Grace-Greater Than All Of Our Sin
Thesis: Exploring what it means to be saved by “grace through faith” instead of our good works or righteous behavior.
Ron & Susan Wenaas had been waiting a lifetime it seemed for a child to enter their lives that they could call their own. Finally that day had arrived. They had been able to adopt a five-year-old Korean girl. As the plane from South Korea pulled into the gate at the Twin Cities International Airport in Minneapolis, the Wenaases paced back and forth as they watched all the passengers unload. After all the passengers unloaded, they saw her. The girl had been prepared by the adoption agency to recognize her new parents. She looked at the picture in her hand, then scanned the crowd and spotted Ron & Susan. She spoke the only two English words she knew. “Daddy! Mommy!”
The parents had a picture too. Like the little girl, they had been prepared for this meeting. Though the parents and child had never met, they had already begun the process of knowing each other.
What the adoption agency did for the couple and the little girl is a bit like what God does for all of us in salvation. He prepares the way. Theologians call this prevenient grace, the grace that comes to all people before they meet God in conversion. It’s the love God extends to people to show them He wants to save everyone.
People have trouble with this concept. Even Christians can’t accept the idea of grace. They think God’s love must be earned. “What must I so to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).
Some of the common responses are: Do good deeds, keep the Ten Commandments, live a moral life, love your neighbors, be honest and upright, attend church regularly. As a pastor that is what I would like for all my people to be doing, but that isn’t going to get them saved.
During a serious illness Charles Wesley received a visit from Peter Bohler a missionary and preacher in the Moravian Movement. The Moravians were known for their evangelism and Christian living. During their visit Bohler asked Wesley what hope he had for being saved. Wesley replied, “I have done my best to serve God.” Bohler said nothing. He just shook his head and left.
This brings us to the heart of the issue at hand. Why do people try to earn their salvation.
1. Earning Our Salvation.
John Wesley, the forefather of the Wesleyan/holiness movement, organized a small group of students at Oxford in 1729. This group was given the nickname the Holy Club. Later they would be called Methodists. Wesley was more than a member of the Holy Club; His disciplined commitment to God would shame the most devout believer into blushing.
When he was twenty-two Wesley’s father convinced him to become a preacher. At this time he committed himself to becoming a “good Christian.” Each day he would pray for two hours. He tried to keep the whole of the law of God, through careful self-examination and through helping others. Despite all of his devotion and love, John Wesley was miserable.
For fifteen years John Wesley had tried establishing his own terms of salvation. This only served to intensify his broken relationship with God.
John Wesley’s experience parallels the life of many around us. Even though they believe in God, they choose to be their own gods, determining how they will live in this world.
John Wesley was not conscious of any desire to disobey God. Quite the opposite. However he was still trying to set the terms of his relationship with God. We can be right with God only when we accept God for who He is. Our Creator, Lord, and Savior. We can’t experience a loving relationship with Him if we try to tell Him how He will be our God.
It wasn’t until Wesley met Peter Bohler that he realized that he needed to rely on God for his salvation not his works or spiritual achievements. Another example of someone who tried to lead a life pleasing to God was Paul before his conversion. (Read Phil. 3:4-6).
Both Paul and Wesley’s struggles remind us that salvation does not start with ourselves. Without God’s prior decision to love us, we would not even care about our relationship with the Lord. But before, our misconceptions, before our misguided attempts to find sincerity, before our desire to set our own terms with God. He chose to love us. He refused to allow our relationship with Him remain broken. We can be made right with Him through trusting Christ for our hope of salvation. Though the Bible clearly says we can’t earn our salvation that doesn’t mean we play no role in our salvation.
2. Predestined To Be Saved.
Is everyone going to be saved? There are some schools of thought that teach God allows only certain people to be saved. That is, some are predestined to be saved and some are predestined to be lost. That is basically what John Calvin taught. He as do many who believe in this doctrine support with scriptures like Eph. 1:5 “He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”
People today tend to interpret scripture solely in terms of the individual. But the writers of scripture usually were concerned with the individual in their relationship to the community. Paul was not talking about individuals he was talking about the community. He was describing how God chose to restore people into a right relationship with Himself.
God has predestined that all who will be saved. That invitation stretches to everyone. Everyone will be saved by trusting in Christ. God determined how we are to be saved. Not who will or will not be saved.
A shipwreck happens in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. A rescue helicopter arrives and tosses our life preservers to everyone. However not everyone reaches out to grab them. The rescuer can’t make those who need to be rescued grab the life preservers if they don’t want to.
Even our choice to accept the life preserver God has provided to us in the form of Jesus Christ is God’s grace in action.
Paul put it this way in Eph. 2:4-5, 8-9, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works so that no one can boast.”
Dead people can’t take initiatives. Dead people can’t do much of anything. It was the living God who made the first step. We don’t need to twist His arm to love us. He has from the very beginning. His grace frees us to choose to love Him.
3. A Sinning Religion.
For some grace has opened the door to living a life full of sin. But Paul tells us that shouldn’t be the case. Romans 6:15 “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!”
The evidence that we have responded to God’s grace is seen in our desire to make sure every thought, word, and action reflects God’s love. Grace leaves no room in the heart to figure out ways to sin and still be a Christian.
But what about the other end of things? Does committing one sin mean we have lost our salvation? Not if we repent of our sin. We must be very careful to guard against the idea that grace excuses sin. Should a Christian decide to stop loving God and return to a life of sinfulness, God won’t force that person to be something they don’t want to be. God’s grace does not create a neurotic guilt ridden piety that is consumed with the fear that God’s love depends on our perfect performance.
Sam Harris a writer and professor at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, OK makes it a habit to tell his daughters that he will always love them. His oldest daughter Rebekah, came to him one day and said, “Daddy, even if you stop loving me, I will never stop loving you.” Sam tried to convince her he would never stop loving her. But she repeated her statement, to which Sam replied he would never stop loving her. It finally dawned on Sam later that his daughter wasn’t worried that he would stop loving her. She wanted point out to him that her love was unconditional.
By God’s grace we can live as responsible, obedient people who love God unconditionally.