7 Side Benefits of Grace, Part 1

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Our favorite definition of God’s grace goes like this: God’s unmerited favor. Grace is God’s agape love in action, treating redeemed sinners better than we deserve to be treated. We almost always think of God’s grace in relation to our salvation. We didn’t deserve to be saved, but out of the abundance of His grace, God saved us. True enough. But there are many “side benefits” of grace that are at work every day in our lives. Some of them may seem obvious, some might surprise you, but all are cause to stop and praise Him for His amazing grace.

We’ll look at seven side benefits of grace, although there are more if you scour your Bible for them. All seven of these side benefits of grace serve mainly to do one thing: They help you overcome fear. For example, the author of the letter to the Hebrews understood this, so he wrote this word of encouragement and explanation –

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14, 15 NIV)

Fear of death is a fear common to everybody anywhere in the world. Yet we are told specifically that Jesus Christ – from His Incarnation to His death – not only provided salvation from sin but also deliverance from fear of death. That’s why no Christian should fear death, ever. Christ died to remove that fear from you. Jesus Christ tasted death so that believers wouldn’t have to. If you fear death, that’s the Devil trying to gain a foothold in your soul. Don’t let him! Take control of your thoughts! That fear is gone, so you have no business entertaining it.

That sounds like something a “name-it-and-claim-it” preacher would say, but in this case the truth is the truth no matter who says it. Still, it’s easier said than done. Maybe you struggle with lingering fear. Perhaps not necessarily fear of death, but maybe you fear other things. You are fortunate that the Bible is there to help you overcome those fears! Jesus Himself once said this –

Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Luke 12:7b NIV)

Jesus spoke those words to His disciples and the context clearly indicates He was refering to a time of coming persecution. At such a time, His followers might be tempted to fear their persecutors. Jesus makes the point that such fear is a waste of time; all man can do is kill them. But God always has His eyes trained on them – He never stops noticing them or taking care of them. Jesus then compared something of infinite value – a human being – to something worth very little – a bird. If God takes the time to notice a bird, how much more is He paying attention to you?

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. (Matthew 10:29 NIV)

Our Lord chose the most common of all birds to teach what may be the most profound truth of all: God’s incredible care for us. David noticed this side of God and he wrote about it –

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. (Psalm 8:4 – 5 NIV)

Here’s how much God cares for us:

He names His sheep, John 10:3

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (John 10:3 NIV)

This verse is part of a parable addressed primarily to, of all people, a group of Pharisees –

Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.” (John 10:1 NIV)

Why in the world was Jesus telling a parable to Pharisees? This parable is actually linked to an incident in chapter nine, where Jesus healed a blind man. For the man who was healed, Jesus offered words of comfort and strength, but for the Pharisees who had witnessed the miraculous healing, Jesus’ words were of condemnation and judgment.

The parable explains our Lord’s role as both the gate to the kingdom of God and His role as the Shepherd who regulates the coming and going of sheep between the sheep pen and the pasture. As the gate, Jesus is the only way into the pen and He is the One who decides who enters – who is actually part of His fold, or the family of God. But we are more familiar with His role as the Great Shepherd, and that figure was something very familiar to the listeners of His day. The Jews were a very pastoral people and throughout the Old Testament, the figure of God as their Shepherd was well known. In Ezekiel 34, we read about shepherds who represented the leaders of Israel. But not in a very good way –

Son of dust, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Say to them, ‘The Lord God says to you: Woe to the shepherds who feed themselves instead of their flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the best food and wear the finest clothes, but you let your flocks starve. You haven’t taken care of the weak, nor tended the sick, nor bound up the broken bones, nor gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with force and cruelty.” (Ezekiel 34:2 – 4 TLB)

That’s a terrible way for God’s people to be treated, so one day, He’s going to take charge –

For the Lord God says: “I will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places they were scattered in that dark and cloudy day. And I will bring them back from among the people and nations where they were, back home to their own land of Israel, and I will feed them upon the mountains of Israel and by the rivers where the land is fertile and good. Yes, I will give them good pasture on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in peace and feed in luscious mountain pastures.” (Ezekiel 34:11 – 14 TLB)

That paragraph refers to the Jews specifically, but in it we see God the Father’s character painted with bold colors. And in John 10, His Son picks up the same idea. He is the Good Shepherd – He possesses the same character as that of a shepherd. He is the One who functions as our Shepherd. We belong to Him as any sheep belongs to any shepherd. He has complete authority over our coming and going. He leads us. He guides us. He protects us. He is also completely responsible for our welfare, and He, like a shepherd who cares for sheep does, names us. Think about that. Jesus Christ attaches a name to every believer. We’re not just a number to Him. He names us. That’s significant. You name something important to you. You choose a name that suits it. Jesus names each and every believer in His care.
There is a relationship between Shepherd and sheep that is based wholly on the nature of the Shepherd. He knows us. He leads. He guides us. He names us. It’s all Him for our benefit. This must have meant so much to the man who had just been healed of his lifelong blindness. Remember him? Here’s how the Pharisees treated the poor sod –

To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. (John 9:34 NIV)

The Living Bible is a bit more graphic –

You illegitimate bastard, you!” they shouted. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out. (TLB)

He had been excommunicated from his synagogue and family, but now he was a member of another family – he was a follower of the Good Shepherd and part of His fold, His family.

And there is a wonderful exclusiveness about being a member of God’s flock – there is only one Voice we need to hear, only Way for us to go, only one Will we need to be concerned about. Life is complicated, it is said, but for the sheep of the Good Shepherd, for the members of God’s great family, there is only peace of mind, focus of purpose, and one Love that really matters. Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, never lets us down.

He numbers the hair on our head, Matthew 10:30

And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (Matthew 10:30 TNIV)

The old joke that goes along with that verse is, “And for some of you, that’s not hard to do.” But the truth is that’s actually a very serious statement of fact made by Jesus. It’s no wonder the French critic Joseph Ernest Renan, expert on all things having to do with the Middle East, said this about Matthew’s gospel:

It is the most important book which has ever been written.

Why is this Gospel so important? One reason could be the way it portrays our Lord. Here is Jesus, who cares so much for us that He has taken the time to number our hair! He’s already encouraged His disciples when He talked about those sparrows. One sparrow was worth at most a cent in His day. Even though they weren’t worth much from a commercial standpoint, not a single sparrow could fall to the ground without God noticing. It’s not the sparrow that’s important in Jesus’ illustration, it’s God. It’s impossible for the finite to grasp God. Only infinity can explain such a concept as the care and concern of God. Finite minds like ours cannot. It takes a “leap of faith” to not only believe in God but to believe His care and compassion is just as infinite as His Person is. That’s why Jesus taught this. He’s not teaching us about birds. He’s trying to do justice to God; He’s trying to help us understand Someone essentially un-understandable.

To make it a little more personal, Jesus turned to hair. Something almost everybody has. Hair is commonplace, and if you’ve ever swept your bathroom floor, you can see how much hair you lose every day, yet it continues to grow (for most of us).

At this point in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus told His disciples this –

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16 TNIV)

Rough times were on the horizon for them. They would face possible persecution from both religious and civil authorities. But Jesus told them to be cool headed; to fear God and not their persecutors. Even more than that, there was this –

Everyone will hate you because of me, but those who stand firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:33 TNIV)

This is our Lord’s admonition to His followers then and now. True disciples of Jesus don’t give up in the face of persecution or some discouragement. No matter what the circumstances, Christians are to “stand firm.” And we can stand firm no matter what because of God’s attentiveness. He’s watching us. He cares about us and cares about what happens to us. The fact that He has numbered the hairs on our heads is an indicator of how well our Father knows us.

The Lord’s loving care is linked to your relationship with Him. You have to be in one! Stand for Him because He knows you that well. And why wouldn’t you acknowledge the Lord when you know how much He cares for you?

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