I was privileged to be invited to Premier Christian Radio to speak on one of my very favourite (yet often misunderstood) topics.
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God’s grace can achieve far more in our lives than many Christians realise and I hope this interview will help you to recognise that when you need God’s power, it is more readily available than you thought.
If God has used this teaching to impact you by His Spirit, don’t keep it to yourself. Share it!
For a fuller understanding of the empowering nature of God’s grace watch ‘Living Beyond Your Natural Ability‘.
It is Maundy Thursday, a time when Christians all around the world meditate on Christ’s personal suffering as he prepared for death and the sacrifice for all people which the bible says broke the power of the law over our lives. So this morning we’re talking about grace and the power of it. A preacher once explained grace to me the word ‘grace’ with this acronym: grace is ‘God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense’. We know that we’re saved by grace and no longer under law, but does that give us a license to sin, knowing that we’ll be forgiven afterwards? It’s something that Christians have struggled with for centuries but here to help us understand it this morning is David Steele from Ellel Ministries. Grace is a misunderstood word in all sorts of ways, I know that Paul had to try to redefine it for people in the new testament didn’t he. Defining it is difficult and some of the most detailed theology textbooks don’t offer a concise definition so it’s up to you now to give us the definitive definition of grace. Well I think we have a lot of different preachers and speakers often speaking about lots of different facets of grace, I think it’s a big subject. One of the things I did when I was looking at grace is that I looked at the Greek word for ‘grace’ and looked at what the definition of that is. Strong’s Greek dictionary says that the word grace (and the word is ‘charis’) is ‘the divine influence on the heart and it’s reflection in the life’ and I think often we’ve understood the first part of that; that it’s the divine influence on the heart, but actually this biblical word ‘charis’ here is saying that it’s also the reflection of that in our lives. So, if somebody really has grace in their life there will be evidence of that. I think some people talk about grace as if it only has to do with our justification but actually it also has a huge part to play in our sanctification as well. If you think about what God said to Paul when Paul cried out in his moment of weakness, God defined His grace as His power. He said “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. So I think of grace as God’s power in our human inability or weakness. There are two things that we are totally unable to do as humans; firstly we’re unable to save ourselves so we need His power to come and save us, and the second thing is that we can’t live the Christian life in our own strength; so in our weakness His grace comes and empowers us to do that as well. If you think about ‘the divine influence on the heart’, well something that’s divine is of God. So it’s God’s influence on your heart and the reflection of that. So I believe that the goal of grace in our lives is to make us like Jesus, because it’s His divine influence in our hearts. Just a moment ago you used the words ‘justification’ and ‘sanctification’ which work well in a church or bible study context. I always think at Easter time that people remember that Jesus died on the cross but I think it’s becoming increasingly difficult to explain to people what that actually means and what actually happened spiritually when Jesus died, so can you help us with that? Yes, think when we’re talking about what it meant for Jesus to die, we first need to understand why he had to die and we have to go back to the book of genesis to find that out. God laid out a plan for us and created a wonderful world for us but he said of the tree of knowledge of good and evil “if you eat of it you will surely die”, and of course we know Adam and Eve did eat of it. Their punishment was to be death and we know scripture says that the wages of sin is death. So Jesus died on the cross because our punishment was supposed to be death. In Colossians is says ‘when you were dead in your sins’ so actually what it’s saying is that Jesus didn’t just come to make bad people good, he came to make dead people alive! So for Christ to die on the cross for us means that the dead life that we’ve been living, through His death and resurrection (the resurrection is really important as well because if Christ is not alive then we can’t be alive with Him) it’s actually really death to our old lives and a new start; a new life in Him, without the guilt and the shame perhaps of the things that we did before that are holding us back. Many years ago Dietrich Bonhoeffer coined a term that’s come to characterise evangelical Christianity. It’s the term ‘cheap grace’. We’ve probably all heard this occasionally in church. What’s your understanding on what that means? Well I think what he was talking about was when we offer grace without some of the things Jesus said we need to do in order to take hold of grace. Grace comes as a free gift but Jesus says ‘in order for your to take hold of grace you need to turn from your own life’. Cheap grace is grace without repentance or grace without denying yourself. Jesus said “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it”. So He’s saying ‘there’s nothing you can do to earn this gift, but if you want to take hold of it it’s going to cost you everything’. If we’re living under grace (which the bible says we are), does that mean we can do anything and say sorry for it afterwards? How does it work? That’s a really good question. I think there’s a misunderstanding around this. There’s a scripture that talks about grace in Titus 2 which is very rarely preached when we talk about grace. It says this: ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age’. So i’s not saying ‘grace is going to save me now and then when I get to heaven I’m going to live an upright and godly life. It’s saying that grace (now) will teach me to say no to ungodliness. So, I believe that when the true grace of God is preached, it should lead a person to their knees in repentance, actually now wanting to live like Jesus and not the way they were living before. Does that make sense? Absolutely. That’s why when you come back to the definition it’s the divine influence on the heart AND it’s reflection in the life. So we will look different, we will live differently, we will speak differently, we will act differently, we will become like Jesus if we’ve experienced grace. Living in God’s grace, does it matter if we do thing’s wrong? I suppose it does, you’ve talked about this already. Yes, I remember God speaking to me one day and saying ‘David, you don’t understand my grace’. He said to me ‘you keep asking for grace after you sin. If you understood my grace you’d be asking me before you sin so that I will supply the power to enable you not to sin’. Of course God’s grace comes with His forgiveness when we do sin, but there’s that aspect of God’s grace that comes to empower us to live the Christian life and to resist temptation. But it is impossible for us not to sin isn’t it? We’re humans! We cannot be holy, holy, holy, can we? True, but we have also been redeemed from the hands of the enemy and it says in scripture ‘if you sin, we have an advocate before the Father’, it doesn’t say ‘when you sin’. I think as Christians the aim is to live like Jesus. One of the most challenging scripture is ‘Whoever claims to be in Him, must walk as Jesus walked.’ Jesus said “not everybody who calls me Lord will enter the Kingdom of heaven, only those who DO the will of my Father”. So of curse we’re not talking about a perfect Christian life because that’s why His grace is there when we fail, but I think a lot of Christians don’t understand that His power is there to enable them to live a godly life. If we think about one of the most amazing sermons Jesus gave in Matthew 5, he started to say things like “you’ve heard it said of old ‘do not commit adultery’, but I say to you ‘do not look lustfully at a woman’ and then he says ‘you have heard it said of old ‘do not murder’ but I say to you ‘he who calls his brother ‘Raca’ (which is like idiot or fool) is in danger of the fire of hell”. In John 1:17 it says ‘the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’. So Jesus comes along and brings this much higher standard. He actually say that grace and truth is a much higher standard of living than the law. Therefore He wouldn’t say these things to us unless He was willing to empower us to live it! It was an understanding that the law is an external thing but actually God’s holiness is complete right through to the whole thought process. And now it starts on the inside. So rather than being externally governed by this law, now He puts His Spirit on the inside. He empowers us to live to a much higher standard than we could have ever lived by when it was the law that was governing us. David what started this whole journey for you? How did you get obsessed by grace? For me (and perhaps this is indicative of my generation), when I read the scriptures, I like to read them as if I haven’t seen the Christian experience around me because I find they don’t always match up. When I read the scriptures I see a gospel that has power to change people’s lives, I see a gospel that has power to transform people’s lives. My story is that I had issues in my life that I was struggling to overcome and God spoke to me one day when I was in desperation – I was crying out to Him asking Him if it was really possible that He could set me free and send His power into my life and heal me. He said to me ‘David, with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’ and so I started to pursue God rather than man and as I started to pursue God, I started to realise that if we have perhaps preached for many years and written many books about grace but we’ve only understood half of it, then we’re going to have a weak and defeated church, but when we get the full understanding of grace from the scripture, we see a gospel of grace that has the power to radically transform our lives and to me that is so exciting. In 2 Corinthians 9:8 it says this ‘and God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work’. I want people to have the confidence in God’s power that He can transform them to live a radically different life to the life they lived before they received His grace.