Input and Output
If anybody asked you who Christianity was about, in one word, of course the answer would be: Jesus. Right? And if they asked you what, in one word, is Christianity about? The answer would be: grace. You could pick a lot of words: cross, mercy, God. But grace really encompasses everything that Christianity gives us, is given to us, through grace.
Do you understand that no other religion- and I'm not knocking, I'm not attacking anybody here. I'm just stating a fact. Just study other religions. Take a course in comparative religions and study other religions and study their theology, and study their theology of salvation. You will find that no other religion- there are only 11 major religions in the world, only 11. All other religions are just subheadings of those 11 religions. No other religion in the world is about grace. No other religion is about grace. Other religions are about gods, practices, festivals, culture, power, mysteries, origins, but they're not about grace.
Even other sects that call themselves Christian, focus on end times, what's going to happen at the end of the world, or miracles, or religious practices, how to do certain things the proper way, or questions of semantics. But only New Testament Christianity in its most pure and accurate form, concerns itself exclusively and primarily with the expression and the explanation and the results of God's grace in the person's life through Jesus Christ. Only Christianity in its pure form does that.
This is why and what our study is about. And I've preached several sermons on grace. I like preaching about grace because I think it's the heart and soul of our faith. And when we don't preach about it, and when we don't understand it and we don't live it, we drift away from it, and we start being afraid and we start questioning things. It's not good. The experience isn't good.
So we've looked at the subject of grace from several perspectives in the past. This time I'd like to examine some common ideas that some religions and even devout Christians have about grace, which are not necessarily accurate.
First of all, this statement: Christianity is intake, not output. Think about that. Christianity is about intake, not output. Legalism is based on the idea that what you receive is tied to what you give. That's legalism. What you receive is tied to what you give. The better you act, the more perfect you are, the better your chance of getting to heaven and being rewarded. Grace, however, teaches that your output is based on your intake, the reverse.
For example, you take in the gospel, you output faith, you output obedience. You breathe in the gospel, you breathe out obedience. You take in the Holy Spirit, you put out the fruit of the spirit. You take in more of Christ- people say, "I don't know what's wrong with my life. My life's not going the way I want it. I don't understand what's wrong." And usually the answer is there's just not enough of Jesus in your life. I know that sounds hokey, but it's true. The main spiritual medicine that we need is always Christ, always more of Christ.
The maladies that we suffer spiritually, normally is because we just don't have enough of Christ. And when I say, take in more of Christ, well what do I mean by that? Well, more of His word, more worship. Put yourself more into your worship. You know, recently, and probably the song leaders may have noticed. I know that Titus has, we've talked about it. I wanted to worship better. I didn't know how to do that. I wanted to worship better, so I started to sing louder. My wife knows about that. I just decided I'm going to sing louder instead of just singing, "Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord." I sing it now like I mean it, "Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!" I sing it loud. I just thought, maybe loud, if I wanted to worship better. You take in more of Christ. As I said, the worship. You do more service. And when you do that, when you take in the word, and you take in the worship and you take in the service, you put out assurance, you put out service that's sacrificial and not simply dutiful. Do you know the difference?
When we get the breathing right, breathe in the gospel, breathe in the spirit, breathe in Chris- when we get that right first, then we breathe out salvation, then we breathe out righteousness, then we breathe out the fruit of the spirit. You can't breathe out those things unless you breathe in those other things.
When you get the breathing right then Christianity doesn't get us out of breath or create spiritual fatigue or discouragement, as does legalism and the effort of keeping the law.
So the first comment I want to make is that everything necessary for our salvation was done on the day that Jesus died for our sins. Somehow, somewhere along the line, we hear a lesson or we get confused and we think that our life as Christians is devoted to finishing up our salvation, to making up whatever's missing for us to be saved.
I did a class once and I asked people- there were maybe 30, 40 people in a class, "How saved do you feel on a scale from zero to 10? Zero being: I feel absolutely lost, I'm lost. That's zero. And 10 is: if I died right now I know I'm going to be with Christ. I'm going to heaven, straight to heaven. That's 10." And there were 30, 40 people in the class, and the average score on that question was six. Six! The saddest thing in the world is when a person who has followed Jesus for 35 years, faithfully serving Him and worshiping and so on and so forth, circles number six on 'how saved I feel'. There's something wrong there.
And so, I say that everything necessary for our salvation was done on the day that Jesus died for our sins. Let me just explain that a little bit. Most people when asked, when are you saved? They give the day that they're baptized as an adult as the day of their salvation. Don't get me wrong, let me finish here. As a matter of fact, this is our greatest debate. And most other groups that claim to be Christian, we debate that with them all the time. Some say, you're saved when you're christened or you're baptized as a baby. Others say, the moment you believe. Others say, the moment you acknowledge Christ as Lord in your head or in your heart.
We believe that the Bible teaches that our sins are washed away and thus we are saved at the moment of baptism,
Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
- Acts 2:38a
And in Acts 22:16, where an Ananias says to Paul,
Why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins.
- Acts 22:16a
This is why we insist on this idea. But the statement above means that everything that needed to be done for our sins to be forgiven and purified and washed away, all of that was done at the cross, not at baptism. This is my point. We don't do baptism. It's done to us. We don't see baptism as a work of merit or accomplishment. It is, rather, a responsive obedience and faith. Why? Because we believe something has been accomplished on our behalf.
Sins are cleansed and purified and paid for at the cross. At baptism, we accept that gift, that favor, that forgiveness by expressing our faith in Christ through baptism. What Paul was washing at baptism was his conscience and his guilt for sins, as Peter explains:
Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you- not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience- through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- I Peter 3:21
I love that, that Peter says that. People say, "How are you supposed to feel when you come out of the water? How do you feel? Do you feel joyful and excited?" I don't know. I don't remember feeling joy and excited. The feeling I had, relief. I just felt relieved. Later on, that gives way to joy and peace. But at first I felt, "Whew, thank you, God." I was at the edge looking over the abyss, and now I don't live on the edge anymore. I'm relieved because I'm saved. And all the work that went into saving me was done at the cross. It was His responsibility, His judgment.
And so, Christianity begins, it continues and it ends in grace. We've talked about that before. The idea that grace is both in the Old and in the New Testament. Some people say, "The Old Testament was the law, the New Testament was grace." No it wasn't.
People were saved because of their faith and God's grace in the Old Testament as they are in the New Testament. It was grace that created the world. Why did God create the world? Grace, His graciousness. It was grace that saved Noah. It was grace that sent the prophets. It was grace that sent Jesus Christ. It was grace that sent the Holy Spirit. It was grace that established the church. It's going to be grace that will resurrect us. It's the grace of God that will bring us to heaven, to be with Christ forever. We've always existed, we've always survived because of God's grace.
The difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament is that the New Testament fully reveals God's grace in Jesus and prepares us for the final expression of His grace. And that is the resurrection and the exaltation of man to the right hand of God. Actually, I left one out. There's the resurrection, the glorification and then the exaltation. We're resurrected from the dead. We're fitted with a glorified body which enables us to exist in the dimension where God is. And then we're exalted. Where? To the right hand of God. To do what? To live within the Godhead.
Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'
- Matthew 25:34
11It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 12If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us;
- II Timothy 2:11-12
I can't get my head around the idea of living within the Godhead. Why? We're at the right hand of God. Where is the right hand of God? With Jesus. Where is Jesus? He's in the Godhead. God's grace makes room for us there.
And then another statement, "Grace creates work." Grace not only has the power to save, it has the power to enable. Have you ever noticed that whenever there is a challenge, whenever there is a need God asks us to believe rather than to work or to try. I don't know the passage where something happens and Jesus answered, "You just have to try harder." I never heard Jesus say, "You're just not trying hard enough. You're just not making enough effort. You've got to pull yourself up by your bootstraps." He never says that. He always says, "All things are possible for those who believe." "Just believe," He tells us.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.
- II Corinthians 9:8
Second Corinthians 9:8 tells us that grace is the divine energy of the Christian. I've told you that everything we do, both great and small is done by the power of grace.
Here are other things that people say that I'd like to comment on. Did you ever hear the one, "God helps those who help themselves?" You've heard it or you've said it, probably to your children. What I heard was, "Do your best and God will do the rest." See, that's what I call legalism lite. A lite form of legalism. It supposes that there's a good and righteous amount that comes from us and then there's a good and righteous amount that comes from God, and when you put both of these together they purchase our salvation. He does some, we do some, and then together we're good to go. We're saying, "Listen, it's not that I do 80, 90% and He does 10%. No, no. I may do 10, 12%, He does the other 88%." There are people wandering around thinking like that. The truth is, your best, your very best, is not enough or not good enough to please or to appease God. And Isaiah says the following:
For all of us have become like one who is unclean and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment. And all of us wither like a leaf and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
- Isaiah 64:6
That's the indictment, not of our sinful self. That's the indictment of the best we can do. The only person that pleases God is Jesus Christ. The only thing that appeases His justice is the cross. The only way to please or to appease God is by believing in Jesus Christ. It's the only way.
And grace enables us to come to Christ through the gospel. Grace enables us to believe in Christ through God's gift of free will. Grace enables us to serve Christ through the revelation of His word. God's grace enables us to resurrect with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. God's grace enables us to live and reign forever with Christ in heaven, through God's eternal plan. So let's leave that idea: I do so much, He does so much. Let's leave that thinking behind, shall we?
Another idea: Grace is justice expressed in mercy. Because God is a God of grace He does not give us what we need, which is benevolence. We need benevolence. He doesn't give us what we deserve, which is simple justice. These are good things, but God goes beyond these and He gives us what we don't deserve, He gives us mercy. This is what justice in mercy is. You see, grace is not logical and it's not legal. In our mindset it just doesn't make any sense. That's why we have a hard time with the concept of grace. We prefer legalism, because we can count legalism. You know, I did this, I did that, I'm good. We can add it up. Grace, not so much.
In the story about the prodigal son, for example, the older son, remember he was angry and he would not come into the feast because he didn't understand or couldn't accept what his father had done. His father had shown the prodigal son grace and the older son didn't get that. He operated on a legal basis. He said, "I've served you for so long and I've done this and I've done that and you didn't even give me a kid, a baby goat, to celebrate me, to celebrate with my friends, for payment. All that I've done for you, I don't see the payment." Legalism.
Now the father, he could have let the prodigal serve with the other slaves, which was the prodigal's idea. Remember, he said, "I'll go home to my father. The slaves at least have food and something to eat there and something to drink." So the father could have let the prodigal son come home and serve with the other slaves, so he could find shelter and food. In other words, benevolence. Yeah, you screwed it up. Yeah, you took your inheritance before your brother and went out and blew it on wild, crazy living. And now you're coming back to me. Sure, he could have given him benevolence. Fine, you can live in the slave quarters. At least you'll have something to eat. And I know in my mind you'll be okay.
Or he could have restored him to being a son but with limited responsibility and position. That would've been justice. I can't let you live with the slaves, after all, you carry my name. So I'll let you back into the family but you don't sign any papers. You don't handle the budget. You know, that would've been justice.
But what does the father actually do for the son? The father not only restored his prodigal son to full sonship, but he also held a feast in his honor. He didn't deserve to be celebrated. That was something done because of grace.
And this is the nature of grace. It's not logical, it's not legal. The father gave the son the right to laugh again. He gave him the right to enjoy his life again. He gave his son the freedom from a life of guilt and shame. In other words, the prodigal didn't have to go around and say, whenever he met somebody, "Yeah, I'm Joe's son, yeah, I'm the loser. Yes, I'm the bad son." "Aren't you the one that left and blew all the-," "Yeah, that's me." He saved him from that life. He gave him the right to laugh again, to smile again, to tell a joke again, to enjoy a morning sunrise again.
That's what Jesus gives us. He gives us the right to laugh again, to enjoy life again, even though we've hurt Him, even though we've messed up. Jesus, the perfectly just one, accepts to eat with sinners. He forgives the adulterous woman, He dies a shameful death rejected by all in order to do two things:
The Cross Does Two Things
1. Pays the Moral Debt
First, to pay the moral debt for everyone's sins for all time. All sins. Think of your worst sin. Think of it. You know it. Think of it, think of it. It's paid for, it's gone. He doesn't see it anymore. The only person who sees it is you. And you only see it if you look back. And Satan's number one tactic with you and me is to make us look back, because back there is where my sins are. That's why Paul says, "I look forward." He was looking forward to what? To heaven. It's the same with us. Don't look back. That's where your sins are. Look forward, to where heaven is, because that's what God has given us. The promise of heaven.
2. Demonstrates Grace
And then, the cross also demonstrates the quality and the quantity of God's mercy and love and grace. It is endless. God's grace is always greater. There's a song about that, greater than our sin. If my sin is this big, His grace is that big every time.
And so the more we breathe in the news, the teaching, the image, the sense of this grace, the more we will be empowered to see God, to know God, to recognize His image in other people and to become like Him ourselves.
So as I finish out, this is my invitation. Some of you need to simply accept that God has made it quite clear that the proper response of faith to His offer of grace is expressed by faith. And faith, not in an altar call, not in a mental decision to believe, not in the repeating of man-made responses saying, "I accept Jesus, my Savior, into my heart, as my friend." But the oft repeated and demonstrated response of faith clearly and repeatedly shown in the Bible, 10 times in the book of Acts alone, that people respond to God through repentance and baptism. If you want to be sure just do what the Bible says. It trumps every other argument given by man. Just do what it says. That's all.
And then, some people need to learn how to breathe properly- leaving behind their labored, law works breathing style, which causes fear and fatigue and false hope, insecurity; and learn how to breathe in grace and breathe out the image of God in Christ in all that you are and say and do.
And so, if we can help you with either of these changes in your breathing, then we encourage you to come forward now as we stand and as we sing our song of encouragement. Shall we do that now, please?