The entire point of this series has been to help believers understand that it is only by spreading our roots into the rich soil of God's grace that we will become fruitful; this is the Root Work. In this article and the next we look at the Soil Work.
Fruit > Hope > Faith > Grace > Glory
In 1772, John Newton penned the beautiful and timeless hymn, Amazing Grace.
...T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear
And Grace, my fears relieved...
Here Newton explains that grace brought the inner work of conviction, when he realised he was sinner who deserved condemnation. But it also calmed him as he understood the gospel and believed in it, experiencing the forgiveness of his sins. However, Newton explains, through this carefully crafted hymn, that grace isn't just the beginning of the Christian life; it's the entire Christian life from beginning to end.
...T'is Grace that brought me safe thus far
And Grace will lead me home...
As Newton looked back to the day he trusted in Christ and traced his life up until that present moment when he penned this verse, he gladly confessed that he is only there by grace. And as he gazed into the future considering eternity with Christ he, once again, gladly acknowledged that it would only be grace that brought him through to the end.
Jesus Christ, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, stepped into human existence oozing grace. John 1v16 tells us that "from His fullness we have all received grace upon grace" (one gracious gift after another, gift heaped upon gift). Grace means to show someone favour and in the biblical sense it most often means to show someone undeserved/unmerited favour.
God "makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5v45). He is "kind to the ungrateful and to the evil" (Luke 6v35). Ever since the nations forsook the truth of God, He remained gracious to them and continually "did good by giving rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14v17).
It is by grace that we understood our sinful condition. It is by grace that we understood the truths of the gospel and believed (Acts 18v27). It is by grace that we were forgiven of our sins past, present and future. It is by grace we were born again into New Creation. It is by grace that we are brought near to and into right relationship with God. It is by grace that we are sealed for eternity.
Christ lived a perfect life on our behalf, perfectly pleasing the Father in everything He thought, said and did, because we couldn't. He yielded that perfect life up to the agonising death of crucifixion, took our sin and guilt upon Himself and took God's just wrath in our place. The Author of Life was slain. The Creator took on flesh and was killed by His creatures. The Father raised Him from the dead to demonstrate that He was satisfied with Christ, that the payment He made for our sin was enough and that He has conquered death.
All those who come to Christ, humbled and empty handed, trusting that He is God and that He died and rose for them, will experience this saving grace.
Sadly, this is where we often functionally stop when it comes to grace. We believe that the gospel begins the Christian journey, but we fail to either understand or remember that we are sanctified by grace too. This is why rules and moral lessons, standards and traditions, extra-biblical and sometimes even unbiblical convictions become the spiritual barometer of our lives. Sanctification, the setting apart of the believer from sin and into Christlikeness, is one more part of God's glad and gracious work.
Philippians 1v6 states that God has begun a good work in us and will continue it until He completes it. Philippians 2v13 tells us that God is mightily working into us both the desire and the strength to obey Him; God commands us to obey Him, transforms us to want to obey Him and empowers us to be able to obey Him. Titus 2v11-13 explains that God's grace has brought, not just past salvation, but present and ongoing sanctification as it continually trains us to become more and more like Christ until we see Him. 2 Corinthians 3v18 teaches that, as we behold the glory of the Lord in Christ, we are progressively being transformed into His image.
There is a balance to strike here. Extreme 1 is to remain passive, thinking that as we simply do nothing, God will sanctify us and make us fruitful. Extreme 2 is to believe that our sanctification is completely dependent on us. We are not to be simply passive receivers of this grace; we are called to work out (Philippians 2v12) the salvation and sanctification that God has worked and is working in us (Philippians 2v13). But at the same time, we cannot do this in our own strength; it is grace that saves us and trains us to reject a certain lifestyle and live another lifestyle (Titus 2v11-12).
We are saved by grace and then called and enabled to serve by grace (Ephesians 2v8-10). 1 Peter 4v10-11explains that God, in His grace, has gifted believers in different ways so that they can serve one another. But it goes on to explain that even those gifts He has given us can only be exercised by His ongoing grace in us. So both the gift and the strength to use the gift is by grace.
As Paul tells the Corinthians about the sacrificial generosity of the believers in Macedonia he describes it as the grace of God actively at work amongst them (2 Corinthians 8v1). This beautiful spirit of generosity is also ascribed to grace in Acts 4v32-35. Similarly, as Paul describes how hard he works and strives for the gospel, he says it is all by God's grace working powerfully in him (1 Corinthians 15v10, Colossians 1v29).
As believers living in a fallen world with the residue of sin still in our lives, we are going to experience temptation, doubt and suffering. However, God, in His rich grace has promised to sustain us through it all until we see Him. John Newton wrote that it was grace that brought him through the "many dangers, toils, and snares" of life and that it would continue to be grace that sustained him through the ones that were coming.
In 1 Corinthians 1v1-9 we see a number of these graces play out. God's grace has saved them and set them apart (v1-3), God's grace has enriched them with gifts and knowledge (v4-7), and God's grace is going to sustain them until the day they see Jesus (v8-9). This is similar to what we already noted in Philippians 1v6; God has begun a good work in His people and will continue that work until Christ returns. Similar rich truths are penned by Jude at the end of his letter; God "is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy" (v24).
God's grace sustains us through our doubts, our temptations and our failures. But it also sustains us through our suffering. Paul wrote about this in 2 Corinthians 12v7-10 as he learned that God's "grace is sufficient" in his weaknesses, struggles and sufferings.
All of Grace
To be honest, we have paddled in the shallow end of the pool for a while; there is still the deep end to dive into. We have gone in up to our knees along the coast; there is an entire ocean of grace to explore.
It is by grace that we are saved. It is by grace that we are made more and more like Christ. It is by grace that we have the ability, desire and strength to serve God and His people. It is by grace that we will be sustained until the day we see Jesus Christ.
To Pull a Martha is to ignore, forget or fail to understand these rich Soil Work truths and to seek to live the Christian life in your own strength. It is to fail to do the Root Work and to try to do the Fruit Work on your own. You are not called to do this by yourself, you are not able to do this by yourself, you are not expected to do this by yourself, you are not abandoned to do this by yourself. It is all of grace.
Our responsibility is to fully bank on this grace, to rest in it, to swim in it, to root ourselves deeper into it and allow the rich nutrients to strengthen and motivate us to live lives of joyful obedience.
There are a number of reasons why it is all of grace and why God has shown us all of this grace; one of the major ones being God's glory. We'll consider this in the next article.
Fruit > Hope > Faith > Grace > Glory
Fruit Work - God's Work
Fruit - The Five God Pleasing Fruits
Root Work - Our Work in Partnership with God
Hope - rooting our confidence in Christ by faith
Faith - trusting God and responding to His Word
Soil Work - God's Work
Grace - God's unmerited favour abundantly at work in our lives
Bearing Fruit Series:
Up the Apples and Pears (Christian Fruit, article 1)
Pulling a Martha 1 (Busy but Fruitless, article 2)
Pulling a Martha 2 (Responding to Christ's Love, article 3)
Not Needed, Loved (A True Perspective of Service, article 4)
Wild Grapes and Empty Fig Trees (What our Flesh Produces, article 5)
Plastic Fruit and Bushy Branches (Legalism, Hypocrisy, Pride and Judgement, article 6)
The New and True Vine (Jesus, the only God-pleasing, fruitful human, article 7)
My Hope is Built on Nothingness (How to Abide 1, article 8)
Don't Stop Believing (How to Abide 2, article 9)
Amazing Grace (The Beginning, Middle and End of the Christian Life, article 10)
Thine be the Glory (Why God Does what He Does, article 11)
Alan Campbell is from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He came to Christ as a young adult and trained for ministry at Bethesda Free Church, Sunderland. Alan ministered in Bethesda as the Associate Pastor until 2019 and now ministers at Union Chapel, Bath. From time to time he teaches at North Cotes (NTM/Ethnos 360) College and The Theological College of North Staffordshire. Alan travels across the UK, Ireland, Europe and the States speaking at universities and equipping churches and campus ministries to share the gospel in a post-modern context. He is passionate about helping the believer to root their identity more and more into the person and work of Jesus Christ. Alan is married to Victoria.