BY GRACE: NOT ONLY MORE, BUT BETTER
The Collect, or prayer, for the 11th Sunday after Trinity reads: “Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve; Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.”
Jacob, richly blessed, addressed the Lord: “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which you have shown Your servant…” (Genesis 32:10). In the 5th Petition we confess with Luther, “We are worthy of none of the things for which we pray, neither have we deserved them.” How then shall we understand the phrase in the prayer where it says that the Lord is accustomed to give us more than either we desire or deserve? Must we not ask, on one hand, how it is that He withholds from us what we do deserve, namely judgment, as we ask on the other hand how it is that the Lord gives unworthy sinners more than we deserve? One word satisfies what seems to be two contradictory questions. The word is grace.
In truth,we deserve nothing from God except His wrath and displeasure, and everlasting judgment, “for we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment.” (*) While we deserve nothing good from the Heavenly Father, without merit or worthiness on our part, and even without asking for it, our Heavenly Father has given us more than we deserve. When Adam and Eve bought Satan’s lie, sin and death came into the world. When God came into the Garden, Adam and Eve did not ask Him for relief; in fear they hid from Him (Genesis 3). But the loving Father in His grace promised them more than what was deserved. Perhaps we should say, “He promised and gave something better than what was deserved.” Of this promise and the fulfillment of it, all mankind are the beneficiaries of the Gift the Father promised and gave–the Gift that keeps on giving till the end of time.
The Gift was our Savior, Jesus Christ, upon whom was laid the sin of Adam and Eve, and of the whole world. Through Jesus’ holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, and by His resurrection from the dead, the chasm between God and man has been closed. By the blood of Christ, the sinner has been washed. Our sins have been forgiven. God the Father has reconciled the world unto Himself. Through Jesus’ redeeming act and His resurrection from the dead, justification came upon all unto life.
But how is this accomplished fact of divine love assimilated by sinful man? It is declared and made known through the Gospel, the good news of salvation in Christ. Then how is this Gospel, recorded and preserved to us in the Scriptures, effective in our hearts? It is effective through the power of the Holy Spirit, Who creates in the heart the faith to appropriate to oneself all that Christ accomplished for fallen man according to the will and promise of God. In other words, not only did the Father provide the solution to the sin problem and to the human dilemma, He provided the blessing and will to believe in Jesus. Jesus is the answer to our otherwise hopeless condition.
The Father continues to call sinners through the Gospel. “[God] has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, 10 but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” (2 Timothy 1:9-10). As many as believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are the children of God; to them comes peace and assurance in the knowledge that “There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). God’s Gift keeps on giving as we hear and believe the Gospel which tells us that where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. In demonstration of His grace—undeserved love–the Lord has withheld from us what we deserve.
No one who acknowledges and confesses the stark reality and the horrible, eternal consequence of sin will deny that, in this context, he has received better than he deserved. Such as confess their sin, and believe on the Lord Jesus can live confidently in the face of the miserable, deceitful, and ungodly world in which we dwell.
As many as are children of God through faith in Christ have the invitation to lay every need before the Father. We are encouraged to such petitioning of the Lord in prayer. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Our Father in Christ always answers our prayers, and responds in fashion of a loving father who knows better than we what is good for us and to our benefit. Every petition we lay before the Father, whether for body or soul, is answered in connection with His Son, whom God spared not but delivered up for us all, and in whom He freely gives us all things (Romans 8:32). Yes, that includes the sun that shines, and the rain that falls on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:4-5), and every other blessing that humans take for granted—bygrace, more and better than we deserve.
The children of God view life in a broader perspective than those who do not believe in Christ. The joy of unbelievers is tied exclusively to things of this life. Whatever after-life they may think of, if at all, it is not heaven, for without faith in Christ heaven is closed to them. In this world, Christ-believers endure the same aches, pains, trials, the same weariness, and endure the same annoyances as unbelievers. However, even the message of Christmas cannot stem the unhappiness of the unbelievers in the world because, devoid of Christ, they have no anchor for life and no hope for the future.
No one who is without faith in Christ can identify with the incarcerated apostle who said, “…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Philippians 4:11-12).
When we are tempted to adopt the “woe-is-me” attitude of the world, or to become sullen over our circumstances in life, confess the sin and give ear to the Gospel, the message that sustained Paul and, through the ages, the church in all its difficulties. Remember that you are blessed beyond measure, better than you deserve. Heaven is your home because “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:8-10).
The Lord tells us: “I, even I, am He Who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). God’s children, though still laden with the oft forgetful flesh, because of the righteousness of Christ which we possess through faith, can pray:“Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve; Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.”
“Lord, Whose grace is sufficient to us in all things and circumstances, as you bless us beyond measure in body and soul, may we, by Your Spirit, always have thankful hearts, “For You are good and Your mercy endures forever” (Psalm 107:1).
*) Luther, Martin: Explanation to the 5th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer