The Scriptures really are God’s story of grace in our lives. Every book, every page, shows us more of God’s everlasting mercy and unilateral love for wayward, wretched people — the lost, the strays, the injured, the weak. (Ezek. 34:16; Luke 4:18–19) As such, we’re able to see God’s gracious dealings with mankind wherever we turn in our Bibles. As all themes can be traced back to Christ, so, too, are all stories backdropped with God’s divine workings of grace in each and every life. Indeed, our lives are an intricately-woven tapestry of grace — with each thread being uniquely placed and crafted by the Master Weaver.
Charles Spurgeon penned a masterful work for us, in which we’re given glimpses of God’s restorative, redemptive, and pursuant grace — entitled, Seven Wonders of Grace — throughout which the “prince of preachers” shows us seven examples of rebellion and subsequent conversion. Out of all the stories, though, I’m, perhaps, most intrigued with the story of grace in the apostle Paul’s life.
You’ll recall, that Paul, formerly known as Saul, was a ruthlessly religious Pharisee. As a devout student of the law, Paul ardently sought after these new “Christ-followers” and their heretical “gospel.” Those who proclaimed the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior were persecuted, beaten, and executed because of their faith. We first meet Saul at one of these very scenes at the close of Acts 7, where we’re given the account of Stephen’s death. “Then they screamed at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and together rushed against him [that is, Stephen]. They threw him out of the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:57–58) Saul confirmed and consented the brutal murdering of this Christian, and, we’re told, that he continued all the more passionately to seek these gospel-believers and coerce them to repent to be made to suffer judgment for their belief. He carried on, “ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.” (Acts 8:3)
Sometimes, I don’t always have a clear picture of the type of persecution Saul dealt these Christians, being that I’ve never suffered any such thing as close to persecution. Growing up in America, with all its religious freedom, Christians too often take for granted their liberty to praise and worship God without fear. But to grasp the terror being doled out by Saul, we only have to look back at history during the years of the Second World War. During that time, the Jews were social pariahs, outcast and hated, tortured for merely who they were by the Nazis of the Third Reich. Adolf Hitler’s henchmen, the Gustapo, or German SS, performed similarly egregious and horrific acts upon innocent men, women, and children, invading homes, infiltrating lives, and ruining them forever by means of torture and death.
Think of Paul in the same manner: an SS officer who invaded homes and brought inhumane terror on believers, merely for their allegiance to Christ. This makes his declaration in his first letter to Timothy all the more marvelous! “This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ — and I am the worst of them.” (1 Tim. 1:15) And even after being wondrously and miraculously redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 9:1–20), I’m sure the apostle was haunted by the memories of the lives he affected.
However, Paul’s testimony — his story of grace — is the biggest and surest proof for the fact that you’re never too far out of reach for God. You can never out-sin the coverage of Christ’s forgiveness. Indeed, “the higher that the tide of iniquity has swelled, the higher has grace risen, far surmounting the utmost heights of sin; the wider that wickedness has spread its hideous circle, the wider has grace stretched her far ampler compass, proving that there is not one spot on this ruined world, even ‘the ends of the earth,’ nor one being of the fallen race on this side of hell, to which in its boundless reach it cannot extend.” (Bonar, #31) What’s more, Spurgeon elsewhere declares that “grace delights in dealing with great and glaring sin, and putting away the crying crimes of great offenders.”
You’re never out of reach for God’s redeeming grace. You’re never too far gone for God’s rescuing mercy. What we see in Paul’s salvation is precisely that grace is a divine, wonder-working power, able to make clean the vile and make righteous the wretched. Yes, when “the grace of God cleanses you it can make something wonderful out of you.” (Spurgeon, 126)
I’m not sure where you’re at, reader, what’s going on in your life; what’s brought you to this point; what plagues your thoughts and terrorizes your mind. I don’t know what sin haunts you as you sleep. Perhaps Satan has deceived you, and told you that you’re the type that God can’t save, that he excludes and passes by. By no means! You are precisely who Jesus has come for! You’re who he wishes and desires to glorify and rescue by his eternal grace. “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because he has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18–19)
“If the bridge of grace will carry the elephant it will certainly carry the mouse,” writes Spurgeon. “If the mercy of God could bear with the hugest sinners it can have patience with you.” (Spurgeon, 120) Don’t count yourself out. Regardless of your past, God’s sincerest desire is that you’d come to know him and follow him and love him intimately. He desires to manifest his story of grace in your life, and show you that “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” (Rom. 5:20) The “grace of our Lord overflows” (1 Tim. 1:14) for such as you are!
“Prominence in sin is no barrier to eminence in grace,” declares Spurgeon. (122) And so it is that we can take heart, knowing that we are never ever beyond God’s reach of grace. And that is truly news of the very best sort!
Horatius Bonar, Kelso Tracts (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1851).
Charles Spurgeon, Seven Wonders of Grace (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1877).