Pulpit Today Sermon
Robert D. Pace
Years ago a convicted murderer was given a life sentence to solitary confinement on a desert island. The island rested hundreds of miles from civilization and the agents that delivered him ashore knew it would be a matter of days until he died of starvation and thirst. But before sunset that day, he began collecting some limbs that he would use to construct a raft. He didn’t know what fortune the sea would bring, but he knew death was certain if he didn’t attempt to escape. Once he constructed his flimsy, makeshift raft he launched back out to sea. But as fate would have it, after two weeks of languishing, he encountered a storm that ripped apart his raft. With nothing remaining but a few fragments, and weakened by his struggle against the sea, he began hallucinating. Starving and dehydrated, his hands fell limp and he sunk toward his death. His punishment had fit his crime. But unknown to the murderer, a ship had been approaching through the tempest. And defying justice, the captain spotted the dying man and ordered a crew member to dive to his rescue and pull him aboard. From the depths of the ocean, the man was brought up, resuscitated, and saved!
I have some questions. Did this murderer, trying to escape his punishment, deserve saving? No, he had committed a capital offense. Had his flimsy, makeshift raft saved him? No, it had fallen apart and delivered him into the throes of the ocean. He wasn’t even capable of signaling for help and catching the captain’s attention because he had hallucinated and begun sinking into the sea. This man had nothing to do with his rescue; it came completely from an outside source. The captain chose to rescue him.
That story helps illustrate our redemption. When Adam disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden he incurred the death sentence upon the human race. It defiled our relationship with God and rendered us helpless against sin. But that’s when Jesus appeared amidst the sea of humanity. Apart from any defilement, Jesus lived, died, and took our place on the Cross to secure our salvation. And today, his hand of grace stretches toward man, pulls him from the waters, and He says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36).
Now that’s grace! We didn’t deserve to have the Lord of glory sacrifice his life for ours, but He did. And here is what it demonstrated. Christ’s willingness to rescue mankind shows us that his grace is greater than our sins. It’s greater than our transgressions. And it’s greater than our iniquities. And grace is our foremost need from God. There is nothing in life that surpasses our need for God’s grace. I want to explain why that is so.
(Transition) In order to demonstrate the glories of grace I’ll first need to examine the corruption of the human soul. And I will need to return to Adam in the Garden in order to do that.
I. God’s Grace is Man’s Foremost Need
When Adam trespassed against God, mankind suffered horrific consequences. As I mentioned, the primary consequence was the infection of sin. Sin defiled us morally, spiritually, and physically—nothing was left untouched. And when our body, soul, and spirit were infected with sin, we had nothing left to counteract it. Theologians call this total depravity. Those two words are ominous, aren’t they? Total depravity! Let me describe what that means:
Have you ever taken a lengthy vacation and returned home only to find that a bowl of fruit had turned rotten? The entire atmosphere was contaminated. It’s repulsive! Well, you and I are as powerless to reclaim our moral righteousness as is a darkened, rotten, mushy apple or orange or banana is able to recreate a perfectly ripened condition.
In God’s eyes, there is nothing alluring or attractive or fragrant about people that live in sin. Adam’s transgression defiled man from center to circumference. Here is what the Bible says about unregenerate people:
In regard to our soul Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
In regard to our body Jesus said in John 6:63 that “the flesh counts for nothing” [NIV].
In regard to our mind, Romans 8:7—8 characterizes the sinner’s mind this way: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. (8) Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
That describes total depravity. But total depravity doesn’t mean it is impossible for sinners to show kindness or practice benevolence. Not at all! Many sinners have lived in philanthropic ways. Total depravity is not about man’s ability to extend kindness; it is about our inability to cleanse our innate sinful nature. Sin has corrupted the core of our being and enslaved us to its demands. And no amount of good works can reverse, repeal, or restore our wellbeing.
But this is where grace emerges. God’s grace through Jesus Christ cleanses us; it regenerates us (which is called being “Born Again,”); it infuses us with his righteousness (which is called justification); and then it empowers us to obey God. This is why the grace of Jesus Christ is man’s greatest need. It accomplishes what mortality is incapable of accomplishing! It conquers sin, repeals its effects, and restores our right-standing with God.
I want to continue emphasizing the fact that grace is our greatest need. As I said earlier, the only way we can understand the true riches of God’s grace is to illustrate the depth of our need.
Some people assume that mankind is inherently good with a few exceptions like Hitler, Osama Ben Laden, Stalin, and Saddam Hussein. But that’s not the case! The Bible doesn’t measure our moral character in relation to another person’s moral character. God measures our moral stature against Himself! And nobody can measure up to the holiness of God.
(Example) We could take the supreme characteristics from all the holy men of history and place those virtues into one individual, and they would still “fall short of the glory of God.” For example, we could take Abraham’s faith, Noah’s obedience, Moses’ meekness, Daniel’s devotion, Paul’s passion, and John’s love and infuse these qualities into one person, and yet the essence of that person would remain morally depraved.
The Bible makes it clear that man is polluted with sin and unable to live up to God’s standard of righteousness:
David said in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
Paul said Romans 3:9—12, “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, (10) as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; (11) no one understands; no one seeks for God. (12) All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Romans 3:23 says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Because this is so, it leaves people with but one choice if they want to find peace with God. We must accept the grace of God that comes through Jesus Christ and his Cross. And here’s the Good News: God’s grace is sufficient to transform any sinner into a saint.
(Illustration) Jonathan Edwards was the premier revivalist in America’s Great Awakening. He was the third president of Princeton University was also known as America’s foremost thinker during that time. Despite his pedigree, it was known that Dr. Edwards had a daughter with an incorrigible temper. As fate would have it, a godly young man, blinded by beauty, approached Dr. Edwards and asked for “her hand in marriage.” But Dr. Edwards wouldn’t consent. The young man pressed Jonathan Edwards and insisted he was deeply in love with his daughter. But Edwards was resolute and said, “You still can’t have her.” The young man argued again, “But she loves me!” Edwards was unmoved and said, “It doesn’t matter, you still cannot marry my daughter.” Finally, Edwards explained to the young man why he wouldn’t consent to the marriage. He said, “You can’t marry my daughter because she isn’t worthy of you.” The young man was stunned and said, “But Dr. Edwards, isn’t she a Christian?” Edwards sighed and said, “Yes, she’s a Christian. But the grace of God can live with some people when nothing else on earth can!”
That’s what God’s grace can do! It can intervene and abide with us despite our moral deficiencies. But don’t misunderstand me. Grace doesn’t just convert us and move on. If we will allow it, God’s grace will beautify us and overrule any contemptable spirit or selfish part of our being. It was Paul that said in 1 Corinthians 15:10 that, “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
(Transition) Now I want to change directions and move into another aspect of God’s grace. Not only is grace man’s greatest need, this grace that comes from Jesus Christ is a free gift!
II. Christ’s Grace is a Free Gift
Paul describes it this way Ephesians 2:8—9 when he says,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (9) not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Then Paul says in Romans 3:24 that we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” [NIV]
This incredible grace is totally and completely free. It costs us nothing! Jesus paid the price “in full” and He doesn’t charge us anything! That’s not to say this “free grace” is a “cheap grace” because it hasn’t been discounted. In fact, although it’s free, it’s incalculable! It cost the Son of God his life on the Cross and that makes it priceless!
Here is what Paul means when he says the grace of God is free. He means it is granted apart from any human merit and from any obligation that God owes us. It’s just totally free and undeserved!
(Example) The parable that probably best describes free grace is found in Luke 7, when Jesus spoke of the two debtors. Jesus said they both owed their moneylender what was beyond their ability to repay. One was a marginal debt; the other was huge. But Jesus said when they had no way of making repayment, the moneylender, from the mercy of his heart, cancelled their debts (42). He didn’t cancel their debts because he owed them anything or because they had done anything worthy to have them cancelled. Out of the charity of his heart, he simply cancelled them! And that’s what God’s grace does for us. When we totally relinquish any attempt to gain God’s favor by our works, and believe on the work of Christ alone, his grace will grant the free gift of salvation. And it’s apart from anything we do.
(Illustration) Let me illustrate it this way. Imagine someone working for a corporation for fifty years. Upon retiring, the corporation hosts a banquet in his honor, and then presents him with a gold Rolex watch. Is that Rolex watch a free gift? No. It is a gift; but it is not a free gift. That watch represents fifty years of labor. It would have been a free gift had the man never rendered service to the corporation.
(Illustration) Another way of illustrating this is when you tip your waiter. The gratuity is a gift; but not a free gift. The waiter earned it by racing back and forth from the kitchen to your table to satisfy you. But the grace men receive for salvation is a gift that disregards any human accomplishment or act of righteousness. And this strips us of all boasting before God.
There’s one other point I want to make about this free gift of grace. Do you realize that the faith we use for salvation isn’t even our faith. The faith we exercise to accept Christ as Savior is borrowed from God. Listen once again to Ephesians 2:8—9 when it says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— (9) not by works, so that no one can boast.” [NIV]
Here is what’s amazing about this passage: We know that the grace of salvation comes directly from God, but did you notice that even the faith we use to obtain salvation does not originate from us? It’s given to us from God. Listen to the verse once again: “You have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” There is no point in the plan of redemption that permits us to boast about earning our salvation.
I like how the New Living Translation paraphrases it: “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” There is no point in the Plan of Salvation that lets us boast that we did anything! Jesus did it all!
(Transition) Aren’t you glad your name is written in the Book of Life? (Pause) Let’s talk about that book for a moment.
Names in the Book of Life
(Illustration) For years, I have heard it said that when someone prays the sinner’s prayer and accepts Christ as their Savior that “a new name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” Maybe you remember the old song, “There’s a New Name Written Down in Glory.” But actually, the Bible doesn’t say that’s how it happens. Your name was not scribed into the Lamb’s Book of Life when you became a Christian. And there is an interesting passage that illustrates this.
In Luke 10, Jesus sent the Twelve Apostles and fifty-eight evangelists (70 in total) to preach the Good News and work miracles. When the seventy returned, they celebrated how demons were exorcised at their command. Do you remember how Jesus responded? He said in Luke 10:20, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” [ESV]
Jesus had not died on the Cross at this point, yet He said their names had already been registered in Heaven! And when you read Revelation 13:8 and Revelation 17:8 you find that God has written the name of every believer that will go to Heaven in the Lamb’s Book of Life “before the foundation of the world.” He did this before creating the earth!
(Insight) Do you know what this means? God did it this way, so He could pronounce us righteous even before the start of our course and not the end of our course when we had accumulated labors in his name. Grace doesn’t search for something meritorious at the end of our course to pronounce us righteous. A million years wouldn’t be enough time for us to work our way into Heaven. But the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus, “the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world,” is enough!
Paul said in 2 Timothy 1:9 that God “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”
(Illustration) It’s said that Scotland’s great evangelist John Knox experienced a terrible nightmare during his last fleeting hours on Earth. When he awoke he explained how Satan tempted him to believe that his lifetime of faithful ministry had merited spending eternity in Heaven. But I love how John Knox reacted. With a multiplied faith from his deathbed, he exclaimed: “But blessed be God who enabled me to beat down and quench the fiery dart . . . [it’s] by the ‘grace of God’ [that] I am what I am.’”
There’s tremendous mystery in the plan of redemption. We don’t fully understand how our salvation was determined; but we are certain how salvation was not determined. It didn’t originate from our worthless works. Christ’s free and generous grace brought our salvation. And that means it comes wholly apart from our labors.
(Transition) Third, Christ’s grace is sovereign.
III. Christ’s Grace is Sovereign
I want to admit that when I mention the sovereignty of God as it relates to salvation that I am grappling with an issue that is over my head. But I’m not the only one mystified by it. I have never heard or read from any theologian that effectively settled this matter. There are certain theological issues and aspects of the Godhead that are beyond human reasoning. And that’s okay. It shows us that we serve a God who cannot be contained by the human intellect.
There is a term that theologians use to help us deal with the unsearchable and unanswerable ways of God. Theologians call this “the inscrutable mysteries of God.” And that means, regardless of how long and how deep and how wide we search out some aspects of God and his dealings with us, they will yet remain mysteries. His infinity is indecipherable and inscrutable:
Paul said in Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and unfathomable his ways!”
Job said, “He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed” (Job 5:9).
“Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? (Job 11:7).
“The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power” (Job 37:23)
The Psalmist said, “How great are your works, LORD, how profound your thoughts!” (92:5)
“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” (Psalm 139:6).
“Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.” (Psalm 145:3)
This is our God! It is the wondrous, inscrutable workings of Jehovah, Yahweh, Elohim! There is none like Him. I am eternally grateful that his wisdom chose to lavish me with his grace.
(Transition) I want to discuss the idea of God’s sovereignty (that is something infinite) in relation to our salvation by grace. And yes, this means God bears rule over redemption with a sovereign grace.
(Definition) The idea of God’s sovereignty expresses his supreme power and autonomous control. That means God is supreme over every conceivable realm of creation. He governs worlds seen and unseen. His watch and eternal power extend over everything from man’s genome to massive galaxies; from insects to empires. There’s nothing outside God’s jurisdiction. Even the wind that passed over your face in the parking lot to the air system inside this building—all things are operating under God’s sovereignty. And because He is sovereign, it also means he bears rule over the realm of redemption.
Can you imagine God bearing rule over all creation with the exception of who accepts Jesus as the Messiah? The entire universe revolves around Jesus. And the Bible says he will one day govern the entire universe through those that are purchased by his Blood. And this means God is especially sovereign over the realm of redemption. God is either sovereign over all or He is not sovereign at all! Nothing in life is left to chance, especially our salvation.
Here is how God defined his redemptive sovereignty in Exodus 33:19. “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” That’s sovereign grace.
By now, you know that Christians do nothing to attract God’s saving grace. We possess no personal charm or moral beauty to capture God’s attention and redeem us.
This is where the theology of God’s saving grace gets thick and confusing because some people suggest that God callously predestines masses of souls into hell while permitting the “chosen others” into Heaven. They then load their predestination shotgun with Romans 9:13 that says, “Jacob I loved, and Esau I hated.” I know these two verses are difficult to decipher but, controversial as it is, they are part of Scripture. Turn to Romans 9 and let’s read that passage.
When you read this passage you can only come to one conclusion about the Plan of Redemption: God exercises his autonomous, sovereign choosing in deciding who gets saved. That is absolutely clear. Even Jesus said, “You have not chosen Me but I have chosen you” (John 15:16).
But there is also another fact that’s undeniably clear too. Paul said we can’t accuse God of being unfair in the sovereignty He exercises in determining who gets saved and who does not get saved. God is completely righteous and just. That’s why Paul went out of his way to write in Romans 9:14 when it says, “Is God unjust? Not at all!” God is not unjust at any point.
But I want to show you where I take solace and find complete peace as it regards God’s sovereign choosing of the citizens of his kingdom. Because on a human level, this sounds harsh!
First, I gain perfect peace about God’s sovereign grace as I examine and meditate on the nature of God. When you study the character of God you discover that none of his attributes stands alone. In other words, no one can objectively describe God by simply pointing out his sovereignty. His sovereignty always cooperates with his other attributes; especially his moral attributes! They are all interconnected and cooperate with his wisdom, generosity, goodness, and love. This gives me peace to know that God’s sovereign grace, which decides who is chosen to reign with Him, flows out of his moral attributes.
But it doesn’t stop there. Secondly, I have peace with God about this issue when I understand that his sovereign grace operates in conjunction with his “exceedingly great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4):
And God promised in Acts 2:21 and Romans 10:13: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Jesus promised in Matthew 11:28: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (NASU)
God promised in Revelation 22:17 “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Thirdly, we should understand that God’s sovereign grace works in conjunction with the glory of his name:
When Moses asked to see God’s glory in Exodus 34:6, the Bible says that “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” That means whenever God’s sovereign grace operates it is imbibed with mercy, and grace and an abounding steadfast love. God’s sovereign grace cannot ignore the character of his name! And I gain peace from knowing this!
But it still doesn’t stop there. Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, we should understand where God has seated his sovereignty. Hebrews 4:16 says God is seated upon “the throne of grace.” Imagine that! God’s omnipotence and wisdom and determinations and judgments and sovereignty are all forced to seat themselves upon a throne of infinite, ever-abounding grace! Every action of our holy and righteous God emanates from “the throne of grace” and nothing less!
So you see, God is sovereign when He divinely elects the citizens of his kingdom, but . . .
His sovereignty never nullifies his moral attributes.
His sovereignty never nullifies his precious promises.
His sovereignty never nullifies the glories of his name.
And his sovereignty doesn’t nullify the throne of Grace from which he is seated and from where he governs.
And when you consider all the interconnected attributes of God, you will find peace in knowing that God is perfect in wisdom and just in all his actions. Praise God for a sovereign grace!
(Illustration) Back when my children were about four and five years old I took them to the YMCA pool. They weren’t swimmers at that point, so I strapped a pair of swimmies around their arms. We played in the water and had a good time. When it was time to go I took a towel, dried off Davi and then started drying Kristen. The moment Davi got outside my arm’s reach he jumped back into the water . . . without his swimmies! He instantly sank to the bottom like lead weights were attached to him. He was completely submerged and unable to breathe. Without hesitation I jumped into the water and snatched him out.
I’ve thought back on that experience many times and it reminds me how our Heavenly Father has saved us. As sinners, we have sunk to the bottom of the ocean, shackled with the weight of sin. But God, rich in grace, wouldn’t let us drown. He sent his only begotten Son to rescue us.
I don’t know how long you’ve been in that condition. Some of you were rescued from the gulf of sin as a youth others as an adult. Regardless of when it was, you are a Christian solely because of Christ’s grace. If you don’t know Christ as your Savior, his grace awaits you to receive his pardon right now.
That is the grace that saves us. But grace does more than bring eternal life in Heaven. God’s grace that saves us also keeps us. And the grace that keeps us also leads us. And the grace that leads us will one day present us before our Heavenly Father without blemish or stain of sin. And it all operates through the grace of Jesus Christ.