“Amazing Grace, Amazing Gifts”
December 7, 2008
William Randolph Hearst, the famous newspaper publisher and a collector of rare art, heard of a particular piece of art that he determined was a “must-have” piece, and so a search was initiated to find this rare work of art in order that it could be purchased and added to his collection. Finally, after an exhausting search, the report came back that the piece had indeed been found—stored in one of Hearst’s own warehouses! He had acquired the piece previously, but forgotten the purchase. He didn’t know what he had…
And then there’s this certain young lady. We move into the house in early September, but for a couple of months, she sleeps on the mattress and box springs, but without the frame, because we cannot find the nuts and bolts anywhere. “Are you sure they aren’t in your room, dear?” “No, I’ve looked, and they aren’t there,” came the reply. And then a certain girl’s mother decides to do some work in this certain girl’s closet, and…you know how this one turns out, don’t you?
What do these illustrations have to do with our text today? I’m concerned that many Christians understand some of the basics of their salvation but do not realize that along with God’s amazing grace comes some amazing gifts from God—and that’s our topic today!
Today, we reach a new movement in Paul’s argument; he’s gone to great lengths to build his case for justification by God’s amazing grace through faith alone in Christ; now, he moves to the amazing gifts that are ours as a result of our salvation in Him.
God’s Salvation Gifts include:
I. Peace with God
A. The nature of this peace
The hippies of the 1960’s hung out in Greenwich Village with the Beatles in their brains and LSD in their veins, but they all were looking for “peace, baby!” Today, the New Agers ask us to “visualize world peace”; some wags have taken off on this and ask us to “visualize whirled peas”, and probably, we’ll accomplish as much good doing the latter as doing the former!
What is this peace? Is this “peace” referring to feelings or fact? The Eagles sang about having a “Peaceful, Easy Feeling”; is that what’s in view here? We also use “peace” to describe an absence of hostilities between nations, between previously warring parties. To what does “peace with God” refer? In this case, it refers to established fact, done deal, settled transaction. Scripture tells us that the natural man is alienated from God because of sin, and under His righteous wrath. “Peace with God” refers to the settled state between God and an individual, whereby there exists no breach at all between the two.
B. What causes a lack of it?
Colossians 1:19-22 tells us that we are by nature “alienated”, “enemies of God”. Before coming to Christ, we are positioned as the enemies of God. That is our natural status. We may not feel that way…we may have no overt hatred, no outward animosity; we may even have strong feelings of sentiment toward God—how many people do we know who will talk about “the good Lord”, but have no real interest in a committed discipleship relationship with Him?
But remember: the issue is not our feelings. Before Christ, every person is in a state of either conscious or unconscious rejection of Him. What’s more, God’s righteous wrath, as we’ve said before, is directed at your sin. So the question, “what causes a lack of this peace” is answered by remembering the alienation from God that is true of every person because of sin. And if there is a God in Heaven, and the Bible is true, then this is the biggest problem man faces, bar none.
C. What is the means of peace with God?
The basis is Christ’s work on Calvary and His resurrection. The means is my simple faith. I cannot accomplish this through self-improvement. God justifies the believing sinner, and in chapter 4 we’ve seen that Abraham is used as an example of this.
D. What are the results of this peace?
In one sense, we could point to everything else in this message as flowing from this peace with God, and we’d be correct in that assessment. But we will treat the other things separately, and only mention one result of peace with God: the peace of God. The Old Testament Hebrew word is “shalom”, a deeper word than our notions of peace, and it’s NT equivalent refers to the full sense of peace that we feel because of our relationship with God in Christ; it is this “peace of God” that Paul tells us we need to allow to rule in our hearts. Here’s the promise from Philippians 4:6, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” One of the worst things we could wish for someone would be “peace of mind” absent peace with God! Think about it: having peaceful feelings which are not based upon the reality of peace with God would only be to have an anesthetic, rather than a cure. If I have a cancer, I don’t want a pain killer, at least not first and foremost; I want a cure! Feelings of peace which flow from the reality of peace, though, are a blessing from God reserved for those who are followers of Christ. Peace with God is a major blessing of His grace.
II. Access into God’s grace
“Grace” here refers to the state in which the believer lives. When I have Jesus, I have all I really need to live life. Listen to Scripture: “In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). You believe that?
“We have been made complete in Him” (Colossians 2:10). Believe it?
Scripture has been given to us in order “that the man of God may be mature, completely adequate for every good work” (II Timothy 3:17). You believe that?
“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 work” (II Corinthians 9:8). You believe that?
We have access into this grace in which we stand. The Greek word histemi means a permanence, a standing firm and immoveable. “That doesn’t sound like me.” Gotcha. I understand. But the truth is that we need to learn to live in relation to what is true of us through Christ. I have no legitimate reason for feelings of insecurity. I have no reason to fear. I don’t have to prove myself. I don’t have to put on airs, or try to be something I’m not to impress someone. I don’t have to boast, and I don’t have to grovel. Why? Because on Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand.
• If I “stand” in Him, then nothing in this life can erase the established fact of eternity with Jesus.
o I believe that those who truly “stand” in Christ are secure for eternity. Good Christians disagree on this point, and you can be a member in good standing here and disagree, because this isn’t part of our doctrinal statement. Some thoughts:
The one who has been declared righteous by God on the basis of faith alone in Christ will not be declared otherwise on the basis of failures or a lack of good works.
Put another way, if no sin can prevent God’s grace from reaching me, no sin can prevent His grace from keeping me.
o “But what about so-and-so who lives like the devil, yet claims he is a Christian because he made a ‘decision’ twenty years ago?”
A person can never lose what he never had.
Jesus said “by their fruits, you will know My disciples.”
Hang with me here and listen well: the person who lives like an unbeliever forfeits any assurance to salvation that he might feel. I didn’t say that a true believer forfeits salvation; I said that he forfeits his assurance, and here’s what I mean: never tell someone who is living a sin-filled life, “oh well, at least you’ll go to Heaven because you did profess faith in Christ years ago.” If I am living like an unbeliever, what assurance should I have that I really am a believer, that I ever truly was regenerated by the grace of God?
Ultimately, God is in control, not me, and He sees and knows and judges rightly in all His ways.
o My place is to live holy, justly, and humbly before the God Who has saved me by His grace!
And that word “access” is a particularly precious one as well, for it indicates that we as followers of Christ have unfettered access, ability to go directly to God through Christ, our Mediator. God was so holy as to be unapproachable, but when Christ died, the veil of the Temple was torn in two top to bottom, indicating that the Holy Place of God, closed off to all but the High Priest and he only once a year, was now open to all. Access; you don’t have to come to or through some earthly priest, ‘specially not me, in order to get to God. Jesus is the only Way to God, but when we say that, we affirm that through Jesus, there is a Way to go directly to Him. That’s one reason why we pray “in Jesus’ name”; it’s not some add-on, but rather reminds us that it is only through Jesus that we can come into God’s presence and address Him as our Father.
III. The ability to rejoice in our certain hope
I read a book during my retreat which consisted of a series of emails between a Christian college professor and the lead singer of Bad Religion (I’m sure that most of us can hum along with their songs…). At any rate, the lead singer, a very articulate and educated man who has received his Ph.D., of all things, is a professed naturalist; he believes that there is no God, that nature is all there is, etc. It was a fascinating book, but I wonder how he can honestly look at the world with hope. We’ve now taught a generation of kids that they are the random products of an unsupervised evolutionary process, that there’s no God, no afterlife, nothing and no one higher than man in the cosmic hierarchy. You live awhile; you die; there’s nothing else. And sometimes, life stinks. Though many of our teens don’t buy the whole Darwinism thing, is it any wonder that teenage suicide has become more commonplace, that much of today’s music reflects nihilism or a live-for-the-moment philosophy? Is it any wonder that we’re experiencing the death of hope? Hopelessness is the natural result of skewed thinking.
But here’s what Paul says is true of us by birthright: we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, and when he uses the word “hope”, he doesn’t mean some “hope so” kind of hope, but a sure and settled hope in the reality of seeing God in His glory. And what’s more, we will share in that hope; Romans 9:23 says that “He makes known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy.” The cause for hope: the God with Whom we as His children will spend all eternity has already gotten a jump on the project by working to show forth His glory in and through you right now.
IV. The ability to rejoice in the midst of suffering
OK, this is where it gets a little crazy. Rejoice in the middle of suffering? You kidding me? The one thing that Americans have no interest in doing is suffering; it’s right there in the Constitution, that we have a right not to suffer, isn’t it? We are accustomed to expecting the best that we can afford, instant gratification. I can’t imagine ever needing a “one-hour photo”, but now we have them for people who can’t afford to wait. How many of us would dream of buying a TV without a remote control? Of course, I don’t think they even make such any more…I know I’d never buy a car without cruise control! We’re pampered, petted, cushioned, and entertained.
Paul, this is a little nuts: we can rejoice when we are suffering? Yes, because get this: nothing ever really goes against the believer. Put another way, nothing eternally bad can ever happen to the follower of Christ! I don’t’ mean to minimize the pain and the hurt and the junk that life throws at us sometimes; it’s been over 9 months, and I still tear up sometimes when I think of the loss of my friend Rusty back in February. Happened this week, again. Still hurts. But the thing I’m trying to do is to help us to understand the perspective of eternity.
See, I know that God is working in me, and I am here
• By His appointment
• In His keeping
• Under His training
• For His time
The word for “suffering” here is a Greek word used for squeezing grapes to produce juice, or olives to produce oil. We can “rejoice when the squeeze is on”, in other words. Now, grapes and olives don’t have feelings, but the fact is that when they are squeezed, something good is produced. I like grape juice; I love Italian restaurants that bring me bread and olive oil for an appetizer! The good of the oil and juice is produced when the olives and grapes are put into the squeeze! And don’t look now, but II Timothy 3:12 says that, “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”. Good soldiers can expect to be shot at—and I gotta tell you, I’m not a prophet, but it’s getting increasingly easy to envision a time in this country when followers of Jesus Christ will be faced with the stark choice of compromising their beliefs or being made to pay some heavy prices. Early Christians lost their homes, their jobs, their prestige, their security, and sometimes their lives, and that story is being written again all around the world today. For too many contemporary Christians, though, we’re taking our ease, eating, drinking, and being merry, oblivious to the voice of Jesus calling laborers into the harvest, willing to serve Jesus, maybe, but only on our terms. Suffering? No, Paul, I don’t think so! And yet, sometimes suffering is God’s choice tool to refine us and produce in us things which could not otherwise be produced. Notice the things Paul says are produced (and I don’t believe this to be an exhaustive list):
Staying power, the ability to say, “I’ve seen God come through before in tough times, and I am confident that He will do it again.”
One of my favorite analogies comes from an old Amy Grant song called “Hope Set High”, with a line that says “the same sun that melts the wax will harden clay”. Same “circumstance”, the sun; different substances that produce opposite reactions. Wax melts, but clay gets harder, in response to the same stimulus. Difficulties come to us all, but God will use those in the lives of obedient believers to develop staying power, toughness, in their lives, the endurance that they need to go on.
Endurance then produces
You have any furniture with “character”? We do; it’s got a mark in it or a chink out of it. So it is in life: we may bear some wounds and battle scars, but these will help in the vital process of building character within us. One commentator wrote that, “the wind of tribulation blows away the chaff of error, hypocrisy, and doubt, leaving the genuine element of true character.” And character produces
God’s promise is that there is nothing I can’t handle. And that gives me hope, knowing that no matter how dark the night, how severe the trial, how difficult the circumstance, I have hope. We rejoice in sufferings!
The birth of a giraffe is a traumatic thing, according to Gary Richmond in his book A View from the Zoo. The baby giraffe emerges and immediately falls ten feet or so and lands on its back. It rights itself to an upright position with its legs tucked under its body, considering the world for the first time and shaking off the vestiges of the birthing fluid from its eyes and ears.
The mother giraffe lowers her head to take a quick look at the newborn, then positions herself directly over the calf. After waiting a minute or so, she does the most unreasonable thing. She gives the newborn a swift kick that sends it sprawling head over heels!
When it doesn’t get up, this violence is repeated over and over again. The struggle to get up is momentous, and the baby grows tired, but the mother kicks it again to stimulate its efforts. Finally, the calf stands for the first time on wobbly legs, and what does the mother do? She kicks it off its feet again (now understand; we thought about kicking Brent when he was born, but for different reasons…). Why does the mother giraffe keep kicking the newborn and knocking it off its feet? She wants it to remember how to get up. Because in the wild, the lions and hyenas and leopards love the taste of young giraffe, and the mother wants the baby to know how to get up and get a move on so as not to be somebody’s lunch! The “persecution” that leads to “suffering” is for a reason that is beneficial to the young giraffe, though the baby doesn’t understand it at the time!
And so sometimes God allows us to be knocked down, that we might remember how to get up and move forward.
V. The love of God
He poured out His love for us in Christ, but beyond this, He has poured His love into us as well. I John 3:16-18 tells us that about God’s amazing love that is demonstrated toward us and must be evidenced through us as well. And it happens because of the last gift of God mentioned here:
VI. The Holy Spirit of God
Though the Holy Spirit, Whom the Bible says lives in us, we can love others. Sometimes, that’s the only way we can love people whom we’d otherwise not be disposed to love!
Several years ago, an Eastern newspaper ran this story:
One evening, a woman was driving home when she noticed a huge truck behind her that was driving uncomfortably close. She stepped on the gas to gain some distance from the truck, but when she sped up, the truck did too. The faster she drove, the faster the truck did. Scared, she exited the freeway, but the truck stayed with her. The woman then turned up a main street, hoping to lose her pursuer in traffic. But the truck ran a red light and continued the chase.
Reaching a point of panic, the woman whipped her car into a service station and bolted out of her auto screaming for help. The truck driver sprang from his truck and bolted toward her car. Yanking the back door open, the driver pulled out a man hidden in the back seat. The woman was running from the wrong person. From his high vantage point, the truck driver had spotted a would-be rapist in the woman’s car. The chase was not his effort to harm her but to save her even at the cost of his own safety.
Many people run from God, fearful of what He might do to them. But His plans are for our own good, to save us by his amazing grace, and to give us His amazing gifts!
Why is it critical for Christians to know the blessings of God that come along with salvation? What might happen when Christians are unaware of these things, or live in ignorance of them?