One “grace” would have been enough. John, the beloved disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, writes in the first chapter of his gospel, “for from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace (John 1:16).” When one “grace” would seemingly have been sufficient, the apostle John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned the phrase “grace upon grace.” He went two “graces” deep. This has the potential to be grammatically redundant and theologically wasteful. Why would he do such a thing?
Biblically, the word “grace” can be defined as free, unmerited favor. Grace is the central theme of the story of Scripture. It is an absolutely astonishing truth. The Bible makes it clear that God is holy (Isaiah 6:3), which means to be set apart or different. God is set apart from everything else in the world because He is without sin. In fact, because of God’s holiness, He cannot allow sin into His presence. Just like two similar poles of a magnet that repel each other, so God’s holiness repels sin. Not only is God holy, but He is just (Dt. 32:4). This means that He is fair and gives to all what is deserved. By His perfect character, He cannot let sin go unpunished. Lastly, we see that God is loving. In fact, the Bible says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Everything about Him is loving. He loves His creation, which includes you and me. God is multifaceted, but these three words can help us to understand Him more clearly.
God’s Word also tells us who we are as humans. In Genesis 3, the Bible reveals that Adam and Eve rebelled against God by disobeying Him. This is what sin is, rebellion against God. After them, every person born on earth (except Jesus) was born sinful (Romans 3:10-12). If we have ever thought of something imperfect, said something imperfect, or done something imperfect, we are guilty of sin (not even mentioning sin of omission). The Bible says that everyone has sinned and is a sinner (Ro. 3:23).
So if God is holy, just, and loving and humans are sinful, how can we have a relationship with God? This is a great question! Sin is a crime against God in which all people have been found guilty. If God is a perfect judge, which He is, He must punish all sin, which He does. The Bible says that the punishment for sin is death, eternity in hell (Ro. 6:23). Hell is a real place, where God pours out His wrath for an eternity. If God does not keep the law and punish people according to it, He is neither just nor God. Also, because of His holiness or perfection, He cannot come into contact with our sin. Our sin separates us from God; therefore, we cannot have a relationship with Him because of our sin. This is all bad news, right? Well, that’s where this “grace” word comes into play. We must also remember that God is loving, and the Bible tells us in John 3:16 that “God so loved the World that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
The good news is that God sent His only son to earth to take the punishment that we deserve. Jesus has always existed, but was sent from heaven to be born of a woman. He is both fully God and fully man (John 1). He was unlike all other people, in that He never sinned. Because of this, He could be our substitute for punishment. Jesus did this when He died on the cross. The horrible part of the cross was not just that Jesus was beaten with whips, speared in the side, nailed to a wooden cross, or that a crown of thorns was placed on His head. The worst part about Jesus’ death on that Roman torture device was that He endured the full wrath of His Heavenly Father for our sin. You see, God placed the sin of those who would put their faith in Jesus on Him and punished Jesus, even though He was innocent (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus took the punishment that our sin deserved. He took our despicable criminal record and gives us His perfect record, a divine exchange beyond comprehension. Not only did Christ die for us, but the Bible tells us that He was buried for three days. And, on that third day, He arose from the grave victoriously! Jesus was resurrected from death. He marched triumphantly from the grave and overcame the power of Satan, and beat death for all of those who believe in Him. When someone is a Christian, they will spend an eternity in Heaven with God and will not die. The Bible also tells us that one day Jesus will return to gather up His church, defeat all of His enemies and establish His perfect kingdom in heaven and on earth, forever.
So, we are all left with two options. We can either take the punishment that our sins deserve (hell) by ourselves, or we can allow Jesus to take that punishment for us. This is amazing grace! It’s free, absolutely and totally. There is nothing that we can do to earn it. We simply receive God’s free gift that is offered to all sinners, just like us. The way that we receive salvation is to repent of our sins and to trust in Christ. Repentance is to turn from sin and turn toward God, living for Him. Belief or faith is more than just knowing the facts about Jesus. It is surrendering our lives to Him. You cannot earn salvation by good works, or by “cleaning up your life” (Ephesians 2:8-9). If we repent of our sins and believe in Christ, the Bible says that we will be saved. He forgives us for all of our sins. We are adopted by God and are given eternal life. God, then, comes to live inside of us, so that we begin to love the things He loves (The Bible, Church, Christians, etc.) and to hate the things He hates (sin, etc.). Christians will not be perfect on this earth, but the Bible says that there will be real life change (2 Cor. 5:17) for every true Christian.
If you have never repented of your sins and believed in Jesus Christ, do it today. There is no magical prayer to pray to become a Christian, but you can go to God in prayer, confessing to Him that you know who He is (holy, just, loving), who you are (sinful), what you deserve (hell), and that you are trusting in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection as payment for your sins. If you are just making this decision, please tell someone so that they can celebrate and tell you how to get involved in a Biblical Church and help you get started living the Christian life.
God’s grace is the best news that I have ever heard! Grace transformed my life at 19 years old, and I have never gotten over it. God redeemed a self-absorbed, rebellious sinner like me and gave me His “never stopping, Never giving up, Unbreaking, Always and forever love” (Sally Loyd Jones, The Jesus Story Book Bible).
The reason John uses the phrase “grace upon grace” is because God’s free, redeeming love cannot be over exaggerated. Paul David Tripp once said, “God has given us grace upon grace because that’s exactly what sin causes us to need, an endless supply of forgiving and transforming grace.” The title of my weekly column in the Expositor will be “Grace Upon Grace.” I pray that God would encourage you as you sojourn through this life, and as we swim in the ocean of God’s grace, together!