Sun, 19 January 2020
Sermon Series: Solas
Istrouma Baptist Church – Jeff Ginn, Lead Pastor
10:45 AM Sermon January 19, 2020
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
“Amazing Grace” is, perhaps, the best-known and best-loved hymn of all time. The beauty and simplicity of its melody (which you just heard played) is only eclipsed only by the hope and depth of its lyrics.
Listen to the first stanza: “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.”
The author of these words, John Newton, was, by his own admission, a “wretch.” Now, that’s not a word we use every day. It means, “a miserable person; one who is profoundly unhappy or in great misfortune; a base, despicable, or vile person.” You may think that’s an exaggeration on his part. But he was a wretch. He was a slave trader, a blasphemer, and a rebel.
You know the song, I trust, but you may not know the story of the author. So I want to tell you a little bit about the life of the man who wrote that song. John grew up in a home where his mother was an instrument maker and his father was a sea captain. His mother passed away when he was about 7 years of age, and so he was reared in those later childhood years by his father. He loved his father. He looked up to his father. His father was a sea captain, and so, get this, when he was 11 years old, John Newton went to sea. He made his six voyages across the oceans with his father before his father finally retired as a sea captain. Well, he had not gotten enough. He dreamed about the adventures of life on the open seas, but his dream was soon turned into a nightmare, and I want to tell you about it.
He boarded a merchant ship and plied that trade for a while. But one day, he was in a port and he was pressed into naval service. We don't understand that term because we have an all-volunteer military. There's no draft. You volunteer if you want to serve. But back in those days in Jolly Old England, you could be pressed into service; that is, basically, you’d be captured and you would be forced to serve in the military, and so it was with John Newton. So now, he's no longer living a carefree life of a sailor aboard a merchant ship. He is now in the Royal Navy. He kind of chafed under the regimen of that life. He ran afoul of his captain and was whipped, humiliated and demoted. He contemplated either murder of the captain or suicide. Before that could happen, he was able to escape and got aboard a slave trading ship called the Pegasus. He did not get along with the crew and was cast off in Africa. He was picked up by a slave trader, and became a slave himself in Africa until he was rescued. He said of that period that he was “a servant to slaves.”
Later in life he wrote, “I sinned with a high hand, and I made it my study to tempt and seduce others.” Newton lived a hard life with equally harsh consequences.
God got his attention though. In 1748, Newton’s slave ship was nearly wrecked by an intense storm. Surrounded by crashing waves, ferocious winds, creaking timbers, and the cries of the souls on board, John fell to his knees and pled for grace. He was born again on board that ship that tempestuous night.
He comes to know Christ and begins to learn of the word of God and how to live as a Christian, but he's still a slave trader himself. He captains a slave trading ship. He hauls many a slave across the oceans into slavery, but God begins to convict him about the wickedness of that. He becomes friends with a man named William Wilberforce who was the primary advocate in England for the abolition of slavery. John Newton became an ally in that cause, and of all things, this once slave trader, blasphemer, rebel, becomes a pastor of a local Baptist Church there in England. He began to be hymn writer, and he wrote those lyrics that we know and love, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
God’s grace, which reaches anyone, anywhere, saved a wretch like John Newton—not just from the terror of that storm but from the grip and guilt of his sins. Newton wrote the song now known as “Amazing Grace” years later, while serving as a pastor in Olney, England.
Today, his lyrics still inspire, encourage, and instruct people about the radical reality of God’s amazing grace. It gives “wretches” like us hope. It makes blind people like us see. And that is amazing! Only grace—sola gratia—is able to save sinners. For him, grace was amazing.
God help us if we ever get to a point where we're not just astounded by grace, that it would redeem wretches like you and me, friend. But that's the nature of his grace; it is amazing. We're going to look at that theme this morning in a message entitled, Sola Gratia, the Latin phrase which means “grace alone.” I'm going to base the message today out of; really, I think the classic passage in the Bible about grace. Open your Bible please to Ephesians chapter 2, and we're going to begin reading in verse 8 and carry it through to verse 10. I’d like us all as a sign of our respect for God's Holy Word to please stand as its read. Precious words are these. Give it your very best hearing.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Please be seated.
We're celebrating 100 years here at Istrouma this month, and as we thought about this wonderful season of our church’s life, we thought we’re going to go back to some of the foundational principles upon which this great church has been built. Jesus himself, of course, is the Cornerstone. We're going to come to him in the next Sola series message. But we're looking at some of the great foundational principles, and among them are things like Sola Scriptura, which was our opening message in the series. There, I talked about how the word of God, scripture, is our only sure and sufficient guide to all matters of faith and practice, scripture. Then, last week, we took up the theme of Sola Fide, which is the Latin phrase for “faith alone.” Remember, we talked about the Philippian jailer who was terrified, near death. He fell down and he cried out, “What must I do to be saved?” The Apostle Paul answered him with words as clear as a bell, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved and your household.” Believe. That's how we're saved, Sola Fide.
Now, today, we're taking up the third of these messages, and it's entitled Sola Gratia, which is the Latin for “grace alone.” By the way, if you're new to Istrouma, we don't usually work in Latin here but this is an exceptional season of our church’s life, and it's fun for you to know these terms, even if we never revisit them again in terms of the Latin terminology. But bear with us; here it is, Sola Gratia, grace alone.
I want to begin in verse 8 and say that we are saved by grace. That's the first point, Sola Gratia. We are saved by grace. Look at the opening words to verse 8, “For by grace you have been saved.” You'll notice Paul is actually talking about something in the past, right? He says, “You have been saved,” not “You will be” or “You are being.” He uses the past tense because he's addressing this letter to the church at Ephesus. He's talking to believers. He says if you want to know how it is that you came to have life, it's by grace that you came to this life. It's by grace you have been saved. I know I'm talking to a lot of folks here that by grace you’ve been saved. But I am talking to some, and I don’t know who you are, but I'm talking to some who will be saved by grace. I pray that even this day you'll come to know the grace of God in truth.
What is grace? It is one of those church words. If I were to ask you to define grace, how would you do it? What is grace? A lot of people will define it in this way, two words: “unmerited favor.” What does that mean? “Unmerited” means you don't deserve it, and grace is God's unmerited favor to us. He loves us in spite of our sin. He forgives us in spite of our rebellion. He takes us to heaven though sin once stained us. It is unmerited favor shown us because of what Christ has done.
I'll give you an acrostic that I learned as a kid. I've always remembered it, and I think it's very helpful. If you'll take the letters of the word “grace,” I’m defining it for you, what is Grace? G-R-A-C-E. Write down beside each letter these terms:
Did you get that? Grace. God's riches at Christ's expense. That's what grace is. What are God's riches? God's riches would be his forgiveness; his patience with us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance; it’s heaven as our eternal home; it's abundant life, joy-filled life, peace, here and now. Those are God's riches, and they come to us at Christ's expense. In other words, those great gifts that I've named were not free. Someone paid for them that they might be ours, and it was at Christ's expense that they come to us. So that is grace. We are saved by grace.
I want to say two things about this. Number one, we have a problem. Houston, Baton Rouge, Luling, Lafayette, Monroe, South America, Africa, Asia, we have a problem. What's our problem? Our problem is, in a word, sin. I want to refer to jewelers for just a moment. I know we've got a couple of jewelers in our church, and I appreciate them so much, and I hope you’ll frequent their business. But these jewelers are very ingenious. If you say “I want to buy a diamond,” you know what a jeweler will often do? They'll take out a piece of black velvet fabric, and they’ll lay that black fabric down, and then upon that black fabric they’ll place the diamond or diamonds. Then they'll put a large spotlight shining down on those diamonds. Why do you think they put the diamonds against that black backdrop? It is so that you will be able to appreciate in all of their brilliance the beauty of the diamond. A diamond against a white counter may not glisten and shine as well as that diamond against a black backdrop. What's the point? You'll never fully appreciate the brilliance and beauty of grace until you see it against the black backdrop of our sin. That's why we're amazed by grace, that we, though sinners, can be forgiven and accepted by a holy and righteous God. When I see his grace against the backdrop of our filth and sin I'm amazed by it. Yes, our problem is our sin.
Let me show you this in the text. If you’ll look to verse 1 of this very same chapter it'll be very clear. Let me begin reading there in Ephesians 2, verse 1:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked [that’s describing us, folks], following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience…
Now, let me pause right there. He's describing humanity. You might be tempted to think that because we’re Christians we are above what he calls the “sons of disobedience.” You know, we can look down our spiritual noses at those “lesser humans.” We’re the Christians. But look at what verse 3 says. I love this. He says:
among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh…
Folks, look. I once walked in the passions of the flesh. I did things of which I am ashamed. Just like John Newton; he didn't have much on me, if any. I, too, am a wretch, a sinner, and when I see God's grace given me against the backdrop of my past, and how I lived in the passions of my flesh, I'm amazed and I hope you are as well. Now, that's our past. That's our problem, right? But I've come to tell you good news, not bad news. That's bad news. Let me give you some good news. Though we have a problem, it is answered by God's provision, and that's the next sub point. We have a provision. You’ll see this as we continue reading this very passage. It says, Ephesians 2 verses 4 and following:
4 But God, being rich in mercy...
Let me pause to ask you to do something. As I'm reading this, I want you to watch for the word “grace,” and when it occurs, I want you to count it. All right, let’s see how many times it occurs in these verses. We are sinners. We once walked in the passage of our flesh. He says,
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses [even then, he loved us, yes, he], made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and [he] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. [And then verse 8, our key verse] 8 For by grace you have been saved...
How many times in what I just read, including verse 8, does the word “grace” appear? Three. Exactly right. Not once, not twice, but three times over he is stressing to us God's provision for our problem. Sin is addressed by grace, and by grace we are saved.
I want to give you an illustration that I hope will help turn the light on in your understanding of this. I'm going to tell you a make-believe story. It's the story of a father. This father had an only son, and he loved his boy as fathers do. The boy got old enough to go out on his own. One day the boy was out, and he was attacked by some thugs. They beat him and they robbed him, and in the course of their attack the young son was killed. It was a brutal murder, and the father was heartbroken, as you can imagine.
The father considered how he might deal with those who had murdered his son. He thought of four possible responses he could make. First of all, he could seek vengeance. Do you know what vengeance is? Vengeance is when you take the law into your own hands. Without police, without courts, without law, he would go and he would execute those that had killed his son. In vengeance the criminals would get worse than they deserve, because really, everybody has a right to a fair trial. Everybody has their day in court. Vengeance is inappropriate. God says, “Don't seek vengeance. Leave that in my just hands,” right? “Vengeance is mine,” the Lord's says. But he considered vengeance.
Secondly, he said there's another option. I could seek justice. That could be my response. Leave it to the police to find the criminals; leave it to the court to try them; the jury to decide on their guilt or innocence; and the judge to declare the sentence. Now if vengeance giving them worse than they deserve, justice is giving them straight-up what they deserve.
But then he thought of a third possible response. He thought, I could show them mercy and forgive them for what they've done and plead mercy in the court on their behalf. That would be unbelievable, would it not? I think it's beyond most of us to respond in that way. If vengeance is getting worse than what they deserve, and justice is getting what they deserve, mercy would be not getting what they do deserve. Yes, they deserve a sentence. They deserve prison. They deserve punishment. Perhaps they deserve execution. But mercy would say, “No.”
Then, there remained one possible response. Not vengeance; not justice; not even mercy, as great as it is. There remained the option of grace. Now if vengeance is getting worse than you deserve, and justice is getting what you deserve, and mercy is not getting what you do deserve, what would grace be? Grace would be getting what you don't deserve. What if in that story the bereaved father looked with pity upon the criminals and said, “Not only do I forgive you, I want to adopt you into my family, and I want you to inherit the riches that would have been my son’s. You say, “Preacher I can't stand the thought of that. That's unbelievable that anyone would respond in that way.” and I would say, “Yes, wouldn't it be amazing? It would. And that's why we refer to it as “amazing grace.”
Friend, we are those criminals. Do you not see that? It was your sin and my sin for which Christ was nailed to the cross, not for any guilt of his own. God in love looked down at his only beloved there. God could have sought vengeance upon us. He certainly could have executed justice or stopped short at mercy, but he went all the way, and he would adopt us into his family. Are you a part of God's forever family? Friend, if you're not, you may be this very day. How do you get into his family? You’re saved by grace.
Now, number two. Not only are we saved by grace, but, number two, we’re saved through faith. When you read your Bible, I think you know this now, but let me just say it, every word in the Bible matters. Every word. You can't even change the prepositions. You can't say you’re saved by faith. You're not saved by faith, you’re saved by grace, but you’re saved through faith.
Now, let's explore this just for a moment. Because God has been gracious in giving his son, you might be tempted to think that everybody's going to be saved. We’re saved by grace, and that's God's action in Christ on our behalf. He died for the sins of the whole world, 1 John 2:2 says. Well, if he died for everyone, and grace is available to everyone, then won’t everyone be saved? There are those who hold that position. It's called “universalism,” that everyone, universally, will be saved. Many of them will even say it’s because of Christ and his death on the cross that redeems everybody regardless of their response. But friend, I'll just say in response to that, and I don't have time to address it fully, I’ll just say they didn't get that idea from the Bible. The Bible teaches that there are two destinies, heaven and hell, and there are people who will spend eternity in heaven or in hell. So no, not everyone is saved, even by the grace of God, because you see, there is a response that is required of us, and faith is a response to God's grace. Now, if you would look there again at verse 8, “For by grace you have been saved [and we’re emphasizing those two words in bold] through faith.” Grace precedes faith, and that's very important, folks. Listen. Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “Oh, it doesn't matter what you believe, just believe.” It's as though if you had faith, regardless of in whom you put your faith or in what you put your faith, just believe, and you will be saved. You can believe in Muhammad, you can believe in Confucius, you can believe in naturalism and you can believe in pantheism and worship the trees and the rocks and the lakes, it doesn't matter what you believe; just believe. We’re saved by faith. No, friends, we're not saved by faith; we’re saved by grace, the act of God in Christ, but it comes to us through faith. That's the means by which we make it our own.
God alone saves, and it is through faith that that salvation comes to us. Our faith, I'll say it this way, our faith has a focus, and that focus is Christ. Remember last week when we were talking about sola fide, only by faith are you saved, and we were talking about the story of the Philippian jailer who was terrified that he might die. An earthquake had shaken the prison where he was responsible for the prisoners, and in his terror he asked this point-blank question, “What must I do to be saved?” And the answer was as clear as a bell, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Notice the answer was not, “Believe and you will be saved.” No, that would be to truncate the answer. It would be to omit the central part. It is not “Believe and you will be saved.” It is “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Take out Christ, take out his grace, his atoning death on the cross, and we will all be lost. It is grace that saves us through faith. Faith is our response to God's grace. I think of it this way, and perhaps this will be helpful to you. I think of grace as God reaching down from heaven to save a drowning world, drowning in our sins, and grace is him extending his hand to save us. I view faith as the response. Faith would be us looking heavenward and extending our hand to take the hand of grace. Here's the thing, folks, listen. When God's hand of grace is clasped by your hand of faith, salvation comes to you. His hand is extended. The only question that remains is, “Have you responded? Have you taken hold of that grace?” And you do so by faith, by entrusting yourself to him who died for your sins. That's how we get saved, by grace through faith.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast
It's in that sense that it’s sola gratia. It's not God’s grace plus your good works. You know, there are a lot of people who think that God admits people or rejects people into heaven on this basis. Watch. They think that God has this big scale in heaven, and on one side God's going to stack up the bad things you've done, the lies you’ve told, the lust you’ve felt, the immorality of your life, the dishonesty and the pride and the prejudice. He's going to stack all that up on one side. Then, bless your heart, he's going to come over here and he's going to stack up the good things you've done, and it's going to teeter. If you've done more good than bad, whew! You made it in. But if you did more bad than good, uh-oh, you’re lost. That's how most of the world thinks. The problem is, that is not what the Bible teaches. Sola scriptura teaches that it’s sola gratia, only grace through faith. We're not saved by our works. You see, if you were saved by the good things that that you did, when you get to heaven you be like this. You’d put your thumbs under your suspenders and you’d be like, “Hey, Lord. Good to see you. I got here because of the good things I did. You know, I was a good guy. I was faithful to my wife. I gave money. I was sweet to the little old lady down the street. I never robbed a bank. I'm good.”
When we get to heaven, nobody's going to have their thumbs under their suspenders. You know what we're going to do? We're going to fall on our faces, and we're going to say, “God, how could you save a wretch like me? How great you are. How gracious you are that you would forgive me and save me.” It's all of grace, but it does require faith.
Let me give you an illustration. I hope this will help. Can you see what this is? I got this in the mail this week from some sweet church members. They sent me this as a gift. It's a gift card for $200 to Fleming's Steakhouse. I’ll get a filet mignon with that. They sent this to me. It wasn't my birthday. It wasn't my wife's and my anniversary. I had not mowed their yard. Just out of love, they sent this to us. Do you know what you call that? Grace. You see, I have something that's valuable here and I didn't pay one red cent for it. It's grace. But is my belly full? And do you know why my belly isn't full? It’s because I have to redeem this. The way it gets redeemed is through faith. You see, I have to believe that this is not a gimmick that this is not a fake gift card. I have to believe that it’s real. I have to believe that the magnetic strip on the back is still good. I have to believe that they haven't already spent the $200 and just sent it to me as a gag. A curse upon them if they did that! No, I know, I know. I believe this is real, and as soon as my wife and I can carve out the time, we're going to go redeem this. We're going to sit down. I think I'm going to get a filet mignon. Could I get an “Amen”? Wrapped in bacon! With a baked potato, lots of butter, lots of sour cream – and no scallions. And I'm going to eat that. My wife, she’s going to get whatever she wants. In fact, I think we may even take a couple with us. Haven't chosen who it is yet; we've got $200! And I'm going to eat that meal, and they're going to bring a bill. You know what I'm going to do when they bring that bill? I'm going to slap that card down on that bill – paid in full by the merits of another! Now, what's the point? This is grace, but I must exercise faith. I must possess it. I must make it mine, and I have to exert faith to do so. Christ offers you something much more than a gift card to Fleming's Steakhouse. In fact, I would just say pitiful in comparison. Pitiful in comparison.
He offers us eternal life, and you don't pay a red cent for it. But somebody paid for it, and he didn't spend his money to do it; he did it with his blood. We were not redeemed with things such as silver and gold, but with the blood of Christ as of the spotless lamb of God. We’re saved by grace through faith. Faith is often expressed just through prayer. “Lord, I know I'm a sinner. Lord, I call on you to forgive me. I believe Christ died on the cross for me.” We make that profession through prayer and we acknowledge it and we receive by faith the gift he offers.
That brings me to the last point. Sola gratia, only Grace? There are going to be a couple of people that protest what I'm preaching, and here's the way the protest goes; I know how this goes. There's going to be one group, and I'll call them legalists. They're going to say, “You mean I can be saved just by the grace of God, by putting my faith in him? You mean I don't have to do good works to save myself? That's too easy. No, no, no, they say.” They reject it. They say it's faith and works that redeem. That's the legalist. And there's another category over here, and they're going to say, “Oh, I'm saved by grace through faith and I don't have to do good works? Awesome! I'll walk an aisle, I'll pray a prayer, and then I'll just live like the devil until I get to heaven, and then I'm in by the grace of God.” That's wrong too. It’s the legalist and it’s the lawless. I'm going to do what I want.
How would the Bible answer the legalist and the lawless? He does it perfectly, right here in this text. Now, look at verse 10, “We're saved by grace through faith for good works.” We’re saved for works. Folks, look up here. Remember I told you every word in the Bible matters, every word? It’s not just big words like “grace, faith, works.” Those are big, momentous, weighty words. Even the little words matter – “by, through, for.” They're called prepositions. Little bitty words, but they matter. You can't switch them and have the truth. Like you can't say, “I'm saved by works unto faith or unto grace. No, you can't invert them. They are just as God gave them. So while I'm not saved by good works, I am saved for good works.
Two things about this I want to stress: Number one, God works in us. I love this. This is so good! The Bible calls us his workmanship. You know, we've got some guys in our church who are craftsman. I can think of a couple of guys who do woodworking. They do some pretty exquisite work; I’ve got some of their crafts in my home. I think of some painters that we have in our church, great artists, and you know some of them. Well, did you know, we are God's work of art? The word here “workmanship” is the word poiema in Greek, and from it we get our English word “poem.” Listen, friend, listen. You are God's poem. They used it back in those days for a work of art. It could be a piece of poetry. It could be a song. It could be a painting. It could be a sculpture. We are God's – I put it to you this way – we are God's masterpiece. You’re not unimportant. You’re not without value. You’re not without gifts and talents. No, you’re the creation of God. And could I just say, we’re twice over the creation of God. I was his by virtue of creation, and now I'm his by virtue of salvation. I was a creation of God; he knit me together in my mother's womb, but I'm a new creation by means of salvation. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “If any man, boy, woman or girl is in Christ, he or she is a new creation. Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” I've been made new in Christ. I am his creation and I am his re-creation. You’re God's masterpiece. You're his poem. You’re his painting. You’re his sculpture.
This isn’t so that we can look in the mirror and admire ourselves. Wow, aren't I amazing! I am God's masterpiece; I'm God's workmanship! No. Notice we’re created in Christ Jesus unto, or for, good works. You were created for a purpose. You were created with a plan in mind. Listen, I've been living out the plan of God in my life for many decades now, and the journey following Christ is tremendous. Oh, the things God has done. And my task in life is to listen for the voice of God and follow the Spirit’s leading, and it's your job as well. He wants to use you to change this world.
I want to stress to you an opportunity coming next Sunday night. Folks, I know we normally only come here on Sunday mornings, but look at me and listen to me please, okay? I don't often ask you guys to go over and above, but I'm asking you to do it this coming Sunday. Come back to church Sunday night. Let's just repeat that together. Come back to church Sunday night. All right? 6 PM. Here's why. You're going to be equipped to do the good work of being an ambassador of the King. That's we’re made new creations. 2 Corinthians 5:17 is followed by 2 Corinthians 5:20: “We are ambassadors of Christ, and we’re making an appeal that you'll be reconciled to God.” And God wants to use you to help this world come to Christ, to know the grace of God through faith.
Why do I tell that story? You know why? You and I are like that handkerchief. The bottle of ink has been spilled on us by our sin and our disobedience, our trespasses. We look up, despairing because of the stain, and God in grace looks down and he actually takes those stains and he covers them, and he makes a masterpiece out of our mess. And the name of that is grace. Amazing grace.
Would you stand? Let’s sing together.