2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2
Intro: In the seventeenth century, a Puritan pastor, Richard Baxter, believed that there was a “core of orthodox Christianity that Puritans, Anglicans, and Catholics could all affirm…that should have been a source of peace among them.” He urged that participants come together as “mere Christians”, the phrase later made famous by C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity. Though a nonconformist and rejected in many circles, Baxter’s argument remains valid today. Be “mere Christianity”, Baxter, like Lewis after him, meant the nonnegotiable, irreducible fundamentals of the Christian faith, understood clearly from the apostolic era onward. (Colson, p.141)
That is also why Chuck Colson wrote his last book, The Faith, and why our church family is in this series today by the same title. What is it that our faith is, and why does it matter in this world? So far we’ve seen that :
1) Christianity is a whole world view, a philosophy of all of life. And, we contend, accounts for the data of history and human experience, and rational thought better than any other.
2) The Problem in the universe is us; human sinfulness. But, thanks be to God, unlike the other major worldviews, Christianity knows there is also a solution to our innate evil in the person of Jesus Christ.
3) Today we’re going to look at another factor that sets the Christian faith apart. In a word, Grace.
Grace to us, and grace from us to others. Mixed in with this concept of grace are such things as repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and unity -all characteristic of the Christian faith as opposed to other worldviews or religions.
Specifically we want to answer what Grace is and what it costs.
#1 Cost of Grace: the life of God’s Son.
A. This is not new to most of you here. As a Christian you affirm that Jesus paid the debt of our sin. And this is what sets Christianity apart from all other faiths. All other worldviews and religions, if they account for the presence of evil at all, believe in individual responsibility to balance the scales. That is, if you do wrong, you must pay. If you do well, you get paid. It all depends on what you do.
So we may summarize all other religions with the word “DO”.
Just look at the plethora of TV shows built around the themes of justice, payment, good guys catching bad guys, bad guys paying for what they’ve done, criminal minds and activities, law and order, revenge, fighting, or warring. It sells!
Islam teaches that Allah is a vengeful god from whom you must earn every last blessing, or any forgiveness you might need.
Hinduism has no concept of grace. What you do in this life will come around if not in this one, in another incarnation. It is the law of retribution; what you give you inevitably get given.
B. But the Christian faith is alone in proclaiming grace; sin and wrong can be taken away from your credit by the substitutionary death of the Son of God. He takes your demerit. He gives his merit to you. You do nothing save acknowledge his love and love him in return. Christianity is the cheapest price. It beats Marshall’s or TJ Max! It can be summarized “DONE”.
But it wasn’t cheap. No. Forgiveness of humanity required the death of an infinitely meritorious and perfect person.
“For 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. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV.
#2 Cost of Grace: my transformation.
A. This is basically saying that if the Faith doesn’t change you, you don’t really have it. It will by definition cause you to become increasingly more and more like God with a ever heightening concern for others needs. In fact, if you do not care, of you do not hurt of sin, evil, and wrong; if the moral plight of humanity and yourself does not give you pause -you know nothing of the Faith.
The Reformers were fond of saying that salvation is by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone. Check out the last line of the verse above. (v10)
So in a way, salvation is free, but it costs everything. If you are willing to be God’s and follow his lead, he will give you everything else. This is not the same as earning salvation. Our following is a response to God’s gift, not the requirement. The gift doesn’t wait to see how well we perform, rather, it is the wanting to perform because of love that defines us, not even what we actually accomplish. So be careful here.
#3 Cost of Grace: forgiveness
We sat in the front row this week during VBS. He counted for at least two, maybe three kids in my crew due to his, shall we say, energy. Still for all his shortness of attention span, he was really a bright kid. During one of the typical I’ll-pound-my-feet-on-the-bench-ahead-of-me times I noticed a crack in the wooden book rack. Be careful, now. Lets not break that! Which was more like a personal invitation for him to investigate it up close and literally pull it apart. Crack! Off came a piece. Now you’ve done it. I was exasperated. He…was suddenly close to tears and in his kindergarten voice, with a head nodding as if to affirm his own hopes said, “But Jesus always forgives, doesn’t he?” Of course he does. You’re right. But then came the part that pulled my up short. “And you forgive me too, don’t you?” I kinda wanted to be mad a little longer. But the truth of his words were as from the mouth of an angel teaching me to live by the truth I preach. “Of course I do, come here.” I grabbed his little head and hugged him close.
A. Christians bring forgiveness into the equation of life. And that costs. A Christian is not free to hang on to hate. That is part of the old self real Christians are constantly trying to suffocate. Can you finish these scripture verses?
Matt 6:12 forgive our debts as… we forgive
Rom 12:17 do not repay.. evil for evil
Matt 5:44 love your …enemy
Rom 12:20 if your enemy is hungry…
Forgiveness costs you. It costs your rights, your revenge, your hate, your hurt. It costs fairness but Jesus did not say to go into the world and make everything fair. Neither was it fair that we should be given grace, heaven, eternal life, security, family membership with God –all in exchange for our lies, our misguided sex, our hatreds, our ignoring of God, our selfish grabbing –which should have gotten us hell!
B. Forgiveness is world changing. Forgiveness ends the feuds like the Hatfields and McCoys. In the Muslim faith, the shiites have been killing sunnis and sunnis the shiites ever for 1300 years!
Colson in his book writes, “But consider what occurred in South Africa when the transition took place from white minority rule to full enfranchisement and a government reflective of the black majority. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established under the leadership of Bishop Desmond Tutu. Through telling the truthabout the misdeeds of the former white government and requests by tainted officials for forgiveness, South Africa, miraculously as it now seems, was able to avoid bloodshed. There followed a peaceful transfer of power. It was a clear case of people drawing upon the rich Christian tradition all South Africans, white and black, enjoyed.” p.138
Forgiveness costs, but no other religious system changes the world like this.
#4 Cost of Grace: unity and reconciliation
A. A follower of the Christian faith is not free to cut ties either. While forgiveness is an act on our part for our soul health, reconciliation requires two parties. We cannot make the other person forgive, or cooperate in being friends again after an offense but the Christian is charged to always pursue unity.
“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:16-18, NIV.
The worlds way is to, say, not like someone’s suggestion for the group, then go and talk to all the other members about how that person is a problem. Get rid of the person and we’ve gotten rid of our problem and we get what we want
The Christian way is different. Christians do not believe in giving up and walking away from people. Christians seek unity because their leader wants it.
“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:22, 23, NIV.
It is a sad damage to the Church’s witness in the world that we have so many divisions, denominations. That people leave churches over songs, or disagreements, or an unkind world. That people are more proud they are Methodist, or Reformed than they are willing to speak of Jesus out loud.
The pursuit of harmony is supposed to be the character of our Faith! Christians who follow Jesus words practice Matthew 18, and they talk directly with someone they differ with before they ever think to talk about that person with someone else. They seek out the person with whom they clash and attempt resolution.
Sadly, the Church today fails greatly in this area. We often behave no differently than the pagans, walking away from our offenders, disagreeing loudly with everyone but the person we object to, telling ourselves it is biblical to like the like-minded alone.
Can you say, that “as far as it depends on you, you live at peace with everyone”? Or are you holding a grudge against someone you’ve never even gone to to talk about it?
#5 Cost of Grace: gracious sacrifice
A. Graciousness is a giving nature. The Christian worldview does not allow a believer to live as a social “taker” in the world. Rather, a believer sees herself as a giver.
“The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously;” Psalms 37:21, NIV.
“They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed.” Psalms 37:26, NIV.
B. A conservative attorney points out that more Americans have been put on disability than jobs were created in the last 3 years. Since June 2009, the economy has created 2.6 million jobs, while 3.1 million workers signed up for disability benefits. That includes the month of June 2012, when 85,000 workers joined the disability program and only 80,000 jobs were created.? Judson Phillips, an attorney and associate director of TheTeaParty.net, says the government for some time has made it very easy to go on disability.?”You have alcoholics going on disability for alcoholism. You’ve got people who say I’m on disability for my high blood pressure,” the attorney lists. “Well, you know what? I’ve got high blood pressure. I work 80 hours a week, and I love it.” The fact is, he concludes, non-work is subsidized right now in America.
While scores of people are looking for ways to live off the government, sponging off of subsidies and handouts, the Christian way is to be industrious, not so much to increase in wealth, own more things, live more lavishly that the rest – but to be able to give away, like their Leader gave away his life. This is especially a challenge to us wealthy Christians in the USA.
It is the christian character of our nation in the past that has pushed us into foreign conflicts for other oppressed nations. Call it economy, or selfish protection of our own, but in both world wars our losses would have been far less sitting safe on our own continent. It is the Christian worldview that sent soldiers to die in Europe in world wars because tyrants ought to be stopped, and people should be free and live in harmony with each other.
#6 Cost of Grace: repentance.
A. Repentance is facing up to our own weaknesses. No one can reconcile who cannot see their own wreckage. No one can be proud and also make peace. Not only do individuals need to repent, but whole churches need to repent, and whole denominations need to repent.
Conclusion: Grace is free but it is not cheap. It costs those who follow the way of Grace. Grace nevertheless, is a mark of the Faith for it is a mark of God. Islam teaches it is better to kill your child than let them convert to another faith and that it is a virtue to end the infidels life. Christianity teaches it is better to lay your life down for another as Christ did for us.