By Rod Denton, Equipping The Next Generation
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That sustains a soul like me
I once was weak, but now I'm strong
Through Christ who lives in me.
THE GRACE OF GOD COMES TO US IN TWO INSTALLMENTS: FIRST WE ARE SAVED BY GRACE (AMAZING GRACE PART 1) AT CONVERSION, AND THEN WE ARE SUSTAINED BY GRACE (AMAZING GRACE PART 2) FOR THE REMAINDER OF OUR LIVES.
Interestingly it is possible to be saved by grace and yet not sustained by grace. That is why some Christians can be thriving while others are just surviving; or why some Christians rely on their own strength to serve God while others are supernaturally empowered in their service for God.
To find the answer, let us look at the early post-conversion life of the apostle Paul who shared how it was only after he became a “basket case” that he realised there was more to the grace of God than he had imagined to be. In more recent times the term “basket case” emerged during World War 1 where a soldier was so badly wounded by enemy fire that he could have lost part or all of his arms and legs. Consequently, he was carried or wheeled around in a basket to compensate for his state of helplessness and dependency. And from this, the term “basket case” evolved describing a person who was in some way largely dependent on others.
Interestingly, many years prior to World War 1, Paul confessed that it was only when he became a basket case that he experienced a great breakthrough in his Christian life. Perhaps you are reading this article and you have never learned the secret of experiencing the sustaining grace of God in your daily Christian life. Then follow Paul’s breakthrough story.
Paul’s early attempts to preach the good news of Jesus following his Damascus road conversion ended up in failure. Note what happened in Damascus.
“At once he began to preach in the synagogue that Jesus is the Son of God. Paul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. After many days had gone by the Jews conspired to kill him. But Paul learned of their plans. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.” — Acts 9:20-25
Paul sought to baffle the Jews with his intellect and had to escape in a basket to save his life. Perhaps this was the first time he had experienced failure in his life. So Paul travelled to Jerusalem and tried again.“
So Paul moved around freely in Jerusalem, …boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the brothers learned of this they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.” — Acts 9:26-30
This time Paul spoke boldly and debated with the Jews, and again he is sent on his way by his fellow Christians.
And look what happens when Paul departs the scene. An amazing contrast takes place.
“Then (after Paul went home) the church throughout Judea Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened… and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. “ — Acts 9:31
What a contrast. Now on two occasions this brilliant debater and gifted leader had to flee because his life was in danger. He was sent home to Tarsus. In my imagination, I can picture him receiving a letter from the Christians in Jerusalem something like this...
Since you left Jerusalem so much has happened. Peace has been restored and the church in the whole region has been strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit. Not only that, but we have seen a radical growth in numbers. It seems that since you left us, revival has broken out.”
How do you think this dynamic leader, Paul, might have felt and what was God trying to teach him so early in his ministry? Can I suggest that it is one of the most important lessons any followers of Jesus will need to learn if they are going to be used in His service?
Some years later Paul wrote to the church at Corinth and in his letter, he responded to people who were false apostles who were boasting of their achievements and were calling Paul a fool and weak. This is now a different Paul to the one who first started out in his ministry at Damascus and Jerusalem. For Paul had subsequently learned a valuable lesson as he reflected on his first attempts at preaching about Jesus.
Paul writes, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness... (where did Paul learn this incredible life-changing lesson?) In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.” — 2 Corinthians 11:30-33
Paul had come to the amazing conclusion that his strengths, taken to an extreme, had become weaknesses, as it is for all of us. In the next chapter, Paul continues his paradoxical lesson regarding strength and weakness, this time where he learned this lesson through a “thorn in the flesh.”
“But He (the Lord) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient (tailor-made) for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecution, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” — 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
I wonder if you have learned this breakthrough lesson? We are not only saved by grace but we are sustained by grace and Paul first learned this lesson when he became a basket case at Damascus.
Now for the practical application.
How to Live in the Sustaining Grace of God
1. UNDERSTAND THE BASKET CASE EXPERIENCES
It took a basket case experience for Paul to come to the point where he embraced the sustaining grace of God. It was the basket case experience that exposed the inadequacy of his strengths and to find them in fact to be weaknesses in his service for Jesus. Consequently, he could say, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that reveal my weaknesses...” Why? Because “the Lord’s power is made perfect in weakness.”
In fact, Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” would remain with him as a continual reminder that God’s power “is made perfect in weakness.” When the reality of this truth penetrated his thinking, Paul even came to the point where he could say “I delight in weaknesses....”
I wonder whether we get to experience the reality of continually living in the sustaining grace of God without first of all encountering our own basket case or thorn in the flesh; those moments that reveal to us that our best efforts only lead to failure and the removal of all pride and self-glory. For how can God entrust to us a God-sized calling if we have not come to realise that our own efforts will be totally inadequate to live out this calling? When we understand this, we are ready to move on to the next step.
2. ASK EARNESTLY FOR THE GRACE OF GOD
“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” — Hebrews 4:16
We must place ourselves in a position where we are open to all the grace that God has for us every day. Three keys to asking earnestly for grace are:
- I must want the grace of God more than anything else.
- I know that if I have the grace of God I have everything.
- I must ask for the grace of God and receive it by faith.
3. BY FAITH RECEIVE THE GRACE OF GOD
“Receptivity is the surrender of all fears, all doubts and all inhibitions, especially the self, for the ego, even in God’s presence asserts itself and wants to be God. It must be surrendered.” — E. Stanley Jones
The flow of God’s grace can be blocked by our inability to receive it. One of my greatest barriers to receiving God’s sustaining grace is my fear or doubt that God will not give me the grace for a certain challenge I am about to face. These feelings can only be overcome by prayer and taking a step of faith trusting in the faithfulness of God to fulfil His promise to grant me His sustaining grace in the situation I am about to face.
“So then, just as you have received Jesus Christ as Lord (saving grace), continue to live your lives in Him (sustaining grace) rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” — Colossians 2:6
4. WALK OBEDIENTLY BY FAITH IN THE FLOW OF GOD’S GRACE
“See to it that you do not miss the grace of God….” — Hebrews 12:13
An attitude of humility is important if we are going to walk in the flow of the grace of God because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
In the unfolding of our Christian walk it is possible to miss the grace of God.“Many have slowed down on the path of Christian discipleship because by refusing God’s grace at one stage, they prevented themselves from receiving it at a later stage.... I cannot emphasise this fact too strongly: whenever there has been a slowing down or a slackening off in spiritual things it can always be traced back to some sin of commission or omission. You see, whenever God gives us a task or challenge He also provides the grace which enables us to rise to it. By refusing the task or the challenge we refuse the grace. And that’s when we run on to the sandbank. Refusal to reach for the grace at that point means we are not offered subsequent supplies of grace. Grace is there, rolling in like the waves of the sea, but we must use the grace first given to be able to use the grace that succeeds it.” — Selwyn Hughes
5. GROW IN THE GRACE OF GOD
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” — Galatians 2:20
Rather than miss the grace of God, the better option is to continually graduate in the grace of God and thereby attain to new levels of fruitfulness. Is it any wonder that Paul, in each of his New Testament letters, starts and finishes each letter with the powerful blessing of the sustaining grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I grow in the grace of God when I understand that God’s resources will always exceed my needs, when God’s possibilities will always be greater than my impossibilities, when God’s strengths will always be greater than my weaknesses and when I consider God’s promises of greater value than my doubts.
“It was resting in Jesus now, and letting Him do the work – which makes all the difference…. It was in blessed reality ‘Christ lives in me’. The difference in him was immense – instead of bondage, liberty; instead of failure, quiet victories within; instead of fear and weakness, a restful sense of sufficiency in Christ.”
— HUDSON TAYLOR’S SPIRITUAL SECRET by Howard and Geraldine Taylor
In summary, I have found that steps to growing in the grace of God include:
- A new challenge from God
- Confidence in the sustaining grace of God through Christ who lives in me
- A faith step in obedience to God and resting in the sufficiency of Christ
- Experiencing the grace of God at work when embracing the challenge of GodGrowth (graduate) in the grace of GodA new level in fruitfulness in my service for God
- A prayer in response to the grace of God:
“I always thank my God because of His grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way – with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge.” — 1 Corinthians 1:4-5
Annie Johnson Flint was one of the great hymn writers. Her biography, written by Rowland Bingham, was called The Making of The Beautiful. Shortly after she was born she was orphaned. She suffered a lot in her life. She contracted rheumatoid arthritis and was twisted up in bed for many decades. She had cancer and was incontinent. Blindness started to overtake her. Before she died there were numerous boils and marks on her body from lying in bed. However, in the midst of this, she wrote this hymn.
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase
To added affliction, He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed before the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving has only begun.
His love knows no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power has no boundary known unto us.
And out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
— Annie Johnson Flint
Annie Johnson Flint could testify, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” — 2 Corinthians 4:7
Pause for a moment and listen to The Living Stones Quartet sing this song: https://youtu.be/hzhKGPireAA
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with God’s people. Amen.” — Revelation 22:21
(the last verse in the Bible)
Published on January 27, 2021.
This article is reposted with permission and was originally published here: https://roddentoneng.com.au/amazing-grace-part-2-gods-sustaining-grace/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rod Denton has served as a pastor and as a teacher in the development of emerging leaders in Australia and 9 different countries across Asia with Asian Access. He now serves as a consultant for Rod Denton Equipping The Next Generation. Rod also serves part-time as the Mission's Resource Consultant with the Salvation Army.