Grace First

Our Lord doesn’t gives instructions or commandments to his people before he saves his people. God always rescues first, then lays out the conditions second. God saves, then his people obey. God speaks, then his people respond. God reaches out in mercy and grace, then his people rejoice and give him praise. That’s the way it works. God acts in kindness toward his people, then his people act in kindness to one another.

God creates man, gives him a loving and equal partner, puts them in charge of everything in the beautiful garden, provides for their every need, and then gives them instructions regarding the trees.

God rescues Noah, he saves Noah’s whole family through the un-creation of the flood, and then he establishes the covenant with its commands.

God delivers Israel from Egyptian bondage, he walks them through the Red Sea on dry ground, he destroys all their enemies, and then he gives them the Law on Mount Sinai.

It’s always grace first, then law second.

Jesus first heals the leper, then he says, “Now go offer the gift.” Jesus cleanses the demon-possessed man, then he says, “Now go tell your family how much the Lord has done for you, how he has had mercy on you.” Jesus rescues an adulterous woman from her executioners, he saves her, and then he says, “Go and leave your life of sin.”

It’s a formula. It’s a pattern. It’s a rule for the way things are. It’s the divine order.

The Christmas trees don’t go up in Walmart until after Halloween. The kids don’t spill red Kool-Aid until after you’ve got new carpet. Jerry Jones doesn’t sign a player until after that player’s committed a felony. And our gracious heavenly Father doesn’t give rules and commands until after he saves us.

It’s just the opposite of Santa Claus. If you’re good, Santa gives you a great gift. With God in Christ, we’re good because we’ve been given such a great gift.




  1. Howard

    We can sort of just ignore the fact that out of everyone God could have saved from the flood he chose to save Noah who “was a righteous man and walked blameless among the people of his time.” Or today out of all the people God could save, he only saves those who believe.

  2. Allan

    It’s like gift cards, Howard. God had already purchased their salvation, he had already saved them and was walking with them in relationship. The gift card was in their purse, it was in the console in the truck – and it was never used. It was ignored and rejected. Same with us today. Salvation for the entire world has already been bought with the blood of Jesus. For everybody. But our God loves you too much to force you to accept the gift.

    • Howard

      Your assumption seems to be that they know the gift card is there and they know the consequences of rejecting it. Is it your position that when people reject God they know they are making the worst decision of their lives and the worst decision for their lives?

  3. Rob's Dad

    Think about that verse as someone outside of the church – it can look like you won’t be saved unless you are perfect. This fosters a legalistic, rule-following approach spiral and drives people away.

    • Allan

      Drake, even after that initial grace, even after the giving of the Law / rules / commands, our God continues to rescue and save us when we fall. His mercy is boundless, his grace knows no limits.

      Howard, the better and more relevant question is, do YOU know you’re making the worst decision of your life and the worst decision for your life? I believe our God is looking at your heart, judging each person according to his or her own abilities to respond to his love and grace and his work in his or her life.

      • Allan

        Rob’s Dad,
        In the Bible it’s best to interpret “righteous” as being in a right relationship with God. Being open and honest with the Lord, receiving from God and living into his will for you and the world. It’s not someone who follows all the rules and gets everything exactly right. If that’s the case, only one is righteous, and it’s not you or me or Howard. Righteous means you’ve received the gift(s) from the Lord and you’re doing your best, even with all your stumblings.

      • Howard

        I would prefer you address my question rather than posing another. I look forward to your answer of my question, but will, in the meantime answer yours.

        Like all people I never make a decision I believe to be a bad decision, much less the worst possible decision. I and all people make the decision we think is the best decision in accordance with truth and goodness. If we make a decision that is not best for us it is due to ignorance and not malicious intent. I have no fears of what God would see in my heart. He will not find anything other than honest attempt to do what is right.

        • Allan

          Howard, we’ve been over this many, many times. I feel like you and I have this exact same conversation every couple of years. People make decisions against their own best interests all the time. People make terrible decisions every day that have nothing to do with ignorance. People smoke cigarettes, cheat on their spouses, buy cars and houses they can’t afford, and steal FedEx packages off front porches knowing it’s going to mean trouble for them down the line. Some people eat cheeseburgers and french fries two or three times a week, knowing full well that it’s not in their best interests.

          So, yes, for a variety of reasons, some people who have all the information do reject Jesus as Lord. Probably for some of the same reasons people smoke cigarettes or drive without insurance.

          • Howard

            Then we will just need to keep going over it till we get it right. Let me just focus on a single part of your reply: “Some people eat cheeseburgers and french fries two or three times a week, knowing full well that it’s not in their best interests.” We both have extensive personal experience with cheeseburgers so we can, hopefully, find agreement regarding what is going on here.

            By “not in their best interests” I assume you mean primarily obesity and the related effects on health, life expectancy and social stigma. I agree with you that too many cheeseburger cause health problems, but only dealing with the negative effects of cheeseburgers does not tell the full story. People know the problems with cheeseburgers, but they don’t eat them from a desire to be obese or because they want to increase their risk of heart disease. Eating cheeseburgers is fun. People want to have fun. People see having fun as being “in their best interests.”

            The situation is complicated by the fact that the decision is only made about one cheeseburger at a time. They are not deciding about their lunch menu next Wednesday. They are only making a decision about this one cheeseburger. This one cheeseburger is rather innocuous. One won’t kill me, ruin my social life or even make me fat. One will give me significant pleasure. I will skip dinner.

            So with regard to a cheeseburger people are doing what they see as their best interests. They intend the good, not the bad. The same is true of all decisions. People act in accordance with their perceived best interests. If a person, any person, knew that accepting Jesus was in their best interest, they would do so. If it is a fact that accepting Jesus would benefit me, then the only reason I do not accept Jesus is due to ignorance of that fact.

  4. Allan

    “People see having fun as being in their best interests.”
    Yes, we can rationalize and justify anything. What a very human thing we all do: Hold on to what I insist is best for me, when all the evidence proves otherwise.

    • Howard

      My point was not that having fun is in one’s best interest. I did not claim that to be true. What I said is that people see it as being in their best interest. My point is that people choose that which they SEE as being in their best interest. If people KNEW that believing in Jesus was in their best interest, they would choose to do so. They don’t intentionally act against their interest.

      • Allan

        And my point is that people make decisions all the time KNOWING they are against their best interests. This is where we disagree.

  5. Howard

    Most actions cannot be evaluated as if all their effects are bad or all good. Most actions have both good and bad effects. Driving allows us to get to the grocery store, but it also puts our life and the lives of others at risk. We drive KNOWING these bad effects, but we believe that after considering all effects, driving, on balance is good for us. Chemotherapy sometimes aids in cancer treatment, but it also makes one’s hair fall out. People take chemo KNOWING their hair will fall out because, on balance, they view the action as good. Your KNOW cheeseburgers have some bad effects, but you also know they have some good effects. If, in your mind, the bad effects outweigh the good effects you would not eat cheeseburgers. I don’t eat cheeseburgers. This is not because I know something you don’t know but rather because you value the benefits of eating cheeseburgers to be greater than the bad effects. It would be totally irrational for you to eat cheeseburgers if you thought the down sides outweighed the benefits.
    People smoke because, to them, the benefits outweigh the risk of lung cancer. People cheat on their spouses, because they think they won’t get caught. No one would steal a Fed Ex package off your porch if they thought they would get caught.

  6. Allan

    I am irrational.
    I believe most people are.

    • Howard

      One way to frame it is that we are simply irrational. My take on this approach is that the effect is to avoid responsibility for our choice. It’s sort of like “The Devil made me do it.” so we don have to take responsibility. In my opinion you are making a very rational choice to eat cheeseburgers. you and I both have all the facts for making a rational decision. Fact one: Over eating id pleasant but it has the side effect of being unhealthy Eating modestly is less pleasant but is better for our health. We both know there no third option: Eat healthily but get the same pleasure as overeating.. The way we fool ourselves is to say “I’ll over eat for lunch and skip dinner.” it should be clear based on vast experience this does not work.

      People do this rational calculation all the time. Many in America choose overeating which rationally implies they would rather be fat than give up over eating.

    • Howard

      Speaking of irrational, my understanding then of your view of grace is that people fail to accept grace because they fail to make the rational choice. Yet God created humans irrational. Just another indication of how the whole idea of grace makes no sense outside universal salvation

      In my day The Church required right living and it was growing.

      • Allan

        I believe the whole witness of Scripture and the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is clear that our God desires to save all people by any means necessary. I believe he takes into account every single factor when it comes to a person’s background, upbringing, circumstances, time and place, intellect, abilities, and heart. God is the only one who knows all those things and we know he wants to save. Grace, grace, grace – tons of grace. The only thing he won’t do is force it on somebody who continually refuses. He won’t make you do something you don’t want to do. He knows if you know enough. He knows if you have what you need to say “yes.” He wants to save everybody, he’ll move heaven and earth to save everybody, he’ll come here to live with us and take on our sin for us to make it happen. But he won’t force it on anybody.

  7. Howard

    So it boils down to who is responsible. Your reply is an attempt to clear God of responsibility based on the fact that he is doing everything he can to save us? Let me grant you that for now. The fact remains that most humans will not be saved. So who is responsible? If we absolve God, that leaves only man.

    It’s a fact that man’s nature is such that most will not accept the evangelical Christian’s idea of God. Most will be lost. This is simply due to human nature being what it is. It is clear that this is so. Who made human nature?

    Ultimately the billions currently in hell are there because they were created by God with human nature. If you ask any of them they would rather never have been born? But they were not given a choice. They we created by God with a nature such that on average they would be suffering forever.

    • Allan

      Boy, you’ve made a strong determination here about how many people are being saved and how many are being condemned. God’s love and grace is such that I wouldn’t be shocked if you’ve got the numbers backward.
      God created men and women out of love, a divine and eternal love that he then lavishes on all people with the goal of righteous relationship. The Lord did not create anyone to be condemned. He didn’t bring anyone into this world in order to send him or her to hell. He floods all people with his mercy and love and makes every provision for the salvation of all people. While we were/are enemies. While we were/are sinners. While our sinful human nature wins its share of the battles.
      If I know God through the revelation of the written Word and the incarnate Word, Jesus, then I trust him to save all but those who willfully and stubbornly and knowingly reject him to the bitter end. He’s the only one who can judge that. And I believe he’s more gracious and loving than you think he is.

      • Howard

        I appreciate your generous estimation of the saved. There is not as much distance between us as I imagined. I think that only universal salvation is consistent with grace. If you think God’s plan will save most humans then we only disagree on the few, the stubborn, the proud, the willful. I just don’t think there is such a thing as the stubborn and the willful. I have long agreed with Socrates: “No one does evil intentionally.”

        I know a lot of people might judge me to be stubborn or willful. I have not accepted God’s grace for decades and suspect I’ll die that way, but it has nothing to do with willful disregard for my well being. It is just that I honestly don’t think there is such a thing. If I am wrong, it is simply through ignorance or misunderstanding something. I can join Paul in saying I have lived in all good conscience to this day. I think all people could join Paul in this statement.

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