Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Adoption: Grace Upon Grace

In Fiscal Year 2016, the United States Sentencing Commission received information on 67,874 federal criminal cases in which the offender was sentenced. Almost 12,000 more individuals were resentenced or had the sentences modified. Thus, nearly 80,000 criminal cases (the vast majority related to drug, immigration, fraud, or firearms) included a sentencing of some kind – and that is just at the federal level. Effectively, that means that in each of these 80,000 cases, the defendant heard a verdict of guilty – at least, to some degree. Most of these verdicts resulted in jail time with an average sentence around five years. (1)

In a country with a population of well over 300 million, the numbers may not seem too disproportional. However, what is important to us at this moment is that you and I are not among those for one reason only – the grace of God. Romans 3 makes clear that no one is righteous (v .10) and that we all sin (v. 23). Sure, those of us gathered today may not have committed certain crimes, but if circumstances were different, we could have, and be facing time in jail. However, by the grace of God, we did not and hear about these statistics rather than being a part of them.

Now, what I want you to imagine is that what if each of those 80,000 cases had been declared “Not Guilty” instead. Whether the case was heard by a jury or not is somewhat irrelevant. But, whomever determined the judgment, the judge proclaimed the defendant “Not Guilty.”

Ultimately, as Christians that is what has happened to us. The difference for us is that we are guilty, but Jesus paid the price. He served the sentence. And the wages (the sentence) of sin is death. But Jesus defeated death and thus those who place their faith in Him do not die, but live forever – not because of what we have done, but because of grace.

I realize we just had a sermon on sola gratia, by grace alone, four weeks ago. And I realize that the word grace is in the title twice. But what may surprise you is that grace is not the ultimate subject today. Grace is necessary to realize the fullness of the subject, but grace is simply a step. In fact, as great as grace is, as amazing as grace is, it is simply the avenue to what God really has for us.

Over the next several weeks, we will explore this great gift God desires for His children. In fact, that is it, He wants us as His children, and thus the grand idea – the great gift – available because of His grace is: adoption. As we will see in the coming weeks, even if you have never really thought about the idea of adoption, it is a foundational core of those who believe in God – for whenever we call Him Father, or talk of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we imply that we have been adopted by God. So, as we unpack this great gift over the next seven weeks, my prayer is that we will better understand what the Bible says about adoption and what it means for us now and for eternity.

Adoption Is Made Possible By Jesus (John 1.1-12)

Some who read this may have parts or all of this passage memorized. It is a great passage, but let me start with verse 12 and then summarize the previous eleven verses. Verse 12 says we have been given the right to become children of God. Why? Because Jesus came and died? How? By believing that to be true and our only source of salvation. It is Jesus that we are to receive, the name in which we are to believe (v. 11, cf. Acts 4.12).

Why should we believe in His name? The preceding verses give us a great deal of information.
  • He was there in the beginning. He was with God. He was God.
  • All things were made through Him.
  • Life was in Him. He is the light of man. He drives out darkness.

The reason John wrote this version of the gospel is to show that Jesus was real – that is, He is God, but He came as a human. Verse 10 paints a very clear picture. He was in the world…even though He made the world…but the world did not care. Not even the chosen people of Israel cared.

But those who do recognize who He truly is become the true children of God.

Adoption Requires a New Birth (John 1.13)

Each person is here today because two individuals – one male, one female – engaged in procreation. The biology behind the birthing process is known and understood. Therefore, when you are born, you have a father and mother.

But with adoption, a child receives a new parent or set of parents. Such is the case with God’s children. Verse 13 makes this contrast clear. John begins by writing of a natural birth – where blood, the flesh, and man’s desires are involved. He then wrote that adoption requires a birth available from God. In John 1, we are not given any real detail of what that kind of birth would be, but John 3 answers the question fully – we must be born again.

Like Nicodemus, when we first hear a phrase like being born again, we should have questions. Nicodemus asked how it was possible for a grown man to enter his mother’s womb. Jesus responded that a person must be born of the Spirit (John 3.5). Jesus response fits perfectly with John 1.13 which, again, states that the being born of God is different from birth related to the flesh. Because the Holy Spirit is God, then the new birth through the Spirit is of God. And thus, when we are born of the Spirit, we are born again, which means we are born into the family of God – that is, we are adopted as a child of God.

But now, let me show you why I am preaching this series. As I consider the idea of adoption, in a theological sense, I am becoming convinced that adoption is a greater gift than salvation.

Adoption Is a Compounding of Grace (John 1.14-18)

In the previous point, I mentioned we must be born again to be adopted by God. Adoption requires us to be born of the Spirit, but that is only possible because Jesus came in the flesh (v. 14). For God to send His Son was an act of grace. For the Son, Jesus, to die for us was an act of grace. But if that is where the grace ended, something would be missing.

Consider the following. Suppose someone finds an animal that needs to be saved from something (e.g. the cold). After the animal is brought in from the cold, the person realizes it is likely hungry and thirsty, but s/he has “saved” it so let it fend for itself. In fact, let’s take this a step further and consider that the person does not have room for it, so s/he places it right back in the cold without any protection. Technically, the animal was saved, but then put it right back in (or near) the same conditions in which it was found.

The initial rescue was successful, but if nothing else was done, the potential for the animal to find itself in need of help again is very high. Would we say the rescue was complete in that situation? Of course not. The rescue would be complete if the animal is able to be warm, get food and water, and perhaps receive medical treatment, at a minimum.

With that in mind, consider the rescue (salvation) that Jesus provided? Many are happy to know Jesus died for them. But is that all? What if Jesus saved you, but then put you right back in a position of sin? What if His death saved you, but then He abandoned you? If that were true God’s grace may have saved you, but what kind of salvation would that be?

John 1.16 is one verse that helps us to know that Jesus did not rescue us for the purpose of then releasing back to our own troubles.* I must admit, I am enamored with this verse. “And from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” What does that mean?

* It is important to understand that trusting in Jesus does not remove us from our troubles and make life perfect – not in any way. But the difference is that having trusted in Jesus for salvation, His promise is to be with us as we have times of trouble in our lives.

Well, God’s grace saved you, but He offers more grace beyond that. Saving you was not the fullness of God’s plan. It was/is definitely a part of the plan, but He has something even more – the “fullness” mentioned in this verse – in store. To make sure we make the right connection, let us compare verse 12 and verse 16.

In verse 12, John wrote that those who receive Him get the right to become God’s children. Verse 16 says we receive from His fullness grace upon grace. The word receive is repeated. This word is the Greek word lambano – a word that is found many times in the book of John. So, if we receive Him (Jesus) we are saved (by grace), but the fullness of His gift requires more grace – grace upon grace – and that fullness is our becoming children of God. (To further elaborate, notice verse 11 contrasts those who do not receive Him – paralambano, in the Greek.)

So, grace is given for salvation, but more grace is needed, and thus supplied for us to become children. God was not content with merely saving His creation, but to claim it – to claim us – as His very own, just as He did in the very beginning with the man and woman in Eden.

Finally, notice how this passage ends. It ends by contrasting a knowledge of the law to truly knowing God. Again, the idea is grace upon grace. Apart from Jesus, no one has ever perfectly kept the Law given to Moses. It requires God’s grace for us to overcome the law. But simply overcoming the law does not necessarily mean knowing God intimately – at least not without more grace. Again, grace upon grace. What an awesome God we serve!


Let me now return to the idea of the criminal cases I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Remember, some 80,000 criminal cases last year ended with a verdict of guilty. But I asked you to imagine that the verdict had been not guilty – not because they were not guilty, but because the sentence had already been paid. Again, that is precisely what Jesus did for us.

But here is the twist for us to consider. Suppose, again, in each of those courtrooms the “Not Guilty” verdict was made. What happens next? The judge goes home. The defendant is free, but free to do what? Again, the defendant admitted guilt, so perhaps s/he had been incarcerated for months waiting for trial. Perhaps the person has nothing left – no place to go, no food to eat, etc. The defendant was saved from the sentencing that comes from a guilty verdict, but to what end? The judge’s job is complete.

But God is more than our judge. He wants to be our Father. God, unlike a human judge, does not just declare the person innocent, He invites the person home. He invites all people who receive His Son to eat with Him…to share with Him…to live with Him – as a child of God.

That is adoption. That is why I believe adoption is another step beyond salvation. Many earthly judges have “saved” a person because of verdict, but they will not be involved in the person’s life from that point forward – let alone for all of eternity. But God wants to do just that. He not only provided a means to save us, but He grants us all the privileges we can imagine as co-heirs with Christ – a term we will explore in a few weeks.

That my friends, is grace upon grace. That is, at least, a part of what John meant when He wrote that it is from God’s fullness that we have received all we have received – and all we will receive in the future. Let us be thankful for God’s grace. But let us be even more thankful for His grace upon grace. Let us be thankful for the opportunity to truly be a child of God!


The JOURNEY letter for today is Y because for us to receive all He wants to give you, you must first receive Him. We must never chase what God has for us over Who God is to us. To chase things is idolatry, but according to John 1.16 and other verses we can be certain that if we embrace God then He will embrace us and give us more than we can know possible. Why? Because we are His children. But it starts with You making a claim as to who Jesus is. Jesus asked His disciples, and He asks us here today, “Who do you say that I am?” Your response is the key to everything else.

NEXT STEP(S): Learn. This week’s step is to memorize a verse we will touch most every week during this series. The verse is 1 John 3.1. The goal will be not only to memorize the verse, but to LEARN to understand it, so we might LIVE in light of its truth, LOVE others because of it, and ultimately LEAD others to embrace it as well.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Mission: God Possible

This week’s entry relates to our church’s need to raise capital for two specific purposes. Portions of the script have been modified. The sermon can be heard in its entirety at the church website.

Most people who have spent much time in a church recognize three aspects. First, the church will have some sort of worship service with a certain routine established. Second, at some point someone (e.g. the pastor) will ask for money. Third, most church business meetings are horrible.

Well, today, we are fulfilling the first aspect. In a few moments, I will ask for money fulfilling the second. So, let’s have a little fun at the expense of the third item for just a moment. Again, many church members loathe business meetings. But as I have said here before, and as I teach students each semester, we must realize that business meetings are biblical. The first thing the apostles did after Jesus ascended to heaven was call a meeting to replace Judas. And Acts 15 was more of a convention with Paul and Barnabas coming from Antioch for a meeting which shaped the church for years to come.

Some meetings are very helpful, and some churches do them very well. But not all. In fact, a recent blog provided a few examples where the meetings were a disaster. Let me share a few of the details.

Business Meeting (Mis)-Adventures*

  • Dead body in dumpster. One church had a prolonged business meeting on whether or not to put a lock on their dumpster. There was no resolution. Within the week someone put a dead body in the dumpster. The church voted overwhelmingly and immediately to put the lock on.
  • Donuts. A church once had a two-hour meeting discussing donuts.
  • Lawnmower blades. One multi-hour church business meeting focused on what type of lawnmower blades to purchase.
  • Record time for a business meeting. A world record may have been set at one church business meeting began at 7 pm and took a break at midnight to resume the next evening. The point of contention was the type of wheels to put on a people mover, standard or chrome.
  • Vote to close closes. The congregation of a church called a business meeting for the singular purpose of voting to close the church. Due to lack of interest, not enough members showed up to have a quorum. I have no words.

* These five items were adapted from a blog by Thom Rainer. See the following blog for more items.

So, we can be thankful that we are not subject to that – at least, not today. But today, we are officially kicking off our capital campaign. Why? Two reasons. First, we need to replace a chunk of the funds we have recently spent related to the heating/cooling and electrical issues. Second, in March, the church voted to approve some renovations to the sanctuary – which originates with the need to replace the carpet.

You may recall that we were going to begin this process at the end of August. In fact, on the last Sunday of August, I preached from 2 Samuel 24 as a precursor to set up this day (click here). During that message, I mentioned that God had spared us because we were set to vote immediately following the morning service to approve a contract to begin the renovations. Thankfully, we learned of the severity of our heating and cooling problem just a few days before and were able to forgo the vote, delay the capital campaign, and evaluate the overall situation.

Now, a little more than two months later, the time has come. The work on the HVAC and electrical systems is complete. The bills have been paid. The numbers are better known. And now is a time to act.

So, as we launch our capital campaign today, let me remind us that God has not changed, and because of that we must respond. To do that, we will spend a little time in Genesis, a little in Matthew, and finish in Hebrews 11. But we will start in Ephesians.

3P’s  (x2) and Our Response

God Had a Purpose (Ephesians 1.7-10)

In the beginning, God created… Why? We might literally spend all day uncovering this answer, but Ephesians 1 provides some insight. READ Ephesians 1.7-10. In short, God created the world for the sake of Christ, that we might know Him and that we, and all things, would be united through Him.

God Had a Plan (Genesis 1)

1 Corinthians 14 states that God is a God of order. Notice the creation accounts. First, God created light which is necessary for growth. Then He created water, which is necessary to live. Eventually, God created man and woman in His image so that we could be stewards of all He created. If God created man before He created water, we could not have survived…in fact around 60% of the human body is water, so we could not have even existed.

God Made a Promise (Genesis 3.15)

Ultimately, mankind did not live up to the charge we were given, so God made a way to fix our most serious problem – sin. A lot of debate exists on when God developed His plan to save us, but we know with certainty that the plan was only revealed after the man and woman partook of the fruit. We must realize that God was often with them (Genesis 3.8), but sin broke that relationship. God made a way for the relationship to continue – and it began with a promise.

God Has a Purpose (Ephesians 1.7-10)

God’s purpose began with Creation that the world might know Christ. That purpose has not changed. The word mystery which once was has now been made known (v. 9). The Old Testament gave hints and clues about Who was to come, but now we know – or, at least, can know. God’s purpose has not changed.

God Has a Plan (Matthew 16.18)

His original plan was to create, now it is to build. Jesus said, “I will build my church.” He has been doing so for nearly 2000 years and will continue to do so until He returns. This plan included Christ, who is the Purpose, coming to die, so that He might live, and can now build through us. Because we are made in His image, we can do what He wants done as the stewards we were originally called to be.

God Has a Promise (Matthew 28.20)

God spent time with the man and woman in the Garden. He promises to be with us always, if we will choose to be with Him. As we talked about last week, He desires to reform, conform, and transform us and will reward those who have faith. God’s promise to Adam and Eve was that He would make a way in the future. Jesus was, and is, that Way, and His promise is to be with us always.

So, God had a purpose and still has the same one. God had a plan and has added a new element – the church. God made a promise and has now made a new one because He already fulfilled the old one. So what is our response? And how does all of this fit with a need to raise capital for Fairfax Baptist Church?

Our Response To God’s Purpose Is To Make Disciples (Matthew 28.18-20)

Again, God had a purpose to make Christ known, and He still has the same purpose. Those who know Christ and follow Him (which is the obvious implication of being in Him (Ephesians 1.7) are called disciples. Jesus final words according to Matthew were to make disciples. How? By going, by baptizing, and by teaching others to observe all that He commanded His disciples. The same is true now for those who follow Jesus – we are to go, to baptize, and to teach others to observe because we are His disciples. God’s purpose is to make Jesus known – and our purpose is to make sure that happens by making disciples.

Our Response To God’s Plan Is To Be Effective Stewards (Matthew 16.19; 18.18-20)

Jesus said He would build His church, but He told Peter that the keys would be given to Him (this is why the Catholic Church has a pope – it all relates back to this verse). However, in Matthew 18, Jesus talks again about binding and loosing, but uses a plural “you” meaning all of the disciples.

Thus, it is the job of the entire church to steward what God has entrusted us. Just like Adam and Eve were entrusted to steward Creation, so have we been entrusted with the church – and for you and I that specifically means Fairfax Baptist Church. When we see something wrong, we need to address it – in unity. And that brings us to our final point.

Our Response To God’s Promise Is To Live By Faith (Hebrews 11)

God was in the Garden with His creation. Jesus promised to be with His followers forever. How do we respond? Let us look at some examples from Hebrews 11. What I want you to notice is that the people mentioned here DID something, and that is what faith requires. Faith is not simply thinking or believing something to be true, it is acting on what we believe. Consider:

  • Abel – offered (v. 4)
  • Noah – constructed (v. 7) 
  • Abraham – obeyed and went (v. 8)
  • Sarah – conceived (v. 11) 
  • Abraham – offered (v. 17) 
  • Isaac – blessed others (v. 20)
  • Jacob – blessed others (v. 21)  
  • Joseph – told of the future (v. 22)
  • Moses – chose mistreatment over comfort (v. 25)
  • Etc.

The point is that the great people of faith acted on their belief in God and thus their stories are worth telling. The question for Fairfax Baptist Church is will our story be worth telling in another 50, 75, or 100 years. And today, that story begins with a need to give.

A Call to Action

So, here is the crux of the matter for us today. God has a purpose and a plan and a promise. As we do our part, we grow as individuals, bond together as a church, and expand God’s kingdom (maybe in numbers, but certainly in influence). While the church is really the people, the building is our rallying place, and it needs new carpet. While the carpet is up, we can make a few modifications to the platform area. And if the carpet comes up, we need to have a plan for seating – to restore or to replace.

We also need to replenish a portion of the savings we recently spent. We have recently benefited from having a reserve on hand, and over time, it will be nice to rebuild all of that reserve, but for now, we simply need to replenish a portion and then complete the work that has already been approved by the church.

So, what does this mean and how does it relate to God’s promise?

First, the Finance Team has agreed to the following campaign which consists of two phases.

  • Phase 1: Replenish a portion of the savings used for the recent work
  • Phase 2: Cover the cost of the renovations related to the carpet and seating

Second, I ask you to give. Remember faith requires action. We are a people of faith, and now we must act. The truth is that some here will not benefit greatly from what is to be done. But that was true of those who helped make this building possible in 1955 and we are the beneficiaries 60+ years later. Hebrews 11.13 gets straight to this point for those who live by their faith.

Now, let me get specific here based upon conversations with several people. Some general thoughts expressed are:

  • Build Savings Quickly. Some of you want to get the savings built up quickly. That is why the Finance Team has made this the first priority – or Phase 1.
  • Renovations Now. Some of you want to get moving on the renovations very quickly. That is why the goal for Phase 1 is quite modest.
  • Avoid Debt. Most everyone wants to avoid debt to complete the renovation. I cannot say for certain what will or will not happen, but I do think that the church should authorize any loan before any loan documentation is signed.
  • Impossible! Some of you think these numbers are impossible. And maybe they are for us, but we have a saying around here that comes straight from the Bible – “But God.”

Now, let me give you a few thoughts from myself and the Finance Team.

  • Ministry Takes Precedence. Frankly, we tightened the budget for 2018 to help compensate for the added costs. But the ministry of this church has gradually expanded most every year since I came, and the goal is to continue to move forward, not backward. That is, we will seek to be strategic in what we do as a church, but this capital campaign cannot get in the way of what God calls us to do within and without the church walls.
  • Above and Beyond. Given the first point, giving to this campaign needs to be above and beyond your normal giving. I certainly hope you give a regular offering and even a tithe or more perhaps. But some also give to Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, MMO, OCC shoeboxes, piki piki, etc. We all have a finite amount of money, and the church’s budget comes first, then extra missions, then the campaign. That said, if, on average, if we each gave $5 extra per week ($20 per month), we would have more than enough within 3 years. I can save $5 by not stopping at the C-Store once per week. So, I save money, the church is repaired, and I am healthier as well!
  • How to Give. We realize that some of you have a preference. I mentioned this in the portion above. So, let me help us with the “How to Give.” We need to be united, and the campaign is designed to do that with the two phases. So, if you give to the campaign, the first set of money will go to the church’s savings until we reach the Phase 1 goal of $10,000. To give to the campaign, simply write on your check or envelope “Campaign” or “Capital Campaign” or “Mission: God Possible” or something similar.

Some of you will want your monies to go Savings. If so, simply write on your check or envelope “Savings” again understanding that all of the first monies collected with go there as well.

Finally, some of you want to see the renovations started yesterday. If so, you can give directly to that part of the fund by writing on your check or envelope “Remodel” or “Renovation.” We have the money to start the work on the platform and a portion of what is needed for the carpet, but we must determine what is possible regarding the overall timetable.

What is the timetable? Well, how big is your God? I just mentioned that with $5 extra per week per person (based upon 50 people), this is possible within 3 years. I know $5 per week is a lot for some, but that averages out to just $750 per person over 3 years. I think someone is going to give $750 this month. I think we will complete Phase 1 this year. I really do. And I think God wants to show us that “But God” is more than a couple or words, but a lifestyle in which we should engage. So, I have proposed and the Finance Team agreed, that the campaign will last no more than 18 months. That is, by the first Sunday in May 2019 (May 5), when I am completing my 8th year as your pastor, we will have raised all the money and then some. And, I truly believe we will have the funds even faster than that.


I began this message by discussing God’s purpose, plans, and promise. I then shared what our response must be in a very general way to each of those pieces. But in a very particular way, we must act on our faith now. And, specifically, that relates to raising funds for our church. The timeframe and the amount may be seem impossible, but not with God. Again, this is not  mission impossible, it is Mission: God Possible.


The JOURNEY letter for today is Y because You must respond in faith. Jesus still has a plan for this church, and His promise is to be with us. Each of us, that is, YOU must believe and respond.

NEXT STEP(S): Live: Our faith requires us to live, and this living is our partnering with God to do far more than we can ask or think or imagine. So begin by praying about your action in this campaign. We are truly counting on God to provide the necessary funds and we must all be willing to sacrifice a little or a lot. Whatever you decide to contribute, know that others will benefit from your giving just as you benefit now from those who have given in the past.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Reformed and Always Reforming

In 1934, the Baptist World Alliance meeting was held in Berlin, Germany. The Alliance was formed in 1905 and currently consists of over 100,000 churches and approximately 40 million members. (The Southern Baptist Convention is not a part of the Alliance). During the 1934 meeting, pastors from around the world attended including one, named Michael King, from the state of Georgia, in the United States. While there King had a chance to learn more about the great work that Martin Luther did some 400 years prior. As a result, upon his return to the States, Michael informally (i.e. not legally) changed his name to Martin Luther King as he also did of his eldest son, Michael King, Jr. (The birth certificate for Martin Luther King, Jr was officially changed in 1957).

Like Luther, Martin Luther King, Sr. and Jr. both led a movement to bring light where darkness was prevalent. Martin Luther King, Jr., in particular, did so through peaceful protests following the lead of Ghandi. However, as I have mentioned several times during this series, Martin Luther led a protest against the sixteenth century church that was not a direct assault, but rather began as an intent to reshape the understanding of the church and the people. Essentially, 435 years later, Martin Luther King, Jr. set about to do the same thing. As such, both men were ostracized by many, threatened by some, and had to exhibit extreme courage to withstand the pressures of their day. God knew what was needed and gifted both men to lead their respective reforms and to have a dream of seeing what is possible, not just what was.

However, what is possible is still ahead of us. Just as our country has a great deal of work to do regarding race relations, the Church still has work to do to become all that God intends. And work is a key word for us today. The work begins within us, it continues through us, and is completed by God for us. But even as we are the recipients of the work, and the work if primarily done for us, ultimately the purpose is for God.

Today, I want to do two things. I want to share from the Bible that God’s work is not done yet. And I want to close by looking at a hymn written by Martin Luther over 485 years ago.

One last time, I want to remind you of the definition of Reformation.

Reformation (Re – Form – Ation)
RE – from a Latin word; has an element of “again” or “again and again”; a backward motion (like retrace or revert); return
FORM – to construct or frame; to arrange or organize
ATION – an act of process

In prior weeks, we have looked at Scripture as the source for the reforming process of the Church to return to its roots. However, today, we will see that the process is not done. Just as the reformers cried out, “post tenebras lux” (after darkness, light) they also believed in the idea of semper reformanda – always reforming. In fact, the full expression is ecclesia reformation, semper reformanda secundum verbi Dei. That is, “the Church is reformed and always [in need of] being reformed according to the Word of God.”  (1)

As we will see today, the church, that is, you and I, must be reformed, but it is God who is ultimately doing the re-forming (notice the statement is “being reformed” – as in, something or Someone else is responsible). So what evidence does Scripture provide for the idea of being reformed, yet always being reformed? Let’s look at three ideas.

Being Reformed by God as We Work. Philippians 2.12-13
Would you like to please God? The Bible says that without faith, it is impossible to please Him. But for those who seek Him and draw near to Him, there is a reward (Hebrews 11.6). Consider the following verses.

In Philippians 2.5-11, Paul wrote about the humility of Christ. Yet because of the humility of Jesus, His is the name at which every knee will bow and every tongue confess. See, Jesus had to do His part, but then God honored Him for doing so.

The same is true for us. In verse 12, we are called to work out our salvation. Paul writes that we do this by being obedient to what God wants from us. But notice the promise – as we do our part, God does something greater. As we are obedient, God works in us so that what we do brings Him pleasure. As we follow God’s desires for us, we can do more of what He wants from us. We do our part, and He does His. Related to the Reformation principles (the five solas), we can understand it like this.

  • We don’t work to earn our salvation – we are justified by faith alone (sola fide).
  • We don’t work to get God’s attention – rather we are saved by grace alone (sola gratia).
  • We don’t work because what Christ did was insufficient – He did all that was necessary (solus Christus).
  • We work because Scripture says those who call Jesus Lord will do what He alone has said (sola Scriptura).
  • And we work for the glory of God (soli deo Gloria).

As we do work, God works in us. As we light our light so to speak, God removes our darkness. As individuals we can begin to claim post tenebras lux (after darkness, light). And when we, as individuals, all shine brighter, the church shines brighter as well.

Being Conformed by God Until We Are Like Christ. Romans 8.29-30

Many people believe that becoming a Christian makes life easier. In fact, many pastors, church leaders, and well-meaning people may say something similar when talking to others. But it is not true. It will certainly make our eternity better, and our perspective can bring joy through pain, peace through challenge, etc., but easier is not the right word.

Why? Because we are not like Christ, and God’s goal, per these verses is to conform us until we are in the image of Christ. Now, on the one hand, we know this is possible because we were made in the image of Christ (Genesis 1.26-27). But on the other hand, sin is a part of our lives, and thus we need to be molded, shaped, stretched, squeezed, pulled, popped, etc. – all of which sound like they would hurt – and thus we resist. But God does not give up. No, His promise is to continue until we are conformed to Christ’s image.

Thus, He begins a work. We may join Him, and He continues the work. We may resist, but He will continue the work. Over time we will be reformed, and conformed, and eventually we find ourselves fully transformed.

Being Transformed by God Until We Are Complete. Philippians 1.6

The third aspect is our complete transformation. Notice this verse says that He began the work within us. He initiated the change. He scheduled it. He is implementing the change. But that change is not complete. You may be a Christian, but you are still not in the image of Christ – not yet. But someday. When? On the day of Christ Jesus. That means when He returns. On that day, you, and all, other believers will be complete.

In fact, this promise is for the church, not the individual. As I have stated often, most of the New Testament is written to the church, not the individual. The word you in Philippians 1.6 is  plural in the original Greek. Of course, individuals will be made complete, but the promise is that the Church will be made complete on that day. What a glorious promise that is!

So, the church is being reformed now, and will continue to be shaped until she has conformed to the image of the Bridegroom, and will then be transformed into a perfect state for all of eternity when Jesus returns for His bride. And then we will no longer need to be reformed. We will be complete, just at this series is now set to be finished.


This week we come to the end of this series on the Reformation. For some of you that is a very good thing because history is not your cup of tea. However, while this series has shared some historical facts and covered some historical figures that made the Reformation possible (or necessary), the truth of the Reformation is as important today as it was 500 years ago when Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

Some of you may recall that we began this series with a message that outlined the series title – post tenebras lux. Ultimately, it is Jesus, that is the light. Ultimately, it is He that reshaped the Church five hundred years ago, and it is He that continues to shape the true Church today. Church, we have issues to overcome, but all things are possible with God if we live as light of the world and love as Jesus commanded us. As Martin Luther King, Jr once said:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Post tenebras lux (after darkness, light) is possible, because Jesus is the light and the love the world needs. And that is why, once again, our JOURNEY letter is:


Because of what Jesus did, we are able to live. And that is our Next Step again this week.

NEXT STEP(S): Live because you are being reformed by God…allowing yourself to be conformed to Jesus…knowing God will complete the transformation at the proper time. How do you do this?

  • By Grace Alone (sola gratia) knowing you are saved by grace and nothing you can do (Eph 2.8-9)
  • By Faith Alone (sola fide) knowing we are justified by the righteousness of God, not our own (Romans 1.17)
  • In Christ Alone (solus Christus) knowing Jesus paid the full price for all sin, and by Him we are saved (Acts 4.12)
  • By Scripture Alone (sola Scriptura) knowing we find our truth and direction from God’s holy Word, not from the edicts of man or anywhere else
  • For God’s Glory Alone (soli deo Gloria) knowing that all we do, even down to mundane tasks such as eating and drinking can be done for God’s glory (1 Cor 10.31).

If we live by these principles, we will each find ourselves closer to becoming the person God wants us to be, which will help us become the people God wants us to be.

(1) (

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Soli Deo Gloria

Today we come to the last of the five solas. Of the five, this sola is the one that I believe still needs to become more mainline in our understanding. Many people, including Christians get tripped up living life by doing works to gain God’s attention (thus the need for sola gratia) and to be justified in their faith (thus, the need for sola fide). And while some people take the word of their pastor or another prominent teacher as the full truth (thus the need for solus Scriptura), this is less prominent overall. Fortunately, most evangelicals fully agree that it is the work of Christ that procured our salvation (solus Christus). But of the five, soli deo Gloria is perhaps the one we still need to adopt the most. To do that, I want to tell you a story about a man named Eric Liddell.

Some of you may be familiar with the movie Chariots of Fire. The movie follows four individuals from Great Britain who train to compete in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. The movie was really made as a tribute to Eric Liddell, one of the runners who was originally from Scotland. Liddell was always fast, and, in fact, from the time he began competing, only lost one race on Scottish soil despite his very irregular running style – head back and arms flailing in front of him (which is captured well in the movie). Liddell may be best known for taking a stand from competing on a Sunday even though it cost him a chance at a gold medal and the respect of many people in Great Britain who had placed their hopes on him. (It should be noted that Liddell was given another option to race, and although he was not favored by any means, he did win a gold medal in the 400m race.)

Eric was born in China to parents who served as missionaries. Eventually both he and his older brother returned to China to serve as missionaries – Eric as a teacher (primarily), and his brother as a doctor. After he married, Eric, his wife, and two daughters lived in China, although usually apart due to escalating fears of war with Japan. Eventually, Eric sent his wife and children (including a third daughter he never met) to Canada for their safety while he stayed behind. Eventually, he, along with all of the Brits, Americans, and many others were placed in an internment camp for two years. Liddell died from a brain tumor about six months before those who were interned were set free.

Of course, this story is abbreviated, but it is entirely true. But a problem exists for most who hear this, and many other stories which are similar. You hear that Eric Liddell was a missionary in China and you place him on a pedestal. But Eric Liddell, and others like him do not deserve to be placed on a pedestal for serving in a certain place. They deserve honor because they served God in all aspects of their lives.

See, Eric Liddell lived by the notion of 1 Samuel 2.30, in which God says, in part, “He who honors me, I will honor.” Liddell believed that to his core. In fact, once while he was in Scotland, his sister, Jenny, encouraged him to go to China, and Eric responded that while that was important, God made him fast. He is quoted as saying, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

The point here is that whatever we do can be for God’s glory, even running races. In fact, it was because God made Liddell fast that he had a chance to minister to so many. He was a shy boy who did not like to speak around others, but when he began to win races, he was given the opportunity to speak before thousands. But while people came to hear about his running, Eric Liddell told them about God. Eric Liddell did not run for himself, He ran for God. Eric Liddell did not live for himself, he lived for God. And that was true as a schoolboy, and it was true when he organized and served others in an internment camp until days before he died. His life was an expression of soli deo Gloria – for the glory of God alone.

For this last sola in our series, I want to do something a little different. I want to share why soli deo Gloria was an important concept to recover, read some Scriptures that pertain to God and to glory, and then briefly comment on Matthew 5.13-16. Before I begin that, let us remind ourselves of what the Reformation was.

The Reformation
As we begin to discuss the idea of The Reformation, we need to clarify a few ideas. Again, although the term The Reformation is most common, the idea was considered a protest of sorts, so it is also known as The Protestant Reformation (Protest-ant) Reformation. But to understand this idea, we need to know what reformation means.

Reformation (Re – Form – Ation)
  • RE – from a Latin word; has an element of “again” or “again and again”; a backward motion (like retrace or revert); return
  • FORM – to construct or frame; to arrange or organize
  • ATION – an act of process

The Importance of Soli Deo Gloria

It is important to remember that when Martin Luther nailed the theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, he was a Catholic priest and an Augustinian monk. The Catholic Church promoted the idea that to be truly holy one had to be separate from the world. Actually, this idea goes back to 400 AD or so when certain men would go into the desert, build a platform some 35 feet in the air and live on top of the platform for months, and even years at a time using ropes for people to give them food and water. But does that make someone holy? I would say it would make one sunburned, but not holy.

The Reformation brought about the idea that God should be sovereign over all areas of life. Of course, this includes when we are worshipping God and studying the Bible. But it also includes when we are doing the dishes, folding the laundry, plowing the fields, coaching a team, etc. In fact, the idea of soli deo Gloria is captured perfectly in the first question of the Western Shorter Confession of Faith (Catechism), which asks: “What is the chief end of man?” The response: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

Essentially, the idea is that if Jesus is Lord, then He is Lord. Regarding a separation of parts of our lives, some have said, “If Jesus isn’t Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.” But the reality is that Jesus is Lord. Period. Exclamation point. While some may not agree, the Bible is clear that this is true. Jesus is Lord whether we want Him to be or not. As such, all that we do should be for Him and for His glory.

But most people, at some level, continue to separate the idea of the sacred and the secular. Certain jobs are sacred, but not all. Certain places are sacred, but not all. But those ideas are not found in the Bible. Moses thought he was just standing on the side of the mountain, but God commanded Moses to remove his sandals because the ground was holy. According to Matthew 5.13, a Christian is the salt of the earth. And Matthew 5.14 says a follower of Christ is the light of the world. We are salt. We are light. Not just at certain times and at certain places, but wherever we are. Every activity we do can, and should, be sanctified to God and for His glory.

Scripture Demands We Give God Glory

Let me read a few references from the New Testament that mention about the glory of God. I begin with the verse that was central to recovering the idea of soli deo Gloria. (All verses are from the English Standard Version).

Each individual should give God glory. 1 Corinthians 10.31
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

The church should give God glory. Ephesians 3.21
“To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Our service should give God glory. 1 Peter 4.10
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s grace.”

Our knowledge should give God glory. 2 Peter 3.18
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

Our eternity will be about giving God glory. Revelation 7.12
“Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!”

Ultimately, we give God glory because of who He is. Romans 11.36
“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.”

Being a Source for God’s Glory

Returning to Matthew 5, take a moment to read the verses which stand at the heart of our church’s vision statement. Read Matthew 5.13-16.

I mentioned a few moments ago that Jesus calls His followers both the salt of the earth and the light of the world. As He makes these statements, He does not qualify either with where we are or by what we are doing. The implications are that wherever we are and whatever we do should reflect our being salt and light. If we are on the job we are to be salt and light. If we are at home we are to be salt and light. If we are at a game, we are to be salt and light. If we are hanging out with friends we are to be salt and light. And, of course, if we are at church, or doing mission work, or something similar, we are to be salt and light. Wherever we go and whatever we do, we are to be salt and light.

Why? Well, Jesus leaves no ambiguity. Notice Matthew 5.16 includes the words, “so that.” We are to be salty and let our light shine SO THAT other people may see what we are doing as we go about our business and give glory to God. In other words, as we give glory to God simply by living our lives the way He wants us to live, the Father in heaven will receive glory. But if we separate our lives and maintain an attitude that it is ok to be one person in one place or with a certain kind of people, and be someone else in a different setting then God receives no glory. Why? Because both sides are too busy calling us a hypocrite to be able to focus any attention on God.

Of course, we will not be perfect in our desire to give God glory. And we are all hypocrites to some degree. I know I am. All pastors are at some level. It is impossible for me to live a life that perfectly does all that I stand here and teach. But my goal is not to try harder; rather, it is to become more like Jesus. And Jesus was perfect in doing all that He did for the God’s glory, and hopefully, as I continue to learn and grow in my faith, I pray I am doing a better job of glorifying God now than I did in the past. Because the promise of Jesus, according to Matthew 5.16, is that if I concern myself with glorifying God, then others will give Him glory as well!


As I begin to conclude this message, let me return to Eric Liddell. I mentioned earlier that we tend to consider certain individuals like Liddell and other missionaries, or even pastors to be greater Christians because of their vocation. But, again, that mindset is to separate the secular and the sacred. The truth is that a nurse, a teacher, a firefighter, a farmer, or any other type of job can be just as instrumental in helping others to glorify God as can a pastor or missionary or the like. Why? Because Jesus said so. Again, Liddell commented that He sensed God’s pleasure while running, and because Liddell could run fast, he was given opportunities to speak to people he would not have had the chance to otherwise. But it was more than Liddell’s running, it was his character and desire to glorify God that made the ultimate difference. As Liddell once said, “We are all missionaries. Wherever we go, we either bring people nearer to Christ or we repel them from Christ.”

And that is why soli deo Gloria is important. Because we do not want to repel others from Christ. If we live our lives for Him, and for His glory, then we are truly fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives, regardless of what we may do or where we may go.


Once again, our JOURNEY letter this week is J for Jesus. Jesus set the perfect example of what soli deo Gloria truly means. On our JOURNEY, let us follow His example and do the same.

NEXT STEP(S): Live: How has God crafted you? Eric Liddell glorified God by serving as a missionary, but also through his running (racing and rugby, in particular). He once said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast.” You may not be as fast as Eric Liddell, but God gave you certain abilities – talents and gifts – that can be used to serve God and bring Him glory. Don’t just take time to give God glory by what you do, begin to give Him glory in all things so that He is glorified by who you are!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

“Music and the Reformation and Johann Sebastian Bach”, A Closer Look by Susan Braams

“Music I have always loved. He who knows music has a good nature. Necessity demands that music be kept in the schools. A schoolmaster must be able to sing; otherwise I will not look at him. And before a young man is ordained into the ministry, he should practise music in school.” (1)
– Martin Luther

Martin Luther (1483-1546) held music in exceptionally high esteem.  His experience of music at home, as a boy in school, in the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt, and as a priest had a profound and lasting effect on him. He became a passionate music lover and, as a singer and lute player, a fine amateur musician. (2)

Luther’s writings on music are few, mostly ad hoc, and scattered widely throughout his works. Nowhere did he attempt anything akin to a systematic theology of music. What he does say about music comes in the context of very practical, pragmatic interests. (3)

Luther was resolute in working out his convictions about music in corporate worship. Church music as he first knew it was largely limited to vocal polyphony (in the Renaissance tradition), Gregorian chant, and hymnody in Latin and the vernacular. As is well known, Luther was determined that the Word of God was to be engrained in congregations and – against much medieval tradition – that the whole congregation should sing (though not to the exclusion of a choir) and, ideally, sing in their own language so that all could participate with understanding (though not to the exclusion of Latin in the choral liturgy). He saw congregational hymn-singing in the vernacular as an especially valuable tool for fixing God’s Word in people’s hearts. (4) One of the timeless hymns of the Christian faith, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” was written by Luther.

Luther believed the most sophisticated form of music of his day should be taught to the young and sung in churches along with plainer and more straightforward songs (including sacred folk songs). (5)

Carl Schalk goes to the heart of the matter: “The Lutheran Reformation, proceeding from Luther’s basic understanding of music as a creation and a gift of God, successfully encouraged the reciprocal interaction of art music of the most highly developed kind together with simple congregational song.” (6)

This both-and approach to music (not the same as “anything goes”), along with the variety of music it generated, is undoubtedly one of Luther’s greatest legacies. Luther and the tradition he initiated drew on a huge range of material – including Gregorian chant, polyphony, sacred folk songs, and simple unison line singing – and led to an immense wealth of choral and instrumental music, including Johann Sebastian Bach, to whom we will now turn our focus. (7)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) spent all his adult life as a professional, practicing musician. (8)

He served as organist at Arnstadt and Muhlhausen, court organist and concertmaster in the chapel of the Duke of Weimar, music director at the court of the prince of Cothen, and then finally, from 1723, as cantor at the St. Thomas School and director of music in Leipzig. (9)

What makes his music so intriguing are its theological resonances – the witness it provides to the Christian gospel and to the created world as perceived through the lens of that gospel. (10)

Bach was a Lutheran. His schooling was in Lutheran settings. He attended the same Eisenach school as Luther himself. Much of his music was written for the Lutheran liturgies of the day and takes account of the principles of worship commended by Luther. As a church musician, [Bach] gave formal and written assent to the doctrines enshrined in the Book of Concord (1850) – an anthology of documents embracing fundamental Lutheran teaching. An inventory of [Bach’s] library at his death reveals that he owned two sets of Luther’s complete works as well as numerous volumes by Lutheran theologians. (11)

[The five solas were] basic to the Lutheran outlook of Bach’s day and these themes recur across the full range of Bach’s works, [as evidenced in the initials “S.D.G” (Soli Deo Gloria) that are found in his church compositions and some of his secular pieces]. (12)

The cross is the culmination and focal point of the Mass in B Minor. The frequent calls to Christ-centered faith [is present] in all the mature vocal works. The contrast between law and gospel is basic to the structure of many of the cantatas. (13)

The characteristic Lutheran stress on proclamation of the gospel pervades Bach’s music; indeed, Michael Marissen sums up Bach’s Leipzig ministry in this way: “It was Bach’s job as Cantor of the St. Thomas School of Leipzig to be a musical preacher for the city’s main churches.” (14)

Bach’s music still exemplifies a theological engagement with music that has probably never been surpassed. It was the result not only of a technical prowess rarely equaled in Western music but also of an extraordinarily sensitive Christian intelligence, rooted in Scripture, indebted to the Lutheran tradition, and nourished by regular worship. He may not have left us with a theological tome. He was not a professional theologian, and his primary skills were not in words but in tones – melodies and cadences, fugues, trios, arias, and chaconnes. But the fact remains that he was well-informed Biblically and theologically, and his musical output shows he could penetrate the most demanding theological issues with a remarkable acuity. (15)

(1) Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, vol. 30.2 (Weimer: H. Bohlau, 1909, 557, no. 6248.
(2) Jeremy Begbie, Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 98.
(3) Begbie, 98.
(4) Begbie, 104.
(5) Begbie, 105.
(6) Carl Schalk, Luther on Music, 35. Cf. Herl, Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism, chap. 1.
(7) Begbie, 105.
(8) Begbie, 120-121.
(9) Malcolm Boyd, Bach (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Christoph Wolff, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician (New York: Norton, 2000); Peter F. Williams, The Life of Bach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
(10) Begbie, 121.
(11) Begbie, 122-123.
(12) Begbie, 123, 122.
(13) Begbie, 123.
(14) Michael Marissen, Lutheranism, Anti-Judaism, and Bach’s St. John Passion: With an Annotated Literal Translation of the Libretto (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 7.
(15) Michael Marissen, Lutheranism, Anti-Judaism, and Bach’s St. John Passion: With an Annotated Literal Translation of the Libretto (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 5.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sola Gratia (by Grace Alone)

The Price is Right. Last month, the game show turned 45 years old. It has been watched by young and old alike for many years. Of course, people like to watch the games (playing along when possible, e.g. Hi-Lo), watching the wheel being spun, and, seeing who will win what prizes. But for some the highlight of the show happens as the camera scans the crowd as the announcer calls for a particular name to “Come on down!”

At that moment, what you never see is someone pull on the sports jacket, straighten their hair, or work to keep their composure. No, for that person, the less composure you have, the better. In fact, enthusiasm is the primary factor for getting your name called. Of course, being outlandish in your dress may help some people too, but ultimately dressing like that is a part of the enthusiasm. See, while waiting in line to get into the show, the show’s crew looks for those who are enthusiastic, asks them a few questions, and then puts their name in as possible contestants.

The Price Is Right, like so many other aspects of our lives, tells us that if we do enough we can get the attention of others. Maybe the enough is standing out from the crowd. Maybe it is doing enough work. Maybe it is helping others. Maybe it is being the best. And the list goes on. Maybe the purpose is to get on a game show, to get a promotion or a raise, to be liked by a certain person or group, or to earn an award or a scholarship. But the key for most of our lives is to do enough so that we get the attention of someone and get our reward.

This mindset is the issue with today’s topic – sola gratia, by grace alone. This sola is similar to sola fide (by faith alone), but it has a different purpose. As I shared when a few weeks ago, sola fide stands against the teaching that we attempt to justify our faith by our works. That is, our faith may save us, but we need to prove it by what we do. The Bible teaches that our works have no part of our justification, therefore it is not faith+works that saves us, but faith alone – sola fide.

Sola gratia, on the other hand, stands in contrast to working to get the attention of God. That is, if we do enough, God will notice, and give us an award. That award, in this case is grace. Again, that idea is not found in the Bible, which is why last week’s topic, solus Scriptura is so important. We may read and hear many things, but what does Scripture say? That is the benchmark for a true believer! And regarding grace, Scripture is clear that nothing we do can earn favor with God in order for Him to give us grace. That is, we are not given grace by works, grace stands alone.

Of course, we should serve God because we are saved, but out of thanksgiving, not obligation.

As I have done each week in this series on The Reformation, we need to clarify a few ideas. First, although the term The Reformation is most common, the idea was considered a protest of sorts, so it is also known as The Protestant Reformation (Protest-ant) Reformation. But to understand this idea, we need to know what reformation means.

Reformation (Re – Form – Ation)
  • RE – from a Latin word; has an element of “again” or “again and again”; a backward motion (like retrace or revert); return
  • FORM – to construct or frame; to arrange or organize
  • ATION – an act of process

Let us now dive deeper into understanding grace, and specifically grace alone. I encourage you to take a moment to read the focal passage for this week – Ephesians 2.1-10.

Grace Is an Amazing Concept (Ephesians 2.1-5)

Of course, it is, you say, we sing Amazing Grace all time. But let’s take a moment to truly appreciate how amazing grace really is. Let’s begin by comparing grace to mercy.

Mercy is really a precursor to grace. See mercy is not giving someone a punishment they deserve. That is, someone deserves something negative, but mercy spares them. Because I led off this message with a game, perhaps some of you remember the game Mercy where two individuals lock hands and by squeezing and twisting both try to compromise the other. Once near a state of utter defeat, the compromised person asks for mercy.

Grace, on the other hand, is receiving something positive you do not deserve. In the game I just mentioned, grace would be that the loser received a prize for losing. The victor may or may not receive a prize, that is not the point. But the loser would not deserve a prize, and yet receives one.

This is truly an amazing concept. Mercy we can understand. But who would think up the idea of grace? Nobody – but God. But God! Most people have a hard time accepting something for nothing. But grace is not receiving something for nothing. It is far more than that. It is receiving something when nothing is so many steps higher than nothing that it is inconceivable.

And that is where this passage begins. We were children of wrath. That is, God had every right to destroy us. But God – God showed His mercy to us (by the cross). Notice verse 5 – He took dead people (you and I) and didn’t just forgive our sins – He made us alive. That is why the empty tomb is so important. Yes, we must believe Jesus died for our sins. We must appreciate His work upon the cross, but if He didn’t rise from the dead, how would we know? Would it truly matter? Verse 4 is about God’s mercy – overcoming our sin, but God didn’t stop there. No, He added grace and offered us life – eternal life, and that begins the moment you receive Jesus.

Grace Provides an Unbelievable Result (Ephesians 2.6-7)

So, now maybe you are beginning to see how amazing the concept of grace is. But as amazing as grace is, consider what the result of God’s grace is.

As I have mentioned many times before, most people ask the wrong question: “Will I go to heaven?” In the coming months, we are going to consider the problem of the question in a couple of different ways. But the essence of the problem is the focus is on a place (idolatry) not a person (Jesus).

Yet, verses 6 and 7 do talk about our present and future home. First, Paul wrote that by the grace of God we have been:
  • Raised up with Christ. We know longer have to consider ourselves in a lowly position. We are fellow heirs with Christ. He has raised us figuratively, and one day will do so literally.
  • Seated with Christ. I just mentioned that one day we will be raised literally. But notice these first two items are in the past tense. Not just past tense because Paul wrote the words nearly 2000 years ago, but Paul wrote them in past tense then. In some manner, when we die to self and begin following Christ, our address changes. Yes, Christians and non-Christians walk around this earth until their bodies stop. Yet, Christians talk about going home which is only possible if your home is elsewhere. And according to these words, our home is where we are seated with Christ.

Furthermore, Paul continues with one more result. In fact, Paul mentioned this as the very reason for God grace (notice the “so that”). What is the reason? That, in the coming ages (that is, eternity), God might show His immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us. Now, some people say that they don’t want to be with God for eternity because the place called heaven is boring. OK, that is their loss. Let me share why.

Think of the greatest sight you have ever seen. Now, try to capture the details of that scene. What made it so special? Could you describe what made it special in just a few words or might you need more? If you could describe it at all, then the sight was measurable. But God wants to pour out on your grace that is immeasurable. That means whatever awaits is better than anything we can imagine now. There is more to come – are you kidding me? We haven’t even scratched the surface of what God has in store for us. You and I, those people who were dead, who were children of wrath, but because of mercy, and now grace, have a God who has more in store for us – far better than this present world can contain. What awaits cannot currently be understood. We receive an unspoiled eternity with God. Boring. Hardly. Unbelievable. Absolutely!

Grace Is God’s Ongoing Gift (Ephesians 2.8-10)

These verses are at the core of understanding sola gratia – by grace alone. Clearly, verse 8 says we are saved by grace due to a gift from God. As we have already established, the concept of grace could only originate from God. But then verse 9 adds, our works have nothing to do with our salvation. Why? Because we know how we are – when we do something good, we want others to know about it. And God is one of the others in that statement. We want God to know when we think we have done something good. And this was the understanding that the reformers such as Luther were arguing against. The idea at the time was that grace did save people, but a person could get God’s attention by doing good and thus God would show that person favor. But grace is not earning favor, it is unmerited favor. When we work we expect to be paid. Grace, on the other hand, is a gift. We cannot demand payment from God; we can only cry out for mercy and pray He extends grace.

Verse 10 makes this even more clear. It says that we are His workmanship – that is, God created us – that we might do good works. OK. But He created those works that we should do them. This is critical. What this means is two-fold:
  1. God created people who would do good works for Him once they were saved (in Christ)
  2. God knew the works before they are done by those who are in Christ.

Why is this important? Because we cannot earn favor for what should be done. Think of it this way. Suppose you go to work every day for a week. Suppose you do all of your necessary tasks for the week – tasks which are a part of your job description. At the end of the week, you go to your boss and say, “Aren’t you going to thank me for doing my job this week?” What do you think your boss will say? It will probably be something like, “Well, all you did was what is expected!”

Verse 8 says that nothing we do can earn God’s favor to be saved – it is a gift. Verse 10 says that all we do once we are saved is what He intended for us to do from before time began. But let me go a little deeper because we have bypassed one very important word in verse 8.

Our grace comes through faith. The word we cannot miss is faith, but the word through is important as well. Grace is the reward for those who have faith. Again, let me paint a picture. Let’s say you are at an amusement park. You have walked from the parking lot right to the gate. You can see and hear the excitement on the other side of the gate, but unless you go through the gate, you cannot experience the fun for yourself. (pic of people standing to get into amusement park)

The same is true with grace. Grace is God’s gift and is available to all, but it can only be received through faith. But, it is important to note that grace is not a one-time gift; rather it is an ongoing gift, like a lifetime pass to the amusement park. Titus 2 says that God’s grace is given as a means for us to “renounce ungodliness and wordly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” I can’t speak for you but I still have a few worldly passions, and I am not always as self-controlled or as godly as I would like to be. Thus, God’s grace needs to be continually apart of my life. Grace is not just a one-time vaccination against sin or for salvation, it provides a boost for the ongoing training we need.

And that is where our works do enter the scene. Our works are not to earn grace, but because of grace. God created us good, to do good works, for a good Christ – all of which was done before we were created. So, how can our works help us to be saved if God created us for these works in the first place?

Grace is, indeed, an amazing concept, provides an unbelievable result, and in between is continually given so that we might become more godly and be better prepared for the age to come. And the best part about it is that grace is a gift, so, the price is right.

I began by discussing the game show The Price is Right. But our life is not a game. And the price of sin came with the ultimate cost – death. Not our death, but the death of God’s own Son. But because Jesus death covers all our sin, the price is right for us if we will just place our faith in Him. Why is the price right? Because GRACE makes it so. As has been said many times by many people, GRACE can be thought of as: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Christ paid the ultimate price so that we could gain the ultimate gift. I can guarantee you will never get a better offer than that. The price is indeed right.

JOURNEY: J – Jesus

Once again, our JOURNEY letter this week is J for Jesus. It is God that gives grace, but He does so because of the work of Jesus. It is not what we can do, it is what He has done. It is not by grace plus works by which we are saved, it is by grace alone.

NEXT STEP(S): Live. Serve God. Our work is in thanksgiving to what He has done for us. He created us for work, and He has many tasks outlined for each one of us. The tasks He has assigned me will be different than what He has assigned you, but if we all do our part, just like players on a team all must do their part, then He will do great work through us. All for His glory, and all because of His grace.