THANK GOD FOR GRACE!
By Mark E. Hardgrove, D.Min.
Text: Ephesians 2:1-9
The concept of grace is central to any understanding of Christianity. Any theology or philosophy of salvation that does not place grace at the heart of its conceptual framework is not Christian. They may have the word “Christian” in their literature, but apart from grace, it is not Christian because Christ was God’s grace in the flesh. Yet, the provision of God’s grace for sinful humanity, especially as personified in the death of His only begotten Son at Calvary, almost defies human comprehension. There is no other name for it, but Amazing Grace.
The word “grace” occurs 170 times in the King James Version of the Bible. Both the Hebrew and the Greek words communicate the idea of a superior showing favor to an inferior. In the Christian understanding it is of God showing kindness toward those who can do nothing to merit His kindness. It is, in this sense, a gift that is given from the superior to the inferior. In other words, there is nothing the inferior can do to earn or merit the gift, and nothing he or she has done to deserve the gift.
Look at your text with me. The central theme of this text is grace. The word “grace” occurs three times in this one paragraph—verse 5 says, “by grace you have been saved”; verse 7, “the exceeding riches of His grace”; and verse 8, again, “by grace you have been saved.” Paul is powerfully making a point about grace. Thank God, for grace!
I think that we sometimes fail to understand the implications of grace in our lives. If we’re not careful we can simply go through life thinking that somehow we deserve to be blessed, that God owed us salvation, and we somehow did God a favor by choosing Him over the world. That’s why so many people think they can choose to worship or not to worship. That’s why so many people feel that that they can take church or leave church, they can praise or not praise, they can give or not give. After all, they are doing God a favor every time they get up on Sunday morning and come to the House of God to worship Him.
Such a cavalier attitude is born out of a short memory, and borders on the pride that will bring about destruction, the haughty spirit that will result in a fall. In verse 11 Paul says, “Wherefore remember.” When I was young my sister and Gracie Rudder used to sing a song that said, “Roll back the curtain of memory now and then. Show me where you brought me from and where I could have been. Remember, I’m human and human’s forget, so remind me, remind me dear Lord.”
When I read this text again this week. It nailed me. I have sat in my office and wept as I read this text over and over. I began to meditate on all that God has done in me and for me, and how undeserving I am of even one of His blessings, much less the life of God’s only begotten Son. Another song asked, “Who am I that a King would live and die for? Who am I that He would pray, not my will Thine Lord? The answers I may never know, why He would ever love me so, that to an old rugged cross He would go, for who am I?” Who am I? In this text Paul reminds us who were.
I) WHO WE WERE
Paul writes, “And you who were dead in trespasses and sins.” The words, “He made alive” are not in the Greek. You’ll notice that they are italicized if you are reading a King James Version, or New King James Version. If you are reading the New International Version the words do not appear at all. They may be implied, because Paul is writing to believers who have been made alive in Christ. But literally what Paul is doing is reminding them of where they were when God’s grace found them—“And you who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience”
A) We were walking dead men.
We had a death sentence hanging over our head. The wages of sin is death, so because we were lost and undone, without God or His Son, we were walking dead men. We forget that sometimes. When God found us, we were on death row; we were simply waiting in time for the executioner to bring our judgment.
We were walking with the rest of the world. We were marching to the drumbeat of the prince of the power of the air. We were being directed by the very same spirit who works in the sons of disobedience. We were walking on the highway to hell. We were sinners and we were transgressors. Maybe we’ve never murdered anyone or robbed a store, or did drugs, but there was nothing about the best among us that was worthy of one drop of the blood of God’s only Son. Thank God for grace!
B) We were one of those
Sometimes I see people who do things that really bother me. I see people smoking or cursing. I see teenagers doing things and acting in ways that really irritate me. I see people out washing their car on a Sunday morning instead of going to the house of the Lord. I see people who have no place and no time for God in their lives. And when I see those people I have a tendency to want to judge them, and like Jesus’ disciples, I want to call down fire upon them. But then I read this text and Paul says, “Mark you were dead in trespasses and sins, you walked according to the ways of the world, you also conducted yourself in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind. In other words, Mark, you were on of those people.”
I was talking with some folks here in church and I was telling them some of the things I used to do. I was talking about driving a stolen car, about shooting the windows out of cars, and about the life I used to live. Some of you look at me and act like I’ve always been a preacher. No! To assume that about me misses the miracle of what God has done. I was dead in trespasses and sins. In fact, I still remember the words of the nurse as they pulled my gurney into the intensive care unit of the hospital in Clarksburg, West Virginia after I had fallen, in a drunken stupor, from second floor of the girl’s dorm to the sidewalk below. She said, “I can’t believe I have to waste a room on a drunk.” That’s what I was, a 21 year old drunk man. But thank God for grace!
The truth is that I was one of those people when Jesus found me. And maybe you never sunk to the depths that I did, but friend, you were one of those people too.
You see, I know the ditch from which I was dug. I know that I was one of those people, and when I am tempted to sit in judgment of those people, I’m reminded that the only thing between them and me is an old rugged cross and God’s rich grace.
C) We were children of wrath
Paul says, “we all”—notice the humility of Paul here, he didn’t say “you all were” but “we all”—once conducted ourselves in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature [a fallen and sinful nature] children of wrath, just as the others.” Or you could say, “just like those people.”
In other words, the only inheritance we had to look forward to was the wrath of God that we deserved and that we earned through our own sinfulness and transgressions. The wrath of God, the judgment of God was all we deserved, and judgment is the future that awaits all of those people. It is the just deserts of the children of wrath.
I cannot tell you how many times I was sitting on death row, not in a prison, but in my life. I was dead in trespasses and sins, I was a child of wrath, deserving of the wages of sin that I had earned. But there have been times when my life was hanging by a thread. The times when I came within a hare’s breath of taking my own life. The times when my risky behavior almost cut my life short. The time when a mad man was waving a gun in my face threatening to kill me. The time when I fell from the dorm. Time after time, it was as though I was strapped to the electric chair and the executioner’s hand was on the switch, I deserved my punishment. I earned the wrath of God, deserved hell for being one of those people. And by the way, so did you. But thank God for grace!
II) WHAT GOD DID
Look at verse 4. After reminding us of who were, what we deserved, and where we were bound, Paul reminds us of what God did. The first two words of this verse are two of the most profoundly moving and meaningful words in the entire Bible—“But God”.
We were as good as dead. We were walking with the world. We were being led by Satan. We once conducted ourselves in lust of flesh, and desires of flesh and mind. We were children of wrath. We were in the chair, the sentence had been read and we were guilty. The noose was around our necks and the executioner’s hand was about to send us into eternity to receive the wages of our sins. There was nothing we could do. There was nothing we could say.
There was no price that we could pay. There was no escape! “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”
Just before the execution could be carried out, God’s rich mercy and great love saved me. The debt had to be paid and my death was demanded for the sins I had committed, but God, in Christ, took my place and paid my debt so that I could be free.
God in grace gave us life through the death of His own Son who took our place. “By grace you have been saved.” We were as good as gone, but God. Rich mercy, great love and God’s grace saved us. That’s what God did for us. How can we not praise Him? If we can’t think of anything else to thank God for, thank God for grace!
However, God didn’t just save us, He didn’t just pull us out of the miry clay, but He “raised us up together, and made us to sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” He pulled us out and He lifted us up! He saved us from the death sentence, gave us life, and that more abundantly, and then lifted us up to a new level, a new perspective and place of prominence and power in Christ.
If I’m not careful I find myself acting like God owes me something. Like He owes me a healing, or He owes me a promotion, or He owes me a life without trials, temptations or tribulations. But the truth is, if all God ever did was give His Son to die in my place, if all He ever did was step between me and hell, then He’s already done more than I ever deserved. Anything else He does is just gravy. If He doesn’t do anything else, if He doesn’t give me the pay raise, if He doesn’t get me the new home, if He doesn’t dry every sniffle, heal every sickness, or stay every storm, He’s still done more than I deserve and He still merits my highest praise. But if I’m not careful, I forget who I was when He found me, I forget what He’s done, and I fail to give Him the thanks that He deserves.
III) WHY GOD DID WHAT HE DID
My question should never be, Why don’t you do more for me God? But, Why did you do what you did? He didn’t have to love me, but He did, yes He did, yes He did. So why would God who is so high and lifted up condescend to get involved in the affairs of man, in my life in particular? This is one of the great mysteries of all time and eternity.
In verse 7 Paul tells us why God did what He did: “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” In other words, God did what He did so that your changed life would be a powerful advertisement of the grace of God at work. Notice the piling on of superlatives by Paul here, “that . . . he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”
The reason God did what He did was because of mercy, love and kindness, but the thing that bring His love and mercy to us is His grace. He had to be willing to give us what we could not earn as a gift. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Thank God for grace.
God didn’t save you so that you could be a secret saint sinking silently into the church pews. You are God’s billboard. Your life, what you used to be, what you are today in Christ, and what you are going to be in the ages to come, are all living testimonies to the rich mercy, great love, and exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness. When you look in the mirror you ought say, “Thank God for His grace!”
The reason no one is ever beyond the reach of grace, and the reason none of us is ever in a position to sit in judgment of others, is because “we all were by nature the children of wrath,” none of us deserved a single drop of blood that was shed for our salvation. It was grace, great grace, amazing grace, rich grace. Thank God for grace!
If you’re here and you need to recommit your life to Christ, if you need to have your mistakes plunged beneath the crimson flow of Calvary’s brow, then there is grace in abundance, because where sin abounds grace doeth much more abound. Our need will never exceed His ability.
What do you need from the Lord today? His grace is sufficient. You don’t have to earn it, you couldn’t earn it if you wanted to. His grace is sufficient, thank God, His grace is sufficient for whatever you need today.
Clint Brown wrote a little chorus that said:
Where would I be,
You only know
I’m glad You see through
Eyes of love
A hopeless case
An empty place
If not for grace.
Let’s sing Amazing Grace and as we sing, if you’re here and you need that grace, God’s grace, at work in your life, I want you to come. Maybe all you need today is to be reminded that God’s grace is sufficient. When you think you can’t go on, when you think you’ll never make it, His grace is sufficient and when you are weak, He is strong!