Grace Alone ~ No Video

Grace Alone ~ No Video

A wealthy and powerful king wanted to be wise – but he didn’t want to put a lot of work into it. So he called his advisors together and asked them to condense all the wisdom of the ages as much as they could. They spent years travelling the globe, gathering wisdom, and more years editing their notes until they came up with a hundred volumes. They presented it to the king – who decided that he didn’t want to read that much. So they edited the hundred volumes down to ten – but the king thought that was still too much. So they cut the ten volumes down to one and gave it to the king.
“I don’t have enough time to read even one volume; I have a kingdom to run. Condense it some more!” They brought a single page to the king, but he handed it back. “I have time to read it, but I don’t have time to learn all that.” Finally, the king’s advisors brought him a sheet paper with one sentence on it. The king had all his subjects gather outside the palace, and they excitedly waited for him to share with them all the wisdom of the ages summed up in one sentence. He walked out onto the balcony, waved the paper in the air and declared to the crowd, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”
That is the wisdom of the world – the cynical, fallen, broken, sinful world.
But is it true? Does everything come with strings attached – or are there gifts that are truly given from hearts filled with love that ask nothing in return?
If we believe God’s Word, then the wisdom of the world summed up in the king’s one sentence is dead wrong.
Paul wrote in verses 4 and 5 of our reading from Ephesians that we were dead in our sins, “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.”
God had no obligation to save any human being – but because He loved us, He gave us life back. This is what grace means: God’s loving favor, shown to people who do not deserve it. And God gives it to us because He has chosen to give it to us. It is an absolutely free gift which we cannot earn or buy. As Paul put it in verses 8 and 9:
“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.”
God’s grace is not a New Testament concept. As we read this morning in Jeremiah’s prophecy, God made promises to His people during their time of captivity in Babylon. They were there because they had persisted in worshipping false gods – they were dead in their sins, to use Paul’s words. Yet God promised in this passage to return them to their homeland – giving them a new life. God also promised to raise up a descendant of David to rule over them justly – which God did in the person of Jesus Christ. In fact, in verse 16, God says, “Judah will be saved.” This passage is all about God’s people being saved by His grace.
They did nothing to deserve it. Many of the Jewish people were as pagan in Babylon as they had been back home in Judah. But God extended grace to them because – as the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – they were God’s chosen people. They were children of the Covenant of Grace.
And so are we. We have been included in God’s Covenant of Grace, so He shows us His favor. Again – it is nothing we can earn, nothing we deserve. This is why “Grace Alone” is one of the five pillars of the Reformation – five principles which set the movement apart from old-school Roman Catholicism. And Grace Alone is the one that really upset the religious establishment during the Reformation – which started 500 years ago this Halloween.
Without getting too deep into the theological weeds, Medieval Catholicism emphasized what we now call “Works Righteousness” – the idea that our good deeds – or the good deeds of the saints – can earn salvation for us. Luther was passionately opposed to it this – literally hammering home (on the door of the church at Wittenberg) the point that Paul made in Ephesians 2:8-9:
“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.”
It is only by God’s grace that we are saved – not by our good deeds, not by our giving to the church, not by our acts of piety or self-denial – like fasting or pilgrimages. This is so all the glory for our salvation goes to God – and there is no boasting by us.
It is a free gift. We dare not try to add to it. But that is the problem with Grace Alone: for most of us, it runs against our nature.
One of my former pastors – Sam Gibb – called to say he was taking me to lunch at Perkin’s. We had a good lunch and a good visit, and he took the check when it came. I made the mistake of saying I would get the tip. He shot me a look that told me I had transgressed one of his core principles: “When I take you to lunch, that includes the tip.”
He reminded me of how most of us have a hard time accepting another person’s generosity. We want to make at least some contribution. And we feel that it’s only right that we should do at least some of the work of our salvation. But the sacrifice of Jesus paid the entire price for our salvation. Jesus paid it all.
If we don’t accept that, then we might be one of those people who wear t-shirts that read, “Jesus did His best – You do the rest.” At first, it sounds cute, but try hearing it with Jesus’ ears. It is a slap in His face. Jesus didn’t do His best – He did what He did perfectly. He did it all – once and for all – and any attempt to improve on His sacrifice is telling Jesus that His death on the cross is not good enough. Do any of us want to tell Jesus that He isn’t good enough?
At the same time, we do have the opportunity to offer our lives to God. Paul touches on that in verse 10: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
So God has things for us to do – and our gratitude for God’s grace compels us to do them – but we must be careful about those good works. They are not earning salvation for us, they are not making our salvation more secure, and they are not earning us a place closer to the throne of God. They are “working out” our salvation, as Paul wrote to the Philippians. They are putting our salvation to good use – not paying for it.
So do as much good as you can. Give as much as you can. Love God and others as much as you can. But you can’t save yourself, so accept that and accept that God’s grace did it for you. Just be thankful – and let grace be grace alone.
Amen.