Demonstrating God’s Grace to a Questioning World

Steve Viars October 7, 2001 Ephesians 2:5-7

 

- This morning I’d like to begin our time by asking you a couple of questions…

1.  Is Biblical Christianity a grace-based religion?

- and when I use that phrase, I mean in contrast to a “works based religion”?

2.  Is Biblical Christianity uniquely a grace-based religion?…

- in other words, if you were to compare it to other religions of the world, would it be one of many religions that are grace based, or would it be the only world religion that is grace based?

 

- what are the answers to those two questions?…yes and yes.

- now let’s add this…

3.  Do you think the world around us understands that?

- if you interviewed the man on the street, would that concept be common knowledge?

- I don’t think so?

 

4.  Does that concept in any way impact our outreach?…should it in any way impact our outreach?

5.  Is it possible that the fact that our world does not understand biblical Christianity’s emphasis on grace, and dependence on grace…is that fact in any sense the church’s fault?

- in other words, is it at least hypothetically possible that the world doesn’t understand that biblical Christianity is a grace based religion, because the church doesn’t always understand it, or at least act in a way that makes it abundantly clear to those the Lord has placed around us?

 

- Jerry Bridges, in his book Transforming Grace, uses the illustration of financial bankruptcy to explain the different ways to think about our need of grace…

- he talks about two kinds of bankruptcy, chapter 7 and chapter 11…

- chapter 11 is more of a temporary situation…the company has a lot of hope, they have short-term problems, but with a little time and a little help, they can get better…

- chapter 7 is for the company that is at the end of its rope…its deeply in debt, has no future…

- then Jerry Bridges asks…before we came to Christ, which condition of bankruptcy were we most like…chapter 11 (needing a little temporary help), or chapter 7 (no hope apart from complete and divine intervention)?

- the answer is the second, isn’t it?…desperately in need of the grace of God.

- that’s why the apostle Paul told the Ephesians…

- Ephesians 2:5-7 - 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), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

 

- this morning I’d like to speak to you about Demonstrating God’s Grace to a Questioning World.

- let me take a minute and try to explain where we are in our preaching schedule.

- have you ever wondered how pastors make the decision of what we’re going to speak on?

[some people think FBC is a franchise, and we get our sermon topics from headquarters]

- one pastor, whom I respect and appreciate in a lot of ways, was asked once at a conference about this very issue --- how do you decide what you’re going to preach on/

- his answer was, I just study whatever interests me most at the time…

- please compare that to something I learned every on from Pastor Goode…

- I had only been here a few weeks when Pastor Goode came into my office with a legal pad, that had the dates of the Sundays in the next several months written down…and he said, let’s plan the preaching schedule…

- then the first question was, what do you think our people need right now?

 

- do you see the difference in those two answers?

- one answered like a professor, the other answered like a pastor…

- so we at least attempt to plan the preaching schedule around what we believe will be most helpful for the people in our congregation as we continue to grow together…whether I’m especially interested in it or not is practically irrelevant…

- usually that’s planned out sever4al months in advance…

- however, the terrorist attack threw all that off, and in the sovereign plan of God, that has given us an opportunity to study some very important issues together.

- but now the challenge is, in 3 weeks, we plan to begin stewardship month, and the messages will all revolve around the issue of investing our lives in things that don’t pass away with time.

- so I had to decide this week what to do with this three week interim period…the options were either to begin another series, put it on hold, go through stewardship month, then the Christmas season, and then pick the series back up again after the new year…of continue on what we’ve been doing for three more weeks…

 

- I decided to do the latter…

- we’re not going to show more pictures of the bombings and all that sort of thing…

- but as I listen to what people are saying, there are a lot of issues being discussed, and that can be a very good thing…

- so the plan Lord willing, is to work on three biblical themes that have become even more important after what our country has recently experienced.

- now, before we launch into this mornings ideas, let me just invite you to send me a note or e-mail if there’s a particular question, or issue you’d like to have addressed while we’re doing this.

- I’ve sketched out some things that I’m hearing, but I’d be happy to learn about what you’re thinking or hearing from the folks the Lord has placed around you.

 

- now, for our purposes this morning, I’ve been surprised, and significantly so, by the way some folks have responded to my suggestion that biblical Christianity is a grace-based religion.

- and while we’ve tried not to be mean about it, we’ve tried to point out to people that one of the ways Islam and Christianity are different [and frankly the way any religion and Christianity is different], is that Biblical Christianity is built around the idea of grace.

- But, I’ve been surprised that some folks have really had trouble with that concept…

- either they acted like they didn’t know it…or they didn’t believe it…or they were sure it wasn’t true and tried to prove me wrong…

- what we took as an accepted truism, a universally understood concept, is not nearly as well known as we would have thought.

- I’d like to suggest to you…that the days in which we are currently living, give us a marvelous opportunity to capitalize on the evangelistic opportunities that come through emphasizing this issue…

- but it also gives us an opportunity to ask an introspective question---is there anything about us, the way we live, the way we carry ourselves, the way we speak or act…that makes it harder for people around us to understand that our faith is all about the concept of grace?

 

- with that in mind, let me invite you to open your Bible to the gospel of John, chapter 1..

- that’s on page 71 of the back section of the Bible in the front of you.

- we’d like to organize these ideas this morning around this outline…

I.  The Centrality of God’s Grace

II.  The Absence of God’s Grace

III.  The Opportunities of God’s Grace

- First of all,

I.  The Centrality of God’s Grace

- How and in what ways is this emphasized in the Scriptures?

- read John 1:14-17 [please be looking for the ways the concept of grace is emphasized]

- now please tell me, what are these verses telling us about grace in relationship to our Lord?…what do the verses say?

- He was “full of grace and truth” – what a fabulous description

- in Him we have received “grace upon grace”…superabundant grace, grace heaped up in a pile…

- the law was given through Moses, “grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”

- what’s the point?

A.  The life of Christ was a grand demonstration of grace.

- by the way, when we speak of grace, we’re talking about unmerited favor…

- God giving us something we did not deserve…

- someone has rightly observed…in mercy, God chooses not to give us what we do deserve…

- in grace, He chooses to give us what we don’t deserve.

- you can imagine the impact this would have had on the people in John’s day…they had the law, which had come through Moses…but all that did was proved they couldn’t meet God’s righteous standards…

- no one could possibly keep the OT law…

 

- this past week we were down at a church in Prattville, Alabama…

- develop, Joe Davis , handing out something that looks like a smashed penny with the 10 commandments stamped on them…people like them because they’re novel, and then he says…now, these can’t get you to heaven, but they do point the way.

- and he’s exactly right, the purpose of the 10 commandments was to show us our inability to meet God’s righteous demands in and of ourselves, therefore preparing us for the need of admitting our sin and turning to Christ in repentance and faith…

 - the law was given through Moses, “grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”…many people want to talk about revering Jesus Christ without having an appreciation for grace, or a willingness to admit their need of grace.

- now please turn over a couple of pages to the book of Romans chapter 3…that’s on page 120 of the back section of your pew Bible…

- I’d like to encourage you to take down a concordance [or use an electronic concordance if you have one on your computer], and read through the 131 times the word grace occurs in the Bible…we obviously won’t be able to turn to all of these passages, but what I’m trying to show right now is how central the concept of grace is to NT Christianity.

 

- read Romans 3:23-24

B.  Salvation is a gift of God’s grace.

- Paul understood clearly that it is absolutely impossible for a person to save themselves by their own works…

- we’re not just laboring under chapter 11 bankruptcy, where there are temporary problems but with a little time and a little help we’ll be able to work our way out…

- for a person to come to Christ, they have to understand that they are on their way under for the final time…

- they have come to a place where they are sick of their sin…they abhor their sin, they are sick of trying to live life their way by their own rules under their own power…and they want to repent on their sin and call out on the grace of God made available through the finished work of Christ…

- and of course we could hardly have this discussion without mentioning Ephesians 2:8-9…

- Ephesians 2:8-9 - 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, that no one should boast.

 

- so the life of Christ was a grand demonstration of God’s grace, and our salvation is the story of Amazing grace…but it doesn’t stop there…

 

C.  God helps us grow by His grace.

- II Thessalonians 1:12 - in order that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

- II Peter 3:18 - but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

 

- when a person trusts Christ and then begins growing and changing and becoming more pleasing God, that’s not by human effort alone…

- its not like we need grace for salvation but we can handle the sanctification process by ourselves…no, its all of grace…from beginning to end.

 

D.  God enables us to serve by His grace.

- II Corinthians 9:8 - And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;

 

- if you do choose to look up the different occurrences of this word in the Bible, you’ll find that many of them have to do with God giving us what we need for service…

- you see it over and over, not just in a few books of the NT, but many of them…

- another example is Acts 6:8…And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.

- we saw in our study of the book of I Peter that…

E.  God offers victory in trials by His grace.

- I Peter 5:10 - And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.

 

- I hope we’re making the case for the centrality of God’s grace in biblical Christianity…

- the life of Christ was a grand demonstration of grace….

- salvation is a gift of God’s grace…

- God helps us grow by His grace…

- He enables us to serve by His grace…

- and He offers victory in trial through His grace…

 

- now, there’s one more I’d like us to look at under this section, but I’d like you to see it in your own Bible…Hebrews 10:29 [page 174 in the pew Bibles]

 

- what we’ve said so far is very positive…but there is also a very strong warning for any person who chooses not to accept the free gift of God’s grace, and then operate their lives in and through God’s grace…

- read Hebrews 10:29

 

F.  It is possible to insult the [Holy] Spirit of Grace

 

- the terminology in this verse is incredible…

- the passage has been speaking about those who heard the law and then kept on sinning anyway…

- and the writer of Hebrews says, if you think that is bad, what about people who heard the good news of the gospel…the gift of salvation available because of God’s great grace…

- what about the people who reject that?

- that’s like trampling under ones feet the Son of God…

- and it like insulting the Holy Spirit of grace.

 

- now, we’ve tried to make the case, rather quickly and without a doubt incompletely, that the concept of God’s grace is central to the teaching of God’s Word.

- and many of us could stand this morning and tell our stories this morning, and one after another would come back to the concept that its only because of God’s grace that we have come to Christ, and grown in Christ.

- so that leads to a rather obvious question…then why isn’t it common knowledge that biblical Christianity is a religion of grace?

- why wouldn’t it be obvious that Islam, which clearly teaches that a person is saved by ones works, would be a vastly different, and vastly inferior approach to cultivating a relationship with a holy God?

- perhaps the answer is, we haven’t emphasized this like we should have…

 

- let’s think now about…

II.  The Absence of God’s Grace

- I’m asking you, why isn’t this concept more universally known?

- here are several possible reasons…

A.  Our silence

- Paul told the Roman Christians…

- Romans 1:16 - For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

- well, why would he even bring that issue up?

- the answer is, because many times God’s people are ashamed of the gospel…

- we miss the opportunity to tell others about Christ…

- if its true that the average man on the street does not understand that Christianity is a grace based religion and uniquely so, then we should ask, is it possible that we have not been faithful at compassionately sharing that good news?

 

B.  Fear of being labeled politically incorrect.

- a lot of people right now are trying to soothe any cultural tensions between religions by suggesting that we’re talking about the same God in just slightly different ways.

- friends, that’s not even close to being true, but when you have pastors stand up in our national cathedral and pray to God, Allah, and Jehovah…things get pretty confusing.

- we have to look for kind, tasteful, but definite ways to articulate the differences.

- that’s what I tried to do in an article published a couple of weeks ago in our paper.

- I do try to use the newspaper as a witnessing opportunity…I realize some people think that’s great and a few think it’s not so great…

- but when I and the people who advise me think it’s a good opportunity to witness or share biblical truth, I do.

- what I tried to communicate was, we ought to love and welcome people of other nationalities, and other faiths to our community…the Bible tells us to welcome the stranger…

- but in the case of Islam, we have to acknowledge that there are significant differences, we have a different approach to truth, a different view of God, a different set of beliefs about how gains entrance to heaven…and we ought to acknowledge those and be able to sit down and discuss them.

- one of the primary reasons we submitted that was because so many people were speaking as if there were practically no differences at all…and we were looking for a compassionate way to counter that claim…

- but the point is, we did that with the full realization that we might be labeled politically incorrect for saying so publicly.

- that’s why this verse that Pastor Dutton and Dr. Martin have been using on Sunday evenings is so important…

- Acts 4:12 - And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.

 

C.  Performance based approach to the Christian life.

- I wonder if we were to interview the average unsaved person on the street and asked them this question, what does it mean to be a Christian?…what is involved in coming to Christ?

- I wonder how many would say, then you would have to go to church…or you would have to do X, Y, or Z.

- or on the other hand, you would probably hear a lot of, well, then you no longer ______.

- please tell me, what are you hearing in those kinds of statements?

- Christianity is just performance…

- it’s just doing certain things or not doing certain things…

- that is a far cry from an intimate relationship with a personal God, which functions in, and through, and by His grace.

 

D.  Legalism

 

- if you decide to review the different times the word grace is used in the Bible, one of the things you’ll note is that many times the word is used in the book of Galatians.

- Do you know why that is?

- because the book of Galatians is written to especially combat legalism…

- and the greatest antidote to a legalistic life and heart is a healthy dose of the grace of God.

- when we say legalism, we’re talking about coming up with all kinds of rules and standards outside the Scriptures and then making them a test of everyone else’s spirituality or even salvation.

- there’s nothing wrong with having rules and standards, but there is something very wrong with those kinds of things becoming the focus of the Christian life.

- I believe this is one of the strongest answers to the question we’re posing…why isn’t our world more convinced that Christianity is a religion of grace?

- because many conservative Christians have been more focused on their rules than on God’s grace.

- that kind of lifestyle is focused on the righteousness of man not the grace of God.

- it finds its sufficiency in man, not in Christ…and it never has the need to cry out for the grace of God.

 

- Some of the verses in Galatians are very strongly worded…

- Galatians 2:21 - I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.

- Galatians 2:4 - You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

 

E.  Anger at social issues without corresponding grace.

- some of God’s people enter public discussions in a very hostile manner.

- their position is disqualified because of the vitriolic tones and the harsh words.

 

Col 4:6 - Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person.

 

 

F.  Lack of Christian graciousness in private/public life.

 

- develop issue of unbelievers treating one another [and strangers] more graciously than believers.

 

 

 

 

III.  The Opportunities of God’s Grace

 

A.  Be sure you have trusted Christ by grace through faith.

 

- friend, I realize that I may have offended some folks this morning by suggesting that a person can only be reconciled to God by His grace.

- but if you are here and have believed your relationship with God was secure apart from God’s grace, it really is my job to be offensive.

- you can’t come to Christ unless you repent [you change your mind about the value of your righteousness apart from Him]

 

B.  Be thankful for God’s grace.

 

[develop – what would our lives be like if God were not a God of grace]

 

 

C.  Read/Listen to music that emphasizes God’s grace.

 

 

 

D.  Look for occasions to speak of God’s grace.

 

 

 

E.  Ask, Has Christian growth been a priority for you so that you would need to depend on God’s grace?

 

 

 

 

F.  Ask, Has handling trials biblically been a priority for you so that you would need to depend on God’s grace?

 

 

 

 

 

G.  Ask, Has serving God been a priority for you so that you would need to depend on God’s grace?

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video