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Sermon January 13, 2019

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1380

January 13, 2019 Ephesians 2:1-10

Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

The Foundation of Grace”

 

  • Grace at Root

When I titled this sermon I thought about two things. One was that it might be heard or read as: what is the foundation of grace? But the other meaning is that grace is our foundation. It is the second one that I intend to address this morning. Grace is the foundation of who we are and what we are able to do. Grace empowers our efforts toward holiness. The Spirit of God, the Spirit of grace and love empowers and transforms us by His power. God is the foundation of grace and that grace has become our foundation for life, love, eternity, discipleship...yes, everything.

By God graced we are transformed. Look at the stark transformation in Ephesians 2 between life before grace and life after grace.

Before:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Dead in trespasses and sins. Dead, no life, no hope, no real existence. That death meant following the course of this world. We have talked a great deal over the years about discerning the ways of the world in order that we might avoid being seduced into things like the desires of the flesh or the desire of the eyes or the pride of life (1 John 2.15-17). Paul tells us in Romans 12 not to be conformed to this world. The world’s ways lead to death. It’s why we are to take seriously the need to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, to open the eyes that have been spiritually blinded to the world and its destructive ways.

Following the prince of the power of the air. If the ways of the world were not enough to contend with, now we have the devil nipping at our feet. Satan is like a roaring lion out to lead people astray, not just to succumb to the natural tendency of depravity of the human being, but to promote evil and fall to the worst of sin. Paul is writing to the Ephesians Christians who once lived in this seduction to the world and darkness of evil.

But after grace:

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

This section begins with a huge word - “But”. This is the contrast. This is the pivot of conversion. This is the pivot of repentance and salvation and it pivots with what God has done.

You were dead in sin, but God, rich in mercy, great in love, made us alive, by His grace we are saved. By God’s grace we are set free. By God’s grace we are alive! This grace, unmerited favor saves and it is a gift. Nothing we have done, nothing that we have said, nothing that we have deserved, for it is all through God in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.

In the Reformed Faith we call this Sola Gratia, grace alone. Grace is God’s unmerited favor toward us. Such favor is expressed throughout the Bible. We understand that grace as the support behind our ability to choose rightly by faith. We understand that all we do is by God’s grace. Even the ability to choose God, to choose to receive Christ, is empowered by God’s grace. Of course, that theology is often debated and other denominations, and some Presbyterians, believe differently for this particular case, because many believe that free will is free will and we choose Christ or we do not, by our own choice. But grace alone teaches grace alone! It is not our own doing, but the gift of God.

  • Compelled by Grace and Love

An early Puritan prayer opens with this line: “My heart is drawn out of thankfulness to thee...” This is how grace works, drawing the heart to give thanks for God’s grace. We are drawn and compelled because of God’s grace and love and mercy to do good works, to pursue holiness, to desire worship, to delight in the Scriptures, to love God and neighbor, to do everything Jesus and the Bible commands and calls us to do.

2 Cor 5.14-15 14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Other versions speak of Christ’s love compels us (NIV, NKJV), while another uses “urge” (NRSV). The JB Phillips paraphrase says this: “The very spring of our actions is the love of Christ.” I think the meaning here is that we are so loved, and thus enamored with that love, that we cannot help ourselves to act in ways that reflect devotion and love for Jesus. We are so moved by God’s love and grace that we do not in any way deserve, that we want to please God in all things. We want to seek holiness out of pure thankfulness for what God has done.

In Philippians 3 Paul speaks of what might have been his deepest desire, to know Christ. That yearning to know must have come from a deep gratitude for the grace and love shown to him, especially to one who had once persecuted Christians. That compelling spirit, controlling love, that spring of our actions, can only come if we truly appreciate and understand the deep deep grace of God. It begins with understanding our deep condition of depravity, our depth of sin that could only be washed away by Jesus Christ on the cross. In that washing is the love of God. This is what compels us.

  • Effort in Grace

Being compelled by love and grace, we make every effort toward becoming all that God seeks for us. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Other versions read, “make every effort...” Effort is hoisting our sail to catch the wind of God. Effort is putting ourselves in a position of prayer for God to work. Effort is responding to the love and grace of God in our lives. Effort is engaging ourselves in disciplines of the spirit, disciplines of grace, disciplines of passion. Effort is reading and studying the Bible and integrating it into our lives in such a way that we become more and more like Jesus. Effort is getting to worship in cold weather!

This effort is not to be confused with earning salvation or earning anything by our own efforts, but simply the effort that comes from gratitude to God. Effort holds with it a heavy dose of humility! Effort of this kind is anchored in grace, because, as we have said, grace is the foundation of our effort. It is only from God’s grace that we are able to put forth this effort. We cannot become proud of our effort, nor can we become guilty when the effort is lacking. We simply keep moving forward, pressing forward as Paul would phrase it, and do so from the grace of God.

  • Cheap Grace – Costly Grace

I have used the term grace thus far without getting to in depth on its meaning. What is grace? Calvin called grace irresistible grace. “Irresistible grace means that God will always accomplish God’s purpose” (EPC Leadership Training Guide, p. 96). We can resist God’s grace, to a point…but God’s grace is irresistible in that God’s will will prevail! Irresistible grace does not mean that we are unable to resist any influence of the Spirit, but it does mean that the Holy Spirit has the power to remove all our resistance and therefore make the Spirit’s influence irresistible. This is why we give thanks and make every effort to pursue holiness, because God removes all the barriers to His grace and love.

In The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he writes about grace, particularly the difference between cheap grace and costly grace. Cheap grace is easy, nothing more than an idea of forgiveness, a doctrine without price. “Cheap grace means the justification of the sin without the justification of the sinner” (p. 46). Costly grace calls us to follow Jesus Christ. Costly grace was bought through Jesus’ death on the cross. Costly grace condemns sin and justifies the sinner. It is costly because it was made possible in Jesus’ death, but it is also costly in that it costs us our lives as well. Bonhoeffer says it this way: “When Christ calls a man [or woman], he bids him come and die” (p. 99). This is the call of Christ when he said to take up the cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23-25).

Grace is costly. Grace is not easy. Grace is this unmerited favor from God. Grace is pardon and freedom and gift and love. Cheap grace makes no effort to live faithfully to God. Cheap grace is only concerned about getting to heaven. Costly grace is about living in the kingdom of heaven right now, disciplined, like Christ, obedient, loving God and neighbor, and doing everything we can to respond faithfully to Jesus.

  • Balanced Life

All of this reminds me of the desire to live a balanced life. To seek a life that sometimes does have problems, sins, pain, suffering, but to realize that all is balanced by God’s grace and love and mercy and peace and joy. We don’t let guilt overtake us nor do we let joy become a cover over genuine pain. Balance comes with grace and humility and love. Balance comes when we recognize that God’s grace reigns in our lives. It washes us clean; it renews our hearts. It gives us reason to give thanks and compels us to Christlikeness. I like the way Jerry Bridges talks of balance in his book The Discipline of Grace, “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace” (pg. 19). Our lives are balanced by the grace of God. For God so loves us that He is constantly pouring out His grace and love into our lives. Thank God for that. Thank God today and every day for His grace and love and mercy and presence and hope and faithfulness and everything given by His grace.