Firm Foundations: The Grace of God
Happy Mother’s day. Mom, the rest of the family it seems doesn’t appreciate all you do, but let me assure you… we know our very existence got started with you and seems to depend on you daily.
If it weren’t for you… we wouldn’t exist… and we would have buried ourselves in dirty clothes and dishes way before we ever got to adulthood.
I was talking to a dad recently and he was telling me how his kids weren’t doing what they were supposed to do. He was talking about how he was increasing the level of discipline and he worried he might run out of ways to punish them. That’s not good… because when it gets so bad what do you do… you never want to get to the point where kids don’t wonder how much worse it could get.
I suggested he try something different. I asked, have you ever tried being nice when they didn’t deserve it? He said why would I do that? That’s what their mom does...
Thank you moms… I know all of us didn’t have a mom who was always nice; but let’s face it, moms are generally the ones who are most nurturing in the family. They are the ones we cried out for when we were hurt or hungry.
Thank you for mothering us Mom!
We have been working through a series of FIRM FOUNDATIONS over the last few weeks. These are our core beliefs… elements of our faith that are essential for us to grasp and put to work in our lives.
Today I want us to grasp the power and effectiveness of the Grace of God.
To do this, I want to introduce you to a man named John. I’ve never met John personally, but he has impacted my life greatly.
John you see grew up in a Christian home… his mom taught him the faith, he actually learned to read by reading the bible at an early age. But his mom died when he was only 9 and he was left with his step mom or in boarding schools as his dad wasn’t home much, his work on ships kept him away for months at a time.
This wasn’t good for him as he grew up he wound up getting into a lot of trouble, he was a crude bully, and that got him kicked out of a couple of schools. His dad decided that school may not be his thing, so he brought him into the family business, working as a deck hand.
As he grew up, he took on more and more responsibility becoming a junior officer. He fell in love along the way to a very kind and gentle woman… one who was much beyond his nature. But she apparently saw something in him.
Then his dad retired, leaving him alone at 19. Then as a junior officer, he began to act as a bully to those who he used to serve alongside… funny how he hadn’t changed much from the trouble making school boy.
His crew hated him… Once time he wound up getting drunk and fell overboard… instead of throwing him life rings, they threw harpoons at him.... he survived and eventually he made it back aboard. He was miserable.
In one visit to his girlfriend Mary, he was kidnapped by a gang of sailors and conscripted into service on a merchant ship. You can imagine how his heart wasn’t in his work, in fact he dreaded his time away. He was angry at God and everyone else for his situation. Finally, he got an opportunity to run away during a shore leave. He was eventually captured returned to the ship, where he was beaten and stripped of his rank forced to servitude.
This really got his attention and he began to remember the things his mom and his love interest began to tell him about God. He began to wrestle with what he believed.
A few months later, he was traded by his captain to a private shipping company as a servant on a slave ship. He continued to be a thorn in the side of his captain so when he arrived in Sierra Leone, he was given to a slaver as his personal slave.
Somehow word got back to his father of his condition and his father was able to get him freed. John then went to work on another slave ship.
Now keep in mind that slave trading at that time was widely accepted practice. It had been for as long as history recorded so John had no problem with his vocation.
Here, John was only 23 years old. John was living the only life he knew how to live. Then, as if God was just waiting for the absolute right moment, He reached down His hand and grabbed John’s attention. On this particular night, John happened upon a copy of The Imitation of Christ, whose words cut him straight to the heart. And that very night a severe storm slammed the ship. With the captain incapacitated, John was forced to captain the ship. Everyone on board almost sank to the watery grave below.
Another time, also at sea, John became ill with a violent fever and asked for mercy from the God he had rejected years before but somehow knew was still there. And in midst of these storms, John came to the only possible conclusion that he was a sinner in need of forgiveness. These events were the turning point of his life. He started going to church, and when he and Mary got married he promised her that he would live an upright life. He also promised her that he would secure a respectable lifestyle.
The Amazing Grace of God
The Amazing Grace of God
John’s life and the song he is best known for are great testimonies of the effectiveness of God’s grace. Before John though there was another one who wrote to testify of the same grace… the Apostle Paul. Probably the clearest explanation of this is found in Ephesians 2. Follow along with me
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
This is the story of the Gospel, of God’s grace.
Grace simply means unmerited favor, unearned, undeserved favor. It’s God choosing to show loving kindness to people who don’t deserve and haven’t earned it.
It’s the reason that we talked last week that EVERYONE IS WELCOME because while we might come from different places and have different experiences, we are all in the same place… none of us are perfect.
As Paul said there in those opening verses:
1 Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. 2 You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. 3 All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.
We know no one is perfect, but we tend to keep this in terms of other people and overlook that it’s true of us as well. We know our neighbor is a mess. We know our brother’s kids have problems. WE know our spouse’s issues. We know the church member needs our prayers because of what he’s struggling with.
But Paul says YOU… not they or them… he says you were
You were dead. When we think of ourselves we compare it to like we weren’t that bad… it was like a banana that had a bad spot that needed to be cut out, but Scripture is clear that we didn’t have a bad spot… we had a disease.
But Jesus came for diseased people.
Was that you? Were you that bad? Don’t answer that yet.
We often think of people as basically good because they do good things. Let me ask you a question… think of a generally accepted bad person - Hitler - you wouldn’t call them good, right? But do you think they did good things? I mean if they were walking down the street with their best friend and saw a car hurdling toward them, would they pull their friend to safety? Would that be good? But would that good act make their whole life good? NO… so we can do good things but the good things don’t make up for the bad in our view.
It’s the same in God’s view. The ultimate offense is our rebellion against God that is soo big… it clouds everythign else… and we can’t cover it up by the good things we do.
Paul says that we all used to live that way… worshipping other idols… infected with this death disease… and we deserved death.
Was that you? Were you that bad?
Until you see yourself as a sinner, won’t see your need for a savior.
Until you see yourself as a sinner, won’t see your need for a savior.
IF you see yourself as “Not that bad” then you aren’t ready for the amazing grace of Jesus. That's why we say NO ONE IS PERFECT… because we are all broken by sin… as the church we acknowledge that.
Paul wrote in Titus 3:3
3 Indeed, we, too, were once stupid, disobedient, and misled. We were slaves to many kinds of lusts and pleasures. We were mean and jealous. We were hated, and we hated each other.
That’s who we were.
Because Jesus didn’t come to save the mostly good Semi-sinners, Partial sinners, Not-so-bad sinners.
No, Jesus came to save spiritually dead—wretched and wicked people
People who see themselves in desperate need of forgiveness.... God’s undeserved favor.. desperate for Grace.
You have to be able to see yourself as you really are… to stop living in denial about sin in order for Jesus to save you.
Yes… You are a sinner. I’m so glad you could join us for worship this morning… aren't you glad you came…???
But God’s not finished… You are a sinner - but God...
You are a sinner—But God…
You are a sinner—But God…
But God has a plan… Grace.
As Wesleyan's we understand God’s grace comes to us all throughout life… before we are a Christian God is blessing us trying to guide us to him… then he saves us… not because we deserve it, but because he chooses to… then he begins to help us to live the life he created us to live. All of this comes about in our lives by grace… his favor on us. All of this is by his grace.
SO whether you are just hearing about God’s grace today or you have been stuck in your sin and long to be set free, or if you are growing in your faith… today can be a But God sort of day.
I don’t know where today finds you:
Tired and lonely… But God will show you where you can find hope.
Searching, confused—But God will show the way through X.
Hurting and empty—But God will fill your void by Spirit.
In bondage to addiction—But God will set you free by His Truth.
Don’t think it could happen to you? Let me remind you of who wrote this passage of scripture that we read earlier.
Paul wasn’t just any preacher… just like John wasn’t any abolishionist. They had a history..
Paul you see had been charged by the Sanhedrin to arrest the leaders of the church. In fact he was on his way… on mission to do that very thing when God knocked him off his horse striking him blind. Asking him “Why are you persecuting me?” He tells the story that Jesus appeared to him and told him to go to and have Christians lay their hands on him. He would later be baptized as a Christian.
He was on a mission to kill Christians… But God turned him into a missionary for the church.
John was on a mission to sell slaves… but God turned him into a missionary for freedom.
Today might be your BUT GOD moment.
Today your life might be going one way BUT GOD has a plan to work in you in a way you can’t imagine yet.
Look at verse 4-5
Ephesians 2:4–5 (NLT)
4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)
You see each of us inherited a sin disease… it was passed down to us from generation to generation. No one in here had to be taught how to sin. We figured it out because we are by nature pretty selfish… we like to do what we want to do how we want to do it.
But God loved us so, wanted to save us from a life of killing ourselves that he sent God the Son to be born in the flesh, to face temptations, to be rejected, face and over come sin… then die in our place as a perfect sacrifice.
People ask how does his death take my place? Great question. and let me answer it as simply as I can… because the judge says it does. Just like the judge decides the penalty in court. God decides that Jesus's death is sufficient… that’s what the Bible says. You don’t have to understand it, what you have to do is know that God accepts it.
That’s why we often call Jesus the Lamb of God, because he came to be God’s sacrifice for us.
That’s what Paul gets to in the passage in Ephesians, verse 8-9
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
You were… But God… By grace
You were… But God… By grace
This is the Gospel… It’s important that we get how extravagant God’s grace is.
How do we know we get it? Well… let me ask you, what is your response to this good news?
There’s a picture in scripture that shows us the response to grace.
Just before Jesus was betrayed, Jesus is having dinner with a man named Simon the Leper… he had been healed of his leprosy… and a woman comes in and pours perfume on Jesus’s feet… the disciples think it an extravagant waste… but Jesus corrected them and said it was a beautiful act of worship.
Paul writes to Titus 3:4-7
4 But—When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6 He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.
He did it all… what’s our response to the free gift of life?
We know John’s response would be to write one of themost famous hymns of all time… but first it was to captain a ship.
We might expect that John was immediately convicted of the contradiction of his life - being an officer on a slave ship while a Christian. But remember the culture then was very different than it is for us today. He was a sailor and the work of a sailor in John’s day meant he would transport slaves.
Mornings were spent studying the Bible and praying because his new life in Christ, while evenings were spent cracking the whip on the backs of those he imprisoned. He admitted that he was a ruthless businessman and was cruel to the slaves he traded. Slave revolts on board ship were frequent, so John mounted guns and muskets on the desk aimed at the slaves’ quarters. Slaves were beaten and tortured to keep them quiet. And all this was after he had become a Christian.
But God was doing something. Eventually John grew weary of the struggle. So, so weary. The only way out, he realized, was to depend on the grace of Christ and the power of the Spirit to sustain him.
When he retired, he studied God’s word in order to share it with others. He was asked to serve as pastor of a small country church. In that role his faith and leadership grew until he was asked to pastor a church in London… a rare thing back then for clergy without real education… but influenced by the ministry of John and Charles Wesley, he would later disciple William Wilberforce to change the world’s view of slavery.
Along the way he penned these words that we know so well:
Amazing Grace—How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost—But now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.