Vol: 85 Issue: 22 Wednesday, October 22, 2008
There is a wonderful hymn published at the turn of the 20th century that proclaims, “Grace, grace, God s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin.”
I’m sure most of you have sung these words at some point or another, but have you ever truly contemplated their meaning?
“Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!” We sing it, but do we really believe it? More importantly, do we really UNDERSTAND it?
Wrote the Psalmist, “My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding.” (Psalms 49:3)
What is wisdom? Psalms 111:10 says that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”
Solomon noted that “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom,” before admonishing us; “and with all thy getting get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7)
But how does one make the leap from ‘wisdom’ to ‘understanding’?
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)
“Wisdom and instruction”, applied together, produce knowledge.
“When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee.” (Proverbs 2:11)
One can, therefore, express it as a Divine equation: Wisdom + Knowledge = Understanding.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)
‘Wisdom’ is the product of ‘fear’ (or reverence) of the Lord (as expressed in His Word). Out of His Revealed Word comes ‘knowledge’, which, when applied with ‘wisdom’ gives birth to ‘understanding’.
Note well that it is ‘understanding’ that the Lord says will KEEP thee.
It is the ‘wisdom’ to recognize oneself as a sinner in need of salvation taken together with instruction that Christ has extended a free pardon for one’s sin’s that result in the extension of God’s grace, which produces saving faith.
Proverbs 19:8a says, “He that getteth wisdom loveth his own soul, he that keepeth understanding shall find good.”
I don’t think the first part of that verse is an inaccurate statement, although it tends to take the wind out of our sails a bit when we think about it.
I prefer to think of my coming to Christ as an expression of my love for Him — but when I am as honest as Solomon was, and teachable enough to know wisdom when I hear it, I understand that my reason for turning to Christ was love of MY soul. (The wisdom to love Him came later.)
But note well that, to ‘find good’ out of wisdom, one must apply ‘understanding’.
Whenever I tackle the topic of ‘Amazing Grace’ some of the forum comments and emails suggest there are still many misunderstandings, particularly about the way I articulate the doctrine of grace.
I don’t mind revisiting it as often as necessary, as long as you don’t mind revisiting it with me.
The Bible instructs us to strive for perfection. To sin no more. To be perfect, even as the Father is perfect. That our every waking moment should be dedicated to God. (“Sell all you have, pick up your Cross and follow Me.”) To pray without ceasing.
That certain sins really drive God nuts;
“These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto Him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)
And I have knowledge that I am occasionally guilty of pride, sloth, gluttony, mischief, etc., — just as before I was saved. (Moreover, my personal observations tell me I am not alone among believers in this regard).
Now we turn to the concept of ‘grace’. “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24)
Further, Paul writes; “All things are lawful for me” but then says, “but all things are not expedient.” (1st Corinthians 10:23)
Few argue the Bible doesn’t teach salvation as an unearned gift extended to all who will receive it. But then they stumble over the idea of eternal security as a ‘license to sin’.
I don’t mean to sound pompous in saying this reflects wisdom, but without understanding. And it is ‘understanding’ that the Lord says is what will ‘keep’ you.
They argue that the doctrine of eternal security turns the Bible into a book of ‘suggestions’. I’ve been accused of endorsing sin. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Wisdom plus knowledge equals understanding.
I reverence God’s Word, which tells me that sin is man’s natural state of being. Paul’s explanation of the dual nature of man in Romans 7 confirms to me that the struggle with sin after salvation is as common to all men as it was to Paul.
It was the wisdom to love my own soul that brought me to the point of salvation, and the knowledge of grace and the dual nature of man that brought me to the understanding of grace.
Paul wrote, “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, ACCORDING AS GOD HATH DEALT TO EVERY MAN THE MEASURE OF FAITH.” (Romans 1:23)
Wisdom (God’s Word) says that some struggle more with sin than do others, and that God deals out different measures of faith to each of us according to His will.
I think it fair to say we are pretty forgiving of ourselves. Sometimes, we can come up with pretty convincing reasons for falling at the moment we did.
That isn’t to suggest the reasons justify the fall, but we extend to ourselves the grace to pick ourselves up, and try again. Wisdom plus knowledge go out the window once we assume God is less forgiving of us than we are of ourselves.
God’s grace is perfect and all sufficient. If God’s grace didn’t extend to our post-salvation sins, then the only ones who would be in heaven would be those who died at the point of salvation.
Legalism dictates that God demands perfection, settles for minor imperfection, and revokes salvation from those whose imperfection crosses some invisible line.
Remember the story of the 300 lb preacher reminding his congregation that smoking is defiling the Temple of the Holy Spirit?
Smoking isn’t among God’s Seven Deadly Sins — but on that list, the glutton sits right there beside the drunkard. Are fat people habitual, unrepentant sinners who have condemned themselves? Or does God extend His grace to us according to our individual (and God-given) weaknesses or strengths?
I have the wisdom of Scripture that tells me that a holy God cannot countenance sin. That wisdom also tells me that, in God’s eyes, all sin is sin, and there are seven that God hates with a particular passion, habitual sins that, barring God’s grace, condemn as unrepentent; fat people, lazy people, gossips and drunks. I also have knowledge of human nature from personal observation. I have intimate knowledge of myself and my own shortcomings.
Applied with a knowledge — but without an understanding — of grace, it tells me that my own salvation must depend on my first accepting Christ and then, never sinning again.
I came to Christ thirty-five years ago. I am sure I have sinned in the last thirty-five years. Wisdom plus knowledge — but devoid of understanding — therefore dictates that I am already lost and without hope — so why bother even trying?
“Grace” is not a license to sin, it is Divine permission to get back up and try again. Sin is burdensome because it tends to pile up so fast. Soon, it becomes so heavy you CAN’T get back up on your own.
The burden is lifted by the grace of God so that we can get back up, heal our wounds and return to battle. Grace is not license to sin. It is medicine to heal and bandages to cover our sin so we can fight on.
Understanding grace is to understand what Paul meant when he told the Galatians, “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” (Galatians 2:21)