by Jeff McAlvey
For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
~ John 1:16
Reading through the Scriptures over the years, I have always noticed that Paul starts each of his letters with something similar to Romans 1:7 – “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” For the longest time that was confusing to me. I had always understood grace to be God’s unmerited favor that, through the sacrifice of Christ, provided us salvation. Saving Grace. Here was Paul, writing to Christians, who had already received saving grace, wishing for them to receive more grace from Christ.
I only recently noticed that Paul also ends all his letters with a wish for more grace (he ends the book of Romans, for example, with “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you”). I have learned from the great preaching we are privileged to sit under at URC that if something is repeated in Scripture, it is important. So, since Paul begins and ends every letter with a wish for more of God’s grace for his readers, it must be really important.
What is this grace Paul is speaking of if not saving grace? John Piper defines it as “an influence, or force, or power, or acting of God that works in us to change our capacity for work, suffering, and obedience.” So, God not only offers us grace unto salvation, but also, in his incredible love, gives us grace to live an obedient, effective Christian life. Pastor Kevin in his sermon on Sunday called it “serving grace.” It could also be called sanctifying grace, that is, grace to grow in Christlikeness.
As we come to understand serving/sanctifying grace, verses like 2 Corinthians 9:8 (“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may be abound in every good work”) makes much more sense and gives us confidence. And Corinthians 12:9 becomes even more encouraging: “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Ok, so serving/sanctifying grace is really important, but what does this mean for us practically? There is a long list, but let me offer a few. When we are called to minister for Christ and think we are not up to the task, we need to remember that God provides grace to serve where he has called us. Likewise, when going through temptation, discouragement, or suffering, and it seems we can’t endure anymore, we must remember we can stand firm in the grace he provides. Lastly, if Paul desires more grace for the Corinthians, Galatians, and Timothy, we too can rightly desire more of God’s grace and should be praying for more grace to grow in faithfulness and righteousness, that it would be multiplied to us, as Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:2.
What a glorious truth. God justifies us through grace, and he gives us more grace to live a life pleasing and glorifying to him. Indeed, he does provide grace upon grace!