The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘God’s Grace!’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 9/21/2014, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here: http://bit.ly/1oi4njW
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” – Eph 2:8-9
I am a firm believer in always coming back to the basics. So this morning we’re examining grace.
Our salvation is by grace, through faith. Grace means unmerited favor. Unmerited means we don’t – and never could – deserve it. We find ourselves in right standing with God because of the finished work of the Cross.
So can we ever deserve grace? Can we ever earn more of it? No. The fact that grace is unmerited means it has nothing to do with us. It has everything to do with Jesus Christ hanging on the Cross and dying for our sins. Grace is a free gift.
Birthday parties are always amusing to me because you show up to give gifts to someone just for being born. Isn’t that hilarious? I had no control over being born. I did nothing to conceive myself. Yet on the same day every year, people give me presents because of something my parents did (gross, I know). I don’t get birthday cake and presents because I did anything special; I get them because I was born. And we don’t earn grace by doing anything special; we get it because we were born again.
Qualifications for Grace
So what exactly qualifies us for grace? How do we receive this amazing, free gift from God? We need faith.
Abraham had amazing faith. God had promised him that He would make him a great nation and make his name great (Gen 12:2). But Abraham wasn’t seeing any of those amazing promises happening in his own life. So what did he do? He got honest with God and asked some tough questions:
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed in the Lord, and [God] accounted it to him for righteousness.
– Gen 15:1-6
Have you ever been there? If we’re honest, I think we all have. The conversation goes something like this: “God, I get it. You are God and You are good. I’m just a man, and I should never ever even think about arguing with You. You’ve promised me some amazing things. But where are all the blessings? When are they coming? I don’t see any of them in my life!”
Abraham was taking a huge risk here. He wasn’t issuing a full-blown challenge to God, but he really had to trust in God’s love for him to have that conversation. And what does God do? He promises Abraham even more. All Abraham wanted was a single descendant. But God promised him descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.
Abraham believed God’s promises, and God accounted that belief to him for righteousness. Faith is the one thing that’s required to experience the grace of God – the only thing required to take possession of unmerited favor in your life! We are saved by grace, through faith; and not of works!
What About the Law?
But what about the law? Why would God devise a system of rules designed to demonstrate holiness if we didn’t need them? What about being a good person? Can’t I just try my best and get into heaven?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The law points to the promise. God gave us the law to highlight for us that we can never become perfect on our own. He gave us the law to demonstrate our imperfection so that we would make the choice to rely on His Perfect Son for perfection. Paul had to explain this to the churches in Galatia:
Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. – Gal 3:5-9
Was Abraham perfect? Of course not. Did he uphold the whole law? That’s a definite no. The law wasn’t even instituted when Abraham was alive. Yet he was counted as righteous because he believed God. He achieved right standing with His Father and was showered in favor because he believed.
If you’re trying to be good to earn God’s love and affection, let me save you some time and frustration: it cannot be done. God requires perfection. He cannot allow sin into His presence. So if you’re headed for heaven, you have to be completely and totally sin-free. But no man has ever lived a sinless life. Except One.
When Abraham believed, he became righteous. And when we believe, we will enjoy the same privilege. When we say yes to Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives and believe that His death cancels our debt, we become recipients of the same grace Abraham enjoyed.
Under the New Covenant, God makes a promise to us:
…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. – Rom 10:9
When we see the word “saved,” we think it means heaven-bound. But did you know that the word “saved” is meant to encompass much more than just gaining access to heaven? Yes, salvation is something we’re supposed to look forward to; it’s supposed to give us complete confidence that when we die we will go to be with God. But it’s also supposed to mean so much more.
The word “saved” in the original Greek text is sozo: saved, healed and delivered. That word is meant to encompass and address every part of your existence: soul (mind, will and emotions), body and spirit. Yet somehow the full extent everything that word was meant to mean for us was lost in translation!
The result is unfortunate. We end up settling for a hope of heaven: a powerless brand of Christianity that bears no fruit until we’re dead and gone. We think of “giving our lives to Christ” simply as something that’s necessary to gain access to heaven. We embrace a form of godliness but deny its power (2 Tim 3:5).
Wash Over Everything
The Lord has been honing my understanding of grace in times of contemplation and prayer. He has been teaching me to appropriate grace in every area of my life. We tend to compartmentalize. We tend to isolate the areas in our lives where we apply grace. We tend to only allow the blood of Jesus to spill over into certain compartments of our lives. But God wants to wash over everything.
Let’s stop and think about this for one second. You’re trusting God’s grace for the eternal fate of your soul. If you’re a Christian, you believe that when you believe in Jesus Christ, He’s going to make sure your soul gets from earth to heaven to enjoy eternity with God. That’s a lot of trust!
So if we’re willing to make that leap of faith, why can’t we trust God for the simple things? Why can’t we trust Him for grace with our finances? Why can’t we trust Him for grace in our relationships? Why can’t we trust Him for grace in every single area of our lives?
God promised Abraham some pretty substantial things:
Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Gen 12:1-3
Abraham was literally trusting that God would bring him into a foreign land and bless him in everything he did. And I believe God is calling us to fully accept that same promise. So here are some areas where we can immediately accept God’s unmerited favor.
Blessed at Work
We can and should appropriate – take hold, possession and ownership of – God’s grace in our workplaces. I believe in merit-based promotion, and working hard at what we do with a spirit of excellence. As Christians, we have all of heaven’s resources at our disposal. So, shouldn’t we be the most intelligent and hardest working people in our fields? Shouldn’t we be the ones discovering scientific breakthroughs and achieving success while giving God all the glory?
There is also such a thing as faith-based promotion. I believe we should all strive for merit-based promotion, but accept faith-based promotion when it comes. God will promote you when it’s part of His plan – even if you don’t deserve it at all!
You all have that person in your workplace. He or she always underperforms, and should be the last person to get a promotion. But for whatever reason, promotion comes; and you’re left wondering what the heck is going on. Biblically speaking, did you know you should be that person? You should be the child of God receiving blessings for no apparent reason at all! Because you’re Abraham’s seed, God has made you an heir to exactly the same promises Abraham received.
Faith activates blessing! Abraham believed God’s promises for his life, and was launched out into a foreign land with everything he could ever need.
Blessed in Your Finances
Abraham means “father of many nations.” Being a father of many nations sounds expensive, doesn’t it? God told Abraham his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens and the sand on the seashore. We think of that as such an amazing, tremendous blessing; but we seldom stop and think about all the money that would require! If you’re a parent, you know exactly what I mean. Kids are expensive! God promised Abraham a lot of them. So part of our Abrahamic promise is financial security and the ability to materially provide for all our descendants.
Blessed in Your Relationships
We can and should appropriate – take hold, possession and ownership of – God’s grace in our relationships with God. The Bible commands us to “…boldly approach the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16) – not only even when we feel like we don’t deserve it, but especially when we feel like we don’t deserve it! So whenever you feel inadequate in His presence: good! Jesus Christ fulfilled the requirements to be welcomed into God’s presence. Because we are seated in Him, we are legal beneficiaries of his status with God!
We also can and should appropriate – take hold, possession and ownership of – God’s grace in our relationships with other people. God is the God of reconciliation! He desires to make all of us lights in dark places for anyone who doesn’t yet know His Son Jesus Christ. So will your family life be perfect when you give your life to Christ? No. But when something goes wrong, you can appropriate God’s undeserved favor over every one of your relationships that needs it.
But here’s the kicker. As recipients of grace, we must be ready to give grace freely in return. And that can be very hard to do.
Good Stewards of Grace
We preach grace from the pulpit every Sunday at CityLight Church. That means we have the responsibility to live it in our daily lives. As recipients of God’s grace, we need to demonstrate it to other people. This is always our heart and our goal. You might be the only Jesus someone around you sees. Are you representing Him well?
Another part of being a good steward of God’s grace is giving God the glory for everything good that happens in your life. Whenever something goes right, we have a choice: will we honor man, or honor God?
Too often, we fall into a backwards patter. When something goes wrong, we blame God; but when something goes right, we give ourselves all the credit! We should really operate in completely the opposite way! God is a good God! He seeks to bless us with amazing things in our lives. Satan – not God – is the adversary who wants to drag us down. When something bad happens in your life, examine your own role in that outcome. Did Satan convince you to do something contrary to God’s will?
When something good happens, honor the source of all blessings: God Himself.
But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” – 1 Cor 1:30-31
Your salvation didn’t come from you; it came from God. Good things in your life don’t come from your own self-effort; they come because of God’s grace. Give God all the glory. When you do, you will become a living, breathing testimony for everyone around you. And when you prove that you are a good steward of the blessings He has already given you, God will shower you with so much more!
– by Pastor Michael White
© Michael D. White and CityLight Church, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael White and CityLight Church with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.