June 26, 2016 by

Free Grace

Ephesians 2:1-9

I would like to point out that my text contains the whole gospel message in just six words. If you know what these words are and what they mean, you will know the gospel. And you can share it with anyone you meet.

The six words come in three sets of two words each, the first from verse 1, the second from verse 4, and the third from verse 8.

You were—verse 1
But God—verse 4
Through faith—verse 8

The first two words describe our true condition apart from God’s grace. The words “you were” describe not only what we used to be, they also describe the current condition of everyone in the world who is not saved. That condition, as we will see in a few moments, is truly hopeless.

The second two words tell us how grace works. The phrase “but God” announces the world’s greatest rescue mission when the Creator took on human flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ to perform the work of salvation.

The final two words explain how we come into contact with God’s grace. It is through faith” and only through faith. It is not faith plus works or faith plus anything else. It is faith alone that brings the blessings of grace to us.

Rightly understood, the whole gospel is in those six words: You were…But God…Through faith. God made it simple so that anyone could understand it and so all of us could share it with someone else.

My subject today is the grace of God. Perhaps a quote from the French philosopher Blaise Pascal will put things in their proper context: “To make a man a saint, grace is absolutely necessary and whoever doubts it, does not know what a saint is or what a man is.” One phrase hangs in the mind: “Grace is absolutely necessary.” If you doubt that, you don’t know what a saint is or what a man is, and I might add, you don’t know what grace is either.

It is commonly said that Christianity is supremely a religion of grace. And that is certainly true. We sing about grace, we write poems about grace, we name our churches and our children after grace.

Pol Pot and Mother Teresa

As long as I think I am better than other people, I am not ready to be saved from my sin because I have not yet considered how great my sin really is. Jesus did not come to save “semi” sinners or “partial” sinners or “not-so-bad” sinners. To put the matter this way is not to deny the real moral differences among people. Is there no difference between Pol Pot and Mother Teresa? Of course there is. One was a killer, the other an instrument of mercy to thousands of hurting people. But from heaven as God looks down it is as if earth is a trillion miles away. What happens to the distance between us and Pol Pot? It vanishes from God’s point of view. That’s why Romans 3:22 says, “There is no difference.” And that’s why the next verse says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” We’re all in the same boat—like it or not.

At this point the words of Jesus come to mind. “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).

With that as background we turn to our text. Ephesians 2:1-9 is the most extensive statement in the Bible about grace. It tells us how God saves dead people. 

I. Grace Needed—"You were”

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Why do we need God’s grace? Because all men and all women are by nature spiritually dead and separated from God. We must begin at this basic starting point for biblical theology. When God looks down from heaven, the whole world looks like a cemetery to him. All he sees are dead people. Above every corpse is a three-word epitaph: “DEAD THROUGH SIN.”

In what sense are human beings “dead” even though they are alive? Because of sin we are separated from God. We are unable to know God personally and we can’t do anything about our condition. To make matters worse, we are dead and we don’t know it.

To be dead is a hopeless condition. You can’t say to a dead man, “Hey dead man, get up!” and expect him to do anything. You can’t talk the dead back to life.

When God looks down from heaven, he sees our world as a vast graveyard filled with the living dead. Unbelievers appear to be alive. They laugh, they talk, they plan, they fight, they marry, they dream of the future, and one day they die. But they are dead even while they are alive.

This is the human condition apart from God. It is true of all people without exception. Apart from grace, we are all born dead. Which is why, when God wants to save someone, he first finds a dead person.

II. Grace Given—"But God”

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. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-7).

Note the two little words in verse 4: “But…God.” Our salvation hangs entirely on those two words. We were dead…But God! We were enslaved…But God! We were trapped…but God! We were self-destructing…but God! We were lost in sin…but God!

Now circle three words in verses 4-5, love, mercy, and grace. Love is that in God which causes him to reach out to his creatures in benevolence. Mercy is God withholding punishment. And grace? Grace is the unmerited favor of God.

Think of it this way. Imagine a vast reservoir of God’s love. As it begins to flow toward us, it becomes a river of mercy. As it cascades down upon us, the mercy becomes a torrent of grace.

These two verses offer three words which answer to the desperate state of mankind:

Love
Mercy 
Grace

Here’s a good way to remember the difference between mercy and grace. Mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve: Judgment. Grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve: Salvation.

The picture of a torrent of grace rushing upon us is especially apropos since grace always comes down from God to man. Grace never goes up; it always comes down. Grace by definition means that God gives us what we don’t deserve and could never earn. 

III. Grace Received—"Through faith”

For 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 (Ephesians 2:8-9).

In these two verses we discover how grace is communicated to the human heart. It does not come by works, by religion, or by anything we might conceive as “earning” God’s grace. Grace saves us through faith. Nothing more, nothing less. Something in us always wants to add to God’s free grace. It’s humbling to admit that we can do nothing to earn our deliverance from sin. But anytime we add anything to grace, we subtract from its meaning.

Grace must be free or else it is not grace at all. Free grace? Of course. What other kind could there be?

Consider the three key words of verse 8: grace, saved, faith. Grace is the source, Faith is the means, and Salvation is the result. Or you might say that Grace is the reservoir, Faith is the channel, and Salvation is the stream that washes my sin away.

And all of it is the gift of God, even the faith that lays hold of God’s grace. Even our faith is not of us. It too is part of God’s gift. As Martin Luther said, our situation is so hopeless that salvation must come from “another place.” That’s why the Reformers talked about “alien righteousness.” That means a righteousness that comes from outside ourselves. We are not saved by what we do but by what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Here’s Luther on faith: “God creates faith in the human heart the same way that He created the world. He found nothing and created something.” Thus every part of our salvation is a work of God from first to last.

We are saved by grace through faith:

Apart from works
Apart from all human “goodness”

That salvation is freely given and is received by faith alone.

“You and me, Jesus”

Too Bad (too sinful) to be Saved?

That’s why God alone gets the glory in your salvation. Jesus did all the work when he died on the cross.

In the end grace means that no one is too bad to be saved. Are there any truly bad people reading this sermon? I have some good news for you. God specializes in saving really bad people. Do you have some things in your background that you would be ashamed to talk about in public? Fear not. God knows all about it, and his grace is greater than your sin.

Grace also means that some people may be too good to be saved. That is, they may have such a high opinion of themselves that they think they don’t need God’s grace. They may admit they are sinners but they don’t admit they are spiritually dead. They may think they’re sick because of sin but not truly dead. God’s grace cannot help you until you are desperate to receive it.

 

Which brings me to my final point. How do you find God’s grace? Just ask for it. That’s all. It’s really that simple. The more you feel your need for grace, the better candidate you are to receive it. Hold out your empty hands and ask God for his grace. You will not be turned away.

It’s never too late. Though your sins be as scarlet, God says they will be white as snow.

This is the miracle, the wonder, the scandal, the shock of God’s grace. It truly is “out of this world” for no one in this world would have thought of something like this.

Here is good news for sinners. Free Grace! Free Grace! Free Grace! Shout it, sing it, tell it, share it. And above all else, believe it, for in believing, you will be saved.

 

Conclusion:

When we get to heaven, there will be no contest to see who was the most deserving of God’s grace. After all, we were all dead to start with. There will only be one contest in heaven. When we look back and see what we were before, when we see the pit from which he rescued us, when we recall how confused we were, when we remember how God reached out and dragged us into his family, and how he held us in his hand, and when we see Jesus who loved us and gave himself for us, the only contest will be to see which of us will sing the loudest, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” Amen.

 

 

Posted in: Sermon and teaching