East Victoria Park Baptist Church 29.05.2005
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 2:8 – 9).
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)
One of the bedrock beliefs of all traditional Protestants is salvation by grace alone through faith alone. It was over the centrality of grace that the Protestant Reformation was born and for the primacy of grace in salvation many have given their lives.
Typically, when asked the difference between Christianity and other religions, our answer has been “grace”. It is strange to then to notice that the fastest growing religious groups in the world today include Seventh Day Adventism (www.adventist.org), Mormonism and Islam, each of which has a reduced or absent place for grace as we understand it. Sadly, in much of the church the message of grace has been replaced by more culturally relevant themes like prosperity, leadership, success, motivation, self – image, excellence and church growth.
What we think we are most familiar with is usually what we most poorly understand. Most of the church has lost the radical, amazing, surprising and miraculous nature of grace. Let me give a simple illustration – I can think of nowhere in the New Testament where ordinary believers (not apostles etc.) are told to evangelise. (The command to make disciples of all nations is directed to “the eleven disciples” (Matt 28:16)).
The issue is not whether Christians should be telling others about Jesus, but whether or not this is a spontaneous activity that flows out of an experience of the grace of God (cf. 2 Cor 5:14”For the love of Christ compels us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.”).
The Christian Experience of Grace
Generally, young believers spontaneously communicate the good news of their new life in Jesus, but the longer a person has been a Christian the less likely it is that they will bring someone to Christ. There may be social reasons for some of this but I think the main reason is spiritual. Let me quote the words of one of my older students [(a man in his 60’s)] in response to a tutorial about the work of God in his life: “My first thought was that my spirituality is ‘never quite enough’, I feel that I have not quite ‘got it’; I am not spiritual enough and am growing too slowly.” This brother’s problem is that he thinks you need to grow “into” grace rather than growing “in” grace.
His underlying feeling of unworthiness is the exact opposite of what people experienced when they were around Jesus. As he walked about the villages of Galilee it was the outcasts, shamed, despised, and ritually unclean – the tax collectors, sinful women, and ignorant peasants who crowded in upon him. They were magnetically attracted to Jesus because he was the opposite of what they felt themselves to be – their sense of unworthiness was not a repellent but the foundation God used to draw them to his Son . “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). Jesus’ living presence bridged the gap between people’s sense of unworthiness and their relationship with God. In Jesus they experienced the pure love of God.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8). The Christian experience of grace today should be at least as strong as the experience of those who were touched by Jesus in his days upon the earth.
I believe there are two main reasons the average Australian Christian does not enjoy a grace – filled relationship with Christ. The first is a theological one; we have separated our understanding of grace from the person of Christ. The second is a practical problem – we have taught Christians that God expects more from (n.b. # through) them now than when they were first converted.
Grace is Jesus
There are many ways of trying to define the grace of God. God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense, unmerited favour, a legal/positional declaration of righteousness and so on. Each of these tends to separate the grace of God from the person of Jesus. Grace is something more than what God gives us because of what Jesus did on the cross. Grace is a share in the person of Jesus himself.
Here are some scriptures that connect grace with Jesus in an intimate way: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9). “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” (2 Cor 13:13). “God …saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” (2 Tim 1:9). Grace is not merely an act of God’s will and power or the absence of punishment, grace is a person, Jesus Christ.
There never was a time when God was not gracious to you. You were included in the grace of God even before you repented and put your faith in Christ. “3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the one he loves.” (Eph 1:3 -6).
God was gracious to you in eternity because you were included in the “Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8). Jesus past is your past and Jesus future is our future. All that God has done in Jesus he has done for us in our union/oneness with Christ. Salvation is nothing but the Holy Spirit applying to us what he has done in Jesus.
All of Jesus life was lived in grace. It was the Spirit of grace (Heb 10:29) who empowered him to empty himself (Phil 2:7) riches and to take on the poverty of our humanity (2 Cor 8:9), he was conceived by the Spirit (Matt 1:20; Luke 1:35) and grew up as an ordinary child (Luke 2:52) in humble circumstances (Luke 2:24). It was by the Spirit that he ministered (Luke 4:18; Matt 12:28) and he offered himself up on the cross through the eternal Spirit (Heb 9:14). Crucified in weakness (2 Cor 13:4) he was raised by the Spirit and declared by him Son of God with power (Rom 1:4).
Properly understood, Jesus was the person whose need of grace was greatest and who became the greatest recipient of grace. Jesus became the one in greatest need of grace because he who knew no sin became sin (2 Cor 5:21), he “was made a curse for us” (Gal 3:13). To paraphrase Martin Luther, on the cross Jesus “became the greatest evildoer, murderer, sexual sinner, thief, rebel, idolater and hater of God that ever was…the man who has committed the sins of all men.” “wrapped in our sins, our cursed state, our death, and all our evils, as he is wrapped in our flesh and blood.”(Commentary on Galatians 3:13). This alone explains his terrible cry from the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34), it is the cry of a grace-less man.
The resurrection is Jesus’ experience of the fullness of grace “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” (Rom 6:9). Having been in our state of guilt he is now in God’s state of righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). The quality of the resurrection was full of surprise for Jesus’ himself.
You are Always Unworthy
One of the most exciting releases of the gospel is the ability to accept that of ourselves we will always be unworthy (Rom 7:24; 2 Cor 3:5). Jesus said to his apostles, “So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ” (Luke 17:10). Up until the time of our deaths we will remain unworthy servants – our spirituality, commitment, sacrifice, yieldedness etc. will never be up to it. This is not an essential problem to God because our sin is not a problem to him in the way it is to us. “as far as the east is from the west so far has he removed our transgressions from us”(Ps 103:12); he has “cast all our sins in the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19) and swept them away like a mist (Isa 44:22). As Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished” (John 9:30).
Our Completion is in Christ
Christians really only have one core/foundational problem – unbelief. We need a revelation that the indwelling Jesus who is the content of grace always remains the bridge between our personal unworthiness and the divine demands.
John says, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,full of grace and truth….16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:14, 16). Paul tells us (note the present tense): “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to completion in him” (Col 2:9- 10). What the Spirit is longing to impart to the church is a sense of completion in Christ, this sense is our defence against every accusation, criticism or put down. It is a condition of wholeness, wellness and peace that overcomes the world. As Paul directed Timothy, “You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 2:1).
Application and Conclusion
Our society is one of the most emotionally disturbed of all time (1 in 10 Australians will have a psychiatric illness in their lifetime), if all legal drugs were withdrawn overnight (especially our favourites – alcohol, nicotine and anti – depressants) social order would collapse. Most of the population is driven to find comfort in sex, food and affluence. Much of the church is no better. Many of our congregations are comfort factories giving superficial messages of emotional comfort to people without going to the root of the problem – the absence of the distinctive Christian experience of grace.
When the church finally starts to live in the message of grace the trickle of response to the gospel will turn into a stream, a river and finally a flood. “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).