Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Still Amazed

Quick! What's the most popular verse in the Bible? Ah, you guessed it, John 3:16. What about the most sung hymn? You're right again! Amazing Grace is the beloved song that is a pillar of worship for most Christian churches. Yet it contains an irony, because the average "Christian" can't answer the question, "What's so amazing about grace?" This simple question stumps many who love singing about their so-called amazing grace.

J.I. Packer writes in "Knowing God,"

“(Church people) may pay lip service to the idea of grace, but there they stop. Their conception of grace is not so much debased as non-existent. The thought means nothing to them...Talk to them about the church’s heating or last year’s accounts, and they are with you at once; but speak to them about the realities to which the word grace points, and their attitude is one of deferential blankness...whatever it is you are talking about, it is beyond them...”

Sadly, this accurately describes so many people who carry the name of Christ. In fact, I would daresay of myself that I was more energized about God's grace in the beginning stages of my walk with Christ than I am now. Surely the day I became born again was more exciting. And in the days that followed, I was clearly more zealous about sharing what had happened to me than I usually am now.

In any case, if we look to Luke 15, we find a story just about as familiar as that old hymn. Many sermons have been preached from this passage, the majority of them being given the title of "The Prodigal Son." I prefer to center my messages and sermon titles on the Father's grace rather than the rebellious son's return, but that is neither here nor there. We find here an inspiring story of a loving father.

What makes the Father's love so intriguing and invigorating? I think the mysterious attraction of his amazing grace can be reduced down to these 3 reasons:

1.) Who he gives it to. (bad grammar, good theology)
2.) How he gives it.
3.) Why he gives it.

In the same way God's grace is amazing because of the same reasons.

He shares His grace with people like you and me. We are most times too haughty and have too high a view of ourselves. Before promoting ourselves to "good people," let's consider the following from God's Word:

*Our best righteousness is just filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6)
*Hosea compares us to adulterers who constantly “cheat on God”
*All sinners deserving of death (Rom. 3:23, 6:23)
*No one is good, not one except for God Himself (Luke 18:18-19)
*Without His Spirit we are just dead bones (Ezekiel)
*If we lust, we are committing adultery. If we hate, we are committing murder. If we borrow without returning, we are thieves...even the most "casual sinner" is a lying, murdering, thief and adulterer.
*Apart from Christ, we’re just slaves to sin, Satan, and our selfish desires (Rom. 6)

Barely scraping the surface, we see that we're infinitely less than good people. It's amazing that God would offer so much blessing to dirt like us.

It's also amazing how He offers His grace; willfully, joyfully, and generously. God wasn't forced to send His Son for us. He chose to do so out of His love for us (John 3:16, Rom. 5:8), and what's more, He was pleased to do it (Isaiah 53:10).

As if all that is not amazing, check out what Ephesians 1:7-8 says, "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he LAVISHED on us with all wisdom and understanding.” God just lavishly pours out His grace on us. It's not like us being sprinkled by a few raindrops, but more akin to standing under a continuously flowing and incredibly refreshing waterfall.

Lastly, God's grace is amazing because of why He gives it. He loves us. God, the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, eternal and infinite Creator and Sustainer of the universe, loves us. Even while we were sinning against Him- rejecting Him in the most despicable of ways- He made the ultimate sacrifice out of love.

During a British conference on comparative religion, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room.

“What’s all the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions.
Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

After some discussion, the conference experts had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law — each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.

Thank you God for your amazing grace. I am still amazed.