Summary: A sermon preached on Sunday evening to introduce the topic of grace (Portions taken from Philip Yancey's book, "What's So Amazing About Grace?" and Dr. Jack Cottrell's book "Set Free")
Philip Yancey: I heard this from a friend who works with the down and out in Chicago “A prostitute came to me in wretched straits, homeless, sick, unable to buy food for her 2 year old daughter... I could hardly bear hearing her story. I had no idea what to say to this woman. At last I asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for help. I will never forget the look of pure, naive shock that crossed her face. ‘Church!’ she cried. ‘Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.’”
What struck me about my friend’s story is that women much like this prostitute fled toward Jesus, not away from him. The worse a person felt about herself, the more likely she saw Jesus as a refuge. Jesus was a friend to the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. Has the church lost that gift? The down and out, who flocked to Jesus when he lived on earth, no longer feel welcome among his followers. What’s happened?
The more I pondered this question, the more I felt drawn to one word as the key. Grace
Grace is one word that has not spoiled. Yancey calls it the last best word. How we use:
Say grace before meals, acknowledging daily bread as a gift from God.
We are grateful for someone’s kindness and gracious in hosting friends.
When a person’s service pleases us, we leave a gratuity.
A composer of music may add grace notes to the score. Not essential but missed
In England, British subjects address royalty as “Your grace.”
The policy of gracing. If I sign up for 12 issues of a magazine, I may receive a few extra copies even after my subscription has expired. These are “grace issues” sent free of charge.
Credit cards, rental care agencies, mortgage companies extend to customers a “grace period.”
The world thirsts for grace in ways it does not even recognize; little wonder the hymn “Amazing Grace” edged its way onto the Top Ten charts 200 years after composition.
During a conference on comparative religions, C.S.Lewis walked into a protracted debate on what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. The assembled experts had gradually eliminated various possibilities. Lewis who was passing came in to find out what all the noise was about. On hearing the topic for debate C.S.Lewis said, "Oh that's easy. It's grace."
Gordan MacDonald- You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer grace.
“The great Christian revolutions,” said H. Richard Niebuhr, “come not by the discovery of something that was not known before. They happen when somebody takes radically something that was always there.” Martin Luther and grace.
Thesis: What is grace? A definition and the scope of grace.
Jack Cottrell- It’s basic meaning is “a gift that brings joy.” It is used to describe gifts of various kinds. One verb form means to give freely, as a favor. Another verb form means to bestow favor upon, to bless. The noun form means a gift. “A gift that brings joy.”
Yancey- In my experience, rejoicing is not the first image that comes to mind when people think of church. They think of holier than thous. They think of church as a place to go after you have cleaned up your act, not before. They think of morality, not grace. “Church!” said the prostitute. “Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”
Such an attitude comes partly from a bias by outsiders. But yet the prostitute’s comment stings because she has found a weak spot in the church. Many of us neglect the church’s mission as a haven of grace in this world of ungrace.
The scope of grace
What we are asking is how broad is the concept of grace? With the definition being “A gift that brings joy,” that can cover a lot of ground. If we make it too broad then this concept is not unique to Christianity. Three main approaches to this issue:
Grace includes all of God’s works
At first this sounds attractive. Once we think seriously about it, we will see that it cannot be true. If grace is so broadened that it embraces everything God does, it loses its distinictiveness and becomes quite bland.
A more serious problem is that it does not take into account the reality of the other side of God’s nature. If every work of God is a work of grace, then nothing is a work of God’s wrath or holiness. Even works that appear to be expressions of God’s justice and wrath must be seen as just expressions of God’s grace. Some have gone so far as to say that God’s sending sinners to hell is indeed an act of His love.