By Femi Aribisala
The centrepiece of Paul’s doctrine of salvation is what he refers to as “the election of grace.” (Romans 11:5). In his epistles, Paul shows that God does not relate to people: “according to their good or bad works.” (Romans 9:12). On the contrary, he relates to them according to His own purposes which He determines all by Himself.
This grace of God does not conform to any human yardstick. We cannot deserve it or work to earn it. God says to Moses: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (Exodus 33:19).
This means it is God who determines those on whom He showers His grace. It is dispensed entirely at His discretion. We cannot choose to receive God’s grace. It is completely gratuitous. Jesus says to His disciples: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” (John 15:16).
Paul mentions the word “grace” no less than 91 times in his epistles. However, Jesus, the very architect of God’s grace, does not mention the word even once in the gospels. But this should not lead to the conclusion that Jesus did not display the grace of God.
Indeed, Jesus preached God’s grace more than Paul. But he preached it practically by showing grace in action. Indeed, it can even be argued that Paul merely taught the grace that Jesus practiced.
Bible prophecy says gracious words would stream from Jesus’ lips. (Psalm 45:2). This was realised from his childhood when Luke observes that: “the grace of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:40). Furthermore, at his inaugural preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, Luke says everyone was amazed by: “the gracious words that came from (Jesus’) lips.” (Luke 4:22).
John also observes that Jesus was: “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). He says Jesus came from heaven to dispense one grace after another. (John 1:16). He then points out that: “The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17).
What precisely is this grace of God, and how does it find expression in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?
Throughout his ministry, Jesus never gave anybody what they deserved. He only gave what they did not deserve. John the Baptist warned Israel not to assume their Abrahamic heritage would earn them special favours. (Matthew 3:9). Nobody obtains anything from God by entitlement.
As a result, Jesus was a master of the unexpected. He turned water into wine at a wedding even though it was not yet time for miracles. (John 2:1-11). His people expected him to do His miracles in his Jewish hometown of Nazareth, but He did not. (Matthew 13:58). Instead, he did them mostly in Capernaum, a predominantly Gentile city that He made the base of His operations.
When they complained, He pointed out that there were many widows in Israel, in the days of Elijah, when it did not rain for years and there was a great famine in the land. Nevertheless, Elijah was sent to none of them but to a widow in Zarephath, in the non-Jewish region of Sidon. He also pointed out that many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha. Nevertheless, none of them was cleansed except for Naaman the Syrian.
This expose of the unmerited grace of God so annoyed Jesus’ people in Nazareth that they decided to kill Him. But He managed to escape from them.
Last will be first
When Paul had what he describes as “a thorn” in his flesh, he expected Jesus to heal him. He pleaded with Jesus for healing on three different occasions but Jesus refused. Instead, Jesus told Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Accordingly, Jesus’ principle of grace teaches us to be counter-intuitive. The Lord said to me: “Femi, never give people what they deserve. Only give them what they don’t deserve.” This is because God ignores those who think they deserve anything from him. He only pays attention to the undeserving.
Jesus says: “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Matthew 19:30). Thus, when He came to his own people, the Jews, they rejected him. (John 1:11). God says to Israel in Hosea: “You are not My people, and I will not be your God.” (Hosea 1:9).
In effect, favoured Israel went from first to last. It is only from this last position that Israel can become first again and get back into God’s favour: “It shall come to pass, in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ there it shall be said to them, ‘you are sons of the living God.'” (Hosea 1:10).
God said to Rebecca: “Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23).
Accordingly, God procedurally rejects entitled first-borns. Ishmael was Abraham’s firstborn son, but God preferred Isaac to him. Esau was Isaac’s firstborn son, but God chose Jacob. Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn, but he forfeited his birthright by sleeping with his father’s concubine. (Genesis 35:22). Thereafter, Judah became first. (Judges 20:18).
Manasseh was Joseph’s firstborn son, but God preferred Ephraim. (Genesis 48:17-19). Aaron was the firstborn son of Amram (Exodus 6:20); but God chose his junior brother, Moses, to supersede him. Eliab was the firstborn son of Jesse, but God preferred David as the king of Israel. The oldest son of David was Absalom, but God chose Solomon as David’s successor.
Grace in action
Jesus was only impressed with the faith of those who were not Jewish and therefore not entitled. He commended the faith of a Roman centurion, saying: “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” (Matthew 8:10). He healed the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman, even though He was only sent to the Jews. (Matthew 15:24-28).
When he healed ten men of leprosy, the only leper who came back to give thanks was a Samaritan. He revealed himself as the Messiah to a woman who was not a Jew but a despised Samaritan. (John 4:26). Despite his miracles, the Jew did not believe in him. But the Samaritans believed in Him without seeing any miracles whatsoever. (John 4:39-44).
With Jesus, the worst sinners received the warmest welcome, while the most scrupulous law-abiders received the greatest castigation. (Matthew 23:13-36).
Jesus dined and consorted with sinners. He appointed a thief, Judas, as His treasurer. He invited another thief on the cross to be with Him in paradise. He called Matthew, a despised tax collector, to be one of His disciples. He befriended prostitutes and women of easy virtue, insisting they would enter the kingdom of God before the religious leaders. (Matthew 21:31).
This is Jesus’ word of grace to entitled Israel: “Many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:11-12).
TO BE CONTINUED…