Posts Tagged 'Grace'

Panic Podcast – Thessalonians, Part 2

On today’s program, I’m spending 25 minutes on the first verse of 1 Thessalonians 1.  That single verse is loaded to the brim with some powerful thoughts and doctrines, so click and listen.


Video Sermon

Good morning! Lots of folks are on vacation these days, so wherever you are, by the sea, at a resort, or even if you’re stuck at home, it’s great to have you here! Click right HERE for this week’s VIDEO SERMON, shot on location.

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The Gospel: Grace


However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24 | NIV84)

Human beings are God’s ultimate creative expression and His only creation made in His image.  All other aspects of creation were created by God to serve the needs of human beings just as human beings were created to serve God. In that sense, all people are theocentric. Being created in God’s image, is it any wonder why He went to such great lengths to save man?

The apostle Paul was such a man. He was created in God’s image but as it has done to all men, sin yanked Paul farther and farther away from his creator, distorting God’s image within his heart to the point where even though Paul became a master at handling the Scriptures, he neither understood them nor resembled his Creator in any way.

It took a shocking encounter with the risen Lord for Paul to be convinced to his lost condition:

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. (Acts 9:3-8 | NIV84)

And it was while he was cooling his heels in Damascus that Paul received his commission from the Lord:

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”. (Acts 9:15-16 | NIV84)

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. (Acts 9:19c-20 | NIV84)

And so the “Gospel of grace” did to Paul what it does to everybody who hears it and accepts it: It radically changed his life and set him free to do the same for others.

Let’s look a little closer at this “Gospel of grace” and discover what it’s all about.

The image of God in man

Grace, we’ve been taught, is “God’s unmerited favor,” meaning that God treats those who have placed their full faith and trust in Him better than they deserve. That’s a good definition, and if that’s all you know about grace, it will serve you well. But for those of us who think too much, we wonder about the whole issue of God’s grace. For me, I wonder what it is about sinful, rebellious human beings that moves God to treat them with grace. The answer is simplicity itself, and it all boils down to these two verses:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image,in the image of God he created him;male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27 | NIV84)

Human beings – men and women – were created in God’s image. Both as individuals and corporately, we have been created in the image of God. Actually, if you read Genesis 1:26 a little closer, we see that men have been created in the image and likeness of God. While that sounds like human beings “look like God,” that’s not what’s being taught in those verses. Men and women, because they have been created in the “image” and “likeness” of God, share His morality, His ability to be rational, to be thoughtful, and especially to be able to relate to Him and other human beings on a spiritual, emotional, mental, and intimate level. Beyond nebulous things like those, there’s really no single aspect in any human being you can point to and say, “That looks like God.”

Psalm 8 gives us a sense of what being created in God’s “image” and “likeness” means:

what is man that you are mindful of him,the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds,and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air,and the fish of the sea,all that swim the paths of the seas. (Psalms 8:4-8 | NIV84)

Those verses could never be applied to any other thing God ever created. Only men and women have been created in God’s “image” and “likeness.” Contrary to what too many people think, the Bible teaches equality between the sexes; neither sex is given prominence over the other. This fact should be obvious since both men and women have been created in God’s “image” and “likeness.” Now, of course, there are different roles assigned to each sex and men and women are different; they are not the same and should never be regarded as the same or treated as the same.

While it’s true we are all created in the “image” and “likeness” of our Creator, sin has marred and seriously distorted that image. It has become so warped that you’d be hard-pressed to find God’s image in sinful man. For example, man’s dominion over the earth has been challenged because of sin. Apart from Jesus Christ, human beings cannot live at peace very long with anybody. That’s why we fight and argue and “discuss” with the very people we claim to love! And that’s why no human being can ever hope to relate to God outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ. No matter how good a person tries to be, he can never be good enough – he can never be clean enough – to come into God’s presence.

All of us have become like one who is unclean,and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6 | NIV84)

But God still sees His image in every human being, no matter how good or how sinful they may be. And that’s why He yearns to repair the damage caused by sin.

How serious was sin of Adam and Eve? What they did was no moral lapse – a mistake in judgment – but outright, deliberate rebellion against the will of God. They deliberately rejected God’s way for another. They day they disobeyed God, they began to die. The consequences of that rebellion – not the guilt – were passed on to the descendants of Adam and Eve. Consequences like these:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness… (Romans 1:18 | NIV84)

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:20 | NIV84)

God’s crowning achievement – man – created in the very “image” and “likeness” of his Creator, now lost and hurting, not knowing how bad off he is, unable to help himself, is actively pursued by God so that He may repair His “image” and “likeness” within that man, thereby restoring that man to his rightful place as a son of God (not THE Son of God).

That’s the Gospel of grace; the same Gospel that changed Saul, the persecutor of Christians, into Paul, the man who would preach that Gospel of grace that changed him so that others may be changed as he was.

Why everybody needs to hear this Gospel of grace

And this is why everybody – EVERYBODY – needs some kind of “conversion experience.” No church can educate anybody’s sinful nature out of them. The apostle Paul spent three years alone with the risen Lord in the desert, learning from Him, but that was AFTER his conversion experience. Going to church won’t save you. Having a “church-going” spouse or parents won’t do you a wit of good. Every human being, like Paul, needs a change. A change that occurs from the inside out, not the outside in.

Because of the sinful nature we inherited from Adam and Eve, we are by nature as hostile to God and as rebellious as Adam and Eve were. Our sinful nature colors every decision we make and influences every relationship we have. That sinful nature makes us sinful people who cannot change on our own. We may, from time to time do the right thing, but we have wills that generally won’t obey God, eyes that cannot see, and ears that cannot hear the truth because we are dead to God. That’s why no human being who has ever lived has “found God” because he was looking for Him. He wasn’t. No human being is looking for God because he can’t. He may be looking for goodness and justice and peace – all the things that come from God – but that sinner isn’t looking for God Himself. Man’s depraved nature – our gift from Adam and Eve – forbids us from looking for God. Being totally depraved does NOT mean we are as bad as we could be, but rather it means that every good thing we may do, while it may help other people, can’t help us with God. We need something else, outside of our tainted, untrustworthy, deprived sinful nature to point us to God. That “something else” is God’s grace. It is God’s grace that draws sinners to Himself. Jesus put it this way:

But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself. (John 12:32 | NIV84)

Salvation – coming to Christ in response to His call – is a gift from God that has nothing to do with our behavior but everything to do with God’s grace:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24 | NIV84)

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 | NIV84)

This Gospel of grace is the most remarkable thing! No sinner can lose when he responds to God’s grace. Don’t’ misunderstand what I’m saying here. God does all the work in saving a sinner; He takes the initiative. When people receive the grace of God, their lives necessarily change and that is a testimony to the power of God’s grace. But when they reject God’s grace, that is also a testimony – a testimony of a hard, sinful heart that refuses to accept the best gift they’ve ever been offered.

God’s grace comes to us while we are still sinners and once accepted, that “image” and “likeness” of God becomes more defined and obvious. God does not accept us because He sees us making an effort to change. Grace comes into our lives while we are at our worst, and as we allow God’s grace to work in us, He changes us. God takes us, just as we are because He is a merciful God.

Ephesians, Part 3


The grace of God is one the greatest doctrine of the New Testament.  Augustine, in the fourth century, was one of the earliest Christian thinkers to view the entirety of Christianity through the lens of God’s grace.  For Augustine, the only reason for the existence of the Christian faith is the fact of God’s radical grace demonstrated in the work of Christ on the Cross for the benefit of sinners.

Our survey of Ephesians takes us to the second chapter, which contains these famous verses –

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  (Ephesians 2:8, 9  TNIV)

If you were to ask the average person, “Do you want to go to Heaven when you die?”, most would answer that they do.  Who would want to go to the other place?  But just how does a person go to Heaven when they die?

Well, according to the Bible, nobody gets into Heaven based on the good things they did while they were alive.  Salvation isn’t attained by works so a person can brag about it.  No, a person gets into Heaven based on what God did for them.  And this is what Ephesians 2 deals with.

Saved By Grace: Regeneration, Ephesians 2:1 – 10

In the first chapter, Paul had laid the foundation for this discussion on the regeneration of believers by explaining God’s plan of salvation and His mighty power which enacted that plan through Christ.

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 deserving of wrath.  (Ephesians 2:1 – 3  TNIV)

The second chapter actually begins with the conjunction “and,” so it’s a continuation of Paul’s line of thought in the previous chapter.  He ended that chapter with the idea of God’s mighty power that raised Jesus from the dead.  In chapter two, this exact same power made us, when we were dead in our sins, alive in Christ.

This paragraph, the first three verses of chapter two, describes the true condition of every human being.  Notice it’s all written in the past tense.  We “used” to be like the people in those three verses.  Every single human being who has ever lived, who is alive today, or who is yet to be born, is absolutely dead in sin.  The virus of sin has been passed down from generation to generation at the moment of conception.

It was G.K. Chesterton who responded to the question, “What’s wrong with the world?”, this way:

Dear Sirs, I am.  Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton.

That’s the truth, as only Mr Chesterton could write it!  Paul would have agreed with him.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…  (Romans 3:23  TNIV)

The very language Paul used to describe the unregenerate life reminds us of an episode of “The Walking Dead,” and that’s the prefect way describe a sinner, lost in his sins:  a zombie husk, dead but still walking around.  Oh, they may be breathing and eating and functioning day-to-day without Jesus Christ, but they are dead on the inside – spiritually lifeless.  No zombie sinner can ever cure himself of his dreadful condition without the spiritual intervention only God can provide.  The intervention is called salvation, rescue, or even deliverance in the Bible.  And no zombie sinner can earn it or pay for it.  It is offered by God, free for the taking.

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. (Ephesians 2:4, 5  TNIV)

God made “us,” both Jews and Gentiles alike, “alive in Christ.”  The same power that raised Christ from the dead also raised sinners from their spiritually dead, zombie-like existence.  And, our regeneration is also an act of God’s grace, not just His power.  He exercised that mighty power because of His grace.  That’s the power of the word “but.”  It’s a small word but an important one.  He exerted salvation power only because of His love for us – His mercy and His grace.  Mercifully, not because we deserved it, God saved us.

That phrase, “rich in mercy,” is a profound one because it expresses a fundamental truth about God.  Man is a complete and utter failure apart from Jesus Christ.  That’s the evident truth of the first three verses.  The contrast to the mess man is, is God, who has all this love for man and who is “rich in mercy.”  He’s everything man is not, and God has enough mercy for any sinner.  He doesn’t have just enough mercy, God is drowning in it!  He has a surplus of mercy – He has exactly the mercy any sinner needs.  He has what you need!

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 2:6, 7  TNIV)

Verse six is another stunner.  Jesus Christ was not only raised from the dead, He actually left the tomb and appeared to His disciples.  Forty days after the resurrection, Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father.  Both of these events have their counterpart in the life of the believer.  As Jesus was raised from the dead, so we are raised from our spiritual death.  As Christ ascended to Heaven and is enthroned there, so we are enthroned in Christ.  This is a concept difficult to wrap our minds around.  In some way we can’t comprehend, God the Father sees us in Christ, so that Christ’s experience is ours.  He is with the Father, as we are.  Bruce wrote this –

Believers are viewed as being already seated there with Christ, by the act in the purpose of God.  Temporarily, indeed, we live on earth so long as we remain in this body; but “in Christ”; we are seated with Christ where He is.

Now, we were told just a couple of verses back that God made us alive in Christ, but here we are given some more details as to the real reason behind God’s acts of mercy and grace:  “in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace.”  That’s right, everything God did for us in Christ, He did to show in successive ages the vast wealth of His grace.  Think about what that means.  In an eschatological terms, our salvation – and we could say everything God ever did for us – will serve as an eternal witness to God’s endless supply of grace.

All from God, Ephesians 1:8 – 10

This marvelous paragraph brings us back to something Paul mentioned in passing back in verse 5.  Believers owe their whole salvation experience to God.  As A. Skevington Wood so astutely wrote –

Grace is at once the objective, operative, and instrumental cause.

He’s right about that.  Man plays no part in his own salvation other than responding in faith to the call of God.  Our salvation from the bondage of sin springs from God’s grace and appropriated by faith is a gift from God that cannot be earned in any way.  Grace means says that salvation is a work of God from the very beginning to the final end.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  (Ephesians 2:8 – 10  TNIV)

From conception to realization, salvation is work of God and a gift from God.  It is not the result of works, which is another way of saying it is “not from yourselves.”  There is just no possible way that any kindly person can do enough good work to move the meter one iota.  Or, another way of putting it, there is not the slightest reason for any man to be glorified apart of a work of grace.  Faith is the complete opposite of works.  It’s not that good works are bad or to be avoided.  Here’s the problem: man is so prone to sin that if works were involved in salvation, man’s predilection toward boasting would ruin everything.  God, being perfect in every way, could never allow even the slightest risk of causing man to sin, so His plan of salvation has nothing to do with man.

If verses eight and nine put forth the fact that God is the author of our faith, then verse ten emphasizes this remarkable fact:  God created us.  No, it’s actually more than that.  The Greek word behind our English “workmanship” or “handiwork” is poiema, or “poem.”  We are God’s poem, or as J.B. Phillips says,

We are God’s works of art.

This idea is both personal and corporate.  Individuals may be considered to be God’s works of art, but taken collectively the church, the Body of Christ, is a work of art created by God.  That’s more than a beautiful sentiment.  It shows the great care and precision with which God created us and re-created us at salvation.  We are not merely creatures.  We are works of art.

But we were saved (“created in Christ Jesus”) for a purpose:  “to do good works.”  By the time we reach the end of this little letter, Paul will tell us how to do this in a way that is acceptable to God.  We may be seated in Heaven with Jesus Christ, but for now we are living on the Earth, and we should be living in a way that glorifies God.

While we don’t do good works to get saved, once we have accepted God’s gracious, free gift of salvation, we are to do good works.  The order is vitally important: salvation first, works second.  But, and here’s how much God cares about us:  Since we’re on the hook to look for opportunities to do good works, and because of our tendency to sin, there’s that risk of boasting again.  God in no way wants us to sin by bragging about all the good works we’ve done.  This risk is eliminated because – and this is remarkable – God has planned and set up opportunities for us to do good works.  Do you see what that means?  Whatever good works may follow our regeneration, they are the result of the One who created us.

It’s really simple from Paul’s perspective.  We tend to complicate everything, including the Christian life.  But it’s not complicated at all.  Our responsibility is to follow God’s plan for our lives, responding to the impulses of the Holy Spirit as He gently moves us to fulfill His will.  All the good works we need to tend to were planned by God in eternity past.  We just need to keep our eyes open and be obedient.

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