Grace is much more than God’s love and forgiveness, much more than mercy and kindness and unconditional acceptance. Grace is the enabling power of God which moves us to become more and more like Christ, equipping us for service and giving us peace in trial. It is the only proper foundation for our hearts and minds. Establishing our hearts with grace is the work of God, yet He also calls us to seek and pursue this state in Him.
In the Bible it is written, “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.” (He 13:9) God says it is a good thing for our hearts to be established with grace, not in being fastidious about our diet (meats ) or other unprofitable things. What does He mean?
To establish is to set up on a firm or permanent basis, to stabilize, ground, validate. We think of establishing a business, or a university, or perhaps an idea or a theory – giving evidence to prove its validity or acceptability or reliability. Then what does it mean for our hearts to be established with something? What grounds and stabilizes us, validates us? Or perhaps we can think of what destabilizes us, intimidates us, or makes us feel uneasy or threatened? That might give us a clue as well.
If we have problems keeping our spiritual equilibrium, if we are prone to feeling unsettled and uneasy, insecure, threatened, defensive, feeling like we don’t belong or that we don’t matter or measure up, if we are too self-focused to serve with joy … perhaps established with grace is for us.
Or perhaps we feel stabilized by our friends and family relationships, or our intelligence or talents, or our health, or our job or our wealth, or any combination of the above. If losing any of these things … or all of them … would destabilize us spiritually … then we might want to get on a better foundation while things are calm and we can think; maybe the sand won’t do when the storms come … and they will come. (Mt 7:26-7)
If it is a good thing for our hearts to be established with grace, and not with other things, then God will be doing the necessary to achieve this end in us. Perhaps He will take away the soft, vulnerable foundation if we do not choose to abandon it willingly. To establish us with grace and help us understand what grace is … He could isolate it for us by stripping away everything else. Perhaps we should understand God’s goal for us in this and cooperate with Him; it might be less painful for us … and more pleasing to Him.
Grace In Context
First, let’s back up to the first part of the text where He says, “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines.” How prone we can be to thrill-seeking in the new and different, being carried about — moved and energized and inspired – by that which is diverse and strange, foreign to scripture and the ways of God. Not being established in our spiritual lives can move us to looking for excitement and entertainment rather than seeking God’s face, sidetracking us into an endless array of sensational and superficial pursuits. These are, as a general rule, unprofitable, useless for building up and establishing our hearts. They leave us insecure and unsettled, looking for something more.
Next, let us contrast being established with grace with being established with meats, or thinking we can get closer to God by carefully obeying certain kinds of rituals or traditions, even godly ones like Mosaic dietary laws. Certain rituals may be helpful in our spiritual walk, and obedience to God’s laws is certainly good, even mechanical ones, but this will not establish our hearts. Perhaps this is one reason why we sometimes want to make God’s commands much more difficult than they are, like the Jews have done with kosher dietary laws, or Christians with turn the other cheek. (Mt 5:38-9) The Pharisee likes to bind heavy burdens (Mt 23:4) to try and satisfy a relentless craving for recognition and acceptance, yet adding to God’s word like this never satisfies; it cannot.
Obedience is certainly necessary in our relationship with God, but it is not sufficient. While God is angry with children of disobedience (Ep 5:6), those who despise and neglect His ways (He 10:26), He never intended for us to establish and stabilize our innermost being through our obedience. We should always try to obey God as well as we can, but we are not in a position to evaluate our own behavior very well (1Co 4:3), or to draw any comfort or security in the quality of our works: they cannot be a basis for security in our relationship with God. (1Ti 1:9) In other words, we should eat, and in as godly a way as we possibly can, but not be established with our eating.
Stabilizing the Heart
Establishing the heart is getting it stabilized, firmly grounded on its proper foundation: Jesus Christ. (1Co 3:11) This is the work of God, “Him that is of power to stablish you …” (Ro 16:25) to “make you to increase and abound in love … to the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness.” (1Th 3:12-13) It is only God Himself who “ is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” (2Co 9:8) Yet God also tells us, “stablish your hearts” (Ja 5:8); so this cannot merely be a passive thing – it must be an active one; we should be seeking God here and doing all we can to avail ourselves of His grace. But what is grace, exactly?
Appearance of Grace
Most commonly, we tend to think of grace as forgiveness and love, so when scholars define grace as “undeserved favor” we tend to interpret it shallowly, “God accepts me just the way I am.” Yet most of the time the word grace appears in Scripture it seems to mean something more. Strong hints at this when he defines grace as “the divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life.”
When we dig a little deeper we find that the Greek word charis (translated grace in our New Testament) denotes first of all a pleasant external appearance. Its Hebrew counterpart chen may also denote beauty. (Pr 17:8 “a precious [chen] stone”) We may think of grace then as God’s free and undeserved favor producing a kind of spiritual beauty, an outward expression of an inward transformation. Grace is YHWH, the God of the universe, living in us, enabling us, giving us the ability to live for Him and to be like Him, as He is in Christ, helping us to think clearly, to reason truly, to believe consistently, to discern deeply, to love unselfishly, to perceive realistically, to understand wisely. It is a divine life springing forth in the spirit and producing the likeness of Jesus Christ as a practical reality in our hearts. Look at it again: God “is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” (2Co 9:8)
So when Paul described his spiritual power, where he got the strength and ability to serve God like he was, we should not be surprised when he says, “By the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (1Cor 15:10) Mercy, forgiveness and divine favor do not labor. Paul is attributing his spiritual stamina, his gifts and abilities and spiritual power, to grace. Paul was active in seeking and walking and serving in the power of God, and all along the grace of God was enabling him to do this.
And when Paul describes the power of God which delivers us from our sin nature, not merely forgiving sin but overcoming sin within us and enabling us to live in progressively greater holiness, he says, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Ro 6:14) He is not saying we are no longer obligated to obey Torah, God’s law — that would not be delivering us from sin but saying we are free to sin. Rather God is explaining that the power to live in holiness, to obey God’s commands from the heart in the spirit, is found in God’s grace, in the power of a new life, in the nature of a new heart freely given to us of God by faith.
This supernatural grace reigns through righteousness (Ro 5:21); it is not a passive gift but an active one; it is the power of God which enables us to live for Him. So when Noah “found grace in the eyes of the Lord,” (Ge 6:8) he found so much more than love, forgiveness and mercy in God; Noah found in God the ability and tendency and inclination to live and act in real righteousness; this was God’s free and undeserved gift to him – real spiritual beauty – power to live godly in an ungodly environment – faith to obey and love and persevere against the ridicule of the entire world, against all external evidence, against all odds, to do the ridiculously difficult with a steady wisdom and confidence that must have frustrated all who mocked him. It was God empowering Noah to walk in His calling, to fulfill his purpose in God.
When YHWH says to us, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness,” (2Co 12:9) He is not merely saying we are completely forgiven and accepted; God is reminding us that He is all we need. There is no real power in mere forgiveness, no ability in mere mercy, the withholding of judgement. Grace is so much more that this; again — it is not just God’s loving disposition toward us, but it is an actual power, a real gift, a spiritual substance, producing a beauty and a strength, a capability and a tendency. It is life. God’s grace is His strength, a supernatural strength we access by faith; knowing God is faithful to enable us gives us the strength we need to live for Him.
A verse which now seems to perfectly embody being established with grace is: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength.” (Is 26:3-4) When we are continually depending on the unfailing promises of God to give us strength to live for Him … we are able to rest fully in God, down in the bedrock of our souls. Our mind is continually stayed on God, thinking of Him and worshipping Him and admiring Him and appreciating Him, expecting Him to enable us to live for Him.
Our heart is established with grace when we experience a continual and settled conviction that God is enough, that God will enable us to do and to be whatever He is calling us to do and to be. Being established with grace is knowing that He is working in us “to will and to do of His good pleasure.” (Php 2:13) We no longer find ourselves threatened or uneasy … in any situation or in the face of any difficulty. We are being kept in perfect peace as our mind is stayed, established, on Him. (Is 26:3)
Guarding our Hearts
Once our heart is established with grace we must guard our heart. (Pr 4:23) We must be alert to influences and tendencies which will tend to move us off of this solid foundation, shifting us back to some form of temporal security. The enemy would love to threaten and destabilize us, but he cannot do this very well if we are founded on and resting in the very enabling strength of God. So Satan is constantly looking for ways to allure us to trust in something else, rest in something else, depend on something else … anything else. The transition may be gradual, undetectable, until we have all but slipped off our sure foundation.
The inevitable sign we have fallen away here is a feeling of uneasiness and vulnerability at the thought of losing whatever it is we are leaning on. It is right then that we should repent, adjusting our thinking and getting our orientation in Christ back into focus. At the very hint of feeling vulnerable or threatened (emotionally or spiritually) we ought to cultivate the habit of climbing out of the sand and mire … and getting back up on the Rock of Ages … and staying there, abiding, camping out.
Trying to establish our hearts in anything but God is to leave ourselves vulnerable to an unsteady foundation. Friends and family will fail us, our health will fade, riches are limited and fleeting, our jobs are temporary, and our gifts and talents will dull and decay in the end. Our best efforts most always fall short of the ideal in one way or another. There really is no true resting place for the heart outside of God Himself. No other foundation will do; nothing else is acceptable.
Established with Grace
Being established with grace is more than knowing God’s forgiveness and love, it is more than resting in Christ’s unconditional acceptance; it is having supernatural confidence that God is transforming me into the image of Christ, creating His likeness in me, enabling me to love and obey Him. (2Co 9:8) Through the power of the Holy Spirit I rest in Christ’s utter sufficiency and faithfulness, delighting in Him, being filled with all joy and peace in believing, abounding in hope. (Rom 15:13)
Grace is the spiritual power enabling me to do all things through Christ, who (with His grace) strengthens me. (Php 4:13)
Jesus Christ is able and willing to overcome the world in us for His name’s sake and glory. (Jn 16:33) He is our life (Col 3:4), our very sanctification. (1Co 1:30) He calls us to abide in Him, to trust Him in every moment to live through us, to draw from Him all we need, to establish our hearts with His amazing grace. Let’s not allow the enemy to steal our joy and peace any longer. We have Jesus Christ, and He is all we need to live the Christian life.