The Transforming Power of God’s Grace

Testimonies of Transformation

Back in the fall of 1976 I enrolled as a student at Northeastern Bible College in New Jersey. I remember driving in that area and sometimes catching a glimpse of the Twin Towers of World Trade Center; their absence is now a haunting memory. During that summer New York City was haunted by a terrible crime spree occurring in that metropolis. A serial killer left a note after his deadly acts which read, “I am a monster. I am the Son of Sam.” When the police finally captured the murderer, David Berkowitz, his picture was plastered across newspapers everywhere.

Over twenty years later, in August 1999, this same criminal was featured on the program, “Larry King Live.” Chuck Colson commented on that interview, which took place at a New York prison:

” … We saw a different Berkowitz … and those who tuned in saw the former Son of Sam boldly witnessing to King about his faith in Christ, and even leading viewers in a prayer. The interview took place because of a new movie about Berkowitz, called Summer of Sam, which dredges up the whole nightmare again. But the film leaves out one of the most remarkable parts of Berkowitz’s story—one he did not miss the opportunity to share with Larry King. About ten years ago, Berkowitz turned his life over to Jesus Christ. Berkowitz says he now wants nothing more than to lead others to Christ, and he’s made two videos for that very purpose … In a video called Son of Sam, Son of Hope, Berkowitz lifts his hands and says, ‘At one time, these hands were being used by the devil to destroy. But I thank God today for His great mercy that these hands are being used to touch lives.'” [1]


Praise God for the gospel of Christ, which is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).

The human author of those words in the book of Romans is another example of the transforming power of God’s grace. As Paul declared in his testimony,

“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Tim. 1:4-16, emphasis added).

We celebrate such amazing conversion stories, and rightly so. The angels also rejoice when a sinner repents (Luke 15:10).

Grace for Transformed Living

But I wonder if we are just excited about the transforming power of God’s grace for His children. Is this grace adequate to enable believers to grow to spiritual maturity and to gain freedom from unresolved conflicts and besetting sins? We know that it is God’s assured purpose for every true believer to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29; 10:9-13). Do you believe He can successfully do this in your life in the here and now, as well as at the final installment in the hereafter?

Notice this comparison: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). In other words, if God was willing to give Jesus on Calvary to redeem us when we were “lost,” how much more is He willing to supply for our ultimate needs now that we are “found”! We have the Father justifying us, Christ interceding for us, and His Spirit indwelling us (Rom. 8: 9-11,33,34). Nothing can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:38-39). No wonder we are declared to be “more than conquerors through Him Who loved us”! (Rom. 8:37).

Not only is God’s grace the dynamic for changing sinful people into saved people, it is the dynamic to change us from unfruitful believers into fruitful believers! (John 15:5).

Testifying of his missionary work, the apostle Paul wrote: “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward 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” (1 Cor. 15:9-10). We see here that God’s grace kept Paul humble and grateful. Also note that he was not passive. Paul labored as a pioneer missionary and church planter; he cooperated with divine grace. We too are to live and labor by grace.

The following episode from the life of a medical missionary illustrates the necessity having God’s resources:

“Dr. Paul Brand was speaking to a medical college in India on ‘let your light so shine before men that they may behold your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.’ In front of the lectern was an oil lamp, with its cotton wick burning from the shallow dish of oil. As he preached, the lamp ran out of oil, the wick burned dry, and the smoke made him cough. He immediately used the opportunity. ‘Some of us are like this wick,’ he said. ‘We’re trying to shine for the glory of God, but we stink. That’s what happens when we use ourselves as the fuel of our witness rather than the Holy Spirit. ‘Wicks can burn indefinitely, burning brightly and without irritating smoke, if the fuel, the Holy Spirit, is in constant supply.’ ” [2]

God also stressed this truth through the prophet Zechariah. After Israel returned from Babylonian exile, they faced the daunting task of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. In order to succeed they needed an awareness of the sufficiency of God’s strength. The prophet declared to the governor of Judah, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the LORD of hosts” (Zech. 4:6).

And what was the purpose for this power? Was it only to make this leader more happy? No, there was a task waiting to be accomplished.[3]  So this promise of power was a practical one: “Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain! And he shall bring forth the capstone With shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!'”(Zech. 4:7). The mountain of obstacles in the path of doing God’s will was no match for His almighty power (see Matt. 17:20).

This was confirmed with another promise: “The hands of Zerubbabel Have laid the foundation of this temple; His hands shall also finish it. Then you will know That the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you” (Zech. 4:9; see Haggai 1-3). Within four years shouts of joy were heard in Jerusalem when the rebuilding of the temple of the LORD was completed.[4]

Just as this governor needed to rely on God’s power for his responsibilities, so must we. As believers, we are the New Testament temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19,20). In a way, however, we are still “under construction.” God is in the process of growing us up spiritually, strengthening our faith, hope, and love. The final “capstone” will be put in place when we are glorified together with our Savior: “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Let’s rejoice in the transforming power of God’s grace!


[1] from “Breakpoint Commentary” Sept 2, 1999 issue by Chuck Colson The testimony of Berkowitz it at this web site:

[2] “Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching,” ed., Craig Larson, p.260.

[3] The temple, which was destroyed in 586 B.C., was still in ruins. Although they had initially begun to restore God’s House, opposition stopped its reconstruction. This opposition led to complacency, selfishness, and doubt. For 16 years the temple continued to lay in ruins.

[4]  March 12, 516 B.C.

Grace Notes © 2000 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non commercial use. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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