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Grace Abounding

“In Him we have deliverance through His blood — liberation from trespasses — according to the riches of His grace, which abounds to us in all wisdom and understanding,”

(Ephesians 1:7-8)

Grace is said to “abound to us in all wisdom and understanding.” Some Bible translations prefer the more poetic language of God “lavishing” his grace upon us. And, while that is not a wrong choice of words in translation, for many of us, the term “lavish” carries with it connotations of wastefulness and extravagance where the word “abound,” reflecting the abundance in God’s grace, is better suited to the text. And indeed, when we realize the depth of our depravity, grace in abundance is the only thing that can compensate for our sins.

Yet, God does not give his grace out in a scattered or thoughtless manner. It is distributed abundantly as guided by the wisdom and understanding of God. God wastes none of his grace. It is not poured out into the lives of the reprobate but is abundantly extended to His elect. How oftentimes people portray God’s grace as distributed indiscriminately, but Paul is making it abundantly clear that God’s grace is intentional and flows out of his wisdom and his understanding. Such language as this can only be understood in light of the Reformed doctrine of election and reprobation, not in light of the Wesleyan doctrine of prevenient grace.

And so, while grace may overflow to us as our cup does at God’s table, it is not given unwisely or without knowing to whom it is given. And, when we really begin to understand the doctrine of God’s intentional grace, given abundantly to his elect, it should instill in us a sense of humbleness that responds with gratitude and worship. No longer is worship seen as being about “meeting my needs” but it is an outpouring of love to God for He has already met those many needs that we have and he has done so in and through his Son, Jesus Christ.

The Abundance of Grace

“In Him we have deliverance through His blood — liberation from trespasses — according to the riches of His grace, which abounds to us in all wisdom and understanding,”

(Ephesians 1:7-8)

While we talk a lot about grace in the Christian world (and rightly so!), before we do so in this context, it seems appropriate to first ask the question as to why Paul refers to this grace as “rich” or “abundant.” It certainly sounds nice and many of the hymns that are sung speak of God’s amazing grace, but why is Paul making such a big deal of the notion here? Is this just flowery language to create a nice flow and rhythm for the Ephesian Christians? Or, is there something more.

The word in question is the Greek word, πλοῦτος (ploutos), which is the word we get “plutocrat” (someone whose power comes from their wealth) and “plutocracy” (rule by the wealthy). On the most basic level, in Greek, it translates as wealth, abundance, and as plenty — implying that it will not and cannot run dry. It is like the oil and flour of the widow of Zerephath (1 Kings 17:8-16) whose water and oil did not run out. So too is God’s grace, Paul is saying, the implication of his words are this: that no matter how grievous your sin may be, grace is plentiful — it can fill the gap. 

Sometimes people ask the question, “can God forgive even me?” The answer is, “yes!” The reason that the answer is an affirmative is because Grace is abundant…it is πλοῦτος, to borrow Paul’s language. Just as the oil and flour did not run out, no matter how many times the widow dipped into it, God’s grace for his people will not wear out no matter how badly or how often we have sinned.

Is that a license, then, to sin all the more? To use Paul’s language again, “Shall we sin all the more so that grace shall abound?” That almost sounds like a reasonable answer. It might be reasonable if we did not also understand the notion of being liberated from our trespasses, of which Paul speaks in the previous verse. We are the slaves who have been bought at a tremendous price, to go back to our sin would be to go back into the wretchedness of our slavery. And since, our slavery bound us to death (Romans 6:23), then we are binding ourselves to the tomb once again. And thus, we again say with the Apostle Paul, “May it never be! How can we who have died to sin still live in it?” Indeed, it would be like those Israelites in the book of Numbers who constantly wanted to go back into bondage in Egypt. How harshly God dealt with those who despised his grace like that! They were swallowed into the earth, burned by fire, bitten by poisonous serpents, and plagued by diseases that took their lives and sent them into judgment. They tasted the goodness of the manna in the wilderness (which points to Christ!) and they spat it out, preferring the slop of the Egyptian gruel. Even the prodigal son came to his senses when he had to eat with pigs.

Until you really come to terms with the depth of your sin and depravity, you will never come to terms with the depth of God’s grace, which is deeper still. Unless the Law is preached and we truly come to terms with who we are and with our wretched state before God, grace will just be one more word that is thrown around in the church and sung about in the hymns. It should be noted that God’s grace is not reserved for those who will understand or appreciate it — that’s not how grace works. At the same time, it is my conviction that those who genuinely receive it will appreciate it and seek to understand its implications all the more in their lives.