The Washing of Rebirth
Calvinism 5: Irresistible Grace
051-00763 Titus 3:3-7
I. Grace. One of the most well known fundamental doctrines in Christianity.
A. Once there was a conference in England on the uniqueness of Christianity.
1. The various attendees were discussing exactly what made Christianity different from any other form of religion.
a) One suggested that it was the incarnation; that God became a human. But it was quickly pointed out that many religions teach that gods took upon themselves human forms.
b) Another thought it might be the miracle of the resurrection. Yet again, it was not hard to find resurrection from the dead in many other faiths.
c) Many other teachings were suggested that failed by the same standard.
2. Then, C. S. Lewis suggested that the unique characteristic of the Christian faith was Grace.
B. I think Lewis was right.
1. The great Bible teacher, H. A. Ironside believed that there were only two religions in the world.
2. He said, “I find, I admit, many shades of difference in the opinions of those comprising the two great schools; but after all there are but two. The one covers all who expect salvation by doing; the other, all who have been saved by something done. So you see the whole question is very simple. Can you save yourself, or must you be saved by another? If you can be your own savior, you do not need my message. If you cannot, you may well listen to it.”
3. Lewis and Ironside agree in that if you cannot do anything to save yourself, you are left with salvation which is given to you according to the work of someone or something else.
C. This, at its very core, is Grace.
1. The word Grace, charis, means gift. Is there any of us who does not understand the idea of a gift?
2. When a person works an eight-hour day and receives a fair day's pay for his time, that is a wage. When a person competes with an opponent and receives a trophy for his performance, that is a prize. When a person receives appropriate recognition for his long service or high achievements, that is an award. But when a person is not capable of earning a wage, can win no prize, and deserves no award—yet receives such a gift anyway—that is a good picture of God's unmerited favor. This is what we mean when we talk about the grace of God. Clip-Art Features for Church Newsletters, G.W. Knight, p. 53
D. Our Daily Bread once defined Grace: grace is everything for nothing to those who don’t deserve anything. Our Daily Bread, Sept.-Nov. 1997, page for October 31
II. Because Grace is so central to Christianity, you can hardly go anywhere within the Christian world without this theme weaving its way through and touching upon everything we say and do.
A. I believe, though, that because grace is so essential to Christianity and so prevalent, we have become sloppy in our understanding of the Grace of God.
1. The above definition is an example: Grace is everything for nothing.
2. What exactly does that mean? Does God’s grace truly encompass everything?
3. And if it does, is grace really everything for nothing?
4. Please note that when I call our understanding of God’s Grace has become “sloppy,” I am not saying that it is necessarily wrong.
a) However, even the definition I gave in the acrostic for the children, “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense,” is only a partial understanding of Grace.
b) Partial teaching results in partial understanding and a great potential for actual misunderstanding.
B. George Barna, the pollster, discovered in 1992 that the majority of Christians in the United States believed that God’s Grace meant “that if people are good enough, they will earn a place in heaven regardless of their religious beliefs.” Barna Research Group, Nov. 2, 1994
1. Evidently our teachings of Grace have become sloppy enough to misdirect the message of the Gospel.
2. When a football team begins to play the game in a “sloppy” manner, the most common remedy suggested is that we return to the basics.
3. So this morning, let us return to the basics concerning Grace.
III. Four truths about God’s Grace.
A. It is often said that Grace is unmerited favor.
1. This is only a partial truth and leads to some strange interpretations.
2. The truth is that Grace cannot be earned by any recipient of the gift.
3. We all know this but we often forget to state it.
4. God’s grace is founded upon the merits of Jesus Christ.
5. Grace is not some sort of mercy from God that overlooks our sins. Grace is not God’s treating us “Just as if I’d never sinned.”
a) Our justification is rooted in the actual payment for sin made to appease God’s justice.
b) Love is not love if it is not just.
c) Romans 3:21-26 (NIV) But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 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. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
(1) The justification that is God’s grace is firmly established in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.
(2) When the Bible says that God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement it means the one who would turn aside God’s wrath, taking away sin. NIV footnote
B. Grace is not, nor can it be, conditioned upon believing and/or receiving.
1. It is true that “the just shall live by faith.”
2. It is true that whoever believes in God’s Son shall not perish but have everlasting life.
3. It is true that one must believe and be baptized to be counted among the saved.
4. It is true that the lack of faith and works is the sign of death.
5. BUT, it is not true that faith and/or works can make one worthy of God’s favor.
6. Paul said in more than one place that Titus 3:3 (NIV) At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.
7. What possibility is there for anyone in such a condition to amend their ways by trusting in Christ?
8. One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter's husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. “It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor.” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.” LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions—ten dollars or ten days in jail.” But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.” So the following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation. Brennan Manning, The Ragmuffin Gospel, Multnomah, 1990, pp. 91-2
a) With all due respect to Mr. Manning who included this illustration of Grace in his book, it does not come close to illustrating the Grace of God.
b) The story suggests that the woman’s condition was some kind of justification for leniency.
c) Though leniency was not given, there was an injustice perpetrated upon all who were in the court, including the store owner who did not receive restitution, by requiring them all to pay a “tax” on behalf of the woman.
d) And most importantly, in the end, the woman was still old and tattered with a missing son-in-law, a sick daughter, and two starving grand children.
e) Though the gift was free to the woman, and thought the gift to the woman cost someone else, there was no true grace in that the condition of the woman was not affected in the least.
C. The Grace of God is not merely forgiveness of sins, it is the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
1. This is the work of God in Grace that precedes believing and receiving.
2. Apart from this new birth, there is no believing even possible.
3. And this is exactly where most teaching about Grace falls short of the glory of God.
4. I appreciate the way Martin Luther is said to have illustrated this point. “An ape can cleverly imitate the actions of humans. But he is not therefore, a human. If he became a human, it would undoubtedly be not by virtue of the works by which he imitated man but by virtue of something else; namely, by an act of God. Then, having been made a human, he would perform the works of humans in proper fashion.”
5. We can imitate faith. However, we cannot actually have faith until there is some sort of change in our nature. Jesus called that change being born again.
6. Salvation that is God’s gift is free and unconditioned. It is given to us even though we do not want it. We cannot want it until we have it.
7. This is the essential part of grace that is left out so often.
8. And this then leads to the last truth about Grace:
D. Because we cannot want God’s grace, when God actually gives us the benefits that come from his love, justice, and mercy, we cannot resist it.
1. God’s gift to us is new birth, regeneration, the washing of rebirth.
2. Whatever language you choose to use, the truth is that God not only does something for us that we cannot do for ourselves, he does for us what he desires and what we do not desire.
3. He saves us in Jesus Christ. He changes us in Jesus Christ. He raises us to new life in Jesus Christ.
4. How can the dead raise itself from its condition of deadness? How can the dead even want to raise itself?
5. It cannot!
IV. The fourth teaching of Calvinism is Irresistible Grace.
A. Charles C. Ryrie, So Great Salvation, (USA: Victor Books, a Division of Scripture Press, 1989), pp. 15-18 says that it is not easy to believe someone who offers grace.
1. The truth is, it is impossible to believe that God offers life through Jesus Christ.
2. To believe such a radical idea, one must first have the life God gives.
B. Most Christians hold the apostle Paul in high esteem.
1. His life as a Christian was a difficult one.
2. He was always moving about as if he had no home.
3. He faced the anger and hatred of those who were negatively affected by the gospel message; idol makers who lost business; magicians who were outed; religious leaders who were shown to be frauds.
4. He was beaten near to death, imprisoned unjustly, railroaded out of town, and deserted by many whom he trusted.
5. Yet through all of the troubles Paul bore, he is known as one who steadfastly and diligently served Christ and was happily willing to die if Christ were somehow glorified.
6. Why? Why would anyone follow such a path? How could anyone bear even the fear of no home, no possessions, no realistic means of support, always leaving loved ones behind?
7. The answer is simpler than many of us would wish.
8. God came to Paul and said, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
9. And so it is for us.
10. It is only God’s grace that is sufficient. And it is only those who have been born of God that know it.