The one who received grace
Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates – the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” (Gen 15:12-21)
When God was making a covenant with Abraham, he asked, “How will I know that You will give this land to me?” So God had him cut the animals in two and then made a covenant. And then God said to him, “Your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs and serve them, and will be afflicted for four hundred years. The nation they serve I will judge and afterward they will come out with great possessions.” So He promised him that they would come out to this land. God is with them as His blessed people, yet they go to be strangers in a foreign land and be afflicted for four hundred years. It’s bizarre, isn’t it? God is supposed to be with them. When they were afflicted in that land, the Israelites probably thought God may have forsaken them. It wasn’t just one or two years but for four hundred years that they felt as though God was not with them. Since God didn’t appear to them during those four hundred years, they thought God departed from them. Nevertheless, we must never doubt God’s promises. Even if we feel as though God has abandoned us, God’s word will surely come to fulfilment. It is written that since God is not a son of man, He will do what He said. So what is our faith? It is to believe in the word of God. Why is it that people are unable to believe? If God has spoken, we just need to believe that His words will be accomplished.
Thus, although the people of Israel were afflicted and probably wanted to cry out saying, “Have you really forsaken us God?”, the promise of God still holds true and in fulfilment. Then we may ask why God had to make them suffer all that time. From man’s short-sighted perspective, it may appear as though God let them suffer. However, in the long-term perspective, God did so because it was the best thing to do. If the people of Israel – the descendants of Abraham – remained in the land of Canaan in the Palestine region, it would’ve been difficult for them to become a great nation. That is a region where many nations are in conflict in order to conquer the land. The region is an important passage connecting Europe, Asia, and Africa but surrounded on all sides with highlands on the east and deserts in the south and north. So it is a very narrow passageway. The natural environment in the area is rich and bountiful. And since one side borders the sea, it is exposed to the invasion of many nations and hence there are endless wars. Thus, it would’ve been tough for the family of Abraham who were few number to continue living there and survive. They would need to have many children quickly to grow into a big nation, but even after four hundred years or so, they may only be a few hundred in number considering the tough conditions of the region.
For this reason, God led them to Egypt so they may be under the protection of the most powerful nation in the world at that time. Even though they had a hard time later down the track, in the beginning, they were not harshly treated. They were well-looked after and public safety was taken care of by the Egyptians. They also didn’t have to perform any obligations or duties as a people in Egypt, and just multiplied in number. But as they became too numerous, the Egyptian king devised a scheme that tormented them later on. Until then, however, they lived under the security of Egypt. And Egypt was the greatest civilization at the time, which meant the Israelites were educated with the highest knowledge and skill. Later, when the Egyptians afflicted them with harsh labor, it was not just any ordinary labor work; it was the pyramids they built. Such work required the world’s greatest mathematical skills like geometry, and the best of those engineers were the Jews, the people of Israel. We see the pyramids now and wonder just how they could’ve possibly built them. After all, the people of Israel were the skilled men behind those great pyramids. In other words, they were given the highest form of training in Egypt.
God not only turned these people into a great nation but first equipped them with exceptional wisdom and knowledge so that when they became a great nation, they would not be any less than the other nations and have the strength to survive wherever they may go. After that, God led them out of there – about four hundred years later. God had spoken of this ahead of time and accomplished His words. This is no made-up story but real history. What sounds so remarkable did really happen. Because it is so incredible, some people think it was made up or just a legend. However, what God had done in the past also took place before our very eyes. Around fifty years ago, remarkable events like the Exodus occurred in modern history. This nation which had lost its land and language, came together in one place in order to restore their nation. In 1948, about sixty or seventy years ago, Israel had been restored. The people of Israel who had been scattered across the globe for about two thousand years had gathered together according to the promise of God written in the Book of Ezekiel: “I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land”.
But they had lost their language. So in order to retrieve their language, which was lost, they started to use the Hebrew language. How is that even possible? To recover and use a language that was lost? Start teaching kids from preschool? But now, they are using the Hebrew language. They have recovered a language that was lost and are using it now. Such mysterious and wonderful events happened of which we may not make much of now. Some people speculate that it was Britain and the US that made it happen. Yes, God works in remarkable ways, mobilizing these different nations and using the world’s political powers so that although it may appear as though it was these nations that had done it, it was God’s doing. That’s how such things came to happen. It was in the same way that Israel came out of Egypt after four hundred and thirty years. And that event became another prophecy of what would take place in times ahead. When God said, “I will bring my people out of Egypt”, it became a parable and a shadow, a model for the works of God that continues on.
When we look at just one man, Moses, he was also delivered from Egypt. His name means to be drawn from the water. The land of Canaan was not simply given to the people of Israel, but on the contrary, they were first delivered from a land where they were enslaved and afflicted, and then moved to the promised land. Even Moses, who could’ve died in the water, was delivered and used by God; the people of Israel likewise were brought out of Egypt just as God said, “I will bring my people out of Egypt”. Similarly, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, fled to Egypt to escape the danger that threatened his life which was like a valley of the shadow of death, and from there, he was brought to Nazareth, where he grew up. For us who believe in Jesus, we used to be Egypt spiritually – we were in the world – but were brought out of there, and God is leading us into the promised land, the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, everyone has been delivered; not one person has been left. We have all come out of Egypt. We were delivered from the water. The first man Adam was made in heaven but he was sent to this world – the water which is like Egypt, and when the time came, he was delivered out of there. And will be taken up again. We all have been brought out. Hence, we received grace. Of all who are entering God’s promised land, not one person is without grace. We have all received grace.
We often say we received grace after a church camp, but grace is not something we keep receiving. Why do people keep saying, “I received grace. Let’s receive grace”? Does that mean we hadn’t received grace before? Or are we trying to receive grace little by little and fill up 100% by the time we go to heaven? No. We have already received grace. None of us have not received grace. Or does it mean that the grace we received from Jesus Christ is not adequate? That’s not true either. We have already received grace. And we are not striving to receive more and more grace because we already received grace. So then why do we keep emphasizing, “Receive grace! Receive grace!”? To be precise, it means to deeply understand how great is the grace you have already received. That’s why we say that we need to receive grace. It is not that we are given grace only at the church camp. I already received grace. Is that grace insufficient? Is it so insufficient that it needs to be topped up and replenished? It is not. We’ve received the perfect grace. Since I received it once, it is sufficient for me. Then why do we seek to receive grace by going to the church camp and in every worship service? That’s because I am dumb. I keep forgetting about the grace I received and need constant reminders of it. It’s not that God has to give grace time and time again. So it’s in that sense that we say we received grace.
Those who are really steadfast are able to keep for their lifetime the grace they received when they put faith in Jesus and received the Holy Spirit, without the need for a church camp or any other occasion. How pleased would God be with such a person? It is said that God is pleased with those whose minds are steadfast. God giving us the Holy Spirit was not to give us grace, again and again, day after day. What does the Scripture say about why God gives the Holy Spirit? Let’s look at 1 Corinthians chapter 1. Verse 12. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” We have received the Holy Spirit. We didn’t receive demons nor the deceiving spirits but the Holy Spirit. Why? In order that we may know the things that have been graciously given us by God. We have been given grace already. And that is what He is constantly reminding us about. Jesus said, “When the Holy Spirit comes, He will remind you of everything I have said to you. He will guide you into the truth”. That is, He will take us deep into the grace of God.
Thus, the more Spirit-filled a person is, the more grace he is said to receive. Why is that? It means he understands more of grace. So who is filled by the Holy Spirit? Who has received more grace? That is the same as asking, “Who knows more of God’s grace?” The one who realizes what a grave sinner he is, is the one who will know more about God’s grace. Thus, it says that where sin abounded, grace abounded much more. The fullness of the Holy Spirit is where there is repentance. It is not present where there is no sin and one is proud of himself. Instead, as one realizes what a grave sinner he is, that’s when he realizes the grace he has received and thus becomes filled by the Holy Spirit. That itself is actually the working of the Holy Spirit. Once we start to forget how terrible a sinner we are, that’s when doubts arise. Doubting is in turn arrogance. It is a failure to recognize what a sinner you are.
Therefore, we fight with victory in our hands. Though we confess we are sinners, that is based on the fact that we already received grace. We have to think about what kind of sinners we were. And we have received such great grace. How wonderful! It is our joy. Our joy does not come from anywhere else but the fact that Jesus’ name has been given to us. We didn’t receive it just now; we received it a long time ago and yet the more we think about it, the more joyful we are. We are not happy because something new has happened; but that which we have already received, it the joy we have and that joy should continue. Thanksgiving and joy and gladness should overflow within us every time we remember and think about how we received grace and the Holy Spirit has come into us.
That joy is one that never changes. Otherwise, if our joy comes from something else like passing a qualification exam, that joy will disappear with time. I get nervous when I hear such testimonies from people. Recently, someone wrote me a letter with their testimony. He had climbed a mountain which was about 4000m high, so the top of the mountain is not very visible. The top of the mountain is always covered in clouds and it’s hard to see the top. And this person went to that mountain and as usual, the mountain top was covered. So, he prayed to God, “Please let me see the top of the mountain”, and apparently the clouds cleared and he was able to take a photo. And he wrote in the letter, “Our God is surely living and truly loves us”. That is great and I want to congratulate him. But at the same time, I feel nervous about him. What would happen if next time he goes to the mountain but the clouds don’t clear up? It would mean that God is no longer with him, wouldn’t it? This testimony may be profitable for this person at this level, and God may have done it for him. However, such should not be encouraged and spread to many people because it has limitations. There are many others who are more mature in their faith and this kind of testimony would cause confusion as though God is not with them. So, I removed the post from the blog.
We who have received grace already are to be filled with joy continuously by understanding more and more of that grace. We are not trying to receive something new day after day that we hadn’t received before. In order for that to be possible, we need to understand that we have been delivered and the sin we used to live in. As I have been doing the Lord’s work, there were many times of hardship. There were times of distress and sometimes I even felt like giving up. However, if I had not realized what sort of sinner I was and how serious my situation was, I probably would have either given up or become arrogant, one or the other. But at each of those times, I remembered what kind of person I was in the past. I was at a point where I was saying with my own lips that I was cursed, although I didn’t know anything at the time. I had lost all hope, feeling lost, in despair and miserable that I used to say my life itself was hell, and if there was a heaven and hell, I would definitely go to hell. I remember that my life back then was my essential being, so that though I may be unhappy and dissatisfied with some things right now, I always compare that with my past. And I am truly grateful now when I look back on my past. In comparison with other people now, I might feel anxious or frustrated. Yet I am once again most thankful when I look back on my cursed self in the past compared to me now. I haven’t lost anything. I may feel as though I’m missing out or never having enough if I compare myself to others. But as opposed to my old self back then, I’ve really profited.
Thus, I keep going back to that time. We need to remember we are the ones delivered out of the pit. There’s a Korean movie titled, My daughter was rescued from a swamp. We must be filled with thanksgiving and joy all the time by remembering that we were delivered from the swamp. What are the two characteristics of those who received grace? Thanksgiving and joy. And what are the characteristics of those who haven’t received grace? Grumbling, being vexed and fearful. But they disappear when they receive grace because they are thankful. Thus, the more grace one receives, the more one is able to forgive and be patient. Let’s pray and ask, “Lord, help my spirit to always be filled with grace.”
Thank you God our Father, for rescuing us from the swamp. Help us to be filled by the Holy Spirit to understand more and deeper each day what grace we have received, that our souls may overflow with thanksgiving and joy always. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Pastor Ki-Taek Lee
The Director of Sungrak Mission Center