Summary: God’s grace works to place us in a right relationship with God and with others.
My friends, we need help when it comes to a restored and right relationship with God. Well, God wants to help. God didn’t come to offer us things (like money or power or success or possessions) that we think will make life full, or us happy. God sent His Son Jesus Christ to offer us a relationship that is a relationship of love that flows out of His self-giving nature.
Justifying grace is that grace that becomes real in our lives in that moment that we accept the relationship God offers in his Son, Jesus Christ. We are justified in that very moment. This moment of acceptance is commonly referred to as conversion. It is what happens inwardly at that moment when most people would say, “I’ve been saved!” But the phrase “I’ve been saved” does not mean that conversion is ended. Rather it means we have begun a more adventurous portion of the journey that is God’s salvation. We can just as easily say, “I am saved,” or “I am being saved,” for conversion continues when we find new ways of accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Like when we come to a better understanding of ourselves, and when we come to a better understanding of the claim God is placing on our lives, but we will hear more about that next week.
Here is where it gets sticky and we have difficulty accepting God’s offer of salvation. Let me try to explain why. We have been taught all our lives that America is the place where hard work and determination meet opportunity to produce wealth and success. While there are exceptions we all could point to, we realize the American dream is fueled by hard work and determination. Remember John Houseman in the old Smith-Barney commercials? “We make money the old-fashioned way. We earn it.” Gary Player, the legendary golfer and a South African, understood this attitude. He said, "The harder you work the luckier you get." The American attitude is an up-by-the-boot-strap mentality, and that attitude is what has made America great. Isn’t it ironic, then, the American attitude, that up-from-the-boot-strap mentality, is the major stumbling block in our acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. We know that hard work and determination are what make the measure of success, so we find it totally unreasonable that God would offer us salvation at no cost. Surely we have to do something to earn this salvation. We can’t do anything. But God does not give us something for nothing, and our salvation has come at great cost. It cost Jesus Christ his life.
Let me use a courtroom analogy. Say I get a speeding ticket. I go to court knowing that I am guilty but I dread paying the fine because well, school just started back, and I have to pay for all the kids school clothes, and I’m still paying for the summer vacation, and on and on I could go, but suffice it to say I am really dreading paying this fine. And what’s more, the ticket will go on my record and insurance will go up or they will cancel me. This is just not a good situation. The judge enters the courtroom and sees the facts of the case and is ready to hand down the sentence when amazingly, he rises from his bench, steps down beside me and says, “I’ll pay your fine.” Naturally, my jaw drops at this development, but at the same time there is a joyous expectation that I will not have to pay the fine after all. Amazingly, the judge agrees to the man’s offer. The judge turns to me and says, “Not only am I going to your penalty, but because I have, I’m going to acquit you of all charges. You are free to go.” I stand there unable to believe or even comprehend what just happened. But it did happen. Whether I can believe or comprehend it or not. All I can do is accept the offer or reject it. It is totally a free gift to me, and my acceptance of that offer is totally an act of faith. It is not my work, nor is there any work I can do to deserve it. Only my crime is much worse than a speeding ticket. It was a crime worthy of the death penalty.