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We were thankful to revisit the topic of grace. In fact, the title of today’s message was The Gift of Grace, based solely on a passage from Ephesians that informed a church two millennia ago about the doctrine of salvation and continues to inform and nourish the church, worldwide, to this day about the concept and practice of grace.
Let us read the passage in full.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 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.” – Ephesians 2:1-7
Again, we cannot talk about God’s gift to mankind, this undeserved mercy, and unmerited favor without discussing grace. Jesus walked this earth, sinless and pure, fulfilling in his short life the requirements of a holy life and was eventually betrayed by his friends and the religious counsel of his day where from there he was tried by a kangaroo court and sentenced to death by crucifixion.
Christ endured this vilest and cruelest execution methods imaginable because of His love for us and His willingness to submit Himself to the Father, for our sake.
Grace is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary in three ways.
- Unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification
- A virtue coming from God
- A state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance
How beautiful, really, to know that this gift of salvation, regeneration, of redemption, justification, propitiation, and sanctification of sinners comes from God and God alone.
It is such a joy to know that God has accomplished the total work required for our salvation alone. He did not need our help, our strength, our effort, or our struggle to complete His redemptive story.
Rest assured, sinner, the work is done.
Pastor Rohan emphasizes the need for effective and continual theological training from the pulpit because far too many congregations and congregants have settled for a water-downed gospel which in turn leaves them with a particular teaching of Christ and His salvific mission that gives Christians and unbelievers an uneasy feeling of uncertainty regarding their own salvation.
He lists three categories that have led, at least in our western churches, to the crippling of the gospel.
Theology is but the study of God and God’s relation to His creation. When we fail to understand who God is, how He has communicated with His creation and why, then we resort to erroneous understandings of God, which leaves the student of scripture with a flawed perception of their Creator.
When we avoid theological training that builds our understanding of God then we are left with a man-made deity that best serves us as a butler and we are led to believe this is who God is.
We could not be further from the truth.
And what is essentially paradoxical about studying theology, or rather, studying the revealed personality of our Creator, is that the more we learn about Him the more in awe we are about Him. We actually come to know less about Him, the more we know about Him.
In trying to understand and decipher the infinite, the finite thus bows its head.
But too many church attendees find their comfort in theological illiteracy because they postulate that if it is impossible to know all of God or all about God, it is rather best to not know anything about Him at all, other than what He can give us.
This faulty understanding of our Creator and Perfector leads the congregant to a deistic understanding of God. A God who is there but too far away and too busy to care.
Theology, like understanding the basic laws of physics help an individual understand why jumping from a third-story window is a bad idea. Ignorance is only bliss when you’re freefalling but the ground eventually catches up with you.
Poor theology leads to poor anthropology.
Therapeutic peaching is just that. Words and sermons delivered for the betterment of our feelings and emotions. You leave the church uplifted, emotionally, but spiritually unchanged.
There is no trace of sin, corruption of the soul, menacing thoughts, devilish influence, Satanic oppression, or perpetual damnation because these doctrinal points are too polemic to discuss in church.
Therapeutic preaching serves best in areas where people struggle with their understanding of God, their understanding of sin, their understanding of scripture, and their ultimate understanding of the gospel.
Here, people perish not just for lack of knowledge but for love of pleasure and comfort.
As you scratch their backs, in an elocutionary way, the better they feel about you and about God. But the moment you discuss or preach about sin and the need for spiritual reconciliation with God, the church has tuned you out.
This ought not to be.
This approach is self-explanatory.
There are far too many televangelists to list and it would be a disservice on my part to bore you or perhaps excite you with their names. I’m sure you can picture a few popular faces who have built empires of wealth around themselves under the guise of Christian living and teaching. However, these ministers of the self have done everything within their power to divert the focus away from Christ and toward themselves.
That is why, whenever one of these lucrative speakers is caught in an embarrassing scandal their church must struggle with the possibility of losing its financial stability and the followers that keep this industry moving.
Charismatic preachers do nothing for the gospel of Christ, nor do they express or explain the beauty of God’s grace demonstrated in scripture through the salvific work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Their intention is to grow their following and amass wealth.
Healthy theology from the pulpit leads to a healthy community.
Orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy.
Pastor Rohan donned dark grey scrubs this Sunday afternoon and for a moment, I thought he had either come from a shift in the emergency room or was on his way to one as soon as service came to an end.
But his intention was to demonstrate that like a physician diagnosing a condition or a disease, we, humans, have to diagnose the illness present in our hearts.
We understand that there are structures, systems, cultures, ideologies, and persons who behave in such villainous ways but we rarely pause to consider the cause of their behaviors.
Pastor Rohan references one of these issues, namely, racism in our world. Specially how people have conducted themselves towards other people in such condemnable ways but we rarely pause to ask why they behave that way.
The human heart has a disease, a corruption inherent in the human essence and it is called sin.
Sin is the cancer that spreads from one generation to the next. Sin is the spark that ignites lust in man’s heart before he commits rape or adultery. It is the flame in a child’s heart before they set their home ablaze, killing everyone inside. It is sin that thirsts for more liquor even though the inebriate wants it not.
Sin festers in the heart before an action is ever taken but far too often we’re combating the symptoms of sin, whereas we must address, first, the presence of sin and second, the remedy for it.
We must diagnose the illness of the human heart before we can do away with the symptoms it produces.
That is why the gospel is called the Good News because before we ever receive the gospel we must inform, or, rather, remind the sinner that they have an insidious disease running through their veins; no, deeper, it lives in their soul.
Paul reminds the church of Ephesus that we were all children of wrath.
Pastor Rohan informs the church that mankind is born in this reprobate state of irreversible fallenness. He states:
- The nature of the unbeliever is fallen
- The unbeliever is unable to revive himself, spiritually and physically from the dead
- We are all subjugated to the will of the devil
“Spiritual deadness finds its source in Satan.” Said Pastor Rohan. “Every unbeliever is spiritually dead, sons of the devil.”
Paul poetically informs us of our depraved and unregenerate state in the letter to the Romans this way:
“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.
Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.
The venom of asps is under their lips.
Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”
And let the reader understand that sin is the diagnosis and the prognosis, the outcome of sin, is death.
But thanks be to God in heaven that through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the grace which was given to us through His efficacious work on the cross, we are saved by grace through faith!
You can imagine a man on top of a horse on his way to the gallows for crimes unpardonable. You can imagine the same man facing the people who once trusted him, a people he once called friends now throwing rotten vegetables at him, yelling obscenities from the top of their throats at him. He listens to the gallop of the horse he is seated on and wonders how many more steps it will take before it reaches the gallows. He looks side to side and pictures the world but the unease of his execution prevents him from fixating on anything good.
He is dismounted from his mare, forced up a set of steps where a priest is reciting strange words to either him or the crowd, he is not sure. He captures the executioner, in clad black armor, face covered by a black hood. The crowd cheers when the noose is wrapped around his neck. He hears something coming from the priest about last rites or last words but shrugs and wants nothing more than to be done with this life, this world of illness and disease, this world of pillage and murder, of prostitution and abandoned bastards. He wants nothing more than that which he has earned from his way of life. His wants and desires have led him to the very noose that now hugs his throats so dearly. His wages have merited him a speedy and all too comforting death, comforting compared to the death he dealt his victims. This man is a killer, a cold-blooded murderer who deserves nothing but the tightening of a just and fair rope around his neck as his body struggles against itself. This man deserves death.
But short of the executioner pulling the trap door mechanism, a fine hairs’ distance away from sure and complete death a trumpet blasts in the distance. A sound the townspeople know all too well. It is sounded of the arrival of royalty. The crowd makes way for a man dressed in kingly attire but it isn’t the king, it is his son, the prince. This gallant figure approaches the gallows as the crowd stands in awe, in silence, in reverence of his eminence, awaiting, perhaps, for him to adulate the execution of the criminal but he does the opposite of that. He stands, makes eye contact with the spectators, and disrobes. His body, now exposed to the elements shivers. The cool air embraces his naked body as his servants turn in shame. He approaches the priest and demands he be silent. He approaches the executioner and orders him to remove the noose from around the neck of the convicted man. Everyone gasps as both priest and executioner obey without hesitance. What happens next is the most unexpected case of all time, the prince, the son of the king of the land places the noose around his own neck. The crowd shudders, they whimper, some scream in fear, and others grab on to whoever they can. No one dares interrupt the work of the king’s son, for that, they thought, would also merit a sure death on the gallows.
The prince looks at the murderer who moments ago was a dead man and whispers something to him about forgiveness, about go and sin no more, about your sins are forgiven you, and I will see you again.
The killer, unsure of how this is happening, unable to grasp the profundity of this act of selflessness from the royal son, is brought to tears, there, at the gallows but unsure why. The hate he once felt for the world begins to dissipate and he is unsure why. He attempts to explain to the royal prince that it is his neck that should be wrapped by the noose but the prince raises a hand and the crowd and the murderer are brought to silence. A sudden and complete silence.
The prince looks to the executioner, to the priest, and to the crowd at which point he explains to them that the crimes of the man before him are unpardonable and that death by hanging was the only way this killer would leave this world. But, the prince, loving the man and the crowd so much, said he would take on the crimes of the kingdom and the crimes committed in the past, and crimes yet to be committed by his servants on to himself. If anyone was to die, he would die for them all.
At this point, he gives the executioner the command only royalty could and down his body goes and with him the guilt, crimes, ills, killings, and sins of the man he saved. No one dared lay a hand on the forgiven man for the prince, the son of the king, had taken his place on the gallows, thus giving him another chance at life.
“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.”
Saved. Raised. Seated.
“saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,”
God has activated, He has rekindled life in our soul. Not only washing us of our sins but sending His Son, Jesus, to die for our sins. He has raised us from the wallow of sin to life everlasting when He raised His Son from the grave. And now remains for us a brighter future beyond the grave, thanks be to Christ Jesus.
Pastor Rohan informs us that not only are we awakened from a deadly spiritual state but our position before God is another. We were once distant, desolate in the soul, reprobate, and deserving of wrath but because of God’s great mercy, because of God’s gift of GRACE, we are now children of God.
We can approach our heavenly Father as little children approach their parents and rest in their embrace.
Mind you, God’s embrace is not weak. His grip over our lives, our salvation, our future, and eternal state is not feeble. He who saved us is He who maintains us in Him and He will not relent. He will not loosen His hold of His children the same way a mother does not release her grip over her babes in light of imminent danger.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The Creator of our universe can save you, raise you, and seat you by His feet for all eternity. His grace affords us this incomparable gift.
It’s His gift of grace to us all.
Why linger, why falter, why wander any longer, reader?
Accept His generous gift and be welcomed into the family of God with opened arms.