FIRST LESSON: Genesis 15:1-6
SECOND LESSON Romans 5:1-11
SERMON: “Have You Heard About Grace?”
Have you heard about “grace?”
We talk about “grace” fairly often in church. Perhaps you have heard about the minister who dreamed that he had died and was standing in front of the Pearly Gates. St. Peter told him he needed 100 points to get in.
“Well, I was a minister for 47 years,” the minister announced proudly.
“That's nice,” answered Peter. “That gets you one point.”
“One point? That's all I get? Just one point for 47 years of service? ”
“Yes, that's correct, ” replied Peter.
“I visited shut-ins every chance I got.”
“I worked with the youth, and you must know what that is like. ”
“One point. ”
“I developed a number of recovery programs. ”
“One more point. That makes four points. You need 96 more. ”
“Oh, no! ” the minister cried in a panic. “I feel so helpless, so inadequate. Except for the grace of God, I don't have a chance. ”
St. Peter smiled and said: “Grace of God - 96 points. Come on in. ”
We sing “Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me,” and the “Wonderful Grace of Jesus.” We say a prayer before eating a meal that we call “grace.” We sometimes say things like, “There, but for the “grace of God go I” by which we usually mean something like “I identify with that person’s circumstances.” (I am troubled when I hear that, use of the term because I am compelled to ask, if that person doesn’t deserve God’s grace too? ) We talk about people falling from grace and we say that a particularly talented ballerina dances with exceptional grace.
If I asked you take out a pen or pencil and write a sentence or just a phrase that explains what grace is, could you do that? Can you define “grace” as we talk about it in the church? Do you understand grace?
In a new book, Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine from Max Lucado, Lucado suggests that we struggle with the term because too many of us have settled for a “wimpy” grace [his term]. When we ask “Do you believe in grace?” most Christians will say yes, of course they do. Who could say no? But Lucado presses us to ask a deeper question: “Have you been changed by grace? Shaped by grace? Strengthened by grace? Emboldened by grace? Softened by grace? Snatched by the nape of your neck and shaken to your senses by grace?”
He asks because wimpy grace doesn’t change you. The prophet Ezekiel wrote these words from God: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. (Ezekiel 36:26) The grace of God in all its fullness gives you a spiritual heart transplant.
Edward Sanford Martin wrote a little poem that describes many of us well:
Within my earthly temple, there's a crowd;
There's one of us that's humble, one that's proud;
There's one that's broken-hearted for his sins;
There's one that, unrepentant, sits and grins;
There's one that loves his neighbor as himself,
And one that cares for naught but fame and pelf.
From much corroding care I should be free
If I could once determine which is me.2
I had to look that one up – Pelf: noun, money or wealth, especially when regarded with contempt or acquired by reprehensible means.
A wimpy grace doesn’t change you. It lets you live proud, unrepentant and self-centered.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” In fact Paul refers to this union with Christ over 200 times in his letters. The disciple John writes about it 26 times: “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. (I John 4:15)
The grace shaped life is marked by a changed heart because Jesus enters in.
13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
Is your life shaped by grace? What does that look like? In this context, think of God as a heart surgeon, one who can go in and burn away hatred, discord, jealousy, anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, and fill it with the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5)
The grace-shaped life begins with receiving God’s grace, God’s unmerited favor.
Everyone needs grace, regardless of their circumstances. Some of us wince when we sing the words to Amazing Grace “that saved a wretch like me.” We think I’m not a wretch. I’m actually a pretty good person – but like the minister arriving at the pearly gates our good stuff gets us a point or two here and there, for the rest of it we need God’s grace.
A grace-shaped life is marked by a changed heart. Wimpy grace doesn’t change you. But God’s grace does something—it changes lives.
Lucado writes, “Our God is in the business of changing hearts.”
“Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within
them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart
of flesh.” (Ezekiel 11:19 NKJV)
Christ creates the change—Of all the world religions, this is unique to Christianity that Christ accepts us before we change, then moves within us.
You can’t forgive? Christ can.
Can’t face tomorrow? Christ can.
Is your life shaped by grace?