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John 1:16–18

“From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

Grace—the kindness and favor that God shows to undeserving people—is such a commonly mentioned concept that we can miss its inherent wonder. In the Christian church, we frequently refer to the “grace of God,” and in so doing we run the risk of making it into a common and ordinary thing. But when we have a proper estimation of our own condition as sinful creatures who deserve only the wrath of the Lord, and when we understand that God does not give His grace to everyone (Rom. 1:18–3:20; 9–11), we will be much less likely to take grace for granted. And once we understand the truth of our condition, knowing the sheer abundance of grace in light of our sin will keep us marveling at the kindness of our Creator.

The abundance of divine grace is John’s theme as the Evangelist concludes His prologue. We find in today’s passage an emphasis on God’s grace in sending the Word, Jesus Christ (John 1:16–18). “Grace upon grace” has been given to us in the Savior, not merely “grace.” Interestingly, this phrase may be better translated “grace instead of grace,” suggesting the exchange of one kind of “lesser” grace, for “greater” grace. This would be supported by John’s contrast between the law given through Moses and the grace and truth given through Jesus Christ (v. 17). John does not mean that the era of law preceding Moses was entirely devoid of grace and truth. After all, the Mosaic law includes the sacrificial system through which old covenant saints could experience the grace of forgiveness. Furthermore, in John’s gospel we read that if Jesus’ opponents really believed Moses, then they would have believed in Jesus as the Christ (5:30–47). If we receive grace and truth through Jesus and if to truly believe Moses’ testimony in the law is to believe in Jesus, then grace and truth were available under the Mosaic administration. It is not the absence and presence of grace that are contrasted but the lesser measure and greater measure of grace. John Calvin writes of the new covenant believer that “what is ascribed to us is not simply or absolutely denied to [old covenant saints], but that a comparison is made between the less and the greater, as we say; because they had nothing more than little sparks of the true light, the full brightness of which daily shines around us.”

We receive a greater measure of grace under the new covenant because the new covenant features the zenith of God’s revelation of Christ, God’s incarnate Word (1:18). In Him we see God most clearly (Heb. 1:1–4).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Grace was present under the old covenant, but the new covenant advent of Christ and His teaching through His Apostles shows us grace in greater measure. We now have more insight into the depths of God’s mercy in sending His Son to die for sinners. We receive a greater measure of the Holy Spirit than the old covenant saints had. Let us rejoice to be partakers of the new covenant and look to Christ for the fullest revelation of God.

For Further Study
  • Jeremiah 31
  • Zechariah 12:10
  • Titus 2:11–14
  • Revelation 22:21

The Incarnation of the Word of God

John the Baptist Identifies Himself

Keep Reading Fearing God

From the January 2018 Issue
Jan 2018 Issue