Hebrews 4:16

Sermon preached on March 24, 2002 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2002. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

What makes Christianity different from all the other religions of the world? Years ago that very question was discussed at a conference. Some of the participants argued that Christianity is unique in teaching that God became man. But someone objected, saying that other religions teach similar doctrines. What about the resurrection? No, it was argued, other faiths believe that the dead rise again. The discussion grew heated.

C. S. Lewis came into the conference late, sat down, and asked,

"What's the rumpus about?" When he learned that it was a debate about the uniqueness of Christianity, he immediately commented,

"Oh, that's easy. It's grace."

Lewis was correct. Christianity is about grace. It's all about God's grace to us. One of the truths that we see from the beginning of the Bible till the end is that fact that

God is a God of grace.

Our text emphasizes this. It reads,

"Let us then approach
throne of grace with confidence,
so that we may receive mercy
and find grace to help us in our time of need."

God's throne represents Him as ruling with all power and authority. Philip Hughes describes it as,

"the throne of God's majestic sovereignty…”

It represents God's power and might. Yet it is specifically described as 'the throne of grace'. J. Moffatt tells us it is described that way,

"for grace is now enthroned".

God is a God of grace. When God revealed Himself to Moses, He passed in front of Him and proclaimed, (Exodus 34:6)

"The LORD, the LORD,
the compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger,
abounding in love and faithfulness,"

He is a gracious God. It is one of His distinguishing characteristics. He is a God of grace. Indeed, in 1 Peter 5:10 God is referred to as,

"the God of all grace,"

He is the source of all grace. Donald Macleod writes, (Behold Your God, p. 110)

"The God of Scripture is pre-eminently a God of grace…”

But what exactly does it mean that God is a God of grace.

What exactly is grace?

The shortest definition I know is that 'grace is unmerited favor'. Someone has written,

"When a person works an eight-hour day and receives a fair day's pay for his time, that is a wage. When a person competes with an opponent and receives a trophy for his performance, that is a prize. When a person receives appropriate recognition for his long service or high achievements, that is an award. But when a person is not capable of earning a wage, can win no prize, and deserves no award—yet receives such a gift anyway—that is a good picture of God's unmerited favor. This is what we mean when we talk about the grace of God."

In his Systematic Theology, (p. 70) Louis Berkhof defines grace this way.

"grace is the free bestowal of kindness on one who has no claim to itÖ. The Bible generally uses the word to denote the unmerited goodness or love of God to those who have forfeited it, and are by nature under a sentence of condemnation."

Grudem defines it in a similar way. (Systematic Theology, p. 200)

"God's grace means God's goodness toward those who deserve only punishment."

That's the basic idea of grace.

Now to help us see this more clearly, let's consider some of the things that the Bible says about grace.

First of all, you Christians were called to Christ because of grace.

In Galatians 1:15, the apostle Paul talks about his calling and says,

"But when God,
who set me apart from birth
and called me by his grace..."

Paul was called by grace. This is something that is true of all who are called to Christ. In Galatians 1:6, Paul said to the Galatians,

"I am astonished
that you are so quickly deserting the one
who called you by the grace of Christ
and are turning to a different gospel" —

All who are called to Christ are called by grace. Did we deserve to be called? No. We were by nature 'objects of God's wrath'. What we deserved was to be cast into hell. But God did not treat us as we deserved. He called us to Christ.

But being called by grace is just the beginning.

You Christians have also believed because of grace.

Now I know that many Christians think that they're Christians because of their decision, because of their faith. But the Bible tells us that we believed ultimately because of grace. Ephesians 2:8 says,

"For it is by grace you have been saved,
through faith —
and this not from yourselves,
it is the gift of God"—

We have been saved by grace. We have believed because of grace. In Acts 18:27,

"When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia,
the brothers encouraged him
and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him.
On arriving, he was a great help
to those who by grace had believed."

Those who believed, believed because of grace. We see the same thing in 2 Timothy 1:9. It talks about the Lord Jesus,

"who has saved us and called us to a holy life —
not because of anything we have done
but because of his own purpose and grace.
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus
before the beginning of time,"

How could grace have been given to us before the beginning of time? Isn't that when we were chosen in Christ? (Ephesians 1:4) Even our election was according to grace.

God saved us because of His own purpose and grace.
Donald Macleod writes, ( p. 110)

"In grace He elects. In grace He calls. By grace He saves."

Consider our justification.

How were we justified? In Romans 3:24 we read that we,

"are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."

We are declared righteous in God's sight by grace. In ourselves we deserve to be condemned. But because of what Jesus did, because of grace, we are declared righteous in God's sight. In Romans 8 Paul tells us that there is now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus. Our standing in righteousness before God is all because of grace.

Not only that, but think of the good that you are, the good that you do—these things all come to us by grace.

This is summarized for us in 2 Corinthians 8:9. It reads,

"For you know
the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich,
yet for your sakes he became poor,
so that you through his poverty
might become rich."

Any spiritual riches we have are because of grace.

Remember what the apostle Paul said about himself in
1 Corinthians 15:10. He wrote,

"But by the grace of God
I am what I am,
and his
grace to me
was not without effect.
No, I worked harder than all of them —
yet not I,
but the
grace of God
that was with me."

By the grace of God you are what you are.

1 Corinthians 4 the apostle Paul warned Christians not to take pride in one man over another. He then asked, (verse 7)

"For who makes you different from anyone else?
What do you have that you did not receive?
And if you did receive it,
why do you boast as though you did not?"

Any gift, any talent you have, any superiority that you have over others, is the result of grace.

Exodus 31 we read about Bezalel, who was appointed to work on the articles of the tabernacle. He was a very skilled workman. Where did he get his skill? God said,

"I have filled him with the Spirit of God,
with skill, ability and knowledge
in all kinds of crafts —
to make artistic designs for work in gold,
silver and bronze,
to cut and set stones, to work in wood,
and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship...
Also I have given skill to all the craftsmen to make everything I have commanded you:"

God gave those men skill. He gave them their talents and abilities. What was true of them is also true of us. In 1 Peter 4:10 we read,

"Each one should use whatever gift
he has received to serve others,
faithfully administering God's grace
in its various forms."

Donald Macleod comments, (p. 115)

"grace is the source of gifts for ministry…”

Not even the highest academic and professional competence can compensate for the lack of these."

Every talent, every good characteristic you have, every spiritual gift you possess, has been given to you because of grace. You haven't deserved it, you haven't earned it, in yourself you are not worthy of it—it has come to you because of God's grace. John 1:16 reads, (New English Bible)

"From his full store
we have all received
grace upon grace;"

If you're a good husband or wife, it's because of God's grace. If you're good at your job, it's because of God's grace. If you're intelligent, if you have wisdom, if you are kind and generous—it's all because of God's grace. It is His grace that should be magnified. In ourselves, even after we have done all our duty, we are merely unprofitable servants. (Luke 17:10)

Think about your future. Why will you be safe in the future? Why will you be safe when Jesus comes?

It will be because God's grace. In 1 Peter 1:13 we read,

"Therefore, prepare your minds for action;
be self-controlled;
set your hope fully
on the
grace to be given you
when Jesus Christ is revealed."

When Jesus comes again- what grace is going to be yours. Philippians 3:21 speaks about how our lowly bodies are going to be made like the glorious body of Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15 tells us how those Christians who are alive are going to be transformed. It reads, (verse 51f)

"Listen, I tell you a mystery:
We will not all sleep,
but we will all be changed —
in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye,
at the last trumpet.
For the trumpet will sound,
the dead will be raised imperishable,
and we will be changed.
For the perishable must clothe itself
with the imperishable,
and the mortal with immortality.
When the perishable has been clothed
with the imperishable,
and the mortal with immortality,
then the saying that is written will come true:
'Death has been swallowed up in victory." '

What grace they are going to receive.

If you die before Christ comes you will also receive much grace on the day of Jesus Christ. In
1 Thessalonians 4:13f the apostle Paul writes,

"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant
about those who fall asleep,
or to grieve like the rest of men,
who have no hope.
We believe that Jesus died and rose again
and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus
those who have fallen asleep in him.
According to the Lord's own word,
we tell you that we who are still alive,
who are left till the coming of the Lord,
will certainly not precede
those who have fallen asleep.
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven,
with a loud command,
with the voice of the archangel
and with the trumpet call of God,
and the dead in Christ will rise first.
After that, we who are still alive and are left
will be caught up together with them in the clouds
to meet the Lord in the air.
And so we will be with the Lord forever.
Therefore encourage each other with these words."

What grace is going to be ours on that day.

Do you see what we owe to God's grace?

So you see, grace is with us all the way. Louis
Berkhof writes, (p. 70)

"The grace of God is the source of all spiritual blessings that are bestowed upon sinners."

Berkhof continues, (p. 71)

"The grace of God is of the greatest practical significance for sinful men. It was by grace that the way of redemption was opened for them, Rom. 3:24, 2 Cor. 8:9, and that the message of redemption went out into the world, Acts 14:3. By grace sinners receive the gift of God in Jesus Christ, Acts 18:27; Eph. 2:8. By grace we are justified, Rom. 3:24; 4:16; Tit. 3:7, they are enriched with spiritual blessings, John 1:16; 2 Cor. 8:9; 2 Thess. 2:16, and they finally inherit salvation, Eph. 2:8; Tit. 2:11."

But there's one other area I haven't mentioned yet.

What do we receive when trials and troubles come our way?

Do we go through them without grace? No, not at all. Remember the thorn in the flesh that the apostle Paul spoke about in 2 Corinthians 12? We read, (verses 8-9)

"Three times I pleaded with the Lord
to take it away from me.
But he said to me,
'My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.'"

When we go through trials and hardship, grace is there with us.

We see this in Peter's life as well. Satan desired to have
Peter, that he might sift him as wheat. But there, in his moment of need, grace was with Peter. Jesus said, (Luke 22:32)

"But I have prayed for you,
Simon, that your faith may not fail."

There are so many ways in which God's grace is all around us, no matter what circumstance we are in. God does not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. (1 Corinthians 10:13) That's grace. No one can pluck us out of Jesus' hand. (John 10:28-29) That's grace. We do not even know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (Romans 8:26-27) That's grace.

I could go on and on. But the point ought to be clear. Christians, God's grace is all around you. It was with you before the beginning of time. It has been with you all your life, it will be with you forever. Our God is a God of grace. He does not treat us as we deserve, but instead gives us good things.

The second thing I want you to see from our passage is that

it is only through Jesus that we get this grace

The Book of Hebrews is about the priesthood of Jesus Christ and how it is far superior to the Levitical priesthood. Under the Levitical priesthood, only the high priest was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place, and that only once a year on the Day of Atonement. The rest of the people were prohibited from drawing near to the divine presence.

In Christ, God has changed all that. His grace changed it. In his book,
Knowing God, J. I. Packer quotes an old definition of grace: (p. 116)

“Grace is God's Riches At Christ's Expense."

God's grace only comes to us because of Christ's work on the cross. You'll remember that Matthew tells us that when Jesus died the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from the top to the bottom. This symbolized that access into the Most Holy place is now accessible to all of God's people. Hughes writes,

"Sinners are no longer commanded to keep their distance in fear and trembling, but on the contrary, are now invited to draw near, and to do so with confidence."

Through Jesus and His work, God's grace has given to us full access to the throne of grace.

It's all because of Jesus. Consider what John 1 tells us about Jesus. In John 1:14 we read,

"The Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory,
the glory of the One and Only,
who came from the Father,
full of grace and truth.
John testifies concerning him.
He cries out, saying,
'This was he of whom I said,
'He who comes after me has surpassed me
because he was before me.''
From the fullness of his grace
we have all received one blessing after another.
For the law was given through Moses;
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

How wonderful God's grace is. Donald Macleod writes, (p. 113)

"grace reigns in the moral life of a believer only because Christ, by paying the price of redemption, has established His own ownership of the soul. Equally, grace reigns over the universe only because Christ, the incarnation of grace, has earned His supremacy by His obedience unto Death (Philippians 2:9) Hence the unchallengeableness of the sovereignty of grace, resting not on the fluctuating moral performance of men or on the whim of a sentimental and amoral deity bun on the obedience of the gracebearer, Jesus Christ, glorified because He finished the work which God gave Him to do. (John 17:4)

God's grace only comes because of Jesus.

For non-Christians, this means that

you should embrace Jesus.

Every good thing you have enjoyed so far has come to you through grace. God has not treated you as you deserve. But there is a coming wrath that you will not escape unless you go to Jesus. You need more grace. You can only get it in Jesus. Go to Him now.

Lastly, for Christians, I have two applications.

First of all,

be instruments of grace to others.

We are supposed to be vessels of grace to others. God is a God of grace and He has designed us, His people to be vessels of grace. 1 Peter 4:10 says,

"Each one should use whatever gift
he has received to serve others,
faithfully administering God's grace
in its various forms."

Colossians 4:6 reads,

"Let your conversation
be always full of grace,
seasoned with salt,
so that you may know how to answer everyone."

You are to be vessels of grace to one another.

Do we do that? One of the things that concerns me about this congregation is that lately there seems to be a lot of
negativity, a lot of grumbling and complaining. This morning there's only one thing I want to say about it. It is this:

Don't you dare treat other people as they deserve.

Don't you dare do it. God doesn't want you to treat others as they deserve. He wants you to be a vessel of grace to them. The God you serve is a God of grace and He wants you to be a vessel of grace to others. He has treated you with grace. You are called to treat others with grace.

Lastly, Christians,

praise God for His triumphant grace.

God is a God of grace. His grace will triumph. J.H. Jowett writes, (Sermon, "The Energy of Grace", (Macleod, p. 114.)

"Grace is too commonly regarded as a pleasing sentiment, a soft disposition, a welcome feeling of cozy favor entertained toward us by GodÖ. Grace is more than a smile of good nature. It is not the shimmering face of an illumined lake: it is the sunlit majesty of an advancing sea. It is a transcendent and ineffable force, the outgoing energies of the redeeming personality of God washing against the polluted shores of human need."

Donald Macleod writes, ( p. 115)

"It is from this point of view that grace is irresistible: not in the sense that men cannot resist it but in the old Latin sense that it carries all before it. It is invincible because it flows out of God's determination to save and represents the commitment of all God's resources to that end."

Grace will triumph because Jesus has triumphed. God's grace will triumph over all that is against you. It will triumph over your sin, over your ingratitude, over your enemies—over everything. Praise your God, the God of all grace.