In life, would you rather get what you deserve, what you don't deserve, or a little bit of both?
Not long ago, I was leading a children's program and I promised the kids that I would reward them with a milkshake from a local restaurant if they remembered to bring a friend the next week. Most of the kids were happy, with the exception of one girl. She said, "What about the kids who don't bring a friend? Won't this make them upset?" Even though she probably would have admitted that those who brought a friend deserved the reward, she was also hoping that I would buy milkshakes for kids who didn't deserve it. Essentially, she wanted to be shown grace.
Grace is an undeserved gift. When we're shown grace, we're given a blessing that we didn't do anything to earn. Displaying grace is a wonderful trait to practice in life, but there is no greater example of it than the grace we have been shown by God through Jesus Christ. In fact, He wants our lives to abound with His grace. But to fully appreciate the depth of His grace, it's helpful to understand just how bad things would be for us without it.
I. Through Adam came sin and death
I enjoy studying the history of my family. Learning a little about the life stories and experiences of my ancestors is fascinating and motivating to me. In my family tree there are people that I have a high degree of respect for and there are others that I honestly would prefer to avoid emulating.
And if we trace our family trees back far enough, we all land on the same person. We all have a common ancestor named Adam. Adam was the first man. The Lord created him in His image and designed him to flourish on a perfect earth with a perfect relationship with God. Adam had been given dominion over creation. He was encouraged to be fruitful and multiply with his wife Eve who had been made from Adam's rib. Adam was given the privilege to joyfully work in the garden of Eden, and to eat from any tree in the garden with the exception of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But Adam willfully rebelled against the Lord, ate from the tree, and became a lawbreaker.
Adam was told ahead of time that if he sinned against God by eating of that tree, he would die. But he did it anyway, and sin therefore came into this world. The whole earth is affected by it, as are Adam's descendants. Like an infection that has been passed down from Adam, we who come from Adam have all been born sinners. Without needing anyone to show us how to sin, we have instinctively known how to rebel against God, and that's exactly what we've all done. And just as Adam's sin resulted in his death, so too are his children subject to the sting of death as well.
The Scripture tells us that even before the Old Testament Law had been given to Moses, humanity was steeped in sin. Even before we knew the details of God's Law, we had hearts that were set on breaking it. Ever since Adam went his own way, we have incorrectly believed that we'll be fine on our own and that we don't really need God or His counsel.
This proves just how lost we are apart from Christ. On our own, we are overpowered by sin and compelled to obey it as a cruel master. We struggle to perceive its long-term consequences. We trivialize it and minimize it while it lurks over us just waiting to kill us.
But thankfully, the story doesn't end with Adam's rebellion, nor does it need to end with us remaining under sin's domination forever. Scripture tells us that Adam was a "type" of the one who was to come. That means that when we look at Adam, we can see a glimpse of one who was yet to come, who would be like Adam in the sense that what He did would affect humanity and all creation, but would be unlike Adam in that what He was about to do would bring life, not death.
II. Jesus has overcome sin and death
Recently, someone asked me to suggest a gift idea for a friend. They wanted to surprise this person with something nice, but didn't know what to give. So I made a few suggestions that I thought would be in line with my friend's tastes. Gifts are good. Gifts are enjoyable to receive. Every day we live is another day where we're privileged to experience gifts from God that we may not initially notice because His generosity is so abundant that we can become used to it.
If we were to attempt to number the ways the Lord has blessed us, we wouldn't be able to do it. It seems to me that there's always one level deeper we could go when we're trying to quantify the visible and invisible gifts we've been given. And in Romans 5:15-17, the Apostle Paul mentions the "free gift" God has given us five different times. That's five times in three verses. I guess we're supposed to take notice.
Consider what he tells us about this free gift. We're told that the free gift isn't like Adam's trespass. We're told that while Adam's sin hurt many, the free gift of God has benefitted many. We're told that while Adam's sin resulted in our condemnation, the free gift brings our justification. We're also told that the free gift is a gift of righteousness that will allow us to reign with Christ and live forever.
So again, what is this free gift? The free gift that's being spoken of here is the grace that has been shown to us in Christ Jesus. We have been given the gift of His righteousness which overcomes our sin. We have been given the gift of justification that overcomes our condemnation. We have been given the gift of life that overcomes our former death sentence. By grace, through faith in Jesus, this is the gift we are given. It's a good gift. There is no greater gift we can ever receive.
During the late 1800s English evangelist Henry Moorhouse made several trips to America to preach. On one of these occasions, he was taking a walk through a poor section of the city when he noticed a small boy coming out of a store with a pitcher of milk. Just then, the boy slipped and fell, breaking the pitcher and spilling the milk all over the sidewalk. Moorhouse rushed to the youngster’s side and found him unhurt but terrified. “My mamma’ll whip me!” he cried.
The preacher suggested that they try to put the pitcher back together, but the pieces of glass would not stay together. The boy kept crying. Finally Moorhouse picked up the youngster and carried him to a nearby store where the preacher purchased a new pitcher. Then he returned to the dairy store and had the pitcher washed and filled with milk. With that done, he carried both the boy and the pitcher home. Putting the youngster down on his front porch, Moorhouse handed him the pitcher and asked, “Now will your mamma whip you?”
A wide smile spread upon his tear-stained face, “Aw, no sir, ‘cause it’s lot better pitcher than we had before.” -Source unknown, Bible.org
God has given us something much better than we had before. Our natural birth as a descendent of Adam resulted in sin and death being handed down to us. But Christ has come to give us a new birth. In His resurrection, He overcame sin and death. Now, as men and women who have been born again to a living hope through Jesus, we experience a spiritual birth that is greater than our natural birth. We were once overcome by sin and death, but that is no longer the case for all who trust in Christ. As He overcame sin and death, so too does He make us overcomers who share His victory.
Have you ever asked yourself if you're actually living like sin and death have been overcome in your life? Or do you still mistakenly give them too much sway over your thinking? Do you live like you're powerless over sin or incapable of escaping temptation? Are you gripped by irrational phobias or unhealthy fears that find their root in your fear of death? If so, what are you planning to do about it? Do you want to remain stuck in unbiblical or irrational thinking OR would you like to start experiencing a taste of life that demonstrates that you actually believe Christ has overcome your sin and suffered death for you so He could bless you with life? Live like you're finally free from sin's grip! Live like you're actually alive!
III. The power of God's grace conquers sin's oppression
God desires that His grace abound in our lives. The Old Testament Law revealed His holiness to us and showed us that we were incapable of meeting God's standard. But in His grace, He lifts us up out of mess we were steeped in.
The power of God's grace conquers the oppression evil once had over us. Sin reigned in death. Grace reigns through righteousness and leads to eternal life through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Adam rebelled against God, but the "second Adam", Jesus Christ, honored the will of the Father and kept His Law for us.
As God has made His grace abound in your life through Christ, make it a calling card of your life to be excessively generous in your sharing of grace with others. Don't withhold it when it's in your power to give it. It will make a difference in someone's life and will, without a doubt, be used by our Heavenly Father to help give this world a glimpse of the heart of His Son.
© John Stange, 2018