Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Understanding Grace…without it no one can be saved!

Years ago as a pastor, I faced an issue concerning the topic of “Grace.” I had noticed some congregants who were taking Grace to the extreme and beginning to teach that since our sins were bought and paid for at the cross—all of them, past, present, and future—there was no need to strive against sin. Thanks to our Lord, this was noticed and the He quickly allowed it to be curbed. This heresy occasionally rears its head in Christian circles and indeed must be stopped before it becomes out-of-control. The good thing is that a proper understanding of Grace can arrest the heresy in its steps. Because this false perception thrives in loose living, many well-meaning Christians go completely to the opposite extreme and throw the Biblical teaching of “Grace” out altogether. That too is heresy. How should we approach it?

Grace, as a doctrine, should always be presented in its entirety. By that I mean, a starting definition, followed by why it is important, and concluding with keeping it scriptural. Unfortunately, as awesome as the doctrine is, too often its message is never presented in this way. All Christians should strive to make sure that the gospel we present is a complete gospel.

Grace - So, what is Grace? Simply put it is “undeserved favor” or “unmerited favor.” It is the divine response of God when we express a saving faith in Him. God gives us His favor because we trust Him with our lives, and the best thing is this gift is free! It does not require us to follow a list of changes to receive it. We need only come to Christ in believing faith, lay our sinfulness and helplessness at His feet, and turn our hearts to Him in submission. It came with a price, but not ours. Jesus paid its price on the cross.

Grace, as it applies to Christians, may be viewed as encompassing several other doctrines such as, Reconciliation, Justification, and Sanctification. It is not my overwhelming desire to use “churchy” words but since, as a Christian, you will be reading the Scripture it is good to recognize these early. Let’s take a closer look.

Reconciliation- Sin has separated us from fellowship with the Lord. In order to come back into a good standing with Him the separation must be reconciled—the gap must be somehow, breeched. Reconciliation then can be defined as the process by which God brings humanity back into fellowship and right standing with Him. It is accomplished through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross. Again, He made a path through the cross and his subsequent bodily resurrection for the reconciliation to become a reality. This offer has been extended to all who will freely receive it. Once we accept His reconciliatory offer, the separation is resolved, and we are then set apart for His service.

Sanctification – Prior to becoming a Christian, sin ruling over our desires always tainted any “good work” we may have performed previously, despite what motive of purpose we may have stated. Sanctification then, is the work of God in freeing us from sin to serve Christ alone through the Holy Spirit. By accepting His offer of salvation, we become sanctified, or set-apart, for His service. We now have the ability to respond to God in ways prompted by the Holy Spirit that bring Him glory. Our motive is no longer self-centered but has now become Christ-centered. If this did not occur then for the sake of your eternal soul, please review your reasoning in accepting Christ.

Justification - The processes above are freely given to us because sin no longer holds an eternal sway against us. When a criminal goes before a judge to receive sentence he can either be exonerated of the crime or stand convicted. Either choice has a consequence. In the one he is set free while in the other he is sentenced to punishment. Justification is God’s act of exonerating us from the penalty of our sin. Through Christ, we no longer have to fear death because it is only a stepping stone to life.

As we said, Grace encompasses all of the awesome processes above. It is easy to see why many have used it as a license for “loose living.” However, the Bible doesn’t end here with the topic of Grace. For instance, “Does Grace give us control of our own lives? Does its impartation allow us to live as we like without worry for tomorrow? After all, are we not forgiven?” Yes, we are, but we are forgiven to serve. It is here where many falter. Forgiveness is not just the removal of sin in order to have eternal life, but it is imparted to us in order to free us from the debilitating effect it works in keeping us from serving the Lord. Satan's lie that we are not good enough is only half true. We by ourselves an in our own power cannot perform God's good will and directives-we aren't good enough; it's true. But by God's grace Jesus has made us good enough and that is what Satan desires to keep from us.

Free to Serve
It is true that our decision-making is governed by free will, in that the Lord will never force us to respond to Him or do anything aside from our will. However, we must remember, that we are the product of His creative work. He rules and reigns supreme over the entire universe. We exist, (Christian or not) because He allows us to exist. So, in one sense we are free to make our own decisions but in another that freedom is ultimately subject to His divine judgment whether we believe in Him or not.

Grace teaches us that believing upon the Lord Jesus for the salvation of our souls and the directions for our lives fully places us into His hands. In trusting Him, we are admitting that He knows what is best for us and we need Him to take the reins. His “Grace” provides us the means to fulfill our created purpose in His will.

Some simple Points most people understand but many still need to hear are:

1) We are saved by Grace. Eph. 2:8-9 - "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."

2) We are reconciled by Grace. 2 Cor. 5:18-21 - "Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

 3) The penalty of sin has been forever paid for because of Grace. Col. 2:13-15 - "And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it."

 4) We are sustained by Grace. Heb 13:9b - "...For it is good that the heart be established by grace,..."

 What is often left out of this message is:

5) Grace induces us to live a Holy life. Titus 2:11-15 - "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you."

A believer should be so thankful, so mesmerized by the substitutionary death of Christ that he/she is constrained to serve Him. This type of person is the one you will often find on their knees, prostrate before the Lord in humble reverence. Grace opens our eyes to our pitiful position and offers a way out. It speaks to us of a second chance in life. It tells us we do not need to continue to live apart from God because the fountain of cleansing is open. It invigorates us to be pleasing to Him who saved us. It was the expressed attitude of the Apostle Paul. He wrote:

Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God,... For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again (2 Cor. 5:9-11, 13-15).

This is often a difficulty for those who do not have a deep remorse for personal sin. For how can one feel compelled or constrained, by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, to live a pleasing life to the Lord, if he does not see a reason why? Of this again, the Apostle Paul writes:

Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.

Notice that those who possess this Godly sorrow, as the result of living a life apart from God’s guidance, and as an offense to Him, do and will come running to the Cross. It is the Godly response to spiritual desperation. It is natural then, for Grace to be the teacher that God uses to continually “conform us to the image of Christ” (Rom. 8:29).

Jeremiah also describes this in Jer. 20:7, 9b:

"O LORD, You induced me, and I was persuaded;
You are stronger than I, and have prevailed.
...But His word was in my heart like a burning fire
Shut up in my bones;
I was weary of holding it back,
And I could not."
This constraint, inducement, or compelling force that moves all true believers who have a deeper-than-deep desire to be as close to God as is humanly possible is fueled by His Love and our thankful hearts! Grace is nothing more than poured out Love from on High, the rain of Heaven, the manna in our spiritual wilderness. It is God reaching down to us rather than us building a ladder of works to reach Him. Grace is God coming down to us that we may become His special work.

Nothing is more Awesome than this. Rom 5:8, "While we were yet sinners Christ died for us."

Recognize His love, confess your sin to Him, and receive Him today...by grace... you too, can be set free! John 3:16; John 14:6

God Bless