Theologians have developed a classic definition of grace as God’s unmerited, or undeserved, favor toward sinners. I define grace as the inexhaustible supply of God’s goodness whereby He does for us what we could never do for ourselves. It is His gift to us.
Since all of God’s dealings with us are anchored in His grace, to miss grace is to miss God’s activity in history. We are saved by grace, and the only way we grow as Christians is by grace.
Any serious study of grace will soon take us to Paul’s great letter to the Ephesians. Paul used the word grace twelve times in this letter, beginning with his trademark salutation, “Grace to you” (1:2).
Then the apostle said, “[God] predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (1:5–6). The only motivation for this outpouring of grace is God’s kindness, which is why we will be praising God throughout eternity.
Sometimes we need to look back and remember where we once were before we can appreciate where we are today. One of the great problems in our culture is that folk who have “arrived” forget where they started. When this happens people begin thinking that they deserve all the stuff they have, and they stop thanking and start demanding.
SETTING GRACE AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND
Maybe we should have a “Remembrance Day” every so often in church, during which we go back to where we were before Christ and remember how hard and hopeless it was without Him, so we can learn to value grace more. Your appreciation of grace will soar, and your spiritual growth will be helped, when you see where God brought you from. Paul wrote:
You were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as the rest. (Ephesians 2:1–3)
Several years ago, when my wife, Lois, and I celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, I took her to the jeweler to buy her a special diamond. Of course, I didn’t see what she saw, so several of the stones we considered looked fine to me. But she would say, “No, that one isn’t right.”
Finally, she found a diamond she liked and asked to see it. The jeweler did something very interesting when he brought out the diamond my wife wanted to see. Instead of just holding it in his hand, he laid it on a black velvet cloth. The cloth provided a backdrop for the diamond, which made it sparkle all the more brilliantly. You have to see a diamond against a dark backdrop to appreciate it fully.
Verses 1–3 of Ephesians 2 are the dark background against which Paul wants to show us the grace of God. And the background is very dark, because in our natural, unredeemed state, we were totally unacceptable to a holy God.
The words “trespasses and sins” give two different nuances to our sinful state. To trespass means to depart from the right way, and to sin means to miss the mark, as an archer misses the mark when he misses the bull’s-eye. By nature we lived in an environment of sin and breathed the air of rebellion against God. If we really want to see where we were without Christ, we should visit the cemetery.
THE HEAVENLY CORONER’S REPORT
You see, what we have in Ephesians 2:1–3 is fundamentally a coroner’s report. Among dead people there are different levels of decomposition. A person who has been dead a long time won’t be looking so great, while someone else who has just died may still be looking pretty good in the casket. But both people are equally dead.
A lot of spiritually dead people don’t feel dead. And as far as they and the people around them are concerned, they don’t look dead. But those who are still in their sins are dead, according to God’s Word.
We go to a lot of trouble to dress up death and take the edge off. But don’t miss the point. We were dead in our sins, and Ephesians 2:2–3 says there were three nails in our coffin: the world, the “prince of the power of the air,” or the devil, and our own sinful flesh. The bottom line is that we were cut off from the eternal life that Christ gives. And without Christ’s sacrifice the only possibility is eternal death or separation from God in hell.
Tony Evans, The Grace of God (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2004), 20–23.