvation possible helps us clean up our mind, clean up our act, clean up our life, and heal hurts from our past. Being healthy and whole in Jesus is what sanctification is all about.
God not only sees who we are, but He sees who we can become through His growing grace. God did not bring you into His kingdom to remain as you are, but to grow (see 2 Peter 3:18). Sometimes we don’t come into God’s kingdom until we are 15, 20, 25, or 30 years old or more. Once we come into the Kingdom, then it is possible for us to realize our Kingdom potential.
From this point on, God wants His children to stay on the “cutting edge” of growth. He never wants us to stop growing, and our future can always be different and better than our past.
Paul talked about this growth potential and the Christian’s perspective: “Not as though I had already attained or, already perfect, but this one thing I do: forgetting those things that are behind and reaching forth to those things that are before, I press toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).
Letting go of the past and stretching toward the future is the posture of growth God wants His children to have.
God’s will for us is to stay growing. Sometimes family responsibilities dominate our time and energy. However, when the children are grown, why not pursue whatever unfulfilled dreams may remain from earlier years?
Keep growing. Acquire computer skills. Garden. Take music lessons. Get into politics. Volunteer at church. Take painting lessons. Read. Do hospital work. Go back to school. Develop a prayer ministry. Develop your writing skills. Communicate with shut-ins. There are numberless ways to keep growing.
Throughout the ages God has given His children grace to endure unbelievable hardships. We see this throughout Scripture. Grace may be defined not only as God’s unmerited favor, but as the power of God that He gives us to sustain us and help us in every time of need.
Here are some steps to applying God’s sustaining grace to the painful moments of your life:
1. Develop the habit of comparing your pain with those who hurt more than you do, rather than with those who hurt less than you do. I don’t know about you, but I get tired of watching some people drown in a sea of self-pity. Such people need to look around and see all the people who are much worse off than they are.
2. Remind yourself of the transient nature of your trial. One of the worst things you can do when you are going through a painful trial is to freeze that moment in time and focus on it as if there were no good things that preceded it and it will never end.
3. Utilize your mind’s ability to think in three dimensions. Each of us can choose to focus on the past, the present, or the future. Reflect right now on something from your past. Notice that when you are focusing on the past, you are not as aware of the present. When you are going through a stressful time, don’t focus on the present. Focus on the past and remind yourself that God has been faithful to see you through many painful moments. Then focus on the future and remind yourself that you’ll get beyond what threatens to overwhelm you in the present.
This article “Applying Grace To Your Daily Life” by Richard D. Dobbins was excerpted from Guidelines For Good Living, published by From This Day Forward, Volume VI,