Grace and Peace from God

Living with Grace  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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The grace of God precedes good works for God, not the other way around.

Baseball players occasionally adopt unique habits or rituals before a game. For instance, a pitcher named Ryan Dempster ate at the same Italian restaurant on the days that he pitched. Another pitcher named Matt Garza treated some teammates to Popeye’s Chicken before games that he was scheduled to pitch.
The most infamous pre-game ritual, however, belongs to Red Sox Hall of Famer, Wade Boggs. Known for collecting over 3,000 hits, he was also known for his pre-game ritual. Before every game, he gobbled down a helping of fried chicken. Thanks to his dedication to eating chicken, Tyson Foods claimed he had done more than anyone to promote the chicken industry. They even gifted his family a six-month supply of chicken.
Do you have any rituals like this, something you always do before you start the day? Do you follow a workout routine, take out the dog, or drink a cup of coffee?

Paul opened all his letters the same way.

When we read Paul’s NT letters, we see that he practiced a pre-game (pre-letter) ritual of his own. He wrote thirteen NT letters and before he moved on to the content of his letters, he opened every single one with the same Christian greeting, “grace and peace” from “God the Father and Jesus Christ.” Peter open both his NT letters the same way, and John opened 2 John and Revelation the same way as well.
This greeting is far more significant than you may realize.
When we open letters, we say polite things like, “How are you doing?” or “I hope you’re doing well!”
First-century letter writers would open letters with something like “grace to you,” which meant something like “I hope good things come your way” or “I hope that the gods will be nice to you today.”
Such greetings are nothing more than being socially polite or nice wishful thinking, but they have no deeper significance or genuine ability to change your life.
Paul’s greeting is different, however, because it formed the basis for everything we know about having a relationship with God, living the right way, and preparing for eternity.
By opening his letters to Christians and churches this way, Paul refused to “put the cart before the horse.” He insisted on keeping our approach to life in the right order. If you hitch a cart in front of a horse, for instance, the cart will neither pull the horse nor reach its destination. The same is true with the way that we approach our relationship with God, our daily life, and our future in eternity.
The City Slicker and the Chainsaw
Have you heard the joke about the city slicker who moved to Pennsylvania? He walked into a hardware store and asked for a chain saw that would cut 6 trees in an hour because he had too many trees in his backyard. The customer service team member recommended a high-end, name-brand model and the city slicker bought it, excited about cutting down some trees.
The next day, the city slicker returned to the store and slammed the chainsaw down on the counter in obvious frustration. “This chainsaw is defective,” he said, “I couldn’t even cut down one tree today!”
The salesman looked at the chainsaw to see what was wrong. He pushed a little button, placed his finger on the handle, then pulled another handle briskly. All at once, the chainsaw roared to life, causing the city slicker to jump back in stunned surprise. “What’s that noise?” he exclaimed. “That’s the engine, sir,” replied the salesman.
You see, the city slicker had been hacking away at the trees with a quiet, motionless chainsaw, getting nowhere. He had no idea how to tap the potential of the chainsaw by activating the gasoline engine.
Do you ever feel like this in your attempts to live the Christian life? Feel like your hacking away at your purpose and your calling, getting nowhere but frustrated and confused?
Here’s what we learn from Paul’s standard greeting of “grace and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ.”

The grace of God precedes good works for God, not the other way around.

In all Paul’s letters, he teaches us how to begin a relationship with God (we call this “being saved”), how to live when you have a relationship with God (we call this “spiritual growth”), or both.
In this letter to Titus, Paul focuses on how to live once you have a relationship with God. He emphasizes “good works,” which he mentions 1x in Ch. 1 (Tit 1:16), 2x in Ch. 2 (Tit 2:7, 14), and 3x in Ch. 3 (Tit 3:1, 8, 14). In addition to using this phrase a lot, he gives many instructions about how God wants his children to live.
So, here’s the point we need to understand. The grace of God precedes good works for God, not the other way around. If we’re not careful, we get this backwards and “put the cart before the horse.” For whatever reason, we have the idea that we need to do good works to earn the grace of God, but that never works. We need to receive God’s grace first.
Ephesians 2:8–9 (NKJV)
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 God’s saving grace. We experience this grace when we stop trying to earn God’s favor by doing good works.
Observing the Five Pillars of Islam cannot save you.
Following the Eight-fold Path of Buddhism cannot save you.
Practicing the Seven Sacraments of Roman Catholicism cannot save you.
Obeying the Ten Commandments cannot save you.
There is nothing you can do to receive the saving grace of God. You must trust in him by faith alone and receive God’s favor and grace. You must stop trying and start trusting. You cannot have a relationship with God, a life for God, or eternity with God without the grace of God.
Perhaps you’re “putting the cart before the horse” today? Perhaps you’re trying to earn God’s salvation by doing good works. Whatever religion you practice - even following Christian traditions like baptism, communion, and church attendance will not earn God’s favor. You must stop trying and start trusting the grace of God and the grace of God alone.
What is God’s grace? Well, it is God’s free gift of salvation and favor first of all, but it is so much more.

Grace is God’s free and limitless ability to be what you should be and do what you should do.

Even after you’ve trusted God alone for salvation, you find that you need to depend on his grace for everything you say and do. Just as we cannot begin a relationship with God without depending on the grace of God, so we cannot live for God without depending on the grace of God as well.
Sometimes we experience God’s grace for godly living through abundant material provision, as when he gives generous supplies of money and more.
2 Corinthians 9:8 (NKJV)
God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.
We appreciate this side of God’s grace, don’t we? Yet if we’re not careful, we can develop a covetous, materialistic view of God’s grace, accepting his grace only when he meets our material needs in abundant ways.
But there’s another side to God’s grace as well - the ability to go through difficult trials, even circumstances which are so difficult that they tempt us to turn away from God.
2 Corinthians 12:9–10 (NKJV)
“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.
Have you trusted in God’s grace to have a relationship with God? If you have, then let me ask you two more questions.
Are trusting God’s grace to provide you with the material resources you need? Or are you trusting in your ability to work hard and make things happen?
Are you trusting God’s grace to provide you with the ability and strength that you need to endure some difficult circumstances in your life? Or are you pushing forward through your own willpower and determination?

When you rely on the grace of God, you experience the peace of God.

Paul not only prayed for God’s grace in Titus’ life, but he prayed for God’s peace, as well. From a biblical standpoint, this peace is the ultimate peace.
It is true inner peace that results in external peace.
It is peace with God that results in peace with man.
As with the grace of God, we cannot earn or work out the peace of God by our own behavior. We don’t get this peace through transcendental meditation, psychiatric counseling, special medication, or moving to the seaside or a lakeside cabin. We receive this peace not at the end of much effort and work but at the beginning instead.
Before Christ died on the cross, he said this to his closest followers:
John 14:27 (NKJV)
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
This world offers many “off-brand” or “counterfeit” versions of peace. This so-called peace is never deep or lasting, though, because it never provides us with the peace of knowing that we have been loved and accepted by God.
In the OT, Jewish believers would greet one another this way. “Peace” or “shalom” they would say. To them, peace was more than the absence of conflict, hostility, and turmoil between people and nations. It was the absence of hostility with God and was the foundation for all other blessings.
Isaiah 48:22 (NKJV)
“There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.”
How do we receive this peace with God? We receive this peace by receiving God’s forgiveness from all our sins. We don’t receive this forgiveness by doing good works. We receive it freely and completely when we trust in him alone. There is nothing you can do to remove your sins or make things right. You can only trust in him and him alone.
Acts 10:43 (NKJV)
To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.
Without such forgiveness, you cannot be God’s child and you can have no true peace with God. Nothing you do can give you such peace.
Without such peace, you cannot live a life that’s confident in God’s acceptance, blessing, strength, and wisdom to be what you should be and do what you should do.

We receive this grace and peace directly from God.

“Grace and peace” is not some nebulous idea, wishful/positive thinking, or a possible blessing from some pagan god. It is definitely not something we can earn or work out for ourselves. It is something God gives as a loving Father.
That God gives this grace and peace to us as a Father teaches us two important lessons.
First, we cannot earn our way into God’s family. Children don’t choose which family they belong to. Parents are the reason why children are in a family - whether born or adopted. In this way, we need God to place us into his family by grace. We cannot make this happen ourselves or impress or coerce him to do so. We must trust in him and let him do that.
Second, once we have entered God’s family, we have a close relationship with God like a child does to a loving father. There should be tremendous comfort in knowing this. Even as God’s children, we have nothing to earn. We have a loving, heavenly Father who will meet our needs and and has accepted us forever. This truth alone should motivate us to do whatever he wants us to do - no matter how difficult that may be. When we do, we know he will give us both the resources and strength we need for every challenge and trial we face. You can trust him because he is your Father.

We receive this grace and peace through Jesus Christ as our Savior.

The way that Paul links Jesus Christ to God the Father in his greetings teaches us that Christ is just as much God as God the Father. The Father is God and Jesus is God, too. They are the same God but two distinct persons.
God the Father gives us his grace and peace through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus became a human being so that he could live the life that we could not live and die the death that we deserve to die. He is God and became a man. In this way, he is the “go between” that we need to receive God’s grace and to have peace with God.
Christ is the reason why we cannot and should not try to earn God’s grace or peace. We can never do as well as him. He did this all perfectly. So, by living a perfect life in our place that pleased God perfectly (because he was God) and by dying the death that we deserve to die (because we are sinners), he exchanged his good behavior for our bad behavior.
He exchanged our consequences from God for his acceptance with God. This is nothing but mercy from God for sure since we don’t deserve this kind of treatment. Yet he is the one who is the cause, the source, and reason why any of us can experience the grace and peace of God.
Christ alone is the reason why we can have a relationship with God, live a life for God, and spend eternity with God.
Have you believed on Christ alone as your God and Savior? You will have no salvation, no grace, and no peace until you’ve made this important decision.
Acts 16:31 (NKJV)
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Are you depending on Christ alone to do what God wants you to do and to be what God wants you to be?
James 4:6 (NKJV)
He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
If you’ve believed on Jesus Christ as your God and Savior but are struggling to experience the grace and peace of God in your everyday life, let me encourage you to stop trying to do it “on your own” or do it “your own way.” Stop resisting God and submit to what his Word teaches you to do.
If it’s material resources that you need, he’ll provide them.
If it’s strength to endure a difficult trial, then he’ll provide that, too.
But whatever you do, don’t keep pushing forward in your own strength and pride. Humble yourself before God and depend on him for the grace and peace that you need to live for him.
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