“Reaching for Grace”
Text: Philippians 3:12-14
A little over a year ago, I preached a sermon by request on “God’s Amazing Grace.” After some conversations with different folks, I see a need to talk a little more about grace & I’ve entitled this lesson: “Reaching for Grace”. I believe there are a lot of good Christian folks who somehow feel like a trapeze artist who’s let go of their swing & not sure they’re going to be caught. This morning I want us to look at this dilemma & see if we can find some comfort through God’s word. I used the text from Phil. 3:12-14 to begin our thoughts so I hope you’ll turn there with me as we begin. Please search the scriptures daily like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 & make sure I’m telling you the truth.
I think most of us look at the apostle Paul as a great example of Christian dedication – but even he had a past. Because he had been forgiven when his sins were washed away (Acts 22:16), Paul could forget the past & concentrate on the future – reaching forward or stretching out or exerting himself to the uttermost for what is ahead. He presses or hastens toward the prize which is what we should be doing. Paul knew he could not earn his salvation. He wrote about this in Eph. 2:4-9 – & I urge you to circle the word “grace” found three times in these verses. Also, underline the 3 components of grace – love, mercy & kindness. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. This is the 1st of three powerful aspects of grace we want to notice this morning – salvation. We are saved by grace. We’ve often heard grace defined as unmerited favor by God toward man. Someone put it this way: Grace is everything for nothing to those who don’t deserve anything. Paul worded our unworthiness so well in Rom. 5:8-10 – But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. Our sins separate us from God according to Isa. 59:2 but we are reconciled to Him by the blood of Christ – the manifestation of His grace. Capt. John Newton expressed this great disparity in these words: Amazing grace! How sweet the sound – that saved a wretch like me! But salvation is not just a one-time extension of God’s grace. Like the apostle Paul, we must continually reach toward the goal. Again, Paul expressed that effort in 1 Cor. 9:24-27 – Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. Even the inspired apostle Paul had to keep reaching for God’s grace lest he become disqualified from the race. He did not want to be like those in Gal. 5:4 who had become estranged from Christ & had thus fallen from grace. The Hebrew writer similarly warns us after the great chapter on the heroes of faith – Heb. 12:1-2 – Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Our life as a Christian is one of constantly reaching for God’s grace as we run the race. Before we move on to the 2nd aspect of God’s grace, I want to reiterate the saving nature of God’s grace & the 3 components of His grace. Turn with me to Titus 3:4-7 & once again circle the word grace & underline the 3 components – love, mercy & kindness. Let’s read together: But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Not only does God’s grace save us, it also sustains us. The best example I can give of this is again from the apostle Paul. Please turn with me to 2 Cor. 12:7-10 & we’ll read this familiar passage together: And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. Without getting into a discussion of the possible identities of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, something in his physical life was bothering him. But, whatever it was, the Lord saw fit not to remove it & assured Paul that His grace was sufficient to carry him on through life. All of us have physical limitations & circumstances we would perhaps like to change. & sometimes we can do something about some of them. But most of the time we need to learn to be content in whatever state we’re in because we can do all things through Christ or Him Who strengthens us (Phil. 4:11-13). We were given the gift of the Holy Spirit when we were baptized for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38) & God’s Spirit helps us in our weaknesses (Rom. 8:26). Most of us are familiar with the poem “Footprints in the Sand” by Mary Stevenson. The poem recalls an individual’s dream & I’d like to share it with you:
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,
“You promised me Lord,
that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”
The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”
Perhaps we need to remember the promise found in Heb. 13:5 – Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” If the Lord is our shepherd, we’ll never lack for anything & He is with us even as we pass through the valley of the shadow of death. In case you have any questions about God sustaining us by His grace, turn with me to Heb. 4:16 – Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. I don’t know about you but I’m constantly in need of God’s sustaining grace. Finally, we come to the 3rd aspect of God’s grace & that is the security of His grace. As we stated earlier, we can fall from grace. But many Christians still have that little voice of doubt. They wonder if they’ve done everything right. Are they going to make it into heaven? Folks, this is where we must rely on the security of God’s grace. We are not going to get everything right because we are imperfect humans. We make mistakes but God’s grace – like a safety net – is always around. After three years of construction on the Golden Gate Bridge, a safety net was finally installed at a cost of $130,000. It ended up saving about 20 lives over the next year until the bridge was completed. But it increased productivity because workers were more confident and could work faster because they knew the safety net was there. Perhaps the best illustration of the security of God’s grace is found in Lk. 15 & the story of the prodigal son. Even though the boy had reached rock bottom & was living among the hogs, his father’s home was still available to him. God’s grace was still there but the boy had to come to his senses & go back home. With that thought in mind, I came up with this definition: Grace covers the space when I’m ashamed to show my face. In the book of 1st John, the inspired writer tells us what we must do to remain in the security of God’s saving grace. We must walk in the light for the blood of Christ to continually cleanse us from all sin (1:7). It’s a lifestyle of putting the kingdom first. If we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive those sins & cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1:9). While we don’t have time to cover every item in 1st John, I think this one passage will be sufficient to prove the security of God’s grace – 5:11-13 – And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. Finally, I want to close with the words of a man who knew this security – the apostle Paul in 2 Tim. 4:6-8 – For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
This morning we have looked at 3 aspects of God’s grace – that it is saving, it is sustaining & it is securing. If we are faithful Christians, we should never falter when singing Blessed Assurance or Redeemed. The God Who has the whole world in His hands will provide sufficient grace for His obedient children. Are you a child of God this morning? If not, why not accept His saving grace today by putting on Christ in baptism & washing your sins away? Or, if you’re not secure in His grace this morning because you’ve left the Father, why not come back home like the prodigal son. Whatever your need this morning, His grace is greater than your sin as we stand & sing!
(Walter Hill; Sunday A.M.; 10/10/2010)