Let's share today on two topics. One, I know a great deal about; and one, I know very little about. I know quite a bit about meanness. I know only a little bit about grace. In other words, I am, I think, quite a great deal like you all. You all know great deal about meanness, and, you all know just a little bit about grace. I don't know actually what is in your heart in any definite way, and would not dare to suggest I do. But my working starting point today is that you are all quite educated in how to be mean, and likewise that most of you are but poorly tutored on how to exercise grace.
First then, meanness...
Meanness is an acquired skill. Babies start off self-centered because that is how their Creator designed them to start out. It is right for a baby to cry when its diaper is wet or when it is hungry, or tired. It is just the baby's way of phoning in to communicate with you.
But as baby grows, it learns other ways to communicate. Behaviors that are normal for babies are not normal for 15 year-olds. Or 30s. or 60s. In a 15, 30, or 60 year old, those kind of behaviors show meanness.
Fifteen and 30 and 60 year-olds should not be all centered-up on self; at least not converted ones. I won't spend our time giving extended examples of meanness. Most are adept at thinking the worst of others, keeping ourselves separate from group interests and church projects, and tend to prefer pastors, teachers, governors, presidents, senators, bosses, owners and board members to be fired or put out of business rather than reformed. All these seem to stand in the way of our doing what we want to do. See, in a way, these are all authority figures. But they seem to clash with our favorite authority figure. And who is that? It is us, me, myself, whoever you are, who you are; you are your own favorite authority figure.
When there is a clash between these authority figures, the meanness comes out.
It is an almost Darwinist view of life. We are all locked in this cage together. Your meanness and mine. And it is a cage match. Survival to the meanest!
We all have fallen natures and have all trained them. And so we are "good" at being "bad," in very direct ways and in very subtle ways. We all know how to leave teeth-marks.
But because of Jesus we receive the Holy Spirit.
So let's turn to that other topic, the one we don't know very much about. Let's look at grace.
There are many ideas about grace. One is what we might call candy-grace. Candy-grace is all sugar. It is all benefits without responsibilities. It is all "A's" with no expenditure of effort; all pay for no work; all the benefits of something without all the responsibilities that go with something.
The other mis-labeled grace is the gloomy all-responsibility grace, where focus is on all the conditions to be met to receive grace. I call this gloomy-grace. There are things that really must be in our experience. But we can distort the idea of grace by overdoing a focus on conditions. We should accept that there are both benefits and responsibilities, and that with the love that is not in us, but which the Holy Spirit freely gives us, we are to demonstrate that faith which works by love (Galatians 5:6) and be found humble servants doing His will.
There is a distorted truth behind gloomy-grace, just as there is a distorted truth behind candy-grace. I would even say there might be some meanness in gloomy-grace and candy-grace. But I said I wanted to talk with you about the one we seem to know very little about. The one that stands between gloomy-grace and candy-grace. The one I just call "grace."
Now maybe you've noticed that for a Bible-based sermon, there hasn't been any yet. That is because I could not really support those ideas with Scripture. But here now, this idea, "grace," is an idea we can find some Bible support for.
In the New Testament Matthew and Mark don't even use the word "grace." John uses it six times in his writings. Luke in his two books has it 11 times. Paul, over 100 times. Peter, about 11.
Density in Peter is once per page, and Paul, a bit less. Let's drill a couple of core samples from Peter.
1:3 How is it that we are "born again"? Through hard striving on our own part? No. The basis is through His mercy. Grace is a gift. It is given to us. We do not earn it or deserve it or have it coming to us. We do NOT have it coming to us. We have gloom and destruction coming to us. Grace is the gift of God. But don't miss that it means rebirth. TO be born again is not to be forgiven again. To be born again means to be forgiven and to be changed.
Rebirth is a necessity. Being born again is not hard at all. God does not break a sweat when He causes your heart to be remade. Even remaining reborn is not so hard. The power of God is just as strong and just as available to keep you as it was to bring you. But there is a struggle and that is in resisting our old habits and in giving space to new ways of living.
So when God gives His grace to us and we are born again, the new situation is characterized as being a "living hope." It is not a dead hope. It is not rooted in traditions of the rabbis, but in what? The resurrection of Jesus. Jesus died on the cross and rose again. Jesus is alive today. He is a personal God, a Friend to you, and He is alive today. He ministers in heaven for you today. Our hope is not just in Jesus who died on the cross, but in Jesus who died on the cross and rose again! There is quite a difference between the two. It is a living hope we have because Jesus is living.
In 1:5 we see this is a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In Peter's day he says God is ready to reveal it, but he clearly points down the line to EV KAIRW ESXATW. Eschatology means study of the "last things." It comes from this word. There is a salvation experience which is particularized to the last time. When are we living? We need not convince you that we live in a time of very great upheaval. I think it is the last time. There is a salvation God is ready to bring into being in you that is tailored to, optimized for, the challenges that you face today. Christianity is not some quaint nonsense just for grandma and grandpa which everyone younger than that should have grown out of by now. God has what we need for a world of cell phones, email, government spying, and satellite imagery into your back yard. He has what we need for a time when believers are surrounded by skepticism and unbelief and a world where few believe in anything.
In 1:11 we see that our hope is in the sufferings of Christ and glories that would follow. Grace comes to us because Jesus comes to us. God left heaven, came to earth, lived as a human person with all the limitations of human people. He lived in a kind of humanity like your own. And He never sinned. He died on the cross and sacrificed Himself for us all. Our heavenly Father accepted that sacrifice. It was perfect. And it showed that when humanity is united with divinity, it is possible to live the believing life. Jesus overcame in the same way that you and I must overcome.
There are glories that follow the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Christianity is not just a boring wait on a bus to heaven that is stuck in traffic. There are glories that follow, victories, lives not only with suffering and sorrow but with many beautiful things. Jesus, only Jesus, makes it all possible.
Here is a point normally overlooked. In 1:12 we are told that all these things are things that the angels desire to look into. Angels have seen God, lived in His presence. They need no convincing that He is real. There is ongoing a battle between good and evil. There is a question that is being resolved. Is God just and can He bring to rightness those who believe in Jesus? When is this question resolved for the universe. In the last time. Then the universe sees what it is like when a group lives for self, and what it is like when a group lives for the benefit of others. You and I, your life and my life, are part of this final demonstration. We are the evidence that it matters what men believe.
In 1:13 we are called to prepare our minds for action. Christianity is an active thing. Candy grace denies any action, and gloomy grace makes action Christianity. But mere action is not Christianity. But believers are active. There is much for the believer to do.
No one is going to glide in to heaven on a magic carpet ride. No one is going to accidentally wind up being saved. There are deceptions out there, deceptions by the bushel. And so Peter warns us, "be sober." Be serious about the spiritual component in your life. He says, "fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." Here is a corrective. Many Christians have a singular focus on Jesus' death on the cross. And we are not trying to downgrade the cross in any way here. But look at what the Bible is saying. Fix your hope not on the cross but on the grace that is brought to you when? When Jesus comes. When the Second Coming happens. We look not backwards but forwards. God isn't finished yet! There are not only the sufferings of Christ but the glories that follow. And some of those are just ahead! Just ahead!
And look at verse 1:14. We are not to be shaped by our old behaviors. We are not to be conforming but non-conforming. We are not to be shaped by our old behaviors but in contrast to our old behaviors we are to be "like the Holy One who called you." We are to become like Jesus. And how was Jesus? Look at the call. Grace is not separate from holiness, something different than holiness. But listen to what the Bible says:
"As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behavior, because it is written, YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY."
Holiness does not earn grace. But holiness is part of the grace experience. Are you holy? Are you being holy like Jesus is holy? If it sounds impossible, your argument is not with me; it is with the Bible. Remember, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I can even live in grace.
Notice here that this isn't any kind of candy-grace. It isn't any kind of gloomy-grace. It's not a magic-carpet ride for nude and lewd people putting cocaine up their noses mocking God as they go. Notice also that none of these things Peter insists on--activity, sobriety, abstinence from former lusts, and active holiness--gain one entrance into the kingdom. None of these behaviors are little cups bringing even a tiny puddle of human merit sloshing in the bottom.
No human merit here. No human righteousness here. Those who are saved aren't rolling along with dried-out fig leaves mixed in with the robe of Christ's righteousness. The righteousness they wear has in it not one thread of human devising. They are receivers of grace, examples of grace, changed people, agents of grace, copiers of Jesus. None of these ever attains in their own power a righteousness like Christ's. But they do receive His righteousness and do His righteousness. But they bring nothing to the cross but emptiness and need. Christ has the riches. He gives His riches freely. He is not compelled to give us His goodness because of any goodness in us. The grace of God is His free gift to us: unearned by us, undeserved, unmerited by us.
But definitely, desperately needed by us.
So let's leave behind candy-grace, and make sure we don't drift into gloomy grace. Those really aren't Jesus' grace. But let's kneel undeserving at the foot of the cross and receive the gift we do not even remotely deserve: the grace of Jesus.
Deer Park WA SDA 2014-04-19?
Chewelah WA SDA 2014-04-26