The following is a sermon I developed from a class series. I adapted these lessons into sermons to preach to the men at Kilby Correctional Facility near Montgomery, Alabama.
Grace:How We Respond and Are Transformed
Grace is something we talk about often, but what is it? How do we understand grace? It’s an extremely deep and important topic for Christians to talk about, study, and understand. As we discuss grace, let’s look at what grace is, how we should respond to grace, and how grace transforms us initially and continually as new creations of God.
You’ve probably hear grace referred to as an “undeserved gift” and that’s true, but grace runs so much deeper and wider than a short definition.
The English word grace comes from the Greek word charis, which loosely translated means “gift”. You have probably seen or heard the word charisma which usually describes someone who is a gifted speaker or leader. Some groups of Christians are charismatic which indicates they believe in gifts that God imparts to them by the Holy Spirit. But, no matter how see grace, it really comes down to something we can never and will never deserve or earn.
Let’s look at a couple of passages to see how grace works. Eph 2: 4-10 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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
The first thing I notice in this passage is that god gave His grace when we were completely helpless or “dead”. There was no chance that we could participate in our salvation and there still isn’t!
This reminds me of the promise made to Abraham in Gen 15. Let’s read this and see how God gives grace to Abram and as a result to us!
This is illustrated later by Paul to the Romans in Romans 4:1-5 “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” So, the promise given freely to Abraham because he believed is also given to us freely as we accept God’s truth in faith and are clothed with Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection.
Rom 11:6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
Remember, grace is a free gift. You can’t earn it! If you try to earn it, grace disappears and is replaced by the law which cannot save.
So, ultimately, you cannot earn your own salvation. It must be accepted as a gift from God. So, when we hear God’s word it is a gift to hear. When we believe, we accept the gift of belief in Jesus. When we repent or turn away from sin, Jesus is the gift we turn toward. When we confess or tell the truth that Jesus is Lord, it is due to the fact that He is a gift to us; the very gift of truth! When we are baptized, it is not us doing the baptizing, but the acceptance of the gift of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. And finally, we receive the Holy Spirit who is called a gift in Acts 2:38. And it is this most special Gift Who creates in us a continual river of cleansing as Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4 and confirms again later in John 7. Grace is amazing!
Grace is not a simple, straightforward concept. We often want to simply look at grace and say, “wow! Grace is awesome!” And it is! But, grace is not necessarily a treasure that falls out of the sky, so to speak. Sometimes grace comes to us in ways that are harder to understand.
One of these ways, I believe, is characterized by Paul in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians.
Look at 2 Cor 12:5-10 with me. Paul gives us an interesting look into grace that is different from any other you might have seen:
On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
What “grace” do you think Paul is referring to here? What does God mean when He tells Paul “My grace is sufficient”?
Have you ever been in a place in life where you were filled with pride and refused to see the truth about a situation or refused to acknowledge you were wrong or going the wrong way? I have. I believe in this passage, Paul is recognizing this about himself. In this case, the gift that God gave him hurt. It was there to correct him and guide him back toward God. I believe that sometimes grace can hurt. Just like a shot hurts but heals, grace also might present discomfort or pain with the final effect of restoring you to God.
This is not to say that grace always hurts. In fact, most of the time we can feel completely uplifted by grace as a gift that has wiped out and continues to heal all areas of our lives. Things like pride, selfishness, envy, jealousy, fear, anger, and hate are taken away and we are healed.
So, how should we respond to this gift? I believe it’s all about reciprocating the reason behind the grace, namely love. And it is love that leads us into how we are transformed by grace.
How has God’s grace changed you? How should His grace change you? Think about a gift you have received at some point in your life. Christmas will be here soon and many gifts will be given, but these gifts are often expected due to the nature of the holiday itself. But, what about something a person does for you for no reason other than they love you? What does that make you want to do for them? Does it change you? Does it change your view of them and maybe even your relationship with them? What if that person pushed you out of the way of danger or death and died in your place? How would that change you?
This is all to point out that if you have not experienced a change because of God’s grace, you probably haven’t really considered the Father’s gift of Jesus and the Spirit. A gift like that can, should, and must change you; transform you in many significant ways! If you fully recognize the full gift from God, transformative love can and will overflow you. And there is the transformation.
Paul in his letter to Titus puts it this way: Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
How does grace “train us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives”? Think about that…It really has everything to do with how we see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the gift we have received. If I truly, deeply love someone, I will do everything in my power to be closer to them. I will give up sin, I will live a different way, I will be completely and utterly transformed by love because I have been loved.