Grace upon grace

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“From his fullness we have all received,
grace upon grace” (John 1:16).

The achievements of the Saviour, resulting from His becoming man, are of such kind and number, that if one should wish to enumerate them, he may be compared to men who gaze at the expanse of the sea and wish to count its waves.  For as one cannot take in the whole of the waves with his eyes, for those which are coming on baffle the sense of him that attempts it; so for him that would take in all the achievements of Christ in the body, it is impossible to take in the whole, even by reckoning them up, as those which go beyond his thought are more than those he thinks he has taken in.

–St. Athanasius
(296 – 373)

Image: Tim Curtis

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Abundant & undeserved

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“And if by grace, then is it no more of works;
otherwise grace is no more grace.”
(Romans 11:6)

The whole essence of grace is that it is undeserved. The moment we have to do something to make ourselves more acceptable to God, or the moment we have to have a certain feeling or attribute of character in order to be blessed by God, then grace is no more grace. Grace permits us to come (nay, demands that we come) as empty sinners to be blessed, empty of right feelings, good character, satisfactory record, with nothing to commend ourselves but our deep need, fully and frankly acknowledged. Then grace, being what it is, is drawn by that need to satisfy it, just as water is drawn to depth that it might fill it.

less5divider2This means that when at last we are content to find no merit nor procuring cause in ourselves, and are willing to admit the full extent of our sinfulness, then there is no limit to what God will do for the poor who look to Him in their nothingness. If what we receive from God is dependent, even to a small extent, on what we are or do, then the most we can expect is but an intermittent trickle of blessing. But if what we are to receive is to be measured by the grace of God quite apart from works, then there is only one word that adequately describes what He pours upon us, the word which is so often linked with grace in the New Testament, “abundance”!

Roy Hession
We Would See Jesus

Published in: on 08/27/2014 at 14:21  Leave a Comment  
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When grace slips away

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Whenever faith
seems an entitlement,
or a measuring rod,
we cast our lots with
the Pharisees and grace
softly slips away.

–Philip Yancey
Soul Survivor

Image: Karl Schmidt-Rottluff

Published in: on 06/22/2014 at 21:12  Leave a Comment  
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Unscripted grace

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If Christianity is grace,
we don’t have
a push-button God.
Get ready for
an adventure.

–Tim Keller

Published in: on 05/29/2014 at 8:48  Leave a Comment  
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Reckless generosity

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Grace doesn’t make demands. It just gives. And from our vantage point, it always gives to the wrong person. We see this over and over again in the Gospels: Jesus is always giving to the wrong people—prostitutes, tax collectors, half-breeds.

The most extravagant sinners
of Jesus’s day receive his most
compassionate welcome.

Grace is a divine vulgarity that stands caution on its head. It refuses to play it safe and lay it up. Grace is recklessly generous, uncomfortably promiscuous. It doesn’t use sticks, carrots, or time cards. It doesn’t keep score. As Robert Capon puts it, “Grace works without requiring anything on our part. It’s not expensive. It’s not even cheap. It’s free.”

It refuses to be controlled by our innate sense of fairness, reciprocity, and evenhandedness. It defies logic. It has nothing to do with earning, merit, or deservedness. It is opposed to what is owed. It doesn’t expect a return on investments. It is a liberating contradiction between what we deserve and what we get. Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver.

–Tullian Tchividjian
(emphasis added)

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The best sentence Calvin wrote

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We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are compre-hended in Christ. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is “of him.” If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth. For by his birth he was made like us in all respects that he might learn to feel our pain.

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If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.

 –John Calvin
Institutes of the Christian Religion

 

Amazing grace

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Grace means there is nothing we can to do make God love us more —no amount of spiritual calisthenics and renunciation, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries and divinity schools, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less —no amount of racisim or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder.

Grace means that
God already loves us
as much as an infinite God
can possibly love.

–Philip Yancey
What’s So Amazing About Grace?

Unexpected favor

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Grace is . . . Love
favoring us when
we are not favorable,
loving us when
we were not lovable,
accepting us when
we are not acceptable,
redeeming us when,
by all the rules of the book,
we are not redeemable.

–E. Stanley Jones

He calls your name

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The devil knows
your name but calls you
by your sin.
God knows your sin
but calls you
by your name.

–Ricardo Sanchez

Published in: on 01/28/2014 at 7:24  Leave a Comment  
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The greater scandal

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Welcome everyone’s
differences and scandals
with the greater scandal
of grace.

–James Emery White

Published in: on 01/21/2014 at 7:11  Leave a Comment  
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The gift of grace

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After centuries of handling and mishandling, most religious words have become so shopworn nobody’s much interested anymore. Not so with grace, for some reason. Mysteriously, even derivatives like gracious and graceful still have some of the bloom left.

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Grace is something you can never get but can only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.

A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace. Have you ever tried to love somebody?

A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do.

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The grace of God means something like: “Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.”

There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can only be yours if you’ll reach out and take it.

Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.

–Frederick Buechner
Wishful Thinking

Image: Alan Ranger

Relying on grace

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True spirituality
consists in living
moment to moment
by the grace of
Jesus Christ.

–Francis Schaeffer
(1912 – 1984)

The gravity of grace

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Grace is
the gravity of God
grabbing us
and drawing us in
to God’s never
ending love.

–John Manz

Just say thank you

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The life of grace
is simply believing
that Somebody Else
has made it all right, and
you just say thank you
and shut up.

–Robert Farrar Capon

Published in: on 11/01/2013 at 5:58  Leave a Comment  
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The overflow of grace

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Before all time; prior to all worlds; when there was nothing “outside of” God Himself; when the Father, Son, and Spirit found eternal, absolute, and unimaginable blessing, pleasure, and joy in Their holy triunity — it was Their agreed purpose to create a world. That world would fall. But in unison — and at infinitely great cost — this glorious triune God planned to bring you (if you are a believer) grace and salvation.

–Sinclair Ferguson

Extravagant acceptance

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In light of our own profound need, brokenness, unsettledness, and immaturity, God is not with anxiety or anger fretting until we get our act together. He is not scowling waiting for us to “get fixed,” despising us until we arrive at an unattainable standard of perfection. We want to be “fixed” (and soon) in order to gain acceptance, whether from peers, leaders, God or ourself.

God wants to walk with us,
to know us, to be known by us,
to love us – right where we are.

And in the journey of walking with him in love, we will find ourselves transformed, not in order to be accepted, but transformed precisely by his extravagant acceptance, unremitting love and indescribable tenderness. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 –Richard Liantonio 

Unable to answer

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So far from being able
to answer for my sins,
I cannot even answer for
my righteousness!

–St. Bernard of Clairvaux
(1090 – 1153)

Published in: on 09/19/2013 at 4:15  Leave a Comment  
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It’s not for the living

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Grace . . . works
only on the untouchable,
the unpardonable,
and the unacceptable.
It works, in short,
by raising the dead,
not by rewarding the living.

–Robert Farrar Capon
Kingdom, Grace, Judgment

Forgiving the inexcusable

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To be a Christian means
to forgive the inexcusable
because God has forgiven
the inexcusable in you.

–C. S. Lewis

More than enough

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There is more than enough grace
for yesterday’s faux pas,
today’s challenges,
and tomorrow’s unknowns.

–Scotty Smith ‏

Published in: on 06/13/2013 at 3:52  Leave a Comment  
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Extreme mercy

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There is more mercy
in Christ than
sin in us.

—Richard Sibbes
(1577–1635)

Published in: on 06/12/2013 at 5:17  Leave a Comment  
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No whiff of negotiation

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Grace is created by God and given to man . . . On the basis of this point alone, Christianity is set apart from any other religion in the world . . .

Every other approach to God
is a bartering system;
if I do this God will do that.

I’m either saved by works (what I do), emotions (what I experience), or knowledge (what I know). By contrast Christianity has no whiff of negotiation at all. Man is not the negotiator; indeed man has no grounds from which to negociate.

–Max Lucado
In the Grip of Grace

Future harvest

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Expect the seeds you sow
of mercy, grace and justice
to appear as life in the
new heaven and new earth,
one Day.

–Scotty Smith

More than enough

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God has got more mercy
than you’ve got mess.

–Bryan Loritts

Published in: on 03/23/2013 at 5:52  Leave a Comment  
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When grace goes sour

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Periodically in history, spiritual revivals burst upon the world . . . The Spirit breathes, charity spreads. The greatness of God and His love are rediscovered and human pettiness is pushed aside. At the same time, the unlimited nature of God’s requirements is re-discovered, and the boundlessness of His grace. It is proclaimed. Men feel called, welcomed and not judged. They are overwhelmed, their conduct and way of life are changed, they become fervent, practising Christians.

And then gradually, inevitably, in that more virtuous, more austere environment, a new conformity emerges. Grace becomes conditional. Judgement appears.

Anyone who does not subscribe
to certain standards is suspected
of infidelity and hypocrisy.

And that is what awakens hypocrisy, for everyone, in an attempt to live up to his faith, seeks to appear better than he is and begins to hide his faults instead of confessing them…

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Moralism has returned, and with it the breath of the Holy Spirit is stifled. In order to ensure the lost treasure people cling all the more to certain ‘principles’ inherited from the heroic period, to a new limited morality. What was a spontaneous impulse, free and joyful obedience to God, responding to His wonderful grace, becomes constraint, legalistic obligation and fear of criticism… Above all, people begin to pretend to be more virtuous than they are. That was the fault of Ananias and Sapphira, which the Apostle Peter reproved so sternly (Acts 5:1-11).

–Paul Tournier
Guilt and Grace

Furious love

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“So, that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, with all God’s holy people you will have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; so that, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond knowledge, you may be filled with the utter fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19).

Do we really hear what Paul is saying? Stretch, man stretch! Let go of impoverished, circumscribed, and finite perceptions of God. The love of Christ is beyond all knowledge, beyond anything we can intellectualize or imagine.

It is not a mild benevolence but a consuming fire.

Jesus is so unbearably forgiving, so infinitely patient, and so unendingly loving that He provides us with the resources we need to live lives of gracious response.

Does it sound like an easy religion?

Love has its own exigencies. It weighs and counts nothing but expects everything. Perhaps that explains our reluctance to risk. We know only too well that the gospel of grace is an irresistible call to love the same way. No wonder so many of us elect to surrender our souls to rules rather than to live in union with Love.

–Brennan Manning
The Ragamuffin Gospel

That is what grace means

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Our problem is that we assume prayer is something to master the way we master algebra or auto mechanics. That puts us in the “on-top” position, where we are competent and in control. But when praying, we come “underneath,” where we calmly and deliberately surrender control and become incompetent… The truth of the matter is, we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives altruistic and selfish, merciful and hateful, loving and bitter.

Frankly, this side of eternity we will never unravel
the good from the bad, the pure from the impure.

God is big enough to receive us with all our mixture. That is what grace means, and not only are we saved by it, we live by it as well. And we pray by it.

–Richard J. Foster

Published in: on 02/28/2013 at 3:47  Leave a Comment  
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The blunder of bookkeeping

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In heaven, there are only forgiven sinners. There are no good guys, no uptight, successful types who, by dint of their own integrity, have been accepted into the great country club in the sky. There are only failures, only those who have accepted their deaths in their sins and who have been raised up by the King who himself died that they might live.

But in hell, too, there are only forgiven sinners. Jesus on the cross does not sort out certain exceptionally recalcitrant parties and cut them off from the pardon of his death.

He forgives the badness of even the worst of us,
willy-nilly; and he never takes back that
forgiveness, not even at the bottom
of the bottomless pit.

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The sole difference, therefore,
between hell and heaven is that in heaven
the forgiveness is accepted and passed along,
while in hell it is rejected and blocked.

In heaven, the death of the king is welcomed and becomes the doorway to new life in the resurrection. In hell, the old life of the bookkeeping world is insisted on and becomes, forever, the pointless torture it always was.

–Robert Farrar Capon
Kingdom, Grace, Judgment
(emphasis added)

The glorious paradox of grace

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Truly I am your servant, Lord . . .
you have freed me from my chains.
–Psalm 116:16 NIV

Here is a fascinating combination!

Freed—but serving.

Loosed—but bound.

Liberty and servitude. How can we put these two opposites together?

The Gospel joins them in a glorious paradox.

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Our chains have been broken, but our hearts are captured by Calvary love. Our bonds have been loosed, but we willingly become bondservants of our Redeemer.

Grace emancipates and captivates.

Charles Wesley said it so well:
          My chains fell off, my heart was free,
          I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Absolute autonomy quickly leads to new tyrannies. It doesn’t take long for total freedom to turn into servitude to new masters and new vices.

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“Liberty too can corrupt, and absolute liberty can corrupt absolutely,” wrote Getrude Himmelfarb.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer underscored this truth: “The demand for absolute liberty brings men to the depths of slavery.”

It is only as the Son makes us free that we shall be free indeed. It is in surrender to Christ that we find freedom. Gripped by grace our hearts take flight. Low at his feet we stand tall. Under His lordship we find liberty.

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It is in belonging to Him that we find ourselves.
It is in obeying Him that we are set free.

Blessed contradiction!

The glorious liberty of slavery to grace!

–Jurgen O. Schulz

Published in: on 01/03/2013 at 20:47  Leave a Comment  
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Unsafe and unsettling

I wholeheartedly believe that the gospel of grace is way more drastic, way more offensive, way more liberating, way more shocking, and way more counterintuitive than any of us realize.

There is nothing more radically
unbalanced and drastically unsafe
than grace.

It has no “but”: it’s unconditional, uncontrollable, unpredictable, and undomesticated. It unsettles everything. There is a dangerous depth to the gospel that needs to be rediscovered and embraced…

–Tullian Tchividjian
(emphasis added)

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