What is local church ministry really all about? At our local church we have often used the phrase, “Changed Lives are Our Business”. Understanding both how changed lives take place and what fuels changed lives is key to effective ministry. I personally believe that the grace of God is the SINGLE greatest ministry vehicle that God uses in our lives. So, for the next couple of issues, I’d like to “unpack” what I think grace is all about and how you can see God’s grace at work in your ministry.
Philip Yancey, a great Christian writer says “Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more”. That’s an awesome, freeing concept. There is nothing that we can do to make God love us more. But just as important is the understanding that there is nothing that we can do to make God love us less.
Let me share a few basic facts about grace. The first fact that I would like to share with is that grace is part of God’s nature, it is just an essential attribute of his being. Look in Exodus 34:4-6. It says “Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first one. He’s talking about the Ten Commandments. He went up to Mt Sinai early in the morning as the Lord had commanded him and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. Then the Lord cam down in a cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. He passed in front of Moses proclaiming, the Lord the Lord, the compassionate and gracious Gods, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Grace is an awesome experience. Grace is part of God’s very nature.
Here’s the second thing about grace. Grace is where we stand in Christ. Romans 5:1-2 says, “therefore since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. We have peace with God, we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” When you work, you expect to receive financial benefits. You are going to trade your time, energy, expertise and at the end of the pay period your employer is going to give you some form of compensation. It is what you deserve. It’s what you’re owed, you’ve put out effort and you’ve received that.
That is how we work. Now let me tell you about grace. Grace is amazing. Ever been pulled over by an officer of the law? There have been times when an officer of the law has pulled me over and has said, do you know how fast you were going? And I have said, yes sir, or yes ma'am. Well, did you know you are going faster than the speed limit? We’re going to give you a ticket and I said yes sir or yes ma’am because I was getting what I deserve.
You know how grace works? Grace works with the Holy, omnipotent omnipresent God who knows everything and is all powerful giving you what you don’t deserve. Giving you what you don’t deserve and what you could never earn. You could never work your way to the place where you could before God and say I’m here, I’ve earned it. What happens with us and God is the only –place that we can stand in right relationship to God is if we stand in Christ. If we say to God, God I receive what you freely offered to me and if you could believe it’s a possibility that God could love you in spite of what you deserve, in spite of what you’ve done, in spite of what should occur in your life, and then are starting to grab hold of Grace. Grace is where we stand in Christ and is the only place where we can stand.
Truth number 3 is that rejecting grace means rejecting the gospel. If you say to God, I am not going to relate to on the basis of grace I am going to relate to on the basis of what I deserve. Then you are rejecting the gospel, the good news of what God has made available. In Ephesians 2:4-5 it says, “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’s by grace that you have been saved.”
If you have ever studied comparative religions might be interested to know that in the Koran there are a number of promises of righteousness and ultimately God being merciful. Christian author and speaker, John Stott said this about the Koran, “…the repeated promises in the Koran or the forgiveness of a compassionate, merciful Allah are made to the meritorious whose merits have been weighed in Allah’s scales where as the gospel, the good news of mercy is to be undeserving”. The symbol of the religion of Jesus Christ is not the scales, it’s the cross. Something that you could never earn and certainly do not deserve has been freely given to you, that is grace.
What does it mean to believe in grace? That’s the first step that I said about grace is that you have to believe in grace, you have to believe that it’s possible. The God who created Heaven and earth could care rats about you. I mean really, is it possible that the God who put the heavens in place, the planets in motion, affixed the stars in the awesome sky would care about you. There are a lot of folks who don’t care about you, let alone God. Believing in grace means that you can be willing to reach that point where you say maybe it’s just possible that the God who made all of this really would care about me.
Finally, here are three specific things that believing in grace is all about. First, it means this: it means that you are realizing that grace comes from God’s character. Believing in grace means realizing that grace comes from God’s character. There is nothing about grace of God that has to do with me. There is nsothing about the grace of God that has to do with me being worthy. The bottom line is that anything about grace that comes from God comes from his character. He is a gracious God, he is a God who loves to show grace and mercy.
Secondly, believing in grace means recognizing that Jesus perfectly modeled grace. If you study the life of Christ and you watch how he interacted with people like me and people like you, you’ll see that he perfectly models grace. In John 1:14 it says, “the word became flesh, He made his dwelling among us, we’ve seen His glory, the glory of the one and only who came from the Father full of grace and truth. Jesus perfectly models grace.”
The third and final thing that believing in grace means is it means responding to both grace and truth in Christ. In John 1: 16-18 it says “from the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another. The law was given through Moses but g race and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has even seen God but God the one and only who is at the Father’s side has made Him known”.
On the evening of April 25, 1958 a young Korean exchange student was a leader in student Christian affairs at the University of Pennsylvania. He left his apartment; He went to the corner to mail a letter to his parents in Korea. Turning from his mail box he stepped into the path of eleven leather jacketed teen-age boys. Without a work these boys attached this student, they beat him with their fist, they beat him with a lead pipe, they kicked him with their shoes and they left him in the street. Later when the police found him in the gutter he was dead. All of Philadelphia cried out for vengeance against these thugs. The district attorney secured to try the boys as adults so that they could be found guilty and therefore be eligible to receive capital punishment. In the midst of the trial and in the midst of all the horror a letter was received by the district attorney and it was written by the boy’s parents in Korea. Not only by the boy’s parents but by twenty other relatives of this young boy and here is what it said, “Our family has met together, we’ve decided to petition that the most generous treatment possible within the laws of your government be given to those who committed this criminal action. In order to give evidence of our sincere hope contained in this petition, we have decided to save money to start a fund to be used for the religious educational, vocational and social guidance of the boys when they are released. We have dared to express our hope with the spirit received from the gospel of our savior Jesus Christ who died for our sins.”
I don’t know if I could write that letter if it was my child. Grace, God’s grace is amazing. Could you dare to believe it is for you?