Grace and Mercy

If there’s one thing we learn from today’s Epistle to the Roman’s it’s this:  We are not in control.  We are in control of some things, of course; however, we are certainly not in control when we consider how insignificant we are in comparison to the size, power, and problems in the universe around us. In the end, though, we are are thankful that God does what is best for each and everyone of us.

Chiefly, we are thankful that God has made each and everyone of us a promise—a guarantee.  God guarantees our inheritance. Paul reminds us, using the example of Abraham, that because of his faith our inheritance is guaranteed.  Paul tells us: “Now it is God who makes you to stand firm in Christ.  He anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor. 1:21-22). GOD GUARANTEES OUR INHERITANCE---an inheritance that we cannot earn on own righteousness, and an inheritance that God provides through the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

During this Lenten Season, we recognize Abraham as a great man of faith because of all the things that happened in his life. When we look at the life of Abraham, we discover that God made many promises to Abraham, and God kept His promises.  Abraham learned that when he put his faith and complete trust in God, God would always do as He said.  God always did, always would, and always could do just as God promised.

Abraham believed, not as a work, but because of the faith that God had given him.  If Abraham was justified by works, then he had something to boast about---but not before God.  It wasn’t what Abraham had done, but it was what God had done for him that saved him.  Abraham could have kept all of the laws, and that still would not have saved him.  Remember, Paul was trying to remind believers that the Law could not save them, that their own works could not save them…  the Law was only able to show them their sins.  The Law did not show them their Savior.

Yet, what does Scripture remind us?  It says that the Law condemns us no matter the sin.  So, if we ever break one law, it makes no difference.  Sin is still sin, and we are guilty of breaking all of God’s commands.  So, the Law and our own righteousness cannot guarantee an inheritance for us, for the simple reason that we cannot keep all of the Law.  We are going to break the Law, probable sooner rather than late.

A Sunday school teacher was talking to her fifth graders about the difference between right and wrong.  “For example” she said, “If I were to put my hand into a man’s pocket and take his wallet, remove all his money, what would I be?”   A little boy, who was visiting, smiled; all excited, raised his hand and confidently blurted out, “I know the answer!”  The teacher said, “OK, what’s the answer?”  The little boy replied, “You would be his wife!”

The fact is:  sin is in.  Sin is all around us, and we live in sin.  The prophet Isaiah reminds us that even those things that we might think are good and right before God are still tainted in sin. (Isaiah 64:6).  Our righteousness cannot earn heaven, because on this side of heaven all our righteous act are always still tainted with sin.

This simply means that we cannot save ourselves.  We can’t try hard enough.  We can’s live well enough.  We can’t purchase heaven with all the wealth in the world.  In the Psalms, we read, “No man/woman can redeem the life of another or give God a ransom for him/her—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough—that s/he should live on forever and not see decay.” (Psalm 48:7-9).

Every day we live is an act of God’s mercy.  If God gave us what we deserve, we would all be, right now, condemned for the darkness of hell.  A plea to God for mercy is asking God to withhold the judgment we deserve and instead grant to us the forgiveness we in no way have earned.

We deserve nothing from God.  God does not owe us anything.  Anything good that we experience is a result of the grace of God.  Grace is simply defined as unmerited favor.  God favors, or gives us good things that we do not deserve and could never earn.  Rescued from judgment by God’s mercy, grace is anything and everything we receive beyond that mercy.    Because of the mercy and grace of God, our response should be to fall on our knees in worship and thanksgiving.  “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

James also understood…he wrote, “…believing is useless, without doing what God wants you to. Faith that does not result in good deeds is not real faith” (James 2:20), and in verse 24 he wrote “So you see, a man is save by what he does, as well as by what he believes”.

You and I can never believe for someone else.  You and I cannot give up our life that someone might be saved eternally.  That price, that ransom, is just too much for us.  We can rejoice that the price was paid through the one MAN—JESUS THE CHRIST. We ordinary mortals cannot pay the price.

Paul writes that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would he heir of the world, through the righteousness that comes by faith.  Faith comes and tells us we are saved.  Faith came to Abraham and he believed and it was credited as righteousness.  Verse 16 says, ”Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring.”

And so, we realize that the law cannot save, our works cannot save—only faith, God’s grace and mercy can save.  Grace, my friends, is getting what we don’t deserve and mercy is not getting what we really deserve.  We cannot earn salvation or grace.  Only God can give us salvation as free gift.  We can’t earn salvation or do enough to earn salvation.   We can do absolutely nothing to earn grace. God imparts grace to us through the sacraments; these are the means by which Jesus established to communicate grace to us.

One of my favorite hymns is “Amazing Grace”:

 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.

 Or, may be you have heard this song:

Your grace and mercy brought me through

I’m living this moment because of You

I want to thank You and praise You too

Your grace and mercy brought me through”

 The gospel shows us our Savior, through whom our sins are forgiven.  By the law, we are shown our sin, and reminded that by ourselves and on our own, we are lost and condemned creatures.  But the Lord tells us by His grace and mercy we are saved. We rejoice in those familiar words to the Ephesians, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Just think how devastating and divisive it would be if we could somehow workout our own salvation.  Working our own salvation would mean some would believe by their own efforts, and some wouldn’t. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t care about unbelievers, because we would conclude that they didn’t care enough about their own salvation or try hard enough to save themselves.

But it is not that way, is it?  It is purely out of God’s divine grace and mercy that we are saved.  It is absolutely, positively not by our design, but by God’s design and plan and action that we are saved.

So, from the very beginning, God wanted all people to be saved.  God had His grace planned for us as believers that we would be called out of darkness into His light.

God saves us by Christ’s righteousness, by His love, His mercy, His grace..  It is a great blessing to know that while we may not be in control in this life, God is always in control. Our God has prepared a place for each and every one of us.  God has guaranteed an inheritance for us.  We should not be tempted and sit back and put up our feet and say, “Well, we are saved. What more do we have to do at the Good Shepherd?  Let the others fend for themselves.!!!”  God has work for us to do in this church and God expects all of us to do our part, to live up to goals of all the followers of Jesus Christ.

We deserve nothing from God.  God does not owe us anything.  Anything good that we receive from God comes as an unmerited favor.  God favors or gives us good things that we do not deserve and could never earn.  Rescued from judgment by God’s mercy and grace is anything and everything we receive beyond that mercy (Romans 3:24).  Mercy and grace are best illustrated in the salvation that is available through Jesus Christ.  Because of the grace and mercy of God, our response should be to fall on our knees in worship and thanksgiving, and seek to fulfill our baptismal covenant by being faithful disciples of our Lord. Hebrews 4:16 declares, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”

Faith without works is no faith at all!  Works flow out of hearts filled with grace, mercy and faith (James 2:18). Mercy and grace are often confused.  Mercy is God not punishing us as our sins deserve and grace is God blessing us despite the fact that we do not deserve it!  Salvation is through faith and the redeeming work and grace of God.

We walk by faith…“Faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-26)

As the saying goes:  Be change/Be the changed:  in doing a NEW thing for Christ.

You believe that you have done enough “good work” to go to heaven?  Well, the story is told of a man who dies and goes to heaven.  St Peter meets him at the Pearly Gates and says, “Here’s how it works.  You need 100 points to make it into heaven.  You tell me all the good things you’ve done, and I will give you a certain number of points for each of them, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points you get in”.

“Okay”, the man says,  “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, and loved her deep in my heart.”

“That’s wonderful,” says St Peter, “that’s worth two points.”

“Only two points?” the man cried out. 

“Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with all my talent, my time, my money.”

“Terrific”, says St Peter, “that’s certainly worth a point.”

“One point?!?? Shouted the man, are you for real?”  Peter said, go on.

“I started and supported a soup kitchen in my city and also worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.”

“Fantastic, that’s two more points,” St Peter says.

“Two points?!!?”  Exasperated, the man cried, “At this rate, the only way I will ever get into heaven is by the grace and mercy of God.”

“Bingo! Now you can come in!” says St. Peter.

Paul tells us in the reading from Romans that what we need to enter into the covenant with God is faith.  Faith is the only bridge through death on the cross to the new life of resurrection with Jesus. It is a faith that takes stock of the real cost of discipleship to which Jesus calls us, the price up to and including our very lives, and deems it a worthy gift to the Christ who withheld nothing from us.

However we carry the cross, the giving of our lives willingly to follow Jesus will manifest in one perhaps unexpected cost:  the risk of being changed.   We don’t want to be changed because we want to be in control...we want to do things our way instead of God’s way.  Yet, if we let-go and allow God to change our lives, then God, through His grace and mercy, can remake us like Jesus… and then we can do God’s will, finally!  AMEN. AMEN.