People's lives are changed or impacted by many things good and bad. I remember as a 15-year-old boy in Montreal, my mother coming into my room in the middle of the night to tell me my father was dying. He had been well, I had seen him alive before I went to bed that evening and now a few hours later, he lay dead in his room, the victim of a sudden heart attack at 53 years of age. That event impacted my life in many ways, and changed its direction for a long period of time.
Fifteen years later, when I was around 30, I remember sending this girl I knew a postcard. We had been friends and I had not seen her for a couple of years because she had moved to France and I remained in Canada. One Christmas, I decided to send her a postcard in order to say hello. What I did not know was that during the few years I had not seen or heard from her, this girl had left Paris and moved back to Montreal. That little postcard went from Montreal to Paris and when it got there the building janitor where the girl used to live sent it back to Canada where the girl had moved to. When she received the postcard forwarded from France she looked me up and about a year later that girl, Lise, and I were married. We still have the postcard in our scrapbook. That small act of sending a greeting to a girl I once knew had a tremendous and wonderful impact on my life.
I tell these stories from my own life to underscore the idea that there are certain events or people that have a lasting impact on our lives. Not every event or person, but some events and some people come into our lives and change them forever. I would like to build on this idea and explain to you how one's life is changed when it is impacted by the grace of God.
The Bible is filled with all kinds of information and stories about God, His chosen people, the coming of Jesus and the establishment of the Church. What the Bible is about, however, is God's effort to impart His grace to every person through Christ. Yes, there are descriptions of the creation, lessons about faith, teachings from Christ and His Apostles, but when you bring all of the information together, what the Bible ultimately gives us is the incredible story of God's love for man and how that love/grace changes or impacts a person's life for good.
Obviously I do not have the time or ability to detail every change brought on by God's grace, but I can give you three main ones that represent, in one way or another, most of the others. Three ways that the impact of God's grace changes our lives:
1. Grace makes us eager to obey
The worldly person celebrates and applauds disobedience and rebellion. Just look at our heroes. They are the ones who break the rules, bend the rules or make their own rules in order to get what they want. However, when people come into contact with the grace of God, they are the ones who are broken and humbled.
Jesus describes the feeling when He says,
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be satisfied.
- Matthew 5:6
It is a hunger, a thirst, a constant desire to know what is right and do what is right. John nails the experience when he says,
No one who abides in Him sins, no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.
- I John 3:6
Some think John is saying that Christians never sin, never make a mistake and never fall. We know from experience that this is not true. John's point is that those who have been impacted by God's grace do not want to sin, their spirits yearn for purity and righteousness. Those who know Him cannot practice sin. On the contrary, they want the very opposite which is to quit sinning and practice obedience. No law, no meditation, no exercise, philosophy or book can make you want to obey.
This desire is the result of God's grace and because of it our character, our actions and the directions in our lives are changed forever.
2. Grace makes us work hard
I am not saying that anyone who works hard has been impacted by grace. Many people work hard for various reasons. Some work hard to care for families. Some work hard to get ahead or get rich. And some work hard because they like to work or they have a dream to accomplish something.
But those who have been impacted by grace work hard in an area where these others would not invest a minute, and that is in the building up of the kingdom of God here on earth, what we call the church. Paul describes this labor of love brought upon him by God's grace.
For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.
- I Corinthians 15:9-10
A little further on Paul describes the effort and suffering he has endured because of God's grace.
Are they servants of Christ? I speak as if insane — I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.
- II Corinthians 11:23-28
Note that in this passage Paul does not even mention the thousands of miles traveled, the lessons and sermons given, the epistles written and the men trained, not to mention his ministry to the poor and the ill. What would move a man who was a religious leader with a comfortable position and a bright future to abandon it all and earn his living as a tradesman from day to day and endure such a difficult and demanding life?
Paul said it back in I Corinthians 15:10
By the grace of God, I am what I am.
You know, I can always tell the difference between those people who have been educated in the doctrine of grace and those who have truly experienced the power of God's grace in their lives.
- Those who have been indoctrinated know the church traditions and can spout the Christian lingo, but there's no "fire in the belly." They don't volunteer, they don't try to know or help others and they are not usually generous when it comes to giving. They think that Christianity is about coming to church on Sundays. They do not realize that attending worship is not serving the Lord; worship and Bible study are times when the Lord is serving us through His word and Spirit.
- Those who have truly been impacted by God's grace, on the other hand show it by their desire to serve, work, give and sacrifice. These brethren may not say much but their work and their contribution say it all, to the world, to the Church and to the Lord. Jesus said that those who are forgiven little, love little and those who are forgiven much, love much (Luke 7:47).
Perhaps this is what separates the men from the boys when it comes to hard work in the name of the Lord. Perhaps people who are less motivated are that way because they don't realize what kind of sorry sinners they really are and figure they don't owe God a lot, and those who bear the heat of the day and the sweat of heavy spiritual lifting know themselves a little better.
Maybe it is a question of personal honesty and self-awareness. All I know is that those who are painfully aware of their true condition before God are usually the most productive, and those who are spiritually nearsighted don't usually generate much horsepower. Did Paul the Apostle not say, "I am the chief of sinners."? Maybe that is the connection between grace and the desire to work hard for the Lord.
3. Grace makes us thankful
No other gift given to us in life is more precious than the grace of God, because the Bible says:
- It is by grace that Jesus was sent to die for our sins - Hebrews 2:9
- It is by grace that the world came to know about Christ - Titus 2:11
- It is by grace that we personally have received the truth - John 1:17
- It is by grace that we are saved - Acts 15:11
- It is by grace that we are justified/forgiven of sins - Romans 3:24
- It is by grace that we receive the promise of God - Romans 4:16
- It is by grace that we enjoy peace with God - Romans 5:2
- It is by grace that we are made free from the demands of the Law - Romans 6:14
- It is by grace that we have hope for the future - II Thessalonians 2:16
Are you getting a feel for how precious God's grace or favor is?
- It is by grace that we become who we are in Christ - I Corinthians 15 :10
- It is by grace that we receive gifts so we can minister to others - Romans12:6
- It is by grace that we have the courage to speak out - Romans 15:15
- It is by grace that we are able:
- It is by grace that we have, each day, what we need when we need it - Hebrews 4:16
- Finally, it is by grace that we are perfected, confirmed, strengthened and established so we can live forever with God in Christ. - I Peter 5:10
Because of these and all other blessings showered down upon us by grace, our hearts are turned to gratitude. A life impacted by grace finds a reason to give thanks in everything seen, heard and felt. For this reason Paul says to Titus that grace,
…teaches us to say no to ungodliness, passion, to live upright and Godly lives...
- Titus 2:11-12
Eventually just saying thank you is not enough, the feeling of gratitude spills out in to joyful praise, holy and dedicated living and a genuine love for this grace. In speaking of God's grace in terms of the kingdom, the Hebrew writer summarizes it best when he says,
Therefore since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe.
The single most recognizable characteristic in the lives of those who have been impacted by the grace of God is a thankful and appreciative heart. Whether times are good or bad these brethren are always sensitive to and grateful for God's grace in Christ Jesus.
Let us bring this discussion home. Ask yourself, has the grace of God had an impact on my life?
Let me help you answer that question:
1. Grace has impacted your life if doing what the Lord wants you to do is continually growing in importance in your life. In other words, you may not be perfect but you would like to be! And getting rid of sin is a joyful event not a sad nostalgic one.
2. Grace has impacted your life if more of your time and resources have been devoted to the Lord this year than last year. Sure we get sick or busy, but in all honesty, is the time, effort and money you are investing in the Lord and His Church growing or shrinking?
Note that Paul's life and ministry was not meant to be a monument or a one-time thing. It was meant to be an example for us to follow! He said to imitate him as He imitated Christ. Jesus did what He did because He wanted to give us grace; Paul did what he did because he received grace. The question is, "What do we have to show for the grace that's come into our lives?"
3. Grace has impacted your life if much of your prayer life and much of the motivation for what you do is based on gratitude. The virtue of being grateful is the first one to be cultivated in order to be pleasing to God. Oh, we can be weak in many areas, struggling with bad habits and sinful actions, but if we can begin to be grateful for God's kindness and grace, all of these other things can be conquered. In Romans 1:21, Paul says that an ungrateful heart is the first sin that sends man heading into the darkness of every other sin.