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What’s So Amazing About Grace

What’s So Amazing About Grace
30th January 2011

What’s So Amazing About Grace

Speaker:
Passage: Ephesians 2:1 - 10

Ephesians 2:1 – 10
What’s so Amazing About Grace?

Nothing comes from nothing

Is anyone here a fan of The Sound of Music? It’s OK, you can admit it, we won’t think any less of you!
If you are, you might recognise this. This is the song that Maria sings as she realises that Captain Von Trapp has fallen in love with her.
, here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good
I saw you there, singing along silently, You know who you are!
It’s a little soppy and romantic isn’t it? Even for a sensitive guy like me, but it sounds right doesn’t it?

That’s often how we think things ought to work.
Nothing comes from nothing.

Nothing ever could.

We’re a little less sentimental about it in Australia, our equivalent expression is, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” or,
And we make that a virtue!

We tend value things more highly if we feel that we’ve worked hard for them.

We praise the little Aussie battler who’s worked his or her way up, more than the rich kid who gets everything handed to him on a plate.
If whatever good happens to me is a result of something good that I’ve done, then I’ve got reason to be confident, don’t I?
The song may have been set in the hills of Austria, but you could almost call it the Australian way:

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good
But all of that raises a rather uncomfortable question.

If, nothing comes from nothing,
If whatever good comes my way is a result of some good that I’ve done,
How good do I have to be?

And how good to I have to be for the really big stuff that I’m hoping for?
If the 74% of Australians who believe in God are right, how good do I have to be, to get on his good side,
How good do I have to be, to face death and not be afraid that maybe, on the other side of , whatever, I’m going to find out that I didn’t make the cut.

When the Bible says that we’ve all ignored God, gone our own way, rejected his pattern for our lives, how good do I have to be to kind of, off-set that?
This week I I was reading this the autobiography of Mohandas Gandhi. By just about anyone’s measure he’s got to be at the top of the list of “good people.”

Surely Gandhi is good enough,
But listen to his words,
Where is there a wretch
So wicked and loathsome as I?
I have forsaken my Maker,
So faithless have I been.

If Ghandi said that about himself,
What would he think of me?

If Gandhi’s a wretch, then what am I?
Well, I’m sure you picked it up when we read Ephesians 2, left to our own devices, none of us, are good enough to get into a right relationship with God.

But Ephesians also tells us how in fact, we can get into a right relationship with God.

The answer is grace!

And Ephesians 2 presents the story of grace, with a “before” picture, and an “after” picture.
Before – dead in sin
I remember when I was a kid, I was a bit of a nerd, the whole thing, computers, round glasses, braces on my teeth, and I remember in the orthodontist’s rooms they had all those before and after pictures of people who had had braces.
And the idea was supposed to be that they were all terribly shy and self conscious before they had braces, and then once their teeth were straight, they were beautiful and attractive and went on to live happy, fulfilled lives!
Actually, when Mike and Karyn Zbierski first joined our church, Karyn was speaking to someone here and they ask her if she’d met me, and Karyn replied, “Actually Clayton and I went to school together” which is true, but she went on to say, “So I knew Clayton when he was a nerd!” To which the reply came, “what do you mean , was, a nerd?”!!
What makes that even worse was that the person Karyn was talking to was my wife!
So, perhaps the before and after was no quite so obvious in my case,
But it couldn’t be more clear in Ephesians 2 could it?
Before God’s amazing rescue, this is the state of every person,
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 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.
How can we be good enough to get in a right relationship with God?

What can we do for ourselves?

Well, the answer is nothing. As far as spiritual things are concerned, we were dead.
When I started work at Trinity Hills Church back in 2002, my very first sermon was on this passage. And I had a great illustration of this, because I’d previously worked for the anatomy department of Adelaide University, cutting up the bodies of people which had been donated to science.
So I knew a thing or two about dead people, but Chris Edwards, my boss, said, “mate, I’m not sure that in your very first sermon here, when you’re introducing yourself to the congregation, that talking about your somewhat grisly former employment is the thing to do!”
But if you’re a regular here, you already know me pretty well, and if you’re visiting, don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds, but I’ve been waiting 8 years to say this!
Actually, it’s not very exciting really, it’s not some great insight, but something very straight forward, When I was working with those dead bodies, what do you think they could do for themselves?
Could I say to one of them, “excuse me, can you just move onto that other table over there? It’s OK, you don’t need to do it all on your own, I’ll give you a hand, but can you put in a little effort?”
Or if one of those bodies objected to me and my scalpel, what could they do about it?
Get out of the way?

Put up a fight?

Tell me how good their life had been and, they deserve better?!
They’re dead!
They can’t do anything for themselves.
Paul says, left to our own devices, before God’s great rescue, that’s what we’re all like.
Dead.
I’ve been teaching our daughter Heidi to ride a bike, which is a bit tricky around here!  There are a lot of hills that are pretty hard on little 4 year old legs, so I tend to give Heidi a shove to get her going, and then off she goes, pedalling madly. I do the first bit, and then she takes over.
It’s easy to think that’s what getting into a right relationship with God is like. God will give us a bit of a shove, just to get us going, and then it’s over to us, and we’ve got to pedal like mad.

Paul says, we were dead.

No pedalling like mad.

Dead in transgressions and sins.

That is, in God’s eyes, by God’s standard, a law breaker.

Rebelling against God, and loving it.
And just in case we thought that “death” language is a bit of an exaggeration, Paul gives us 3 extra little descriptions of far out of step with God we were.
Following the world

We were following the ways of the world.
Now we know the influence that society and culture can have on us, don’t we?

The natural life, the culture of the world, is out of step with God.
Whether you’re a Christian or not, the way the world will encourage you, is away from God, not towards God.
Following the devil
But it’s not just that we go with the flow of the world,
Paul says, in that state of opposition to God, we were actually following the devil, the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
Here is a personal , evil , force who is at work, opposed to God.
It’s not popular,
It might not fit with a scientific modernist worldview, but here is the reality of evil and opposition to God.

Apart from God’s action for us, we are under the influence of the devil.
Following our own desires
But no one can say they were dragged along kicking and screaming, an unwilling participant  No, Verse 3, All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.
If anyone ever tells you that humanity is basically good, well you know to ignore them don’t you, we don’t have to look too far to see the flaws in that theory, but here we find out why looters will ransack the homes of flood victims,
Why terrorists will blow themselves up in an airport,
Our natural thoughts and desires are to reject God and his rule, and to live contrary to his pattern.
And you might think, hang on, terrorists, yeah, OK,
Looters, maybe,
But not me!

Not my friends.
I know some really good people.

Some really religious people, are you really saying their natural position is to live as God’s enemy?
And the answer is, “yes, the apostle Paul includes himself among those people. He’s not on his high horse looking down, he’s counting himself in.
And you see this is another nail in the coffin of the argument that says you can be right with God by doing good things,
Or that if you try really hard to do the right thing, God will kind of smile at you and overlook any part of your life that displeases him.

Can religion make you right with God?

No way!
You couldn’t find a more religious person than Paul.

If he was alive today,
His first words would have been Jesus, God and the Bible,
He would have graduated top of his Sunday School class

Done his gap year volunteering with Mother Teresa,
Giving up every Friday night to serve in a soup kitchen,
He would have been on the setup roster every week,
You get the picture?
Dead in transgressions and sins.
And when you’re dead, there’s no , kind of pecking order is there. No jockeying for position.
Well I’m dead, but he’s deader!

I’m glad I’m not like him!
Without God we are spiritually dead, and facing a God who gets angry at evil.
A God who gets angry

Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath
It’s not very popular these days to speak of God’s wrath, God’s anger.

But did you get angry when you heard of the looting after the Queensland floods?

Did you get angry when you thought of those terrorists killing dozens of people in the Moscow airport?

Do you get angry when you read about child abusers, murder, rapists?

Of course you do!
We can muster righteous indignation!

Why would we think that God is any different?

Of course God is going to get angry at sin and evil.
The bit we don’t like is that God’s anger isn’t directed at a particular subset of sinners that we determine, terrorists, rapists and child abusers, but that God’s righteous anger is directed at everyone who gratifies the cravings of the sinful nature, That is, all of us.
God’s righteous anger is just and fair, It’s our anger that’s fickle and unpredictable.
Dead in sin, and facing a God who rightly gets angry at sin.
That is not a good place to be.

That is a great problem.
After – Saved by Grace
But, there’s a but. And in the original language, verses 1 – 3 are all 1 long sentence, and then verses 4 to 7 are one sentence too. And these two sentences stand in absolute contrast.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions— it is by grace you have been saved
Having Chris Edwards here this last week reminded me of what used to be his favourite illustration of grace.

He’d say, “you want to know what grace is? It’s a turtle on a fence post.”
Which doesn’t sound very profound really, does it?
But when you see a turtle on a fence post, you know it didn’t get there on its own.
That’s grace!

You know it didn’t get there on its own!

Grace says “somebody else does all the work!”
What’s amazing about grace, is really just what it is.

It is undeserved.

Undeserved favour,
Undeserved kindness.
In a world where we think there’s no such thing as a free lunch, grace is amazing.
There’s nothing good in my youth or childhood, or any other part of my life for that matter, that gives me a right to this rescue, what the Bible calls salvation, the cancelling of my sin and rebellion against God.
We’ve seen a terrific sign of God’s grace already this morning.
Baptism.

It’s what I love about baptism.

What have those 2 done to deserve God’s blessing?

Nothing.

Baptism’s not about them, it’s about God.
About what God has done.
Paul says in verse 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God
Now there are 2 things really worth noting here. In the original, the sentence kind of reads, “For it is by, this grace that we’ve been talking about, you have been saved”, pointing back to verse 7 where Paul says that God’s grace is expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
It is by that grace that you have been saved,
That is the grace that is amazing.

It’s in Christ Jesus, in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection that God’s undeserved kindness is seen most clearly
What does unmerited favour look like?

God breaking into the world he made, dying for the very people who have dishonoured and rejected him.
A God who says, because of the death of Jesus, I’ll swap your death for life.

Your separation, for relationship.
There’s really no clearer demonstration of grace, than the cross of Jesus.
How can this be?

And John Newton the hymn-writer was right when he said, grace is amazing!

When we’re confronted with this, it should make us ask “How can this be?”
Well jump back to verse 6 with me? And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 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.
Do you detect a theme? It’s all about Jesus.
We are made alive, resurrected, raised up , with Christ. That is to say, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead has benefits for us.

It’s because of his resurrection that we are made alive.
And not only are we raised up with Christ, but we’re seated with him in the heavenly realms
Remember without God we were slaves to the way of the world, under the rule of Satan, but because God makes us alive, we’re no longer enslaved to that!
If you’re a Christian person, then the power of God which raised Jesus from the dead, is available to you as you take your stand against evil.
But perhaps most amazing of all, Paul says Christian people are seated in the heavenly realms, in , Christ. United with Christ in such a way that when God the Father looks at us, he sees his perfect Son, Jesus.
Can you see sheer contrast of the before and after comparison?

Dead, now in Christ?

Unable to do anything for yourself, now with the power of God himself equipping you to live in the world.

Objects of God’s wrath, now looked on by God in the same way he looks on his Son, Jesus.
Only because of God’s kindness to us in Christ Jesus, verse 7.
And on some future day when I stand in heaven, the people who know what I’m really like will look at me, and they’ll say “wasn’t God good, to save Clayton. There was no way he deserved it!
God’s grace really is amazing!”
The second great thing we want to notice here is Paul’s comment that salvation is a gift. As if he hasn’t already found enough ways to say there’s nothing you can do to improve your standing before God,
Verse 8, 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.
My sister lives in England, and every year for my birthday and at Christmas, she sends me gifts, most often , clothes. Mostly, really nice clothes, you know, the latest fashiona, the kind of clothes I wouldn’t usually choose for myself!
If I’m wearing a shirt that my sister has given me as a gift, and you compliment me, can I take the credit for it?

“That’s a nice shirt, Clayton”

“Yes, well, aren’t I great!”
I didn’t choose it,
I didn’t buy it,
I didn’t even know I wanted it!
I just unwrapped it!

When it’s a gift, boasting is pretty much excluded.
Grace, faith, the whole , salvation package, is the gift of God.
Nothing in my youth or childhood, nothing at all in my life, puts me in the running for what God offers me through the death of Jesus in my place.

It’s grace.

And it’s amazing.
To do good works
I said at the beginning that Ephesians 2 is a before and after picture, which it is But it actually goes one step further than that.
We’re told what we were like, apart from God.

And then we’re told where we are now, we’ve been made alive, we’ve been saved by God’s grace.

But then Paul goes on to say what happens next.
Some of you will be familiar with the “Back to the Future” movies. It just so happens that when they were released on DVD back in 2002 I was off sick from college, and so I bought the set and watched them back to back!
The story is about a time machine, and in one scene the inventor explains 3 identical rows of instruments, each one showing a different date and time.

He says, “this one shows you where you’re going,
This one shows you where you are,
And this one shows you where you’ve been.
I imagine that if you were travelling through time, keeping track of where you’re going, where you are, and where you’ve been would be pretty important!
But it’s also pretty important if you’re a Christian.

This is where you’ve been. Dead.
But then, this is where you are now!
Made alive! Saved by God’s grace.
And then, because of this new life,
This is where you’re going.

This is what happens next.
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Years ago there was an ad on bus stops, with a photo of a young ballerina standing on the stage in a huge theatre. The caption said something about “following your dreams”, and the idea was that this ballerina had been looking forward to this moment all her life.
Imagine when this great day finally comes, if she walked in front of the audience, and did nothing?

Or if she stepped up to the front of the stage and said, “Thank you for the opportunity to audition this morning.”
She’s not there to do nothing,
She’s certainly not there to audition,
She is there to do what she has been prepared for.
It’s the same if you’re a Christian person this morning, admittedly the ballerina got where she is by a lot of hard work, we got where we are through a free gift, But we are not here to audition, to impress God, and we’re not here to take up space.
What is it that God has been preparing you for since you received that terrific rescue?
What are the good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do?
Part of it must be in living a holy life.

A life, just in complete contrast to that “before” picture.
But maybe we as a community, should be thinking together about some specifics too. We’ve heard about the work of Compassion this morning.

Are there good works we can do in partnership with organisations like this?
Or even closer to home,
In the coming weeks, we’re going to be asking you, if you consider this place to be your church home, to think about what ministry areas you might become involved in.
We need kids’ ministry helpers

We need youth ministry helpers

We need people to pick up the trailer on Sunday mornings,
People to help with setup and packup,
Welcomers, tea and coffee teams, people to work in the office.

Maybe some of those might be the good works for you.
But can I say, don’t put your hand up for one of those ministry areas, unless the reason you want to be involved is as a response to God’s grace to you.

There is no other good reason for serving in ministry.
But if part of the way that you want to respond to God’s undeserved kindness to you, is through partnering with others so that the in the good news of Jesus can ring out from this place, we’d love you to think about what that might look like.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now I’m found,

Was blind, but now I see.