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The Distinguishing Gifts Of Divine Grace

Don Fortner | Added: Jan 01, 2024 | Category: Theology


There are certain truths which the Apostle Paul never allows us to forget. There are certain essential, fundamental truths of the gospel which he teaches in every epistle, and reaffirms again and again in almost every chapter of his inspired letters. There are certain points of gospel truth which characterised Paul’s preaching. Everywhere he went, every time he preached, there are certain things he was sure to say. If Paul himself were preaching to you now, I am sure that before he finished his sermon, in one way or another, he would tell you these five things:

1. That which God purposed in eternity He will most certainly accomplish. He would declare the sovereign character of God, and say, the Lord our God is that God whose purpose shall stand. We trust a God whose purpose cannot be frustrated or defeated. All things come to pass and are accomplished, ‘Being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will’ (Ephesians 1:11). The Lord Jehovah declares, ‘Yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it … My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure’ (Isaiah 46:11, 10).

2. The blood of Christ shed at Calvary is an effectual atonement for sin. Paul did not believe the modern atheistic philosophies about the atonement. He proclaimed that the blood of Christ was a real atonement for sin, and in His death the Lord Jesus Christ actually accomplished the redemption of God’s elect.

Paul believed in a particular and effectual redemption, and he preached it. He said, ‘Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13). ‘By his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us’ (Hebrews 9:12). Paul did not preach the possibility of redemption, or the possibility of atonement. He preached an accomplished redemption, by which all the sins of all believers were, at one time, put away. Christ has actually ‘put away sin by the sacrifice of himself’ (Hebrews 9:26).

3. Salvation is accomplished by the grace of God alone. Paul would have nothing to do with the free-will fundamentalists, the sacramental papists, or the good works Pentecostals. His preaching rang the clear sounding trumpet of sovereign grace. ‘By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast’ (Ephesians 2:8, 9). ‘So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy’ (Romans 9:16). With Paul it was grace, grace, grace! When speaking of the matter of salvation, his pen could not spell, and his tongue could not pronounce ‘works’ or ‘merit’. If Paul were preaching here right now, he would tell you in no uncertain terms that salvation was planned by grace, purchased by grace, performed by grace, preserved by grace, and perfected by grace.

4. The Apostle Paul would be certain to also assure God’s elect that our heavenly Father is ruling and governing all things in His sovereign, universal providence for the eternal good of His own chosen people. He would look in the faces of the Lord’s troubled children, and say to you who carry heavy burdens on your hearts, fear not, ‘For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28). He would say, children of God, rejoice, your Father is on the throne, and He is ruling all things in this world, both good and evil, both pleasant and painful, even down to the most minute details of your life, for the accomplishment of His own eternal purpose, for the glory of His own great name, and for the eternal welfare of His elect. Your heavenly Father will see to it that all things accomplish eternal good for your souls.

5. If Paul himself were preaching, I am sure he would tell us that all that we are and all that we experience as believers must be attributed to the distinguishing grace of God. He would be sure to ask you, ‘Who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?’ (1 Corinthians 4:7). In Philippians 1:29, Paul is doing just that. He is again reminding us of the distinguishing grace of God. He shows us two distinguishing gifts of divine grace. ‘For unto you it is given, in the behalf of Christ’, first, ‘not only to believe on him, but’, second, ‘also to suffer for his sake’. 

In these words, Paul tells us that both our faith in Christ and that which we suffer for Christ’s sake are gifts of divine grace, privileges granted and bestowed upon God’s elect. Try to get a mental picture of Paul’s purpose in this passage. The children of God at Philippi were suffering many things from many adversaries because of their faith and obedience to the gospel. Paul, who was also suffering for Christ as a prisoner in Rome, wanted to do two things. He wanted to tell them – and us – what God expects of His children, and he wanted to encourage them – and us – to fulfil that expectation.

What does God expect of His children? (vv. 27, 28). Our attitude toward Christ and His gospel must be one of tenacity. We must stand fast in the Lord, rooted and grounded in Him, trusting Him and clinging tenaciously to the faith and truths revealed in the gospel. Where the gospel of the grace of God in Christ is concerned, we must not give an inch.

Our attitude toward one another must be one of harmony. In one spirit, with one soul, we must strive together, shoulder to shoulder, as one man, for the faith of the gospel. There must be no discord among us. We who believe the gospel must be in full agreement in our purpose and work for the furtherance of the gospel and the glory of Christ. We have such a noble cause that we cannot afford to allow trivial matters to divide us. 

Our attitude toward the enemies of the gospel must be one of fearlessness. Our Lord’s enemies, those who are the enemies of the cross of Christ, must be counted as our enemies (Psalm 139:20-22). We must face them, confront them, and oppose them fearlessly, ‘In nothing terrified by your adversaries’. There is no room for compromise or cowardice. To compromise the gospel, for any reason, is cowardice, and cowardice is to betray our Lord.

This is what God expects of His children: tenacity in adhering to the gospel, harmony in the work of the gospel, and fearlessness in the face of our enemies.

How can I encourage the people of God to be so thoroughly committed to Christ in the midst of their many trials? I will remind them of the great blessings conferred upon them by the gospel, and the distinguishing privileges they have in Christ. It is as though Paul had said, I will show my brethren that the things which they suffer because of their faith in Christ are tokens of their eternal salvation. ‘For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.’

Children of God, I want to encourage you to tenaciously adhere to the gospel, to harmoniously labour together for the furtherance of the gospel, and to fearlessly oppose the enemies of the gospel, by reminding you of these two distinguishing gifts of divine grace, which the Lord our God has bestowed upon us.

1. The privilege of believing on Christ

‘For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ to believe on him.’ The faith in Christ which Paul speaks of is not merely believing that He is the Christ, that He lived in righteousness, died as a substitute, and ascended to heaven. Even Satan himself has that kind of faith. This is a mere persuasion of the mind. It is not conversion of the heart.

To believe on Christ, in the Biblical sense of that term, is to surrender your heart to Him and to rest your soul upon Him. It is to surrender to His dominion and trust His merits. To believe on Christ is to depend upon His accomplished work as your Mediator, Redeemer, and Substitute. To believe on Christ is to trust Him, and Him alone, for your entire salvation, and then to keep on trusting Him.

What is true saving faith? According to the Word of God, there are at least four things essential to what we call ‘saving faith’.

Knowledge is essential to faith. Before anyone can truly believe on Christ, they must know Him. You cannot worship an unknown God, and you cannot trust an unknown Saviour. In order to truly believe on Christ you must know who He is, why He came into this world, what He has done, where He is now, and what He is doing there. In John 9:35-38, our Lord asked the man who had been born blind, ‘Dost thou believe on the Son of God?’ and the man said, ‘Who is he Lord, that I might believe on him?’

There must be an assent, or an agreement, of the heart with God’s testimony concerning His Son. John Owen said, ‘Of all the poison which at this day is diffused in the minds of men, corrupting them from the mystery of the gospel, there is no part that is more pernicious than this one perverse imagination, that to believe on Christ is nothing at all but to believe the doctrine of the gospel.’ True faith rests not upon the testimony of men, but upon the testimony of God Himself in the Scriptures. ‘It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me’ (John 6:45).

True faith in Christ is the trust, confidence, and dependence of the heart upon Him for salvation and eternal life. Faith is a resignation of myself to Christ. Faith is committing my soul into the hands of Christ. Faith is trusting Christ with all, relying upon Him for all, and resting in Him as my all-sufficient Saviour.

Where there is true faith in Christ, there is love and affection for Him. Faith works by love. Love always accompanies true faith. ‘If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha’ (1 Corinthians 16:22). Those who trust Christ love Him as he is revealed in the Scriptures. They love Him, His Word, His work, and His people.

Where does this faith come from? True saving faith is a gift from God, promised to God’s elect in the covenant of grace, purchased for us by the blood of Christ, and performed in our hearts by the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit in regeneration (John 1:12, 13; Ephesians 2:8, 9; Colossians 2:12).

No one has faith, or the ability to exercise faith by nature. No one has the power to create or bestow faith in his own heart, or in the heart of another. Faith in Christ is the gift of God. It is a privilege bestowed upon God’s elect by the irresistible grace of God the Holy Spirit. This is God’s distinguishing grace.

If you and I believe, it is because God gave us the will and the power to believe. Faith in Christ is a gift of God’s goodness and grace. Grace bestows it. Grace causes it to grow. Grace motivates it. Grace causes it to act. Grace preserves it.

This faith has been given to us ‘in the behalf of Christ’. God gives faith to His elect for Christ’s sake, upon the merits of Christ’s righteousness and shed blood, and for the glory of Christ.

How does the Spirit of God create faith in dead sinners? God the Holy Spirit creates faith sovereignly, by His irresistible power in regeneration. But the Word of God makes it plain that He always uses the instrumentality of gospel preaching to produce saving faith in the heart.

Here are four impossibilities (Romans 10:14-17). No one can call upon Christ in true faith until they believe on Christ in their heart. No one can savingly believe on Christ until they hear the gospel of Christ. No one can hear the gospel of Christ without a preacher. No one can truly preach the gospel of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit unless he is sent of God.

Children of God, here is one excellent motive to inspire you to that tenacity, harmony, and fearlessness of which we have spoken and with which God expects His children to serve. Pause and think on this: God has distinguished you from the rest of mankind by bestowing upon you the great privilege of believing on Christ! ‘For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, to believe on him.’

2. The privilege of suffering for Christ

You may say, ‘Pastor, did you say, the privilege of suffering?’ No, I said, ‘The privilege of suffering for Christ’. Suffering is not a privilege in itself. Everybody in this world has to suffer, both those who are lost and those who are saved. But there are few in this world who have the privilege of suffering for Christ.

Only of God’s elect can it be said, ‘For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.’ Only to the elect has this privilege been granted.

You may be sure of this: if you tenaciously cling to the gospel, if you harmoniously labour for the furtherance of the gospel, if you fearlessly defend the gospel, if you are truly committed to the gospel of Christ, you will suffer; but your suffering will be a very light thing to you, for you are privileged to suffer for Christ (Acts 5:41).

John Gill said, ‘The same persons to whom is given to believe in Christ, to them it is given to suffer for him: and they all do in some shape, or another.’

We do not suffer for Christ in the same way that He suffered for us. His sufferings were vicarious, as the Representative and Substitute of His people; our sufferings are personal. His sufferings were infinite; our sufferings are temporal and slight. His sufferings were undeserved; our sufferings are much less than we truly deserve. His sufferings were punitive to satisfy justice; our sufferings are corrective as tokens of love. His sufferings were for our sins; our sufferings are for His glory. His sufferings were meritorious; our sufferings merit nothing. Nevertheless, God’s elect do suffer in the behalf of Christ, for His sake.

What does it mean to suffer for Christ’s sake? In one sense, a very great sense, to suffer for Christ’s sake is to suffer our pain, affliction, and adversity in patient faith, submitting to it as the will of God, trusting the wisdom and grace of divine providence in it, and seeking to glorify Christ by it.

But in this passage, Paul is talking about that which the believer voluntarily, wilfully endures, because of his faithfulness to Christ and His gospel (Matthew 10:22-24, 34-40; Luke 14:27, 33).

To suffer for Christ’s sake is to give up or sacrifice anything for the gospel. It is to endure any hardship or adversity for the gospel. It is to willingly, knowingly make trouble for yourself for the gospel’s sake (1 Peter 2:20-24). To suffer for Christ’s sake is to take up your cross and follow Him.

Why is it a privilege for God’s elect to suffer anything for Christ’s sake? To suffer for Christ’s sake brings the believer into nearer communion and fellowship with his Redeemer (Hebrews 13:13). To willingly suffer anything for Christ’s sake is an assuring token of Divine favour (John 15:19-21; 1 Peter 4:14). A believer who suffers for Christ’s sake will be a means of winning unbelievers to Christ, and encouraging the devotion and commitment of other believers (Philippians 1:12-14). All that we might suffer for Christ’s sake will be more than rewarded in eternity (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Timothy 2:12; 1 Peter 4:13).

I say to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, tenaciously cling to the truths of the gospel. Harmoniously labour for the furtherance of the gospel. Fearlessly oppose the enemies of the gospel. 

Let us do these things, by the grace of God, for the glory of God. ‘For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.’ Let us therefore believe Him. And let us willingly suffer whatever need be for His sake.