Means of Grace – “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” sermon from 7/18/10
So this morning we enter into something new again. We just spent the last six Sundays engaging our newly formed vision statement and now I’d like to take us into a shorter series to take us through the next three weeks. Three weeks from now we will then have a slight break as my family and I will take a vacation, and then we will return with our outdoor service on the 15th of August. To sum up what these next three weeks are going to be based on I’ll simply say the word “grace.” Today I’d like to explore what’s so amazing about grace in hopes of us grasping just what we have in Christ on the part of God’s love for us (John 3:16). Then the next two weeks after this my plan is to engage our two sacraments in the Reformed church, the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, as we have plans to celebrate both of them in the upcoming weeks and also as John Calvin often referred to both these sacraments as “means of grace.” I’ll get into what that means as we talk about each of them in the coming weeks.
To begin then, we are going to look the passage I at least always think of in regards to grace, and that passage is Ephesians 2:1-10. You may open your Bibles and follow along as I read it…
2 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
We opened this morning with maybe the most popular and familiar hymn there is as we sang “Amazing Grace.” This particular hymn has transcended years and even centuries as maybe the most recognizable Christian anthem. So many, both Christian and not and people from about every nation, know and adore this hymn. There has been many arrangements done on this hymn over the years (Esther even played a different version for her prelude this morning). In fact, this hymn is I’d say one of the few that you might hear accepted, and loved, and sung on secular radio or TV, or not necessarily only Christian events. It is definitely a beautiful song and it says so much of what I love and adore about grace.
However, something has always been interesting to me; how can so many ascribe adoration to one song, even those who may not even know the full extent of grace? Well, I think the answer to this in part is… grace itself. There is nothing in all the world like grace; Nothing so lovely, or beautiful. Also, you could say the song leaves something out that is essential to grace itself; and that is Jesus. His name is no where to be found in the song. Now, I am not trying to give this hymn a bad name. And I’m sure that many Christians can’t help but think about God’s greatest act of grace in Jesus Christ as they sing the words to Amazing Grace. Also, John Newton, who wrote the hymn in 1725, certainly knew and believed in God’s great grace in Jesus Christ. However, the greatest single act of God in grace is His giving of His only-begotten Son, Jesus, to die for our sins and to rise from the dead to open the door for our forgiveness and salvation. Our words of assurance liturgy for this morning brought this out nicely.
Something I fear though is that so many latch onto this hymn without knowing what’s all in grace or even knowing Jesus Himself. Even I can attest that I found this hymn to be quite lovely long before I knew Christ. Since knowing Christ though, the hymn means all the more to me. Look at these words from Martin Luther from the backpage of our bulletins… “Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by his faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy of God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.” Luther, after years of thinking he knew grace, figured it out for what it really is.
So what is it about grace? What is it that is so lovely about it? That’s what I hope to explore this morning. One means of doing that is first of all an acrostic that I have found helpful and I think you will too. That is… grace is “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” Again, that’s… If you take the first letter of each word it spells out G-R-A-C-E. Now that says it pretty succinctly, but let’s look at our passage from Ephesians 2:1-10 and see what else we can learn about grace.
1) Made Alive By Grace (vs. 1-6):
The first thing I see in this passage is that we are made alive by grace. The passage opens with, “Your were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived,…” On the part of grace we are brought from death to life! Hmmm, how can this be? We surely haven’t physically died. Well, as another place in Scripture says, “sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all, because all have sinned (Rom 5:12).” Death has come to us all on the part of sin, and the only remedy is God’s grace in Jesus Christ His Son. For as is said a little later in Romans 5, “where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Just as Paul says to the Ephesian church that they were dead through their trespasses and sins, in Christ grace reigns through righteousness bringing eternal life through Christ to all who believe.
As our opening hymn, Amazing Grace, opens with the description of grace that saved a wretch like me,… the word “wretch” is an interesting term. I looked it up and it stands for a miserable or vile person. It describes someone as dirty, and trapped, and a wreck; someone whom you might say might as well be dead; they feel stained, useless, hopeless, lost. That’s us in our sin! We are filthy, trapped for we can’t do anything about it, and a wreck as we follow the ruler of the air and our desires of flesh & senses. But by the grace of God in Jesus Christ His Son, this all changes! In Christ we are washed clean by the sacrifice of His blood, we are set free from our captivity to the ruler of the air, and we are brought from death (or being a wreck) to life. The rest of the first line of Amazing Grace says “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.” That’s what it’s like when we are brought from death to life by grace in Jesus Christ. In our wrecked state we are lost; we are like sheep who have gone astray, each to our own way. We don’t know right from wrong or truth from non-truth. But God laid on Christ the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). And Christ is the good shepherd, He is the way, the truth, and the life, and in Him life makes more sense, we find out more of who we are, and we are able to see and understand God’s truth; we are made alive! More than this too, we are also made alive as our passage says, together with Christ, being raised up with Him and seated with Him in the heavenly places. Even though we were dead in our trespasses and sins in which we acted out against God, we share in God’s riches with Christ who died for us. That’s amazing grace! We don’t deserve any of that!
2) Saved By Grace (vs. 8-9):
A second thing in our passage about grace then is that we are saved by grace! Verse 8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” One of my favorite new TV shows is a show on HGTV called “Holmes on Homes.” Does anyone know of this show? In this show a guy named Mike Holmes comes in to other people’s houses and fixes up renovations gone awry/wrong. This is what we need within ourselves! We need total renovation! The problem is that before Christ we are doing the renovations on our own and with the things of this world. There’s a tag-line to this show that goes, “Mike makes it right,” and this is our problem; I/we can’t make it right! It is by grace we are saved through faith, not by works or anything of ourselves. To take a concept from John Calvin, there are 2 things at work in one’s salvation; Calvin termed them the Double Grace; justification & sanctification. In this the renovation of salvation is both a one-time occurrence and a process. By the grace of God in Jesus Christ His Son who suffered and died on our behalf we are justified before the Father and it is “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned! Also, by the grace of God in Jesus Christ we are sanctified, which means to be made holy or set apart as we are renewed day-by-day unto the likeness of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. That is the renovation needed within each one of us, and we can’t make it right. Only Christ can make it/us right in justification and sanctification.
3) Set Apart for God’s Glory By Grace (vs. 10):
Lastly then, a third thing in our passage about grace is that we are set apart for God’s glory by grace, for the last verse says, “For we are what He has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” There is an interesting word here in the original Greek. I the version we’re reading from it is translated what He has made us, but in the NIV and other translations it reads His/God’s workmanship. The Greek word used here is poiema, and it’s where we get our English word “poem.” What this means then is that by the grace of God in Jesus Christ we are constructed by God like a beautiful poem as we live into more of what He has made us and prepared for us beforehand to be our way of life. In this we glorify God the Father through Jesus Christ His Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Closing (vs. 7), tie back to G.R.A.C.E:
In closing then, this is all done “so that in the ages to come [God] might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” We have been shown great kindness toward us and all the world by the immeasurable riches of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense is given as we are made alive, saved, and set apart for God’s glory by G-R-A-C-E. What an amazing gift on the part of God’s love for us! May we know this deep within, and may we allow God to do a great work in us through His amazing grace!