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 Christian Church context, then perhaps that narrows the field of possible definitions and impressions which may accompany the word GRACE. However there are actually 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.
Grace is not a part of the Gospel story – grace is the gospel. The gospel is grace! 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:
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.”
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.
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 by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossians:
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.