Through the apostle John, the Holy Spirit draws our attention to the kind of love God has for us. He says to “behold,” to see, be aware of and understand the nature of God’s love that blesses us to be called God’s children. John will go on to proclaim, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Today, let us behold and understand the depth and breadth of God’s love from three vantage points. (1) God’s love is sacrificial. He “so loved the world” that He gave His Son to be lifted up on a cross to deliver sinners from death (John 3:14-17). Love gives of itself to serve others (see the example of Jesus, Eph. 5:25-27). (2) God’s love is merciful. God’s “great love” is adorned by His “rich mercy” (Eph. 2:4). Love acts out of mercy to relieve others. With tender compassion, God saw our sin dilemma (death, Rom. 6:23) and graciously saved us through faith in Christ (Eph. 2:5-8). (3) God’s love is purposeful. “In this is love, not that we love God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Love takes the initiative; it is neither negligent nor apathetic. As we behold God’s love for us, may we follow John’s appeal, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4–6, NKJV).
God made “us alive together with Christ” when we were dead in our trespasses and sins (v. 5). Three questions arise as we consider God’s tremendous work of saving sinners. (1) Why save us? Three elements of God’s character answer why God saves sinners: His mercy, love, and grace (v. 4-5). God’s mercy is rich, His love is great, and His grace is available to all (Titus 2:11; 3:4-5; 1 John 4:10-11). Without God’s mercy, love, and grace, we would all face the wages of our sins, eternal death (Rom. 6:23). (2) Who is saved? The “us” who are made “alive together” constitute the church, the body of Christ, the household of God (Eph. 1:22-23; 2:14-22). The Lord adds saved people to His church (Acts 2:47). Therefore, the church is essential; it is the saved ones (Eph. 3:10-11; 5:25-27). (3) Where is salvation? Salvation is “in Christ.” Sinners are raised out of the death of sins to “sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (v. 6). The “heavenly places” signifies the spiritual relationship of salvation in Christ. In the “heavenly places,” we have fellowship with Christ, every spiritual blessing, and we stand with Christ in the battle against the devil and evil (Eph. 2:6; 1:3; 6:10-13). God still The riches of God’s grace continue to be proclaimed in the gospel to everyone, offering salvation “by grace…through faith” (Eph. 2:7-8).
7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” (Numbers 21:7–9, NKJV)
This event in Israel’s history aptly illustrates salvation from sin and death (Rom. 6:23). They grumbled against God and Moses, which brought death into the camp. They confessed their sin and were told if a serpent bit them to look at the bronze serpent Moses made, and they would live. Their salvation from death becomes a figure of the Son of Man being lifted up on the cross to save humanity from sin (John 3:14-17). Israelites received God’s mercy and lived when they trusted and obeyed God’s command to look at the bronze serpent. Even so, sinners “look” at Jesus in faith by repenting and being baptized “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:37-38, 41). By doing so, the sinner receives God’s redemptive mercy and is saved. Israel did not earn their deliverance from the deadly serpents; they trusted God and obeyed Him. The same is true for every sinner Christ saves (Heb. 5:9).
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Romans 6:15–16, NKJV)
Whatever our profession, we are “slaves” of the one we obey (v. 16). Being under grace does not sanction sin (v. 15). Liberty in Christ is not freedom to determine what is or is not sin. God’s word does that (1 Jno. 3:4). Freedom in Christ is not a cloak for wickedness (1 Pet. 2:16). Sons of light do not walk in the darkness of sin (Eph. 5:6-8). Our liberty in Christ is freedom from sin’s bondage and death (Rom. 6:6-7, 11, 18). Having been “set free from sin,” we have “become slaves of God” (Rom. 6:22). We volunteer to be slaves of sin or obedience. We chose to become slaves or righteousness when we obeyed the gospel from the heart (Rom. 6:17, 3-4). Now, our course of life is to present ourselves as slaves of obedience leading to righteousness (v. 16). Making conscious decisions to obey Christ protects us from sin’s death as it produces holiness (Rom. 6:19-22).
17 You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. (2 Peter 3:17–18, NKJV)
It is truly incredible how so many people insist on propping up the false doctrine that Christians cannot fall away from the Lord and be lost. The false doctrine suggests teaching the possibility of apostasy diminishes God’s power to save. That is a diversionary, deceptive, and destructive lie of the devil, the father of lies. Of course, God has the power to save. Human free will is also a part of the equation; We are saved “by grace” (God’s part) “through faith” (our part) (Eph. 2:8). Without free will, we are mere robots. God becomes an unjust tyrant, selecting some for salvation and others for damnation regardless of their conduct. That cannot be true (Acts 10:34-35; 17:30; Rom. 2:1-11; 3:4). Today’s passage overwhelms the false doctrine of once saved, always saved. Some had already fallen. Peter warns beloved Christians, “lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked” (v. 17). The countermeasure to prevent falling is spiritual growth in the “grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (v. 18). When we mature in understanding and apply our faith to follow the Lord, Jesus is honored “both now and forever,” not ourselves. We dare not minimize (or even rejecting) the truth that Christians can fall and be lost. Instead, remain steadfast in your faith by growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord.
1 For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness. (Hebrews 5:1–2, NKJV)
God appointed high priests for Israel to offer “gifts and sacrifices” for the people as well as himself (Heb. 5:1, 3). A shadow of our High Priest, Jesus Christ, he was able to have compassion (be moderate in passion, gentle) on sinners going astray in their ignorance because he too was subject to fleshly frailty. Our High Priest can “sympathize with our weaknesses” because He was thoroughly tempted like us (Heb. 4:15). He experienced the trials of being tempted to sin. His sympathy for us in temptation is strong. He did not overcome every temptation to condemn us but to sacrifice Himself for our sins and salvation (Heb. 5:8-10). Therefore, Christians may “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). Our great High Priest in heaven. So, when temptations come and we sin, let us hold fast our confession and boldly come to God’s throne of grace for mercy and gracious help (Heb. 4:14, 16; 1 Jno. 1:9).
16 Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. 17 And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ 18 So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’” (Luke 12:16–19, NKJV)
Those we think have it easy (the rich, the powerful) are often consumed with uneasiness (Eccl. 5:8-15). We all leave this world as we came into it (Eccl. 5:16; Job 1:21). Consider the religious ease some think they have stored up for themselves. 1) Physical lineage. God does not measure spiritual success by physical ancestry. We are children of God by faith, not by the flesh (Rom. 9:6-8; Gal. 3:26-29). No spiritual ease comes from trusting physical heritage (Matt. 3:9). 2) Salvation by faith only. Many accept that justification by faith only is “a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort” (The Methodist Church Discipline, p. 57, 1980 ed.). Yet, Scripture says, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (Jas. 2:24). There is no spiritual comfort without the works of faith. 3) Once saved, always saved. Although many think one cannot fall from a state of grace, the Scriptures say the opposite (Gal. 5:4). 4) Christians who think they have already done their fair share. Like those “at ease in Zion,” these comfort themselves in their past service while neglecting others (Amos 6:1-6). We don’t retire from kingdom service. Christians are saved “with difficulty” (strenuous effort), not lazy neglect (1 Pet. 4:18; Phil. 3:12-14). Instead of taking our ease, let us do the work the Lord gives us and be ready when our soul is required (Jno. 4:35; 9:4; Lk. 12:20-21).
How much do you trust God? Do you trust Him enough to silently march around a hostile city once a day for six days, and on the seventh day do so seven times? Do you believe God enough to blow trumpets and shout after doing so because He said do it? These are among the things God told not one person, but about 600,000 soldiers of Israel to do because He had “given Jericho into your hands” (Josh. 6:2). Why did they have to do anything if God was giving them the city by His grace? Because grace comes “through faith” (see Eph. 2:8). Israel did not earn Jericho, they showed their faith in God’s promise to give them the city. When they obeyed His word (“after they were encircled for seven days”), the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. Now, why do so many people resist the words of Jesus when He said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk. 16:16)? If the sinner does not faith enough to be baptized, will he or she be saved? The answer is clear, yet many are told to just believe God will save you, pray to Him asking Him to, and you are saved. No, that is not what Jesus said. When we learn about the faith that Israel had at Jericho, we also learn of the faith we must have to be saved.
The “commandments and doctrines of men” abuse and distort the Christian’s relation to God’s grace (Col. 2:20-23; Gal. 1:6-7). For example, divine grace is not irresistible; if it were, everyone would be saved (Tit. 2:11; 1 Tim. 2:3-4; Matt. 7:21-23). Grace is available to every sinner, but not every sinner will accept it. Or again, Christians can fall from grace despite the false security of “once saved, always saved” (Gal. 5:4). God’s word of truth assures us that we have “access by faith into this grace in which we stand” through Christ (Rom. 5:2). Indeed, grace is greater than sin (Rom. 5:20-21). But that does not mean grace abounds if we choose to “continue in sin.” The gospel does not teach that we can live in sin, and God’s grace will save us anyway. We must not continue in sin to continue in grace (v. 1). We died to sin in our lives when we were baptized into Christ and into His death (Rom. 6:2-4). That is when we were “freed from sin” to live with Christ, not to continue living in sin (Rom. 6:5-8). God wants to save you, but you must make a decision of faith to die to sin and live with Christ. That begins by being baptized into Christ. Then, no longer live in sin, and the grace of God will abound in you.