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God’s Distinguishing Grace
“And the LORD said unto Moses, Yet will I bring one plague more upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go hence: when he shall let you go, he shall surely thrust you out hence altogether. Speak now in the ears of the people, and let every man borrow of his neighbour, and every woman of her neighbour, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold. And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the sight of the people. And Moses said, Thus saith the LORD, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts. And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more. But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel. And all these thy servants shall come down unto me, and bow down themselves unto me, saying, Get thee out, and all the people that follow thee: and after that I will go out. And he went out from Pharaoh in a great anger. And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you; that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt. And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land.” (Exodus 11:1-10)
God did all that he did to Pharaoh and the Egyptians and all that he did to and for Israel for this specific purpose — “that ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.” The Word of God teaches us, repeatedly, whatever differences there are between believers and unbelievers, between God’s elect and the reprobate, must be traced to the distinguishing grace of God alone.
Such is the depraved nature of man that we all naturally cherish, nurture, cling to, and promote, in ourselves and in one another, that which is most abhorrent to God, and most certain to bring us at last to utter ruin. The evil I speak of is the original sin of the universe, the persistent sin of our race, the most abominable of all sins in the sight of God, and the sin with which I have to do battle every day, every waking hour. The sin I speak of is pride!
Pride was the sin of Lucifer in the beginning (Isaiah 14:13-15). Pride was the problem Adam had in the garden. Pride arises like an ugly, monstrous, thousand-headed serpent in the heart. As soon as you think you have cut one of the monster’s heads off, dozens rise in its place. There is no such thing as a truly humble man by nature. Man’s pretense of humility is just another expression of pride calling attention to itself.
It is pride that hardens the heart and keeps sinners from coming to Christ (Daniel 5:20). “The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts” (Psalm 10:4). Nothing but pride causes a person to reject the Word of God (Jeremiah 43:2). The root and cause of all carnal strife, division, whisperings, backbiting, and slander is pride, showing itself in envy and jealously. Pride is the great deceiver of men. It makes men and women behave in cruel, mean-spirited self-righteousness, under the guise of doing God’s service. Be warned my friends! Be warned, O my soul! Be warned, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). O Holy Spirit of God, teach me what I am that I may truly walk humbly with my God, trusting Christ alone for all my righteousness and all my salvation.
1st Corinthians 4:7 is a very familiar text. I quote it with great regularity, and preach from it frequently, and do so deliberately, because we need to constantly be reminded that all the differences there are between believers and unbelievers, between God’s elect and the reprobate, must be traced to the distinguishing grace of God alone.
“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?”
The three questions raised here by God the Holy Ghost may be and should be applied to any and all differences which appear among men. Oh, may God the Holy Ghost graciously burn these three questions into our hearts and cause us never to forget them.
“Who maketh thee to differ from another?” — This question compels us to recognize three things which are true of all who are born of God.
First, we must acknowledge that there is a sense in which God’s elect do not differ from other people at all; and we know it. Though we have been chosen by God the Father, redeemed by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and called by the blessed Holy Spirit of promise, though we are saved by God’s adorable and amazing grace, the people of God in this world are sinners still. This is a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless, and a fact we must never forget. Grace does not eradicate, or even change the believer’s old, Adamic, sinful nature. Grace subdues it. Grace rules it. Thank God, one day grace will destroy it! But grace does not change our old nature.
We know something about the depravity of our hearts (Matthew 15:19). Early in the life of every heaven-born soul this is made real by bitter experience. Perhaps the most shocking thing the believer discovers in this world, and usually discovers shortly after God saves him, is the fact that the raging monster of sin in his heart has not been slain or even tamed. And the sad fact is, we are, every day, made increasingly aware of the depths of our depravity. Yet, we have not even begun to discover the hideous enormity of our sinfulness!
I know that my best deeds of righteousness are just filthy rags in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6; 1 John 1:8, 10). I have sinned. I do sin. I am sinning. But the worst of it is this — I am sin! When I would do good, evil is present with me! So, I cannot do the things that I would! All that I am, and all that I do, is sin!
Let me state the matter clearly. There is nothing in all the world more delightful to me than prayer; but there is nothing more difficult. There is absolutely nothing in the world that I desire like I desire to believe God; but nothing is more troublesome to me than my unbelief. There is nothing in the world I more want to do than to worship Christ and walk with him in sweet communion; but nothing appears to be further out of my reach. There is nothing in this world which I strive harder to attain than conformity to Christ in thought, word, and deed; but the more I strive after it the more elusive it appears to be. The fact is, I am a man at war with himself (Romans 7:14-24; Galatians 5:17).
“If I pray, or hear, or read,
Sin is mixed with all I do.
You who love the Lord indeed,
Tell me, is it thus with you?”
Without question, there is a very real sense in which believers are no different from other people, so long as we live in this world in this body of flesh. We still have the nature of our father Adam. We are sinners still!
Yet, the second thing that is made obvious by Paul’s question (“Who maketh thee to differ from another?”) is the fact that God’s saints are, indeed, different from other people. We are sinners still; but we are saved sinners, men and women with a new nature, that which is born of God. “The Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.” The question, “Who maketh thee to differ,” would be redundant if were no difference. God’s people do differ from other people. Believers are different from unbelievers. God’s saints are a peculiar people.
Believers are men and women who have undergone a marvelous change (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 2 Corinthians 5:17). We have been “washed” from our sins by the blood of Christ. Our old record is gone, expunged, cleared. We are “sanctified” by the Spirit of God, given a new nature in regeneration. Righteousness was imputed to us in justification; and a new, righteous nature was imparted to us in regeneration. There is in every heaven-born soul “a new man created in righteousness and true holiness.” All saved sinners are made “partakers of the divine nature.” We are “justified,” made righteous in Christ. This is mentioned last because it is experienced and perceived last. We were justified when Christ redeemed us; but we had no knowledge of our justification until God the Holy Ghost called us and gave us faith in Christ.
Grace changes a person’s life. You may change your way of life without grace; but you cannot experience the grace of God that brings salvation without also experiencing that change of life that causes us to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present, evil world. — “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
Š We have a new Master over our lives. — The Lord Jesus Christ.
Š We have a new motive in life. — The Will of God and the Glory of God!
Š We have a new manner of life. — Godliness (Titus 2:1-14).
Every person in this world who is born again by the grace and power of God the Holy Spirit bears the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
Š Love, joy, and peace toward God.
Š Longsuffering, gentleness, and goodness toward one another.
Š Faith, meekness, and temperance within.
Believers are people who live by faith in Christ, who trust the Son of God. It is written, “The just shall live by faith.” We trust Christ our God and Savior in his glorious person, in all his redemptive work. We trust his goodness and faithfulness, his providential rule, and his heavenly intercession. And God’s people love each other (1 Corinthians 13:1-8; 1 John 4:7-8). Believers are not mean-spirited, hateful, malicious, and cruel, but gracious, kind, and forgiving.
Believers are people who have been and are continually taught of God to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this world. I stress this because it needs stressing. Don’t tell me that so long as a person believes the gospel it does not matter how he lives, that his character and conduct are insignificant. God’s people do differ from unregenerate worldlings (Titus 2:11-12; Ephesians 4:17-24).
Those are the facts; but the question is, “Who maketh thee to differ?” Paul answers the question himself in Philippians 2:13. — “It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
Here’s the third thing that is made obvious by Paul’s question. — That which distinguishes God’s elect from the reprobate of this world is the distinguishing grace of God. It is written, “The LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.” Let us ever adore and praise our great God and Savior for his free grace and distinguishing mercy toward us. The only difference between the believer and the unbeliever, between the righteous and the wicked, between the seed of Christ and the seed of the serpent, is the difference grace has made. This every heaven born soul gladly acknowledges. — “By the grace of God I am what I am!” God’s grace is always particular, distinctive, and distinguishing. Those who are saved are distinguished from those who are lost by six marvelous acts of grace.
Election — The first distinguishing act of God’s grace is his eternal election. If you can, with the eye of faith, trace every spiritual blessing that you now enjoy, and those which you hope to enjoy, back to the place of their original source, the place of their origin would be spelled “E L E C T I O N” (Ephesians 1:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Jeremiah 1:5; 31:3). Our dear Savior tells us plainly, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (John 15:16). And every saved sinner gladly acknowledges…
“`Tis not that I did choose Thee,
For, Lord, that could not be.
This heart would still refuse Thee,
Hadst Thou not chosen me.
My heart owns none before Thee;
For Thy rich grace I thirst,
This knowing, if I love Thee,
Thou must have loved me first!”
Redemption — The second act of grace by which God has distinguished his elect from the rest of mankind is effectual redemption. By his precious blood, poured out unto death upon the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ has effectually ransomed God’s elect from the hands of divine justice, by satisfying the claims of justice against us (Isaiah 53:8-11; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 9:12; Revelation 5:9).
Providence — The third act of grace by which the Lord has distinguished us from the rest of the world is his adorable providence. Our God governs all the affairs of this world; and he has governed all the affairs and circumstances of our lives to bring us to the place where we now are, and to eternal glory in Christ at last (Matthew 10:29-31; Romans 8:28). As God gave Israel “favor in the sight of the Egyptians,” causing them to gladly give the children of Israel their silver and gold, would not allow a dog in Egypt to even growl at his people, and yet so hardened and enraged Pharaoh’s heart against them that he drove Israel out of Egypt, so our God graciously, wisely, sovereignly, wondrously causes all things in the world to help his elect (Exodus 11:2-3, 7, 9-10; Revelation 12:16).
Regeneration — The fourth act of grace by which we are distinguished from all other men is God’s sovereign work of regeneration. The only thing that makes you different from any other being on this planet, if you are born again, is the fact that God has saved you. He gave you life and faith in Christ by the irresistible grace and omnipotent mercy of his Spirit (Psalm 65:4; Ephesians 2:1-10).
Preservation — The fifth act of grace by which God distinguishes his elect from the unbelieving is his merciful preservation. The only thing that keeps us in grace is grace itself. The only thing that holds us to Christ is Christ himself (Jeremiah 32:38-40; John 10:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). — “Faithful is he at calleth you, who also will do it!”
Resurrection — The sixth wonderful act of God’s distinguishing grace, by which he will “put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel,” will be the resurrection. In the Day of Judgment that which shall distinguish the saved from the damned shall be the fact that God has removed our sins from us by the precious blood of Christ, made us the righteousness of God in Christ, and imparted the holy nature of Christ to us (Jeremiah 50:20; John 5:28-29; Revelation 22:11). When we bow before our God in the perfection of heavenly glory, we will glorify him alone for our entire salvation; and those who know the grace of God give him all the glory now.
“Who maketh thee to differ from another?” Only God! — “By the grace of God I am what I am.” Noah had to learn this. David had to learn this. Peter had to learn it. Paul had to learn it (2 Corinthians 12:3-10). And, one way or another, we must and shall learn it.
All that we are in Christ, all that we have in Christ, and all that we do in the worship and service of our Lord Jesus Christ is the gift and operation of God. — “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?” — Nothing! — Nothing in nature! — Nothing in grace! — Nothing in time! — Nothing in eternity! If I have life, God gave it. If I have faith, it is God’s operation. If I have forgiveness, Christ obtained it. If I have righteousness, God performed it. If I am justified, God did it. If I am sanctified, God sanctified me. If I have peace, God gives it. If I have assurance, God gives it. If I am of any usefulness, in any way, to anyone, it is the Lords doing. If I am saved, God saved me.
“Now, if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” John Gill wrote…
“To glory in any mercy, favor, or blessing received from God, as if it was not received from him, but as owing to human power, care, and industry, betrays wretched vanity, stupid, and more than brutish ignorance, horrid ingratitude, abominable pride, and wickedness; and is contrary to the grace of God, which teaches men humility and thankfulness. To God alone should all the blessings of nature, providence, and grace be ascribed. He ought to have all the glory of them; and to him, and him only, praise is due for them.”
“Boasting excluded, pride I abase;
I’m only a sinner saved by grace!”
Pride, envy, and jealousy are totally contrary to the grace we profess to believe. We are nothing but sinners saved by grace! There is no room for pride in the house of grace.
“Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.” (Psalms 115:1)
“For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)
“Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
Satan desires to have us that he may sift us as wheat. And our Savior sometimes runs us through the sieve, to separate the precious from the vile, teaching us to trust him (Luke 22:32-34; John 13:36-14:1).
When I read these three, humbling questions, “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?” my heart is humbled within me before my God and Savior, and cries, “By the grace of God, I am what I am: and,” I rejoice to confidently add, “His grace was not bestowed upon me in vain.” That which he has begun in me, he will finish “to the praise of the glory of his grace,” that all creation shall know and forever acknowledge “that the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.”