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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Grace Alone (Ephesians 2.1-10)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
October 17, 2010
Some Music Used
O For a Thousand Tongues - One Great Love (David Crowder)
Your Grace is Enough (Chris Tomlin)
Now Behold the Lamb (choir; Gwen Ingram, soloist) (Kirk Franklin)

Grace Alone
Texts: Ephesians 2:1-10

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**
“The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.”  ~ Martin Luther, 95 Theses (#62)
Did you watch “Who Wants to Become a Millionaire?” when it came out? Or maybe some other big game show… Did you ever read stories about pirates and buried treasure when you were a child? What about “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp?” Or think about those Indiana Jones movies! Treasures fascinate us, whether they are hidden or it takes beating the odds to get them. And our minds just run with the idea… how much treasure can you imagine? How big a reward or a payoff can you contemplate?

Now, what if there were a treasure that made all those pale in comparison… including the million dollars, the magic lamp, and the Holy Grail. Would you be interested in hearing more?? Jesus even alluded to it once… telling a story about a man that sold EVERYTHING he had in order to buy this one pearl of great price.

Today’s scripture passage talks about this treasure. But, the real focus for us today is not on the treasure itself, but how we find it. How would you imagine we would find such an enormous and valuable treasure? The treasures we know about suggest answers… we’d have to know a lot – answer a lot of questions; we’d have to endure some great challenge; or we’d have to brave dangers like Indiana Jones. At the very least, we’d have to follow my father’s timeless advice, “Son, there’s no such thing as a free lunch!” He taught me that one has to earn something of value – and that almost always involves hard work.

Before I get to how we get this treasure, let me describe the treasure to you.

The Great Treasure

Hopefully, you’ve guessed by now that the enormous treasure I’m talking about is something spiritual and God-related. To say it’s spiritual, though, does not imply that it’s invisible, imaginary, or symbolic. This treasure is very real, and extraordinarily enormous. In Ephesians, Paul describes it in three parts – all making up the treasure that is salvation.

First, the great treasure is that God makes us alive (v. 5). This is not just to say that we are “alive like never before” or “full of life”. No – Paul goes out of his way to very clearly say that because of sin we were dead. This death was a result of and marked by wrath, lust, and selfish desires. You might ask, “Well, is that still not some form of life?” Paul would say no. Life without God is not life. In our sin, we are dead to God and dead to one another. That’s it. And no glimmer of hope is given – we are simply dead men and women walking this earth. And Paul says that even while we were dead, God acted. God acted out of His nature – being rich in mercy. God also acted because of his great love for us. And so, though we were dead to God, He made us alive together with Christ. Paul is clear to link this amazing act of God to God’s mercy and love and to Jesus Christ.

What a treasure!!… death to life, because we share in Jesus’ own resurrection from death to life. What would you do – how much would you pay – for a treasure such as this? But there’s more!!…

Secondly, God “raised us up” with Christ (v. 6). More than breathing life into our dead frames, God has raised us up – like the invalid beside the pool of Bethesda. God has a purpose for us, and has made us alive in order that we might rise and walk… that we might rise and LIVE. Further, in the way we use “raise up” to describe parenting our children as they grow, God raises us up for spiritual growth and for union with his Son, Jesus Christ.

What a treasure!! We are not only brought from death to life, but share in life together with Jesus Christ. What would you do – how much would you pay – for a treasure such as this? But wait – there’s even more!!…

Thirdly, God seats us with Him in the heavenly places (v. 6). Jesus alluded to this reality when he told his disciples that he was going “to prepare a place for you” in the Father’s house. Not only do we have life and relationship with Christ, but we have a home and a place secured in Heaven in the presence of God.

Now, there’s so much more that can be said about our salvation and about this great treasure of salvation. But do you get a sense for it’s magnitude and scope?? What a treasure!! We are brought to life, united with Christ, and reunited with our creator and Heavenly Father! What would you do – how much would you pay – for a treasure such as this??

The Great Gift of God

Our natural inclination is to think such a great treasure must require a great effort on our behalf. After all, “Millionaire” contestants have to answer a series of hard questions, and even with lifelines, it’s no easy feat. Indiana Jones had to do the near-impossible to find the Holy Grail, and it’s just treasure because Jesus touched it. How much more significant and enormous is the treasure of salvation – life, fellowship, and a home with God through that same Jesus Christ?! And then there are my dad’s words. Surely, for something of such value, I must work extremely hard to earn it.

The medieval church wrestled with just this question. And as generation after generation of hard-working theologians, priests, and commoners wrestled with the great treasure of God’s salvation, it simply became accepted that to attain to this salvation, one had to earn it.

At this point, a young monk interrupted the progression of religious teaching and life to insist with great conviction that we could not earn such a great treasure. In fact, he said, salvation was not a product of human will or work at all – it was a gift of God.

This man, Martin Luther, was not merely stirring up trouble or trying to launch the Protestant Reformation. He was testifying to God’s own revelation in scripture – that salvation is not only an expression of God’s mercy and an act of God’s love; it is offered to us freely as a gracious gift. And Martin Luther clung to this gift as reality because it was God’s own truth and because he knew that if reality were anything other than this, then we truly were lost.

In these same verses in Ephesians, Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (vv. 8-9)

Paul has already mentioned grace several times in chapter 2, one time jamming it into the middle of the first two parts of the treasure – being made alive and being raised, and another time as the explanation of being seated with Christ in the heavenly places.

Martin Luther’s great slogan from the Reformation was this:

Justification (salvation) by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone.

Grace alone – that is Paul’s assertion in Ephesians… that God has made us alive, raised us, and seated us in Heaven by grace – a gift we do not deserve.

Finally, Paul addresses the place of our “work” – and again relocates work in the person and power of God. What we DO is not us working our way to God, nor is it cause for boasting. Rather, what we do is for God’s glory and is an expression of who we are as God’s creation and child. We are God’s “workmanship.”

The Poetry of God

I don’t normally speak Greek to you, but try to explain what things mean out of study of the Greek. But here’s one worth knowing in the original… the Greek word translated as “workmanship” in verse 10 comes from the Greek word poeima. Does that sound like an English word you know?? We get our word “poem” from poeima. Another way to translate this verse would be to say that we are God’s “poems,” created in Christ Jesus for good works. We are God’s “works of art,” made so that when we work people will see God’s handiwork in us and God will be glorified. Paul writes that God prepared us in this way “so that we would walk in them [these works].” In other words, when we do good works – loving others in Jesus’ name – we are simply being who God made us to be: His poems… His works of art.

What do you do with a Gift?

All this talk of treasure and work and gifts has been to elaborate on the simple (if profound) truth in God’s Word: that the enormous treasure of our salvation and inclusion in God’s family is a precious and free gift of a loving God.

How do you apply such a truth to life?? I think we start with this question:

So what do you do with a gift?

I can think of several answers to that – at least several positive ones that don’t involve spurning the gift or the giver.

First, if offered a wonderful gift, we can receive it.
Second, we can say thank you.
Third, we can enjoy the gift.

Simple, right? But that’s the heart of the Christian life. In order to know, celebrate, and live in the joy of God’s salvation, we must receive God’s gracious gift of life and family in Jesus Christ. And beyond that, if we truly understand what we’ve been given, gratitude is the easy and natural response – and the compelling motivation of the Christian life. And finally, God’s intent is that we might enjoy the life and gift and freedom He’s given us.

It sounds simple – but when Martin Luther reminded the world of this scriptural truth, it stood the world on its head.

It sounds simple – but when those of us who are so wired to work and attain and earn and achieve hear it, it stands our world on its head. Thankfully, that’s a good thing. May God give us ears to hear and hearts to receive His Word. Amen.

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