A Sermon on Grace

I preached a sermon on grace at the Christian Union in Murang’a University in November 2018. What I share here are my reflections and sermon notes.

INTRODUCTION

Many of us live with the reality that grace is but are often quick not to go too far in understanding its way and means. And it is true because it is easier to go on without looking into the difficult things. If God is truly just, why hasn’t he killed me for my sin or at least punished me? And if God were to kill and punish us, we would still ask what then it means that He is merciful and gracious. Jonathan Edwards the 18th century American revivalist preacher said, “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God[1].”

MEANING AND PURPOSE OF GRACE

2 Kings 5:8-19

Naaman the commander of the army of the king of Aram had leprosy. Through his servant girl, he gets to meet Elisha who instructs him to go wash seven times in the Jordan and he’d be cleansed. Naaman gets angry for he feels like there are ‘better’ means like the prophet waving his hand over the spot or he would have been asked to wash in what he considered better waters. However, he is convinced by his servant to wash in the Jordan and behold, he is cleansed! After he was cleansed, Naaman goes back to Elisha intending to give him a gift but Elisha adamantly refused. Because nothing was accepted from him, he walked away conscious of the fact that he gave utterly nothing yet received everything he had hoped for[2].

This, friends, is the meaning of GRACE. That we receive what we deserved not through means that God alone has provided through Christ. In other words, GRACE = God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Grace is free, but make no mistake, it is only free in the sense of being self-originated, and of proceeding from the One who was free not to be gracious.

Three terms come to play here: Justice, Mercy, and Grace. They can be understood from Ephesians 2:1-5;

  • Justice – Getting what we deserve [We are by nature objects of wrath, v3b].
  • Mercy – Not getting what we deserve [Because of love, God, rich in mercy, made us alive, v5].
  • Grace – Getting what we do not deserve [We are saved, not only forgiven but also given eternal life].

Grace is given both for our salvation (so that we are justified) and sustenance (so that we are continually sanctified). Paul demonstrates this when he says, it is by grace you have been saved – Ephesians 1:5. In Titus 2:11 we see the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men…Grace led us to faith in the first place, so grace will keep us believing to the end…through many dangers toils and snares, I have already come; ‘tis grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.

THE NATURE OF GRACE

In order to understand the nature of grace, we shall consider the nature of man, the nature of God and grace as the means of God to redeem us from our wretched condition for the glory of His name. We see this from Romans 1:18-2:11.

1. The Nature of Man

Man is a fallen, depraved piece of creation. Though knowing God, they have neither glorified him as God nor given thanks to him. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. JI Packer, professor of theology at Reagent College and author of Knowing God, describes modern men this way: Conscious of their tremendous scientific achievements in recent years, men naturally, have inclined to a high opinion of themselves. They view material wealth as in any case more important than moral character. Modern men and women are convinced that despite their ‘little sins’ – drinking, gambling, reckless driving, cheating in exams, sexual laxity, black and white lies, dirty reading, etc. – they are at heart thoroughly good folks. Then at heart, they imagine that God is a magnified image of themselves and assume that He shares their own complacency about themselves[3].

Romans 8:32…although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. If Romans 2:8 is to be true then the hope of such defiance, rebellion and wickedness is nothing short of wrath and anger.

2. The Nature of God

God is the origin of all creation. He is sovereign. What may be known about God is plain to men, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse, Romans 1:19-20. Now, God is holy (1 Peter 1:15). He is also just (Romans 2:2). If God is going to be true to Himself, he will punish all sin, Romans 2:9-10. If God fails to punish sin, He will not be taking himself seriously. Unless one knows and feels the truth of this fact, one can never share the biblical faith in divine grace.

3. The Nature of Grace

The law was given to men (Jews) that it might be revealed to them the extent of their sinfulness. Through the law, we become conscious of sin (Romans 3:20). We see in Romans 7:7 indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. And since no one is found righteous by observing the law (Romans 3:10-12) we are all needing redemption. Like Paul, we need rescue from this body of death (Romans 7:24) and we receive this rescue through Jesus Christ in whom we were chosen before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in the sight of God – Ephesians 1:4.

The grace of God is love freely shown towards guilty sinners contrary to their merit and indeed in defiance to their demerit (not getting what we deserve). As the old hymn rock of ages says; not the labor of my hands; can fulfill thy law’s demands; Could my zeal no respite know; could my tears forever flow; all for sin could not atone; Thou must save and THOU ALONE.

 WHO QUALIFIES FOR GRACE?

Nobody. The attitude behind this question could easily be a prideful one. We must be careful to note that were are undeserving but God (rich in mercy) made us alive with Christ when we were dead in our transgression. Consider this moment during Christ’s crucifixion; Luke 23:35-43 – the people stood watching and the rulers sneered at Him, “He saved others, let him save himself if He is the Christ of God, the chosen One.” They did not know what Christ had revealed about His life, The reason my Father loves me is because I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. John 10:17-18.

One repentant thief, however, chooses not to join in the mockery. He turns to Jesus (conscious of the fact that he is getting what his deeds deserve) and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And indeed, gracious Jesus hands him the promise of paradise, that very day.

However, we should also live conscious to the truth that God is a patient God, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance – 2 Peter 3:9. Jonathan Edwards said in his 1741 sermon, “Sin is the ruin and misery of the soul; it is destructive in its nature. If God should leave it without restraint, there would need nothing else to make the soul perfectly miserable. It is no security to wicked men for one moment, that there are no visible means of death at hand.”

The patience of God is an act of grace or what is otherwise referred to as common grace. Common grace[4] is extended to everyone. It is God’s goodness to humanity in general. God graciously restrains the full expression of sin and mitigates sin’s destructive effects in human society. Common grace imposes moral constraints on people’s behavior, maintains a semblance of order in human affairs, enforces a sense of right and wrong through conscience and civil government, enables men and women to appreciate beauty and goodness, and imparts blessings of all kinds to elect and non-elect alike. God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45).

MISUSES OF GRACE

One of the greatest errors we can fall into is to think that grace is a license to sin. “What shall we say then? Paul asks, Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2). We do not set aside the grace of God (Gal. 2:21) since doing so amounts to tarnishing the death of Christ. Some claim and say that grace tends to encourage moral laxity. This attitude promotes sinful living with the perverted idea that God’s grace will keep you safe. The revealed will of God is that those who have been saved give themselves to good works…for we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do – Eph. 2:10.

The appropriate response to the grace given us by God is to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness – Ephesians 4:22-24. Again, we see that whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did, 1 John 2:6.

We cannot compensate for the gift of life through grace by any human means. Like Naaman, we may often feel like we can compensate this gift of God with other humankind gifts. If you do not pay for your sins, how shall it be then that you ask to pay for the blessings? Again, we cannot be lax and fail to live to every standard of righteousness hence be slaves to sin. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm therefore, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery – Galatians 5:1.

[1] Jonathan Edwards: Sinners in the hands of an angry God, 8th July 1741.

[2] Liali Joseph: The word revealed, the grace of God.

[3] J I Packer, Knowing God, 2005.

[4] Phillip R. Johnson – A premier on Hyper Calvinism.

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