Dr. Chris White Aug 11, 2013
The word of the day is our familiar term, “saved.” It is a word we use to describe our turn from outside a faith in Christ to living with faith in Christ. We are saved from alienation and separation from God. We are also saved for a life of faithfulness and eternity with Christ. Simple, we say. But the word is larger than we define it. This salvation has two sides. And it is critical that we not deny or diminish either.
Our Scripture for the morning:
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. Ephesians 2:8-9
We begin with the first side of salvation, and that is grace. As Ephesians 2:8 notes, “it is by grace you have been saved.” Grace is God’s generosity and favor: “For God so loved the world (Jn. 3:16).” In the concrete work of Jesus on the cross, however, it reveals the radical favor of God for you and me: “That he gave his only begotten Son.” Since grace is expressed in Jesus, it is not merely a mood of God that changes. Grace is God’s predisposition of generosity and even sacrifice on behalf of the world, and it is always marked by a measurable step of God toward humans. It is the first step, and God’s step, in salvation.
It’s worth noting that we are already in over our heads. We know and experience what Philip Yancey calls “ungrace” far more than we experience grace. In his book, “What’s so Amazing About Grace?,” he notes that our culture puts people on a performance track early. Very often simplest shame moves us along. Anorexia, the self-starving disorder, is not a problem in poorest Africa, but it is a problem in a culture that airbrushes pounds off models for magazine covers. We live in a land where Forbes Magazine publishes their list of the fifty billionaires but not the fifty poorest people in the world. We know ungrace—rejection, unkindness, and our culture’s thirst for weakness.
And so Jesus’ parables express God’s grace with a force we struggle to understand. In Luke 15 Jesus shares three parables in response to this complaint from the more morally meticulous of his day: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus explains by way of a lost sheep, a lost coin, and lost son just how far God’s favor reaches toward us. Read with me Luke 15:3-7. God, Jesus says, is like a shepherd who is committed enough to one lost sheep to leave the ninety-nine on the hill. Of course shepherds leave a herd intact to find one that is lost. That is what shepherds have to do to be shepherds of the whole flock. Of course God does not look at the flock of His faithful and say, “These and only these are my concern.” He goes in search of the sinners and lost ones that the Pharisees labeled as out of God’s care or reach. And when He finds the sheep he “joyfully puts in on his shoulders and goes home.” In fact, his celebration isn’t complete without the celebration.
Jesus will go on in this chapter to tell of a woman searching the floor for a lost coin and a father searching the horizon for a lost son. The ending both times is celebration, not retribution. Absolutely everyone in these parables is undeserving of what they are given. But neither crowds nor older brothers decide for God what God thinks of people. Since God became flesh, Jesus is among us as the sign of God’s great favor and commitment to us. Jesus left safety to embrace crucifixion to bring us to the Father. For this reason you can be certain that in every day of your life God is moving toward you with a Shepherd’s and Father’s grace. He is always near, always moving you to the next gift of redemption.
The other side of saved is faith. We are saved by grace and through faith. As Hebrews 2:3 asks, “How shall we escape (judgment) if we ignore such a great salvation?” Faith means that we do not ignore what God has offered. No matter how veiled or cloudy or mysterious our experiences on this road of grace, there is enough before us to respond with faith. In fact, our capacity for faith is such that we are held accountable for not exercising the faith necessary for following Christ. Jesus does offer rest to the weary and burdened, but he also requires, “Come to me” (Matt 11:28). He stands at the door and knocks, but he requires that we open the door (Rev 3:20).
At different points in John’s gospel we have an interesting and obvious transition. Jesus teaches or performs a miracle and people put their faith in him (Jn 2:11; 7:31; 8:30; 11:45; 12:11).Faith in Jesus is a point in time, a response to Jesus, and a concrete action. In Matthew 9, the responses to Jesus are obvious: friends bring a paralytic to Jesus; Matthew leaves the tax table to follow Jesus; a ruler seeks Jesus’ help for a daughter who has just died; a woman touches Jesus’ cloak in the faith that she will be healed; and two blind men seek Jesus with faith for his help. Faith is obvious. Faith is concrete. It’s like the story by Ernest Hemingway in which a Spanish father seeks to reconcile with his son. He takes out an ad in the Madrid newspaper which reads: “Paco. Meet me at Hotel Montana noon Tuesday. All is forgiven. Papa.” Paco is a common name in Spain. When the father goes to the square he finds 800 men named Paco waiting for their fathers. At the heart of the tale is children wanting peace with their father, but the edge of the event is the decision of kids to go to the meeting place. For us, it is great to hear about the offer of reconciliation from God, but there comes a time when we must show up in the square and accept.
Faith moves. And the question for us is where grace is taking us. God’s grace is there and must be explored. But it also a call that requires an answer. Are you ready to answer the call of grace?