Yesterday I introduced the new sermon series I’m giving at Faith Church this October. We’re pausing the Deuteronomy series in order to make way for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Each week this month we’ll be looking at one of the Five Solas of the Reformation. This week we start with Sola Gratia, translated as Grace Alone.
Last evening on our local news, the station’s cameras captured a local vigil for victims of the horrific shooting in Las Vegas. As they held candles, the crowd sang the words of the what is perhaps the most famous of all Christian hymns. You know the hymn, right? Sing it as you read it:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found;
was blind but now I see.
What is this thing called grace?
One of the first followers of Jesus, Paul (also called Saul in the New Testament), himself having experienced grace firsthand, wrote a letter about grace to Christians in the ancient city of Ephesus. He knew them well and wanted to encourage them with a proper understanding of grace. Many consider Ephesians 2:8-9 to be the apex of his teaching about grace. There Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Saved by grace? What does Paul mean? Grace as a gift of God? What is that about?
My task this week is to answer those questions. Today, let’s start with another amazing gift of grace that comes first: creation. Think about what a gracious gift it is that God created the universe and that he created everything in it. God has shown his grace in creation. He didn’t have to create us. He didn’t have to create our world. But he did. Grace is behind the very first chapters of the Bible.
What is so shocking is humanity’s response to God’s grace. In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve sin and are banned from the bountiful garden God planted for them. Not long after that, their son Cain murders his brother Abel. In due time we read about how violent and rebellious the earth would become, thus leading to the flood.
What we see in these early chapters of Genesis is God’s grace in Creation, followed by man’s rebellion against that grace. We call this rebellion the Fall into sin. The grace of Creation leads to the Fall into sin.
The sin of humanity didn’t stop when God sent the flood and determined to start over with Noah and his family. The sin of humanity didn’t stop when God made a wonderful gracious promise to Abraham and Sarah, that their offspring would be a great nation through whom he would bless the world. The sin of humanity didn’t stop when that great nation, Israel, entered into a special covenant with God. God gave them his law, and they couldn’t keep his law. None of us can. We are in trouble because of our inability to stop sinning.
Theologians point out two lies we often believe. Are you believing either of these?
- Sin is something we can manage
- God helps those who helps themselves.
These are lies.
Luther once wrote, “the person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin so that he is doubly guilty.” You cannot help yourself earn God’s favor. You cannot just manage your sin.
The word “religion” itself can be an indication of these lies we believe. Religion speaks of spiritual rituals that people use in order to accomplish God’s favor. As I was studying for this, one writer pointed out that we are a species that glories in our accomplishments. I saw this firsthand when we were on vacation this past June. My wife’s extended family met up near South Bend, Indiana. We scoured the internet prior to the trip searching for what to do when we were there. One thing we came across was the RV Hall of Fame.
Think about that. The RV Hall of Fame. Come look at what we accomplished! We people have made awesome RVs. We made the Winnebago.
What kind of creatures want to tout as an accomplishment the Winnebago? We humans do.
In all fairness, humanity has accomplished a lot of good. But can all of our accomplishments make us acceptable in God’s eyes? No, because we are far from perfect. Our sin has created a brokenness between God and us, clearly depicted in Adam and Eve getting kicked out of the perfection of the Garden of Eden. It wasn’t just Adam and Eve that were separated from God, though, but, because we all sin, all of humanity is separated from God. That is a huge problem, not only for us, but also for God. He graciously created us and wants to be close with us. Because of sin, that is not possible.
That brings us back to Ephesians 2:8-9 and the concept of saving grace. God steps in to our fallen world with his gift grace. And tomorrow we’ll learn what that saving grace is all about.