Currently we are in a study that I have entitled – ‘What’s So Amazing about Grace?’ During the 1700’s, a man by the name of John Newton wrote a song called – Amazing Grace. Almost everyone knows the first verse:
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
I. GOD’S AMAZING GRACE IS SUFFICIENT TO SAVE US FROM OUR SINS
John Newton did not always consider God’s grace to be amazing. There was a time when Newton was a very hard and cruel man. As a sea captain, he carried slaves from Africa to England. Yet during a storm one night, John Newton was made to realize his need for God’s grace and he cried out for salvation. God did save John Newton. And by His amazing grace, God gloriously changed John Newton and from that point on Newton worshiped God for His amazing grace. Some believe that Amazing Grace is the greatest hymn ever written. Indeed it is the most well known.
Someone else who struggled with receiving God’s grace was a man named Saul of Tarsus who we know to day as the Apostle Paul. Paul had been raised as a Pharisee and therefore all of his life he had lived by a very strict religious standard. His struggle with receiving God’s grace is best summarized in something the Lord said to him on the day of his conversion – “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” In other words – “You’re really struggling with humbling yourself and yielding to Me as your Lord and Savior.” Indeed Paul was.
Yet, like John Newton and so many others, Paul was gloriously saved by God’s grace from that point on he wrote more about grace than any other person in the Bible. What did Paul learn about God’s grace?
A.We Can’t Earn Our Way to Heaven
We read in his letter to the Romans –
Romans 3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight…
Paul first had to learn that he couldn’t earn his way to heaven. It was only by God’s amazing grace could he be justified and declared righteous in the sight of God. In that same passage Paul also wrote –
Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. All of us have sinned. All of us have had things in our lives that were sinful and displeasing to God. Yet through God’s amazing grace, there is way for us to be forgiven.
B. Justified Freely By God’s Grace
Romans 3:24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
It is only by what Jesus accomplished on the cross that we can be forgiven and made acceptable in God’s sight. Later in his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote –
Philippians 3:7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, 9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
Paul was saying – “All that I thought would get me to heaven, I now realize was useless. It was rubbish. It was like manure in the sight of God. I cast all of that aside and receive the righteousness which is of God by faith. I throw everything else away so that I might be completely dependent upon Christ.” Only through Christ can a man be saved.
C. Receiving God’s Grace
Here’s how you can receive Jesus Christ as your Savior today –
- A – Admit that you are sinful and in need of forgiveness
- B – Believe that Jesus died for your sins
- C – Call upon His name and ask Him for His forgiveness
The Bible says – ‘whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ (Romans 10:13) If you would like to be saved, pray this in your heart –
“Dear God, I know that I have sinned. I know that I don’t deserve to go to heaven. I believe that Jesus died for my sins. I believe that He took my punishment and that He is able to give me complete forgiveness. Forgive me Lord. Forgive me of all my sin and make me a child of God. In Christ’s name I pray these things. Amen”
If you prayed that prayer and really meant it, God has saved you. By His amazing grace He has forgiven all of your sins and declared you to now be one of His children. Like John Newton, you can sing-
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
II. GOD’S AMAZING GRACE IS SUFFICIENT TO STRENGTHEN US IN OUR STRUGGLES
But God’s amazing grace does not end with our salvation. God continues to graciously be involved in our lives. In that same song John Newton also wrote:
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
Without the grace of God, we are nothing. Jesus said –
John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
Underline ‘for without me ye can nothing’ for that’s just how much we can accomplish without the amazing grace of God. NOTHING! God did not save you and then turn you lose to try to live life on your own. God saved you by His grace and He will sustain you by His grace. ‘Abiding in Christ’ is the same thing as drawing upon His grace. It’s like being hooked up to an I.V. called Grace and receiving God’s strength and nourishment one drop at a time. Paul had a difficult time learning that lesson as well.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul shares a lot about himself. He opens up more in this letter than anywhere else. He talks a lot about his struggles and his journey as a Christian. In the 12th chapter Paul shares a lesson with us that is very important.
2 Corinthians 12:7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak , then am I strong.
Who was Paul and what is he talking about?
A. Paul, the Greatest Christian Who Ever Lived
Many have said that Paul was one of, if not the greatest Christian who ever lived. Paul seemed to have a commitment to Christ that few ever have and God used him in a very powerful way. What made Paul such a dynamic Christian?
1. Perhaps it was his education and intellect.
Paul was raised in a Roman city called Tarsus. In Tarsus was one of the known universities of that day. Some have said that Tarsus surpassed even Athens and Alexandria in knowledge and intellect. Being raised in Tarsus, Paul became a very intelligent man and his extensive knowledge is seen in many of his sermons and writings where he often made reference to many of the great intellects of his day. Paul was a very intelligent man yet it was not his intellect that made him a great Christian.
2. Perhaps it was his religious zeal and passion.
Paul was not only a Roman citizen; he was a Jew by birth. Before he became a Christian, he was a Pharisee and perhaps the son of a Pharisee. The Pharisees were among the most intense in their religious fervor of any of the Jewish people of that day. Recently I heard John MacArthur state that of the hundreds of thousands of Jews living during Jesus’ day, only 6,000 ever became a part of the Pharisees.
Being a Pharisee, Paul was intensely opposed to Christianity. He believed that the followers of Christ were evil and he did everything he could to destroy them and their gatherings. He was passionate about it. The Bible describes him as someone who ‘breathed out threatenings and slaughter.” (Acts 9:1) He was consumed with killing Christians.
After his salvation, Paul demonstrated this same kind of passion as a Christian.
Philippians 3:13 … forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Whatever Paul did, he did it 110%. Yet it was not his religious zeal or passion that made him a great Christian.
3. Perhaps it was the opportunities presented to him.
Paul wrote ½ of the New Testament and much of the book of Acts is about his ministry. Some estimate that during his time as a Christian, he traveled over 14,000 miles going to various cites and preaching the gospel. That’s like someone today circling the globe hundreds of times on an airplane. Paul preached in the greatest cities of that day. He preached in Jerusalem, Damascus, Athens, Ephesus and even Rome. Yet it was not his golden opportunities that made him a great Christian. Much of his ministry occurred from a prison cell.
What was it then that made the apostle Paul the greatest Christian who ever lived?
4. Paul’s greatness came from the grace of God
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians-
2 Corinthians 12:9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
The thing that made Paul such a dynamic Christian was his dependence upon God’s amazing grace. God’s grace is not only sufficient to save us from our sins; it is also sufficient to strengthen us in our struggles.
B. Paul’s Journey to Learn This Lesson
I often refer to the Christian life as a journey. It’s a pilgrimage. We are saved instantaneously the moment we receive Christ as our Savior. Yet it often takes us many years to grow and develop as a believer. Spiritual maturity is a process. Often it is a slow and difficult process.
Paul had a difficult time understanding that God’s grace was sufficient to strengthen him in his struggles. As a matter of fact, before God could build Paul, God had to break Paul.
2 Corinthians 12:7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.
1. The Abundance of Revelations
At one point in his life, Paul was caught up into heaven. That should not totally surprise us. Isaiah was allowed to see Christ sitting upon His throne. (Isaiah 6) While in heaven, Paul received revelations that were too magnificent to put into human words. Though the Bible describes heaven as a wonderful place, there’s a whole lot more about heaven than we know. The best is yet to come!
As the result of this experience, there was the temptation for Paul to become prideful. Apparently pride was an area of weakness for Paul. Being so intelligent and gifted and having been raised in a religious system that petted men’s pride, Paul was prone to become prideful. Therefore the Lord had to break him. God had to get a hold of Paul’s pride and God did so through what Paul described as a ‘thorn in the flesh.’
2 Corinthians 12:7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh…
2. The Thorn in the Flesh
Many have tried to guess what Paul’s thorn was. Some have said that it was certain individuals who followed him around and continually harassed him in his ministry. We often call these men ‘Judaizers’ and they are seen throughout the book of Acts. It was almost like they traveled from town to town, following Paul in order to oppose him and to make his life miserable. Indeed they were a thorn in his side, but we’re not for sure that they were his thorn in the flesh.
Others have supposed that it was some type of physical ailment. It appears from his letter to the Galatians that Paul suffered from some type of infirmity in his eyes. Maybe his thorn was his eyesight. Maybe it was something else. We’re not told for sure and that’s good because what the thorn was is not as important as why the Lord allowed Paul to suffer from it. God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh in order to cause Paul to depend upon God’s amazing grace.
C. The Issue of Christian Suffering
Some believe that Christians should never suffer. They believe that all suffering was done away with at the cross. Yet that is not what scripture teaches. A number of believers found in the Bible suffered for a variety of reasons.
1. Suffering Because of the Curse
Some, such as Timothy, suffered because of the curse that was placed upon man at the Fall. Scripture indicates that Timothy suffered from some type of stomach ailment. Sickness, suffering and even death are all a part of the curse found in Genesis 3. Romans chapter 8 teaches us that even creation is suffering and longing for the day when the curse will be removed. But until that day comes, we’re going to get sick and we’re going to suffer and we’re going to eventually die.
2. Suffering Because of Sin
Some, such as Hymenaeus and Alexander, suffered because of their sins. We read from Hebrews 12:6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth , and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If you’re a child of God and willfully walk in sin, the Lord is going to chasten you in order to bring you back to Himself. That’s a promise.
3. Suffering to Test Our Faith
Others, like Job, suffered in order to prove the validity of their faith and to make it more pure. Peter tells us – “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth , though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:7) Jesus said that the Father ‘prunes the branches’ so that they might bear more fruit and less foliage.
4. Suffering to Cause Us to Depend Upon God’s Grace
Then many, like Paul, suffer in order to teach them to depend upon God’s grace.
2 Corinthians 12:8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.
Though it seemed like God was hurting Paul, in reality God was helping him. In order to keep Paul from becoming proud and self-sufficient, the Lord had to keep Paul humble and dependent. The Bible teaches us that the primary thing that keeps us from experiencing God’s grace is pride. We read from James 4:6 … God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. This same truth is also found in 1 Peter 5:5. God hates pride and therefore He opposes those who become proud. He withdraws and withholds His favor from them. But to the humble God gives grace and even more grace. God lavishes His grace upon those who are broken and in need of Him. The weakest believer, who is drawing upon the strength of God’s grace, is stronger than the strongest saint who is trusting only in himself.
Maybe Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a combination of all of these problems. Maybe it was a life that was never free of difficulty. Maybe one day it was an unpleasant individual, the next day an unpleasant incident and the next day an unpleasant illness. I say that because Paul refers to: weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. (see vs. 10)
Almost every day you and I fight some kind of a battle with Satan. Almost every day it seems that one of his evil emissaries is pounding on us. We long for the day when we will be free of all of this; but that day is not today and until that day comes, we have to focus on our relationship with the Lord. We have to continuously pray to Him and ask Him for His help and strength. We need the sufficiency of God’s amazing grace just as much in our struggles as we do in our salvation. Without Him we are nothing and can do nothing. Yet with Him, we can do all things.
D. What Paul Learned About God’s Grace
1. The Sufficiency of God’s Grace
2 Corinthians 12:8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee…
What is grace? We have defined grace as God’s Unmerited Favor. It is God’s favor towards us, something which we have neither earned nor deserve. It is God’s kind and merciful involvement in our lives. Warren Wiersbe has a great definition of grace: “God’s provision for our every need when we need it.”
When Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for thee”, in reality He was telling Paul –
“The strength I will provide you will be more than enough for whatever you need. There will never be a shortage of My grace. It will never be insufficient for your needs. Through Me, God will supply all of your needs according to His riches in glory. You can endure all things through My grace which will give strength.”
2. The Strength of God’s Grace
2 Corinthians 12: 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.
What did Christ mean when He said – ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness?’ The word ‘strength’ means power or ability. Christ’s power and ability is perfect. Christ is God and therefore everything about Christ is perfect. How then is His strength made perfect in weakness? The word ‘perfect’ as it is used here comes with the thought of bringing something to completion. Fulfillment – if you will. Christ possesses a perfect strength, yet His perfect strength cannot be fully realized unless there is a need. Christ allows needs in our lives, needs that are beyond our ability to handle, so that He might demonstrate the glory of His power and strength.
Many years ago Steven Curtis Chapman wrote and sang a song entitled – “His Strength is Perfect.” It says beautifully what I am trying to teach today.
Here are the lyrics:
I can do all things
Through Christ who gives me strength,
But sometimes I wonder what He can do through me;
No great success to show, No glory on my own,
Yet in my weakness He is there to let me know . . .
His strength is perfect when our strength is gone;
He’ll carry us when we can’t carry on.
Raised in His power, the weak become strong;
His strength is perfect, His strength is perfect.
We can only know
The power that He holds
When we truly see how deep our weakness goes;
His strength in us begins,
Where ours comes to an end.
He hears our humble cry and proves again . . .
E. Learning to Lean Upon the Sufficiency of God’s Grace
Understanding the sufficiency of God’s grace is not always an easy lesson to learn. It requires us to decrease while He increases. It requires a putting to death parts of self so that Christ might live in and through us.
Paul learned this lesson and that is what made him a great man of God. That is what empowered his intellect, passion and opportunities. Paul said – ‘Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ (Gal 2:20)
Note Paul’s words once he learned this very important lesson-
2 Corinthians 12:8 For this thing (his cause for weakness) I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.
Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
“For when I am weak – then I am strong.” It seems like a strange paradox, but we can be our strongest during our moments of weakness. How? By drawing our strength from the grace of Christ. How do we do that? Where do we begin? Here are some practical steps:
1. Admit your weakness
2. Accept your weakness
3. Believe that God is with you (even in your weakness)
4. Let go of the control over your life and yield to the will of Christ
5. Seek to draw upon His strength:
a) Through prayer
b) In the Word of God
c) By quiet meditation
6. Apply what He reveals to you
7. Trust that He loves you and that He can and will help you