Grace Alone

Series: Preacher: Date: May 27, 2018 Scripture Reference: Ephesians 2:4-9

Let’s turn to Ephesians 2:4-9. We are in the middle of a series called “Convictions that Connect.” We’re covering what is known as the “Five Solas” of the Reformation, which you might remember was spearheaded by Martin Luther five hundred years ago. This recovery of key truths of Christianity resulted in a restored understanding of our salvation. Within our CONNECT vision for 2018, we are looking at each “sola” to connect it to our own Christian walk. Today’s is the conviction that our salvation is by grace alone. Let’s turn our attention to Eph 2:4-9.

Ephesians 2:4–9 ESV
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

“Grace? She died thirty years ago.”

Have you seen National Lampoons Christmas Vacation? Do you remember the dinner scene when Aunt Bethany, who is eighty years old, is asked to say grace? Because she is hard of hearing and more than a little confused, other family members have to loudly repeat the word, “Grace” to her until she finally hears. But her response shows how confused she still is. “Grace? She died thirty years ago.” It isn’t until her husband loudly – and memorably, I might add – clarifies that she is supposed to say “the blessing” that Aunt Bethany finally begins to pray…sort of. She actually recites the pledge of allegiance. If you like this kind of humor, then you likely found this REALLY funny. Others around the table are either polite and silent or simply confused about what was supposed to happen. If they were fuzzy about what grace was before then, they’re totally confused now!

The question we have to ask ourselves is, Are we that much different? Hopefully we have a firmer grasp on grace than Uncle Eddy, who you’ll remember wasn’t used to folding his hands in prayer. But grace is a broad term. A lot of things fit under that umbrella. Some of us call the prayer before mealtimes “grace.” What we really mean is our gratefulness for God’s gracious provision. With an expansive term, many of us mean different things when we say the word, “grace,” and today we emphasize one aspect, which is God’s saving grace. This must be why D. L. Moody wondered “whether there is another word in the English language so little understood as the word Grace.” He shares,

“I believe I was a partaker of it years before I knew what it was, and I believe there are hundreds of Christians in Chicago who do not know what it means; and I believe if it were understood more thoroughly, there are hundreds of unbelievers in the city who, within the next twenty-four hours, would be unbelievers no longer. I often think it would be a good thing if some of us would get down Webster’s Dictionary and see what some words mean.”

Maybe you do have a firm grasp of this all-important word. If so, does grace still “WOW” you?

Martin Lloyd Jones talked about this, saying,

“My friends, we have grown so familiar with that thought, that all wonder, strangeness and joy have gone out of it. I stand in amazement at my own apathy, at my own lack of emotion, at my own ability to speak in calm and measured words about so great a thing as salvation, accomplished for a doomed soul. Familiarity has done this for us. We count it a common thing. We are scarcely interested in it. Now and again people wonder why one who preaches does not choose the deeper things of God, why he is always talking about so familiar a thing as salvation.[1]”

Perhaps for some of us the knowledge in our heads hasn’t penetrated our hearts for quite some time. With which do you most struggle, understanding or appreciation? Are you more unsure of grace or unmoved by grace? This is God’s saving grace we’re talking about here! We shouldn’t be befuddled over it, nor should we feel “blah” about it.

This is something so central to God’s character – a truth of salvation that flows from God’s very heart – that we need to realize we can never fully plumb its depths.  To understand the infinite grace of God would be like fully understanding God himself in all of his vastness. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try, and in trying we can come away with a sense of exhilaration that we’ve only scratched the surface. Our awareness of grace can become mingled with our awe of it.

Did you notice that this is what happened to the apostle Paul, too? There he is describing the act of salvation in our passage, and he actually interrupts himself. It’s right there in verses 5-6 (Eph 2:5-6).

Ephesians 2:5–6 ESV
even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

In the middle of sharing facts, he gives in to fascination. It’s an emotional expression. That’s what I want. I want to be able to explain the nuts and bolts of God’s saving grace but not be able to do it without gaping, slack-jawed, in wonder. Or to put it in our “connect” terms, we don’t want to put the Legos together without also marveling at how cool they are. So let’s explore these verses and see that God’s grace really is amazing! So first,

What do we really mean when we say that salvation is by grace alone?

When the Reformation began, the reformers distanced themselves from any merit to gain God’s grace. We talked about this a few weeks ago. Luther saw people placing their faith in the sacramental system of the church, believing their actions merited the grace to forgive sins. Initial salvation took place at infant baptism, and from there people worked within a system to do the right things so that forgiveness could be extended to sins so that they would be closer to God’s holiness so that they wouldn’t spend as much time in the purifying fires of purgatory after they died. I found some verbiage from the Catholic Catechism that helps explain this at least in part.

“Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.”[3]

What do we believe about God’s saving grace?

We are  recipients  of God’s grace.

We believe that all of salvation is an act of God’s grace toward us. Every aspect of it is a gracious act of God. In his grace he gave us the Bible to show us the way. In his grace we are given the faith to express in Jesus, who is himself the embodiment of that grace. More on that one later. By his grace we experience the height of enjoyment by glorifying him as those saved by him. This is not like those National Treasure movies where all we need is the first clue and then we can figure out where to go next.  We reject  limited   involvement  on God’s part and recognize his  total   involvement  each step of the way.

That means we have to acknowledge what life is like before someone comes to faith in Christ. The Bible makes clear that people made in God’s image living on God’s earth are unable to keep God’s law. Any attempt to either follow God’s commands on our own strength or insert our own morality is itself an act of defiance against the God who made us. And, miserable as we are, we don’t even try to fix the problem. We learn from Romans 3:10-12,

Romans 3:10–12 ESV
as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one.”

In other words, We are  helpless  recipients of God’s grace.

We are described as enemies of God in Colossians, and in our verse here we were simply and matter-of-factly described as “dead in our trespasses.” When we talk about salvation, we downgrade God’s grace when we describe ourselves as rational beings just waiting for a reasoned argument. Dead people do not respond to arguments, good or bad. They’re dead.

But how does that tie in with our responsibility to come to saving faith?  The Bible affirms that we are saved through the exercise of our faith in Christ. Faith is the topic of next week’s sermon, and we realize that each of us is responsible to choose faith in Jesus. The Bible also affirms what we mention this week that every aspect of our salvation – even the faith we exercise – is a result of the grace of God on our lives because we, on our own, do not seek after God. As an act of grace, he seeks after us. Luke 19:10 makes this clear.

Luke 19:10 ESV
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

This is were that little house graphic from a few weeks ago comes in handy. The two walls are the grace from God and the faith we express. Both are affirmed in the Bible. We don’t walk around our homes and muse, “Which load bearing wall is necessary?” Each one is! And if we want to live safely in our home, we dare not remove one or even compromise its integrity.

If we want to understand saving grace better we need to realize that the effects of the Fall were worse than many of us would like to think. Humanity walks around physically alive but spiritually dead. In this chapter Paul calls us dead a couple of times but also says we used to walk in sinful deeds. So, dead but walking around with aberrant, destructive behavior, controlled by sick, twisted appetites. We have a word for this now. It’s called a zombie.

The Oxford English Dictionary says we got this word from the Kongo words nzambi, meaning god, and zumbi, which means fetish. African and Haitian traditions say that through religious ritual the deceased could be reanimated and controlled by the voodoo priest; a zombie slave.

In the same way, all of humanity has been born as a sort of zombie slaves to sin. But then Paul joyfully declares that God has made us alive with Christ, underscoring the declaration by saying our salvation is a result of God’s grace – it’s all an act of God!

That’s why when we sing Grace Alone each month we affirm that everything we do is not simply a response to God’s grace but rather only happens by his grace. One of the lines is, “Every prayer and step of faith, every difference we can make, is only by his grace.”

But we are not merely helpless recipients. We are  undeserving  recipients of God’s grace.

John Newton, who died before the term zombie was coined in English, calls himself a wretch in that great hymn, Amazing Grace. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” A wretch can be defined as “a base, despicable, or vile person.” There is nothing good in us – nothing about us whatsoever – that obligated God to act in grace toward us.

Charles Spurgeon shared about this in a sermon when he said,

We are saved, not because of any mitigating circumstances with regard to our transgressions, nor because we were excusable on account of our youth, or of our ignorance, or any other cause; we are not saved because there were some good points in our character, which ought not to be overlooked, or some hopeful indications of better things in the future. Ah, no; “By grace are ye saved.” That clear and unqualified statement sweeps away all supposition of any deserving on our part, or any thought of deserving.[4]

In one sense all of this doesn’t sound like much of a pep talk. I’ve basically called us a bunch of undeserving, wretched, zombified, ne’er-do-wells, and I have to say you’re taking it quite well. Hang on, because it’s about to get really good. We want to have real, lasting hope and not false hope. False hope is rampant in our culture. It is the attempted solution to the hopelessness equally rampant in society that’s found when people look around and say, “There’s something truly wrong. We are a wreck. I’m a wreck!” False hope is found when we are told the problem is societal and that this next program, legislation, education, or intervention will fix it. False hope is found when people become aware of their plight and feel guilt – guilt designed to bring them straight to God’s grace – but their help involves ways to no longer feel guilty. We don’t want false hope; we want true hope, and here it is: Paul, after describing our sinful plight, says, “But God.”

We are fully pursued recipients of God’s grace.

There is a sort of formula that Paul describes in his description of God’s grace. He references gobs of mercy that flow out of an expansive love, applied to a hopeless situation, producing radical results. That’s the saving grace of God. God is “rich in mercy,” he declares. Mercy means that some offense must be overcome. There’s a reason why it is needed. It comes from the great love that God has for us, a love that persists even in our hopeless, fleshly situation, and here’s the radical result. He made us alive, he raised us up, and he seated us with him. That’s all described in past tense as a completed act, even our seating place in heaven.

By the way, sometimes my idea of heaven is based solely on the principle that our seats are already chosen. They’ve been reserved. I know the pain of family meetings and in-depth conversations with my wife about how to arrange seating around the dinner table and on car rides and in the family room. I’ve heard the complaint, “I was sitting there!” plenty of times at this point. We’ve had to set parameters on who sits where on car rides and on how far in advance the front seat can be requested: Is it the day of or when we leave? Can it be requested a week in advance? A year?

If you are a believer, you’ve got reserved seating in heaven, and it’s the best seat in the house: with God. No saving seats when you get up or calling “fives” or anything like that. You’re seat in heaven is such a done deal that God regards it as already having happened.

And why?  Get this: God’s expression of grace isn’t even over yet. It was not simply the moment of your salvation. Your salvation isn’t even the biggest expression of it, according to Eph 2:7, where Paul writes,

Ephesians 2:7 ESV
so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

The purpose of our salvation – bringing us to life, to saving faith in Jesus, and promising us a glorious spot in heaven is specifically so that we can experience the “immeasurable riches” of God’s grace as an act of kindness toward us. We are fully pursued by God’s grace, past the moment of salvation, past this life, continuing into the next for all eternity. Are we coming away with a sense of awe yet? The design of it all continues even further.

We are  expressions  of God’s grace.

God’s purpose in saving us is to lavish his continued grace and kindness on us, yes, but it is also to invite us to express it to the world. We are not only partakers but also producers. We aren’t merely recipients of grace; we are reflections of it.

God’s grace can be described as an infinite treasury, a glorious storehouse. It can be described as an active power that flows from God himself. But grace isn’t simply experienced. It is embodied.

Jesus is the ultimate  embodiment  of grace. Titus 2:11 tells us this:

Titus 2:11 ESV
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,

Jesus appeared as the embodiment of God’s grace and salvation. But we know that we are called to follow in his footsteps.

We are  empowered  to follow Jesus’ example.

We can show grace in this world. We can show grace when we are waiting in a long line at the bank. We can show it when the neighbor is revving his motorcycle loudly at 7:00 AM on a Saturday. We can show it when our nerves are frazzled and the kids are noisy. If you are in a school, you can show it at the end of the school year, when apparently no one – student or teacher – can focus on anything school-related. We can do all of these things, but we can’t do them on our own strength, and we can’t do it alone. We can do it only through the example and enablement of Christ working in us.

This is why we call ourselves “A GRACE-driven church for a GRACE-needing world.” As recipients of God’s grace we know how badly we need it, and that understanding drives us to express it in daily acts. Some are big, and some are small. All can be used to draw people to experience God’s grace and even give us a platform to share specifically about it.

In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey writes this:

During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods’ appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

After some discussion, the conferees had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and the Muslim code of law — each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.[5]

Friends, the grace we are talking about today is unique, and it’s powerful, and it’s something we can express as those who have experienced it. But if you haven’t, today is the day that you can do so. Perhaps God in his grace has been making you aware of your need for him, to turn from your helpless, sinful state and to him. Jesus, the embodiment of God’s grace, died on a cross in your place for the judgment that you deserved. Expressing your faith in Jesus is the first response to his grace. Won’t you do that today?

Maybe you’ve already done that but have a renewed sense of God’s grace and a passion for it. Perhaps you want to make a commitment to express God’s grace more in daily life or to do so but through his strength and not your own.

[1] C. I. Scofield, In Many Pulpits with Dr. C. I. Scofield (New York; London; Toronto; Melbourne; Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1922), 82.

Dwight Lyman Moody, New Sermons, Addresses, and Prayers (Cincinnati, OH: Henry S. Goodspeed & Co., 1877), 95.


[4] C. H. Spurgeon, “Salvation All of Grace,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 18 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1872), 434.

[5] Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 45.

Exported from Logos Bible Software, 2:19 PM May 24, 2018.

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