As I mentioned at the outset, we're looking in these days in the Gospel of John. I want to invite your attention there this morning. I want to speak to you today about Disciplined Grace…Disciplined Grace. John, in his opening remarks, speaks of the fullness of grace, speaks of Christ as being one who embodies grace and truth. So I want to speak to you this morning about that, and the disciplined aspect of grace I believe we find in the life of Christ.
We focus today also on John the Baptist, a character who is major in the gospel accounts…mentioned some 89 times in Scripture, and yet one we don't see much of even though he's mentioned so often because his intended purpose was to, as he says, to decrease in order that Christ might increase. He was a man who lived his life so that the focus (the spotlight) was on Jesus Christ.
We see his testimony today also, and in the weeks to come, concerning Christ as that Lamb of God. John's task was a difficult task. He had the job of preparing the nation to receive the Messiah. He called on them to repent of their sins and to prove they had repented of their sins by being baptized and by living changed lives.
It is in that context that we pick up our discussion today. I want to start in chapter 1, and verse 14. As we read together it says, "And the Word [that's Jesus] became flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." In verse 14, the phrase grace and truth appears to us, John connects that through the section that we're looking at today that Christ is the embodiment of the fullness of grace and truth. In the language…that He is filled up with grace and truth so much so that he's able to dispense that very thing to those who are around Him.
Then in verse 15, speaking of John the Baptist, it says, "John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, 'This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.'" John is quoted here by the other John, by John the Apostle, as one who cries out. That's a word that just means that prophetic cry, that cry of Elijah. John, though he denies being Elijah the prophet, of course in body, he fulfilled the role of Elijah that Malachi had spoken of. He is prophesying the coming of the Messiah.
The aspect that John the Apostle refers to, the quotation of John the Baptist that is listed for us here is that Jesus is eternal. He says that He is preferred before me because he was before me. He came before John. Now if you remember, John the Baptist was actually born before Jesus was born…some six months before he was born, and yet here John is saying that He was before me speaking of the eternality of Christ, not that He began His life before John, but that He was there before John or before anyone ever was; therefore, He is the preferred. It is not John the Baptist who is to receive the focus; it is Jesus Christ who is to receive the focus and the purpose of being a Messiah. He is referring to our Lord's preexistence here.
It goes on and John the Apostle picks back up his introductory commentary in verse 16. Speaking of Christ he says, "And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace." Back in 14 you remember it says there that He was full of grace and truth, and now here in 16 he connects to that, and says, "Of that fullness we have all received, and grace for grace." Verse 17, "For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth [there's that pairing again] came through Jesus Christ."
Now, we know perhaps what grace is. Grace is God's love that's bestowed on those who do not deserve it, on those who cannot earn it, that's what grace is. If God dealt with us only according to truth, He speaks of grace and truth, but if God dealt with us only according to truth none of us would survive. So He deals with us on the basis of grace and truth. Those two must go together. Jesus Christ in His life, His death, and His resurrection met all the demands of truth…all the demands of the law. As such, God is now free to share the fullness of His grace with those who trust in Christ. That is exactly what John is referring to.
Now, when we go to verse 17, John did not suggest there was no grace under the Law of Moses. In fact, if you think about the Law of Moses, it is a picture of grace. For instance, all the sacrifices…the sacrificial system showed the grace of God rather than an individual having to pay the penalty of their own sin, God gracefully allowed for a substitute to pay for it. That substitute is Jesus, and it is modeled or was typified in the slaughtering of the animals that were offered for sacrifice. Even in the Law of Moses we certainly see the grace of God at work.
The law also revealed God's truth. It was the embodiment of God's requirements of man, of what it meant to be obedient to man. You notice in verse 17 he says, "The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." Christ becomes the fulfillment of both of those aspects of God's character…grace and truth. Now, the Law of Moses showed us grace. The Law of Moses showed us truth, but when you look at that verse, you get the inclination, if you're not careful, that somehow Moses failed and Jesus succeeded. That of course is not what John means at all.
Moses was a great character of Scripture. He was used by God, he was obedient to God, and he brought the law as God commanded him to bring it forth. Moses was in and of himself a great prophet, a great preacher of God, but he was not Christ. He could not bring the fullness of grace. He was not able to even bring the fullness of truth. It took the sinless modeling of Jesus Christ to show us what the fullness of grace and the fullness of truth look like together.
Christ's earthly walk was a model of grace and truth for us. We have to have them both. Grace without truth would be deceitful. If all you do is constantly give with no requirement to that, if all God did was simply just offer the graceful act of giving that would in and of itself be deceitful. Truth alone, without grace would be condemning. If you had nothing but truth without grace, as I mentioned, none of us would survive. So Christ modeled a disciplined grace before all of us in the gospel accounts for us…not an indulgent giving, but grace bound in truth.
I think sometimes some of our difficulties in the Christian life are bringing together both grace and truth. There may be a tendency to respond to the Christian life, to respond to the grace of God and to focus and to heavily weigh upon the giving aspect. But you see, God's intention for us to live graceful lives was not to be indulgent people. We are not to be people who are simply an ATM machine for everybody who is around us. There is to be embodied in grace, truth. There is to be a reason behind the grace. There is to be a love for God, an obedience to God, that is bound so closely together with the giving. That's why sometimes you see differences in people and you get that confusion.
Let me give you an example. For instance, what is better, to give somebody everything that they want or to teach them how to live? You know, we had that loving uncle who comes and who buys the big Christmas present, and when we're little we focus and we think, "Boy, I wish my parents were as wonderful as that uncle is or that aunt is…were as giving as they were. Oh, they just love me so much." All the while they're not thinking of the fact that every day, three times a day there is food set before them for which they do not pay. There is a home provided for them for which they did not build. There is a life given to them that is in the disciplined grace of their parents.
I think sometimes as Christians we want to be that rich uncle toward people, and not realize that the real, genuine love is in the parental application of life to those who are around us. I think we tend to think the rich uncle is the one who loves us the most, but we know that's not true. We know it's the love of the parent, not shown in extravagant, indulgent giving, but shown in the disciplined love and giving that comes day in and day out. That's the life Christ modeled.
He didn't heal everybody. He didn't take care of every problem in the world. In fact Jesus said the poor will always be with us, but what Jesus did show, the grace He did display was a parental, loving, teaching, following kind of grace…where grace and truth come together. Oh this isn't a parent's sermon, but if you want a model of how to be a good parent it's to bring grace and truth together, not to be that legalistic, always trying to find fault, always warning kind of law-only kind of parent, nor to be the indulgent, always giving, always blinded to what they're going to turn out to be kind of parent, but the kind that combines love and truth together.
Christ did that, and He did that to fullness. He modeled it so that you and I might follow. He did what Moses could not do. He showed us what grace and truth together fully looked like. We have the blessing and the benefit of being on this side of the cross in order to see, walking in human flesh, the model of fullness of grace and truth. We are certainly saved by grace, but grace is not just a gift of rescue. Grace also is something you live by. Grace is something you depend on God for in all that you do in life. We're saved by grace, but we also live by grace.
Paul spoke of this in 1 Corinthians 15, verse 10. The apostle said, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, [In other words, it's not me living out my daily life] but the grace of God which was with me." Do you see what Paul is saying? Grace was not just a free ticket to heaven for him. Grace was not just God giving His unmerited favor toward us and saving us from hell. That's part of it, but grace also is embodied in a discipline of life.
A disciplined grace, so much so that the apostle Paul says, "I'm laboring harder than I ever have, but it's God's grace that's laboring. It's not me. I am who I am. I am what I am because of the grace of God. It changed me. It converted me. It turned me into a person who wanted to model Christ in daily life." That is the discipline of grace.
John goes on back in chapter 1, in verse 18. He says, "No one has seen God at any time." Now it's very difficult for us to model our daily life after the holiness of God when we can't see God. John alludes to that. He says, "No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him." Now it's true that man can see God revealed in nature. We're able to see some aspects of God. We're able to see His mighty works in history.
For instance, Romans 1:20 says, "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that [nobody has excuse] they are without excuse," when it comes to the reality and power and the sovereignty of God. Mankind cannot see God Himself, so Jesus Christ, John is telling us in this verse, reveals God to us.
God said, "Be holy for I am holy." Christ shows us what holiness looks like. He showed us that it could walk in human flesh, and He showed us the disciplined life grace can have in this world. Paul would say in Colossians 1:15, of Christ, "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation." He is the expression of what the holiness of God is for us, and God's grace which a synonym would be God's love, looks like carried out in this world. Christ explains God to us. He interprets God for us, and we see that brought out for us in the gospels.
Notice in verse 18, he says, "The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him." That word "declared" is a Greek word where we get the word exegesis from. An exegesis is a word that means to explain, to unfold, and to lead the way. Jesus Christ explains God to us. He interprets Him for us. In fact, my friends, we simply cannot understand God apart from knowing His Son, Jesus Christ. You cannot have a relationship with God and understand the teachings and the walk of God without knowing Jesus Christ. He reveals God to man. He is the model of grace and the fullness of truth before man. So John brings out to us that Christ showed him, that Christ modeled before a lost and dying world, a disciplined grace.
How do we respond in life? Well John the Baptist is a good example for us. Beginning in verse 19 on through verse 28, we have the much summarized biographical account of John the Baptist. It says, "Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, 'Who are you?' He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, 'I am not the Christ.'" That was one of the things they were wondering, "Are you the Messiah?" Another thing they were wondering, "Are you Elijah?"
Verse 21, /"And they asked him, 'What then? Are you Elijah?' He said, 'I am not.' 'Are you the Prophet?' And he answered, 'No.' Then they said to him, 'Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?'" Then he gave the prophesy of the coming of Elijah the Prophet and said, "'I am 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said.
Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. And they asked him, saying, 'Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?' John answered them, saying, 'I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.' These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing."/
Some people thought John the Baptist was the promised Messiah, and he had to deny that. He denied being either Elijah or the Messiah Himself. He had nothing, in fact, to say about himself at all because he was sent to talk about Jesus. Jesus was the Word; John was a voice. It is the Word you're to focus on. You can't serve a voice, you serve the Word. John pointed back to Isaiah's prophesy in Isaiah 40, and simply affirmed that he was the fulfillment of the voice to bring the Word.
So the Jews then asked, "Well, why are you baptizing?" The Jews did baptize, but what they would do is they would baptize a Gentile convert. Now here is John baptizing Jews. That they did not understand. That was something a Messiah would do. And John's answer was simply, "Well I'm baptizing in water, but there's One coming after me who is going to baptize in spirit, with a spiritual baptism." John made it clear he was not seeking to exalt himself, that Christ was to receive the exaltation.
Disciplined grace is at work in John the Baptist's testimony. He was disciplined not to take credit. Notice too, he was disciplined not to just seek conversion. In other words, disciplined grace does not stop at seeking repentance. It seeks followship. It seeks discipleship. John wanted not just for them to repent, but for them to be baptized and for them to follow the Christ which is what comes up in the verses to follow. Disciplined grace wants to make disciples, not just converts.
I think it's a great test of any congregation if its purpose is to simply dispense the grace of salvation or to dispense the grace of salvation and the truth of God…to show forth not only how to be accepted by God into heaven, but also how to live according to God's principles in this life. Grace and truth embodied in Christ.
How is it with you today? Have you received the grace of God that leads to salvation? Have you invested in the truth of God that leads to a holy life? You see, if we take one or the other, we're falling short of what God intends for us. Christ desires both, and I trust this morning that if you don't know Christ as Savior, that you will reach out and receive His gracious offer, the free gift of salvation.
If you do know the free gift of salvation, you will then reach out to embrace the truth of God, to study His Word, to pray to Him, and to desire to follow Him because in Christ and in Christ alone is all the grace, and all the truth an individual needs to live.
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