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Feb 19, 2017

A Heart Check-Up of Grace

A Heart Check-Up of Grace

Passage: Ephesians 2:4-10

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Search and Rescue

Category: Evangelism

Keywords: evangelism, grace, justice, mercy, compelling witness

Summary:

While the love of God moves us to share the gospel, it is the grace of Christ that sets Christianity apart from all other religions and makes Christ-followers conduits of something truly divine. When God's grace moves through us, the world changes.

Detail:

A Heart Check-Up: Grace

February 19, 2017

Fill in the blanks:

  • Justice is…getting what we deserve.
  • Mercy is…not getting what we deserve.
  • Grace is…getting what we don’t

The older I get, the more I appreciate the amazing wisdom of God in weaving these three divine and absolutely holy attributes of God together in the Godhead and in HOW God exercises these qualities towards each of us. 

            I doubt that any of us want to live in a world…or eternity…where justice is not practiced.  In that kind of world, murderers and rapists, child abusers and sex-trafficers would never face punishment for their heinous deeds.  Frauds and scam artists could keep deceiving and cheating people out of their hard-earned money.  Without justice, even imperfect as it is in the human courts, the world would be a far worse place to live.  As hard as justice can be, lack of it is always harder.

            But what would the world be like if there were no mercy?  If everyone got “just what they deserved”?  What a hard, brutal and cold place that would be.  Prisons would be fuller than they already are.  People would be taking each other to court more than they are.  Everyone would be demanding their “pound of flesh” for offenses and grievances done them. 

But mercy spares us from always getting the penalties and punishments we deserve.  It spares us from the “hard/harsh” realities and penalties of pure justice.  But it still leaves US scarred by our own failures and sins. Mercy makes life better for sinners like us, but it doesn’t necessarily make US better in this life.

But grace is truly amazing.  It bundles both justice and mercy together and gives to us a present that blesses us.  It actually makes us into different people—better people, especially as we relate to others.

ILL:  Let’s clarify these terms with a hypothetical story.

Imagine I just finished having lunch after church at, say, Herardos or Atilanos across the street on 3rd Ave.  I’m still savoring the salsa on my lips.  I’m comfortably full and looking forward to a relaxing Sunday afternoon. All is at peace in my universe.

            As I walk back across the street and round the corner of our parking lot, I see a man standing next to my truck.  It quickly becomes apparent to me that he has “keyed” my truck.  He has vandalized my pristine, flawless 1997 GMC pickup truck.  (Remember, we’re imagining!)  He did it by scratching one of his keys against the sides of my truck. 

            Our eyes lock, he gets that “deer in the headlights” look, and time freezes as flecks of white paint from my truck float slowly to the ground.  He doesn’t run.  He just stands there.  (I know, we’re imagining!)

            As I approach him, all kinds of thoughts and feelings rush through me—assault, rage, murder.  After all, he just knowingly and purposefully defaced my truck. 

            When I reach the man, he begins to apologize.  He tells me he is sorry and will pay to fix the damage.  In that moment all three conceptsjustice, mercy and grace—come into play.  

  • I can call for justice by calling the police, filing a report and making him stand before a judge for what he’s done. Most likely, the judge will make him pay for his crime both financially and perhaps with jail time or community service.  At least I hope so!

Justice looks pretty appealing right about now.  Truth be told, most of us are quick to cry for justice when we have been wronged.  We’re not quite so swift to demand justice when WE are the perp. 

            Consider the moment you look in the rearview mirror and see those flashing red and blue lights as you are driving down the street.  You probably will glance at your speedometer and then realize that you’re going 40 in a 25 mph speed zone. 

            While you’re fishing out your vehicle registration, drivers’ license and proof of insurance, chances are you’re not going to say to the officer, “Officer, I demand justice!  Whatever you do, please make sure I pay the full penalty for my crime!” At that moment, the last thing you want is justice. What we’d really like is mercy.  We want the officer to refrain from giving us what we deserve. 

            Back to the parking lot with the guilty guy and the furious pastor.  I’m no longer feeling at peace with the universe.  The man is standing there, keys in hand, paint flecks floating to the ground, but his face has changed.  He’s actually looking remorseful.  His voice is even filled with sorrow as he starts begging me for mercy. 

            I now have a choice.  I can demand justice, call the police, make the report and make him pay.  Or, I can extend mercy.  Choosing the latter, I might say, “You are free to go.”  After he picks himself up off the ground, he might walk off totally confused or thinking he just met someone crazier than him.  J

            Mercy like that doesn’t make sense in a world filled with retaliation and compensation for any and all wrongs.  Mercy can seem foolish and overly generous.  As extravagant and reckless as mercy appears, it is eclipsed by something even more amazing:  GRACE

            What could grace look like as I stand face-to-face with this man who has just vandalized my car?  Imagine that I look at him, reach into my pocket, take out my keys, and offer them to him. I say, “Here are my keys.  The car is yours.  It’s a gift from me to you.  If you’ll wait just a moment, I’ll sign over the title.  And there is a gas station just down the street where I’d be happy to fill the tank up for you.  Oh, and by the way, if you want to get those scratches fixed, feel free to take it to your favorite auto body shop and have them send me the bill.  I’d love to do that for you!” 

[Taken from a story by Kevin G. Harney in Organic Outreach for ordinary People, pp. 33-34.]

            You see, this is the Good News, the Gospel, we preach… just in a different story form that somebody on the street might be able to understand. 

And most amazingly, this IS the Gospel we are called to live in love towards those who may be acting as foolishly and stupidly towards us as this teenage kid. 

To give to those who are taking from you is grace. 

To love those who are hating you is grace.  

To pray for those who are cursing you is grace.

Grace is not our nature, but it IS God’s.  That’s why grace is SO amazing.  There is nothing like it in sin-broken hearts.  But grace has always been God’s way of loving sinners back into relationship with Him.   He gave the grace of forgiveness and animal skins to Adam and Eve as a picture of the grace he would give to them and us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Just think about the magnitude of grace that God has shown to every one of us. 

  • Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages sin pays is “death”—both physical at the end of life that separates us from those we love and life in this mortal body AND death spiritually that separates us from God for the rest of eternity. God’s justice demands that the evil of sin that lives in every one of us be punished.  Divine justice can’t just ignore sin.  It must deal with it if God is to remain a God of justice. 
  • I Peter 2:24 tells us that, ““He himself bore our sins”in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,”[f] but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  Jesus, God in human flesh, willing chose to take the punishment due us, the price we owe in eternity, so that he could exchange our sin for His goodness, his righteousness. As infinite God, He could bear the sins of the world. As perfect man, he could be a true substitute.  He was forsaken by God the Father on the cross so that we could be adopted, embraced and loved unreservedly for all eternity. 

God satisfies his justice by punishing sin at the cross of Christ.  He showed us mercy by not making us pay for our own sin.  But His grace goes so much farther.  He doesn’t give us just keys to a car; he offers us eternal life by giving us THE key to life as it was designed to be, by giving us Jesus. Jesus is THE KEY to life with God.

            Listen to how Paul expresses it in Ephesians 2:4-10.  He’s talking about our salvation.  He’s talking about what God has done to bring us into His forever family. 

First, God’s heart-motive in salvation is LOVE.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 

            Since love moved God to engage in this whole costly, painful and amazing plan of salvation, certainly we who have now been charged with carrying that message to every lost human on the planet would best do that in LOVE.  The more we are filled with the love of Christ, the more we will seek to love people disconnected from God.  Conversely, the less the love of Jesus Christ moves in and through us, the less we will be sharing this transformational news of the Gospel of Jesus.  

ILL:  Even atheists understand that. The well-known comedy and illusionist duo Penn and Teller, are outspoken atheists.  They actually evangelize for atheism. And they aren’t offended by Christians who try to evangelize them or anybody else.  In a response to one businessman’s gift of a Bible, Penn said,

   “I’ve always said I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize.  I don’t respect that at all.  If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists…who say leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize?  How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

   “I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you.  And this is more important than that.” [Harney, p. 55.]

Even an atheist like Penn sees the silence of Christians as lack of love but our speaking about Christ as both logically essential and intellectually loving.  Would that more people had thought about what Christ-followers are doing when we evangelize as much as atheist Penn has.  But unfortunately too many people prefer the silence of unloving Christians to the speech of loving ones. 

            I’m not defending obnoxious speech of a few Christians who seem to be obsessed with the bad news of sin and hell more than the Good News of Jesus.  But they are, honestly, a very small minority of Christians.  Satan is probably just as pleased with their obnoxious speeches as with my unloving silence.  God may direct us from time to time to not give the whole Gospel message.  But if we’re honest, that has got to be the rare exception, not our S.O.P. 

            This passage in Ephesians 2 makes it clear that God’s love moved Him to express His love for lost humans through His mercy and grace of salvation by what Jesus did. God definitely came after us when we had no interest in leaving our sin and responding to His love.  By association and commission, we’re called to the same.

Paul goes on:

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus….”  We’ve already got a seat in heaven.  We’ve already got a name place at the table.  As far as God is concerned, the deed to your place with God forever is signed and sealed.  He’s just waiting for you and me to accept delivery and take that final step from life here to life forever with Christ. 

WHY did God do that?  Quite simply, “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” 

            God’s kindness and grace are actually expressed to us in the person of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  And when you and I get to heaven by simple faith in what Jesus did for us, God is going to point to you and to me “in the coming ages” of eternity and say, “Look how amazing my grace is!  Look who my grace rescued!  Look how their life showed and continues to show what a grace-abundant God I am.” 

            NOBODY in heaven will be there because of how great they were.  We’ll all be there because of how great Jesus was and is and how great his life, death and resurrection was in reconciling us to God. 

Listen to how Paul states it beginning in vs. 8:

 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

            The more we see what God rescues us from in our sin, the more we will be able to appreciate and embrace the grace of Jesus Christ.  Until we have found ourselves broken enough to realize the destructive nature of our own sinfulness and that our own sin hurts God and others more than they have hurt us, we won’t understand grace.  But when we realize that we have nothing in our hands or hearts to commend us to God, then we’ll be free to reach out and take the nail-scarred hands of Jesus.  Then we’ll be able to start embracing more and more of God’s great goodness to us through Jesus himself. 

            While salvation is something we receive the moment we trust in Christ instead of ourselves, I think we find the grace of Christ continually “saving” us from ourselves and our sin every day we experience Him in this life.  That is what vs. 10 is teaching.  What we started as a journey of receiving God’s blessings by grace continues as a journey of sharing God’s grace through the “good works” that God has prepared for us to do. 

            Certainly sharing the Good News of the Gospel with sinners just like (or probably better than us) are a good portion of those “good works” that Jesus wants us to engage in. Fact is, God continues to deal with us with great grace and mercy.  If we aren’t seeing that in life, my guess is that we’re not growing in the grace of the Lord Jesus.  Peter reminds us in 2 Peter 3:18, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.”

            A life both experiencing and sharing grace is to be our ongoing experience every day in Christ.  I don’t think it’s an accident that Peter talks about giving glory to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the same breath he talks about growing in grace.  I believe God wants our entire lives to be a journey of grace that is a living, breathing testimony of God’s grace every day.

            Grace is perhaps a subset of the love of GodOther religions may have elements of the Christian belief and doctrine of the self-sacrificing love of God.  But no other religion or belief system has the biblical concept of grace—the victim or object of injustice and offense giving blessings to the offender, blessing that cost the offended not the offender. ;The more I think about it, the more I believe this is THE truly distinctive hallmark of Christianity

            This is what Paul is talking about in 2 Cor. 4:12-13 when he talks about why the ministry of the Gospel is so arresting, so startling, so different from other religions and belief systems.

            “We work hard with our own hands.  When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.”  Only grace teaches you to do that—to speak blessing when you are cursed, to be kind when someone is trying to destroy you.  That is the miracle of grace.

            That kind of grace is what we are privileged to pass out to others when they least deserve grace.  It is completely against our old nature to want to show grace to someone.  But it is completely within our new nature in Christ to live that way towards others.  The worse their offense against us, the greater grace shines.  Both our offenses against God and others offenses against us should be platforms for preaching in word and deed grace. 

            This is why I LOVE what God is doing here at Mosaic.  I’ve never been in a church where so many people know how much we need grace. 

  • When you’ve spent years of your life dominated by depression like I have, and God just keeps giving you blessings despite the garbage you are dishing out to other people, you know grace is real.
  • When you’ve spent 5 or 10 or 35 or 40 years in prison like some of you have, and you watch God take the sin that put you there and use it to lead you to the grace of Jesus, to give you a heart of gratitude to God for saving you in the midst of your own evil, then you know grace is real.
  • When you’ve spent most of your life being a good person and making a good career but come to the place where you know that isn’t enough, and then you encounter the grace of Christ that gives you a peace and purpose you never had before He found you, you know grace is real.

God wants us to bring glory to Jesus “both now and forever” by “growing in the grace and experiential knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  No matter what your age or stage in life, God has more grace to give you the more he shows you your sin.  And He has more grace for you to pass along to others the more they sin against you.

But until we let the Holy Spirit convict us of sin and put His finger on those places in our lives that desperately need grace (though we may not even know it), we probably won’t be able to be grace-givers to both lost people and our family in Christ.  But when we don’t run from conviction of the Holy Spirit but rather surrender those experiences or thoughts or longings that normally we wouldn’t want anyone to know about, God can take them and make them platforms from which we can talk about Jesus.

CLOSE: 

  • How have you seen God be full of grace towards you? In what specific arenas of your life have you felt his grace?
  • In what relationships right now is God inviting you to be a conduit of His grace to someone? How does God want grace to look like through you to those people?
  • Call to faith in the God of grace who took our sin and graced us with his righteousness.

Questions for further study & discussion:

  1. Using a concordance of the Bible, look up the word grace. Choose a handful of the passages that deal with grace and come up with answers to the following (as well as any other good questions you might have about grace).
  • Who is usually the giver of grace? The recipient?
  • What are the characteristics of grace according to the passages?
  • How are we to “grow in grace” according to the passages?
  • How many different definitions of grace could you come up with?
  1. Where and when in your own life and experience have you felt you needed God’s grace the most? Why?
  2. If we were to be as generous grace-givers as God, how might life be different with our families? Our church? Our coworkers and classmates?  People far from Christ?
  3. How could we encourage and actually help each other to live out the grace of Christ more in our world today?
  4. Since ours is a Gospel of grace, what part should grace have in the message we deliver? Where does it fit in? What illustrations could you think of that would help a pre-believer in Jesus understand grace better?