Drawn to the Cross: In Grace

You were dead through the trespasses and sins 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. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and sense, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with him and sealed us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God--not the results of works, so that no one may boast. 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. -Ephesians 2:1-10


So John Newton, the author of The hymn we sang, Amazing Grace, wrote those words after having a transformation in his life, coming to faith, he had been a captain of a slave ship and recognized that there were things in his life that he needed to set right. And so that opening verse, Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. Once was lost, but now I'm found was blind, but now I see. It doesn't sound like a good state of affairs that he's recounting in that hymn. But Paul would even go a step further. He begins our reading this morning by saying You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, you weren't just a wretch, you weren't just blind. You were dead. Now, he must not be talking about literal death here because he had an audience that was hearing him, but yet... I think there's a lot of truth to that. He said that You know what the life you're living right now, you're on a road that's only leading to one place, to the grave, you're living by your own standards, your own whims, your own wants, your own wishes, and your oblivious to what God would have you to do...


And he says that this life that you're living is so insubstantial, he says that you're following the rulers of the power of the air that you can't even grasp and put your fingers around... It's nothingness. And this is how you're living. Now, when it comes to this grace that we receive from God, we often recognize and trust that we have a role to play in this... Paul spends the first three verses of this passage talking about all of these things that people are pursuing that are leading to death, he said we lived in this, this was the life that we had, desires of flesh, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else, we're all in the same boat without Jesus Christ, he says, and for many of us, we wanna say, but at that point, we made a decision, we changed our lives, we turn things around and we accepted Jesus, and we wanna wedge that in there, but Paul doesn't go there.


Paul talks about what life is like before and without Jesus, and then verse 4, he says, But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead, through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. By grace, you have been saved. So life before Christ, dead. Life before Christ is bad, not good. And nowhere in there doesn't say that we do anything, because it goes from this life that is apart from God, that leads to death to... but God is rich in mercy. Now, Paul is gonna pick up on that more and talk about the fact that we didn't do this. This was God's doing. So that we cannot boast. But God is the one who initiated this. God isn't just merciful. God is rich in mercy. God has so much mercy that it covers a multitude. Even all of my sins, all of your sins, all of your shortcomings, all of those things that will make us unworthy. And yet God, rich in mercy, and out of this abundant and amazing love that offers us and brings us into life alongside of Christ is being offered to us.


So what did we do? What did we do to merit? Receiving this love. And the answer is nothing. It's grace. Pure and simple, it's grace. Grace is often defined as God's unmerited favor, something that we don't deserve, and yet God offers it to us anyway.


Now, John Wesley, the founder and Father of Methodism, was by and large a pastor, he wasn't necessarily known for his theological works with the exception of one thing, and we have to talk about it when we bring up grace. Wesley's understanding of grace is somewhat unique, but it's a significant part of who we are as Methodist, he defined the grace of God, being active and working in three different ways in our lives. He talked about prevenient grace, justifying grace and sanctifying grace, all one in the same grace of God, but that prevenient grace, not a word that we use much anymore, but basically that's the grace that goes before us, that's God at work in our lives, moving and doing things behind the scenes before we even have any understanding of it, and the day that her eyes are open and we recognize that God is the one who is working and moving in our lives, drawing him to Christ, drawing, drawing us to Christ, drawing us to that mercy and grace that He wants to pour into our lives when our eyes are open to that, we then become justified through grace or set right with God, and then we begin this journey of sanctification, we're sanctifying grace, which is the process of becoming more holy because of that grace of God at work in our lives.


So God's at work behind the scenes before we know what our eyes are open, and then we begin this journey with God of being shaped and transformed and remade, it's all grace at work in our lives. And the thing is, we have a very, very small part to play in that, we talked about it in Bible study this week, and often you'll hear people ask that question that he is a traditional and an accurate evangelical question to ask people who may not yet be a Christian. Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? Now, I used to have a problem with personal, and someone reminded me at one point that personal and private aren't the same thing, personal means intimate and connected, personal means relationship. Private means it's just me and Jesus, and that's not how our faith works, seldom is our faith private, but often it is personal, because Jesus... Well, Jesus is with us. But more than that, I struggle with sometimes. I think that that question, have you accepted, make this decision, this entry into faith, one of those works that Paul is talking about and saying, This is not your doing, that in some way or somehow by our conscious choice, we have chosen to accept Jesus Christ, thereby effecting our salvation, that I did this for myself, I made this choice and now I'm saved.


And Paul would say, No, you didn't. You did not do that, God did that before you even knew who God was. In fact, Jesus tells us the same. In John 15:16, Jesus says, You did not choose me. I have chosen you, before we even thought about it, we'd already been accepted. The late Theologian Paul Tillich had a three-volume work on Systematic Theology that if you ever have trouble sleeping, it will help. Volume One will be sufficient. Not to diminish. Yeah, man, he was a good theologian and well-known, but very lofty, but one of the things that had really stuck with me, one sentence out of those three volumes, Tillich said, that salvation is accepting that you've been accepted. And I like that, that works better for me with this idea of what does it mean to be saved? Not that I did something and I went and grabbed hold of it and claimed it for myself, but rather I accepted in the sense of submission, surrender, maybe even resignation. But I accepted that I had already been accepted. I accepted that all of that work had already been done, and I like that phrasing of it because it minimizes my role, because I cannot save myself.


It's why grace is necessary, that's why Jesus Christ was necessary. We cannot save ourselves. Nor can we claim him for ourselves, because he's already claimed us. But yet we do have a conscious choice in this, of accepting this amazing grace, this abundant gift of mercy that God is showing to each and every one of us, imagine that God comes to you, the nice big box, beautifully wrapped, bow neatly tied and hands it to you and says, This is for you. It's everything you need. Forgiveness for your sins. All of my love, grace beyond grace. Salvation and life eternal. It's yours. Now, when it comes to receiving a gift, we accept it, but we also most often open it and do something with it.


Unfortunately, I think sometimes with this gift of God's grace that is given, there are those who hear about it who may even accept it, and then promptly turn and put it on a shelf and shut the closet door. Never experiencing the fullness of that grace in their life. Never entering into that process that Wesley talked about of sanctification, of growing in God's grace and becoming more fully the person that God created us to be, to continue that process of being transformed and shaped to be more like Jesus in the way that we talk and act and love and care and share and be a part of this world. But this grace comes to us as a gift. You have been saved by grace, through faith. We receive the gift, we believe it to be necessary and true. Well, God begins that work of transforming our lives in these 10 verses that we heard in Ephesians, Paul lays out a brief summary of what he thinks life looks like before Jesus, in Verse 4, He says, But guess what, God is the one who has initiated this process God has accepted you, even though you were unworthy, you didn't do anything to merit his favor, he didn't look and say, Okay, you finally have learned your lesson. Now, here's what I'm gonna do. Now, God initiates the process, then and there in the richness of His mercy and the abundance of His love, He begins to offer us that grace that can and does change our lives.


But Paul points to the fact that there is a purpose. That there is an intention, there is a design behind why God is doing this. He gets to it in verse 10. He says, I wanna make sure that you understand God has done this and not you, you did not claim this for yourself, you did not earn it, you did not make it possible. Only God can do that. By grace, you have been saved through faith. Not your own doing, it's a gift of God. It's not the result of works so that no one may boast. So we don't engage in good works, we don't do those acts of kindness, so we can keep a tally and say, Okay, I've got my 10 boxes, check, Can I have my salvation now?


We have not done anything to do this, and Paul wants us to be clear and understand that there is nothing that we can boast about unless it's the abundance of God's mercy about the extravagance of his grace and the gift that he's given us, even when we didn't deserve it. But it's not just so we can have an easy life, free from concern and free from obligation and responsibility, receiving this grace of God, He isn't an opportunity to kick back and put our feet up and sip on a sweet tea thinking, Okay, life is good. I've got my salvation card checked. I just need to wait until the roles Called Up Yonder and I get to go home. Now, it's not that way. Paul says, For we are what He has made us to be. That is through the grace of God has shaped and transformed our life, we are what He has made us to be, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. All builds up to that point. That this grace of God is at work. Because without it, we're dead that because of the state of the world, and we don't need to rehash all of that, but we've got wars, we've got injustices, we've got people engaged in behaviors that are hurtful to themselves and damaging to others, and the list goes on and on... And all of those things we see point into the fact that those decisions and that type of life often does lead to death,


and God's grace… Well, God's grace through Jesus is the only answer for it. And so we receive that grace and allow God to begin reshaping us and re-making us into the people that He needs us to be created in Christ Jesus for good works. We can get away from the good works, but it's making sure they come in the right order, we don't do the good works to boast about what we've done and earn God's favor rather because we've received that favor, because we've recognized that no matter how unworthy we are, God has accepted us and offered us his grace because of that, our response or Thank you to God is to go forth and engage in those good works. In the Epistle to James, we're told that faith without works is dead. Faith without works is dead. It's kind of that grace that we've accepted and stuck on the closet shelf to do nothing with, that Paul's saying This is the way that we break free from this life that leads to death is to receive this grace, but receiving it and not fully accepting it. Still leads to death. That faith without works is of no value, and he says, We were created in Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. So God has offered us grace in and through His son Jesus, that our lives might be made fully alive, that we might have that life with Christ because of the love that God has shown us, that it is through grace that we've been given this new life, but what's more, we're invited to come alongside of Jesus and to do those good works and to have that be for us a way of life.


These good works aren't something we schedule on a calendar. Well, next Thursday, I'll get one of my good works in, maybe next month, I'll commit a couple of days and go do something somewhere. We don't plan ahead and schedule those because he says It's a way of life. They're living in this grace that we have received is about walking with Jesus and seeing where and what Jesus is doing to make a difference, and rolling up our sleeves and jumping in with him.


And we're surrounded by and presented with each and every day myriad of opportunities, to be a part of doing that good work, and it doesn't mean that we have to solve every problem in the world, but as those opportunities come along, because you have been accepted by Jesus, because you have been transformed by his grace, you were created to make a difference, you were created to do those good works that will point others to your God in heaven, the one who has saved you, the one who has redeemed you and transformed you, and made you... To look like Jesus and to share His love. So may we continue to allow God to draw us to the cross to receive his grace and to be transformed.


Amen


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