I want to apologize for my recent lack of posts. For those of you who regularly follow this blog, I am extremely grateful. I know some of you have offered encouragement by saying how God is using His words posted here to make changes in your lives and I pray that He continues to do so and that I might in some way be used by God to continue to bring His Word. Having said that, I’ve been busy recently with several projects, one of which is finishing up my first class in Seminary. It’s been quite a time management adjustment and because of the amount of reading and writing required there, posts here have been sporadic. Please pray for me as I’m finishing up the last two weeks there. The final assignment for this class is a research paper/project. For mine, I really feel like the Lord was leading me to develop a Bible Study based on the life of John the Baptist. I don’t know how He plans to use it yet, but I wanted to share the first lesson that I’ve been working on and ask for any comments, recommendations, or criticisms. This is NOT in final “Bible Study” format, but more so for the project submission, but the main ideas are the same. Since it’s due this weekend, I’ll try to post each “lesson” as I finish them. Thanks so much for reading.
John the Baptist: The Model Ministry
John the Baptist’s life was the personification of God’s grace, from his prophesied ministry in Isaiah and Malachi to the very definition of his name, “The Lord is gracious.” In beginning a study of his life, especially from the perspective of ministry, we must first examine the Old Testament prophecies of the Messianic forerunner to fully understand the impact of God’s sovereign grace on not only John’s life, but on our own as well. In order for us to fully appreciate this impact, in this lesson we’ll briefly look at God’s grace in several supporting passages to establish this extremely important foundational truth. Each of these elements of grace are not only applicable to John the Baptist, as we’ll learn in the subsequent lessons, but they are equally relevant to our lives.
When we talk about God’s grace, we need to understand what grace is and why it is so fundamental to our spiritual lives. In its true definition, grace is defined as unmerited favor. But we must ask, where did this unmerited favor come from and just what kind of favor have we been given? John states in his Gospel, “14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15(John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because He was before me.'”) 16And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:14-17 ESV There’s a lot in this passage to digest that not only answers those questions we posed earlier, but also introduces us to the ministry of John the Baptist. In verse 14, the Apostle John lets us know when Jesus came from God the Father in heaven to earth in human flesh (incarnation) He came “full of grace and truth.” Since Christ is filled with grace, we can surmise that He is grace embodied. Skip ahead to verse 16 and we learn that from “His fullness”, meaning grace, “We have all received grace upon grace.” Here we have the answer to our question where does grace come from, it comes from Jesus Christ. It’s in verse 15 that we find reference given to John the Baptist and his recognition of the Jesus the Messiah, but more on that in a later lesson!
So what about our second question? The Apostle Paul states in his letter to the church at Ephesus, “8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV This passage clearly indicates that unmerited favor, or grace, provides salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. In his book, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers adds his thoughts on our passage from Ephesians, “The gospel of the grace of God awakens an intense longing in human souls and an equally intense resentment, because the truth that it reveals is not palatable or easy to swallow. There is a certain pride in people that causes them to give and give, but to come and accept a gift is another thing. I will give my life to martyrdom; I will dedicate my life to service I will do anything. But do not humiliate me to the level of the most hell-deserving sinner and tell me that all I have to do is accept the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.” If we can summarize both of the answers to our questions posed in this lesson we get, Jesus = Grace and Grace = Salvation, therefore we can surmise that Jesus = Salvation.
A second characteristic of grace that we need in order to lay the foundation for beginning our study on John is the justification of grace. In his study Bible, John MacArthur observes that justification is a legal or forensic term that comes from the Greek word for “righteous” and means “to declare righteous.” Concerning this justification, Romans 3:23-24 ESV says, “23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Here the Apostle Paul is affirming to us that although every one of us has sinned we are justified by God’s grace as a gift through Jesus. This is in accordance with what we learned about grace earlier that it is also a gift of grace from Jesus that saves. From the legal perspective that John MacArthur was alluding we can look forward to the judgment of Christ that is forthcoming and know that our justification, or declaration of righteousness, saves us from the punishment of sin, which is eternal death and separation from God.
Our third and final quality of grace recaps each of the previous two while establishing an additional truth all its own, that of the instruction that grace provides. The Apostle Paul once again provides an example of grace as he writes in his letter to Titus, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Titus 2:11-15 ESV In keeping with our other two descriptions of grace, this third example is no different in that it yet again points toward Jesus Christ. In verse 11 we see that the “grace of God”, which is Jesus, has appeared bringing salvation just as we learned in the previous example. Our particular focus in this passage draws us to verse 12, where we find that grace trains us by teaching us to avoid all things unholy such as worldly pleasures by living self-controlled and holy before God.
As we learned at the beginning of this lesson, John the Baptist’s life reflected the sovereign grace of God from before he was even born to the very name that God gave him. Though salvation as we know it, including belief in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus had not yet occurred, John was in fact saved from eternal death and separation from God by His grace. It’s grace that set him apart. In being called and set apart, he was justified or declared righteous. In fact, as we’ll learn later he was even declared “great” by Jesus, which would have been an impossible declaration if he had been neither saved by grace, nor justified by grace. Finally through God’s grace John was trained for his ministry. In order to preach repentance he must be above reproach himself, lest he be deemed hypocritical, not merely before men, but before God. Therefore, it was critical we establish the foundational truths of God’s grace because as we progress through the life of John and examine his model for ministry it will become exceedingly clear that the grace of God is the preeminent attribute necessary for a successful, God glorifying ministry.
Are you able to recognize the presence of God’s grace in your life? If not, perhaps you have yet to make that life changing decision to receive Christ as Savior. Hebrews 4:16 ESV instructs, “16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Draw near to Christ and He will draw near to you. Repent of your sins and receive Jesus as your Savior so that He may shower you with His Grace.
For those that are saved, as Christians we use the term grace frequently, but do we really understand the magnitude of it? Grace not only saves, not only justifies, and not only trains us to live holy, but Grace is Jesus. It is by Grace we have been saved and never have more truer words been spoken than that old familiar hymn, Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.
I really like it, let me impress upon you perhaps in adding on your Sovereign Grace, “extremely important foundational truth.” What about a category based on that, simply Grace in Truth? or vice versa, truth in Grace? just a thought, perhaps touching on his integrity, profession, and ability to stand for what is right (hence, it cost him his head).
Your LBTS brother,
Great Comment Matthew and thanks! The attributes of John that you mention, that ultimately cost him his life are coming up a few lessons later. Hopefully this first one laid the groundwork for his life to build on. I like the “truth in Grace” that you brought up. I’ll keep that in mind as I finish up the lesson on John’s “Preparation for Service” and his “Boldness of the Gospel”