The Step of Grace

Lent: Journey to the Heart  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  20:33
0 ratings

It is God's grace which we receive, freely, as we step deeper into a mature faith in Christ. Grace upon grace frees us to love and serve out of God's abundance.


From Death to Life

2 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Good morning.
We continue our journey with Christ this Lent, looking at the steps of formation and discipleship as a Christian. We’ve looked back upon our baptism, knowing this marks the start of our journey, a welcoming into the beloved family of God by being marked and washed and set out on the road.
We’ve considered what it means to have faith. And I would say, it is not only our faith that forms, but our awareness of Christ’s faithfulness to us, which is important to keep in mind for our readings today. Through faithfulness, fidelity to the chosen journey and to the grace of God’s presence, we find ourselves journeying home in Christ.
Last week, we playfully explored our foolishness and the wisdom of Christ that sets the body of Christ in a different category than the wisdom of the world. There’s a riskiness to the Christian journey, a disregard for the wisdom of the age, and a taking up of something much deeper, much more free, as we find the power of Christ’s wisdom to face the world.
I hope you see the progression here of our Christian formation journey. We move from the waters of baptism through steps which strengthen and establish our identities in Christ’s way. And looking ahead, know that the journey will get difficult, requiring surrender and sacrifice, all on the journey deeper into being like Christ.
Today, we take the step of grace. Today, we discover that while the journey will form us and demand more of us as we mature in Christ, all of it is grace. None of our progress, none of our knowing and unknowing that we find along the way, none of it is anything we earn or deserve or are entitled to. No. If you thought the foolish wisdom of Christ ran counter to the wisdom of the world, you haven’t seen anything yet.
Grace is a key concept for us to reflect upon and internalize. We need it and we need to embody it.
And grace is difficult to accept.
This text is a cornerstone piece of Scripture for much theological conversation and study. It is central to much of our tradition’s thoughts on salvation and the mercy and love of God.
You’re likely familiar with the Protestant Reformation, which occured in 16th Century Europe. There are a few texts from Scripture that stand out as central to that moment in history and this certainly one of them.
A couple of key figures from that time: Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, and John Calvin, a French theologian and pastor. These two men were among many thinkers and ministers who recognized the systemic issues that plagued the Catholic Church in this era, specifically the church’s power over people and its ties to the political establishments and monarchies of the time.
Luther looked at this text from Ephesians as he formed his famous theological reflections upon the specific power of grace to sanctify and save Christians. Luther claimed salvation came from faith alone, not through works or acts of piety. Grace, along with Scripture and Faith, was one of the main theological justifications for God’s saving power and love: Sola Scriptura (scripture alone), sola fide (faith alone), and sola gratia (grace alone). All other functions of the Church and the life of faith were held under these concepts. How are we saved? By the revelation of Scripture, alone; by faith in or of Christ, alone; and by the grace of God, alone.
This argument was of great importance at the time of the Reformation because it began to erode the power dynamic that the Church held over the people. They served as the intermediary between the people and God, keeping them at distance through financial and ritual systems. But with the reformers, this power was questioned — what truly matters to salvation and life with God?
John Calvin was asking similar questions in his writings and debate in the city of Geneva, Switzerland. Presbyterians look back to Calvinism, especially John Calvin’s Institutes on Christian Religion, as foundational theological work from which we build our doctrines. Calvin systematized the workings of grace and salvation. Of particular interest to our study today, Calvin developed a theological framework called TULIP — an acronym of 5 letters to illustrate the 5 concepts of God’s mercy for humanity. Without distracting us too much from our topic this morning, the fourth letter, the letter I, in this TULIP acronym, was the concept of Irresistible Grace. The meaning here is that God’s grace is something we cannot fight, it’s something given freely and without merit, to humanity who receive it through Christ. Theologians also nuance this concept and some reflect upon grace as Prevenient Grace. Again, not to get into the weeds too far, prevenient grace is a way of saying that God’s grace is “out ahead of us.” Calvin resisted this concept, rather connecting grace more deeply with his concepts of election and God’s choosing of people…but the concepts connect in that grace is in God’s hands, given freely, for us without merit, even ahead of our own choosing.
Alright — why does this matter?
They say that preachers really only preach a handful of sermons. Just variations on themes. And you’ve known me long enough to know that I have a few choice arrows in my quiver, as well. So, spoiler alert — this one is about God’s grace for us. Like, out ahead and chosen for us, given freely, lavishly. You’ve heard me preach on this before — God’s grace is for us.
This is something I go back to again and again in my faith and my study — sitting with the joyous reality that God’s grace is sufficient and given freely to me, to us. This is core for me. Grace given, grace out of our death, grace when we don’t deserve it, grace beyond entitlement or privilege. Grace to the sinners, the poor and needy. Grace to the ones who have it all figured out. Grace to the experts, grace to the misfits.
And grace not only as a balm to soothe our broken world. Grace, also, as a mighty gift that empowers and liberates people to dismantle injustice. Grace to the one who’s at the furthest reach of themselves, grace for the outsider, grace for the hungry, grace for the one who believes they are a lost cause, grace for the one I believe is a lost cause.
You see, as Paul does, that this life we’re living is fraught with distractions, passions, desire that would call us down another path, another journey, down the road of wrath, just like everyone else. Into the mess, the maw of our struggle, God does not insert judgement or more death. Instead, God’s presence is filled with mercy which leads us back home, in grace.
I mentioned earlier that the concept of faith would be important and here we are. Vs. 8-9 read: “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.”
For by grace you have been saved through faith.
Let’s bring this on home with one more brief theological study —
For by grace you have been saved through faith.
Remember, sola gratia. By grace alone. But what about faith, sola fide? Or sola scriptura?
Here’s where it gets cool — So…grace, that’s given by God, freely. But what about faith? If it’s faith alone, does that mean I’ve got to wrangle up enough faith myself to pass muster? But the text says it’s not the work of works, the work of faith, no one gets to boast. Then…doesn’t the faith part make the equation impossible?
No. Because it’s not about our faith. Well, it is, but it’s not about our ability to have faith. Actually, it’s about the faith that Christ has that does the saving work for us. I love this Greek word for faith — pistis. It is the pistis of Christ which saves us. Christ’s fidelity to his purpose as the Messiah, the savior. The faithfulness of Christ is what leads him to the cross, faithfulness that leads him to cry out in forsakenness to the Creator, faithfulness that leads him through death to life. Did we do any of these things? Are we willing to cry out to the whirlwind, like Job, and claim that any of the work of salvation is our and by our own merit? No!
Sola fide — the faith of Christ alone.
Sola gratia — the grace of God alone.
Sola scriptura — the witness to it all, alone.
We are brought home, in Christ, through the unmerited grace of God. We need not boast, we need not hoard it, we need not do anything but accept it in gratitude.
The passage today closes with this: “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
When we receive this grace, when we take this step of accepting what is unmerited and all gift, we become like Christ. Christian. Christ followers. And it is from this place that we are then prepared to do good works, as Christ does them. Here’s where we get to it, where the rubber meets the road. As recipients of grace, we are equipped to share that same grace with others.
I know that these concepts are heady and abstract. Here’s where it meets the road for us, at St. James, in Bellingham, WA: You have been given grace.
Do you or I deserve it? Nope. But don’t let that derail you. We don’t deserve it, but we have it.
Maybe, in your heart of hearts, you doubt that this could be. You’ve got some stuff, some baggage, some ways of being that are more harmful than helpful. How could you possibly receive grace?
Consider this: you have been given grace to be who you are. With those flaws, with that stuff that needs healing. Grace can be simply an exhaled breath that helps you release your hold on those flaws: they don’t disqualify you.
And toward others. Grace to others is a key in experiencing grace for ourselves. So we give grace to each other, again and again. Not grace that absolves issues, but grace that says in spite of the struggle we create for each other, we are one in Christ’s love, being made whole.
Let’s close.
Today, the invitation is for you to know you have been given grace. And to look to your neighbor and know they have been given grace too. Not because any of us deserve it. But because we are beloved.
And with that grace, we accept and love one another. We pursue healing for and with one another. And finally, we do none of this with our own strength, but with the power of the grace and faith of Christ which dwells in us.
Sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide.
To these, we add two more solae, which form the traditional 5 solas: Solo Christo (through Christ alone) and Soli Deo glority (glory to God alone).
This is the step of grace, to receive and celebrate the goodness of God’s love and mercy, for ourselves and for all creation.
Related Media
See more
Related Sermons
See more