The Attributes of God: The mystery of grace, Part 1

I’ve felt prompted for quite some time now to write a post on the grace of God. But I’ve been cracking my head trying to think up a metaphor that beautifully illustrates the grace of God, and haven’t been able to find one. Which is why I never got round to writing this.

So now that I’m writing this, does that mean I’ve thought of an illustration?

The answer is no. And yes. I have not found an illustration, but I’ve stumbled on an even bigger illustration in the process itself. The reason why I cannot find an appropriate illustration may be because I’m just not a very creative person. But deep down, I also believe it’s because nothing comes close to illustrating the grace of God, unique and incomprehensible in its very nature.

How do you define grace? There are several definitions I’ve found. The common one is that grace is unmerited favour. I think this does not define grace fully. Another one I’ve read is that grace is unmerited favour bestowed by God on His elect. This brings in the idea of grace being sovereign as well, that God chooses who He is gracious to. Again it is accurate, yet I feel it is incomplete.

To me the best definition of grace is this: Grace is God’s favour through Christ to people who deserve his disfavour. I’ve talked much about undeserved favour, but do we ever consider how undeserved it is?

I’m reading a book called “Living the Cross Centered Life” by C.J. Mahaney right now. In it, I was struck by the enormity of the grace of God at the cross. I’ve often mentioned how we deserve the wrath of God for our rebellion to His authority, and I’ve compared it as infinitely worse to the fear and punishment we receive from angry parents as a small child, but I have never seen it in the light portrayed in this book.

The light here is Gethsemane. I had to play the role of Jesus in Gethsemane this Easter for the Sunday School kids, and even there I realised I could barely comprehend the agony Jesus suffered during this time. Mahaney says this of Gethsemane, along with a quote taken from William Lane’s commentary on the gospel of Mark:

Jesus entered the garden ‘to be with the Father for an interlude before his betrayal, but found Hell rather than Heaven open before him.’ Knowing the hour for His death is fast approaching, Jesus has come here in need as never before of His Father’s comfort and strength. instead, hell – utter separation from God – is thrust in His face.

We hear Him cry out: Father – is there an alternative? Is there any way to avoid this? If there’s a way this cup could pass from Me, would you please provide that to Me?

Silence. We can see it in His face – Jesus receives no answer to this desperate entreaty.

A second time He pleads for an alternative to that horror of abandonment by His Father. If such an alternative existed, the Father would most surely provide it. But the obedient Son’s plea to His loving Father is met with silence. Why?

Listen to this verse again for the very first time: For God so loved the world…that He is silent to His Son’s agonising appeal.

This is what bearing our sin means to Him – utter distress of soul as He confronts total abandonment and absolute wrath from His father on the cross, a distress and an abandonment and a rejection we cannot begin to grasp.

In this, our Saviour’s darkest hour…do you recognise His love for you?

The wrath of God is the thrust of Hell upon us. Eternal separation from God. Pain that Jesus chose to endure on our behalf. That is grace. We deserved everything Jesus endured, but He willingly drank of the cup of wrath so that we could drink from the cup of salvation. You cannot cherish the grace of God without truly understanding the depths of our depravity and the magnitude of the holy wrath directed at us. Mahaney ends the chapter with the following insight:

We can drink from this cup [of salvation] only because Jesus spoke those words about the other cup [of wrath]: “yet not what I will, but what you will.”

I will drink it all.

As we watch Jesus pray in agony in Gethsemane, He has every right to turn His tearful eyes toward you and me and shout, “This is your cup. You’re responsible for this. It’s your sin! You drink it.” This cup should rightfully be thrust into my hand and yours.

Instead, Jesus freely takes it Himself…so that from the cross He can look down at you and me, whisper our names, and say, “I drain this cup for you – for you who have lived in defiance of me, who have hated Me, who have opposed Me. I drink it all…for you.”

This is what our sin makes necessary. This is what’s required by your pride and my pride, by your selfishness and my selfishness, by your disobedience and my disobedience. Behold Him…behold His suffering…and recognise His love.

The love of God is a gracious love. It is a love that took our cup and drained it for us at great cost, so that we could drink from the other cup. Look no further than the cross for the illustration of grace.

And let us not spit on it.


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