Monday, February 27, 2012

"Grace or Works?" Ephesians 2:8-9

2/26/12  FBC RB

An elderly woman was standing in line at the grocery store about to pay for her merchandise and opened her purse and realized she had left her wallet and checkbook at home.  She was about to ask the cashier to put her things back when the man behind her saw what was happening.  He said, “Excuse me but I was recently shown some grace and I would like to pay it forward to you.  I’ll pay for this.  Go on.”  Then the man paid for her merchandise and his own.  A week later the woman went back to the store and the cashier recognized her.  She greeted her and said, “I thought you might like to know.  The man’s check bounced.”

Doesn’t that just ruin a good story?  My Dad was telling me one time about a man in his church that called him up and told him he had some peaches for him.  So Pop goes over there and the man puts a big basket of peaches in his trunk.  Pop politely asked the man how much he owed him and the man said $10. That’s worldly grace for you. 

Worldly grace is somebody doing something nice for you and it comes back to bite you.  Most of us have been there in some form or fashion.  Worldly grace says, “I want you to think I am doing something nice for you but really, it’s all about me.  I want you to think well of me but I don’t want to be out anything.”  And that just makes sense to us as humans.  The world tells us to look out for #1 and that there is no free lunch.  Protect yourself and get all you can get.  If people think you are a nice guy as you do it then so much the better. 

The opposite of worldly grace is divine grace.  Divine grace is hard to fathom for most of us.  In fact, if you really understand the gift and Who is giving it and to whom it is being given then it will be hard to fathom.  I mean, who can truly comprehend a perfect and holy God allowing sinners into Heaven without having done anything to earn it?  That just doesn’t make sense to us.  There must be something we have to do to earn the blessings of Heaven and the Creator, right?

Our passage this morning is Ephesians 2:8-9.  I want to compare those verses and what God says we have to do to be saved with what worldly men say we have to do.  Turn there and read with me.

God makes it pretty plain there through the author Paul that the only way we get to Heaven is through the grace of God but even though that is very plain, it is hard to believe for a lot of people.  All of our lives we are taught to work for what we get and that nobody (outside of maybe mommy and daddy) are going to give us anything for nothing.

So, I want to acknowledge 4 other ways that make better sense to men than totally relying on God’s unmerited grace.

1)      The first is by human sacrifice. In reading through the Old Testament one will find that Ahaz, king of Judah sacrificed his son to the idol Molech. Manasseh did the same. This horrific form of sacrifice is not just found in the Bible. The Ganges River in India has had maybe thousands of babies thrown into it. The Aztecs used to cut out the heart of great warriors. All of this was done to appease the gods; trying to make some sort of sacrifice worthy of favor. 

2)      Secondly, there is self-affliction. When Martin Luther was a monk he would whip himself with a leather whip until when he laid down at night he was covered in blood. You have seen pictures of Hindus tormenting themselves with whips or chains and that torment, the grieving, the afflicting of the body is done to be delivered from the penalty of death and sin. 

3)      Now, those first two were just ridiculous, right? We would never do that sort of thing. When modern man wants to appease the gods he will often times do so with his good works. They look at their lives a ladder with rungs that are good, better and worthy. They give up this and they stop doing that until finally they think they will place that ladder against Heaven itself. 

4)      The fourth thing people do to try to earn their way to Heaven is by being religious.  Now surely this will work, right?  Because this kind of incorporates all of the previous 3.  Surely God wants us to sacrifice our Sunday morning, afflict our bodies with uncomfortable clothes and sit in uncomfortable pews and do good things like staying awake through the sermon.  All the while looking like we are worshiping and sometimes even taking some of it to heart.  Surely that’s plenty to get us in good with God!

Isaiah 64 says all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.  The very best things you do, the very best way you look, the very best way you act, when done to work your way toward God’s favor, is disgusting to Him.  And most of you know that but you still sometimes have a hard time wrapping your brain around it and find yourself slipping into a works-based way to Heaven.  You sometimes slip into the thought that yes, grace is how I am saved but I still need to do good to deserve it.

I’m excited this morning to unveil a new breakthrough at FBC Runaway Bay.  I realize just what this church needs to really grow and really evangelize and really further the Kingdom.  Here it is:  2012 Corvette ZR1.  Seriously, nothing says, up and coming, fast-moving and totally sold out to God like a a handcrafted LS9 638-horsepower supercharged V8 with titanium connecting rods and intake valves and a test track top speed of 205 mph, 0-60 mph in only 3.4 seconds a handcrafted LS9 638-horsepower supercharged V8 with titanium connecting rods and intake valves and a test track top speed of 205 mph, 0-60 mph in only 3.4 seconds638 hp supercharged V-8 with a top speed of over 200 mph in Velocity Yellow!  Although I am flexible on the color.  If y’all would rather have torch red or supersonic blue metallic, that’s fine.  We can put FBC Runaway Bay on the side and maybe John 3:16 written out on the hood so when I make visits everyone will know who I am and where I’m from.

The good news is that I am not asking y’all to pay for the whole thing.  I’m going to pay as much as I can as well.  The total price is $114, 750 which is obviously a bargain but I’m going to put in my share.  Here it is:  $20.00.  Now all y’all owe is $114, 730 (plus t,t&l).  That’s fair, right?  We are all paying for it.  What?  Not fair?

It’s the same way when you tell God that His grace isn’t enough and that you are going to be good enough or that your good deeds are going to outweigh your bad deeds and that you are going to do something to deserve Heaven.  “Oh sure God, I know about grace but you need my help as well.”

Do you know about grace?  Do you understand that it is by grace and through faith that you are saved?  The original Greek word used here for grace is “charis” from which we get charisma and charity.  To the Greeks it meant to bestow a lavish gift, unmerited, without thought of reward or return on a loved one.

That describes God’s grace to us.  It is a lavish gift, totally undeserved, with no way to be repaid.  This verse says that we are saved – and that word means to be delivered, protected or made whole – we use it to mean assured of eternal life with God – by grace and through faith. 

Now faith means to be convicted or persuaded of the truth of something so much so that you stake your life on that.  I can’t prove that the bridge going across Lake Bridgeport is safe and secure.  I don’t get out to examine the pillars and foundation of that bridge.  I just drive across it because it has proven itself to be trustworthy over and over again.  I stake my life on that bridge every time I cross it because I have faith in it.

It is the same with God’s grace.  God says His grace is what saves us and so I stake my life on that because He has proven Himself trustworthy over and over again.  And do you want to know what difference that should make in the life of a Christian?  Chuck Swindoll said it well, “knowing grace is one thing, living it is another.”

Similarly, we have been given this grace by God; therefore, it is our privilege as well as obligation as Christians to show this grace to others.  When the world thinks of the church, they do not often see grace. In fact, Phillip Yancey quotes a prostitute who was down and out in Chicago. She was asked if she had ever thought about going to church. Shockingly, she replied, “Church! Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. That would just make me feel worse.”

How come we are not perceived as giving off grace? Where are we missing the mark?

When your friends or your relatives see you, do they see grace?

Do they see you extending favor or kindness to others or to themselves?

C.S. Lewis writes, “to be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

Conclusion- Grace is the best gift Christians can give the world because it is the best gift we have ever received. From an early age we are taught to survive in a world that does not know grace. We are taught mottos such as: the early bird gets the worm, no pain no gain, there is no such thing as a free lunch, demand your rights, get what you pay for.

None of these reflect grace.  The world is hungry for grace.  Let’s leave here today and give the world some grace.

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