A Christmas Gift For My Friends

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:3 et al).

It’s as far from a trite salutation as words can get. The Apostle Paul used this salutation in all twelve of his New Testament epistles. He meant it to be a startling announcement. It played off the Jewish salutation, the Hebrew word shalom, which has a much richer connotation than the English translation “peace.” It meant not merely an absence of conflict and turmoil, but also the great blessing of a right relationship with God. By adding the word grace before peace, Paul is telling his readers how the peace of a right relationship with God is attained, and it is not by human effort. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s God’s work entirely, God’s grace alone. For centuries Israel had been trying by human effort and failing to keep the Ten Commandments. For centuries they had daily sacrificed burnt offering of cows and goats and sheep and doves trying to atone for the sin that kept them from that right relationship with God. And here Paul comes along and says it’s free, a gift by God’s grace! Is it any wonder his preaching sometimes started riots?

Martin Luther says these two terms—grace and peace—constitute Christianity. Luther’s refreshingly simple one-sentence explanation, found in his classic work, Commentary on Galatians, is this: “Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the conscience.” Grace is not a commodity. It’s God’s exclusive work. Louis Berkhof said it well: grace is “the unmerited operation of God in the heart of man, effected through the agency of the Holy Spirit.” John MacArthur defines it in more modern terms as “the free and benevolent influence of a Holy God operating sovereignly in the lives of undeserving sinners.” It’s divinely guaranteed result is the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings, such as the peace of God which surpasses all understanding… (Philippians 4:7). There is no greater peace. It’s a thunderclap of a salutation, an inscribed trumpet call that declares the solution to the most important concern that can ever run through the mind of man—his justification before an infinitely Holy God who controls his next breath. Grace to you and peace.

So, to rephrase Luther’s pithy tweet, “Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the conscience,” we could say grace cancels the penalty for sin and consequently pacifies a tormented conscience. Perhaps you’re thinking, “I don’t have a tormented conscious, I’m a pretty decent sort. I’m good enough to get into heaven.” I’ve heard that too often from unsaved friends, and it breaks my heart. At the risk of ruining your Advent, if that’s what you think, you have a grossly inadequate concept of sin, and your soul is in grave peril, dear friend, and eternity is a very long time…. Read Luther’s partial catalogue of sin listed in his Commentary on Galatians, Chapter 1, any single one of which is sufficient to keep you out of heaven:

The truth is I am all sin. My sins are not imaginary transgressions, but sins against the first table [the first four Ten Commandments] unbelief, doubt, despair, contempt, hatred, ignorance of God, ingratitude towards Him, misuse of His name, neglect of His word, etc.; and sins against the second table [the last six Ten Commandments], dishonor of parents, disobedience of government, coveting of another’s possessions, etc. Granted that I have not committed murder, adultery, theft, and similar sins in deed, nevertheless I have committed them in my heart, and therefore I am a transgressor of all the commandments of God.   [Q: Does the shoe fit? A: It fits everyone.]

“Because my transgressions are multiplied and my own efforts at self-justification are rather a hindrance than a furtherance, therefore Christ the Son gave Himself unto death for my sins. To believe this is eternal life.”

And even that belief is grace, a free gift from our sovereign God—He inclines your will to believe, as R.C. Sproul says. Now think about God’s punishment for sin—it should strike terror in your heart. Think about that babe in a manger, God’s Son sent to die a horrible death on a cross that you might escape that punishment. Our sins clearly cannot be insignificant trifles. Luther said, “So vicious is sin that only the sacrifice of Christ could atone for it…Sin is an exacting despot who can be vanquished by no created power, but by the sovereign power of Jesus Christ alone.” If it’s a big deal with God who made you and numbered your days, shouldn’t it be a big deal with you? And what manner of love is this that He would put own His son through that for sinners who aren’t even looking for him? No one seeks God…no not even one (Romans 3:10-12). What other option for getting right with Him do you have but His grace, His free and benevolent working in your heart to give you spiritual rebirth (John 3:3), repentance, remission of sins and peace and joy that no one can take away (John 16:22)? There is no other way.

If you don’t know my Lord whose birth we celebrate this season, if you don’t know His grace and peace, why not ask for that free and benevolent working in your heart? Here’s a model prayer, or better yet pray from your own heart. It costs no more to ask than it costs to receive this priceless gift.

Dear friends and family, I think most of you know the Giver of Grace and Peace, but for those who do not, my Christmas gift to each of you is my beggar’s prayer to our Sovereign God, that He would bestow grace to you and peace, the finest gift, the greatest treasure you could ever receive. And for those of you who do know our Giver of Grace and Peace, I pray your New Year will be filled to overflowing with more grace and peace. Everything else in life is just details.

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