Monday, October 1, 2012

My Preaching : Misunderstanding Grace

Many love this subject. I love this too. The idea of this “Undeserving Favor” gives me a different confidence in my Christian service and life. It really boosts my self esteem knowing the assurance and insurance I got from my loving God though I don’t really deserve it. Not that the name of my wife is Grace, I simply love the idea of God’s tough love overlooking my sinfulness and extending His mercy and favor to such an undeserving man as I am. In fact, my two favorite subjects of all time are God’s Grace and God’s Love. I believe those to be the two dominant themes in Scripture. However, I’ve noticed that many misunderstand the subject of grace; or at least have an incomplete view of what it’s all about.

Some people see the grace of God as something like the benevolent love of a senile old grandfather. He just loves us so much, because we’re so loveable, and He just sort of forgets about our sin. To be sure, there is some element of truth in there. God does indeed love us, though it’s not because we’re so loveable. And His grace does cause Him to not hold us accountable for our sin, but it’s not just forgotten about, is it? It has been dealt with righteously in the sacrifice of His Only Son. Grace is a costly thing. It’s the ultimate sacrificial action of a holy and righteous God, preserving both His justice and His mercy at the same time.

Others focus on the grace of God as nothing but fire insurance. And certainly it is about providing our most basic need, which is forgiveness and reconciliation with a Holy God. But that’s where most of us stop: It’s about getting saved. It’s about escaping the flames. It’s about the forgiveness of sins and that’s it. Well it is about those things, but that’s not it.

Reading through Titus recently I was reminded again of God’s ongoing purpose of Grace in our lives with these words:

Titus 2:11-15

Amplified Bible (AMP)
11 For the grace of God (His unmerited favor and blessing) has come forward (appeared) for the deliverance from sin and the eternal salvation for all mankind.
12 It has trained us to reject and renounce all ungodliness (irreligion) and worldly (passionate) desires, to live discreet (temperate, self-controlled), upright, devout (spiritually whole) lives in this present world,
13 Awaiting and looking for the [fulfillment, the realization of our] blessed hope, even the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus (the Messiah, the Anointed One),
14 Who gave Himself on our behalf that He might redeem us (purchase our freedom) from all iniquity and purify for Himself a people [to be peculiarly His own, people who are] eager and enthusiastic about [living a life that is good and filled with] beneficial deeds.
15 Tell [them all] these things. Urge (advise, encourage, warn) and rebuke with full authority. Let no one despise or disregard or think little of you [conduct yourself and your teaching so as to command respect].

So grace is about bringing salvation, but it is also about training. It’s about disciplining us, educating us, teaching us to do several things. The grace of God teaches us to:

1.   To Intentionally Reject and Renounce Sin.
Verse 12: training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions. Other translations say denying ungodliness and worldly lusts. One paraphrase says to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life. (MSG)

However you translate it, the point is the same. God’s grace at work in our lives should cause us to come to hate sin, to turn from it, to abhor it, to do all in our power to abstain from it; have nothing to do with it. If God is at work in you, if you have come to Christ by grace through faith, if His Spirit is truly at work in your life, then one of the noticeable effects of His presence should be a growing hatred of sin and an ever increasing passion to avoid it.

It has been well said that we’re punished not only for our sins, but also by our sins. The point is that sin’s presence in our lives is punishment in and of itself, because sin is naturally harmful to us. That was the underlying principle at play when David cried out, “My iniquities have gone over my head; Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me” (Psalm 38:4). God never created or intended for human beings to handle sin. It’s simply bad for us all the way around: physically, emotionally and spiritually.

In the long run, sin will always leave us the worse for wear, and it will always get more out of us than we ever get out of it. As a matter of fact, it will always drive us to the point of desperation where we cry out along with David, “I just can’t carry this anymore. It’s too heavy for me!” We were never meant to harbor or carry around sin, and yet we often do so, to our own self-destruction. But when we see sin for what it truly is—when we understand how hurtful and hazardous it is—we won’t want to get away with it but, rather, we’ll want to get rid of it.

2.                  To progressively Seek Holiness.

Again in verse 12: training us…to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. Kings James says soberly, righteously, and godly. It’s not enough that we turn away from sin, we also need to actively, and progressively turn toward God in holiness.

And that doesn’t just mean the “big” sins vs. the “big” acts of holiness. It goes to the little things. Alexander Maclaren put it this way: “Ah! If our likeness to God does not show itself in trifles, what is there left for it to show itself in? For our lives are all made up of trifles. The great things come three or four of them in the seventy years; the little ones every time the clock ticks.” Which is to say that we ought to be focused on seeking godliness and holiness and self-control and righteousness in the little things all day, every day.

It means seeking to live godly lives not only out in public where everyone sees us; but at home with our wives and children. It means seeking holiness in those everyday moments when we’re alone, driving in the car, when we think no one else can see us or know our thoughts. It means seeking to honor and glorify Christ with our every breath.

3. To Patiently Anticipate Heaven.

I know that we don’t often put patiently and anticipation together, but that’s exactly what’s required of us here. Verse 13 says, we are to be waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

John Gill writes of this verse that we should be “looking for this… to be desiring it with the heart and affections set upon it, longing to be in the enjoyment of it, and yet waiting patiently in the exercise of faith and hope.”

We’re only passing through; Scripture says we are strangers and aliens here. This is not our home. We long for our true home, that better country Hebrews talks about. We may have never seen it, we really don’t know that much about it, but we know who’s there waiting for us, and that makes us long for it.

4. To Passionately Serve Christ.

Verse 14 says that part of God’s purpose in grace is “to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” God wants a people who are zealous for good works. Not just willing to work, but zealous for it.

And this isn’t the only place in Scripture where the work of grace in our lives is associated with God’s desire for us to serve him. Probably the most well known verses on grace are in Ephesians 2 where Paul writes: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

We know that well. For me, it’s the foundation for my theology of Grace. But we often overlook the very next verse where Paul completes the thought. Verse 10 of Ephesians 2 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God’s purpose of grace is that we passionately, zealously serve Him because we were created for this very purpose.

Just wanted to challenge us all to think of grace a little more. And then ask ourselves: Is the grace of God at work in your life. First and foremost, have you experienced that grace by faith in Jesus Christ? Have you come to Him in faith and found the salvation we all desperately need?

And if so, do you see the continued work of grace in your life? Are you purposely avoiding sin; progressively seeking holiness; patiently anticipating heaven; and passionately serving Christ? Can you say an unreserved yes to all four of those areas?

Our forgiveness, our justification, is only the first step. God wants to continue His sanctifying work in you as well. My prayer is that we would all seek Gods’ purpose of grace in our lives, that when He does return, those most glorious words will reach our ears: well done, my good and faithful servant.

Thanks for letting me preach.