Theme: No Withholding of Grace
This week’s lessons show how the abounding grace of God triumphs over the sin of anyone who comes to Jesus Christ for salvation.
Scripture: Romans 5:20, 21
These verses say several important things about grace, and the first is that grace is not withheld because of sin. We need to understand this clearly, because in normal life you and I do not operate this way. If we are offended by somebody, we tend to withdraw from the person and withhold favor. If people offend us greatly, we find it hard even to be civil. God is not like this.
On the contrary, where sin increased, grace super abounds.
What happened when Adam and Eve sinned? We saw the answer in the first of these studies. They feared that grace would be withdrawn. God had been good to them, yet they had rebelled against his law concerning the forbidden tree. God had said, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17). When God came to them, calling in the garden, they hid in terror thinking that the judgment God had threatened would now be executed. Instead, they found grace. God did not withhold grace because of their sin. He made great promises of grace, announcing that the Messiah would come to destroy the work of Satan and bring the man and woman back to Paradise. Adam and Eve tried to cover their shame with fig leaves, but God clothed them with the skins of animals which represented Christ’s righteousness. Grace was not withheld from Adam and Eve; grace was given in spite of sin.
It was the same in the days of Moses, when the people had come to Mount Sinai and the law was being given. On the mountain God told Moses, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:2, 3). But while God was saying that, the people he had brought out of Egypt were breaking, not only this command, but also all the other commands he was giving. They were taking his name in vain, dishonoring their fathers and mothers, committing adultery, stealing, bearing false witness, coveting, and doing many other wicked things besides. Was this a barrier to God’s grace? Not at all. On the very mountain from which he had looked down on the sin of this people, God gave specifications for the construction of the tabernacle with its altar and priesthood, and instituted ceremonies that showed the method by which sinful men and women could approach the holy God. Grace was not withheld from Israel because of sin. On the contrary, where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.
We come to the New Testament, and the principle unfolds with even greater splendor. The Son of God appeared on earth as the perfection of every grace. But instead of receiving him, his own people hounded him to death. Pilate would have released him, but the people, urged on by their corrupt spiritual leaders, shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” So Pilate did. But even as he was being crucified, Jesus prayed for those who were causing his pain, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). And it was by his death that Jesus made atonement for our sins and opened heaven to those who should believe on him as their Savior. Even so great a sin as crucifying the Son of God did not cause grace to be withheld. Rather, where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.
What of the disciples? Peter had denied his Lord on the evening of Jesus’ trial. He did it with oaths and curses. But Jesus did not condemn Peter. Instead, Jesus appeared to him personally following the resurrection and recommissioned him to service (John 21:15-22): “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” asked Jesus.
“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” Peter answered.
“Then you must feed my lambs,” Jesus countered.
Paul experienced the same thing. Paul’s testimony is nearly identical to Bunyan’s, which is why Bunyan used Paul’s words to depict his experience. Paul told the Corinthians, “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve 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 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” (1 Cor. 15:8-10).
Near the end of his life Paul wrote to his young co-worker Timothy: “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 [here he uses a combination of the two words found in Romans 5:20, the first of the two verbs plus the emphasizing prefix hyper, which is part of the second], along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:13-16).
From the lesson, what is the first thing we need to understand about grace, and why is this important?
Review the sins committed in the biblical stories, and how God demonstrated grace to his people.
Key Point: Even so great a sin as crucifying the Son of God did not cause grace to be withheld. Rather, where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.