God wants us to excel in the grace of living. To excel means to separate oneself from the rest by going far beyond average in one's accomplishments, service, giving, sacrifice, product, or actions. In describing people, we may say a certain person excels athletically, meaning this person separates himself from the rest of the athletes by going far beyond the average athlete in a certain sport. We may describe a company as one that excels, meaning the company separates itself from the rest of the companies by going far beyond the other companies in its product and service. In the same way an athlete or company excels, God wants us to excel in grace...the grace of living.
Jesus provides us with the supreme example of what it means to excel in the grace of living. As he excelled in the grace of living, those whom his life touched excelled in the grace of living, too!
John 1:1-2 and 14-18 says:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us...full of grace and truth...From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side has made him known.
Words externally express the internal heart of a person. Words express our thoughts, emotions, and desires. The Word becoming flesh expressed God's heart of grace for people. God's heart of grace is his unforced giving, unconditional love, unmerited kindness, and unlimited forgiveness to those who are guilty of sin. The Word becoming flesh revealed God's truth about himself, ourselves, others, and life to people.
In the above verses, the phrase the Word became flesh means the visible expression of God's heart of grace and truth toward people in the person of Jesus.
Jesus embodied grace and truth. He abounded in grace and truth. He abundantly blessed us with grace upon grace upon grace. He excelled in unforced giving, unconditional love, unmerited kindness, and unlimited forgiveness. By doing this, he excelled in the grace of living. And in doing this, he made the Father's heart of grace and truth known.
No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side,
has made him known.
1 John 1:18
Excelling in the grace of living is how Jesus lived everyday of his life. Each day for Jesus was another day for him to excel in unforced giving, unconditional love, unmerited kindness, and unlimited forgiveness. Each day for him was another day to make his Father's heart of grace known.
As Jesus excelled in the grace of living, he separated himself from everybody. Through grace, he went far beyond all others when he gave unconditional love, unmerited kindness, and unlimited forgiveness. Who in the human race ever lived this way before Jesus came? No one. By living a life of grace, he separated himself from and went far above all people in giving, loving, kindness, forgiving, and serving.
Because Jesus excelled in the grace of living, he constantly drew unto himself those who were guilty. One of these people feeling guilty and who was drawn to his grace was Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus was a tax collector. As a tax collector, he excelled everyday in the greed of living by taking from people. A tax collector in Jesus' times was hated by the Jewish people. This is because a tax collector, a Jewish person himself, contracted with the Roman government to collect taxes from Jewish people. When collecting taxes, he collected more than the Roman government required, keeping the excess amount for himself. He became very wealthy in his scheme. This was the kind of person Zacchaeus was.
As a tax collector, Zacchaeus was a liar, a cheater, a schemer, a thief, and a manipulator.
Each night he would lay in his bed feeling the weight of guilt and shame. He thought about the life he was living and the people he was hurting. Self-disgust, self-condemnation, and self-hatred began to fill his heart. Even though his bank account was filled with money, he heart was filled with misery.
In this miserable condition, he wanted to see Jesus...the One who excelled in the grace of living. Wanting to see Jesus, he climbed up in a tree, far above the crowd, to see the One who lived far above the crowd. The one who was excelling in the greed of living wanted to see the One who excelled in the grace of living.
As Jesus came close to the area Zacchaeus was in, he walked over to the tree Zacchaeus had climbed and asked Zacchaeus to come down from the tree so he could go to Zacchaeus' home. Zacchaeus, after spending time with Jesus, began to excel in the grace of living by paying back four-times the amount to all those from whom he had stolen. What happened in Zacchaeus' heart that produced such life change? Grace!
Remember, everyday Jesus lived was another day he excelled in the grace of living. This was the day Zacchaeus would encounter the grace of Jesus.
Jesus knew Zacchaeus' name. And equally important, he knew his pain. Jesus knew Zacchaeus was feeling the pain of guilt, shame, self-disgust, and self-condemnation. He knew he was feeling miserable. In this broken condition, Jesus knew that Zacchaeus was a great candidate for grace...the unconditional love, unmerited kindness, and unlimited forgiveness of God.
As they talked about God's love, kindness, and forgiveness in the home of Zacchaeus, something started to happen in the heart of Zacchaeus. God's grace began to fill Zacchaeus' heart. Jesus was making known to Zacchaeus His Father's heart of grace. And, with this revelation of grace, his heart began to be healed and filled with grace. Guilt, shame, disgust, and condemnation were all replaced by love, kindness, and forgiveness. Greed no longer filled his heart, grace did!
With this healing revelation of grace, Zacchaeus went from excelling in the greed of living to excelling in the grace of living. Zacchaeus went from being a taker, to being a giver. We know this because following his healing conversation of grace with Jesus, he willingly gave half of his possessions to the poor and repaid those he had stolen from four times the amount he had stolen. Zacchaeus was beginning to excel in the grace of living through unforced giving, unconditional love, unmerited kindness, and unlimited forgiveness. He had experienced grace and now he expressed grace to others.
I don't believe Jesus told Zacchaeus to sell half of his possessions and give to the poor or to repay those he had stolen from four times the amount he had taken. I believe grace so impacted Zacchaeus' heart that entirely on his own, not reluctantly or under compulsion, he began excelling in the grace of living.
This is the impact of grace upon our lives. Grace heals our hearts, fills our hearts, and then compels our hearts to excel in the grace of living. As recipients of God's unforced giving, unconditional love, unmerited kindness, and unlimited forgiveness, we begin to live differently. Like Zacchaeus, we begin to excel in the grace of living. We begin to separate ourselves from the average person by living lives of unforced giving, unconditional love, unmerited kindness, and unlimited forgiveness to others. Our giving goes far beyond the average person. Our love goes far beyond the average person.Our kindness goes far beyond the average person.Our forgiveness goes far beyond the average person. As we excel in the grace of living, we make our Father known.
In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul encouraged those in the Corinthian church to excel in the grace of living by excelling in the grace of giving.
...see that you also excel in the grace of giving.
2 Corinthians 8:7
Each man should give whatever he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver and God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need you will abound in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:7-8
Grace changes our hearts and motivates us from the inside. The law stands on the outside and tells us what to do and how much to give then punishes us for not doing it. Grace, demanding nothing from us, only needing to be received by us, goes into our hearts and compels us to excel in the grace of living...to become givers, not takers. Grace causes us to give cheerfully because God has cheerfully given to us. Cheerfully, we begin giving love, patience, kindness, and forgiveness to people. Cheerfully, as the Spirit of Jesus in us leads, we give of our time, our talents, and treasures to people.
Once we experience God's grace so abundantly poured upon us in our sin, then, like Zacchaeus, we will become people who, full of grace, abundantly pour grace upon others. Our giving will be unforced, our love will be unconditional, our kindness will be unmerited, and our forgiveness will be unlimited. We will become people who excel in the grace of living! As we excel in the grace of living, our lives will impact the lives of others just as Jesus' life impacted the life of Zacchaeus. I can think of no better way to live than excelling in the grace of living.
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