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Falling for Grace

Mark Twain was far from being a skilled Bible scholar, but he makes us think with these words about grace: "Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in." Twain's words remind me of the Bible's message in Romans 3:10 and 23 — As it is written: 'There is none righteous, no, not one' ... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." And Ezekiel 18:4 and Romans 6:23a — the soul that sinneth, it shall die. .. For the wages of sin is death." The "death" in these and other passages is a reference to the eternal separation of the soul from God. This separation will occur at the final judgement and be maintained forever in the place Jesus called "hell." Hell is described by Jesus as indescribably horrible place with the "worm that does not die and the fire that shall never be quenched" (Mark 9:42 -48). The apostle John described it with the mind jarring, fear-inspiring phrase "lake of fire burning with brimstone" (Revelation 19:20; 20:10, 14 15). It is the place where all those whose names are not written in the Lamb's Book of Life will be cast. Hell is too awful and fearful to completely comprehend, along with the thought God would be just and righteous if He sent us all there.

That's why New Testament teaching about grace is so amazing! We can't merit Heaven. There will be NO human being who walks its golden street and beholds the mind-boggling and soul-tingling glory of God who could ever rightly say, "I earned this. I deserve this. God owes me this." No. As Twain said, if God went by merit, we would all have to stay out. Like Noah's ark, Heaven has only one door for getting inside. That door is G-R-A-C-E. The apostle Paul, self-described "chief of sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15) puts the record straight in Ephesians 2:1-10 where he teaches we were dead spiritually, separated from God and headed for a devil's hell. But Christ came and died for us, and Paul boldly proclaims this Divine action as the means whereby God resurrects us from spiritual death and brings us back from the brink of hell itself! If that news doesn't light your fire, there's something wrong with your wood! In
Paul's words, "you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins" (vs 1). Why would God do such a thing when we as sinners had nothing whatsoever to bring to the bargaining table? Verses 4-5 reveal the dynamic behind His saving initiative — "But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)." Now, Paul goes on to make clear we are not saved by grace alone, but by grace through faith. Grace on God's part does not negate the necessity for faith on man's part, which includes Gospel obedience (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:37-38; Hebrews 5:9, etc.). And as Galatians 5:4 plainly teaches, we can fall from grace. To be true to the Bible's message, we must say all these things about grace. But in our saying, let's not be afraid to say what Paul said in Ephesians chapter 2 — God is rich in love and mercy. With no reason to do so except the compelling force of Divine love and mercy, He sent Jesus to I die in our place and save our souls from hell. That's amazing grace. God help us fall for it, not from it.

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ