When is the Gift of God’s Grace Received in Vain?

person s holds brown gift box

“We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. 2 (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.) 3 Giving no offence in anything, that the ministry be not blamed.” ~2 Corinthians 6:1-3

On July 4, 1776, Americans claimed independence from Great Britain and Democracy was born. Every day thousands leave their homeland to come to the “land of the free and the home of the brave” so they can begin their American Dream. The United States is truly a diverse nation made up of dynamic people. Historically they have been welcomed reflected in part by the poem that in 1903 was inscribed on the Statue of Liberty on Staten Island in New York’s harbor. The poem was written by a young lady named Emma Lazarus (1849-1887). In 1883 Emma was 34 years old when she wrote the following.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,*
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name,
Mother of Exiles.

From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

*Referring to the Colossus of Rhodes,
one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Millions took advantage of this grand invitation, and they came to this country to join in the celebration of freedom and independence, with barbecues, picnics, and family gatherings. It is right for the nation to take time to reflect upon and celebrate the great freedom that has been entrusted to it, for many nations are still enslaved. Many nations do not enjoy the blessings of freedom associated with this great country.

If God is gracious some nations will soon know liberty. President Bush likes to say that Democracy is on the march in the Middle East. Millions are hoping and praying he is right. Thousands are dying to bring life and liberty to others.

The Declaration of Independence signed on July 4, 1776 reminds the church there is another day of freedom to celebrate. It is the date of one’s conversion. Every Christian has a day of freedom to remember, and to celebrate, because of the change that came into the heart when they were born again.

“What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought
Since Jesus came into my heart!

I have light in my soul for which long I had sought,
Since Jesus came into my heart!

Since Jesus came into my heart,
Since Jesus came into my heart,
Floods of joy o’er my soul
Like the sea billows roll,
Since Jesus came into my heart.”

Rufus H. McDaniel, 1914

The apostle Paul writes of this special day in 2 Corinthians 6:1 “We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. 2 (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.) 3 Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed.”

The church of Corinth had many problems, not the least of which was open immorality. Other problems included church factions, and personality cults. There was also abuse around the Lord’s Table as individuals were getting drunk, and neglecting to share their food with others. Is it any wonder that Paul pleads with the professing Christians not to receive the grace of God in vain?

The grace of God is received in vain when there is no holiness of life. Holiness is declared in Scripture to be something beautiful.

“Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before him: worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness” (1 Chron. 16:29).

“Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness” (Psalms 29:2).

“O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth” (Psalms 96:9).

So beautiful is holiness to the heart of the righteous songs are song about it.

In 2 Chronicles 20:21 we read that when Solomon “had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the LORD, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the LORD; for his mercy endureth for ever.”   One of the great songs of the church today says,

“Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!”

Reginald Heber, 1826

Religious zealots can take away the beauty of holiness by substituting a list of standards for a vital relationship with the living Lord.  When that is done spiritual vitality flows away, and is replaced by anger out of duty. This in part is why Martin Luther said, “Love God and do as you please.”

Martin Luther understood that a person who loves God will want to be with God, and the people of God. Gospel duties will become gospel delights. The heart will want to attend church services. The heart will want to read the Bible. The heart will seek out holy conversations, and shall witness to the lost out of concern for their immortal souls. All of this is done because the “person who has been justified by God’s grace has a new, higher, and nobler motivation for holiness than the shallow, hypocritical self-righteousness or fear that seems to motivate so may religious people today” (Michael Horton).

Individuals who engage in spiritual activities out of fear of what others will say instead of out of love for God will be bitter and resent all through the service and will not be blessed.  Even worse, all the grace of God they have received will have been received in vain. “Love God,” said Luther, “and do as you please” knowing that a life of holiness will be made manifest and that with a joyful spirit.

The grace of God is received in vain when a gracious heart it is not extended to others in their hour of need. The hour of need is when the law has been broken. In the December 14, 1992 issue of Progress Magazine the story was reported of a time when Billy Graham was driving through a small southern town. He was stopped by a policeman and charged with speeding.

Mr. Graham admitted his guilt, but was told by the officer that he would have to appear in court. He went to court. The judge asked, “Guilty, or not guilty?”  When Mr. Graham pleaded guilty, the judge replied, “That’ll be ten dollars—a dollar for every mile you went over the limit.”

Suddenly the judge recognized the famous minister. “You have violated the law,” he said. “The fine must be paid—but I am going to pay it for you.” He took a ten-dollar bill from his own wallet, attached it to the ticket, and then took Mr. Graham out and bought him a steak dinner! “That,” said Billy Graham, “is how God treats repentant sinners!”  Jesus taught this same concept of great grace when He told the story of the prodigal son.

After wasting all of his substance with riotous living, the young man came to himself and wanted to return home.  He started out and soon, very soon, he saw his father who was running to greet his erring child. I think the Father ran to greet his son lest his son not make it all the way home.

I know what I would have said if I were that child a long way from home. I would have said not only “Father,” I have sinned” but I would have said, “Father, come and get me. Come and get me. I might not make it home. Sin has made me weak. Sin has broken my strength. Sin has robbed me of my resolve. I can only turn towards home in my heart but Father, come and get me. I have sinned and I am sorry.”

And the father ran to greet his erring child and cried out, “I forgive. Now bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:23-24).

In 1835 Miss Charlotte Elliott was vi­sit­ing some friends in the West End of Lon­don, and there met the em­i­nent min­is­ter, Cesar Malan. While seat­ed at sup­per, the min­is­ter said he hoped that she was a Christ­ian. She took of­fense at this, and re­plied that she would ra­ther not dis­cuss that quest­ion. Dr. Ma­lan said that he was sor­ry if had of­fend­ed her, that he al­ways liked to speak a word for his Mas­ter, and that he hoped that the young la­dy would some day be­come a work­er for Christ. When they met again at the home of a mu­tu­al friend, three weeks lat­er, Miss Ell­i­ott told the min­is­ter that ev­er since he had spok­en to her she had been try­ing to find her Sav­iour, and that she now wished him to tell her how to come to Christ. “Just come to him as you are,” Dr. Ma­lan said. This she did, and went away re­joic­ing. Shortly af­ter­ward she wrote this hymn.

“Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, of that free love
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!”

Had Miss Charlotte Elliott known the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace and love she might have altered the hymn slightly and written from a divine perspective.

“Just as thou art, without one plea,

But that My blood was shed for thee,

And that I bidst thee come to Me,

O child of mine, I come, I come.

Just as thou art, and waiting not

To rid thy soul of one dark blot,

By Me whose blood can cleanse each spot,

O child of mine, I come, I come.

Just as thou art, though tossed about

With many a conflict, many a doubt,

Fightings and fears within, without,

O child of mine, I come, I come.

Just as thou art, poor, wretched, blind;

Sight, riches, healing of the mind,

Yea, all thou need in Me to find,

Just as thou art, I wilt receive,

Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;

Because I promise thou believe,

 O child of mine, I come, I come.

Just as thou art,

My love unknown

Hath broken every barrier down;

Now, to be Mine, yea, Mine alone,

 O child of mine, I come, I come.

Just as thou art, of that free love

The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,

Here for a season, then above,

O child of mine, I come, I come!”

When his elder brother heard what the Father had done for his younger brother he became angry. He was angry because even though he too had received grace from his father he did not want to show it to another. Evidence that great grace of a different kind had been shown to the elder brother is reflected in the words, of Luke 15:31 “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.”

The son was reminded that he had been born into privilege.  Even though he might have stayed home and been a responsible member of the household that was only his duty. The privilege of being in the household knowing he would receive the wealth of the father was a matter of grace. As the younger brother had to come to himself and repent so the elder brother had to repent as well lest he receive grace in vain.

Third, the grace of God is received in vain when the day of salvation is forgotten “For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).  While these words are a quotation from the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 49:8) who was speaking of the Messiah, Paul applies the thoughts to the professing believer and with good reason. “The gospel is a word of grace sounding in our ears; but it will be in vain for us to hear it, unless we believe it, and comply with the end and design of it” (Matthew Henry).

In order to avoid receiving the grace of God in vain the Christian and do the following.

First, the Christian can learn to love holiness by falling in love with the Holy Spirit and yielding to His control.  The story is told that evangelist D. L. Moody conducting a campaign in England. An elderly pastor protested, “Why do we need this ‘Mr. Moody’? He’s uneducated, inexperienced, etc. Who does he think he is anyway? Does he think he has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?” A younger, wiser pastor rose and responded, “No, but the Holy Spirit has a monopoly on Mr. Moody.” Jesus promised that if we asked God the Father He would give us the gift of the Holy Spirit. If we are wise we will plead with the Spirit to have a monopoly on our lives.

Second, the Christian can show great grace to others.  In as far as the believer prays to be like Christ, the Lord will send individuals to hurt and harm us in order that we might show mercy and grace to them.

Finally, the Christian can endure to the end by persevering in the faith. Perseverance in the faith will be found easier when gospel terms are followed. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:29-30).

Oh, may the grace of God not be received in vain. Let the church celebrate the day of salvation and go on to live a redeemed life by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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