Robert's Sermons

Growing in Christ

Part 14: 'Effective Grace'

As we continue this Growing in Christ ‘boot camp,’ I want to share a verse of Scripture with you which I think is one of the most important verses in the New Testament to understand if we are really serious about maturing in our walk with God through Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:10  “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.”

Like a double-sided coin, there are two foundational truths in this Bible verse which appear to be very different and yet they are really part of the same coin and so they need to be held in balance. The first truth states that we are who we are by the grace of God. Understanding God’s grace is a vital first step in understanding everything else in the Christian life. We must know and understand that we did not earn our salvation, we did not deserve it and there’s nothing we can do to pay God back for it.

We were born into a lost and rebellious humanity and the condition of sin in which we found ourselves separated us from the experience of God’s love. We were powerless to do anything about this. God gave us His holy law which defined our sin and revealed our need for salvation. Then generation after generation of His children failed to live up to the standard of His holy law and thereby failed to reach their potential as children of God, created in His image.

Then God stepped out of eternity and into time over 2,000 years ago when He became a man, in order to provide a way for all of mankind to be reconciled to Himself. That man was Jesus. He was also wholly God and did what no other human being had ever done. He obeyed the holy law of God fully and completely, thereby fulfilling the whole law as a man, on our behalf.

He also paid the ultimate price for sin. Not His sin, but our sin. That price is death and Jesus’ death on the cross satisfied the requirements of the law which said that the wages of sin is death. The holiness of God burns against all that is not holy. The wrath of God is unleashed against all unrighteousness, and yet because of the overwhelming love of God towards us, His precious children, He allowed His holiness, His wrath, His judgement to burn against Jesus instead of us.  Jesus died on our behalf – Jesus died in our place. Then His glorious and permanent resurrection from death three days later signalled victory over sin, death and Satan. That’s the good news! That’s the gospel and all those who accept that truth by faith can experience the joy, wonder and freedom of being reconciled to God forever.

Now all of that was done by God, for us. We didn’t devise this rescue package. We didn’t and we couldn’t deal with the problem of sin. We were lost and headed for eternity without God. In His grace and mercy, God stepped into our lives and redeemed us. While we were spiritually dead in our sin, God made us alive in Christ. That is why Christianity is the only hope for a lost humanity. No religion in the world can solve the problem of sin. All religions involve us desperately trying to reach God and relate to Him personally. All such attempts are futile.  It was God, in Christ, Who actually came after us! God took the initiative. God reached into our fallen, fruitless, frustrating existence and declared us righteous, redeemed and reconciled, in Christ, through Christ and for Christ.

That is why we can and we must now declare that it is, “By the grace of God I am what I am.  I can boast in no one but the Lord – He has given me freedom and salvation and eternal life as a gift!” If only I could wave my hand and know that each and every Christian walking this earth really knew God’s grace right now, in all its truth.

So many of the Church’s problems, tensions and divisions have come from an erroneous or incomplete view of the Grace of God and therefore the heart and purposes of God. There are thousands of people following God today who are still not personally familiar with this side of the coin and until they are, flipping the coin to the other side will not serve them or God at all. If you think you would like to know more about God’s grace, then I suggest you spend some time working through my 24 part teaching series “Amazing Grace” on our website. Even if you are familiar with that teaching, I recommend you re-connect with it again.

So assuming you do have a grasp on God’s grace, let me now flip the coin and tell you that whilst God’s grace is unconditional in that we do not need to do anything to earn it, receive it or deserve it, we must understand that the effectof God’s grace is conditional upon our choices and efforts. Look at Paul’s words again:

“By the grace of God I am what I am …”

Hallelujah! God is good! I don’t deserve it and nothing I do or don’t do will alter God’s love and grace which are poured into my life.

“but … his grace to me was not without effect …” 

I didn’t just receive it … I don’t just enjoy it and feel warm and mushy inside because of it … His grace has an effect in my life. Why?  Well look at why this grace effective for Paul:

“… because I  worked harder than all of them.” 

Paul is saying: “This wonderful free grace of God which has been lavished upon me has been effective …it has borne fruit … it has actually done what it was meant to do … because I made a choice to work hard in partnership with God.” Then, just to maintain the balance, Paul reminds us that even our hard work and effort is ultimately empowered by God: “… yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”

Listen brothers and sisters … in Jesus’ name please get this because it’s a vital key to embracing the power, the glory and the reality of God’s kingdom. This is the key to living an effective, abundant Christian life. You will not grow in Christ unless you get this. Let me give you one sentence that will appear to be a riddle at first – but it will make a lot of sense when you understand what I mean by it:

Our efforts are ineffective in securing God’s grace,
but God’s grace is ineffective in us without our efforts.

This is what Paul is saying. This is what Paul proved in his life and ministry. Our salvation; our right standing before God; our forgiveness and cleansing; His gifts and power; the whole wonderful gift of salvation is given to us free – by His grace. There are no strings attached and no effort required on our part to secure it other than to believe. That’s the first side of the coin and many of you know that side of the coin very well – it is polished and well-worn and you could articulate the truths contained on that side of the coin to most people.  You know that you are saved by grace and live under grace.

However the other side of this coin is equally important and often neglected by those who think they understand grace. It is the side which says that this grace will be not be effective in us if we do not make deliberate and daily choices which open up the channel for God’s grace to flow through us – rather than just to us. We are called to be rivers, not reservoirs. That’s why Paul mentions God’s grace and His hard work in the same breath – for this is a partnership.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul said, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1). Freedom is an end itself as far as our relationship with God is concerned. However we also need to understand that God desires that we should join Him in His global campaign to bring all His lost children home. God invites us and longs for us to respond to His grace and be channels of His grace to a lost and needy world.

This is a pattern all the way through the Bible. We read of God’s grace, love, mercy, forbearance and forgiveness – then almost in the same paragraph we are faced with the question, “How then shall I live?”  In other words,  what is my response to what God has done? What choices am I making each day so that what God has put in me – gets out and makes a difference in my life and the life of those around me?

Let me give you a down-to-earth illustration that we can all relate to easily. Imagine for a moment (it will be a nice moment, I’m sure), that I deposit ten million dollars into your bank account today. The transaction is legal. There are no strings attached. This is a free gift – it’s all yours. You can do with it as you wish. You are the legal owner of this huge gift. Now you can just leave that money in your account and not spend it if you wish. That’s your choice. In ten years’ time you will still be the owner of that money – it won’t ever be taken from you. However, if you choose to use that money and spend it – then you will not only be the legal owner of the money … it will also have had an effect in your life. There may be a few people in the world who would leave that money in the bank and never touch it, but I am sure you would agree that the vast majority of normal people would want that money to have an effect in their life. They would want to see the fruit of their gift. The best of those people would also want to see their gift make a difference in their world.

Well friends, at some point in eternity, God deposited far more than ten million dollars into your account. In fact, He made a whole range of deposits into your account. He transferred complete forgiveness; amazing grace; unconditional love, undeserved mercy; absolute holiness; perfect righteousness; abundant life; eternal life; a whole bank-roll of spiritual gifts; power; glory; majesty; healing; wholeness; peace; joy; patience; kindness; goodness; self-control. That’s quite an impressive bank statement, you have to admit. In fact, the bottom line of your statement actually reads: ‘The Fullness of God, in Christ.’  All those things I just mentioned, and much more, came with Jesus.

What you received in this heavenly direct-transfer is worth a thousand times more than all the money in the world. Money is great … we may all wish we had more … it keeps us in the life to which we would like to become accustomed! However the deposits made by God keep us in the life to which God has been accustomed … and let me tell you … the two don’t even compare! One is superficial and lasts for a handful of years and the other is beyond description and lasts for eternity!

So we already know that money in the bank is only useful and effective if you choose to let it out and use it.  So too with all the riches of heaven that God has bestowed upon you and me – they will only have an effect in our lives and through our lives if we choose to let them out and use them. ‘If’ is such a tiny word and yet what power it has. All through history this tiny word has made such a huge difference in life. All through the Bible we see this word. It shouldn’t have that much power – it’s just a two-letter word, a tiny word. But once it begins a sentence, it controls everything else that follows. Its power is certainly disproportionate to its size.

Sometimes I think when we read the Bible, we just ignore this little word. We seem really good at understanding what follows the word ‘then,’ but we overlook ‘if.’  We preach about ‘then’ and cry out to God for all the ‘then’ promises, but we disconnect it from the ‘if’ part. We read right through the book of Genesis. We read through the prophets, the Psalms, the minor prophets – into the gospels, into the epistles and we so easily ignore this tiny, but powerful word. The problem is that ‘if’ just won’t go away. It’s there on nearly every page of the Bible. In fact, one of the most powerful promises of God in the whole Bible begins with this little word. You know it well, I’m sure:

2 Chronicles 7:14   “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

This little word is all through the Bible. It’s in the Garden of Eden. It’s in the story of Cain and Abel. It’s in the story of  Moses and Abraham and every other great man and woman of God. This little word ‘if’ is found right throughout human history. We live in a cause and effect world which is dominated by this ‘if … then’ reality.

Now let me stress here that I’m not talking about a performance-based rewards system. I’m not talking about God rewarding us for our efforts … I am talking about a more practical and pragmatic reality. I am simply saying that God has set us totally and completely free to choose life or death; heaven or hell, right or wrong, this colour car or that colour car; this Church or that Church; this job or that job. We are free to choose. Yes, God is sovereign. I affirm that. I have a very high view of God’s sovereignty  – but as a sovereign God He can do whatever He wants, am I right? Well friends, what He did with you and me is absolutely amazing and just a little terrifying at times.  In His sovereignty, God chose to channel His sovereign power through the free choices of His beloved children.

God desperately wanted a free relationship of love with us, so He set us totally and completely free. We are free to sin or not. We are free to obey or not. We are free to worship or not. We are free to use the spiritual gifts He gives or ignore them. We are free to reach out into our community and change lives every day or stay safe within our fortress and die on the vine. We are free to believe what God says so clearly or ignore it and make up theologies which suit our personal agendas. We are free to receive the entire riches of heaven in the gift of salvation and then do absolutely nothing with them.

God invites us to love Him, serve Him and embrace the mission of Christ because we want to, not because we have to. That is why He set us totally free. That is why there are hundreds of “If … then” pleas from God all through the Bible. Each one of those statements affirms our freedom to choose and affirms what God can and will do if we choose His way. The fabric of our faith must be woven together not only with God’s grace, but also with the resulting obedience and action on our part which allows God’s grace to have an effect. We may not want it to be that way. We might prefer to just sit back and watch God do His stuff – with us in the grandstand cheering “Go God … Go God …!!”

The power of ‘if’ can’t be out-voted by popular opinion. It can’t be outflanked by policy. Nothing can change this ’if.’ It is God’s ‘if.’ If we do what we’re asked to do and what we were created to do … then all the promises of God will unfold and bear fruit before our very eyes. We will cash cheques on our heavenly bank account every day and we will really make a difference if, and only if, we do it God’s way.

If we choose to cash a cheque against our ten million dollar bank account, it will change the way we live and we will get to see the fruit of those riches. If we cash a cheque against the bank of heaven; that is, if we make daily choices which are consistent with the revealed will of God and His plan for His children, then it will change the way we live and we will see incredible, eternal fruit flow from the choices we make.

This tiny word ‘if’ certainly punches above its weight! No matter how much we’d like to get rid of it, it looms large in the text. We are forced to begin with that little word. It is a gateway to all the glory and riches and city-transforming power of heaven .. or .. it is a road-block in our whole journey with God.  Everything we hope for and everything we ever dreamed of hinges on what we do with that one little word. So let me use this word one more time today and say this:

If we truly want to grow in Christ and mature in our relationship with our Lord, then we need to be able to affirm and embrace every word of the Apostle Paul as our own as we declare with him: “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.” As a reminder in the days ahead, perhaps you could make a small sign bearing the words I shared earlier and put it somewhere prominent so you can read it every day as you look more closely at the choices you make and their impact on the mission of Christ:

Our efforts are ineffective in securing God’s grace,
but God’s grace is ineffective in us without our efforts.