2nd Corinthians 5:14-15 – “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him Who died for them and was raised again.”
1st Peter 4:10 – “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully, administering God’s grace in its various forms.”
As you know—every year at Redland I do a vision sermon to introduce the coming year. I’ve done a lot of these vision sermons—nearly twenty by last count. Here’s a little walk down memory lane—a sampling of past annual visions:
- In 2005 I called it “Blueprint for the Future” and we themed our plans in that way.
- In 2008 I used a football theme and talked about the “playbook” we’d follow.
- In 2009 I took Jesus’ phrase in John 15 and made the vision about vines and pruning for new growth.
- In 2010 I used MAPS as a visionary tool—and we talked about which “roads” God was leading us down.
- Lately we’ve used specific words or phrases to introduce a year’s vision—like: “Becoming,” “Telling,” “Live to Give,” “Second Nature,” “Roots and Wings,” “Soar,” and next year’s: “Connect!”
One reason pastors do an annual vision sermon is MOTIVATION. You see, motivation is a powerful thing. Like dangling a carrot from a string in front of a horse—it keeps us going. I mention all this because I feel led to take this last Sunday of 2017 to remind us all of the MAIN thing that we have said MOTIVATES us to do all we do here at Redland—our OVER-ARCHING vision. If you’ve forgotten what it is you need only look at your bulletin. I’m referring to—our mutual experience of the GRACE of God. As Paul puts it in our text from 2nd Corinthians: “Christ’s love compels us—motivates us—DRIVES us! Since we are convinced that One died for all, we should no longer live for ourselves…but for Him Who died for us and was raised again.”
In short, 20 years ago after a lot of prayer we realized that we have been called to be a GRACE-DRIVEN church—a GRACE-MOTIVATED congregation—which of course makes it vital that we understand exactly what GRACE is! So—think of this message as a refresher course in grace—a gentle reminder to motivate us as we start a new year together. Okay, what exactly is GRACE? Well—the word literally means, “to bend or stoop.” With that definition in mind we can say that Biblical grace is “God’s condescending favor.”
An earthly example of this aspect of grace is seen in the way that English royalty relates to commoners. Usually they have nothing to do with ordinary, COMMON people. No—England’s royal family tends to be aloof and distant. They are driven around the kingdom in caravans of limos with dark, tinted glass. Their palaces are surrounded by high fences, deep moats, and armed guards. So, if you are a common bloke, your best chance at seeing the royal family is when they gather on a high balcony of Buckingham Palace and give you that royal “wave.”
This week I read about John Grigg, the 2nd Baron Altricham. In the late 1950’s s he criticized Queen Elizabeth for being so removed from the common people. He said if the monarchy was to survive it had to in essence condescend—and the queen did what he suggested. She did away with the courtier system, televised her Christmas speech, and started inviting common people to the palace for tea. Well, her actions were a picture of grace. I mean, there was no law that said a commoner deserved being noticed or touched or blessed by the royal family, but because of grace in the heart of this earthly king or queen—she did exactly that.
This earthly example of grace is a pale reminder of what God did when He sent Jesus to earth. The words Philippians 2 come to mind where Paul talks about when the King of Kings paused to stoop, touch and bless. Paul said, “Jesus Christ, being in very nature God STOOPED. He CONDESCENDED. He came down to our level and made Himself nothing. He humbled Himself and BLESSED us by being obedient to death, even death on a cross.” The late theologian, Donald Grey Barhnouse put it this way. He said, “Love that goes UPWARD is WORSHIP; love that goes OUTWARD is AFFECTION. Love that STOOPS is GRACE.”
So, to summarize, GRACE is God’s condescending, absolutely unmerited favor. It is God “stooping” to give us what we could never hope to earn or deserve. And, as I inferred, the GREATEST example of this what we just celebrated—the first Christmas was when God sent His only Son down to earth from Heaven—-for the purpose of dying in our place on the cross.
But the fact is God CONTINUES to bestow His grace on us every single day, as He stoops to bless us with other things we could never deserve or earn. I’m talking about:
- His guidance in life-decisions
- His forgiveness when we disobey Him
- His strength when we try to do His will
- His healing power when we are sick
- His presence when we are lonely or afraid
This week we got an e-mail from a dear friend whose marriage had been about to fall apart. We’d been praying for this couple for months. Things looked hopeless. But the husband wrote to tell us things are looking up. He and his wife are going to counselling together. It looks like their marriage will be saved. When I got this news, I thanked God for His grace. He answered our prayers. He stooped down and spoke to this husband and wife. And they listened!
I could go on and on giving examples of ways that God regularly condescends to favor us—to shower us with His unmerited favor—because GRACE means that bound up in our Heavenly Father is an inclination to bestow benefits on UNDESERVING people—people like you and me.
Now, of course, a GOOD human might want to bestow a benefit or two on a DESERVING person. For example: if you are known as a hardworking, amazingly dedicated Worship Pastor who just put in several weeks of ten-twelve-hour days to get ready for a blessed night of Christmas music—the pastor might say, “Bill, you’ve been burning the midnight oil a long time—take a break. Take some time off. Go play with Dakota for a few days. And here’s an idea. Get some pics of her. You could hang a few in the choir room.”
Or, if a grandmom gets to have her three grandkids visit for a few days around New Years, she might make them an ice-cream cone even if they didn’t eat their veggies—-just because she knows that they’re pretty amazing kids. There is nothing unusual about this type of behavior. We see this weaker form of grace—grace that gives gifts to DESERVING people—we see it all the time.
But God’s grace is FAR ABOVE this weaker human version! God’s grace is as EXTRAORDINARY as human grace is ORDINARY. You see, God gives good things even to UNDESERVING people. He gives us good when we deserve bad. It is His nature to do so.
Well, as His children—as His church—as the flesh and bones He is using to further His eternal kingdom on this fallen world—we are called to express, to dispense, THAT KIND of grace. Our daily experience of God’s amazing grace should drive us to become gracious people—but of course if that is to happen, if we are to continue to be KNOWN as a Grace-driven church—-then we need to understand it so this morning I want us to review four basic, foundational statements about grace—and the first is this:
(1) Even though God’s grace is NOT a NEW idea—it is still a RARE thing.
Now—many people seem to think that God didn’t start being loving and gracious until Christmas, when Jesus came. In their mind’s GRACE was something God thought up when mankind failed to obey His laws. They believe He tried the ten commandments and the rest of the Old Testament law and when that didn’t work, He came up with PLAN B: The Grace Plan.
But this is not true. Grace was God’s ORIGINAL plan, set into motion long before the law was revealed to Moses. I mean, the purpose of the law has ALWAYS been to show how much we are dependent on God’s grace.
The fact is God graced us with His condescending favor, BEFORE man was created. 1st Peter 1:18-20 says, “You were redeemed from your empty way of life with the precious blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world.”
And—even prior to man’s fall, Adam and Eve EXPERIENCED God’s grace. Think about it. They didn’t deserve to be put into a lavish garden where all their needs were met by a loving Creator. They had done nothing to earn God’s intimate fellowship in that heavenly place, so even before they sinned Adam and Eve experienced God’s grace—His condescending favor.
I’m saying, God’s GRACE is NOT a new idea. You could say it is literally older than dirt because it was around before the world was created. Now—you would think that since GRACE has been around since before the dawn of time it would be a common thing.
You’d think everyone would know about it. But that’s not the case. Since ours is a fallen world, God’s caliber of grace is a RARE thing—an unheard of thing in most places. In our society, instead of grace—instead of undeserved favor—you get pretty much what you deserve. You get what you pay for. The theme of our culture is “quid pro quo, you reap what you sow.”
Think of it: When it comes time to pay all your Christmas bills—and you discover that you charged more than you could afford, if you called VISA and explained, would you expect them to say, “Don’t worry about it. Just pay what you can and we’ll forget about the rest.” Not going to happen is it?!
If you get a speeding ticket from one of those mechanical bounty hunters called “speed cameras” and you call the owner of that camera and say, “I was on my way to the Christmas Eve Service at my church. Could we forget the $40?” What will they say? He’ll say, “I could care less—get that check in the mail or the fine will increase!’
If you cut someone off in traffic causing them to slam on the brakes do they smile and give you an understanding wave or do they slam on the horn & give you another “wave?” No—in our world grace is a RARE thing—and unfortunately one of the places where grace is scarcest IS IN MANY CHURCHES. I mean, most believers are not very good at dispensing the grace they have received. We tend to dole out more legalism and judgment than we do grace.
This is sad because the main thing that distinguishes the Christian faith from false belief systems is GRACE. GRACE is the one thing the church has to offer that cannot be obtained anywhere else. Swindoll writes, “In false religions, enough is never enough. They require followers to sacrifice more, achieve more, suffer more, learn more, or improve more. But the Christian enjoys peace with God by grace. We never need to worry about whether our deeds were sufficiently good to earn a secure afterlife. We never need to fear death or divine judgement. We rest securely in the unearned, undeserved, freely given gift of eternal life with our Maker, Who has promised to accept and embrace all who receive His grace through faith in Jesus Christ.”
As Christians we should be grace experts—but instead many of us are grace rookies. This is one reason that, in spite of the fact that grace is OLD it is a RARE thing.
Here’s a second basic “grace fact.”
(2) God’s grace is BIG enough to cover the sins of all PEOPLE and that’s good because all PEOPLE need it.
This is an important GRACE principle for us to embrace because many times as we look at the heinous sinners of the world: the Adolph Hitler’s and the Sunderland Springs Church shooter–or the members of ISIS or the child molesters of the world—or the growing list of famous men who have abused women—well, we compare ourselves to them and as we do this we begin to conclude that we aren’t so bad off. We might even begin to think we’re pretty good—good enough not to need God’s great big grace.
This is foolish thinking—because the Bible TEACHES—and the way we each live our lives—SHOWS—that each and every one of us are hopelessly lost sinners—in desperate need of God’s forgiveness. In Romans 3 Paul talks about this foolish kind of comparison. He says, “Shall we conclude that we are any better than the ‘true’ sinners of the world…the ‘experts?’ NOT AT ALL! As it is written, ‘There is NO ONE RIGHTEOUS, not even ONE! There is NO ONE who understands…NO ONE who seeks God. All have turned away!’” Then later in verses 23 and 24 he sums it all up with these familiar, convicting words: “ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God—and are justified freely by His GRACE through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
So, the fact is NONE of us have a single shred of self-righteousness to cling to. We would all be lost and bound for Hell, if it weren’t for our faith in God’s grace. David Jeremiah says, “You can be the most upright citizen in town and before the revealing light of Heaven be seen as a miserable wretch at the mercy of a holy God. You can have a crime-free record, perfect standing with the IRS, the works of Mother Teresa, the passion of Paul and the conviction of Gandhi, but you still stand accused and convicted—before the perfect standards of THE infinitely righteous Judge.”
The Bible refers to this particular principle of grace as TOTAL depravity and TOTAL means exactly that. EACH and EVERY ONE of us are depraved sinners.
In his book Being the Body, the late Charles Colson wrote about meeting a businessman whom he calls Mr. Abercrombie. Mr. Abercrombie had invited Colson to speak at a Bible study he hosted. Nineteen other movers and shakers of the business world were in attendance. Colson writes about what transpired:
“Mr. Abercrombie had asked me to speak at the luncheon and then allow time for questions. Somewhere in my talk I referred to our sinful nature. Actually, ‘total depravity’ was the phrase I used. I noticed at the time that a few individuals shifted uncomfortably in their leather chairs, and, sure enough, it must have hit the mark. Because after I finished, the first question was on sin. One older gentleman asked, ‘You don’t really believe we are sinners, do you? I mean, you’re too sophisticated to be one of those hellfire-and-brimstone fellows. Intelligent people don’t go for that back-country preacher stuff,’ ‘Yes, sir,’ I replied. ‘I believe we are desperately sinful.
What’s inside of each of us is really pretty ugly. In fact. we deserve Hell and would get it, but for the sacrifice of Christ for our sins.’ Mr. Abercrombie himself looked distressed by now. ‘Well, I don’t know about that,’ he said. ‘I’m a good person and have been all my life. I go to church, and I get exhausted spending all my time doing good works.’ The room seemed particularly quiet, and twenty pairs of eyes were trained on me. I said, ‘If you believe that, Mr. Abercrombie—and I hate to say this, for you certainly won’t invite me back—but if you believe that you are, for all of your good works, further away from the kingdom than the people I work with in prison who are aware of their own sins.’ Someone at the other end of the table coughed. Another rattled his coffee cup. And a flush quickly worked its way up from beneath Mr. Abercrombie’s starched white collar. I added, ‘In fact, gentlemen, if you think about it, we are all really more like Adolf Hitler than like Jesus Christ.’ Now there was stony silence—until someone eased the pain and changed the subject. When lunch ended and I was preparing to leave, Mr. Abercrombie took my arm. ‘Didn’t you say you wanted to make a phone call when we were finished?’ I started to say it wasn’t necessary, then realized he wanted to get me alone. ‘Yes, thank you,’ I said. He led me down the corridor to an empty office. As soon as we were inside, he said bluntly, ‘I don’t have what you have.’ ‘I know,’ I replied, ‘but you can. God is touching your heart right now.’ ‘No, no,’ he took a step back. ‘Maybe sometime.’ I pressed a bit more, however, and moments later we were both on our knees. Mr. Abercrombie asked forgiveness of his sins and turned his life over to Christ.” Colson concludes: ‘Martin Luther was right. ‘The ultimate proof of the sinner is that he doesn’t know his own sin. Our job is to make him see it.’”
Listen, all of us are sinners. All of us are depraved. All of us are in desperate need of God’s grace. Ivan Turgeneve, the 19th century Russian novelist and playwright put it this way, “I don’t know what the heart of a bad man is like, but I do know what the heart of a good man is like—and it is terrible.” Jerry Bridges says, “Your WORST days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your BEST days are never so good that you are beyond the NEED of it.”
So this fact that God’s grace is big—this fact that God loved the WORLD so much that He sent His Son—this fact that, as 1st John 2:2 says Jesus is, “…the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins for the whole world.” The fact that, “If we confess our sins—ANY SINS—God is faithful and just and will forgive us and cleanse us from all righteousness.” The fact that God’s grace is BIG is WONDERFUL news because we are ALL sinners with a BIG pile of sins. And—don’t misunderstand me—this DOESN’T mean if we are grace-driven we are soft on sin. Of course not. We know what our sin cost God so we still look at SIN the same way—but we do look at SINNERS differently. We look at them as PEERS! We look at them with EMPATHY and COMPASSION. As C. S. Lewis once said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
This leads us to a third basic truth about grace.
(3) God’s GRACE is not FAIR—in fact, it’s unfair enough to be absolutely FREE.
Let me put it this way, if you—if I—got what was fair—what we deserved—we would all end up separated from God for all eternity. After all, as guilty sinners, that is what we all deserve—that kind of punishment would be fair. So, thank God, His grace is NOT based on fairness. No—it’s based on the fact that Jesus unfairly endured our FAIR punishment on the cross. Thanks to His gracious act on Calvary, God gives us what we don’t deserve—and I really mean that word “GIVES” because grace means our salvation costs us nothing. It’s God’s absolutely free gift. We don’t contribute anything to our redemption except our sin. Even that first nudging of faith that lead’s a person to God is His gracious gift to us. This is what Jesus taught in John 6:44 when He said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws him.” And, pardon my poor grammar but the even AMAZINGIER thing about God’s grace is that He draws ALL people. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, “If I be lifted up I will draw ALL men to Me.” God loves ALL people—even the UNLOVELY.
God’s grace is free and undeserved in every sense of the word. As it says in Romans 3:24, we are, “justified FREELY by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
Here’s one more basic fact about grace.
(4) It’s more than something you EXPERIENCE. It’s something you LIVE.
Once you fully grasp God’s grace—once you understand that you have experienced His condescending favor—it changes you—or it SHOULD. Grace should drive you—MOTIVATE you—to become a gracious person. Understanding God’s grace compels us to become passionate about dispensing His grace. This week I read about Justin Wren, an All-American wrestler in college, who easily moved into the world of MMA or Mixed Martial Arts. But as his success and popularity skyrocketed, so did Wren’s addictions to cocaine, alcohol, and narcotics. His life hit rock bottom when he was kicked off one of the world’s best fight teams for drug use. Wren said, “My childhood dream had turned into a living nightmare. But when everyone else had written me off as beyond redemption, one friend, Jeff, refused to walk away. He called me several times a day, inviting me to a Christian men’s retreat. I was expecting a bunch of ‘kumbaya moments’ around a campfire, but the men were raw and real about their struggles.”
After opening his life to Christ, Wren wanted more than MMA fame. He was driven not to help himself—but to help others. He started volunteering at local ministries and prisons, sharing his story with anyone who would listen. Then he offered this prayer: “God, I’m yours. Is there anything you want me to do? I desire to do your will, not mine.” God answered his prayer with a vision of working in the jungles and a Bible passage, Isaiah 58:6-12—that tells about God’s heart for the poor and oppressed. Wren explains what happened next: “I shared my vision with my mentor, Caleb, and he immediately knew I was describing a Mbuti (or Pygmy) tribe in the Congo. He told me he was leading a group there in a month and he encouraged me to go with him. Our goal on this trip would be to find the most remote Mbuti villages in the jungle, form relationships with them, and learn more about their needs.I saw firsthand that circumstances there were graver than I had seen in my vision. And after several months back home, I still could not shake my burden. Caleb connected me with Shalom University, a Congolese Christian school dedicated to serving the Pygmies. I knew I couldn’t help them unless I understood them first, so I lived with them for a year. I slept in a twig-and-leaf hut, ate their food, and suffered from the same diseases. One bout with malaria nearly killed me. But no matter how tough things got, I felt more at home than I ever had in the gym. I was soon adopted into the Pygmy tribe and given a new name: Eféosa Mbuti MangBO. ‘Mbuti MangBO’ means ‘The Big Pygmy,’—which is appropriate, since at six foot three I tower over the average (four-foot-seven) Pygmy man. ‘Eféosa’ means ‘The Man Who Loves Us.’ Recently, after a five-year hiatus, I returned to the MMA cage with the goal of raising money for “Fight for the Forgotten,” an organization I founded to help serve the Pygmies. The drive to fight is still there, but I’m no longer fighting my inner demons. I’m fighting to fulfill God’s call on my life.”
I love the way Justin was driven by his experience of God’s grace. I love how God is using him to share His grace with this people group in the Congo. God’s grace may not drive you to the other side of the planet—but it is my prayer that in the coming year it DRIVES all of us—compels us to become gracious in all our interactions—our CONNECTIONS with each other. I pray it motivates us as it did Justin to take advantage of every opportunity to CONNECT with lost people.
We come now to our time of decision. In my mind this is the most important part of our service because it is these moments in which we respond to the motivation of God’s Holy Spirit. You see, I believe that during this service, God’s Spirit has been graciously drawing us—speaking to us. For example, you may be here today and are a Christian, looking for a church home and God’s Spirit has made you want to be a part of Redland. Well, if God is driving you…compelling you…to join us then we invite you to leave your seat and come forward and make this commitment today. Or maybe God has used our review of the basics of grace to motivate you in other ways. Perhaps it drives you to ask God’s forgiveness for some sin that you thought was too big for Him to forgive. Maybe it compels you to change the way you are responding to the sins of someone in your life…a friend or family member. Or maybe you are here today and God has used this study to draw you to Him. This has become a moment of truth as He graciously offers you the gift of salvation. Won’t you admit your guilt and need and accept it today? In any way that God’s grace motivates you, respond as we sing by coming forward and sharing your decision with me or Peggy or Kevin.