A Graceful Introduction
Grace is something to possess
Grace provides freedom
Grace relieves personal responsibility
Grace mean never having to repent
Grace means God’s law is irrelevantGrace-Filled Misconceptions
Today launches a yearlong study on a major theme within Christianity. Today we push away from shore to better understand and better live in God’s grace during 2018. Along our journey, you may find your views challenged, your understanding conflicted, and your faith stretched…and some of you are asking how is this different than any other week…right? Here is the promise I will make to you…if you will actively participate within our facebook group “God’s Grace 365”, if you will complete the daily readings, and if you participate within our weekly studies, you will, by the end of this year, find your life living in God’s grace as God intended. Of course, the alternative is you can do none these things and finish this year exactly where you are right now – no closer to God or His grace.
This study is needed because, the truth is, people carry many misconceptions concerning God’s grace. Maybe you’re carrying some of these as well. What kind of misconceptions? Well…
1. Grace is Something to Possess. Some people act as if grace is an element God fills us with and when we need a refill we simply ask God to give us more. We read in Acts that Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. (Acts 6:8, NLT) and we say to ourselves, I want to be full of God’s grace. Because we know we leak and we want to be full of God’s grace, we pray, asking God to fill us again with His grace. We act as though we are missing something and so we ask our Father to give us what we believe we are missing.
Here’s the problem with this view of God’s grace. In looking at grace as something to possess, we that becomes our prized pursuit. We want grace; we need grace…and it becomes all about us. God loves each of us, but His grace was never about us. Grace is ALL about God.
2. Grace Provides Freedom Because God provides His people with His grace, we are then free to live our lives as we desire. This belief system becomes an excuse to keep sinning. Because we are covered by God’s grace, we can continue to enjoy our favorite sin without any consequences.
This is a false belief which Paul exposed to the Church at Rome. Paul asked, Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? (Romans 6:1, NLT) Some two thousand years later and we continue wrestling with this same question.
One of the Christian blogs I regularly read published an article several months ago with the headline: “Can Christians Drink Alcohol?” You can imagine reader comments, I’m sure. The answer is obviously, “Yes, a Christian can drink alcohol.” Anybody with access to alcohol can drink alcohol unless they have some physical limitation which prevents them…even recovering alcoholics can drink alcohol, if available. I think I know what the author meant, but it’s a bad question. It’s like asking “Can a Christian watch pornography or smoke marijuana or steal a car or commit adultery. The answer is always “Yes, they can”. The better question to ask is, “Should a Christian drink alcohol?” or smoke or cheat or watch pornography. Now, we have a discussion point and a starting point to determine what the Bible says.
Paul completes his question to the Roman church if we should continue sinning by stating, Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? (Romans 6:2, NLT) This is the grace’s entrance point.
3. Grace Relieves Personal Responsibility There is no dispute that we are saved by our faith in Jesus, not by what we do for Jesus…there is a tremendous gap between “faith in” and “do for” Jesus. But, when we say we have nothing more to do than have faith in Jesus, we negate the underlying message of the God’s Good News found within the Bible. The Bible is clear we have much to do for Jesus because of faith in Jesus. Just consider what God tells us in His Word:
Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ… (Philippians 1:27a, NLT)
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? … So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” (James 2:14, 17–18, NLT)
God tells us we are to, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, (Philippians 2:12, ESV)
There is no such truth that once saved we are always saved. How we live our lives reveals if we are truly saved. That “work” becomes a personal responsibility, but some believe God’s grace eliminates any personal responsibility we have to demonstrate our salvation. God’s grace not only assures us our salvation, but enables us to live out our faith…when we choose to follow Him completely, but that is a personal responsibility.
4. Grace Means Never Having to Repent Jesus began his ministry preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17, ESV) and of course Jesus was preaching to non-Christ followers. We understand that when we accept the truth of God’s Word, recognize our sin and need for a Savior, and confess Jesus as Lord, we understand that we must repent of our sins at that time. A misconception of God’s grace suggests that once we make that confession and repentance that we never need to do it again. After all, “we are covered by the blood,” we say. This is very closely connected to the misconception that grace provides us freedom to live as we please.
Ask yourself this question: “Have I committed any sin since choosing to follow Jesus?” How many of you would answer “Yes” to that question? Of course, we all have. Why then would you believe you never need to repent IF you first needed to repent to gain God’s forgiveness and salvation? Listen to what the apostle John wrote to the Christians in Ephesus:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9, ESV)
As we work out our faith and as we live in God’s grace, the taste of our sin becomes very sour in our mouths because we know that our lives do not match God’s grace. We know that every time we sin we reject God. The writer of Hebrews reminds us: …by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame. (Hebrews 6:6b, NLT)
Living in God’s grace enables us to escape the enemy’s sinful traps. God tells us: No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, HCSB)
Wrestling with sin is hard…especially if it is a sin you have enjoyed or struggled with a long period of time. But do not miss God’s truth:
· Our temptation is not uncommon
· Our God is faithful
· Our temptation has limits
· Our God provides an escape plan
I don’t believe in sinless perfection…meaning I don’t believe we will forever stop sinning simply because we chose to follow Jesus…just look at the apostle Peter. However, there is a truth here that Christians don’t talk a lot about: we sin a lot more out of choice rather than by entrapment. The reality is: Sinning is our choice. Living in God’s grace is our blessing. Repenting of those sins we fall to is our obligation…regardless of how long we have called ourselves Christians.
Each week we celebrate Communion together as a family. That is the perfect time to approach God, confess and repent of your sin, and embracing your gift of grace. That is the reason we open the communion to all, but limit it to those immersed believers who have chosen to follow God. More than 220 times within the New Testament we are called to repentance. Communion is meaningless and useless to anyone who does not repent of their sin – in the original language, repentance means to “turn from evil and turn to good.”
As you and I reject the sin in our lives, confessing our sin and repenting – leaving the sin behind and turning to obey God – we live in God’s grace.
5. Grace is Free We often talk about God’s free gift of salvation and grace. We mean well and God does make His gift free. The Bible reminds us: For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, NLT)
As we maximize God’s gift while minimizing our responsibility, we marginalize the reality of God’s grace. What do I mean? In our churches and our conversations with people about God, we talk a great deal about God’s free gift of salvation, but we talk very little about our responsibility surrounding God’s gift. The effect our actions is that we cheapen God’s grace. The truth, however, is that grace is costly.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once stated “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession...Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Bonhoeffer is, of course, right…there is no such thing as free cheap grace. Grace is costly because it calls people to discipleship…grace calls us to follow Jesus. Grace is costly because it calls us to die to ourselves…grace then gives us life. Grace is costly because it condemns sin…grace makes sinners right with God. Grace is costly because it cost God His Son’s life …yet grace proves Jesus’ life was not too costly in order to give us life.
What the Bible teaches and God reveals to us is that: A life without sacrifice is a life without grace. As we journey this year to better understand and live in God’s grace, this fact will become crystal clear – but only if we open ourselves to God, allowing Him to teach us what grace truly means.
Growing up, I remember hearing a wonderful memory aid to remember grace, maybe you’ve heard it as well. Grace, I was told, is God’s Response At Christ’s Expense. As good as that is, I don’t think it goes far enough in defining God’s grace so allow me to offer you an alternative that we will build on this entire year. It is THE ONE THING I hope you will carry away from today and hold onto throughout this year: Grace is God Relating to All Creation Equally. Grace is God Relating to All Creation Equally. This year, we will discover that grace is not something to possess, but rather, grace is someone to embrace.
To help us along our journey in understanding that truth, we will begin with the Old Testament prophet named Hosea. If you have your Bibles – and I trust that you do – turn with the Old Testament Book of Hosea. This writing of Hosea offers us a glimpse of God’s character, God’s sacrifice, and God’s grace. This Old Testament books is the Bible’s most beautifully painted picture of what God’s grace is all about. Look with me in Chapter 1, beginning in verse 1…we read:
The Lord gave this message to Hosea son of Beeri during the years when Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were kings of Judah, and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel. (Hosea 1:1, NLT)
The opening to Hosea doesn’t seem like much, but the value hides in the background. This, again, is one of the points we made during our Finding Life: How to Study the Bible class we offered in the past. Hosea’s story makes for a great story, but the goal of our journey here is to better understand and live in God’s grace. To do this, we need to see and understand the entire picture.
We immediately know three things about this book we will spend the next 18 weeks uncovering. What is that we know?
· We know the author’s name: Hosea
· We know the source of his information: The Lord
· We know the timeline of Hosea’s ministry: during Uzziah’s and Jeroboam’s kingship
Why is this information relevant? This information establishes the parameters upon which God reveals His grace to His people. God’s grace, while never specifically mentioned, is referred to throughout the Old Testament nearly 1,100 times, but here in the book of Hosea, we get to see what it actually looks like in an everyday ordinary life.
The name Hosea means “Yahweh has rescued”. This is important because remember what the angel Gabriel announced to the shepherds: … “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior — yes, the Messiah, the Lord — has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! (Luke 2:10–11, NLT)
The word Savior means “rescuer” – it is what Jesus will do. Hosea reflects the accuracy of Gabriel’s announcement, but he does so eight centuries before Jesus is ever born. During this time …when Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were kings of Judah, and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel (Hosea 1:1, NLT) the nation of Israel was a divided kingdom after the death of King Solomon. The nation was split into two distinctly separate kingdoms – the northern kingdom (aka Judah made up of two of Israel’s twelve tribes) and the southern kingdom (aka Israel and Ephraim comprised of the remaining ten tribes). Although Hosea is ministering in the northern kingdom, the fact he includes the southern kingdom’s king reveals that God’s message of grace is for all people. Hosea’s ministry will last several decades beginning around 750 BC with Uzziah’s reign and ending in the early years of Hezekiah’s reign (around 715 BC).
What makes Hosea so unique is that he launches what becomes known in the Hebrew version of the Old Testament what is known as “The Twelve.” The reflects what we know as the twelve minor prophets and was a single source all originally combined within a single scroll. What Hosea enjoyed the contemporaries of guys like Amos, Micah, and Malachi, Hosea was the only prophet who was raised in and ministered to the Northern kingdom of Juda. This fact enables Hosea’s work to standout from among his peers.
What makes this such a powerful reflection of God’s grace is the fact is that during this time all of Israel enjoyed a time of great prosperity. Jeroboam of the northern kingdom tried to keep the separate kingdoms divided because he was afraid his people would return to Jerusalem to worship there in the temple. He knew God had given specific instructions when God commanded: “You must not have any other god but me. “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. (Exodus 20:3–4, NLT)
Still, Jeroboam had golden calves placed at Bethel and Dan so his people would have places to go and worship. The king led the people of 83% of Israel’s tribes into idolatry. When God can no longer claim first place, grace is out of place. The people of God sat by unmoved as idolatry gave way to national immorality. In a short amount of time, Israel’s religion had become mixed blend of Jewish tradition and pagan idolatry. And everyone was having a good time…except God.
God sent His prophets to the people to expose their sin, but the people would not listen. The prophets called on all of Israel to remember the covenant God made with them back at Mount Sinai and to return to God, but the people refused. Because of their disobedience, God allowed the Assyrians to invade and conquer the northern kingdom in 722 BC while the Babylonians invaded and conquered the southern kingdom 606 BC and later destroyed the Jerusalem temple in 586 BC. The result was painful – thousands of people died while thousands of others became Babylonian slaves.
This is the situation in which Hosea found himself. Theologian Warren Wiersbe writes: Hosea could see that the nation was rotten to the core; for honest government, pure religion, godly homes, and personal integrity had vanished from the land. Judgment was inevitable. Hosea faithfully preached the Word, but the nation refused to repent and was finally swallowed up by Assyria. (Warren Wiersbe)
Hosea’s message, which we will study, centered on:
• Israel’s historical relationship with God;
• Israel’s love affair with idolatrous worship;
• Israel’s economic, military, and political practices and conditions;
• God’s expectations of His people; and,
• God’s deep love for His people
To illustrate God’s message of grace, God chose to reveal Himself through family’s personal struggle and children born out of adulterous relationships. Through this prophet of God, we will see more personal struggles and emotions than from any other prophet God ordained. Through this relationship, through the emotions, and through the struggles we will find grace and power.
Grace and power are typically united together throughout the Bible. We cannot separate grace from who God is because grace is found in God’s character. As Moses prepared to receive the second set of stone tablets containing God’s 10 Commandments after Moses angrily broke the first set, we are told: The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6, NLT)
Compassion and mercy are Old Testament words indicating grace. God is grace. This morning, which of the misconceptions of grace do you wrestle with the most? Grace is something to possess; Grace provides freedom; Grace relieves personal responsibility; Grace mean never having to repent; Grace means God’s law is free
 Bonhoeffer, D. (2015). Discipleship. (V. J. Barnett, Ed., B. Green & R. Krauss, Trans.)
 Wiersbe, W. W. (2013). The wiersbe bible study series: minor prophets vol. 1. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook.