Amazing Grace . . . Not Arbitrary Grace

Monday’s are my Sabbath. They are my down day. No alarm, rarely a schedule. My day to recoup, renew, and “rejoice in the wife of my youth” (Prov. 5:18). Thus, on most Mondays, while I will read, I usually won’t write. I’ll check off a day or two in my reading plan, but normally won’t spend the time to capture some thoughts in my journal. Consequently, anything that “grabs me” on Monday most often stays with me. But not this Monday. Yesterday I chewed on something that is still tasting pretty good this morning. A bit of an “aha moment” that I want to capture. A fresh realization that while grace is amazing, it certainly isn’t arbitrary.

A few years back while preaching in Genesis on Sunday mornings our pastor introduced the concept of inclusio to us. It’s the bracketing of a passage of text with the same set of words at the start and end. A way of identifying a unit of thought. A way of emphasizing the big idea of what’s enveloped by “the bracket.” I think I encountered an inclusio yesterday while reading a well known passage in Ezekiel 36.

Ezekiel 36:24-30 is God’s promise to Israel of a day when they will be re-gathered and regenerated. Through the mouth of the prophet, God promises to take Israel from all the nations where they have been scattered and bring them again into their own land. He also promises that He will cleanse them from their sin and idolatry. What’s more, God covenants to put a new heart and a new spirit within them–to remove their heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh.

And then, beyond any expectation, the LORD declares that He will put His Spirit within them, empowering them to walk in obedience in a way they’ve never been able to do in their own strength. He assures them, as was intended when He first called Abraham, that “you shall be My people, and I will be Your God. And I will deliver you from your uncleanness.”

That, my friends, is amazing grace! Unmerited favor. Made possible by a yet to be realized provision–the finished work of the cross of Christ. God sending Messiah, His own Son, to take on flesh that He might die as an atoning sacrifice for their sin (and for the sin of all who believe). Grace . . . God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense . . . Amazing grace!

And so often, as we marvel at the abundance of God’s grace we can’t help but focus on how blessed we are as recipients of grace. That God would choose to rescue a sinners such as us is beyond understanding. That He would determine to remove our transgressions from us “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12) is beyond reason. We’re just glad that if God was going to extend such amazing grace that we, by His grace, got in on it!

But here’s where the inclusio comes into play. The difference the bracketing phrase of God’s jaw-dropping promise to Israel made as I read and wondered over it–the same promise appropriated by all who have been washed by the blood of the Lamb of God. The reminder that, while it might be amazing grace, it certainly isn’t arbitrary grace.

Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate My holiness before their eyes. . . . It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD.”

(Ezekiel 36:22a, 32a ESV)

Not for your sake. That’s the inclusio.

Not for your sake, but for the sake of My holy name. Not just for your blessing, but for My reputation. Not just for your good, but more importantly for My glory.

God’s grace is given to reveal God’s goodness. His inexplicable leniency is to show forth His infinite love. His unmerited favor, to evidence His unsurpassed faithfulness. Recipients of grace are to reflect the holiness of God.

. . . not for your sake . . . but for the sake of My holy name . . .

Amazing grace? To be sure!

Arbitrary grace? God just looking for some way to love on someone? Not at all! But grace abundantly given so that God’s blessed and holy Name might ever be set apart.

That’s why “by grace” is only and always for His glory!


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