We just wrapped up an awesome weekend talking about how God loves us, how we love Him, and how we can love others.
My prayer for this weekend and for this series that we are starting is that you would experience grace; and experience the freedom that it gives.
Kenny said something in the third session that I hope really stuck out to you. He said, “Loving others doesn’t mean coming up with some clever way to share the Gospel, but loving others is serving in practical ways.”
Kenny read from James chapter 2 in our second session, which I believe gives a good example of this “practical love.”
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
James tells us basically, if someone is hungry or in need of something, if we say we have faith, then we should do the practical thing and feed and clothe them.
When Jesus came for us, He did the practical thing. We sinned and death was upon us, so to eradicate the problem of death in our lives- the practical need; Jesus came and gave Himself for us, so that we could have life once again. Jesus did the practical thing. We were dead, so He gave us life.
For us this weekend, we got to see God do this in front of our very eyes. We had the awesome opportunity of watching God forgive and heal two of our very own. We got to watch God bring the spiritually dead to life!
I believe that this practical love demonstrated on the cross for us gives a very good idea of what Grace looks like.
So, tonight, what I want us to do is understand grace in a practical way; so that we can allow that grace to have an effect in our lives. Just like, I believe Jessica and Samantha experienced grace this weekend, I want for us to all understand the grace of God in a very personal way. In a way that is unique to us, to our sins, and to our giftedness.
Last week, I shared the story of a young girl who was scared by a lack of grace. A young girl who had no idea what grace truly is until very late in her life. I fear that for many of us as well, that we may miss out on the reality of God’s grace and not understand the love that the Father has for each and every one of us.
Tonight, I simply would like to give you a few pictures of what grace is; one picture from the OT and one picture from the NT.
In my studies over the past few days, God totally smacked me in the face with a beautiful picture in the OT. One, that for me and I believe so many others, is an extremely hard picture to grasp. This picture is the picture of the Levitical Law as a form of grace. A list of laws, that so many of us miss the beauty of, and because of this misunderstanding, actually feel overcome or oppressed by the laws themselves instead of feeling liberated and free.
So many times when we think of God’s grace and love, we only see the NT picture and tend to overlook the OT. I fear that many of us see the God of the OT as a God of wrath, anger, and judgment, instead of a God full of grace and mercy. Tonight, I hope to correct some of that among us, because the God of the OT is the same God that is in the NT. The God of the OT didn’t give up His rule at Jesus to His younger brother who is a little nicer and loving.
Also, I believe that if we only choose to look at God in the NT, we are failing to see God as He really is, we are failing to see the big picture, and we are failing to really know God in all of His character.
So, tonight is going to be pretty full and we are going to look through a few different texts and look at a pretty large portion of the Bible. So, I apologize for the length and I know that it will be hard for you to keep up. Please try your hardest to give me your attention as we dive into the texts for tonight.
The Old Testament Picture of Grace
The OT picture of grace is pretty simple. It’s a picture of a God who keeps His promises and doesn’t give up on His people.
In Genesis chapter 17:4-8, God made a covenant, or a promise, with Abraham. He said to Abraham,
“This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of a multitude of nations! What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram. Instead, you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations. I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them! I will confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you, from generation to generation. This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you. And I will give the entire land of Canaan, where you now live as a foreigner, to you and your descendants. It will be their possession forever, and I will be their God.”
God is simply making a promise to His people. He’s coming to Abraham and saying, “I will make you the father of a great nation; I will make you fruitful; I going to give you good gifts; I am going to give you land.” God is good! He is showing us that in this passage. He is telling us that He wants to be our God and give us good gifts; and that we are going to be His people and He is going to take care of us and He’s going to do great things through us.
But there was a problem that happened. The problem was that the people of God couldn’t keep their end of the promise; they couldn’t keep their end of the deal. They were constantly disobeying, constantly turning to other gods. So God decided to give them this system of Laws, this system of rules, and this system of sacrifices.
And to be honest, this system of Laws is just nuts! If you read through the book of Leviticus and look at all of the rules, it really crazy! There are tons of them and it’s really cool to read.
Illustration “Summer Camp”
I’ve worked summer camp twice and both times I’ve been in a position where I had to interact with students. This past summer however, I had to interact with little students… like age 6-12. If you’ve ever had to work with that age group of kids, you will understand what I am about to say. They drove me insane!
These kids this summer were crazy! Every one of them! They did the most messed up stuff! They fought all the time, threw sharp objects, hit other kids with really large sticks, and cussed out us adults. And by cussed out, I mean, they used words I’m not even familiar with. These kids were crazy!
I remember one instance where there was this little kid named Gene. This kid was a total terror. So, here’s the situation: I was sitting under the popup tents playing UNO with some kids when I hear some screaming behind me. I looked and to my surprise, Gene was running around with a huge piece of tree in his hands trying to knock the cuties out of some little girls. So of course, I jumped up and ran over to stop all the craziness. I told Gene, “We don’t knock cuties out of little girls with really big logs. It is bad and can hurt someone.”
Have you ever heard someone do this with kids? Make up some really crazy rule about what “we’re not supposed to do?”
We had all sorts of rules like this over the summer:
“We don’t jump in the mud and wipe it on Cindy’s face like make up.”
“We don’t throw rocks at Chris’s head.”
“We don’t grab Rachel’s rear end.”
“We don’t climb really tall trees to get to outer space.”
“We don’t play with snacks, even if they look like fun toys.”
The list goes on! All summer, we made up all sorts of crazy little rules to keep these kids from killing each other and severely hurting one of us. And the whole time, I kept thinking: “Why do I have to do this? Why do I have to make up all these rules?” But the fact is, if I didn’t make up any rules, these kids would have killed each other!
Leviticus is the exact same thing! It’s God laying out all of these ridiculous laws to keep people from killing each other!
In Leviticus 19:14 it says, “You shall not curse the deaf and trip the blind…” Was that some sort of problem? Was there a bunch of people running around cursing at deaf people and tripping the blind!? Was the city full of drunken people?
Leviticus 19: 29 says, “Don’t make your daughter a prostitute.” It should be common sense… you don’t make your daughter a prostitute!
Another one says, “You shall do no injustice in court.” Duh! Cause they’ll throw the book at you! You already did something to get in court, so keep your mouth shut when you get there so you don’t get in more trouble!
It kind of like me and Rachel at camp last summer… “We don’t curse at deaf people. We don’t trip blind people. We don’t solicit our daughters. And we don’t run our mouths in court.”
But the System of Rules was not sufficient enough!
In Leviticus chapter 16 it talks about the Day of Atonement, and to make as simple as possible for you. It was a day that the whole city would gather to cast their sins into a goat. They would go through all sorts of rituals cast their sins into a goat and then release the goat into the desert. Then they would be forgiven. This is where we get our modern day term scapegoat.
This is all funny and interesting, but it’s still about rules and regulations.
In my opinion, one of the best illustrations of grace in the OT is located in the book of Hosea. Hosea was this religion man in town. In my mind he was like the local pastor.
And God told Hosea to marry a prostitute named Gomer. The name Gomer just leaves me thinking that this woman must have been like extremely good looking… jk. But Gomer cheats on him with another man. And because of Hosea’s position in the city, everyone in the city knew this was going on. Everyone was watching what he did.
In the book, we see the story plays itself out; I think showing us a fantastic image of grace. So, Hosea goes to the house of the other man that Gomer is living with and asks for her to come home. He says, “Hey Gomer, I miss you, I need you, the kids need you, will you come home?” She refuses. So he goes to the door and knocks. The other man comes to the door and Hosea says, “Listen, I need my wife back, how about I pay you for her.” So Hosea buys his wife back and takes her home.
Hosea 11 says this:
“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and I called my son out of Egypt.
2 But the more I[a] called to him,
the farther he moved from me,
offering sacrifices to the images of Baal
and burning incense to idols.
3 I myself taught Israel[b] how to walk,
leading him along by the hand.
But he doesn’t know or even care
that it was I who took care of him.
4 I led Israel along
with my ropes of kindness and love.
I lifted the yoke from his neck,
and I myself stooped to feed him.”
Verse 7 tells us:
“For my people are determined to desert me.
They call me the Most High,
but they don’t truly honor me.
8 “Oh, how can I give you up, Israel?
How can I let you go?”
So, we see the picture of a wife who has given up on her husband, but a husband who will not give up on the promise of marriage. And then we get this picture of a nation who have cheated on their God, who have shamed Him and a picture of a God who will do anything to purchase them back. A God who will do anything to love them. A God who will do anything to keep His promise.
The NT Picture of Grace
The NT picture of Grace is of a God who will go to any lengths to keep the promise that He has made with His people. He has been faithful to His promise, but He knows that His people cannot live up to their end of the bargin.
Galatians 3:24 says, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” This verse knocked my socks off this week. The law was our guardian until Christ came.
So God sees that we are unable to keep our end of the bargin, so He decides to keep both sides of the promise. Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection then become the new promise, the new covenant.
In Luke 22:20 Jesus says, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
Jesus is saying, “Let’s make a new covenant a new promise. Where the old promise came short this new promise will never fail. No more need for a sacrifice, in fact my blood will pay the price; my blood will cover your sins; and God will keep both ends of this new promise to you.”
If you’ve grown up in church you’ve heard this all along, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”
This grace is free, this grace is not earned, in fact this grace cannot be earned.
I would like to share with you one more story as an illustration of this grace as we seek tonight to define grace.
Jesus taught in stories called parables. One my favorite parables is in Matthew chapter 20. This is the story about the workers in the vineyard.
In the story there is a land owner who owns this large amount of land. And because of the size of the property he needs workers to help him address the fields. So early in the morning he hires laborers. About mid morning he notices that he needs more help so he hires more. Lunchtime comes and he needs more help so he hires more. The afternoon comes and he yet again needs more help, so he hires again. When the day is up and evening as come, the owner rounds all of the workers up to pay them. The workers become frustrated because the owner pays them all the exact same pay. For the ones who worked all day one denarius and the ones who worked only a few short hours the same. The ones who worked the whole day are angry and the ones who worked only a few hours are as happy as can be.
Luke 20:13 the owner says, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”
This picture of grace is a picture that is not rational, not reasonable, and not conditional. Much of the early church conflict was about this. They grew in a system of all of these laws: don’t curse the deaf, don’t eat these foods, don’t trip the blind… all of these different things that they have grown up and learned; and Jesus came along and said no now there is a new promise- one that is built on grace. That’s why we see much of the NT letters battling these concepts of salvation by faith and salvation by works. It was hard for them to understand that salvation is freely given.
Can you imagine the effects of a God who says, “I will keep both ends of the bargin and I will go to any lengths to make sure I uphold this promise to you”?
When we look at both pictures together, we can start to understand the true effects of grace on our lives.
Definition of Grace
From the first picture, we see that it’s not about us, but it’s about God. We so many times want to make it about us, but it’s not about us. It’s not about how holy we are, or a set of rules, but about how good God is. It’s always been about how God has kept His end of the promise.
C.S. Lewis, one of most famous and brilliant Christian writers in the modern world, was once asked “What is the difference between all other religions and Christianity?” Lewis’ reply was one small word: Grace.
Because any other religion is about works. About us earning our way to being seen right with God.
From the second picture, we see that God is a good God. He always keeps his end of the bargin and even takes it up to keep our end as well. A God who keeps both sides of the promise.
So for us to have a working definition of Grace we could say that grace is the goodness of God.
I believe that if this makes sense to us, it will have a huge effect on how we see life and how others see our lives. I believe that the effect will be much larger than anything else in our community. I believe that grace will run wild in our church, in our schools, and in our community.
So, over the next two weeks we will be looking at the effect that this kind of grace with have in our own life experience and the kind of effect this kind of grace will have through us on others.