Summary: Grace and works are both important if the Christian is to live a valuable life of service to the Lord.
For the last several weeks we have been studying from the Book of 1st Peter. And for at least two of those weeks I have concentrated on and stressed the grace and mercy of God. Today, I would like to continue that theme and perhaps build upon the foundation already laid. But before I begin let’s go over our definitions for grace and mercy. Mercy is that attribute of God that causes Him not to give us what we deserve while grace is another attribute of God that causes Him to give us what we do not deserve. Now as Christians the term “grace” is not unfamiliar to us. We have all heard of grace especially as it pertains to salvation for the scripture says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 2:8)
And yet even though many of us know intellectually that our salvation is a gift given through the grace of God, and that it cannot be earned, grace is one of those theological terms that we rarely internalize or make personal. And as a result how many Christians live their Christian lives as though they did need to earn salvation? For instance, how many give money in the offering plate because they think they have to in order to be saved? How many attend church every Sunday because they think they have to in order to be saved? And how many talk to others about Jesus and what’s contained in the Bible because they think they have to in order to be saved? Far too many Christians do the things I’ve just mentioned not because they are trying to please God, but they do them as sort of insurance, just in case this grace thing is not all it’s said to be. And yet if they understood the grace of God there would be no need for insurance, or a backup plan otherwise known as plan B.
But there are Christians who live that way because they are confused about the grace of God. And why are they confused, because too many of them have listened to others who are just as confused as they are. Let me give you an example. When I was a boy my family joined the World Wide Church of God headquartered in Pasadena California. Now at that time the World Wide Church of God was a cult. And it was a cult because not only did the Pastor General of the Organization deny the personality of the Holy Spirit but he also insisted that in order to be saved you had to keep parts of the Law of Moses. After seven years I left that Church to join the Navy, not because they were cultic but because I was sick of religion. But unbeknownst to me when I left the Worldwide Church of God I took what they had taught about God and salvation with me. Now during the entire time I was in the Navy the Lord had been graciously working with me and when I was discharged several years later my new wife and I both felt compelled to go to church. So we did, and a short time later both of us confessed Jesus as Savior and we were baptized at the First Baptist Church in Broomfield Colorado. But there was a problem, because even though I was baptized and said I believed in salvation by grace I still carried in my heart the idea of salvation by works. And I did that for several long years.
Now some of you are probably thinking that I must have been pretty dense to be able to sit under the teaching of a godly pastor (which is exactly what I was doing) and still think I had to earn my way into heaven. But it had nothing to do with my ability to understand what he was saying it had to do with what I was taught in the past and what the pastor was teaching in the present. You see, while it was true that our pastor always taught salvation by grace it was equally true that he would also say or imply that: “if you’re a real Christian you’ll tithe, if you’re a real Christian you’ll be in church whenever the doors are open, if you’re a real Christian you won’t smoke, drink, play cards, go to movies, or dance. Your women will wear dresses and your men won’t have long hair.
And if you did any of the things you weren’t supposed to do, or didn’t do some of the things you were supposed to do, you weren’t a “real” Christian, you were just a pretender and God would weed you out of His kingdom like the parable of the tares and eventually cast you into the lake of fire. That was a real rough period of time for me and as a result my wife and I stopped going to church for quite some time. And do you know why? Because I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t live a life good enough to meet God’s standards, let alone the standards of man. I was miserable and for several years I actually contemplated suicide on a regular basis, wishing I had never heard of the Good News because it wasn’t Good News to me. Now do you want to know why I never took my own life? There were two reasons. First of all I was really terrified of God and didn’t want to stand before Him any sooner than I had to. And the second reason was that deep inside of me there was a faint hope that God would be merciful to me and that He would dispel the clouds of doom and gloom that I had become enveloped in and I clung to that hope. I found out later that this hope didn’t originate with hopeless me, but that it had been planted in my heart by the grace of God. And then in the early 80s something happened that changed my life forever. A couple that my wife and I had befriended during the blizzard of 1982 invited our daughters to go to vacation Bible school at their church. While they were there the kids learned some cute songs and we were obligated to go and listen to them sing at the end of the week. The people were so friendly that we decided to go back the next Sunday and we stayed there for the next 8 years. And do you know why we stayed? It wasn’t just the friendliness of the people; that’s what got us into the church, but we stayed because in that church my wife and I finally learned what the grace of God was all about. And once I finally understood that I was saved from the wrath of God by the grace of God through His Son Jesus Christ, those dark clouds I mentioned earlier disappeared. And the fear I felt of God gradually disappeared as well as I came to know about Jesus and the God who loved me so much that He sent His only Son to this earth.