Read an Excerpt
GRACEMORE THAN WE DESERVE, GREATER THAN WE IMAGINE
By Max Lucado
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Max Lucado
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE GRACE-SHAPED LIFE
Read chapter 1 from Grace before beginning your study this week.
Grace isn't just a noun. Yes, God gives us grace, but then he uses that very grace to change us. We become more like him, able to gracefully bestow grace on others. No one illustrates the life-changing power of grace better than the apostle Paul, the Christian hater–turned–Christ lover.
Prior to Paul's Christian ministry, which Max references in the session 1 video, the apostle learned a great deal about grace. Before his name was changed to "Paul," Saul was a highly educated Jew intent on stamping out the growing community of Jews who recognized Jesus as the Christ, their Savior. After presiding over Stephen's capital punishment in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), Saul traveled to Damascus to deliver the high priest's arrest warrants for Jesus followers living there.
As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"
And he said, "Who are You, Lord?"
Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads."
So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?"
Then the Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."
And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:3–9)
This experience may not have seemed much like grace at first. But that quick encounter with the Lord, though it left him disabled, made Saul long for more of Jesus in his life. By the time Ananias arrived to deliver God's grace to Saul and restore his eyesight, Saul was literally hungry for grace, thirsty for grace. In fact, Saul was so full of grace that it bubbled up in his heart and spilled out of his mouth: "Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God" (Acts 9:20).
> Think back to a time when you realized you were wrong. How did you respond? Did you try to justify your behavior, or did you speak the truth?
> Are you always ready to proclaim God's grace, no matter where you are or who your audience is? Why or why not?
Thankfully God doesn't always allow such suffering before he exercises his grace. Long before Saul met Jesus, God had blessed Saul with the intelligence and desire to absorb God's laws into his very being. But as a well-educated Pharisee (Acts 23:6), Saul had developed his own interpretations of the Scriptures, and his stubborn, know-it-all tendencies were allowing incorrect doctrine to separate him from God's grace. Knowledge of God kept him from knowing God. That's why Jesus arrived with grace to reveal Saul's errors and to humble him. After Saul "thought about what he'd done" for three days, he was ready to receive the graceful gift of Jesus' heart into his body.
> God knew Saul needed to hit rock bottom before he would be willing to let go of his own interpretations of the law and recognize and absorb God's grace. When has stubbornness kept you from enjoying all the benefits of grace?
> God gives you grace every day. Think of something that happened today that was evidence of God's grace in your life. Did you thank him for it? Did you realize it was him at the time?
> How can you raise your awareness of God's daily grace in your life?
> Have you ever been aware of God using you as a vessel for his grace as he did Ananias (Acts 9:10–17)? Did you cheerfully embark on his mission, or did you allow your own fear or stubbornness to delay his plans?
> What are some ways you can be a vessel of grace to
your family members,
or your neighbors?
After accepting God's grace and letting it change him, Saul changed his name to Paul and started preaching and writing about God's grace. God's grace informed the rest of Paul's life on earth, and we are blessed to have access to some of his sermons and writings in the New Testament. Let's take a look at a few of Paul's messages that Max references in Grace and the session 1 video.
In a letter to his young apostle, Titus, Paul mentioned the centrality of grace in the organization and development of the church and its members:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11–14)
> What did Paul tell Titus that grace brings to us?
> What does grace teach us to change in our lives?
> What does grace look forward to?
> How does grace change our actions once it gives us new hearts?
As Max points out, we are clearly missing the magnitude of God's grace in our lives if we only see it as something we receive. Remember that grace is an action, and we must enact grace in order to experience it properly. Imagine if Paul had just accepted God's grace and never put it into action. If so, the gospel of grace might not have reached beyond the Jews to the Gentiles such as those living in Crete and Colossae and Galatia.
Paul described to the Gentiles his understanding of the "mystery" of Christ working in us:
... the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. (Colossians 1:25–28)
> What is the great "mystery" that has now been revealed to the church?
> How is "Christ in you" a description of grace?
> What is required for us to "present every man perfect in Christ Jesus"?
When writing to the Jesus followers in Galatia, Paul told the story of an encounter he had with Peter. Soon after the Holy Spirit came upon him, Peter had a vision explaining that no foods were unclean—the law was obsolete in light of Jesus' death on the cross (Acts 10:9–16). But a few years later, when confronted with Jews who still ate only kosher meals, Peter returned to his own kosher roots. Paul chastised him for this weakness of faith, as he quoted here for the Galatians to read:
For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain. (Galatians 2:19–21)
As he explained to Peter and the Galatians, Paul understood that once we accept grace, once "Christ lives in" us, there is no longer a need for the law. It cannot save us, and we don't need it to guide our actions once we only act in grace.
> How was Paul "crucified with Christ"? How can we claim that too?
> We do not follow the Mosaic law as Peter and Paul once did. Instead, what things bind us and direct our actions? What must we "die to" in order to "live to God"?
> How do "faith in the Son of God" and "Christ [living] in [you and] me" work together?
At the beginning of the session with your small group, watch Max's video that accompanies this Bible study. Take some time to discuss what you and your group members learned from chapter 1 in Grace, your personal studies of this week's lesson, and Max's message. Then consider these questions as a small group:
> Has God performed a heart transplant in you?
> What motivations are in your heart that shouldn't be there?
> What will it take for you to be like Paul, to have a heart that beats only for Jesus?
> With your small group, decide on an activity you can complete together in the next month that will reveal grace to someone in your community. Here are a few ideas to start your conversation:
Commit to giving time on a Saturday helping to build a Habitat for Humanity house in your community.
Go to the Red Cross and give blood or platelets.
Adopt a poor family in your community during the Christmas season.
Volunteer regularly at a food bank.
Host a "Parents' Night Out" at your church, and baby sit young couples' children for free.
Do some repair work at the home of an elderly citizen or single parent.
Conclusion / Prayer
Close your group time by taking prayer requests and praying for one another.
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Chapter TwoJESUS STOOPED LOW TO TAKE OUR PLACE
Read chapter 2 from Grace before beginning your study this week.
In the last session, Max reminded us that grace is an action. It is something Jesus gave to us when he died on the cross and something we give to others when we practice grace for their benefit. Just as we can continually show grace to others through our actions, Jesus is continually showing grace to us. He is in heaven, right now, arguing on our behalf to God the Father for him to forgive our sins.
Jesus has always been in the business of helping sinners. We may not be able to see him in the flesh now, but we can read about how he practiced grace on earth thanks to the record of the apostle John. In the session 2 video, Max retells John's story of how Jesus treated an adulterous woman:
Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?" This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. (John 8:2–6)
Jesus bent down to the ground, made himself lower than all of his students, lower than the accusers, lower than even the woman being accused. This is a picture of his grace in action. Jesus, for the rest of his life, would stoop down so that we could be raised up. He would stoop to wash the disciples' feet, to carry his cross, and to walk out of his grave.
> What do we learn from watching Jesus, the God of the Universe, humble himself and bend down to offer grace to sinners?
> Are we willing to humble ourselves to show grace to fellow sinners and less-fortunate people around us?
Jesus' demonstration of humility resulted in the humbling of the accusers and the rescue of the woman. Humility was, in this case, the catalyst for grace.
So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?"
She said, "No one, Lord."
And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." (John 8:7–11)
What about those accusers? They were taking God's law, which was intended to bring his people closer to him, and using it to separate sinners from God. At first glance, the accusers were using God's law to test a sinner. But look deeper. The accusers' true intention was to manipulate the law to test God himself, incarnate in Jesus.
In the book of Revelation, John described another Accuser, one who acted a lot like these men. John was having a vision of heaven, and he heard a voice say, "For the Accuser has been thrown down to earth—the one who accused our brothers and sisters before our God day and night" (Revelation 12:9–10 NLT). Satan is that great Accuser.
> Satan used those men to strike the woman with guilt, to test the limits of Jesus' grace. Who or what has Satan used to assault you with guilt?
> What must you do to avoid Satan's guilt trips?
Thankfully, Jesus doesn't leave us defenseless against this Accuser. He doesn't just stoop to save us, but he stands to save us. Jesus is our Advocate: "And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1). Jesus is in heaven right now arguing on our behalf before God. He's better than any lawyer you could hire because he is always there, and he always wins. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews agreed with John that "He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25).
> How does Jesus "make intercession" for us?
> Have you ever had the opportunity to stand up for someone else? How did that person react when you graced him or her with your support?
> Has anyone ever stood up on your behalf and advocated for you? How was this a picture of Jesus' perpetual gift of grace?
At the beginning of the session with your small group, watch Max's video that accompanies this Bible study. Take some time to discuss what you and your group members learned from chapter 2 in Grace, your personal studies of this week's lesson, and Max's message. Then consider these questions as a small group:
> Think of a time when Jesus "stooped" or "stood" to save you from your sin. How did his grace differ from the world's judgment?
> What things do you find Satan consistently accusing you of doing wrong, maybe even after you've repented? What can you do to shift your focus from the guilt he causes to the grace Jesus offers?
> When you see others struggling with the memory of past sins, what can you say or do to remind them that Jesus, who has removed their guilt, is their Advocate in heaven?
Conclusion / Prayer
Close your group time by taking prayer requests and praying for one another.
Chapter ThreeYOU CAN REST NOW
Read chapter 4 from Grace before beginning your study this week.
From the moment we are born, we learn that hard work yields results. Want to walk across the room without falling? Keep trying. Want to win the championship? Keep practicing. Babies learn to walk. Athletes win trophies. Executives earn bonuses. The world is a results-oriented place, where only tangible successes count.
Max tells us that, when he was in middle school, he loved this system. He liked knowing where he stood in the world, knowing that he was a success because of the number of merit badges on his Boy Scout sash. But when it comes to salvation, he wondered, what tangible proof is there? Can I ever do enough? Will I ever be good enough? No. None of us can ever do or be enough to earn heaven.
That's why God invented grace. When God sent his Son to earth to be crucified, he paid all the debts we'll ever owe by making the only sacrifice we'll ever need for our sins; he earned our salvation for us. Then he gave it to us. That's grace. As Paul said, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8–9). We can't earn it because Jesus has already done all the work. All we can do is accept it by having faith that Jesus' death was enough to save us.
> In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul was writing to first-century Jewish and Gentile Christians who were arguing over whether or not it is necessary to obey Jewish laws when one chooses to follow Jesus. What habits or traditions do you expect others to obey in order to "be" Christians? Are such traditional expectations compatible with grace?
> How do God's grace and our faith work together to equal salvation?
Something that should be easy—that requires no work on our part—is a hard concept in this merit-oriented world. It was an even harder concept for the first-century Jews, who had lived their lives under the law. In his letter to the Jewish Christians living in Rome, Paul explained that grace had now replaced the law and that grace was available to everyone:
But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, ... through [our] faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference [between Jews and Gentiles]; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through [His] faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness ... (Romans 3:21–26)
> Why is the law no longer necessary to experience God's grace? How does the abolition of the law work with the traditions many Christians follow today?
> Have you ever allowed nonbiblical ideas to interfere in your relationships with other Christians? What was the result of the disagreement? Was God honored by the way you treated your brother or sister in Christ?
> When faced with a conflicting opinion, how do you respond? Are you patient and willing to listen to the other person, or do you attack him, condemning his beliefs before understanding his point of view?
Realizing that our habits and traditions are unnecessary or incorrect is difficult. The first-century Jews were used to eating kosher food, but Paul and other apostles were telling them that what they ate no longer impacted their salvation. Grace had made all their laws obsolete. Even Peter, who was with Jesus throughout Jesus' three years of ministry, needed a supernatural vision to convince him to change his ways:
Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat."
Excerpted from GRACE by Max Lucado Copyright © 2012 by Max Lucado. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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