“Grace Full Living”
Pastor Tom Millner
John 13:34-35; Romans 15:5-7; Ephesians 2:4-10
There are scientific advances being made every day. Just this week I glanced at an article about a vaccine for cancer. Recently there was an account in Germany of a fellow being cured of HIV through stem cell therapy. Fifty years ago the thought of space travel was just a fantasy; today we worry about all the space debris crashing to earth or striking stellar space craft and dooming all on board. We’ve sequenced human DNA, we’re unraveling the human genome, and we’ve learned to tweet and post to the masses of our peeps. The one thing we haven’t been able to do is live our lives in the perfect reflection of the One who created us. Just when we think we’ve made it, we’ve failed miserably! What’s a peep to do? It just seems like we’re danged if we don’t and dinged if we do. Is that really the end of the story though?
God’s love for us is demonstrated by His grace and mercy. We could pray fifteen times a day, abstain from lustful thoughts during a proscribed period of time, give 30% of our income to the church, be slain in the Spirit six times a day, give meals to the homeless four times a week, serve faithfully in the ministry to which we’ve been called, abstain from gossip, abstain from drugs, alcohol or other substances, be nice to people’s face and behind their backs, get recognition for how great we art and never be worthy of God’s blessings! If any of us are doing any of the above so that we are worthy of His love, we’re wasting our time and energy. God doesn’t love us because we deserve to be loved; He loves us because that’s who He is. If we truly got what we deserved, not a single living human being would be given an opportunity to share in the blessings of God’s love. Not even those who would like to think they are so religiously, devotionally, spiritually, emotionally or otherly pious that their fecal matter holds no fragrance, are exempt from the not worthy club. Not even a PhD, M.D., Th.D., or D.D., can render one more worthy! God’s mercy saves us from our own foolish destruction, and that’s God’s mercy only! His grace gives us the right to be called justified and righteous before Him because of the act of Jesus on the cross. The unselfish, loving, redeeming act of surrender to the burden of mankind’s sin upon His back, taking our hit in our stead, is the act of mercy and grace that God shows as love. Don’t get me wrong; all those pious and good things I described have their place, but it’s not in place of grace! Ephesians 2:4-5 reminds us “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.” What then shall we do with grace? How do we live it to the fullest? Love him back!
Our love for Him is demonstrated by extending grace to others. When asked what was the greatest of the commands, Matthew 22:37-39 records: “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” We love God and others out of gratitude for the great love He has extended to us. Many people use their “acts of love” as tools of manipulation that they believe will somehow render God indebted to them. In the words of the great theologian, Larry the cable guy, “that dog don’t hunt.” God cannot be indebted to us. There is nothing we can do to merit His favor. We have already gotten it through the act of Jesus Christ on the cross. There is a great difference between “acts of love” borne out of gratitude and “acts of love” intended to impress or enslave. The latter are no acts of love at all! When Christ commanded us to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, He knew it wouldn’t be a snap. How do we love God? How do we learn how to keep our hearts, our souls, or minds about loving Him? We practice on each other. We practice knowing that we will never be perfect this side of eternity, but that’s perfectly fine! We’re so tied up in feelings and what seems to be happening that we miss the reality of what goes on in lives daily – namely that all fall short and are covered by the grace of God! Grace has nothing to do with money, status, possessions, feeling up, feeling down. Grace is God’s love wiping our sin slates clean so we can live in a different attitude about money, status, possessions, feelings, and outcomes around us! God’s grace does not wipe out consequences of our bad choices, prevent natural disasters, ensure wealth and prosperity or grant a dispensation of healthy relationships. God’s grace does give us a different heart and mind with which to view consequences of bad choices, natural disasters, wealth or poverty, and all forms of relationship.
Lack of grace to others is a signal of our own condemnation. Matthew 6:12 reads “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” There have been volumes written about this one verse and I don’t presume to boil them down to a few lines here, but I do want to speak to the heart and mind that is unforgiving. I believe that we hold forgiveness or unforgiveness only toward those whom we judged worthy of forgiveness or unforgiveness. Matthew 7:1 reads “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” This translates to something like this; “the measure you use to judge another is the measure you use to judge yourself.” Often those who judge others the harshest are the harshest judges of themselves. Imagine the pain of someone who harbors so much anger and resentment towards another. That anger and resentment eats away at the heart, mind, and soul of the one harboring. Not all anger and resentment come from self-judgment, but you can be pretty sure there’s a hefty dose at the center. The angry and resentful person is one who has not allowed self to be fully bathed in God’s grace and mercy. All the things that coulda, woulda, shoulda been in order to measure up to the expectation that was arbitrarily set by self and manipulated for self-gain, has been made obsolete in the face of God’s grace through Jesus Christ. What freedom there is that awaits the heavy burdened self-righteous achiever who thinks he can become worthy of having it all his way! When we accept God’s grace through the acknowledgement and surrender to the act of Christ on the cross, we are freed from the bondage that set’s us up for self-condemnation and failure. He has already measured us up through the cross; no further measure is needed. Now we can live in the light of His love, recognizing that His grace is sufficient for me and for you.
Living in Grace means that we are living in His love, sharing His love. After accepting His grace, freely given to us at a great cost to Him, we can practice grace full living each day by reminding ourselves of the gift that has been given us. Each day, as we spend time in His Word, we seek to understand the many depths of His grace. As we live out our lives we have the opportunity to live out our grace! Grace filled living embraces the richness of who we are because of who He is in us. Grace full living is not focused solely on we, but on He who freed us from the everlasting consequences of our short sightedness. Grace filled living means dropping the burden of our self-condemnation for what we’re not and living in the full knowledge of what we are: loved, forgiven, redeemed, justified before God, born anew, God’s child, one for whom God would die! What a difference a day in a life with Christ at the center over a day with self as the center! When we’ve truly gotten the gift that grace is in our lives, we’re in the best position to pass it on. His love is too great to be stuffed into one human alone; it has to be shared. Have you ever learned something so life changing that you just had to share with someone else? Well now you have – Jesus Christ has done for you everything you thought your whole life should accomplish to be considered worthy of the graduate certificate. You are proclaimed winner because of what He has done. Now you’re free to act like the winner you are – not because of you, but because of Him.