I like to preach about grace, as I've mentioned before, it's what Christianity is about- God's grace. So far I've talked mainly about the road that one travels to get to God's grace and the nature of grace, and the difference between grace and law, how people confuse those two, or try to mix the two many times.
Here's a bit of review on some of the things that we've learned about concerning grace.
- First of all, grace is basically God's merciful attitude towards sinful man. If someone said, "What is grace?" Well, it's how God is. He's gracious in how He sees us, His attitude towards us.
- We talked about the fact that grace is embodied and personified in Jesus Christ. Want to see what grace looks like? Look at Jesus. You see what grace is like in a human being, grace personified.
- Grace has always been God's attitude towards man in both the Old and New Testament. I've heard people say, "In the Old Testament God dealt with man based on law. In the New Testament, based on grace." No. God has always been gracious to man. Man has always been saved by a system of faith because of grace.
- Grace is also extended to us freely because of who God is, not because of who we are or what we do. That is not at all what moves God to save us. What moves Him to save us is His grace, His gracious attitude. That's what moves Him to save us.
- Also, grace is responsible for everything that God has done. The creation, giving the law, sending Jesus, giving us the Holy Spirit, creating the church, offering eternal life- all of that stems from the wellspring of God's grace.
- And grace is a power that enables us to do things that we wouldn't do before. We would never think of doing things like we do now. Why? Because God's grace has touched us.
- And of course, grace is the reason or the motivation for our salvation. Why? Because God is gracious. It's not the method of our salvation. The method of our salvation is vicarious atonement- the innocent being sacrificed for the guilty. That's the method of salvation. Grace is the motivation for salvation. And grace is not the way salvation is received. Grace is received, and salvation is received, by faith. And that faith expressed in repentance and baptism.
In these seven ideas we covered the topic that I've been talking about for several months.
Tonight we're going to look at some of the things that grace produces in us. The things that grace enables us to achieve. Go to Hebrews chapter 11, if you will. I'm going to read a couple of passages from there.
Hebrews 11 is referred to as the Heroes of Faith chapter. It reviews the history of the Jews and describes the great accomplishments and sacrifices that God's people performed because of and by their faith.
1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2For by it the men of old gained approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. 4By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. 5By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. 6And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.
- Hebrews 11:1-6
32And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, 33who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
- Hebrews 11:32-34
These men and women that are spoken of here were heroes. But they were heroes, not in the modern sense. Today, heroes are self-reliant, and they're physically powerful. Those are the heroes that we read about and that we see in movies. These heroes here, their heroism was not based on the great things that they did, but rather based on the great things that God's grace did through them because of their faith. That's why they're heroes. That's why they're called the Heroes of Faith.
The common thread that bound all of these people together and binds them to us today are these:
A. People who believed
First, they were people who believed. They didn't just believe in faith or believe in religion. They believed God. I didn't say they believed in God. They believed God and what He said, and they lived by it. If God said this, they believed that. There's a big difference in believing in God, where you can discuss religion and God, that's believing in God. But these people, they believed God.
In the Old Testament, if you notice, there's no apologetics- the defense of the faith, the defense of the belief that there is a God. In the Old Testament, there is no apologetics. They assumed that God was there. It begins with God. And so, these people believed God.
B. Convicted of sin
Secondly, they were profoundly convicted of their sins. Each of these individuals recognized that they were sinners. They were unworthy of God. Many initially refused to serve God because they believed themselves unworthy. Moses, for example, and Gideon. Many of the "heroes" were women who said, "Not me. Me? You're choosing me? No, surely you've made a mistake, God." This is one common theme that they had.
We see it even today, many times, when we go speak to men about them becoming deacons or elders, for example. More often than not, the first reaction is, "You want me to serve as a deacon or an elder? No, I can't do that. Really? Me?" There's a certain humility quality, quotient, that's there. That needs to be there, I think. Well, it was the same thing with these people.
C. Appreciated God's Grace
Another thing is they appreciated God's grace. Their awareness of their sins enabled them to appreciate and rejoice in God's mercy and grace. The one is related to the other. The most beautiful quality in a person is appreciation, people who appreciate, when it's natural in them.
What is one of the first things that we teach our children when they're small? To say, "thank you," right? Why? We want to cultivate this element of gratitude in them. Why? Because it's such a beautiful quality. It is so hard to live with a person who doesn't have a sense of gratitude, even a sense of gratitude for small things. These people appreciated God's grace.
D. Grace powered
And then grace enabled them to do great things because of their faith. Grace is the single strongest motivator in the Christian's life. And if you doubt that, take a look at people's lives and the things that they did because they were touched by God's grace.
We share the same God, the same Lord, the same faith. And we are motivated today by the very same grace as the individuals that I've mentioned a few moments ago. Of course, time and circumstances have changed, but God's grace continues to produce great fruit in our lives.
And I'd like to describe some of these tonight as part of my lesson.
What Grace Produces
First of all, grace produces graciousness. I know, it's a little strange- Grace produces graciousness. I'll tell you why I put that as one of the things that grace produces.
Once a person accepts grace- what do I mean by that? To accept God's grace, a person must accept the embodiment of God's grace towards man, and that's Jesus Christ. So when you accept Jesus Christ, when you accept that He is the Son of God, that He is your Lord, that He is divine, when you accept that, in essence, you are accepting God's grace. Because that's what God has sent to man. He's embodied the grace that He has, that He is, in a person, in His son. And when we accept His son, we also accept God's grace.
When we believe in Jesus, when we repent of our sins, when we confess our faith and are baptized, we are, in effect, accepting God's grace because that's His plan, that's His way to save us.
Once we accept God's grace in this way, we begin to act in a gracious way. For example, when we accept Jesus as a gift, we then can begin to follow Him as a role model.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be like my dad. You know my story. I didn't realize- I wasn't old enough to understand, eh, maybe that's not such a good thing to emulate a guy like that, who's in the mob. Maybe I ought not do that. But when I was a kid, I thought that was fine. What was wrong with that? That was good. I wanted to be like him.
When I knew Christ, I wanted to be like Him. He's the one I wanted to be like. Through the power of Christ, that is grace's embodiment, we begin to be like Him in word and in deed.
Paul tells us this:
And put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
- Ephesians 4:24
This new gracious life, that Paul describes, grace produces a change in us, which is evident not only to us, but to people around us. Grace produces a change in us, which is evident to other people, even if they can't quite put their finger on it in the world. If there's no change, it means there's no grace working in our lives.
Secondly, grace produces gratitude. The mother of all virtues is gratitude. The opposite of pride is not humility. The opposite of pride is gratitude. Because when you're proud, you don't have to thank anybody for anything. You did it all yourself. I don't need anybody. When you're proud, that's the attitude- I don't need anybody.
Christianity begins with the gift of grace. Everything else that happens in our lives happens after we've received the gift, everything good. In other words, we don't work our way to it, we work our way from it.
Gratitude can be defined in a couple of ways.
First of all, through appreciation. We appreciate what we have been given. We express it in our words and our feelings and our actions. Sometimes people say, "I don't know how to pray. I've forgotten how to pray. I just don't know what to say anymore." And I tell them, "Start by saying, thank you." That's a good place to start. Start by saying, "Dear Lord, thank you," and then start filling in the blanks. And if you really can't think of anything, then just look at your body and say, "Thank you, I can still blink. Thank you, my brain is telling my lungs to breathe in and out without me having to do anything. Thank you for that." Because you know what? There are people that don't have that. "Thank you that my heart is beating at a regular rate, that I don't have to take my blood pressure every hour. Thank you for that. Thank you that I can walk and talk and hear and think." That's just the beginning. "Thank you for my house. Thank you for my dog." Just start by saying, "thank you."
Gratitude is also seen in dependence. I know we don't like that word, do we? Dependence. Appreciation recognizes weakness and the need that gave rise to the gift in the first place. In other words, I recognize that I'm dependent on God's grace. Because every once in a while I try to do it on my own. I pull away from grace, and I see what I can do on my own. And I'm good for a while. And then I realize, yeah, I need God's grace. I need it. I can't go to Him and speak to Him. I can't ask Him for anything unless I understand that I am under His grace.
People often reject the gospel because they don't want to be beholden to God or to anyone. Some people just don't want to say, "thank you". Worse still, they might have to obey. It's not so hard to obey One who is so gracious. Didn't Jesus say, "My burden is light"? The burden that Jesus puts on us, His yoke, it's not a heavy yoke. It's not the yoke of law, it's the burden of gratitude. It's not so hard to carry the burden of gratitude.
Gratitude is also expressed in wellbeing. Being humbled allows one to be exalted. And being exalted enables one to feel at peace with oneself and other people.
Having humbled myself to receive mercy kills my pride and also helps me to be merciful to other people. This attitude brings peace of mind and spiritual wellbeing because I am not constantly striving to be number one. And I can now more easily forgive others who are trying to be number one. I'm not in that race anymore. What a relief. I'm not in that race anymore to be better than you. What a relief. Thank you, Lord. I can just be me, the one that You loved, the one that You saved. That's good enough.
The antidote to the blues and to depression, to fear, and to worry is gratitude. And gratitude for grace is the highest level of gratitude one can reach because it is gratitude for the most precious of gifts: The gift of grace.
Another thing that grace produces: Assurance. You know that saying, "Once saved, always saved"? It sounds so good. It does, as a saying. Man, once saved, always saved, as preachers say, "That'll preach." The only problem is it's wrong. See, once saved, always saved, that's our friends in the evangelical world. And we poke a little humor there for them. But we have to look at ourselves because a lot of times, you know what our saying is? Once saved, but never sure. That's our saying. Once saved, but never sure.
Some people have been Christians for 40 years and if you ask them, "If you were to die right now would you go to heaven?" They'll say, "Well, I hope so. I think so. I'm not sure."
I know I've mentioned this before, I had a class on grace and I gave a questionnaire- How saved do you feel from 0 to 10? Zero is I feel utterly lost, 10 is I can't wait to get to heaven. I just can't wait till the Lord gets back. And I said, "Put a circle around how you feel." The average was six. Six! I get it if you were baptized three months ago. But you've been coming to church, and you've listened to 1,000 sermons and you're a six? That's our problem. Once saved, but never sure. I don't know which is better. I don't know which delusion is better because they're both equally wrong.
In fighting against the false idea that once you're saved, nothing you will do can ever change that has caused us many problems. This doctrine is based on the false notion that God chooses you for salvation regardless of your personal choice, you have no say in the matter. If this is true, then it follows that once you're in this way, you cannot be lost. However, the Bible teaches that man does have a say in his salvation.
And Joshua 24:15 says, "Choose this day whom you will serve." Choose this day. That sounds like free will to me. And in Acts 2:38, Peter, in the first sermon ever preached, he could have said anything at that time. But what did he say when they said to him, "Men and brethren, what do we do to be saved?" And what does he tell them? The very first word, "Repent." What does that mean, repent? Turn around, make a choice. Make up your mind which way you're going to go.
I like to say we have absolute free will. And people say, "What do you mean by absolute free will?" We have absolute free will because we have free will to the extent that we can say no to God. And if you can say no to God, you've got absolute free will. It's a heavy responsibility. It's a great gift. If we have a say in the beginning, then we have a say throughout our lives unto the end that we want to remain saved.
What does Jesus say in Matthew 10:22? "The one who endureth to the end shall be saved." What is He saying? Use your free will every day to renew your faith. And if you continue doing that, you will be in heaven.
God promises to all who believe and want to be saved that they will be saved, and nothing will touch them. And He provides His grace as the guarantee that this will be so. You see, absolute free will without grace, oh boy. Absolute free will doesn't mean absolute error-free free will. But absolute free will with God's grace equals confidence. Confidence that God is saving us and will continue to save us until it's time for us to meet Him.
This type of promise from God produces confidence, assurance, that despite our difficulties and failures, if we want to, He's going to save us.
How many people here want to be saved? Say, "amen." [Congregation] "Amen." That's it. You've just exercised your absolute free will. I'm saying to you, if that's what you want, then God will give it to you. And nothing will stop His will from completing His promise to all of us who want to be saved.
4. Aroma of Christ
One other thing here about what grace produces. It produces the aroma of Christ. Christians are not only the salt of the earth, they are also the sugar as well. When the love of Christ is seen in us, the message will be heard. It's what Paul refers to in
II Corinthians 2:
14But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? 17For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.
- II Corinthians 2:14-17
The grace of God produces graciousness, gratitude and assurance in our lives. And these qualities are in desperate supply in this world. It is the aroma of these things in our lives that affect and provoke others to notice us.
What's different about this person? Well, they're assured. What's different about them? They're always grateful. They're grateful for life. They're thankful for their families. They're thankful for everything.
What's different about that guy? He knows he's going to heaven. He rejoices in the fact that he's going to heaven. In the first century, there were no organized evangelism programs. Evangelism isn't a program, it's a life. That's what it is. It's a life. It's who you are, not something you do on Tuesday nights. Nothing wrong with having evangelism efforts in the church, get stuff out into the community, whatever. But evangelism, it's your life.
What good is it that on Tuesday night you go out and knock on doors and you put stuff in people's mailboxes, but you only feel 60% sure that you yourself are going to heaven? Well, what's up with that? Why bother? So we can share with somebody else, so they can be 60% sure that they're going to heaven? I mean, think now.
If a person knows you and is around you and hears you and sees for themselves the confidence that you have in your salvation and the gratitude that you have for it, and what it does to motivate you to do good and to rejoice, that's the evangelism that'll win their souls. That's the thing that'll make them want to know, what is it that you have that I don't have? The aroma of our Christian character draws attention. It draws curiosity. It draws people to search for the source of this aroma. And when they come near, they find out that it's grace. Grace in the person of Jesus Christ that smells so sweetly. That's why I say we're not just the salt of the earth, but we're also the sugar of the earth.
I'm not saying that we don't need to have some organized way of teaching and converting people. Only that without a gracious life, our words and lessons will not have any impact.
People are not impressed with your program. They're impressed with your life. Grace in you is what draws them to seek for grace in themselves. "How can I be sure?" they say. "How can I be assured?" they say.
These, of course, are not the only things that grace produces in your life. There are other things. Maybe I'll talk about it another time. I began with these to make you aware of the fact that grace is not only something you receive, God's mercy to forgive sins, but it's also a dynamic force in your life that produces tangible results.
Also, the things mentioned- graciousness, gratitude, assurance, aroma or influence- are not produced in any other way than through a personal experience of God's grace in your life. You can't do these things any other way. The absence of these things is usually a sign that you either don't understand grace, or secretly, you reject God's grace.
Grace therefore begins to work at baptism. That's why baptism is so important. People say to us, "Oh, you people, you talk about baptism." Well, because it's so important. How important is something that God mentions 10 times in one book? You think that might be important?
And so, I finish out my lesson by inviting you- I think I'm preaching to the choir tonight- if anyone here has not yet confessed Christ and repented of their sins and been buried in the waters of baptism, we encourage you to do that tonight.
And if you've fallen away from grace, if you've depended more on yourself than you're depending on God's grace, that might be a subject of prayer that you might enter into for yourself, or perhaps the church can pray for you.
And of course, if you have any other spiritual need at this time, we encourage you to come forward, as we stand and as we sing our song of encouragement.