30 Jul Grace – Part 1
The story of Grace
One of the things I felt God speaking to me about recently is Grace.
Simply, mercy and grace mean this:
Mercy is when you don’t treat someone as they deserve to be treated Grace is when you show goodness to someone that they don’t deserve. And God is merciful to us – and He shows us Grace – in fact the Bible calls Him the God of all Grace (1 Peter 5:10) So when we understand and live knowing God’s Mercy and His Grace – we have a true picture of what He is like; it means that if we are His, then He no longer counts our sin against us – we don’t need to live any more under shame or guilt. And it means that He loves us unconditionally, whatever we do or we don’t do, so we don’t need to live under fear any more! And when we live lives of mercy and grace, and show mercy and grace to others, then we are behaving like God behaves, which is godliness and we are showing people what God is really like.
This is a foundational teaching through the Bible that we need to build our lives on. If we do that, it affects everything about us; if we miss it and don’t have grace as our foundation and live enjoying God’s Grace, then I would say we don’t really understand who God is; we’re not building our lives on the right foundations, and so we are not living as Biblical Believers.
Some of us will have heard teaching on this many, many times; for others this may be completely new. If you have heard it before I want to challenge you to do a “grace healthcheck;” rub it into your life again and be refreshed by it and enjoy the freedom again! If you haven’t heard this, I want to ask you to listen and concentrate and let it get into you.
This is really, really important. It may not be easy; it may challenge things that you believe or things that you do – but it is worth it! So I’m going to teach on this for the next 3 weeks – today I want to tell the Story of Grace, looking at the whole Bible, then next week I want to look at 2 applying it in our lives and then the week after I want to look at how it motivates us and changes the way we live.
The Story of Grace.
Adam and Eve God created the world and Adam and Eve in it, and they were with God; made to be His; the most special part of all of His creation, walking with God, with nothing separating them. But then they disobeyed God and that brought separation and sin became a reality in their lives, separating them from the Holiness of God and having a lasting effect – and so sin and death got in and became part of the reality of humanity. But even in the middle of God’s judgement on them was some hope that God hadn’t rejected them and was beginning His plan of rescue – so even as He was pronouncing judgement, He said that Eve’s offspring would crush the serpent’s head and the serpent would bruise His heel (giving the first prophetic glimpse of Jesus’ mission)
Then, after some generations, Abraham came. God spoke to him and he responded in faith – and God made a Covenant with him promising that through Abraham all nations would be blessed and that God would be their God.
Then more generations passed and God made another Covenant with Moses the 10 Commandments, written in God’s own handwriting on two stone, tablets, along with many other laws in the Books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. These covered all aspects of life, social responsibility, national responsibility, holiness, relationships and purity and it was the best thing on the whole of Planet Earth, because it was the instruction manual for being in relationship with God the Creator and living under His Blessing.
I don’t know how many people here have read this part of the Bible, I’ve read it several times, but if I’m honest it’s not my ‘favourite’ part of the Bible – 3 reading about what to do with mildew or skin diseases or what animals are okay to eat – I want to get on to reading about Jesus! But if I had been a Levite priest at the time, these would have be the most important words of life and the instructions to follow in order to know God! …But even in the Law that said “be careful to keep these commands…walk with me and be blameless…you will be my people and I will be your God” there is provision for if you don’t keep it. In fact there are lots of chapters of the Law that explain what to do when you break the Law – in fact, Leviticus chapters 1-7 are specifically about how the priests were to make sacrifices – including guilt offerings and sin offerings when they had sinned. In other words, although the Law was the perfect means of Grace to God’s People – “follow it and have life” – God knew that no-one would be able to. And so there needed to be the sacrifice of a lamb – and every lamb that was ever sacrificed was a pointer to the Perfect Lamb that God would provide – Jesus.
Then God sent prophets who unveiled more of His plans for bringing Grace – and they said – especially Jeremiah and Ezekiel – that God’s Plans weren’t finished yet – and although the Law and the Old Covenant with Moses were perfect, there was going to be a New Covenant: ‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD. ‘This is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD. 4 ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Jeremiah 31:31-33)
And then Jesus came – and said this: ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18) So Jesus affirmed that the Law was good and was God’s means of Grace, but it needed to be fulfilled. Actually what the Law did was show everyone that however good you tried to be, you would break it and fall short. It taught us that the Law wasn’t the answer; God’s Grace is the answer.
At some point EVERYONE – no matter how good, was going to come short – and if you thought you were doing well, Jesus explained what the Law required and said it’s not enough just not to murder someone – if you hate your brother, then you have already murdered him in your heart. And it’s not enough just not to commit adultery – because if you look lustfully at a woman, then you are committing adultery in your heart. And it’s not enough just not to steal – because if you covet your neighbour’s stuff, then you are already stealing it in your heart…and so on. So even if you have done the Law, God look at our hearts – and we are probably all law-breakers in our actions, but we certainly are in our hearts. …and the Bible says that: For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:10) 5
The New Covenant
But there is good news – because God always knew this would be the situation – and so He sent His Lamb – Jesus, who did keep all of the Law – in His actions and His thoughts and His Heart – and so was a Perfect Lamb to be sacrificed. And just before He died, He said that this was the New Covenant in His Blood – and that we could be part of it, which is what we remember and act out when we share communion Grace and Law So if God was always planning a New Covenant, what was the point of the old one?
Paul says this in Galatians: Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. (Galatians 3:23-25) The word “guardian” here (Paidagogos) was a servant with the specific job and responsibility of leading the children to school. In other words, the job of the Law was to lead us all to a place where we can’t say I’m a good person, but instead, come to the point where we cry out “I can’t do it! I need Your Mercy God!”
That has always been the job of the Law – to end our self-sufficiency and to turn to God in faith. And in Jesus we know where to turn and we know that He will show us mercy and grace and will save us!
There is one more thing that I want to mention today which is this; having read the Law and being aware of it, what do we do? Do we just ignore it once we have found Jesus? Because there is a problem with that – Jesus said that the Law would never pass away. And if we are under the Law, it’s for life.
The example the Bible uses is marriage – we are bound, married to the Law until death parts us – and Jesus said the Law is never going to die! 6 Terry Virgo said that it’s like being married to someone who points out all of your faults all the time, and he’s right all the time, so you can’t argue with him – and he’s going to live forever! So what’s the answer? Are we bound to keeping the Law (which we can’t do) forever? Are we destined to live a life of falling short?
Well there is an answer – the Law won’t die, so we need to! And that happens if we are “In Christ” – because He has died, and in Him we have died too (which is what we act out in baptism. The old us, that was married to the Law, is dead – and as we are resurrected in Christ (remember we bring people up out of the water when we baptise them!) we are “married” to our new husband “Grace” in Jesus – And He treats us so well!
Paul puts it like this in Romans 7: Married to Grace Do you not know, brothers and sisters – for I am speaking to those who know the law – that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man. So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:1-6)
So if we are Christians, we are “married” to Grace! I want to finish today with this question; if we are married to a new husband, do we make Him happy by trying really hard to obey our old husband and being a better wife to him? 7 No, because that is as bad as adultery! We please our new husband by delighting in Him and loving Him! What does this mean? I’ll look at this more next week, but as one example, how do we pray? Jewish teaching said you must pray 3 times a day Muslims must pray 5 times a day That’s what their law said. Do we make Jesus happy if we follow Him by praying 3 or 5 times a day because we must? No! He has set us free from “Must” – that’s what our old husband “Law” used to say.
Prayer is good, because it is talking to Jesus our Lord, but Grace says pray because you want to, out of love, not out of duty because we must. If I said to my wife Louise “I must kiss you today and say ‘I love you’ three times because it’s my duty, it wouldn’t be a great marriage! But if I say it and kiss her because I really love her and I want to, and I can’t stop myself, then that comes out of love!
Grace brings us to worship and lavish joy and love to Jesus and freedom. The law leaves us stuck in sin, feeling like we have failed and under condemnation We can’t have two husbands; which one are you doing to choose?