“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:1-10
In the county jail, locked behind steel bars, there was a man sitting on his bunk staring at the floor. There was rage burning in his eyes, and his fists were tightly clenched, as if he wanted to throw a punch, but there was no one there. He was alone, left to ponder the dilemma in which he found himself.
He blamed everyone he could think of, and made all kinds of excuses, but deep down he realized the fault was his own. He had been caught breaking and entering. When the sheriff tracked him down, he was carrying a box of stolen jewelry under his arm. One moment he was running through a dark alley, trying to escape. The next thing he knew, he was tackled to the ground, and led away to the back of a police cruiser in handcuffs.
Now he waited. He knew what came next. It wouldn’t be long before they took him the courtroom to see the judge. He had been here before. This wasn’t his first offense. He wondered how long they were going to send away this time: ten years? Fifteen? They would probably throw the book at him, with all his priors.
Just then he heard the sound of footsteps coming down the hallway. The sheriff walked into the room, accompanied by a man he had never seen before. “Who are you?” The felon muttered in a spiteful tone.
“I’m the man you tried to rob,” the gentleman replied.
The prisoner smirked. “I suppose you’re here to make sure I get what’s coming to me?”
“No, not really,” the man answered with a sound of compassion in his voice. “Actually, I came here to tell you that I love you, and I forgive you. I’ve decided to pay the cost for the damages you caused to my home. In fact, I’ve decided not to press charges.”
The prisoner sat in silence for a few minutes, not sure whether this was some kind of joke, or if the man was truly sincere. Finally, he looked up and said, “Why would you do that? I wronged you. Don’t you want me to face justice, and answer for my crimes?”
As the door of the prison cell swung open, the man replied, “I want to show you grace.”
Our passage this morning describes the grace of God. In Ephesians 2, the apostle Paul is writing to Christians, and he reminds us that the only reason we have come to experience salvation is because God is gracious, merciful, and willing to forgive. The human race is a mess without God. We are a fallen people from the moment we enter this world. We have rebelled against the Lord, violated His laws, and are headed in the wrong direction. Unless some miracle takes place, we’re not going to have any excuse when we find ourselves standing before the Righteous Judge. But Scripture shows us that something truly miraculous has happened. God reached out to show us grace.
The concept of grace can be found all throughout the Bible, but no one speaks of it as often or with as much enthusiasm as the apostle Paul. In the NT, the word is used over 150 times, 100 of which are in the letters of Paul. That’s why he is often referred to as the apostle of grace. His life was a powerful example of what the grace of God can do when it takes hold of a person’s heart. His testimony proves that no one is beyond saving; no one is too lost to be found. If God can make the chief of sinners a champion of the gospel, He can save anyone. Paul wanted the whole world to experience this, and so he never stopped proclaiming his message of grace.
This is also one of the core values of our congregation as well. It’s so important to us, that we’ve put it in our name. We are called: Grace Gospel Church. Our purpose is to proclaim the gospel of the grace of God in our community. There is no other message that can transform lives, or bring us into a right relationship with God. We are saved by grace through faith.
The passage shows us the depths of God’s grace and the impact it has had in our lives.
First of all, we notice that God’s grace is underserved.
If you look up the word “grace” in a dictionary, that’s one of the definitions you will find. It is unmerited favor. You didn’t earn it, and did nothing to deserve it. In fact, if God had dealt with us fairly, according to what we deserved, all of us would be in trouble. The passage makes that clear by taking an honest look at what our lives are like without the Lord.
Verse 1 tells us: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…” It’s not that the human race was sick, and needed a booster shot to get us going again. It’s not that we were a little misguided, and needed some direction to help us get back on track. Our problem is a lot more serious than that. We were dead! We may have had blood pumping through our veins, and air flowing through our lungs, but there was no spiritual vitality to be found within our soul. God is the source of all life, but we found ourselves separated from Him because of sin. The Lord was reaching out to us, but we were running the other way as fast as we could.
Verse 2 says that we “….formerly walked according the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” We didn’t know it, at the time, but we were under the influence of the devil, allowing ourselves to be deceived and led astray. We were caught in his trap, and the sad thing was, we had no idea. We were just following along with everyone else, and didn’t stop to consider that there might be a better way.
The word sin literally means to miss the mark. If an archer launches an arrow from the bow, he is trying to hit the center of the target. But if the arrow zooms past without hitting anything and lands in the bushes somewhere he is going to be disappointed. I can identify with that. When I was in high school, I had a compound bow, and shot in an archery league. I have an aunt who lived in the country, and she let me set up a couple of hay bales beside her barn. I paced off twenty yards, and started firing. Early on, I wasn’t a very good shot. There were days when I was happy just to hit the target – anywhere. Occasionally I would miss so badly, I didn’t even hit the bales of hay. The arrow flew off and stuck to the side of the barn. That old barn was already in pretty bad shape, but I’m afraid I didn’t help it out any.
And that’s how badly the human race has missed the mark, we haven’t even come close to becoming the kind of people that God created us to be. One commentator writes,
We commonly have a wrong idea of sin. We would readily agree that those who rob or commit murder are sinners; but, since most of us are respectable citizens we think that sin does not have very much to do with us. But Scripture brings us face to face with what sin is, the failure to be what we ought to be. Is a man as good a husband as he might be? Does he try to make life easier for his wife? Or does he inflict his moods on his family? Is a woman as good a wife as she might be? Does she really try to understand her husband’s problems and worries? Are we as good parents as we might be? Do we discipline and train our children as we ought to do? …Are we as good sons and daughters as we might be? Do we ever even try to say thank you for what has been done for us? Do we do our work as conscientiously as we should? Is every task done as well as we could possibly do it? When we realize what sin is, we come to see that it is not something which theologians have invented. It is something which is found in every aspect of life. (Barclay, W. The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, pp. 110–111).
What if the Lord dealt with us according to what we deserved? Would we measure up? Could any of us claim to be worthy enough to stand in the presence of God? What if He examined the resume of our lives, and measured: our words, our actions, our motives, how we have treated others, how well we have followed the requirements of His law? It is safe to say that we would all be in trouble. The end of verse 3 tells us that before God entered our lives, we “…were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest…”
That’s what makes grace so amazing. Even though God has every right to wipe the human race from the face of the planet He chose instead to extend mercy. Even though we deserve condemnation, He has offers forgiveness. We complain when the world seems unfair, but if God were fair, and dealt with us as our sins deserved we would all be in hell. Thank goodness He is not only a God who is just, but also a God who gracious.
God’s grace is abundant.
Verse 4 goes on to say, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…”
God loved us, even before we had done anything good; before we showed the slightest interest in Him, and before we had taken one step in His direction. While we were still sinners, God so loved us so much He was willing to sacrifice everything in order to save us. There was no way that He going to walk away and leave us struggling in the mire of our sin on our own. Demonstrating the riches of His mercy, Christ entered our world and went to the cross to save us.
Someone has described grace as: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. I think that is a wonderful way to explain it. It didn’t cost us anything, but it cost Him everything. It is freely given, but more valuable than we will ever know. The more we learn about the salvation God has given, the more amazed we are.
He forgave us. The debt we owed was greater than we could ever repay, so He paid it for us with His blood. When God forgives, He doesn’t hold on to a record book of our failures and mistakes, so that He can bring it up again at a later time, down the road. He dealt with our guilt once and for all. “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)
This by itself is incredible, but He didn’t stop there, Not only did the Lord save us from hell, but He has also drawn us into a relationship. He wants us to know Him, that we might walk in fellowship with Him each and every day. Verse 5 shows us this is possible because we have been made alive together with Christ. He brought us back from the dead, breathing new life into our soul. For the very first time, our hearts have started beating for God, and we are able to reciprocate His love.
And He has reserved a place for us in glory, so that we can spend eternity with Him. Verse 6 says that He “…has seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” That’s another way of saying that we belong, our place is secure. Because our lives have been joined together with His, we can be confident that we will one day share in His majesty. When Jesus from the dead (the Gospels tells us) He ascended into heaven and returned to the presence of His Father in glory. That is His rightful place, but that’s not our rightful place. We would be fortunate to just to make it into the guest house or the servant’s quarters. But He promises that one day we will be with Him in glory.
God pours out His blessings each day, in all kinds of ways, but His kindness will never end. Verse 7 promises, “in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us, in Christ Jesus.” What an encouraging thought. The fountain of grace will never run dry. All throughout eternity we will continue to discover the wonders of God’s grace. Just when we think we have that we have seen all there is to see, the Lord will continue to amaze us each new day with the extravagance of His love.
I had a pretty amazing experience yesterday. I went to a place in Bluffton called Shirley’s. It’s a little store on main street where they sell popcorn. Apparently, January 21st is National Popcorn Day. It didn’t know that such a day existed, but I guess it does, and to celebrate National Popcorn Day they had a buy one bag get one bag free sale. If you’ve been there, you know that they don’t just sell popcorn, it is gourmet popcorn. They have every flavor you can imagine. Yes, they have cheese popcorn. But they also have Buckeye popcorn covered in chocolate and peanut butter, and salted caramel popcorn, white chocolate popcorn, and even cinnamon bun popcorn drizzled with frosting. Just when you think you have seen it all, there is something else you would have never dreamed of, wonderful and amazing things. They heap all kinds of things over the top of that popcorn.
God heaps His love upon us in all kinds of ways. His grace is extravagant and overflowing. He has done more for us than we could ever ask. He has done more than we could have imagined. He has done more than we could desire. We haven’t even seen all of the blessings He has in store for us. We can tell the apostle Paul was excited to explain the salvation we have found in Christ. We should be excited too, every time we think about it, and eager to thank Him for what He hasdone.
Our passage also shows us that God’s grace is humbling.
Again, verses 8-9 tell us “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The apostle makes it abundantly clear that salvation is a gift, offered freely by God. There is nothing we could ever do to earn it for ourselves. Paul repeats himself a couple of times in the passage because he wants to make sure we don’t miss it. That’s easy to do. He almost missed it in his own life. There was a time when he was so focused on trying to work his way to heaven that he almost missed it. It took a blinding light and a voice from heaven to bring him to his knees, and it was there he finally came to terms with how much he needed Christ.
There are many today who make the same mistake. Human beings have a difficulty grasping the concept of grace because it forces us to admit how helpless and needy we are. We would like to think we can do it on our own. If I can just do enough good deeds. If I attend enough meetings. If I promise to do better. If I join the right church. If I perform certain rituals. If I am religious enough. If I obey these commands. Maybe then I will be worthy. But no matter how hard we try, it is never enough. We might convince others, and we might even convince ourselves, but we cannot convince God. He sees right through into our heart. Isaiah says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…” (Isaiah 64:6)
It is humbling to call out and say, “Lord, I need you. I understand that I am a sinner. I’ve been comparing myself to others, trying to convince myself that I’m doing okay, but I realize that’s not the case. As much I have tried to put on a good show, I am just as broken as anyone else. I’ve tried to make up for my failures, but it’s not enough. And so Lord, I cling to cross, and ask for your forgiveness. Fill me, make me whole, wipe away my guilt, and make me yours.”
Grace reminds us where we’ve come from, and keeps us from becoming proud. If Christ did it all, there is no room for me to boast. I can’t take the credit for being a child of God. He is the one who adopted me into His family. I can’t pat myself on the back for being a good Christian. If my life has been changed, it is because the Lord entered my life and He is shaping me into the person He wants me to be.
We can’t take credit for that, any more than you or I can take credit for the sun coming up this morning. We didn’t make that happen. It was the power of God that makes it happen. Just imagine if someone walked up to you and said, “Wasn’t it a nice day yesterday? It was sixty degrees outside, in January! Go ahead, you can thank me. Start clapping. I did that. I made it happen. I wished for a good day, and there was a good day.” You’d think the guy was a little off. He didn’t do that. He didn’t affect the weather in the slightest. It would be just as foolish for us to brag about our position in Christ. It is by grace. It is not the result of our works, and so there’s no room to boast. Galatians 6:14 says, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
If salvation is by grace, we must accept it by faith. The passage tells us that it is a gift. Like any other gift, it doesn’t do any good unless you receive it. You could buy the nicest gift in the world for a friend, and wrap it up in fancy packaging, and offer it to them as an expression of love. But imagine how sad it would be if they pushed it away, and told you: “No thanks, I’m good, I don’t need anything.” –but I want you to have it, I’ve put a lot of thought into this gift, and I know it is something you really need– “No, I can’t accept it.” It won’t do any good, unless they accept it. Christ offers the greatest gift of all: forgiveness, redemption, everlasting life. He purchased it with His blood. He offers it freely. All that is left is for us to receive it by trusting in Christ as our Savior, placing our faith in His death, burial, and resurrection.
Why is God’s grace a core value of Grace Gospel Church?
Because it is the only true gospel. Salvation comes through grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone. Every other message, that tells us we must earn it for ourselves, is a false gospel that will keep us in our sins. It is impossible to climb our way to God, that is why He is reaches out to us.
Because when we forget how we came to be members of God’s family, and imagine we did something to make ourselves worthy of His love, we become conceited, self-righteous people. But grace fills us with compassion for the lost. We are eager to point others to the depths of God’s love, so that they might come to experience the mercy and forgiveness we have found.
Because our motives for serving God are wrong, without an understanding of grace. Good works flow from a heart of love.