Fundamentals of Christian Living: God’s Grace
“This fellow welcomes sinners and even eats with them.” Luke 15:2
Last week we looked at the Cross of Jesus Christ as fundamental to the Christian faith. There can be no Christianity without the Cross of Jesus. We said that the Christian faith rises and collapses on the question of Jesus Christ and the cross. We believe that God became flesh (took on the form of a man in Jesus) and dwelt among us. He later suffered and died a humiliating death among criminals on the cross. This was a scandal to Jews who believed that a messiah cannot be killed, and it was foolishness to the Greeks who could not understand how a man could give his life for people that didn’t want him and had rejected. Yet for us who believe it is the power of God demonstrated through love even in death. Therefore, it is our hope for salvation. Without a clear understanding of the message of the cross, there is very little chance of living successfully as Christian disciples.
Today, we look at another fundamental of Christian living – God’s Grace.
The Christian faith begins with an assumption that we came from somewhere, and we are going somewhere. That, somewhere along the way, something happened that alienated us humans from God. God created humans in “imago Dei” (God’s image) as living souls, male and female and placed us on earth. Humans were thus created perfect and with a purpose, and God saw that it was good. But sin being present in the world distorted everything including the image of God in humans.
Sin also separated us from God. And as such, our consciences were disillusioned. We are thus all lost. We no longer seem to know what our purpose is. So we try filling the void with meaningless thrills – alcohol, sex, material possessions, fame, etc. We call evil good and good evil. We no longer see ourselves as part of the whole human community, but instead we have become more self-absorbed and obsessed. Each one for themselves. Isaiah 53:6 says “All of us like sheep have gone astray and we have no clue where we are headed.” We all are like lost sheep.
Luke tells us that all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and Scribes (religious leaders) were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” They couldn’t just stomach the idea of Jesus hanging out with people they considered outcast. People they thought didn’t deserve a chance.
Tax collectors were some of the most hated people in Israel due to the nature of their work and alliance with the Roman government. Many were wealthy loan sharks and accumulated their wealth by imposing higher levies than even the Roman government required. They were thus seen as traitors, extortionists, and criminals. It was a scandal and against popular opinion that anyone who considered themselves righteous or one with the people would friendly interact with them. And Jesus did exactly that. He welcomed and even included some among his disciples. Remember the first gospel in the New Testament? Matthew – he was a former tax collector with his co-worker Zacchaeus.
To be honest most of us would likely sympathize with the grumblers. I am certain that I have done that before. There are just certain people who have done deplorable things that I would not want to associate with. There are certain characters that I don’t want to influence my thoughts and tarnish my character. Even just thinking about it makes me nervous. In fact, one of my favorite Bible verses is Psalm 1. Blessed is the one who does not follow the counsel of the ungodly, or walks in the path of sinners, or sit in the seat of scoffers, but instead delights in the law of the lord.”
I don’t know what I would do with Scoffers like Thomas Jefferson who said “the Christian God is a three headed monster; cruel, vengeful and capricious. If one wishes to know more of this raging, three headed beast-like god, one only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him. They are always two classes: fools and hypocrites.”
Yet Jesus welcomed such people. He even had sleepovers at their houses. He knew that they were lost – “This fellow welcomes sinners and even eats with them.” the scoffers, tax collectors, the law breakers, loan sharks. Jesus uses a parable to explain his motivation and actions. Jesus demonstrates that God’s greatest desire is for us to be reconciled with God; regardless of our social reputation. God takes the first step. Guthrie puts it well when he says “God does not demand that we first do something to make up for what we have done or not done before God reluctantly agree to forgive and love us again” (Guthrie, 1994, p. 257). God makes the initiative to seek us out when we are lost. It is not we who makes peace with God; it is God who makes peace with us. That is a fundamental Christian understanding.
Grace gives you the desire to think about the possibility and our need for God. Grace causes us to repent of our sins and gives us the assurance of forgiveness, and grace enables us to desire to grow in love of God and neighbor. Grace is the unmerited favor of God. It is the divine initiative to seek and recover those who are lost in sin. Grace is the unfailing love of God. One commentary said “love does not care if it looks foolish. Love only asks that it be allowed to love at whatever cost.”
How does God see us?
Many of us look at ourselves and think we are beyond God’s reach. We think of ourselves as undeserving of God’s love and attention. We look at what we have done in the past, the people we have hurt, the mistakes, the regrets. We cannot forgive ourselves and so we think even God cannot forgive us. We try to work out our own salvation and try to manufacture God’s attention.
However, God does not see us as worthless and despicable. He does not look at a sinner and shake his head in disbelief or resignation that salvation for such a one is impossible. Instead God looks at you and me and sees God’s own reflection. In the image of God we were created, male and female. Not as little gods, but as the highest form of God’s creation to reflect God’s own glory. You are, therefore, precious in the sight of God. It does not depend on what you do or haven’t done. It depends on God’s unfailing love that is extended to you. God desires a relationship with you. All we have to do is receive the gift – Jesus.
Sinners as characteristic of sheep – sheep don’t intentionally run away, they wander off unintentionally in search for greener pasture. Often they just look for their next immediate thrill until they wander off and panic. It can thus be said that they are more naïve than rebellious. Many of us are like sheep. Naïve of our limitations. We often don’t know that we are lost until it is too late or somebody reminds us. Some of us even when we are reminded still argue with the GPS, yet it graciously keeps on recalculating. We don’t intend to rebel against God, but we wander off because of ignorance and stubbornness. We crave empty thrills.
Those who intentionally rebel against God are often referred to as wolves in the bible. These are people who know and have tasted the truth, they know they’re doing wrong but do it anyway – Either because of pride or selfishness. Lucifer (Satan) lost his place in heaven because of pride. He thought he deserved to be worshiped as God was.
Are you living an intentional life or are you simply drifting along? Do you know where you are headed? Is your life filled with hope?
How does God react when we repent?
Verse 7 of Luke 15 tells us that heaven throws a shindig when one lost sinner repents. It is like having a child that was lost and thought dead suddenly comes back home. God throws a party in heaven. There is joy in the Holy Ghost. Maybe you have been gone away from God or faith for a very long time and you think it’s too late. Maybe you are holding onto a grudge, you are angry and cannot forgive. Maybe you are lost and don’t know what to do?
The Holy Spirit is calling you to home. “Behold I stand at the door and knock? If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them” (Revelation 3:20). Jesus moved by compassion left his comfortable place in heaven to look for all of us who are lost. God’s grace is sufficient. God’s love never fails.
Sermon by Kelvin Mulembe , for September 24, 2016
Guthrie, Jr., S. C. (1994). Christian Doctrine. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.