When we’re presented with an offer that seems too good to be true, our response is often suspicion and doubt, with good reason. Or we’re given a gift and we immediately think, “what do they want in return from me?” No one gets something for nothing, right? Sometimes, this carries into our spiritual beliefs, that we have to earn our way into God’s good graces or it’s too easy and therefore suspicious. But nothing could be farther from the truth.
This Sunday we wrap up our series In All Things God Works by looking at how God works through grace in the lives of everyone.
Full Sermon Script:
One of the mindsets that many, if not most of us share is the “if it’s too good to be true, it’s not real” mentality …right?!?!
If what’s presented to us offers too much, looks too good, promises everything …
we are suspicious of motives
no one wants to appear foolish or be taken advantage of
For instance… this email I received earlier this year …
I mean come on!! So I responded with my info ……
Closely associated to this the belief that “You can’t get something for nothing.”
disapproval that someone is getting what they want without doing or giving anything in return
we don’t do that with our kids – allowance is tied to chores
we don’t give employees bonuses for being under performers
You can’t expect to receive some benefit if you don’t not pay for it in some way
Maybe the payment is time, effort, sacrifice …
But we expect there to be an exchange
Our belief is things of value take work and effort on our part
We respect people who have worked for what they have
From nursery school onward we are taught …
The early bird gets the worm.
No pain, no gain.
There is no such thing as a free lunch.
We know these rules well because we live by them.
We even carry this thinking into our spiritual beliefs …
earn my own redemption for past wrongs
live in a “morally acceptable” way that will make me good enough for the afterlife
it’s up to me and my efforts
The major religions of the world have this same mentality
buddhism – ceasing desire; A person must constantly be on the alert to seek his own deliverance
confucius – self-reflection; pursue self-cultivation as a means to moral perfection
hinduism – detaching from your separated ego and making an effort to live in unity with the divine
islam – living a holy life of good deeds (works)
orthodox judaism – repentance, prayer, obey the laws
individualism – I’ll make it to heaven on my own merits
But can we save ourselves? Is it up to us? Are we capable?
This is the last week of our series, In All Things God Works
Over the last three weeks we’ve see how God works …
In every situation of life
Today … God works through grace
We start with the words of a man named Paul…
The Apostle Paul (as he’s referred to in the church) appears in the pages of history as someone who hates Christians and the Jesus they follow, he was the anti-Christ-follower, but then in a He becomes one Himself.
He decides to take the message of Jesus, which up to that point was pretty much confined to Israel, to the rest of the world. His challenge is that this message is completely different from what people believed, value systems they built their lives around
He would write letters to groups of Christ-followers in various cities around the Mediterranean and into Europe, and one of those was to people in the city of Ephesus.
capital of the Roman province of Asia (modern day Turkey)
Was famous for its Temple of Artemis, recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
Strabo, a Greek historian, wrote, “Artemis has her name from the fact that she makes people ‘Artemeas’ meaning sound, well, or delivered.”
Another word that shows up when Artemis is mentioned is “save.” The ideas of “deliver” and “save” go hand in hand. There are frequent references to Artemis Ephesia as “savior.”
So to the Ephesians, Artemis Ephesia was one who saves or delivers.
Here’s what Paul says …
Ephesians 2:8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…”
Something has happened … something has been done for us … Paul says we’ve been “saved”
The chapter opens with the declaration that we are dead in our sins before Christ.
we are separated from God due to sin
gratifying the cravings of our flesh, following it’s desires and lusts
The brokenness goes back to Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve, the forbidden fruit, the fall of humanity in the garden
Romans 5:12 “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned…”
The Walking Dead
But then we were made alive in Christ (v4-5)
So a change has been made, from death to life … from separated from God to relationship with God
saved (sōzō … sō’-zō)
preserve life, deliver
Story of my mom nearly drowning when I was a young boy
recently learned to swim / dad was out of town
community pool, recently hired lifeguard
(wasn’t supposed to be there yet / had stayed beyond his scheduled time ???)
Where’d that mom go … just the right angle to see her at the bottom of the pool
She had tried to save herself … and failed
he jumped in and saved her
All of us have a story in our lives of finding, or placing ourselves in a situation that we could not get ourselves out of
… we needed someone to do something for us, on our behalf, to save us
The same is true of our condition spiritually …
The full sense of the expression “you have been saved” is difficult to capture in English.
The Greek word emphasizes action initiated in the past, the effects of which continue into the present and beyond.
Ex: married couples celebrate anniversaries; a day looked back on with fondness. But what was done that day didn’t stay in that moment of time, it continues today in the present and into the future.
This is completely counter to the prevailing view of the religious worship at the time, and of today.
You need to work for, earn your place into the afterlife, into eternity
All the religions mentioned earlier … you’ll find out if you were successful when life ends
But Paul says the work necessary to “save” us has been done
And how has this been offered to us?
“For it is by grace you have been saved…”
How many have seen the musical or movie Les Misérables? I’m going to ruin it if you haven’t seen it but it’s been around so long that’s your fault.
I saw the best version of it … movie with Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe …
There’s this guy, Jean Valjean, a criminal who has lived a life of crime.
A thief, he’s thrown in prison and 19 years later get out on parole
Being a convicted felon, finding work is nearly impossible. He’s offered shelter by a Bishop in the local church
He steals the silverware, is caught, and is brought back to face the Bishop for his crime
But the Bishop shows him grace and he never gets over it. It changes his life. He lives and he sits in that grace and he gives grace. He gives grace to those who need it, he gives grace to those who don’t deserve it.
The policeman who has chased him all his life, Javert, can’t seem to get it. He doesn’t understand grace. He pursues Jean Valjean because he must pay for his crimes. Eventually he is shown grace also, with Jean Valjean saving his life.
In the story, grace just never added up for Javert.
For some, grace never adds up.
Sometimes we think that of God’s grace
Part of our challenge is that our view of God’s grace is often birthed out of our experience with each other.
Whether it’s a parent, relative, or our general view of humanity, our experience with sinful and broken people affects our view of God.
We’re unacquainted with grace that’s untainted by brokenness.
We’ve never met a person that embodied grace perfectly.
Grace – God’s underserved and unmerited favor
the idea of kindness which bestows upon one what we don’t deserve
Genesis 45 – Joseph and his brothers
Sold by his brothers into slavery, ends up second in command of the Egyptian kingdom
Famine in the land of his family, his brothers show up hoping to be given food, not knowing they stood before their brother
Once they recognized him, the brother who had the most to fear was Judah, the one who organized the selling of Joseph into slavery because he was afraid of the outcome of killing him, the one who changed Joseph’s life in seconds.
For more than twenty years he’d outrun the consequences of his betrayal. But what goes around comes around… right?
But there was no sound of guards rushing into the room, weapons at the ready. No orders for arrest. All was strangely calm.
This would be a day Judah would never forget.
This was a day of grace where he was given precisely what he deserved least.
Genesis 45:5 “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here…”
This is one of the moments I would have loved to to see for myself. How long did it take for Joseph’s words to register? How long before any of the brothers had the courage to make eye contact?
They were consumed with guilt over what they had done.
Joseph was consumed with something else entirely… GRACE
Not only did Joseph forgive them, but he invited them to bring their families and to live in the most fertile territory Egypt had to offer. Within seconds, Judah and his brothers went from possibly condemned to death to the position of esteemed guest of the second most powerful man in Egypt.
As is always the case with grace, Judah got exactly what he deserved least.
Grace cuts directly against the grain of human thinking, because it’s not fair.
We value fairness.
If someone does wrong, they should get what they have coming.
That’s karma, right?!
The principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual influence the future of that individual
If someone does right, they should be rewarded… we expect it
If someone does wrong and gets rewarded in spite of it, we protest, “That’s not fair!” “They don’t deserve it!”
The Greek word for GRACE referred to an action that was beyond the ordinary course of what might be expected
Its use among the Greeks referred to a favor done by one to another out of the generosity of their heart, and with no hope of reward or repayment.
Used in the New Testament, it refers to that favor which God did thru Christ on the cross when He took upon Himself the guilt and penalty of our sin.
For the Greek, the favor was done for a friend, never an enemy.
In the case of God it was the sinner for whom the favor was done.
Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Grace, demonstrated by God throughout the story of humanity, is not concerned with “fairness”
In Matthew 18 records Jesus telling a story of a shepherd who left his flock of ninety-nine and went into the darkness to search for one lost sheep.
Think for a moment on the underlying arithmetic. This is horrible asset management!
The shepherd left the ninety-nine sheep “in the country,” which presumably means vulnerable to rustlers, wolves, or a feral desire to bolt free.
How would the shepherd feel if he returned with the one slung across his shoulders only to find twenty-three others now missing?
In a scene recounted in John 12, a woman named Mary took a pint of perfume, worth a year’s wages, and poured it on Jesus’ feet.
Think of the extravagance, the wastefulness. Wouldn’t an ounce of perfume accomplish the same purpose?
Even Judas could see the absurdity: it could have been sold to help the poor.
Another in Mark 12. After watching a widow drop two small coins in the temple collection basket, Jesus belittled larger contributions.
“I tell you the truth,” he says, “this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.” I hope he said those words softly, for major donors and contributors would not appreciate the comparison.
Jesus told a story in Matthew 20 of a vineyard owner who hired people to go out into his fields throughout the day to harvest his grapes…
Some clocked in at sunrise, some at the morning break, some at lunchtime, some at the afternoon break, and some an hour before quitting time.
Everything was fine until payroll, when those who had worked twelve hours under a blazing sun learned that those who had put in barely an hour would receive exactly the same pay.
The boss’s action contradicted everything about fair compensation.
Matthew 20:13-15 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
Grace cannot be reduced to generally accepted accounting principles.
In the bottom-line realm of un-grace, some workers deserve more than others.
In the realm of grace the word deserve does not even apply.
God uses a different kind of math. It’s not fair; it’s GRACE.
It is given to those who don’t deserve it, barely recognize it, and hardly appreciate it
The grace of God is the expression of God’s goodness.
Please understand this … He’s not ignorant of all the ways we’ve sinned against Him. He knows everything we’ve ever done and is able to stomach it. His knowledge of who we really are will never hinder or stop His love for us. The intimacy by which God knows us but is able to lovingly embrace us as His is supernatural.
God’s grace is mind-blowing.
“… this is not from yourselves…”
you see, we can’t earn our redemption, our salvation … try as hard as we do
some have put this on yourself
others, religion has put this on you
act this way, do this / don’t do this, matter of your language, your appearance, your giving, etc…
The Gospel teaches that our acceptance from God is not based on anything about us. God gives salvation as a gift to all who will receive it.
“… it is the gift of God…”
Grace is a gift that costs nothing to the receiver, but everything to the Giver
Maybe you’ve been shown the gift of grace …
(my story) pulled over for speeding and the officer got a 911 page!
you were unfaithful to your spouse and you were forgiven
you forfeited your integrity in a business deal, and were forgiven by those you deceived
you used words that tore someone down, and they returned with words of kindness
you were an absent, disengaged parent and your now grown child invites you into their life
Grace assumes our inability to fix what is wrong and our need for God to address it
Ephesians 1:7-8 “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us…”
We accept God’s gift, His work of GRACE, through faith
we all exercise faith in many things every day.
When we drive, we have faith that others will obey the traffic laws… to some degree
We have faith that our food and water are not contaminated.
We have faith in the doctor who scribbles an unreadable prescription and the pharmacist, who looks at this scribbling, and hands us a bottle of pills
We have faith in the bank with our finances
We have faith that politicians have our best interest in mind ……
Faith in what? The death and resurrection of Jesus which is the work that has saved us
“If a man can predict his own death and resurrection, and pull it off, I just go with whatever that man says.” Andy Stanley
GRACE is the objective cause or basis of our salvation; FAITH is the subjective means by which we are saved.
This is important … the work of Christ’s death and resurrection is universal in its provision, but it is not universal in its application. We are not automatically saved because Christ died … we are saved when we put our trust in God’s gracious provision.
God works through GRACE
Grace is the source, faith is the means, and salvation is the result
If you’re a Christ-follower, this is OUR story. You and I have this story in common. While you and while I were spiritually dead in our sins, which explains what’s wrong with the world, which explains where we’ve come from, which explains all that’s broken around us, while dead in our sins God made us alive in Christ by His GRACE. God deep in love, even while we were sinners, sends His Son.
By grace through faith, we are brought from death to life, broken to put back together, separated to restored.
This is our story, and it didn’t happen because God was putting together select group of those who’ve worked hard enough to earn their place. He’s freed us from the pressure and burden and impossibility of saving ourselves.
For some of you in this room or watching online, this can be YOUR story today. You’ve been kicking the tires of Christ, checking out this whole christianity thing, not yet ready or willing to take a step INTO faith, into GRACE.
Maybe you grew up in a church, or spent some time in one, but you’ve drifted away or were driven away by others who were anything but graceful.
God has done a work FOR you
Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Grace has been waiting for …
Here’s what I would love for you … make a choice of faith today to become a Christ-follower, step into the GRACE that God has extended to you, found in the sacrifice Christ made for you on the cross to redeem you from your sins.
If that’s you, you have a bulletin you were handed on your way in. Please, PLEASE fill that out with your name, email or phone number, and just write on the tear off portion “Today I chose grace.”
We’re not going to start spamming you or asking you for your money
We want to help you get started on your journey with Christ