Let me begin with a simple question: What immediately comes into your mind when you read or hear the word GRACE? Given that this is a sermon and you are engaging with this in a Church context, then perhaps that narrows the field of possible definitions and impressions which may accompany the word GRACE. However there are actually at least 17 different ways this word can be used as a noun and a few ways as a verb. So in the face of those 20 definitions, which one would you pick to answer my question? Perhaps you would pick none of them because if I wanted to define what GRACE means in a Biblical and theological context I would not pick any of those dictionary definitions. To complicate matters even further, if I was to pick up a Bible dictionary and look up the word GRACE, I would most probably not be happy with most of the definitions in there either, given what I know now about God’s amazing grace. Herein lies a problem and it’s a huge problem.
Of all the words in our language and of all the concepts in the Bible and in our understanding of the Christian faith, I would have no hesitation in saying that GRACE is by far the most important word for us to understand, embrace and embody as disciples of Christ who are committed to His mission. In fact, I would suggest that if we drilled down beneath every heresy ever preached, every theological error ever postulated and every Church ministry which ever failed over the past 2,000 years, we would find the root cause to be a flawed or inadequate understanding of this one word. A bold assertion, I know, but one I believe you will agree with when I have finished this teaching series which I have creatively entitled ‘Amazing Grace.’ I could have come up with a number of different and catchy titles, but the name of the most sung hymn in history is good enough for me.
Millions of people all over the world who have struggled with those multiple definitions and tried to mine the depths of this simple but powerful word, will testify to a ‘grace awakening’ in recent years. Some of these are people who are new believers but many have been Christians for years and never really fully understood and embraced the radical message of grace. It is those people to whom God called me many years ago to minister and what a privilege it is to see captives set free within the Church! What a mind-blowing spectacle it is witness the Spirit of God opening the eyes of people’s hearts across a whole Church community – bringing a renewal which takes them all into a very different place in their journey with God.
In June 1993, while Senior Pastor in a medium to large Baptist congregation, I began to teach about God’s grace and continued to do so in a concentrated way for more than a year. During that time, many people experienced a radical ‘awakening’ as the Spirit of God moved with power through our local Church. People who had been walking with God for most of their lives confessed that they had never heard preaching like that before. I think they probably had sat under similar teaching before, but were not ready to receive it. When their eyes were finally opened to the heart of the gospel and the central truth of God’s amazing grace, they testified that it changed everything else they thought about God, themselves and the mission of Christ. They discovered that grace is not just one of many ‘doctrines’ we need to embrace. Grace is not just included in a list of Christian beliefs.
Grace is not a part of the Gospel story – grace is the gospel. The gospel isgrace! Grace is to the Christian faith what air is to the earth’s atmosphere. If Christianity was a motor vehicle, grace would be the motor! If we do not have a firm grasp of grace; if grace has not had its effect within us, then all we have is a facade, a shell, a Christian faith with no power, no motivation and no real ability to fulfil our purpose. A car without a motor is, at best, an attractive display. It can never achieve what its designer and creator desired and intended. So too with our journey in Christ. Unless we have a firm understanding of God’s amazing grace; unless His grace permeates all that we think, say and do every day – then our Christian lives will lack substance, vitality, truth and power. Each of us must get to the point of saying (and understanding) with Paul:
“… by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)
You may think you already know all about grace. Prior to my awakening to God’s amazing grace, I used to think that. That is also what our brothers and sisters in Galatia thought. We read in Galatians 3 what happened to them when they lost sight of grace! That’s why Paul preached about grace over and over and over again. He actually said it was “a safeguard” for his hearers (Philippians 3:1). However before we begin this journey together, I have a warning: be prepared to think. Be prepared to have some of your views about God and yourself challenged. Also be prepared for a spiritual battle. Satan and his religious spirits will fight against the message of grace with all the powers of hell. So you need to be alert, but excited. Be on guard, but full of faith and anticipation of what God will do in you and through you in the days ahead.
For many years now, people have been asking me why I place such a heavy emphasis on grace in my preaching. They probably wondered that about Paul’s preaching too. There are many reasons but let me just share a few. I emphasise the grace of God in my preaching and in the style of ministry that unfolds under my leadership, because that’s what Jesus and Paul did – so basically I’m just following their lead. They both emphasised the grace, goodness and love of God and the fact that God has taken the initiative in our direction. God has spoken to us, called us, forgiven us, saved us, redeemed us and transformed us. He did all this unconditionally, by His grace, before we were even born! Then we show up and have our eyes and ears opened by God the Holy Spirit and we believe into that reality and participate in His grace. That is the good news! That is the gospel!
Another reason why I emphasis grace is because it releases joy in people. If you want to sum up Paul’s own personal ministry, it was to increase the joy of his followers (Philippians 1:25-26). We only have one life to live and I would like to live that life with as much joy as possible and so would you, I’m sure. I’d also like those who are part of the Church to be happy and to experience the inexpressible joy of the Lord. So I will preach grace in order that your joy may increase and that will make Church a joyful place to be, and people outside will be attracted to us.
When the ministry of Jesus began on earth, He confronted the ‘Senior Pastors,’ scholars and teachers of His day and exposed the heavy burden of legalism they had dumped on God’s people. He stood against anything which contradicted the message of God’s grace and the truth of the Gospel. He came to lift the burden of expectation off the back of God’s people – a burden which the religious leaders had placed there over hundreds of years. The spirit of religion had enslaved the people of God and so Jesus came to demolish those strongholds as He preached, lived and demonstrated God’s amazing grace. I’ve been called by God to do the same: to challenge the religious spirits which have enslaved God’s people by false teaching and to lift the burden from His disciples and set the captives free. I want people to bear the rich fruit they were created and called to bear.
Trees in an orchard bear fruit because the life is in the tree to produce that kind of fruit – it just happens – the tree doesn’t need to grunt and groan and strain to bear fruit – it simply needs to be fed and watered and the rest comes naturally. So too with Christians who are filled with the joy of the Lord. They will produce the fruit of the life of Christ within them and it will take very little effort on their part. They just need to be fed the right spiritual food and immersed in the living water Christ promised to give them. When you understand the grace of God in all its truth, before long you’ll just overflow with fruit. Then, people who are starved for joy are going to look at you and say, “Where did you get that? I want some too!” Then you’ll be able to say with great enthusiasm, “I got it from the Lord Jesus Christ as a free gift – let me tell you about it …”
So grace permeates my teaching and ministry because of the radical healing that it produces in people’s lives and the fruit it produces. I have had the joy of seeing people set radically free in so many ways when they finally understand the grace of God. It’s like they have met God for the first time! Their joy has become mine as I’ve read letters and emails from around the world and spoken to many whom God has touched in the depth of their being as I have unpacked the central truth of the gospel: God’s amazing grace. When people believe the truth of the gospel and embrace it personally, profound changes occur in them. I’m not talking to unbelievers here. I’m talking to the Church. There is an urgent need for the people of God to be reintroduced to the radically free grace of God and the power which His grace brings to our lives. I have seen people, some having wasted many hours in counselling, set free in one glorious moment as the power of the living gospel of God’s grace transforms their hearts.
So the main reason why I continue to preach the gospel of grace is summed up in Colossians 1:6
“All over the world this gospel, (this gospel of grace) is bearing fruit and growing, (spontaneously and habitually) just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it (first) and (then) understood God’s grace in all its truth.”
Hearing and understanding God’s grace in all its truth produces more than just joy – it produces all the fruit of the gospel, the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness – etc. Everything you want in life; everything that makes life worth living as an authentic human being; everything that makes the gospel attractive; everything that we love and appreciate about the personality of Jesus Christ. That’s what is birthed within us when we understand grace in all its truth. I don’t just want people to be joyful and happy. I want to play some significant part in advancing the kingdom of God on earth – and I want others to catch that too. I want to understand God’s grace in all its truth and I want to lead others to do the same. It’s the power of God unto salvation. Grace is the power that releases fruit-bearing energy in Christians and in Churches.
I don’t put my efforts into Church growth techniques or counselling techniques, although they may have their place. I don’t rely on exhortation, manipulation, wrenching money out of people, self promotion or even Church promotion! There are a dozen different ways proven to be successful in making Churches grow numerically. However, they don’t interest me and I don’t believe they excite God much either. As Paul reminds us in Romans 1:16, the gospel is itself the power of Almighty God for the salvation of everyone who believes. So I want to help build and be part of a realChurch. If it’s a little smaller than some, then so be it, as long as it’s real. However, I believe if it’s real it will not be small for long.
So over the coming months I am going to explore the heart of the gospel and talk about God’s amazing grace from lots of different angles, knowing that in time it will bear fruit on a large scale in my Church, in my community and in this nation. However, before you begin this grace marathon, I feel I must warn you again. This teaching is dangerous. It produced many enemies for the Apostle Paul. His preaching split Synagogues all over Asia Minor. Believe it or not, his life was in constant danger because of the liberating message I plan to bring you – the message of God’s free, radical grace. What you are going to hear from me in this teaching series is what landed Paul in hot water every week of his ministry and eventually got him killed. That same message is even more dangerous today because the Church has had hundreds of years to become even more steeped in legalism and performance-based religion than it was in Paul’s day. If you believe what (or rather, Who) you encounter in this teaching, then your life will change – radically. I don’t care how long you have been a disciple, how knowledgeable you are of the Scriptures or what Bible teaching you have enjoyed – God’s grace is always transformative. Regardless of where you are in your spiritual journey, your life will change as you embrace the grace of God fully. As that happens – be prepared for some opposition. The enemy will not lie down when he sees captives being set free – he will fight hard and dirty and more often than not he will use those closest to you to drag you back under his bondage.
Whenever I have taught this there has been a variety of reactions in people’s minds and hearts and I don’t expect it will be any different as we travel this road together in the days and months ahead. Some will receive what I say without questioning; some will question it and even be a little confused for a while as I unpack the gospel each week; and some may reject it completely. That is certainly Satan’s hope. In their hearts, some will feel the liberating power and presence of the Spirit of God releasing them and giving them a new hunger and thirst for the gospel; some will feel uncomfortable and find what I say to be foreign to what they currently understand; others may wonder how anyone could have the audacity to preach such heresy!
Now I want you to know that all of those reactions are perfectly normal. I have encountered them all at various times and I know exactly how it feels. But this is the gospel. This is what Jesus died for. This is what got Stephen stoned to death while Saul of Tarsus watched and laughed. This is what then turned Saul on his head, transformed him into the Apostle Paul and put him in jail for preaching what he used to denounce! This is what got all of the Apostles except one killed for their trouble! This is the heart and soul of the Bible message and it possesses the life-changing, mind-blowing power of God. So I have to teach it – but you don’t have to receive it. All I ask of you is this: if you encounter any teaching here that is new to you, please be patient – because many of your questions and concerns will be answered over time. Don’t let the enemy close your mind and harden your heart before you get a chance to find those answers. As tempting as it may be – don’t dismiss this teaching until you have encountered it all. I have letters from people for whom the penny didn’t drop until months or years later as they revisited my sermons and God opened their eyes. This can take time, but when the lights come on – there is nothing brighter, I can assure you.
So what’s it going to be? Are you going to press on like Paul and search for the treasures that are yours in Christ? Are you going to find the freedom that Christ promised and let Him make it a reality in your life? Are you going to come out from under any bondage of religion and evil religious spirits that may have infiltrated the Church and robbed you of the fullness and reality of Christianity? Is your Christian faith real? Be honest – how much of it has made it from your head to your heart? Is the Holy Spirit as real to you as He was to Jesus, the early disciples and the Apostles in the book of Acts? Are you prepared to stand before God and say “I want more! I’m not satisfied with my life and my relationship with God as it us. I want to keep growing and maturing in Christ. I want to press on and receive all that God has for me. I want it all Lord, by Your grace, for Your glory, through Your Spirit!”
If the Holy Spirit has placed that desire in your heart then I want to encourage you to press on with this teaching and take the time to embrace the truths which will be unpacked over time and revisit the teaching via our website and make the most of the opportunity God is going to provide for us all. This teaching will challenge you, confront you, excite you and, I trust, transform you from the inside out. You may well meet a God that you never thought existed. A God of grace and mercy and power. A God who still speaks and moves in powerful ways. A God who desperately desires to be in relationship with you and will take 99 out of every 100 steps to achieve that for you. The question is: will you take that one step toward Him? That one step away from the your pre-conceptions and religious images of God?
If you are ready; if you are brave enough to let go; then I suggest you pray this prayer and make a commitment to spend the time over the coming months to really chew on this teaching and allow God to bury the truth of His amazing grace deep in your heart and mind.
Father God, I thank You and praise You for what You are doing in my heart right now. You have drawn me to this point and You desire to bless me. Lord release the healing power and presence of your Holy Spirit within me now. Come, Holy Spirit and break the power of the enemy in my life and release me to take hold of all that the Father has for me. I speak to any sense of guilt, or unworthiness, or oppression – and say that you have no right to be in the heart of a child of God. I have been purchased with the blood of Jesus and I belong to God. He loves me, Jesus died for me and I am going to walk in freedom! In Jesus name I rebuke those accusations from the enemy and replace them with the loving affirmations of Jesus. Father, give me the courage, strength and determination of my brother Paul as I join him in saying, “Whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may be found in Him. In the matchless name of Jesus I pray, Amen!