Summary: Living in the freedom of grace
Many of you will remember the riots which took place in South Central Los Angeles. Buildings were burning and stores were being looted. During all the confusion an unsuspecting truck driver named Reginald Denny made a wrong turn and ended up in an area of some of the worst rioting. Millions of people were watching as a news helicopter filmed what happened live. Denny was pulled from his truck after the window was smashed with a brick. Two men pulled him from his cab and threw bricks at him, beat him with a broken bottle and kicked him in the face until he lost consciousness, permanently damaging him. Somehow he lived through the ordeal. When the case came to court, the men who had beaten him were hardened and belligerent. They showed no sign of remorse. Once again the media was filming live as they panned the courtroom. Reginald Denny’s face was still swollen and distorted from the merciless beating he took. The nation watched as Denny got out of his seat, against the protests of his attorneys, and walked over to the mothers of his assailants and hugged them as he told them he forgave their sons. They returned his hugs, and one of the mothers said that she loved him. Whether or not his actions had any affect on his attackers we do not know.
Before you revolt inwardly and think that this is slobbery sentimentalism, disconnected from reality, let me remind you that this is exactly what God has done for you. It is called grace. The men in the courtroom did not deserve forgiveness; they did not ask for it, and they had done nothing to deserve it, but it was offered without condition. But in the same way, the world mutilated Jesus — his body was disfigured from the beatings and the torture of the cross. The world was expressing its hatred of him at the same time his arms were open wide with the offer of forgiveness and reconciliation. Before we ever thought of God, he was walking toward us in an effort to embrace us and give us his forgiveness. The Bible puts it like this: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:21_22). The Bible tells us: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is grace: Forgiveness and love are given to us when we do not deserve them. In fact, we still do not deserve it, nor will we ever deserve it. Grace means that God has forgotten about my past sin, so I should too. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1_2). Grace means that forgiveness and reconciliation with God have come, not based on what we have done, but on who God is. Grace is: God’s Reward At Christ’s Expense.
The first point I want you to understand today is: Grace is the defining element of the Christian faith. Several years ago a symposium was held in Britain on comparative religions, with scholars from all around the world. They began to debate whether or not there was any belief which was unique to the Christian faith. Was there anything there which was not taught by the other great world religions? They discussed doctrines like the incarnation and the resurrection. But other religions spoke of gods appearing in human form and accounts of people returning after death, though they usually spoke of it in terms of reincarnation. C. S. Lewis wandered into the room as the debate was in full heat. He asked what all the arguing was about and was told that they were trying to discover if there was anything that was taught in Christianity that was not taught by other world religions. Lewis replied, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.” There was some discussion about his remark, but finally the other scholars had to agree. The idea that God’s love comes to us freely, without any strings attached and asking nothing in return, seemed to go against what was taught in all the other man-made religions of the world. The Buddhist’s eight-fold path was a religious walk based solely on the individual’s performance. Likewise, the Hindu doctrine of karma with its successive phases which determine a person’s destiny was based on certain things a person accomplished. The Muslim’s have the code of the law which must be followed precisely in order to enter into paradise. All of these are ways which a person must work to earn approval. Christianity alone makes God’s love and acceptance something which is offered to undeserving human beings without cost or condition. Indeed, it makes clear that it cannot be earned, it comes as a free gift.