A. Craig Troxel
How easily we Christians fall into moments of skepticism regarding the vast riches of God's grace in Christ that are available to us, despite the overwhelming testimonials both in Scripture and in the pages of our life's experience. Although we have an unlimited line of credit in our fellowship with God, we wonder if his grace is really sufficient. We ask ourselves questions like these: Will God forgive me this time? Will he still love me after what I have done? When will he give up on me? Should I ask him for help again? Our communion with God the Son is in the abundance of his unlimited grace, but it does little good if we doubt and do not access the wealth of spiritual blessings that God has in store for those whom he loves.
In the previous articles, I defined communion with God as an intimate, mutual, covenantal bond between God and his people. To commune with the living God is to participate in a living fellowship with him. In it, we speak and listen to him, draw near to him as he draws near to us, and grow in our knowledge and love for him.
Moreover, every area of that relationship, like all of our salvation and every spiritual benefit that we receive from God, is triunely planned, procured, and applied. Our communion with God is related to each distinct person of the Godhead in a unique way, but without excluding the other members of the Trinity. For example, as we grow in our communion with God the Son, it is chiefly and eminently a relationship characterized by grace, his unmerited favor, yet grace is also displayed by God the Father and God the Spirit.
We commune with God through the eternal Son of God, our Mediator, who now literally embodies all the fullness of divine perfections (Col. 2:9). From all eternity, Christ is Godall-powerful, sovereign, "most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious" (Larger Catechism, Q. 7). Nevertheless, although Christ is "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14; cf. Ex. 34:6), he was not yet "thoroughly furnished" to save us until he became flesh and took our nature upon himself (Confession of Faith, 8.3). Scripture teaches that this was necessary for our salvation. "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things.... He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:14, 17).
The communing of God the Son in our nature is what John Owen refers to as the "personal grace" of the Son. That the eternal Son would make himself nothing by "being made in human likeness" (Phil. 2:7-8 NIV) is truly gracious. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9). If the eternal Son is a treasury of grace, and the Son becoming flesh is a manifestation of grace, then the Son's redemptive work is the outpouring of grace.
The Word of God reflects upon our salvation as the redemption that Christ has purchased. Since by nature we stand spiritually impoverished or bankrupt before God (Matt. 5:3; 18:21-35), we need him to "forgive us our debts" (Matt. 6:12). To be sure, for such gracious condescension to take place, our sin must be covered, God's wrath must be quenched, and the requirements of the law must be satisfied. But someone must pay the price to free us from our spiritual indebtedness to God. Since our sin offends the infinite holiness and righteousness of God, only the priceless and "precious blood of Christ" is sufficient to ransom us from our former empty lives (1 Pet. 1:19). God justifies us freely, but he did not justify us for free. We pay nothing, but Christ paid everything. We were "bought at a price" (1 Cor. 6:20 NIV), and that price was paid by Christ, who came to "give his life as a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45; see also Ps. 49:7-9, 15; 1 Tim. 2:6). John Owen calls this the "purchased grace" of the Son.
The redemption that Christ has purchased for us and its benefits that the Holy Spirit applies to us are nothing less than the outpouring of God's richesthe riches of his kindness, glory, inheritance, and grace (Rom. 10:12; 11:12, 33; 2:4; 9:23; Eph. 1:18; 2:7). The abundance of God's love in Christ for sinners is revealed in the gospel as the "immeasurable riches of his grace" (Eph. 2:7) and the "unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph. 3:8). In the gospel, Christ's perfect righteousness is imputed to sinners, that is, credited to our account (2 Cor. 5:21). The sealing work of the Holy Spirit is the "deposit" or "guarantee" of our "inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading," waiting for us in heaven (Eph. 1:14; 2 Cor. 5:5; 1 Pet. 1:4; Matt. 6:20). Because of the many benefits that accompany or flow from our justification, adoption, and hope of future glorification, we are truly "rich" (2 Cor. 8:9; 6:10; Luke 12:21; Rev. 2:9). Even at the close of worship we are regularly reassured of our boundless privileges as the blessing of "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ" is placed upon us (2 Cor. 13:14). So why do we so easily forget that these vast riches are available to us? We need to access the riches of God's grace in Christ as we seek to walk in obedient fellowship with him.
Christ himself is a vast treasury of grace. He came "full of grace" and "from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace" (John 1:14, 16). We are constantly in need of this grace. Christ never encourages us to grow independently of him, but rather to grow in our dependence upon him. Apart from him, we cannot grow, bear fruit, or struggle successfully against the enemy (John 15:5; Phil. 2:13; Eph. 3:20; 6:10). In short, apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:4; cf. 2 Pet. 3:18). Otherwise we will run without progress, fight without victory, labor in vain, despair in feelings of guilt, and write checks that our lives cannot cash.
As we strive against sin, we need to avail ourselves of Christ's unlimited grace. Although sin cannot sever our union with Christ, it certainly disturbs our communion with him. When David sinned, he pleaded God's "abundant mercy," because God revealed himself as the God who abounds in love and hence forgives sin (Ps. 51:1; cf. Ex. 34:6-7). Christ abounds in grace for the forgiveness of sin (John 1:14). We need this grace. Ask anyone who has struggled with financial debt. It is a burden you cannot carry.
Our communion with God is an intimate and mutual friendship. If our relationship with Christ is truly going to be a living fellowship, then we must draw near to him in our weakness and neediness, and believe that he wants to draw near to us and supply us with his grace. As we seek Christ in worship, prayer, Scripture, and the Lord's Supper, what does he tell us that we will find? Scripture says, "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16).
Because Christ is both God and man, we are confident that he is fully equipped to help us in our time of need. In him dwell both the fullness of divinity and the treasures of compassion. He sympathizes with us, and he knows what it means to be tempted (Heb. 4:15). He can and is ready to help us. His wealth is without measure, and his empathy is etched in fleshly wounds. He knows what it means to suffer in humiliation, but now he is in an exalted position to help us. He draws near to us by his Word and Spirit in order to strengthen, comfort, encourage, and convict us when we are tempted, distraught, discouraged, or indifferent (Heb. 2:17). He invites us to ask, so that we may receive. And yet so often our frailty and failure is due to the fact that we do not ask. And when we do ask, we do not ask in faith (Jas. 4:2-3).
Brothers and sisters in Christ, believe that God can supply all of your needs according to the riches of his glorious grace in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19). Believe that, though you sin, his grace increases all the more. Believe that, if you lack understanding, you will find in Christ infinite treasures of wisdom. Go to him with every problem, weakness, hardship, struggle, or sin, and you will find that his grace is more than sufficient. God has already made you exceedingly rich. Do not live as one who lacks resources. Your fellowship is with the one whose unlimited grace will abound all the more and forevermore.
The author is pastor of Calvary OPC in Glenside, Pa. He quotes the ESV unless otherwise indicated. This is the third article in a four-part series. Reprinted from New Horizons, July 2006.