Study # 7
Thesis: Joyful fearlessness springs from realizing that because of grace there is no possibility of destructive judgment.
Introduction: [Read Luke 1:13-14.] As we have been considering Luke's record of Zacharias' fear at the appearance of Gabriel, we have discovered that the fear was not a momentary thing for Zacharias. It was a deeper reality with a continuing presence. And we have seen that the promise of joy was not dependent upon a changing of most of the circumstances of Zacharias' life. He was still going to be living under Herod's rule; he was still going to be living in a corrupt religious environment; and the grief of this world was not going to diminish significantly at all. Actually, in terms of circumstances, only one thing was going to change: his wife was going to have a son and cease to be barren. But the angel promised that this one change would bring about an enduring "joy". When we look at the majority of this world and the level of desperation with which it lives, we have to wonder how the birth of a baby was going to bring about an on-going joy in the lives of those who had been living in fear. The key to the answer, as we have already seen, is in the angelic instruction to name him "John". This morning we want to look into the significance of understanding that Yahweh is gracious. How does coming to grips with grace lead to an abiding joy?
October 12, 2003
- I. Is an Abiding Joy the Angel's Promise?
- A. In the explanation of the reason for the joy, the events that were to bring it were not birth-related.
- 1. In this explanation, there is no mention of the cessation of barrenness.
- 2. In this explanation, there are several descriptions of what would come of the son after his birth, meaning that the reason for the joy was post-birth for the most part.
- 3. This indicates that the joy that probably began the day Zacharias was struck dumb and developed as Elizabeth conceived and the baby began to develop within her was not going to only last a little while, but would become a life characteristic.
- B. In the explanation of the joy of the "many", the roots of the joy were not "in" the birth, but "upon" it as a foundation.
- II. What Does "John" Have to do With Abiding Joy?
- A. First, it is a deliberate focus upon the grace of God.
- 1. This raises the question of the nature of "grace".
- a. Here, everything is definition: it is absolutely crucial that we define grace the way God does.
- b. How does God define grace?
- 1) First, He defines it in terms of its independence from any link to human performance.
- a) Romans 4:4
- b) Romans 11:6
- 2) Second, He defines it in terms of its sole dependence upon His initiative.
- a) Romans 11:5 as explained by 9:10-16 and 12:3 and 6.
- b) Ephesians 1:6 in context.
- 3) Third, He defines it by consistent historical examples.
- a) Since merit is already done away, the only other issue is demerit.
- b) In the face of man's "works" under the demand for righteousness (his sinful disqualification), He provided a total provision that was absolutely divorced from man's demerit -- indicating that a "working definition" of grace is "God doing for man what He required of man".
- c) In the face of man's "works" under the demand for faithfulness after regeneration (the flesh still cannot perform), He provided another total provision that was still divorced from man's demerit -- continuing the working definition.
- d) In the face of man's "end" under the subjugation of the body to the processes of disintegration, He promises another total provision that is still divorced from man's abilities or efforts, thus establishing the working definition.
- 4) Thus, our definition of grace as God has established it is: God doing for us what He requires of us so that we can experience His goodness without consideration of the status of our merit/demerit.
- 2. This raises the question of the primacy of "grace" as a way of thinking about God.
- a. There are many attributes of God that impact man.
- b. Only grace is indisputably related to the removal of fear and the establishment of joy.
- 1) All of the benefits of the other attributes can be tied to man's initiative [John 14:23 (love); Mark 9:23 (omnipotence); 2 Timothy 2:7 (wisdom/understanding); etc.]
- 2) The issue here is fundamentally the removal of fear, not the establishment of joy.
- a) Men can be joyful about their accomplishments.
- b) But they cannot be fearless regarding them in the face of divine scrutiny.
- 3) The command to name the son "John" seeks to elevate "grace" to a place of primacy so that Zacharias could no longer see God's grace as a minor player in his life.
- B. Second, it is an historically indisputable evidence of the wrongness of the fearful thinking.
- 1. The major problem with grace is the question of whether it will become, or has been, a major player in one's life -- since man cannot force it without destroying it (grace is not grace if man can compel it).
- 2. In Zacharias' case, the question is very large since the historical argument of barrenness is a major case for believing that grace is not/has not been in the picture -- it seems to indicate the abiding presence of divine displeasure.
- 3. John's birth is a declaration that grace is his!
- 4. Once grace is a given, fear is dissolved.
- C. Third, as both, it is a point of reference that immediately challenges any return of that kind of thinking.
- 1. Grace given is not rescinded because the only reason for recension would be "bad" behavior, and grace is absolutely separated from behavior issues.
- 2. Thus, John's living presence in the household was a constant reminder to his father that he had nothing to fear from God as a recipient of His favor. [Romans 8:31-33 -- how can anyone lay a charge against man for his behavior when his behavior is not even in the picture?!]
- III. Final Question: How Can I Become a Recipient of His Grace?
- A. First, there is nothing I can do to "force" Him to be gracious to me -- grace forced is not grace.
- B. Second, the only hope for grace is humility [James 4:6] and it is no "lever".
- C. Third, the only approach to God for grace to be given to us is "appeal" [Luke 18:13], not bargaining.