Ephesians 2: 1 - 10
It is commonly said that Christianity is supremely a religion of grace - certainly true. We sing about grace and we name our churches after grace. But for all that, grace is not well understood and often not really believed. We use the word a great deal but hardly think about what it means. For every discussion we have about grace, we have a dozen about the church budget or the church programme or more likely, how the Bulls or Sharks are going to do. If you ask us, we certainly believe in grace, but outside of the worship services, the word is rarely on our lips.
That’s not true of all of us, I’m sure. Some people never get over what God did for them when he saved them from their sins. They are as amazed today as they were the day God found them. They say with the people of God (and with the apostle Paul), “By the grace of God I am what I am.”
The Problem of Misbelief
Many church people simply never think of God’s grace at all. There are many reasons that might be suggested. One stands out as most important, however. No doctrine is so repugnant to man as the doctrine of grace. J. I. Packer used the arresting term “misbelief” to describe the problems we Christians have in this area. He means to say that because we do not fully understand who we are in the sight of God, we “misbelieve” in God’s grace. We have a sub-Christian view that is less than fully biblical. That’s actually worse than it sounds because to be wrong about God’s grace is to be wrong about the heart and core of our faith.
My goal in this message is quite lofty and cannot be accomplished without the help of the Lord. I would like to recover the doctrine of Grace and re-enshrine it in our hearts. I pray that as we think about these truths we will once again lift up God’s grace and place it where it belongs in the throne room of our hearts. To that end I propose to say 4 things about the doctrine of grace.
1. The Need for Grace v. 1 - 3
Miss this and you miss everything! Nothing else I say will matter unless you understand why you personally stand in desperate need of the grace of God. Why do we need God’s grace? Because all men and women are by nature spiritually dead and separated from God.
This is God’s indictment of the entire human race apart from his grace. It’s what he says about you and me as we stand before him in our natural condition. 3 things are true of you without grace: You were dead. You were enslaved. You were under the wrath of God. Think of that. Dead, enslaved and under the wrath of God. Could there be a more helpless, hopeless condition? Dead! Enslaved! Under the wrath of God! This is what God sees when he peers down upon planet earth. Dead men, enslaved men, men under the wrath of God.
A. The “Cool Part” of Hell
We tend to dismiss this as not literally true. After all, how “dead” can we really be? We don’t look “dead.” To our eyes, we look very alive. Not so. God says that apart from grace, all men are dead. Or we tend to think we’re not so bad after all. I doubt if very many Christiains would say that we deserve to go to heaven on our own merit. We know too much theology to say that. But many of us think that we’re not so bad after all. Left to our own devices, we’d go to the “cool part” of hell and the very bad sinners would get the “hot parts.”
There is something in us that causes us to think we’re basically good at heart. It’s easy to think that way, especially when you consider how many murderers and rapists are running loose in the world. We’re certainly not as bad as they are, are we? We hope God thinks the same way we do!
Wrong! The Bible says that apart from grace the whole human race, and each one of us individually, is spiritually dead, in rebellion against God, under God’s judgment, guilty and unclean, worthy of eternal damnation. We are not simply unworthy of heaven, apart from God’s grace, we are entirely worthy of hell!!! This is what God says about you and me. It is also what God says about your husband or wife, your children, your parents, your grandparents, your uncles, your aunts, your neighbours, your friends, your classmates and your business associates.
B. Man Without God is a Beast
Let me say that again. Not only are you undeserving of heaven, you are completely deserving of hell. Your good works, your kind deeds, your charitable giving, your acts of kindness, when seen by a holy God, are nothing more than filthy rags in his eyes.
These are hard words. We like to think well of ourselves. Pride in our scientific achievements, our high standard of living, our material wealth, our status, our education. “Man without God is a beast, and never more beastly than when he is most intelligent about his beastliness.” We desperately need God’s grace because we’re not as good as we think we are, and in fact we are much worse than we dare to admit.
2. The Meaning of Grace v. 4, 5
Circle 3 words in these 2 verses - love, mercy, and grace. Love is that in God which causes him to reach out to his creatures in benevolence. Mercy is God withholding punishment. Grace is the unmerited favour of God.
Think of it this way. Imagine a vast reservoir of God’s love. As it begins to flow toward us, it becomes a river of mercy. As it cascades down upon us, the mercy becomes a torrent of grace.
These 2 verses offer 3 words which answer the desperate state of mankind: Love – Mercy - Grace. Here’s a good way to remember the difference between mercy and grace. Mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve - Judgment. Grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve - Salvation.
The picture of a torrent of grace rushing upon us is appropriate since grace always comes down from God to man. Grace never goes up; it always comes down. Grace by definition means that God gives us what we don’t deserve and could never earn.
There are 2 thoughts behind the truth of God’s grace:
A. You deserve eternal punishment for your sins.
B. You do not deserve God’s grace and can never earn it by anything you say or do.
Let me illustrate this. When God looks down at the human race, what does he see? Imagine that while you are walking down the street you come across a corpse. While you stop to ponder who this is, someone drags a second corpse next to the first one. This puzzles you but before you can ask any questions, 3 more corpses are thrown on the first 2. Suddenly from every side corpses are being tossed on the pile. Old and young, rich and poor, black and white, man and woman, they seem to be coming from every direction. You step back and watch as the pile grows before you eyes. In a matter of seconds, it becomes a mountain of stinking corpses. Soon the mountain reaches to the skies with more dead bodies being added by the second.
According to Ephesians 2, that is what God sees when he looks down from heaven. Not our good deeds, not our vaunted achievements, not our fame or our wealth. God sees death on every side. He sees dead men walking.
Now suppose you ask, which one deserves to be brought back to life? The answer is, it doesn’t matter, they all stink. Dead is dead is dead. That leads to an important truth. God is not obliged to save anyone or show mercy to anyone or forgive anyone! God would be perfectly justified in letting the dead stay dead.
There are 2 key words that always go together: Free Grace. If grace isn’t free, it isn’t grace. If you have to pay for it, work for it, do anything to earn it, it’s not grace because it’s not free.
3. The Implications of Grace v. 6 - 9
Now we discover the effect of grace upon men and women who were dead, enslaved, and under the wrath of God. Circle these 3 words in the text: Raised, Seated, Saved. That says it all. He takes dead men and raises them. He takes enslaved men and seats them with Christ in heaven. He takes condemned men and saves them from judgment. Grace is God’s total answer to the moral ruin of the human race. It is such a complete answer that nothing else could ever be added to it.
Our Judge Becomes Our Saviour
Here, then, are several crucial implications of grace: Salvation is a work of God from first to last. It starts with God, continues with God, and ends with God. Anything we do is in response to what God has first done for us. Nothing you have done or ever could do can contribute in the least to your salvation. That includes water baptism, whether as an infant or an adult. That includes the baptism you receive at WPBC. I can hold you down so long that you’ll come up singing “Amazing Grace,” but that won’t make you a Christian or forgive even one of your sins.
As long as you trust in your own good works to any degree, you can never be saved. The reason is clear. Those who trust in themselves will never truly trust in Christ. It’s not Christ plus your good works. It’s faith in Christ, plus nothing and minus nothing.
Through grace our Judge has become our Saviour. The face of God is changed from judgment to mercy through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. The One who would condemn now becomes our Saviour. This truth, once understood, takes away our terror of God’s judgment and replaces it with joy and boundless peace. This is why we sing, we pray, we praise, we rejoice. This is the only ground of our hope. This is the reason for our assurance. God’s grace gives us peace and fills us with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
4. The Demands of Grace v. 10
The main objection to the teaching of this sermon - grace produces careless living. Many people fear grace because they think it leads to a “who cares” attitude. “I’m saved so now I can live it up like the people of the world.” Anyone who uses grace as an excuse to sin shows they have never understood his grace in the first place.
Fair question - where do works fit in? If they don’t save, what difference do our good works make? v. 9 tells us that salvation is not by works, while v. 10 tells us that we are created for good works. Perhaps this little comparison will make it all clear.
We are saved by grace and not by works.
We are saved by grace unto good works.
Grace is the source of our salvation. It is also the motive for living the Christian life. Good works are not the ground of salvation, they are the result of salvation. After you are saved, everything else in your life should be one big P.S. in which you say, Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul.
One final word - God’s grace is the guarantee of our salvation. This is a wonderful truth. Some people believe in getting saved by grace and staying saved by works. That’s impossible. What God starts, he finishes. We are not saved because we hold onto God’s hand but only because his almighty hand holds onto our tiny hand. He holds us, we don’t hold him.
Grace found us, grace will keep us, grace will not let us go.
No word is sweeter to the sinner’s ear. No word brings more joy to a child of God. No word is more repulsive to the self-righteous. Grace means you can never be too bad to be saved. Grace is God’s good news to you. How far can a person go in sin until God will no longer forgive them? The answer - No one knows because no one has ever gone far enough to find out.
God’s grace is truly the heart of the Christian faith and the sum of our message. It is the beginning, middle and end of the Christian life. We are saved by Grace, kept by Grace, taken to heaven by Grace, and throughout eternity “we’ve no less days to sing His praise than when we’ve first begun.”
Have you ever been saved by grace? You don’t need to know the day or hour or the moment. It’s not important that you remember the precise event. But it’s all-important that you put your trust in Jesus Christ alone and be able to say, “I’m saved by the grace of God.”
Grace is God’s gift to you. But a gift must be received in order to be enjoyed. Have you ever received God’s gift of salvation? Through grace you can belong to Jesus not for the years of time alone, but for eternity.