SAVING GRACE PART 1
Series: Good News About Grace
Psalm 145:8 (NIV)
"The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love."
Ps. 145:8 (NIV)
WHAT IS GRACE?
"All of us need to be made right with God by His grace, which is a free gift ... through Jesus Christ." Romans 3:24 (NCV)
Complete these common phrases for me:
If it sounds too good to be true... it is.
We make money the old fashion way, we ... earn it.
There's no such thing as a free ... lunch.
There is no gain without ... pain.
God helps those who ... help themselves.
Everything about the British way of life teaches us that you get what you earn in life, that there is no free lunch, that you make your bed and then you lie in it. In Britain we are very aware of the values of competition and winning and we know what it means to work hard and use elbow grease. We value effort and sweat. We tell people, "You get what you deserve in life" and "If you want to make something of your life it's up to you" and "If it is to be, it's up to me".
This is called the British work ethic. The only problem with the British work ethic is God doesn't operate on the British work ethic. It makes it very difficult for us to relate to God because we're in this driven work mentality.
The problem is Psalm 145:8. It tells us that God, rather than being in a work ethic mode, it says, "God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love." God is "gracious".
The Bible says God is a gracious God. That means He loves to be gracious to you. God loves to bless people who don't deserve it. That's His nature. Aren't you glad for that? I'm glad that God blesses people who don't deserve it.
You can't understand the Christian life at all unless you understand grace. It is the heart of our faith. It is the heart of our relationship to God. When you understand grace you're going to feel closer to God. The more you understand grace the more you're going to be drawn to God, the more you're going to love God, the more you're going to be grateful to God. It is by that system of grace that God brings us to Himself.
Today, as we have reflected on the sacrifice of those who gave their lives during the great wars of last century and in the war zones around our world today, I recall a BBC report this time last year when tributes were paid to service personnel who died while serving their country. To mark the occasion, 20 war veterans used semaphore to send a silent message along the River Thames. It said –“ War turns us to stone”.
More than ever, as Christians, we need to be clear in our understanding of the significance of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for you and for me. It all comes down to grace. War turns us to stone, it dehumanises us. That’s why we need to grasp the meaning of grace. So, what is grace? Well, last week we celebrated Communion together and we looked briefly at some of the many benefits of grace that the Bible tells us about and we then asked the question: how do I get it? The answer was: By trusting Christ. In one sense however asking that question is a bit like putting the cart before the horse because it raises the question: if you don’t actually know what grace is, then why would you ask: how do I get it.
Grace is like a diamond; it has many facets. There are many aspects to it. There is no single definition to describe what grace is all about.
One definition of grace is "God's love in action." Another definition: "God giving me what I need, not what I deserve." One of my favourite definitions is, "Grace is the face God wears when He looks at my failures." And He responds in a gracious way.
You need to understand the difference between grace and mercy. Mercy is when God doesn't give us what we do deserve -- punishment. Grace is when God gives us what we don't deserve -- blessing.
I know many of you probably think ‘I understand grace. I’m saved by grace.’ You've known that for many years. But even many Christians, although they know they're saved by grace, don't act like it. In fact, they spend most of their life thinking and acting like we're saved by works. For many of you, even though you know you're saved by grace and you don't get into heaven by doing good, your entire life is built on pleasing God by trying to be perfect. And you think God is some unpleasable
parent up there in the sky with a clipboard and pen watching your every move –
"That was good... that was bad" -- and you think you have to earn God's approval. You think if you do a certain number of good works God's going to say, "Good girl... good boy! You got it." And if you don't do those things, God says, "Forget it! You're worthless." You're saved by grace but you're actually living by works.
Now, when you really understand grace it's going to bring so much joy to your life. It is the most liberating thing in the world. You can be a Christian for twenty, thirty years and never really learn to live by grace. My goal is that through considering grace, you will not just understand grace but that you will experience grace, you will feel it, you will enjoy the grace of God in your life. Because it does bring so much joy.
There are many expressions of Grace and I mentioned several last week. Over the coming weeks we are going to look more closely at them.
Today I want us to start with the foundation, which is Saving Grace. For many of you this will be a review – you understand saving grace, but you cannot build a structure without the foundation. And this is foundational. I think it's good periodically that we sit back and remind ourselves what a good deal we got when we received the grace of God.
Today I want us to begin by looking at five aspects of Saving Grace. How is it you know for sure you're going to heaven when you die – 5 aspects. I built this around an acrostic -- G.R.A.C.E.
This reminds me of a story of a professor who went to Yale University in the States and decided he would speak on "What is a Yale student?" He said, "I'm going to use an acrostic Y.A.L.E." and he spoke on four attributes of a Yale student. They're Young, they're Adventurous, they're Loyal, and they're Enthusiastic. But he went an hour and a half on this little four letter acrostic. It wore out the crowd. By the time it was over, he looked down at the student on the front row and said, "What did you think of my speech?" The youngster said, "I was just thanking God I didn't go to Massachusetts Institute of Technology!"
I promise you that my GRACE acrostic isn't going to take that long but it’s worth spending time on to soak in its meaning. This week we’ll look at the first letter ‘G’; next week ‘R’ and ‘A’ and then finally, ‘C’ and ‘E’, so let’s get into it.
G - GOD'S GIFT TO ME.
Romans 3;24 "All of us need to be made right with God by His grace, which is a free gift through Jesus Christ." It's a free gift. Because of this British work ethic I was just talking about, many people think that they're saved by works, by earning their way to heaven, by being good enough that God says, "OK, come on in."
If you were to ask fifty to a hundred people on the streets as they walked by: "How do you get to heaven?" you'd get a lot of different answers. But basically they would all be summarized in, "You've got to earn your way to heaven. You'd hear things like, "The way you get to heaven is you try to be good and do your best" or "Work real hard at being good and just try to be a good, moral person" or "Do more good things in life than you do bad things in life and if your good pile is higher than you bad pile, God's going to say, `You're a good guy. Come on in.'" It's all based on works, not grace.
You need to understand that God says here that salvation is absolutely free. It’s a "free gift". You don't work for a gift. It's a free gift. God says salvation is absolutely free. You can't earn it, you can’t learn it, you can't buy it, you can't work for it.
This is the fundamental difference between Christianity and every other religion. Every other faith, every other belief system, I don't care if it's Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, etc.etc. You can summarize every religion in one word. Of all the other religions, Christianity is the only religion that's built on grace. That says God just gives you salvation. You don't do anything to earn it. Every other religion is based on works and you can summarize them in one word – the word "do". There are certain things you do in order to gain God's approval. It varies. Each system is different. One religion says do "these" things, and another, you do "these" things. You do certain things in order to gain bliss, gain heaven, gain God's approval. It's always something you have to do. Rules, regulations, rituals, etc.
On the other hand, if you were to summarize Christianity in one word, it's the word "done". It's already been done for you. It was done on the cross by Jesus Christ. He paid for your salvation. He paid for your sins. It's already been done.
A minister tells of a man who asked him, "Pastor, What can I do to be saved?" He was just playing with him and he said, "You're too late!" That kind of shocked him. "You're about 2000 years too late! What needed to be done for your salvation has already been done and you can't do anything about it."
Jesus Christ already did it. He paid for your salvation on the cross and now it's a free gift to you. That's why Jesus Christ, when He was hanging on the cross, stretched out His arms and one of the things He said was "It is finished." He didn't say, "I am finished" because He wasn't. He's still alive today. He is risen. He said, "It is finished." What's the "it"? Your salvation. The plan to provide grace for every person who needs it. It's finished. God says, "Here it is. It's a free gift."
There isn't anything you can do to save yourself. You just accept God's free gift of grace.
I'm not getting to heaven based on what I do. I'm getting to heaven based on what has already been done for me by Jesus Christ.
That's the greatest gift you're ever going to be offered. You're never going to get a better deal than that. If you really understand grace, you will accept it because it is a priceless gift in your life. It's God's gift to me.
H/F we thank you for your grace towards us and as we journey together in exploring the aspects of Saving Grace, we pray that you would open our minds and our hearts to you, so that if we’ve not already done so, we can receive the greatest gift we could possibly imagine; your free gift of grace. In Jesus name we pray, Amen