Tag Archives: Grace

Bible study: what does the Christian concept of “grace” mean?

A good shepherd rescuing a lost sheep who had no hope
A good shepherd rescuing a lost sheep, who had no hope

My friend Wessel sent me this sermon a few days ago because I was looking for a good sermon on grace. Some of my friends pitched in with sermons, but this one from a South African church was BY FAR the best. I’ve listened to it 3 times already. The speaker sounds exactly like one of best friends from university, Andrew, who is from South Africa.

I’m testing out a new file download service, so I hope this works… here is the MP3 file. (7 megabytes, 30 minutes) [FIXED!]

Let me know if you can’t download that.

The text of the sermon is Genesis 48:1-20:

1 Some time later Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him.

When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed.

Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me

and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’

“Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.

Any children born to you after them will be yours; in the territory they inherit they will be reckoned under the names of their brothers.

As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem).

When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, “Who are these?”

“They are the sons God has given me here,” Joseph said to his father.

Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.”

10 Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them.

11 Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.”

12 Then Joseph removed them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground.

13 And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel’s left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them close to him.

14 But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger,and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn.

15 Then he blessed Joseph and said,

“May the God before whom my fathers
    Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully,
the God who has been my shepherd
    all my life to this day,

16 the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
    —may he bless these boys.
May they be called by my name
    and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they increase greatly
    on the earth.”

17 When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head.

18 Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”

19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.”

20 He blessed them that day and said,

“In your[c] name will Israel pronounce this blessing:
    ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’”

So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.

So, in this story, God continues his tradition of choosing the lowly people in the world instead of the people who are seen as “better”. God does this in many cases, because he has a big heart for people who are born in a bad position. Normally in the world, people always choose what they think is best for them. They choose the prettiest girl. They choose the most tallest man. Those who need a little extra help or care are passed over. God sometimes does the complete opposite of this. Instead of choosing the obvious “best person”, he chooses a much lower person, and he lifts them up to do great things.

Consider 1 Corinthians 1:26-31:

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,

29 so that no one may boast before him.

30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

The speaker in the sermon explains the idea of grace by talking about sheep and shepherds. He explains that unlike clever homing pigeons, sheep are prone to wandering off and they aren’t able to find their way home. Sometimes, they get lost, and sometimes they even wander into danger. A bad shepherd would just say that he only wanted to have the best sheep – the smartest ones or the richest ones or the best looking ones or the most popular ones. But a good shepherd is sorry for the sheep that needs the most help, and is the most lost, and in the most danger. God is like a good shepherd. God sends his Son to die to atone for the sins of the bad sheep in this world, even when they didn’t deserve it. (John 3:16-17) That’s grace. But he also arranges the world in a way that bad sheep have an opportunity to reach out and find him. (Acts 17:24-27) That’s grace, too.

In my own life, I have often found myself being excluded or discounted by people, usually because of my skin color or because of my early childhood poverty or because I just struggle to understand what I’m expected to say and to do. But a funny thing often happens. Right when I am feeling the worst about being excluded, God comes along and gives me something special to do, that makes me forget about being excluded. And that’s been my experience of grace, ever since I was little and even to this day. The honor of being allowed to participate in God’s plan makes me forget what it feels like to be excluded. The very best things I’ve achieved in my life are the times where God showed me someone who started out life in a terrible situation (usually because of the selfish decisions of their irresponsible parents) and then I participated in God’s plan to lead them out of the mess they started out from.

I think one of the biggest reasons why some Christians stick with Christianity through thick and thin is that they have this experience of grace. This experience of grace means that no matter what, that sheep is going to loyal to that shepherd who chose him when he was at his lowest and most vulnerable. The first part of the choosing is obviously Jesus dying on the cross to atone for your rebellion. But after that, God carefully reveals himself to the sheep. And then there is the guidance that helps the sheep to avoid destroying himself with sin. If the sheep makes mistakes, the good shepherd has already laid down his life to pay for them. This is a lot of effort being put into this rescue operation. It’s difficult for people who have never experienced grace to realize how real and life-transforming it is. For those who have not experienced it, I really recommend that you pray to God, in the name of Jesus, and ask him to give you grace.

There are still things in my life where God has decided that he is not going to fix it. And, strangely enough, that doesn’t make me disloyal to him at all. Why not? Well, you have to read the Bible and understand that Jesus was not spared from suffering or death in his loyal obedience to God. He wasn’t given everything he wanted to feel happy all the time. When you understand that this is the character of your shepherd, then it’s much easier for you to put up with the things you lack, too.

The most important thing Christian parents need to focus on with their children

A family praying and reading the Bible
A family praying and reading the Bible

I know what you’re thinking – I’m going to say apologetics. But I was actually having a talk with a young women who found the arguments for God convincing, but wasn’t sure whether she was ready for a personal relationship with the God of the Bible. It got me thinking about my past and what it was about the God of the Bible that caused me to make a commitment.

If I had to say what it is that cause me to take Christianity seriously, including accepting Jesus as my Leader (more than just as my Savior), it would be the conviction that God was lining things up in my life to show himself to me. This was particularly welcome because I could see that I had not been blessed with the best situation in life to start out with.

Sean McDowell has a recent post about it, and since he is an expert in apologetics, I’m inclined to agree with him.

He writes:

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis makes a distinction between “Gift-love” and “Need-love.” As for Gift-love, he gives the example of a father who works and plans for the future well being of his family, even though he will die without seeing them benefit. As for Need-love, Lewis gives the example of a lonely and frightened child who comes to its mother’s arms for comfort and protection. Such love is neither selfish nor improper, because children are intended to have nurturing mothers, and mothers are intended to care for their kids.

According to Lewis, God’s love for mankind is entirely Gift-love: “The Father gives all He is and has to the Son. The Son gives Himself back to the Father, and gives Himself to the world, and for the world to the Father, and thus gives the world (in Himself) back to the Father too.” God does not need our love or worship. Rather, He freely loves us as an extension of His grace.

But our love for God is different. While we may be able to offer God Gift-love, our love is primarily need based. Lewis explains: “But man’s love for God, from the very nature of the case, must always be very largely, and must often be entirely, a Need-love.” We desperately need God in both this world and the next.

And then Lewis makes an additional (and helpful) distinction—while our objective need for God will never change, our awareness of that need can. And if our awareness of the need for God fades, then so may our faith. Thus, Lewis says:

There seems no reason for describing as hypocritical the short-lived piety of those whose religion fades away once they have emerged from “danger, necessity or tribulation.” Why should they not have been sincere? They were desperate and howled for help. Who wouldn’t?

In other words, if someone believes in God because of an immediate need for safety or comfort, then as soon as the danger or pain ends, so may the faith. How does this relate to students? Think about it. If a young person believes in God for social or relational needs in the family, church, or school, then when those needs fade, so will his or her faith. If belief in God fulfills some external need, then as soon as that need fades, or another venue provides satisfaction of that need, the student will likely abandon his or her faith (or minimally, have a marginalized faith).

The whole post is worth reading, because no less than Sean McDowell himself had a moment like this where he realized his own sinfulness and had to rely on Jesus for his forgiveness.

Judging from his tweets, I know that Sean is obsessed with super-heroes like Spider-Man, and so he would not be comparing himself to his peers in terms of righteousness. That sort of distance between you and Spider-Man can be really grating for boys. Inside, we feel like we are meant to be super-heroes. Many young men go into apologetics because they see it as a super-power. The problem of not measuring up is very strong for us, because we see the demands of Christianity as much greater than mere church attendance. I imagine that as Sean engaged with people using his apologetics super-power, he probably realized how difficult it was to know everything and give an answer to everyone. That’s above and beyond the standard shortcomings or pride, anger, hatred, and so on that are inside of every person.

We are not super-heroes but we need to have super-human righteousness (that is, perfect righteousness) in order to stand before our Creator and Designer. The only solution is to rely on the imputed righteousness of Jesus for our super-hero status. It is a good and healthy thing to take on Jesus as King, and to imitate him. But when we fail, we must also rely on him as Savior. And thank God the Father for that provision of salvation. And indeed, I myself think of Jesus as Savior in the moments where I am conscious of my own sin. But I need to think about him more than that, and I’ll explain how next.

In my case, I wanted to be a super hero growing up, but I knew I wasn’t coming from a family or a background that made super-heroes. I was saved in a non-Christian home where, thanks to my hands-off “parents”, I was on a very dark path to failure. In fact, I can see where I would have ended up by just looking at where my older brother is now. That disaster is what my parents, my schools, my culture, etc. produced in him, and it would have been me except for God stepping in to make himself known. I get excited about God as initiator and architect of salvation (not without my free will to trust). When God architects a divine appointment for me to use my prepared abilities in his defense or in mentoring little ones, I praise God as author of salvation. But I forget that Christ is the one who allows me to be clean enough to participate in this plan.

My ambition from small was to be a super-hero, and this later turned into great respect for people in the military, especially those who are awarded the Medal of Honor, like Michael Murphy. I want God to give me the Medal of Honor, too. But sin ruins my ambition every day. When I am called out to serve and am found faithful and competent, I need to remember that what makes me fit for service is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. His shed blood is the cape that I put on when it is my turn to come off the bench and be who I was designed to be. It is very important to me that the God I serve is the kind of God who won’t turn away from me when I fall short.

Reformation Day celebrates the supremacy of Scripture and reason in theology

Martin Luther defies the Roman Catholic hierarchy with his 95 Theses
Martin Luther defies the Roman Catholic hierarchy with his 95 Theses

The Ligonier Ministries web site has a summary of the event that kicked off the Reformation.

Excerpt:

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther tacked up 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg. With this act, he hoped to provoke a discussion among the scholars about the abuses of the indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church. He was not trying to create a public furor by any means, but within a fortnight, these theses had spread through the country like wildfire. The last thing Luther had in mind was to start some kind of major controversy, but nevertheless major controversy did begin.

From the discussions at Wittenberg, the disputations began to accelerate and escalate. Copies of the theses reached Rome and critical meetings were scheduled with the young monk. In these debates, Luther was maneuvered into proclaiming publicly that he had questions about the infallibility of church councils and also that he thought that it was possible that the pope could err. In 1520 a papal encyclical was issued which condemned Martin Luther as a heretic. Luther burned the document in a public bonfire and his defiance before the church was now a matter of record.

In response, Martin Luther picked up his pen to challenge the entire penitential system of the Roman Catholic Church, which undermined in principle the free remission of sins that is ours in the gospel. By doing so, he was unswervingly advocating his commitment to sola fide, the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

In 1521, Luther was summoned to the Imperial Diet, an authoritative meeting that involved the princes of the church, called by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire to be held in the city of Worms in Germany. Luther was an outlaw. For him to appear at the Diet was to risk his very life; therefore, he was given safe conduct by the Emperor to attend. With a few friends, Luther traveled from Wittenberg to Worms. The eyewitnesses of that episode tell us that when Luther’s little covered wagon appeared around the corner of the bend, there were lookouts posted in the church tower at Worms. All the people were agog waiting for the arrival of this notorious person. When Luther’s caravan was sighted, people were throwing their hats in the air, blowing trumpets, and creating all the fanfare of the arrival of the hero. It was the 16th century answer to a ticker-tape parade.

Things, however, became very solemn in a hurry because the next day he appeared before the Diet. His books were stacked on a table in the room, and he was asked and ordered to recant of his writings. This surprised Luther because he thought he was going to have an opportunity to defend his writings; but the only question really of any importance that was asked of him was this: “Are these your writings?” And when he said yes, they said, “Are you ready to recant of them?”

Hollywood has their version of Luther standing there boldly with his fist in the air saying, “Here I stand!” and so on. But instead he dropped his chin on his chest and muttered something that nobody could understand, so they asked him to speak up. “What did you say?” He said, “May I have 24 hours to think about it.” And so Luther was granted a reprieve of 24 hours to return to his room to contemplate the seriousness of this occasion.

The prayer that Luther wrote in that ensuing 24-hour period was one of the most moving prayers I have ever read in my life. In that prayer, Luther cried out for God in his sense of total loneliness fearing that God had abandoned him, and proclaimed, “O Lord, I am Thine, and the cause is Thine, give me the courage to stand.”

And on the morrow, Luther was called once again back to the court and was told to reply to the question. He said to the Diet, “Unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason, I cannot recant, for my conscience is held captive by the Word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.” And with that there was an instant uproar.

The Protestant Reformation emphasizes the responsibility of each person to become familiar with what the Bible teaches for themselves and to make sense of it using the laws of logic for themselves. There is an enormous focus on the individual’s responsibility to puzzle theology out for himself, using the tools available to him: reason, science, Scripture, and history. When doing theology, Protestants do not accept the authority of someone who has a fancy title, fancy hat, fancy robe or fancy staff. Everyone is responsible to read the Bible, read systematic theology, consult history, and determine what the truth is based on evidence, not authority.

The Reformation put forward the famous five Solas: “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone); “Sola Gratia” (Grace Alone); “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone); “Solus Christus” (Christ Alone); and “Soli Deo Gloria” (To God Alone Be Glory). The vertical relationship with God is seen as more important than making people feel good here and now. True beliefs about God are deemed to be more important than being a good social worker. And that’s why Jesus said that the most important commandment is to love God, then secondly, to love your neighbor. It’s important to get that in the right order, because true beliefs about God’s existence, God’s character, and God’s actions in history are the most important things.

The Reformation was the beginning of evangelical Protestantism, which is really the view that the Christian religion ought to be rooted in actual historical events that are documented in the Bible.

The most important thing Christian parents need to focus on with their children

A family praying and reading the Bible
A family praying and reading the Bible

I know what you’re thinking – I’m going to say apologetics. But, in dealing with the new membership questions of my PCA Presbyterian church, I have moved to think that it might be something else. Sean McDowell has a recent post about it, and since he is an expert in apologetics, I’m inclined to agree with him.

He writes:

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis makes a distinction between “Gift-love” and “Need-love.” As for Gift-love, he gives the example of a father who works and plans for the future well being of his family, even though he will die without seeing them benefit. As for Need-love, Lewis gives the example of a lonely and frightened child who comes to its mother’s arms for comfort and protection. Such love is neither selfish nor improper, because children are intended to have nurturing mothers, and mothers are intended to care for their kids.

According to Lewis, God’s love for mankind is entirely Gift-love: “The Father gives all He is and has to the Son. The Son gives Himself back to the Father, and gives Himself to the world, and for the world to the Father, and thus gives the world (in Himself) back to the Father too.” God does not need our love or worship. Rather, He freely loves us as an extension of His grace.

But our love for God is different. While we may be able to offer God Gift-love, our love is primarily need based. Lewis explains: “But man’s love for God, from the very nature of the case, must always be very largely, and must often be entirely, a Need-love.” We desperately need God in both this world and the next.

And then Lewis makes an additional (and helpful) distinction—while our objective need for God will never change, our awareness of that need can. And if our awareness of the need for God fades, then so may our faith. Thus, Lewis says:

There seems no reason for describing as hypocritical the short-lived piety of those whose religion fades away once they have emerged from “danger, necessity or tribulation.” Why should they not have been sincere? They were desperate and howled for help. Who wouldn’t?

In other words, if someone believes in God because of an immediate need for safety or comfort, then as soon as the danger or pain ends, so may the faith. How does this relate to students? Think about it. If a young person believes in God for social or relational needs in the family, church, or school, then when those needs fade, so will his or her faith. If belief in God fulfills some external need, then as soon as that need fades, or another venue provides satisfaction of that need, the student will likely abandon his or her faith (or minimally, have a marginalized faith).

The whole post is worth reading, because no less than Sean McDowell himself had a moment like this where he realized his own sinfulness and had to rely on Jesus for his forgiveness.

Judging from his tweets, I know that Sean is obsessed with super-heroes like Spider-Man, and so he would not be comparing himself to his peers in terms of righteousness. That sort of distance between you and Spider-Man can be really grating for boys. Inside, we feel like we are meant to be super-heroes. Many young men go into apologetics because they see it as a super-power. The problem of not measuring up is very strong for us, because we see the demands of Christianity as much greater than mere church attendance. I imagine that as Sean engaged with people using his apologetics super-power, he probably realized how difficult it was to know everything and give an answer to everyone. That’s above and beyond the standard shortcomings or pride, anger, hatred, and so on that are inside of every person.

We are not super-heroes but we need to have super-human righteousness (that is, perfect righteousness) in order to stand before our Creator and Designer. The only solution is to rely on the imputed righteousness of Jesus for our super-hero status. It is a good and healthy thing to take on Jesus as King, and to imitate him. But when we fail, we must also rely on him as Savior. And thank God the Father for that provision of salvation. And indeed, I myself think of Jesus as Savior in the moments where I am conscious of my own sin. But I need to think about him more than that, and I’ll explain how next.

What I learned about myself while thinking deeply about the new member questions for the excellent PCA church is that I had pretty much forgotten the excitement of how God saved me by grace when I was little. I was saved in a non-Christian home where, thanks to my hands-off “parents”, I was on a very dark path to failure. When I look at my older brother now, I can clearly see where I would have ended up. It is a disastrous place to be. I get excited about God as initiator and architect of salvation (not without my free will to trust). When God architects a divine appointment for me to use my prepared abilities in his defense or in mentoring little ones, I praise God as author of salvation. But I forget that Christ is the one who allows me to be clean enough to participate in this plan.

My ambition from small was to be a super-hero, and this later turned into great respect for people in the military, especially those who are awarded the Medal of Honor, like Michael Murphy. I want God to give me the Medal of Honor, too. But sin ruins my ambition every day. When I am called out to serve and am found faithful and competent, I need to remember that what makes me fit for service is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. His shed blood is the cape that I put on when it is my turn to come off the bench and be who I was designed to be.

Thank God that the PCA church made me reflect on this. I have never been in a place where the spiritual transformation was so strong. If you are not in church, because you hate church are disappointed in church, may I just suggest that you don’t hate church more than I do, and you are not more disappointed with church than I am. You need to give church another look. Go and find the church that is involved with Reasons to Believe, or Reasonable Faith, or apologetics conferences with evidentialists like Wallace and Turek and Craig. Then get in there try your best to tolerate it!

Bible study: what does the Christian concept of “grace” mean?

A good shepherd rescuing a lost sheep who had no hope
A good shepherd rescuing a lost sheep, who had no hope

My friend Wessel sent me this sermon a few days ago because I was looking for a good sermon on grace. Some of my friends pitched in with sermons, but this one from a South African church was BY FAR the best. I’ve listened to it 3 times already. The speaker sounds exactly like one of best friends from university, Andrew, who is from South Africa.

I’m testing out a new file download service, so I hope this works… here is the MP3 file. (7 megabytes, 30 minutes)

Let me know if you can’t download that.

The text of the sermon is Genesis 48:1-20:

1 Some time later Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him.

When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed.

Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me

and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’

“Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.

Any children born to you after them will be yours; in the territory they inherit they will be reckoned under the names of their brothers.

As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem).

When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, “Who are these?”

“They are the sons God has given me here,” Joseph said to his father.

Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.”

10 Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them.

11 Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.”

12 Then Joseph removed them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground.

13 And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel’s left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them close to him.

14 But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger,and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn.

15 Then he blessed Joseph and said,

“May the God before whom my fathers
    Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully,
the God who has been my shepherd
    all my life to this day,

16 the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
    —may he bless these boys.
May they be called by my name
    and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they increase greatly
    on the earth.”

17 When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head.

18 Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”

19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.”

20 He blessed them that day and said,

“In your[c] name will Israel pronounce this blessing:
    ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’”

So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.

So, in this story, God continues his tradition of choosing the lowly people in the world instead of the people who are seen as “better”. God does this in many cases, because he has a big heart for people who are born in a bad position. Normally in the world, people always choose what they think is best for them. They choose the prettiest girl. They choose the most tallest man. Those who need a little extra help or care are passed over. God sometimes does the complete opposite of this. Instead of choosing the obvious “best person”, he chooses a much lower person, and he lifts them up to do great things.

Consider 1 Corinthians 1:26-31:

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,

29 so that no one may boast before him.

30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

The speaker in the sermon explains the idea of grace by talking about sheep and shepherds. He explains that unlike clever homing pigeons, sheep are prone to wandering off and they aren’t able to find their way home. Sometimes, they get lost, and sometimes they even wander into danger. A bad shepherd would just say that he only wanted to have the best sheep – the smartest ones or the richest ones or the best looking ones or the most popular ones. But a good shepherd is sorry for the sheep that needs the most help, and is the most lost, and in the most danger. God is like a good shepherd. God sends his Son to die to atone for the sins of the bad sheep in this world, even when they didn’t deserve it. (John 3:16-17) That’s grace. But he also arranges the world in a way that bad sheep have an opportunity to reach out and find him. (Acts 17:24-27) That’s grace, too.

In my own life, I have often found myself being excluded or discounted by people, usually because of my skin color or because of my early childhood poverty or because I just struggle to understand what I’m expected to say and to do. But a funny thing often happens. Right when I am feeling the worst about being excluded, God comes along and gives me something special to do, that makes me forget about being excluded. And that’s been my experience of grace, ever since I was little and even to this day. The honor of being allowed to participate in God’s plan makes me forget what it feels like to be excluded. The very best things I’ve achieved in my life are the times where God showed me someone who started out life in a terrible situation (usually because of the selfish decisions of their irresponsible parents) and then I participated in God’s plan to lead them out of the mess they started out from.

I think one of the biggest reasons why some Christians stick with Christianity through thick and thin is that they have this experience of grace. This experience of grace means that no matter what, that sheep is going to loyal to that shepherd who chose him when he was at his lowest and most vulnerable. The first part of the choosing is obviously Jesus dying on the cross to atone for your rebellion. But after that, God carefully reveals himself to the sheep. And then there is the guidance that helps the sheep to avoid destroying himself with sin. If the sheep makes mistakes, the good shepherd has already laid down his life to pay for them. This is a lot of effort being put into this rescue operation. It’s difficult for people who have never experienced grace to realize how real and life-transforming it is. For those who have not experienced it, I really recommend that you pray to God, in the name of Jesus, and ask him to give you grace.

There are still things in my life where God has decided that he is not going to fix it. And, strangely enough, that doesn’t make me disloyal to him at all. Why not? Well, you have to read the Bible and understand that Jesus was not spared from suffering or death in his loyal obedience to God. He wasn’t given everything he wanted to feel happy all the time. When you understand that this is the character of your shepherd, then it’s much easier for you to put up with the things you lack, too.