Summary: A sermon on grace and how we distort God's grace in our culture, USA. (Material adapted from David Seamands' book, "Healing Grace" chapter 2 "Barriers to Grace")
A treadmill is one of the most effective tools for burning calories, despite the fact that the person exercising stays in the same place. Similarly, so it is with people who try to work their way to righteousness. We understand that grace is what saved us but believe they must pay God back with good works in order to remain saved.
Sometimes Christians swallow the lie, that everything depends on what we do and on how well we perform, on our efforts and our work.
This pride extends to every area of life but is especially true in our relationships, including our relationship to God, our relationship to ourselves, our relationship to family and friends, and our relationship to society. We believe that all of this depends on how well we perform. Everything of importance is conditioned on whether we can deliver a good performance.
“I know all of this. I believe in salvation by grace through faith, not by my righteous things or works. I cannot earn God’s salvation or blessings. But are you implying that I believe in some kind of salvation by works? I gave all of that up when I became a Christian.”
That’s very good. However, for many people this is all in the mind or head and not in the heart or behavior. It is a truth they believe about God, but it is has no bearing on their dealings with God, themselves, or others. It is believed but not lived out.
At this point we could go back to the Garden of Eden, talk about the results of the Fall and point out humanity’s pride, self centeredness, and rebellion against God. This is all very true and foundational. But I’m afraid it would be just another lecture that would produce little change. This whole world is based upon earned acceptance. If we do not perform, then we are not rewarded. How often do we think about breathing? Not very much. It is much the same way in this world. We live in a world of ungrace and many times we don’t even notice how warped and unbiblical and ungodly our attitudes really are.
Thesis: Tonight let’s talk about our world of ungrace (USA) and how that affects us as Christians.
People who make a special study of other cultures are called anthropologists. Their research has conclusively proved that the people of one country may have very different ways of looking at life and reality than people from another country.
These differences affect our worldview, the way that we look at life. Most of the time these beliefs and values people take for granted. People may not talk about them, question them, or even be aware of them. They are just “there.”
What is our North American worldview? Are there some underlying assumptions and values so deeply ingrained in the “American way of life” that they actually bend and distort the biblical understanding of salvation by grace?
Three elements of American culture which can be barriers to grace:
1. Self reliance
Consider, an elderly American man who is dependent on his children for support vs. an elderly Chinese in a similar situation. The Chinese, whose society does not idealize self reliance, is proud of his children and brags on how good they are to him. The American is ashamed and doesn’t want anyone to know his situation. Instead, he wants to boast of his independence from his children. He tends to apologize for bothering his children or friends.
Such self reliance is contrary to grace, for grace is dependent upon humbleness. Two times in NT- God opposed the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
In the Christian life, extreme self reliance makes us try to be our own saviors and sustainers. It’s hard for Americans to think any good could come out of a dependent relationship, but that’s what grace is all about. The ideal of self sufficiency, deeply ingrained in most Americans, causes many Christians to take the very means of grace and put them on the performance treadmill.
“Do your own thing” “Stand on your own two feet” “Where there's a will, there's a way.” “just do it”–these and so many more societal messages encourage us to work independently of others. In our history, we have had people who have used this to do wonderful things, like make this country what it is. They left their families, their culture and forged a new nation from the wilderness.
However, this taken to an extreme can be bad. If someone is a drag on me, then cast them aside. This idea is expressed in an 80’s song- Ain't nothin' gonna to break my stride Nobody's gonna slow me down, oh-no I got to keep on movin'.