Only By His Grace

Mark 9:38-40
Jas 4:13-17 / Psa 49

There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. 40For whoever is not against us is for us.
(Mark 9:40)

Your grace alone is what we need
To give us strength when trials increase;
But no sacrifice or good deed
Can make us worthy of Your peace.

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him, because he does not follow us.” 39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. 40For whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:38-40)


We can only imagine how exasperated Jesus must have been when in the middle of His talk on service and humility, his favorite apostle interrupted Him to boast that they had stopped “someone casting out demons in your name” because that person was not of their company. It seemed John was not listening to His teaching at all. As their teacher, Jesus could have reprimanded John by telling him, “Who told you to stop anyone doing good in my name? Why are you acting proudly like the Pharisees, exalting yourself just because you have been given the power to cast out demons?” Instead, Jesus patiently explained to His apostles that “whoever is not against us is for us.” He wanted them to know that His love was not exclusive, but all-encompassing.

John and the other apostles must have thought that they alone had the authority to perform miracles in Jesus’ Name. They believed they had the exclusive “license to cast out demons” issued by the Messiah. They must have forgotten that earlier, Jesus had sent out 72 of His disciples to different towns and villages (Lk.10:1,9) which He intended to visit, giving them power to heal the sick. One of them could have been empowered to expel evil spirits.

James Baldwin, a Black American writer and civil rights activist in the 1960’s once wrote, “Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart; for his purity, by definition, is unassailable.” Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are all sinners, and only by the grace of God can our hearts be made pure. As St. Augustine of Hippo said of grace: “(It) is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.” St. Paul was well aware of the danger of feeling “saved” by our works when he wrote, “Because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our sins… For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Eph.2:4,8)

Jesus taught His apostles (and us) by His words and actions that in every opportunity we must humbly reach out to others to share our faith with them. We must never be critical of their religious practices nor be envious of their spiritual growth. Grace is freely given so that our faith may be freely shared. And no matter how far we have gone in our faith journey, we must never be proud of what we have gained or understood. As the Holy Book says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Prov.3:5-6) Never by our own efforts but only by God’s grace are our ways made righteous, leading us to God’s kingdom.

Lord God, keep us always aware of the danger of feeling worthy of Your grace and salvation because of our good works. Instead, Lord, convict us of our unworthiness, so that we may always seek Your help and protection from the snares of the evil one. Please grant us this grace, in Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.

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