A Comprehension of God's Grace
Luke 7:40-50; 10:30-35; 14:16-24; 15:18-24; 23:43
These passages in Luke's Gospel are like four "cameos" arranged consecutively in a gallery, and as we move from one to another we comprehend more fully, and develop a greater appreciation of, the grace of God. The first one we reach as we start in our Christian experience is in chapter 7, where we have the assurance of the forgiveness of sins. The second is in chapter 10 where we learn that the state of the man who did the sins has also been met. The third shows how God feels towards us, as seen in the verses in chapters 14 and 15. The fourth in chapter 23 in a sense brings together all that has gone before.
The first two show how divine grace has met our need, but the last two are for God's pleasure. We usually concern ourselves with our side of things but God would have us appreciate His delight in saving us according to His own purpose and bringing us to Himself. An understanding of how He has moved for His own good pleasure and so brought us into blessing secures in us a sense of peace and joy which has its centre in God Himself.
The Commencement of Grace
The first "cameo," then, relates to what we have done. This finds its answer in the Epistle to the Romans chapter 1 through to chapter 5 verse 11. With regard to the second, it is about what we are as to our moral condition, and is enlarged upon in Romans 5 verse 12 to chapter 8. Then when we approach the third and fourth "cameos" we come to God's side of it as His work according to His own purpose and pleasure. This is unfolded for us particularly in Ephesians.
In their journey from Egypt to Canaan the children of Israel spent much time in wandering, but it was God's purpose that they should enter into the land of promise, even though the wilderness lay in the way. So, in Luke chapter 7, we have a woman, a sinner (and there was no doubt in anyone's eyes that she was a sinner), who gets the blessing of the forgiveness of sins. This is the grand starting point for all in Christian experience, and we have to start aright if we are to finish aright. The conscience has been reached, but more, the One who by His work has made the forgiveness of sins possible has captivated the interest of the forgiven sinner. The sins may be great and many but the work of Christ upon the cross is sufficient in every respect to put them away. Just as the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the door posts and lintel of an Israelite's house in the land of Egypt secured safety for its occupants from divine judgment, so the blood of Christ is now before God's eye. According to His appreciation of it, a full and free forgiveness is pronounced to any and all who submit in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is a point worthy of note that whatever may have been the woman's previous occupation with her sins, she is now totally absorbed with Christ. The Lord Jesus has become everything to her and she pours out her heartfelt devotion and appreciation at His feet, not only for what she has received, but more as to what she thinks of Him. If her sins had been many, He (though, in contrast, the sinless One) was greater. Has it been the experience of the reader to render thankfulness at the Lord's feet for what He has done in bearing your sins in His body on the tree, and suffered in undergoing the judgment of God for those sins? Satisfaction had to be rendered to God in respect of the righteous claims of divine justice about those sins. That is propitiation. Let us not fail to have some appreciation of the Lord Jesus as meeting God's righteous judgment on our behalf. This is the aspect presented to us particularly in Romans chapters 3 and 4. In Romans 3 God has set forth Jesus as the propitiatory through faith in His blood. In chapter 4 the believer has found the blessed justified state based on the blood.
The sins were on the Saviour laid,
'Tis in His blood sin's debt was paid;
Stern justice can demand no more,
And mercy can dispense her store.
And so the sins are gone: "Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 4:25-5:1). Hence, like Israel, we have crossed (by faith) our Red Sea. Judgment is passed, every charge is gone, and the enemy has been defeated.
The Lord is risen: the Red Sea's judgment flood
Is passed in Him, who bought us with His blood.
The Lord is risen: we stand beyond the doom
Of all our sin, through Jesus' empty tomb.
We are clear, but more, our joy is in God and our song is of Him. We are reconciled to God (Rom. 5:11). As Jehovah bore Israel on eagle's wings and brought them to Himself (Ex. 19:4), so God has brought us to Himself.
But is peace enjoyed? All is clear on God's side but we have to learn this. We tread the path of faith and the matter of sin is raised. It is not now a question of sins but of sin. The difference is this: sin is that principle in the world which renders it opposed to God, and it is present in the nature of every person in it. Sins are wilful acts done in defiance of God's sovereign authority. Sins are the corrupt fruit of the corrupt tree of sin. This is how the doctrine is unfolded in Romans chapter 5:12 through chapters 6 and 7. It is not only that we have committed sins, but we have to learn the deeper lesson that we are sinners by nature. This is our second "cameo" and the path to it is not a pleasant one.
The Compassion of Grace
In Luke 10 we read of a man who fell among thieves and was left half dead. This is like the fall of Adam. Through the deceptive attack of Satan, the first man, preferring to exercise his own will rather than remain subject to God's, became easy prey and fell. Thus we read in Romans 5:12: "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." All in the line of fallen Adam are under the power of sin and having added their own sins are under death as a result. All descended from Adam are tainted with the same polluted nature. Every part of man's moral fibre (referred to as "flesh" in Romans) is corrupt. It is the state of man rather than his guilt. Out of this state we have to be redeemed in order to be reconciled to God.
A priest and a Levite, typical of the legal system, came "by chance" to where the "certain man" was. This is indicative of the law which was given well on in man's history, but which was unable either to effect justification or remedy man's fallen state. The deep heart-searching described in Romans 7 is not the law showing how sinful our conduct has been. That was shown in chapter 3. Rather it is learning that we are sinners by nature, and that our "flesh" is controlled entirely by sin. It is a hard but necessary lesson to learn.
God, even before the fall, had another Man in reserve and could immediately afterwards speak of His coming. Christ as the Man out of heaven is the Man of God's pleasure and purpose, but He was a stranger in this world. Thus, He like the "certain Samaritan"-not by chance-but "as he journeyed," came where the man was (compare Luke 17:16, 18 and John 8:48).
Thus, in Romans 6 and 7 we read of the death of Christ, whereas before, in chapter 3, it was the blood. Of course, it is the same event, but looked at in another aspect. The blood effected propitiation in that it met God's claims against our sins, but His death was in respect of our state. This is seen in the expression, "came were he was," which alludes to the Lord going down into death to meet the judgment that we were under as of Adam's stock. By divine power the Christian has been transferred from Adam to Christ, and has a new standing in which no trace of Adam's fall can be found. Baptism in chapter 6 speaks of our having died with Christ and that, according to Christ risen, "we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4).
Christ is our pattern but we need deliverance from the power of sin. The law could not accomplish this but only condemn. Having learnt this, the cry is made, "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom. 7:24). The man in Luke 10 needed support and this was granted, not by a legal system, but by Christ. Deliverance is found in Him. "I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 7:25). The oil and wine poured in, emblems of the Holy Spirit and of the consequent joy respectively, illustrate the divine resource for living according to the pattern set before us in Christ. Having the life of the risen Man beyond judgment, we are able to live as Christians in the power of the Spirit. In the language of Romans 8, "There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus... For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:1-4).
Here is the joy of Christian living. Romans 7 is not Christian experience, though it may be the experience of a Christian. Christian experience is found in Romans 8. By way of illustration it may be mentioned that God had to teach the children of Israel in the wilderness that "the flesh profiteth nothing" (John 6:63). It took 40 years, and God's intention was "to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments, or no" (Deut. 8:2). It was not until after their experience involving the serpent of brass that they "set forward" (Num. 21:10). How many believers have really entered practically into the life that is theirs in Christ? Are we to spend 40 years arriving at the conclusion "that in me, (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7:18), before seeing that our end is death with Christ that we might live in Him? Surely not.
The answer for Israel as well as ourselves is that all the trouble should be traced to the venom of the serpent. This venom entered the race in the form of sin at the fall. Death was on them and is on us too, but life is in the One lifted up on the cross (John 3:14). He was there made sin (2 Cor. 5:21) that we might be in the gain of "justification of life" (Rom. 5:18). The Christian has life in Christ, a life to which sin and condemnation cannot attach. This does not imply sinless perfection, for the flesh is still in the Christian. However, the Christian is "not in the flesh, but in the Spirit" (Rom. 8:9). The point is that, moving in the power of the Spirit, a Christian portrays the same character of life as the Lord Jesus. To give place to the flesh results in sin.
A Comprehension of God's Grace (2)
Luke 7:40-50; 10:30-35; 14:16-24; 15:18-24; 23:43
(Continued from page 5)
The Companionship of Grace
In the first part of this article we considered how divine grace has met our need. Our eyes have been turned to Christ and occupation with ourselves has begun to give place to occupation with Him. In Luke 14, however, the emphasis is on God's side and how He is working out His gracious purpose for His own pleasure. It can be summed up in the expression in Ephesians 1: "According to the good pleasure of His will" (Eph. 1:5). The love of God has adapted itself by grace, not simply to meet man's need, but to bring about its own good pleasure for His glory. The great supper is divine joy in the celebration of grace that accomplishes this. In chapter 14 we get the grand invitation and the prodigal in chapter 15 has been described as the typical guest. The point is that it is God's great supper, and it is to be enjoyed now.
The great supper is much more than coming to Christ for forgiveness. It is God bringing us in suited clothing into His own presence because He delights to have us there. Here we learn how He feels about us. We learn His heart: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love" (Eph. 1:3-4). How many are prepared to take up such privileges now and enjoy them? They are there, but is there a desire for them? Someone might say, "Well, I'm going to heaven when I die." That is good, but what about now? No believer can avoid going to heaven when they die! In Ephesians the Christian's place is in heaven now, in Christ. His position gives the character and measure of ours, though He always remains unique as to His own personal glory. This is the New Testament answer to the Jordan. The Lord Jesus, like the Ark in Joshua 3, passed through the waters of death. He has been raised, and we with Him. As the Red Sea was a type of the Lord's death for us, so the Jordan pictures our being risen with Christ. As Israel then entered into the promised land, so now Christians have been made to sit down together in heavenly places in Christ. Why? Because of God's "great love wherewith He loved us" (Eph. 2:4). This is all divine work.
"Come; for all things are now ready." All is ready, for Christ has not only died and been raised again, but is ascended and glorified, and God is working according to the place and condition in which His Son is now. "Come" is in the light of this. The invitation was refused by those to whom it was first given, yet none of the excuses were in themselves sinful or even worldly. It was simply earthly-mindedness. You might say, "I can't see anything wrong with land, oxen, or marrying a wife," but what is it that draws our attention from Christ and the place where He is, and robs God of our company and His pleasure in us?
There is one who says, "I will arise and go" (Luke 15:18). What a disgrace and a scandal he had been! But does not Ephesians 2 describe us as those, "Who were dead in trespasses and sins"? It is to the glory of God that He has devised a way of bringing sinners of the worst kind into the greatest blessing in a way that is perfectly consistent with His own holiness and righteousness.
When brought to the lowest point, the prodigal repents. He thinks not only of his own miserable history, but also of his father's goodness. How will he be received? "But while he was yet a long way off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell upon his neck, and covered him with kisses" (v. 20, J.N.D. Trans.). Everything was so ready that without any hesitation the prodigal could be welcomed in the most endearing way. This is Romans 5. "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost." This gives a repentant sinner, thus forgiven and justified, the assurance that he is loved. Peace is made and reconciliation effected.
Despite this, the returned prodigal can only say, "I. am no more worthy." It is his looking at himself and finding himself unsuitable for the house. Well, his father makes him fit: "Giving thanks to the Father, who has made us fit for sharing the portion of the saints in light" (Col. 1:12, J.N.D. Trans.). How is it done? By transfer from Adam to Christ. Believers are "in Christ," and it is important that we are established in the truth of this. The prodigal is set up in a new style. He is clothed in "the best robe." Like Joshua the priest, off come the filthy garments, and he is clothed in "festival-robes" (Zech. 3:4, J.N.D. Trans.). The ring would suggest status and relationship, but of eternal duration: "Chosen. in Him before the foundation of the world." The shoes (or sandals) indicate the full privileges and rights of sonship: "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ" (Gal. 4:6-7).
None of this belonged to the prodigal's first estate. Rather, it was something treasured up in the secret of the father's heart. The prodigal was predestinated to a place very much greater than the place which he had lost. Such is the grace of God. It not only relieves us of the penalty we were under, but brings us into a sphere of blessedness commensurate with His riches in grace and for His own praise and glory. There is nothing on earth to compare with it. A criminal may be pardoned by a judge acting in the name of the sovereign, but who ever heard of the sovereign adopting the pardoned criminal as his own son and taking him into his palace? The gospel does not put man back in Eden's paradise, but into the paradise of God. Man in Christ is elevated to a far higher platform than that from which Adam fell. This is, "The glad tidings of the glory of the blessed God" (1 Tim. 1:11, J.N.D. Trans.).
"And they began to be merry" (Luke 15:24). Feeding on that which speaks of Jesus as the One who has delighted the Father's heart, and contemplating Him in the glory He has received, unending joy in communion with the Father and the Son has begun.
In Thy grace Thou now hast called us
Sharers of Thy joy to be,
And to know the blessèd secret
Of His preciousness to Thee.
Why has He loved us like this? Simply because He wanted to!
The Consummation of Grace
We get the summing up of it all in the case of the repentant thief. Have you noticed that from first to last not one of those we have considered deserved to be blessed? Indeed it would not be a display of divine grace were it otherwise. We come now to the worst case of all and he is taken to the brightest spot. It is a man who owns his total depravity. Crucifixion, severe as it was, was just what he deserved according to his own estimation. Yet he has the impeccable Christ beside him and finds grace to confess Him. No doubt he looks to the day when Jesus will appear in glory, returning, not with a crown of thorns, but with many diadems upon His brow. The day of grace will be over; the acceptable year of the Lord will have run its course. There will be the day of vengeance of our God and, then, earthly blessings for an earthly people. But at this moment it is still the "now" of 2 Corinthians 6:2, "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." Heaven when you die? The Lord says, "To day shalt thou be with Me in paradise." It is His death, not ours, that has made it possible. It surpasses the thought, "My beloved is mine," and advances to, "I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me" (Cant. 2:16; 7:10). This is to rest in the Saviour's love, knowing that His love rests on me. I am assured of His affection and there is holy intimacy with Him. Notice, it is not simply, "in paradise," wonderful as that would be. "With Me," are words that express the desire of His love. It is only satisfied by having His own in association with Himself where He is.
The mystery is not opened up for us outside Paul's letters, but here in Luke's gospel there is the road that leads up to it. While we await the Lord's coming to receive us into His Father's house we enter there in spirit. Heavenly things are made real to us by the presence on earth of the Holy Spirit. He dwells in the believer's body and in the assembly. By that same Holy Spirit every Christian is made a member of the (mystical) body of Christ now on earth, and is united to Christ the Head in Heaven.
In spirit there already;
Soon we ourselves shall be
In soul and body perfect,
All glorified, with Thee:
The Comforter, now present,
Assures us of Thy love;
He is the blessèd earnest
Of glory there above.
May our desire be to advance in appreciation of the Lord in the place where He is, realising all we have in Him there. We shall thus enter into the fulness of God's grace for His praise and glory.