II Corinthians 8:9
9 – For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
II Corinthians 5:14-15
14 – For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.
15 – 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.
I Peter 4:10
10 – Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
If you have seen paintings depicting people from the late 17th century, then you may remember that they seemed to always have a pale, chalky complexion. I remember looking pictures of Queen Elizabeth when I was in high school and wondering, What did Sir Walter Raleigh see in her? She was soooooo pale. Movies portraying events of this time period showed that people not only looked anemic and sickly. They sounded that way too. Almost anyone who was anyone carried a handkerchief in their hands at all times. Some men had them attached to the cuffs of their shirt sleeves. People coughed into these hankies all the time. I have always questioned why people looked and acted this way in the 1600’s.
Well a couple of months ago in a conversation with our own Dr. Bill Wehunt I received the answer to my question. Bill told me that in the 17th century tuberculosis was a disease that seemed to plague the monarchy….the wealthy upper class…the intelligencia of society. This lung ailment caused them to cough all the time. It also made their skin have an anemic, chalky look.
Well, it became the opinion of the people of that day that this disease only affected the rich….the intelligent, sophisticated upper class. And since everyone wanted everyone else to think they were rich and intelligent, they covered their healthy pink- skinned faces with powder and carried hankies and coughed. Tuberculosis actually started a fashion trend in the 1600’s which proves that some pretty odd things can motivate people to behave in peculiar ways!
And you know, some very odd things can motivate or drive Churches to behave in peculiar ways..
In his best-seller, THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN CHURCH, Rick Warren cites several odd things that drive churches to do what they do:
A. Some churches are driven by tradition.
The goal of a tradition-driven church is to simply perpetuate the past. They are bound together by rules, regulations, and rituals. Tradition-driven churches are not at all flexible…in fact, they are resistant to change. Churches like this ignore the wise counsel of Ralph Neighbor who says the seven last words of any church is, We’ve never done it that way before. It is very difficult to grow a church that has slipped into the practice of being driven solely by tradition.
B. Other churches are motivated or driven by personality
There is one central figure….usually the pastor…who is the sole source of motivation and everything revolves around his will. My seminary church was at one time a personality-driven church. Their first pastor served there for 56 years. It was his only pastorate and there is nothing wrong with that. I believe in long pastorates. The problem was that his leadership style was very dictatorial. Every decision was made by him. He approved every expenditure. He was a wonderful man but he allowed himself to become a POPE of sorts to these people. Church members spent more time asking what the pastor wanted them to do than they did asking Jesus what He wanted them to do. And this of course hurt that church. It took the ministries of the next three pastors before this flock could be steered back to following God like they should. Human personality is not a good motivator for ministry.
C. And then, some churches do what they do because they are driven by finances.
The question at the forefront of everyone’s mind in a finance-driven church is, How much will it cost? Now good stewardship and cash flow are essential for a healthy church but finances must never be the controlling issue. As Warren says, The bottom line in any church should not be, ?HOW MUCH DID WE SAVE?’ but ?WHO WAS SAVED?’
Several other odd things have been known to drive churches: programs…buildings…events…and, while these are good things, they are not good things to motivate a church. In I Corinthians 3:13-14 God used the Apostle Paul to teach us that He will judge whatever we do on the basis of whether it will last. Listen to His words, Fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.
So the thing that motivates a local church-the thing that drives the body of Christ — must be an eternal thing — not something as temporary as finances, or buildings, or traditions, or personalities. And, understanding a church’s motivation or purpose is very important. People need to know why they do what they do.
Proverbs 29:18 says, Where there is no vision….or purpose….the people perish. Warren says that where there is no vision, People leave for another parish.
For over a year now I have been praying that God would help us to understand what uniquely motivates us here at Redland. Your staff and church council have joined me in this prayer. We have petitioned God to tell us what His vision is for us. We have asked Him to tell us what should drive us to do what we do and be who we are in this community? And after much prayer we have come to hear God saying that the thing that should motivate and drive us is GRACE. I believe, along with the rest of the leadership here that: God wants Redland Baptist Church to be a GRACE-driven church…..for a grace-needing world. You affirmed this in our business meeting last Sunday night. Let’s say it together. It’s right there in the sermon title: Redland Baptist Church is a GRACE-driven church….for a GRACE-needing world. I want each and everyone of us to memorize this so that when we are out there in this mission field God has given us, we will be ready to tell people why we do what we do. Let us strive to behave in such a way that as we go about our ministry both in and outside of these walls we will leave no doubt that Redland Baptist Church does what it does because of grace. But you know, it is not enough for us to know what drives us. We must also know how it drives us. Here at Redland, we must come to a mature understanding of this thing called GRACE.
When I was 17 my parents gave me a car–a 1968 mustang. Now, I knew that the thing that made that car go was gas. I spent a lot of hard-earned money putting gas in it! But Dad was not satisfied with my knowing what made this car go. Before he gave me the keys, he also wanted to make sure that I knew how it worked. So, he gave me several briefings in basic auto mechanics….VERY basic! This knowledge helped me to maintain the car properly and if there was a problem, I knew who to call to fix it.
Well, our Heavenly Father has given His children here at Redland something: a purpose to drive us to go where He wants us to go but it is not enough for us to know what motivates us to do what we do. God also wants us to understand this thing that makes us go…this thing called GRACE….what it is…how it motivates us. This understanding will help us maintain the proper functioning of this church and if we have problems, we will know better how to fix things.
Today I want us to begin this process. Think of this as a sermon on the basic mechanics of grace. In the coming weeks we’ll delve deeper into this subject but today I want us to look at the basics so we will all begin to understand what we mean when we say that this is a grace place.
Okay, What is Grace? The Bible teaches that GRACE is God’s absolutely unmerited favor. It is His giving good to us that we could never hope to deserve or earn. He showed His grace in sending His only Son to die for us. Remember the words of Romans 5:8 ? God demonstrates His own love for us-His absolutely unmerited favor — in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And God continues to bestow His grace on us each and every day as He gives us other things we could never deserve or earn:
- 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….and I could go on and on.
Grace is God’s unmerited favor.
Now you and I have heard this in Sunday School and sermons all our lives. We probably have GRACE and its definition committed to memory. It is nothing new to us. But do we really understand what it means when we say that God is a God of grace? Well, we begin to grasp this concept when we understand that grace simply means that bound up in our Heavenly Father is an inclination to bestow benefits on undeserving people.
Now, a good human might want to bestow a benefit on a deserving person. For example, if you are known as a hardworking-employee, your boss — out of the goodness of his heart — may give you the afternoon off after you have just finished an unusually difficult contract. Or if you are a good student, your teacher may give you a couple extra days to finish a term paper. Or if your grandmom loves you….she might buy you an ice-cream cone even if you didn’t clean your plate at supper just because she is a giving person. There is nothing unusual about this type of behavior. You see this kind of grace all the time. But God’s grace is far above this human version. God’s grace is as extraordinary as human grace is ordinary. He gives good things even to UNDESERVING people. It is His nature to do so.
Now, we could talk for hours about the many facets of God’s extraordinary grace but as I said, this morning I want us to just touch on the basics.
Today let us consider together four rudimentary truths about God’s GRACE.
1. First of all, God’s GRACE IS OLD….
Grace was not a provision that God made after the law had failed. You know, some people think God tried the ten commandments and the rest of the law and when that didn’t work He came up with Plan B: The GRACE plan.
No, grace was God’s original plan, set into motion long before the law was revealed to Moses. Actually grace was offered before man was created. I 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.
In fact, even before sin entered the world, 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 Father. They had done nothing to earn God’s intimate fellowship in that wonderful place.
So, even before they sinned, Adam and Eve lived on grace.
So grace is old…older than all creation….but it is more than that…
2. Grace is also BIG….
How big? Well, it is big enough to wipe out the sins of the entire world. Romans 3:23-24 says, For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Do you remember the words of John the Baptist in John 1:29 ? He saw Jesus approaching and said to all his listeners, Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the WORLD.
So God’s grace is big….big enough to cover the sins of every human that has ever been born or ever will be born. And it is also so big that it is limitless in supply. God never runs out of grace. God doesn’t give us a portion of grace when we become Christians and say, This is all you get….ration it out day by day…don’t run out because when you do, there is no more…. No, He gives grace after grace after grace in unending supply. As it says in John 1:16, From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another. God’s grace is BIG. This also means it is big enough to wipe out the biggest sinful act.
No sin — no matter how horrible is too big for the grace of God to cover.
Most of you have heard of Jeffrey Dahmer….convicted of the mass murder of 17 men — many of whom he abused and then cannibalized. My computer’s thesaurus has 32 synonyms for the word vile but each of them fall short of describing the appalling sins of this troubled man. He redefined the boundary for brutality. An interviewer asked Dahmer how he could possibly do the things he did and he said that at the time he didn’t believe in God, so he felt accountable to no one. He began with petty crimes, experimented with small acts of cruelty, and then just kept going and going further and further into depravity. Dahmer went to prison for his crimes where he himself was eventually murdered by another prisoner. But months before his death Dahmer repented of his sin and became a Christian. People who knew him in prison said that when this happened his total demeanor changed. Dahmer became one of the most faithful worshipers at the prison chapel….active in Bible study…a prolific reader of Christian books. And in all honesty, it is hard for me to believe that God would let him off that easy. You and I are like that. We think that God’s grace is sufficient for average sinners but not BIG enough for deviants like this guy.
But it is. Jeffrey Dahmer’s heart was not too vile for the grace of God. As it says in the old gospel hymn, Calvary covers it all. God’s grace is so big that no sin is too great to be forgiven. Philip Yancey writes, Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more and nothing we can do to make Him love us any less.
3. Then, another basic truth about GRACE is this….It is not FAIR…
Because of GRACE, repentant sinners do not get what fairness would say they deserve. In his book, The God You Are Looking For, Bill Hybels says that to understand this aspect of grace we must compare it to justice and mercy. He sets up a very interesting scenario to help us do this.
Let’s say you wake up one morning and, as is your custom, you throw on your robe and go outside to get the morning paper. As you do, you hear the screech of rubber and look up to see the teen who lives down the street from you driving his father’s car. You know he is only 14….not old enough to have a driver’s license. He is barely tall enough to see over the steering wheel and he is driving the car literally all over the street. He careens from side to side, out of control and finally he crashes into your yard….barely missing you…. and totally destroying your mailbox, part of the hedge you put in last year, and your brand-new picket fence. You run to the car, discover that the boy is okay, and then, at this point you have three choices:
(A) Your first choice is to treat this teen with justice.
This means you give him exactly what he deserves. You call the police knowing that he will be given a ticket for driving without a license. You call his parents to tell them what happened — knowing he will be grounded until he is 39 years old. And, you force the boy to get a job to pay for your mailbox, fence, and hedge.
Now, exercising this option does not make you a bad person.
You are simply giving the boy exactly what he deserves — no more — no less. You are being fair or just.
(B) Your second option would be to treat this wayward adolescent with mercy.
Mercy is giving someone a little bit less than he or she deserves….adding a little compassion to your judgment of his behavior. If you choose this option, you might say, I’m not going to call the police, but I am going to call your parents, and we are going to sit down and agree on the cost of the mailbox, hedge, and fence and you will have to work out some way to re-pay me.
This should make the teen very happy and thankful because he is getting less than he deserves. You are being merciful to him. But there is a third option. It doesn’t square with human common sense. It is risky. It could blow up in your face. Some might even call it scandalous. Your third option is this: Instead of treating the boy with justice, or mercy….
(C) You might choose to treat the kid with grace.
And here’s what that would look like. You help the boy out of the car and say something like, You messed up young man. You destroyed my mailbox….flattened my fence. I saved two years for this fence and it was installed just a week ago. You also took out my hedge. I just trimmed that hedge and take great pride in keeping it looking sharp. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get it to match up again. You also nearly killed me. But I’m not going to call the police. I’m not even sure I want to get you in a whole lot of trouble with your family. I can fix the mailbox and the fence and even the hedge — and I will. Why don’t you and I get in my car and go find a place where we can get a burger and sit down and talk. Then I can find out a little bit more about who you are and what’s going on in your life. There’s only one condition — I’ll drive!
What is your reaction to that last choice? You might say, That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of in my entire life! All this delinquent is going to do is take another joyride tomorrow and plow into someone else’s mailbox. And you know, he might just do that. That is the risk and scandal of grace. But it is also possible that your graceful choice will touch the boy at the deepest part of his soul. Your interest in his welfare and future might be the one thing that will unlock potential that he has long since forgotten. Your action may lead to the transformation of his life. This might be the turning point for this young man. This is grace…..an absolutely undeserved, unfair gift.
And this is so hard for us to comprehend. In fact it may be the most difficult spiritual truth for us to embrace. Justice is so much easier for us to understand than grace. When we are incensed by the crimes of others, horrified by the evil that stalks our world we all want a God of justice. After World War II, we heard the horror stories of the concentration camp survivors. We were sickened and demanded JUSTICE. After watching peaceful civil rights demonstrations in the ?60’s broken up by water cannons and vicious police dogs, we were ashamed – and demanded JUSTICE. After the terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City, we viewed the carnage and the wreckage and we were terrified – and demanded JUSTICE. After seeing her weep crocodile tears for her kidnapped children and then learn that Susan Smith herself had drowned her two young boys, we were enraged – and demanded JUSTICE. But if any of us were to die tonight, which would we want to prevail – God’s justice — or His grace? You see, if God is truly a God of only perfect JUSTICE and not loving grace, then there is nothing that will protect us from His divine judgment. If this were true then we would all be in a lot of trouble because as it says in the third chapter of Romans, There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….and the wages of sin….the just and fair thing that we all deserve….is DEATH.
We demand a God of justice. But we ALL need a God of mercy and grace. One of the first years I took a group of youth to CENTRIFUGE I saw the power of grace. There was a group of youth from a church in inner-city New York at FUGE that summer and every day in our counselor’s meeting I would hear their youth director tell of her struggle to lead these kids from destructive life styles to following Jesus as Lord. She cried a lot in those sessions. The third night of the week four of her boys got drunk on booze they had smuggled into camp and trashed their dorm room. This of course was against all rules which clearly stated that if this happened a camper would be sent home at parent’s expense immediately.
But when these boys came to their senses they were extremely repentant for their behavior and after talking to them for some time the camp pastor told them, You DESERVE to go home, but you NEED to be here. And he let them stay. I thought at the time that was not the wise thing to do. Surely these delinquents would abuse the camp pastor’s grace. But you know the last night of camp those four boys came down the aisle, with tears streaming down their faces asking for God’s forgiving grace inviting Him into their hearts and lives. Justice was what they clearly deserved but grace transformed them from delinquents into disciples. This brings us to one final basic truth that I want us to consider.
4. …Because of God’ GRACE, our salvation is free.
We don’t contribute anything to our redemption. Even that first nudging of faith that lead’s a person to God is His gracious gift to us. In John 6:44 Jesus says as much, No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him… In fact the only thing we contribute to our salvation is our sin. As it says in Romans 3:24, we are …justified FREELY by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Years ago there was a TV show called The Millionaire. The plot of the show centered around an anonymous millionaire (whose face we never saw) who would give a one million dollar gift to a different person each week….no strings attached. But, in every episode the people selected to receive this money had a hard time believing that it was a gift with no hidden catch. They were suspicious of any FREE gift. And we are the same way. We think that anything worth anything must be deserved or earned. But because of GRACE, when it comes to eternal salvation this principle does not apply. God offers His gift of forgiveness to us absolutely free. It is not a trick-it is not a lure-it is a free gift. Romans 3:23 says, …the FREE gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. If any person wants to be forgiven…to have an intimate relationship with God, they can. We can stand before Him, absolutely clean, knowing that our sins have been completely erased forever. We can spend eternity as residents of heaven never separated from His presence. And this free gift is available to anyone. The only requirement is to ask for it. But if you do ask for this FREE gift, there are two things you should be aware of:
Asking for God’s free gift of forgiveness is an ADMISSION OF GUILT. A pastor was once speaking to a children’s Sunday School class, and he asked the question, What must one do to be forgiven of sin? One little boy answered, Well, first of all, you have to sin.
Well, asking for God’s gift of grace is an admission that you have already taken that first step; you are saying, I have sinned. I need Your forgiveness, God. In fact, the admission of guilt goes a step further. You are not just admitting that you have made some bad choices in the past. You are confessing, I am a sinner….I live in a state of sin separated from God’s holiness. Also…
Asking for God’s free gift of forgiveness is an ADMISSION OF HELPLESSNESS. You are saying, There is nothing I can do to earn or deserve the mercy I am asking for. It is only God’s goodness that makes this possible. There is no room for personal pride anywhere in the salvation process. When we come to God we admit that there is no chance that we can ever be able to do anything to deserve the gift that we are asking for. Do you remember the words God gave Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9 ? For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast.
We can never deserve God’s gift of eternal life. We can never make ourselves good enough for God’s love. I like what John Oman said on this subject: Grace is grace precisely because, though wholly concerned with moral goodness, it does not at all depend on how moral we are. You and I will never be able to do anything to deserve God’s forgiving grace…but we can receive it. All we have to do is ask.
God’s grace is OLD….it is BIG….Praise the Lord, it is NOT FAIR…and this priceless gift we could never even dream to afford is FREE…