The Nature of Grace

May 16, 2010

 It seemed to make perfect sense: If the “Grace of God” was a good thing, and if the “Grace of God” was demonstrated through the forgiveness of sin, then the more we sinned than the more the Grace of God would be demonstrated. It seems to make perfect sense but it didn’t. It was an absurd argument that Paul addresses in the first verse of the scripture that was read earlier.
Paul had spent the previous four verses talking about God’s Wonderful Grace and then he seems to anticipate the response from some folks in the church because he asks the question in Romans 6:1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?
This seemed to be an ongoing discussion in the church at Rome because Paul had addressed it earlier in Romans 3:7-8 “But,” someone might still argue, “how can God condemn me as a sinner if my dishonesty highlights his truthfulness and brings him more glory?” And some people even slander us by claiming that we say, “The more we sin, the better it is!” Those who say such things deserve to be condemned.
It is a twisted logic that leads us to the rationale that our sinful behaviour actually becomes a public service by introducing more of God’s grace into the world. And so Paul asks the question: Romans 6:1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? And then he answers it in the very next verse by stating Romans 6:2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?
This type of argument and debate was common in the era that Paul was writing and was referred in Latin as: Reductio ad Absurdum And the definition of that term is: The process of refuting an argument on the grounds that absurd – and patently untenable consequences would ensue from accepting the item at issue. In other words reducing it to the absurd.
For example, sometimes someone will say something that just doesn’t make sense or is unlikely to happen. “If I won the lottery, all my money problems would be over.” And I will respond one of two ways, both of which fall into the class of Reductio ad Absurdum. So I will either say “And if wishes were horses beggars would ride.” Or I will respond “And if my grandmother had wheels she’d be a wagon.”
So taking it to the extreme, if we do continue to sin it is an opportunity for God to demonstrate his grace over and over again, however we are told that God hates sin and the ultimate consequence of sin is spiritual death and so while it provides the opportunity for grace it ultimately leads to our destruction.
But what is this grace of which Paul speaks and which others would use as a licence to continue in their sinful behaviour? Well we have defined it before as God’s unmerited love. That is love that we don’t deserve and that we can’t earn. It is spelled out in Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
You’ve heard me define it time and time again by saying Justice is getting what we deserve, Mercy is getting less than we deserve and Grace is getting something that we don’t deserve. For example if a certain cleric was stopped by the local constabulary for speeding in their little red car, remember this is just an example, justice would be getting a speeding ticket for doing 73 in a 50. However if the office said that instead of issuing him a speeding ticket he would simply issue him a ticket for failing to obey a traffic sign which would mean the fine would be over a hundred dollars less and there would be no loss of points and the imaginary cleric would not lose his licence for a week, that would be mercy. However if the officer had of said, “Hey don’t worry about it and I’m on my way to Tim Horton’s, follow me and I’ll buy you a coffee” That would have been Grace. In the story the fictional cleric would have been shown mercy.
For those who like numbers in the New Living Translation the word Grace is used 88 times in bible, only 5 times in the Old Testament and 83 times in the New Testament. Of the 83 times the word grace is used in the New Testament 13 of those instances are in the book of Romans. And the word Grace is not used in any of the four Gospels.
It is easy to define grace but that doesn’t always bring us any closer to understanding it. So let’s look at Grace in action.
His Name was Joseph and he began his life with a silver spoon in his mouth. His father was Jacob, Abraham’s Grandson, who had become a wealthy land owner and farmer and Joseph was his favourite son. From the time he was just a child it was evident that he was favoured, and perhaps a little bit spoiled, or actually perhaps a lot bit spoiled, actually there was no perhaps about it, he was daddy’s favourite and Daddy wasn’t afraid to show him or his other children how he felt about Joseph.
I don’t know what the final straw was, maybe it was the beautiful coat that his father bought him, or maybe it was when he had the dreams about his brothers bowing down to him and worshipping him. Maybe it was when the rest of his brothers had to tend the sheep out in the field and Joseph stayed at home. Or maybe it was just that opportunity presented itself. Joseph had gone out to the fields to check up on his brothers for his father, and the brothers saw their opportunity. The threw Joseph into a dried up well and then to add insult to injury they sold him into slavery.
From favourite son to slave and the story doesn’t end there. Joseph was taken to Egypt and was sold to a man named Potiphar. If we follow the story along we discover that Joseph was able to gain the trust of his master and eventually became manger of everything that Potiphar owned, but when he refused to give in to the advances of his masters wife she framed him for rape and he ended up in prison.
From favourite son to slave, from trusted servant to prisoner, you really know the path to downward mobility don’t you Joseph? Well it’s pretty obvious Joseph, if anyone needed grace it was Joseph, what was it they say “If it wasn’t for bad luck Joe wouldn’t have had any luck at all.”
If Joseph started from the top and worked his way down Moses started from the bottom and worked his way up. The people of Israel had become slaves to the people of Egypt and when the pharaoh began to feel threatened by the growing number of Israelites in his country the Bible says he decided to make their slavery even more bitter. When the harsh working conditions didn’t break their spirits he issued an order to the midwives to kill the baby boys of Israel as soon as they were born. When the midwives refused the Pharaoh ordered all the newborn boys to be thrown into the Nile River. And it was into this climate that Moses was born.
His mother hid him for three months and when it became apparent that she could hid him no more he was placed into a floating basket and placed in the reeds at the edge of the Nile in hopes that someone would find him and take pity on him.
And don’t you just love it when a plan comes together? Because that’s exactly what happened and the story gets better because he wasn’t found by just anyone he was found by the daughter of the Pharaoh. Who promptly feel in love with this beautiful little baby boy. And the story gets better and better, Moses was adopted into the royal household and enjoyed all the perks and privileges of growing up the adopted son of the most powerful man in the country.
What an opportunity to help his people, to make a difference in his world, to impact society. There was so much that he could do, but did he? No. As a matter of fact we find no indication that Moses even acknowledged his roots until he was forty years old and on that one occasion he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite and he killed the Egyptian and buried his body in the sand. Nasty temper Moses, obviously you never read anything by James Barrie because he said “Temper is a weapon that we hold by the blade.”
Moses, what were you thinking, you had the power the prestige and the position to make a difference in your world and you blew it. Obviously you weren’t thinking were you? You let anger and pride get the best of you. Could there be any hope for a man like Moses?
Some called him King, others said he was a man after God’s own heart, she called him honey. David was Israel’s greatest King. He had taken the Jews from being nothing more than a collection of Nomadic tribes to being one of the most powerful nations in the known world. It was under David’s leadership and direction that Israel reached the high point of her history. Economically, politically and spiritual Israel was at its peak. And David was riding high on the crest of popular opinion.
Now I don’t know if David got bored or if he was going through a mid life crisis thing or what happened but one day when his troops had all gone off to war, David stayed home. And you know what they say, “Idle hands are the devil’s hands.” Well David should have kept busy doing what he was supposed to be doing.
The bible tells us that one afternoon that David has just gotten up from taking a nap, a little old for nap time aren’t we Davey. And that as he’s strolling along the roof top of the palace he notices that one of his neighbours is taking a bath in the buff in the backyard. Well this lady was not hard to look at all and David sent someone to find out who she was. The answer came back that she was Bathsheba and that she was the wife of one of David’s soldiers, a man named Uriah.
David didn’t waste any time, he had Bathsheba brought to his home, I don’t know what he was thinking, perhaps he didn’t know what he was thinking, perhaps he wasn’t thinking. David could probably identify with the lyrics from the Dierks Bentley song: “I know what I was feeling, but what was I thinking?” Maybe it was all innocent and he wanted to compliment her on her beauty, or maybe he wanted to warn her that when she bathed in the buff in the backyard that it wasn’t nearly as private as she thought it was. Or maybe he knew all along where this would lead It was Scottish writer Margaret Opliphant who so wisely pointed out “Temptations come, as a general rule, when they are sought.”
Well it may have started out innocent but it didn’t end innocent, I think David had adopted the policy “always yield to temptation, you never know when it will pass your way again.” The bible says they slept together and if that is all they didn’t there wouldn’t have been a problem, but the next time David sees Bathsheba she had some news for him, she said something like “Hi Daddy.” David, David, David. What have you done? Well we know what he did, but why did he do it?
Well David begins to think, and scheme after all he didn’t get to be King for nothing. And he sends for Uriah thinking that Bathsheba could seduce her husband, although he had been away from home for awhile so there probably wouldn’t need to be a lot of seduction, and Uriah would think the child was his, he must not have been real good with math.
But that isn’t the way it happened. Uriah refused to go home; his fellow soldiers were out defending the country it wouldn’t be right for spend the night with his wife. Oh drat, it’s on to plan “B” then so David invited Uriah to dinner, proceeded to get him drunk and then sent him home, but still Uriah refused. Well if you can’t blame hubby then get rid of hubby, and that’s what David did, he had Uriah’s commander send him deep into enemy territory and Uriah was killed.
So let’s see, David; you slept with another mans wife, and then you had her husband murdered. Hope she was worth it. David you were thinking with your hormones and not your head. You let your lust and envy get you to this place, is there any hope for you?
For three years Peter had walked with Jesus. For three years Peter had listened to Jesus. For three years Peter had been Jesus closest friend. And in three statements he dismissed those three years as irrelevant and non existent.
The story began when Jesus celebrated the Passover Feast the twelve apostles the night before he was to be crucified. An event we call the Last Supper. Jesus knew what was going to happen but the rest of them didn’t, so at the end of the meal he tried to bring them up to speed. When Peter heard Jesus talk about how things would turn out he tried to reassure his friend that he wouldn’t be alone. He made statements like: even if I have to die for you I’ll never desert you. And Jesus looked at him and said “Peter the truth is, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”
Well, you can’t say he wasn’t warned. I’m sure that most of you know the rest of the story. Jesus is arrested and hauled first before the High Priests and then before Pilate, the Roman Governor. Peter who had been so filled with bravado just hours before followed from a distance and found himself huddled for warmth around a fire with servants of the high priest. As the flickering flames lit the faces around the fire one of the servant girls looked at Peter and asked if he was one of the disciple, “nope, not me.” He replied, “must be someone who looks like me.” At the words another person looks up and says, “She’s right, I’m sure that you were with the one they call the Messiah” and again Peter shook his head and denied it. It wasn’t long and someone said “you were with them; you even talk like a Galilean.” And with that Peter began to curse and swear, denying that he had even met the carpenter.
I wonder what Peter was so afraid of? These weren’t people of influence, they had no authority, they weren’t even making accusations, they were just curious. But in Peter’s mind they held his freedom if not his life in their hands. Ernest Hemingway had it right when he said “Cowardice, as distinguished from panic, is almost always simply a lack of ability to suspend the functioning of the imagination.”
And then the rooster crowed. Peter, fisherman, apostle, coward. How could you do that to your best friend. Peter, you’ve painted yourself with such a bright yellow? Peter you are a coward what are we going to do with you? Is there any hope for you at all?
Have you ever felt like you were without hope in your Christian walk? Have there been times that your behaviour has been less then admirable? Perhaps like Joseph you just can’t seem to get it right, and you know that God must be angry at you or you wouldn’t have such rotten luck. But the story hasn’t been finished yet. Joseph eventually became the second most powerful man in Egypt and because of his position he was able to save his entire family during a famine that affected the entire Eastern Mediterranean. He summed up his life in a conversation that he had with his brothers in Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. That is Grace!
Maybe like Moses you have a temper that needs to be brought under control, and let there be no doubt about it, if you have a problem with your temper it will need to be brought under control. But Moses story didn’t end with him on the lamb, instead God brought him back to Egypt to deliver the people of Israel from slavery to freedom. That was where the original Passover celebration came from. When the writer of the book of Hebrews was listing all the heroes of faith in the bible he gives Moses five verses, more space than anyone else on the list. This is only part of it Hebrews 11:27 It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible. That is Grace!
Have you struggled with moral failure like David? Figure that you’ve blown it and there is no hope for you? Don’t know that you can fall much further than David fell, and yet in Psalm 51 we read David’s prayer of repentance Psalm 51:1-2 Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin… And? Well in 2 Samuel 12:13 David is talking to Nathan the Preacher who confronted him with his sin, and this is a part of that conversation: Then David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin.
The story wasn’t over. In the New Testament Jesus is referred to as the Son of David on at least 15 occasions. That is Grace!
Do you ever feel like Peter? In your life, or your behaviour or your words you have denied knowing Jesus. You can’t imagine that he could ever love you or forgive you after your betrayal. And yet it was after Peter’s betrayal, after his denial that Jesus gave him three opportunities to express his love. One affirmation for each denial. And then Jesus looked at him and said “then take care of my sheep”, entrusting the early church to Peter. If we read through the book of Acts we discover Peter preaching in front of thousand of people, and when he was arrested and pulled in front of the authorities who commanded him to stop never again speak or teach about Jesus listen to what he said, Acts 4:19 “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him?
That is Grace!
It was that great American philosopher Yogi Berra who said “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
If you feel like you’ve failed in your Christian walk Jesus is there to pick you. Listen to the promise of the Bible, this is for you this morning, I don’t know where you are at but this promise is for you.
1 John 2:1-2 My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. And that is Grace.
We are going to close this morning with a song that most of us could sing without the words, and sometimes that’s a problem because we sing the words but we really don’t hear the words or think of the words. So this morning as the worship team comes to lead us in Amazing Grace, listen to the words again and sing the words as if they were written not by John Newton over 200 years ago but as if they were written by you and about you.