ASK: Have you ever done something wrong and been spared the penalty? You knew you did wrong. Maybe you even got caught red handed. You were fully aware you deserved the consequences… But they didn’t come?
I’m in that club, too. A number of years ago, when my kids were still small and in car seats, the four of us got in the car the day after Christmas, and headed south to the Finger Lakes to visit Diana’s family…
When I mailed in the “guilty” plea, I also included a letter. It was a request for grace. I had absolutely done what I was written up for. However, it really was an atypical thing.
I still got a fine, but it was minor compared to the maximum charges. And there were no penalty points added to my license, so my insurance didn’t care about it.
In short, I was given immense grace.
And grace is the topic we’re dealing with today.
This month, October 2017, is the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
With that in mind, we’re working through The Five Solas (five slogans) of the Reformation.
At the heart of the reformation was the question: “How does a person get right with God?”
Each of the Five Solas contributes part of the answer to that question. Last week we looked at the concept of Sola Scriptura, which means that the Scriptures of the Bible are the supreme standard to guide our lives and our faith.
With that in mind, we move forward today to Sola Gratia: Salvation by Grace Alone.
Since scripture IS our authority, our time will be rooted in the Bible. Let begin our time in the book of Ephesians, chapter 2. If you have your Bible with you, turn to Ephesians 2 with me, and follow. We’re going to look at a number of passages this week, but we’ll come back to Ephesians 2 so you may want to keep your finger here as you turn.
In Ephesians, Paul is writing to the church at Ephesus, a Greek city in what is now modern-day Turkey.
Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV) - And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
The focus of these first three verses in Ephesians 2 is on humanity’s natural condition. And he uses two descriptive phrases that we need to highlight:
The first phrase is “dead in sin”.
Now, obviously he’s not talking about physical death. Rather, the focus is spiritual death, and the fact that we are separated from God and completely unable to appreciate spiritual truth.
Paul says the Ephesians “were dead.” They aren’t anymore, but they had been. The reason for this is that he’s talking about the situation we find ourselves in apart from any work of God in our life. This is our basic status from the moment we have life and breath.
There is a reason for this situation, and it goes all the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden. Turn with me to Romans 5 (don’t lose Ephesians 2):
Romans 5:12 (ESV) - Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned
Some folks interpret Genesis to be a fable, or a myth. However, it’s not. If you were to read Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s commands and ate of the fruit of the tree, you’d see that as a result of their actions, the curse of sin impacted the world.
In Adam, all sinned. We aren’t sinners BECAUSE we sin.
On the contrary, we sin because we’re sinners. It’s a family trait, passed down to us by Adam, our First Father and the head of our human family.
You know, every now and then I come across folks who are prone to moral relativism. They feel that their good outweighs any bad. In some cases, they even feel that sin doesn’t exist, and thus, they aren’t sinners.
However, since Scripture is inerrant and authoritative, there isn’t a lot of wiggle room on this issue. In fact, if you flip back to Romans 3:23, there’s even less:
Romans 3:23 (ESV) – 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
ASK: WHO have sinned and fall short?
All have. Which means by nature we are fallen people. We’re made in the image of God, but due to sin, we are cracked icons; imperfect people.
And, just like getting a speeding ticket for 70+ in a 55, sin has consequences…
The second descriptive phrase he mentions is “by nature children of wrath”.
That phrase is serious. It means that the God of all creation is offended by our natural condition, because our natural condition is rebellion against him. We see this again in Romans 1:18:
Romans 1:18 (ESV) - For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
We often hear preachers share “feel good” messages. Positive and encouraging musings about the love of God. And you know what? I’m glad, because it’s a very important theme to bring forward: God loves the righteous and the upright!
However… since, by nature, all have fallen short of God’s standard, none of us ARE righteous! … At least, not without help.
This situation is a problem, and it’s a problem which takes us back to that original question that undergirds our whole study of the Reformation: “How does a person get right with God?”
Take a look at Romans 6:23:
Romans 6:23 (ESV) - For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The wages of sin is death. God’s wrath is what we earn by nature. It’s our natural condition.
However… there’s hope! We’re offered LIFE, and not just life, but ETERNAL life. And more than that, it’s offered freely, in Christ.
This verse is so important. It says on the one hand, “Here’s the diagnosis: this is the problem.” But it also offers a “cure”. The solution is Jesus!
To understand this a bit better, lets go back to Ephesians 2:
Ephesians 2:4-10 (ESV) - 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in 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 coming ages 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 a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
There’s a lot in this passage, but in our time together today, I just want to draw out a few concepts.
At the risk of focusing too narrow, I would say that the most important word in verses 4-10 is the word “grace”. It appears three times:
When I told you about the speeding ticket, the idea was that I was GUILTY of speeding, and I acknowledged that. However, the judge in the case saw fit to give me GRACE. A penalty had to be paid, but I did not experience wrath. I did not get what I deserved, but rather I was granted favor.
That’s the concept behind grace. It’s unmerited favor. Instead of getting what we’re due, we get something better.
And in regards to our natural spiritual condition, grace is even more impressive, and more important! Instead of receiving the wrath of God which we rightly deserve, we’re saved from the effects and punishment of our sin.
We’re spared from the wrath of God!
And this salvation is offered to us as a free gift, through Jesus Christ.
Now, the fact that salvation is offered as a gift is perplexing to some folks.
We live in a culture, where for the majority of our nation’s history, the predominate value set that people held involved the importance of self-reliance. Americans were taught to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.” To work hard, and make the most of every opportunity. That, if we wanted something, we need to go out an earn it. Of course, more recently, this has been replaced by a sense of entitlement, where folks feel they are owed something simply because they exist.
We could talk about the validity of these mindsets in regards to work-ethic and stewardship, but that’s not our focus today. In regards to spiritual things, and how a person gets right with God, both entitlement AND self-reliance fail us.
Entitlement fails because we simply DON’T deserve anything other than God’s wrath in light ff our sin. The fact that God saves ANYONE is a miracle founded in His goodness, not at all in our merit.
And self-reliance fails as well. There are countless religious systems – both formal and informal – that seek to earn the approval of God by focusing on outward actions. Again, I’ve had discussions with folks that figure if they just do enough “good” in the world, they’ll balance some cosmic scale, and it’ll be okay. But that’s not how it works.
You don’t need to turn there, but in Isaiah 64:6 it says:
Isaiah 64:6 (ESV) - We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
All our “good works” are like filthy rags before the holy and perfect God of all creation.
Salvation is by GRACE ALONE. Sola Gratia.
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 a result of works, so that no one may boast.
We cannot earn our way into God’s favor. It’s offered by grace alone, as a gift. It’s not our own doing.
The only work that secures our salvation is the WORK of Jesus. His sinless life. His death on the cross to pay for our sin. And His resurrection to new life.
Our works CAN’T make us right with God. But… His work is MEANT to.
ASK: So, if we’re saved by grace, not by works, do good works still matter?
Absolutely! Good works do matter. They aren’t HOW we get right with God. Instead, they are an EVIDENCE of God’s grace within us.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Which means for those of us who are in Christ, there is work to be done. A mission we’re called to.
Paul speaks of this to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:8-9:
2 Timothy 1:8-9 (ESV) - Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,
God created us for a purpose. He created us to serve Him and bless others through good works – the ministry of the Gospel – which He established “beforehand”. Before we were born. Before recorded history. Before the foundations of the earth, God had a plan and a purpose of redemption, to bring men, women, and children to himself, through faith in Jesus Christ.
We each have a role to play in this ministry. It’s a mission for the whole church of God. There is work to be done. This work doesn’t save us, but it’s the evidence of our salvation being worked out, day by day, with fear and trembling.
As we close our time together this morning, the theme running through all of the passages that we’ve examined is that we are saved by grace alone.
In Christian circles, we often sing the old hymn “Amazing Grace.” In some sense, that title is an understatement. Humanity has received grace upon grace. Far more of God’s loving kindness than we deserve.
If you want to experience that grace today, there are three areas I’d point out where we can live this out. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a great place to focus in on as you grow in Christ.
My hope and prayer for each of you is that you will take the words of Hebrews 4:16 to heart:
Hebrews 4:16 (ESV) - Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Draw near to Jesus. Experience the unmerited favor and love He gives freely. And respond in faithful worship.