Grasping grace means knowing ourselves

How we think of grace depends a lot on how we see ourselves.

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 1:13-14)

abundantly= exceedingly, to overflow, to possess in excess

This original word is used only once in the Bible.  It is hyperbolic.  Paul uses language at its extremes in this passage, and for good reason.

He knew himself.  And he understood grace.

When Jesus gives grace, He pours it on–as we read here.  He’s extravagant with it.  He doesn’t dose it out in dribs and drabs, He drowns us in it.  This truth is made all the more dramatic when we consider just to whom He’s giving the grace.

Philip Yancey*
There is a simple cure for people who doubt God’s love and question God’s grace: to turn to the Bible and examine the kind of people God loves…
The Bible tells of…a missionary being recruited from the ranks of the Christian-torturers.  I get mailings from Amnesty International, and as I look at their photos of men and women who have been beaten and cattle-prodded and jabbed and spit on and electrocuted, I ask myself, “What kind of human being could do that to another human being?”  Then I read the book of Acts and meet the kind of person who could do such a thing, now an apostle of grace, a servant of Jesus Christ, the greatest missionary history as ever known.
If God can love that kind of person, maybe, just maybe, he can love the likes of me.

Like diamonds displayed on a black velvet background, God’s grace shines in contrast to our sin.  A black background shows a diamond’s brilliance, but when jewelers use a light background, they are hiding or minimizing the flaws.

But God’s grace, love, and mercy are flawless and on full display in our flawed lives.  The more we can perceive the darkness from which we are being redeemed, the more brilliant and beautiful and amazing God’s grace becomes.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15)

In the original language that last word actually means first place.

Paul is saying that if there were a competition for worst sinner, he’d always get first place.  The KJV translates it chief of sinners.

“I do not deserve this love and grace,” Paul says.  “I can’t think of anyone who deserves it less.  And that fact tells me a great deal about the truth of how this grace thing works.”

Paul’s life is testimony of this truth.  Paul confesses he had been a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent man.

(For more on this aspect of Paul’s bio, read Acts 8:1-3, Acts 9:1-2, Acts 22:4, Acts 26:10-11, and Ephesians 3:8.)

Now hear again the weight and heartbreak in Paul’s words:

“Even though I was once a blasphemer (as he recalls what he has said and done) and a persecutor (as he pictures the faces of the women and men he dragged to prison) and a violent man (as he remembers the blood that was spilled with his approval), I was shown mercy…”

  • Even though I was once an addict and ignored everyone and everything that was truly important…
  • Even though I was once an abuser and respected no one but myself…
  • Even though I was once a maligning gossip and a vengeful keeper of all the wrongs done to me…
  • Even though I was once an adulterer and a selfish collection of lusts…
  • Even though I was once a self-reliant do-gooder or a self-possessed snob or a self-loathing deviant…

I was shown mercy.
Say that word out loud… “mercy”
When we’re desperate and in trouble we say, “Have mercy.”

Dallas Willard **
The greatest saints are not those who need less grace, but those who consume the most grace, who indeed are most in need of grace—those who are saturated by grace in every dimension of their being.  Grace to them is like breath.

The more we realize this, the healthier and more grace-ful we become.

How has God’s grace been displayed in your life?

*What’s So Amazing About Grace?, 62.
** Renovation of the Heart, 93-94.

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