Friday, 18 October 2013

The gift of grace


A couple of weeks ago, we looked at these verses with Clive at the blessings that Christ has given us. 

This evening, as we spend a few more minutes looking at these verses, I would like to talk about grace.

If you notice from v1, the Christian lives in two places. They live ‘in Ephesus’, and they live ‘in Christ’.

They live in Ephesus

The currency of Ephesus is stars

There is nothing profound in my saying that. I am simply saying that Ephesus, and here Ephesus stands for human society at large, deals in merit. We think that our value, our significance, our identity, our status depends on our achievements, qualifications, wealth or our power.

It is the star culture. If you are well-behaved at school you get a star. If you are not well-behaved you don’t.
If you live according to the rules, you get the reward. If you don’t, you don’t.

Father Christmas comes from Ephesus. He gives presents to children who are good.

And this star currency means that we need to prove ourselves, to earn the stars.
We need to prove that we deserve the stars. I’m more attractive, I don’t show my age as much, I’ve made it in my career, my business is bigger, my church is bigger, I’m a better singer, I’m more intelligent, I work harder, I'm more moral.

Perhaps that is, you think, the way society should be.

But there are many problems with a star society.

·         Star currency can turn us into people who are insufferably arrogant. “Look at how many stars I have earned. It is because I am such a great guy”.
·         It can turn us into people who quickly judge each other. “They haven’t got the stars, because they did not work hard enough or they did not have the talent or the self-discipline – unlike me”.
·         It can turn us into people who are cynical because it doesn't always work. The bad guys get the stars and the good guys get nothing. And even if it is not as bad as that, we see how the people who have the stars seem to get more stars.

·         Or it can turn us into people who are hopeless crushed.
We long for stars, but we never seem to be good enough to get them.
We are like the child who is always trying to please their parents – even though nothing that they do seems to satisfy them.
We are like the high jumper. I read recently someone who pointed out that in every other sport the athletes are set up for success: if they are going to win they need to reach further and go faster. But the poor high jumper is set up for failure. He succeeds in jumping over the bar, and what do they do? They raise it. And they’ll raise it, until you fail. Even if you win, they'll ask you if you want to put it higher.

A star economy sets us up for failure. However good we are, we are not quite good enough.

On Wednesday I came downstairs from the office for the coffee that is served after our 10am communion. One person said, ‘Malcolm can’t have a cup of coffee because he didn’t come to communion’. He was only joking, I hope.
But that is the language of the star economy: you haven’t done the work so you don’t deserve the star.

These Christians live in Ephesus. The star economy is part of their life. But their real home is somewhere else.

They live in Christ

Do you notice how the phrase ‘in Christ’ or ‘in Him’ is repeated in these verses: v1,3,4,6,7,9,11,12,13 [twice]!

And the currency of Christ is not stars, but grace.

V7: ‘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’

And that is very good news because, as far as God's economy is concerned, we would never be good enough to earn even the tiniest tinniest star.

The amazing thing about grace is that it is a gift of God, from him to us, and it is completely unearned.

GRACE, as is often said, can stand for God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

We have every spiritual blessing; we are beloved (v4), adopted as children in God’s family (v5), forgiven (v7); we are part of something much bigger, we have a purpose to play and a glorious inheritance (v10) – and we have done nothing to deserve it. It is all gift.

It is purely and completely because of God and his love.

And in these verses Paul stresses that even our coming to God is not something that we have done. It is something that God did: 'For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight' (v4). 

These verses teach predestination and cause a great deal of anxiety.
v5: He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ;
v11: In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the purpose of his will.

But please don’t  get worried about predestination.
First of all we need to remember that we are working with ideas that are far bigger than our human brain can comprehend. The bible teaches two things without compromise. 
The first is that God wants everyone to be saved, that each one of us needs to choose to respond to the love of God, and that it is our choice. 
The second is that if you have chosen God, it was not you who chose him, but he who chose you. 
They are contradictory to our limited reason, but we need to hold on to both.

Paul has a reason for declaring that we are predestined.


We live in a star economy, so people worry:
Am I good enough to be saved?
Do I know enough to be saved?
Do I have enough faith to be saved?
Can I repent enough to be saved?
And the answer is ‘NO of course you are not good enough, or know enough or repent enough or have enough faith to be saved’!

But grace says it doesn't matter. You are here in church (for whatever reason – simply to sing or because someone else is singing, or because you walked in, or because you normally come) and you are listening to this message and beginning to understand it – not because you are good or have enough faith – but because God in his love chose you before the creation of this world to be his.

So he says, v13: 'And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth'.


Let me add one other thing. If you worry that God has not chosen you, you have nothing to worry about. If God’s grace was not at work in you then you really would not be bothered by anything that I am saying. We’ll see how a bit later in the book Paul says we were dead, but God in his grace and love made us alive. Those who are dead do not worry that they are dead. If you start to worry that you are dead, then there must be a spark of life there - a sufficient spark to get you to do something. 


So how did this happen? How did God move us from having our primary home ‘in Ephesus’ to having our primary home  ‘in Christ’?

It cost Him everything.
It cost him the death of the One who he Loved (v7)

God gave his Son, who had been with him for all eternity, to die on the cross for our forgiveness.

It costs us nothing.
We have done nothing to merit or deserve this. It is all of grace.

When CS Lewis was asked what the difference was between Christianity and other world religions he replied: ‘That is easy. It is grace’. God welcomes us, loves us, forgives us, accepts us, before we do anything.

It was, says Paul, while we were still sinners that Christ died for us.

There is a Buddhist version of the story of the Prodigal Son. It is an earlier version, much earlier than Jesus. It comes from "the Lotus Sutra" told by one of Buddha's senior disciples,  Maha-Kasyapa (about 500BC).  It tells of a son who takes his father's money, runs away from home, leads an extravagant life, becomes poor and resorts to begging. The father looks for him but fails to find him. Many years later the son happens on the father, who is now fabulously wealthy, but he doesn't recognise his father. His father, however, recognises him. He orders two guards to bring his son to him, but the son is terrified. He still does not recognize his father and thinks he is being arrested by this powerful, wealthy man. So the father orders his release, and then offers him a job as a servant, clearing out excrement. The father says nothing, but as his son proves himself over the years, so he is promoted to more senior positions. The father finally reveals himself as father to the son on his deathbed and announces that his son will inherit the business. His son has proved himself. 

Maybe Jesus heard someone tell this story. If he did, he retells it in a very different way. The son runs away, leads an extravagant life, becomes poor and resorts to begging. But the son, in Jesus' story, when he comes to his senses, decides to go home and ask his father to take him back as a servant. But as he gets near home, his father sees him and runs to him. The son starts to say, 'I have sinned against God and you, and I will be your servant', but his Father does not even let him finish his speech. Instead he rejoices and welcomes him home as his son and heir. 

The Buddhist version makes more sense for those who are 'in Ephesus'. The son has made a big mistake and should prove himself that he is worthy. He needs to earn those stars

The version that Jesus told is quite scandalous, especially to people who all their lives have lived 'in Ephesus'. The son does not need to prove himself. The love of the Father comes first. All the son needs to do, all you need to do, is to be embraced by his father's love.

And that is grace.


And the consequence of living ‘in Christ’ is that we will praise God, and particularly we will praise his grace.

Notice how praise plays such a significant part in these verses.

V3: Paul sings praise to the Father who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing
V6: He gives praise to God for his glorious grace
V12: He declares that we live to praise God’s glory
V14: He announces that the final saving of those who belong to God will bring praise to God’s glory.

Can we imagine a world in which all people praise a God who lavishes on us his grace?

I praise that which I value.

I can choose to value good works, self-reliance, pulling myself up by the bootlaces. I can choose to cherish my earned stars and praise myself for earning them. Someone quipped, ‘The average Englishman is a self-made man who worships his creator’.

Or I can choose to be embraced by grace.  

I know that everything that I have is a gift. I know that I am one who has received mercy. I have confidence before God – because I know that it is not about what I can do for him, but what he has done for me.

And if I am embraced by grace, then I will praise the God of grace, and I will begin to live grace.

"Grace means you're in a different universe from where you had been stuck, when you had absolutely no way to get there on your own."

There really is nothing more precious than the overwhelming grace which God lavishes on us. 

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