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MAGNIFICENT GRACEEMBRACING THE GREATNESS OF GOD
By Margaret Feinberg
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSufficient Grace
No one is safe by his own strength, but he is safe by the grace and mercy of God.
Cyprian, Christian writer
From the beginning, God lavished us with His grace. In Genesis we read of God's creation of the earth, the moon, the sun, and the heavens. God placed each star in the sky for our enjoyment. He designed beautiful flowers and unique animals for our wonderment.
Then, at the peak of creation, God made man and woman in His likeness.
His creation was good, and mankind was very good.
God gave the man and woman (named Adam and Eve) a beautiful garden as their home and made them stewards over the rest of His creation. The role came with only one rule: the first couple could eat and enjoy every fruit in the garden except for that which grew on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
All was well until a crafty and manipulative serpent approached the woman, enticing her to enjoy the forbidden fruit and reap its benefit: to possess the same knowledge as God.
Eve bit into the fruit before convincing Adam to do the same. As they savored the tangy juice on their taste buds, their eyes were opened. For the first time, they realized they were naked. They felt shame. They experienced fear.
Life in the garden was no longer perfect. Sin entered the scene.
God could have chosen to start over with His creation. Taken away free will. Designed something different. One could argue that's what Adam and Eve deserved.
Instead, God poured out abundant grace on Adam and Eve, just as He continues to pour out His grace on us today.
When Adam and Eve hid in their nakedness, God created garments out of animal skin—the first sacrifice made on behalf of human sin. Then, like any loving father, God disciplined His children. He listed the repercussions for their disobedience.
The woman would have increased pain in childbirth. The man would toil to cultivate the now difficult ground. Strife would emerge in their relationship. They both would eventually die.
The Lord disciplines those He loves, but He also extends grace. God's grace toward humanity is displayed in the curse on the serpent. In Genesis 3:15 God said, "He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel." In Hebrew, word translated as "he" in this verse doesn't describe all of humankind, but is actually a singular, masculine pronoun. The reference alludes to a specific man who would defeat sin once and for all: Jesus Christ.
Tempted by the serpent, Adam and Eve allowed sin to get the best of them. This was not the end of the human story but rather the grand beginning. In God's love, mercy, and grace, He created a plan for redemption that extends to all who accept it.
Adam and Eve may have deserved death, but God gave them something they didn't deserve: grace. Not based on merit, grace is a free gift that is completely unearned. God didn't just extend grace to Adam and Eve but to all humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which cleanses us from sin. From the beginning, God established a plan for redemption, a powerful expression of grace to all of His children, through His Son, Jesus.
1. How would you define grace?
2. What challenges your ability to accept and embrace God's grace in your own life?
3. Read Genesis 3. According to verse 6, what three things caused Eve to respond to the temptation of the fruit? How do these three things tempt us today?
4. Read Genesis 2:16–17. How did Eve's response to the serpent (Genesis 3:2–3) compare to what God actually said regarding the fruit? What did the serpent promise Eve would happen if she disobeyed God?
5. When in the last month have you succumbed to temptation? Pinpoint the temptation's appeal. What were the consequences of your action? How did you experience the grace of God through the situation?
Bible scholars believe the apostle Paul wrote a total of four letters to the church in Corinth, two of which we have in our New Testament. In his letters, we learn that Paul, one of the founders of the early church, faced a challenge not unlike those we encounter. 2 Corinthians 12 zeros in on Paul's personal struggles and afflictions.
6. Read 2 Corinthians 12:1–10. Paul experienced a thorn in his flesh. What would you identify as a thorn in your flesh right now?
2 Corinthians 12:7 says, "And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure." The Greek verb edothe meaning "was given" is used here in the passive tense to explain that God gave Paul the thorn in his side. Through it, God kept Paul unable to boast in himself. Some scholars believe the thorn was a physical illness, an enemy, or a group of false apostles. While the exact meaning is unclear, Paul was readily aware of his weakness. God assured Paul that His grace was sufficient. The Greek word arketos used for "sufficient" means "enough."
7. Reflecting on past "thorns" you've experienced, describe a time when God's grace proved sufficient for you.
8. How, over the upcoming week, can you actively celebrate God's sufficiency or ability to be enough in your life?
From the very beginning, God lavished us with His grace. As we continue to grow in faith, we further understand God's grace as sufficient in our lives.
In his letter to the church in Philippi, the apostle Paul expressed what happens when we learn to trust that God's grace is sufficient. He explained that he had learned contentment in all situations. Read Philippians 4:10–13. What role might grace play in helping us be content in all circumstances, too? How often do you allow thoughts of God's grace to play into your overall satisfaction? What situations are most likely to strip you of contentment? Fill you with contentment? How might you actively choose contentment in a tough situation you face?
Over the course of the next week, record in a journal or online diary all instances when you experience God's grace. Note times when the unmerited favor of God is displayed in your home, work, and relationships. Share highlights with the group the next time you gather.
Chapter TwoAbundant Grace
Grace is the free, undeserved goodness and favor of God to mankind.
Matthew Henry, English theologian
Dr. Charles Finney—a well-known evangelist from the Second Great Awakening—spoke at a church in Detroit, Michigan, one Sunday. Finney preached from 1 John 1:7: "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin." As Finney's voice reverberated over the pews, one man was particularly struck by the message.
After the service, this stranger approached Finney and asked if the preacher would walk him home. Finney could tell the man had been through the ringer, so to speak. He certainly didn't look like the average churchgoer: his breath reeked of alcohol, and his fists were cut and bruised. Knowing the man's reputation, church officials wanted to discourage Finney from being alone with him. However, Finney ignored their warnings and began the walk to the stranger's home.
After walking for a while, the stranger led Finney into the back of a building and locked the door. Startled, Finney began fidgeting as he second-guessed his decision to come along.
The stranger reassured him. "Don't worry. I am not going to hurt you." He went on to explain to Finney that they were in the back of his saloon—a place from which he made sure no patron left without becoming completely inebriated. Though mothers and wives had begged him not to serve their sons and husbands alcohol, he never listened.
The man asked Finney, "Could God forgive a man like that?"
Overwhelmed by the story, Finney drew from his earlier message: "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin."
Not convinced, the stranger went on. "I don't just own a saloon. I also own a gambling hall." He described how he made sure every patron left with empty pockets—scammed out of their last dollars.
"Could God forgive a man like that?"
Finney replied, "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin."
The stranger spoke again. "That's not all. I have a wife and daughter who have bruises and scars from my brutality. I haven't said a kind word to them in five years. Could God forgive a man like that?"
Finney was filled with compassion and sadness over the hopelessness this man felt. Once again he answered, "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin."
After their conversation, the man unlocked the door and let Finney leave. For hours the stranger stayed in the room—pouring the alcohol down the sink and ripping up all the cards in his gambling hall. He chose to believe Finney's words.
When he made his way home that morning, the stranger spoke kindly to his wife and daughter—telling them that they had a new husband and father. The stranger became so involved in the church that he later became one of its leading officials. First John 1:7 became his motto. He finally understood grace.
Sometimes we all need a reminder of God's grace, an understanding that nothing and no one is beyond God's redemption. The stranger in the story was completely lost and drowning in sin, but he learned the greatest lesson of all: Jesus died in order to pay the penalty for all sin. In believing that truth, we find freedom.
1. Describe a time when you felt completely trapped in an unhealthy lifestyle or habit. What finally set you free?
In ancient Jewish culture, asking for your inheritance before your father was dead was a cruel slap in his face. The request came across as, "I wish you were dead." Luke 15 describes the story of a son who made such a request and found himself living a self-destructive lifestyle.
2. Read Luke 15:11–13. What was the younger son's attitude toward his father when he left his house? Think of a time when sinful desires blinded you. In what ways did your attitude toward family and friends mirror that of the son?
After his funds ran dry, the youngest son was forced to take a job feeding pigs. This detail is significant because swine were despised and untouchable to the Jewish people (Leviticus 11:7 and Deuteronomy 14:8). The son's job, then, was dishonorable. When the young man reached a point where he dreamed of eating the pig's food out of desperation, he finally realized he'd rather be a slave in his father's house than continue catering to swine.
3. Read Luke 15:14–24. Place yourself in the younger son's shoes. How do you think he expected his father to react to his return?
In a move that surely shocked Jesus' listeners, the father in the story ran to meet his lost son. In the Jewish culture, a father usually waited to be addressed by a child; but this father pursued his son and welcomed him with open arms. The father was overjoyed to have his son home once again. Rather than expressing displeasure and censure, he lavished his boy with grace and unconditional love.
4. How does this story impact your understanding of grace? How has the Lord, represented as the father in this parable, surprised you in His forgiveness and grace?
This parable is often referred to as "The Prodigal Son," but it could also be called "The Begrudging Brother." At the story's close, we learn a little more about the older brother in the story and discover the issues he faced. Interestingly, Jesus used the older brother to symbolize the Pharisees and scribes to whom He spoke.
5. Read Luke 15:25–32. In what ways do you relate to the older son? Have you ever rejected or put limitations on God's grace? If so, explain.
6. The two sons took very different approaches to life, each other, their father, and grace. On the chart, circle the words in each line that best describe you. Do you relate more to the older son or the younger? Explain.
7. Which of the two brothers do you think most needed to experience grace? Why?
8. What most often prevents you from running into the Father's arms and accepting His free gift of grace?
Sometimes we all need a reminder of the abundance of God's grace—a grace that has no limits.
When God extends abundant grace toward us through repentance, He doesn't keep a record of our past mistakes. Read Psalm 103:11–12. Describe a time when you began to grasp the unfathomable love of God. What does it mean to you to have your sins removed as far as the east is from the west? How has radical forgiveness changed your life?
Read Luke 15 this week. In a journal, write down what you learn about grace from the three parables about things lost and then found. Share what you learn with the group the next time you gather.
Chapter ThreeUndeserved Grace
Don't be troubled when you meditate on the greatness of your former sins, but rather know that God's grace is so much greater in magnitude that it justifies the sinner and absolves the wicked.
Cyril of Alexandria, Ancient church father and theologian
God's grace extends to everyone. While some of us are willing to receive it, we struggle to extend grace to others. Even those of us quick to extend God's grace to those around us sometimes find it difficult to lay hold of this precious gift for ourselves. Take the following quiz to discern how you experience and express grace.
The Grace Quiz
1. You walk into a meeting five minutes late and a coworker walks in ten minutes after you. Just as he did at your arrival, the leader takes time to repeat everything that's already been said. You respond by:
a. Patiently listening to the leader because hearing information a second time is always helpful.
b. Wondering why the leader is taking valuable time to repeat what's already been said twice.
c. Feeling bad because everyone else who was there on time must listen to the instructions three times.
2. You get caught in rush hour traffic and notice that the left lane is closed due to construction. You make your way to the right lane, but notice a car speeding behind you in the left to bypass as much traffic as possible. You respond by:
a. Waving the car around you, reasoning we're all in a hurry sometimes.
b. Blocking the car's path and hoping the driver will find it difficult to merge.
c. Dwelling on all the moments you've done something similar and annoyed drivers around you.
3. Exhausted after a long day, you finish shopping at the grocery store and head to the ten items or less self-checkout line. As a station opens, a lady with a full cart cuts in front of you. You respond by:
a. Remaining silent and offering to help bag her groceries.
b. Complaining to the attendant that she has too many items for self-checkout and giving her a cold stare.
c. Remembering all the times you have inconvenienced others by taking a long time to check out.
Excerpted from MAGNIFICENT GRACE by Margaret Feinberg Copyright © 2012 by Thomas Nelson. 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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