God's love and grace - what do they actually mean?
In 2016, St Valentine’s Day fell on a Sunday, so I guess thousands of sermons were preached on the theme of love.
One of the challenges with the English language is that a word can carry several different meanings. I love my wife: I also love chicken Tikka Jalfrezi. Now I don’t mean that I think some tandooried poultry is as wonderful as Sally and I really do not have a romantic attachment to Indian food! Same word; different connotations.
Sometimes when we are sharing the Gospel with people, we say that God loves them and, of course, this is true. But does the hearer really understand what we are trying to communicate?
I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on this New Testament word ‘Grace’.
What is Grace? And what are we offered because of it?
One well known definition is “…the unmerited or undeserving favour of God to those who are under condemnation."
My definition is “Committed love – on steroids!” By this, I don’t mean that God’s love for us is remotely artificial, but it is the strongest, most powerful inclination which God has towards human beings. It’s outrageously lavish and totally counter-intuitive.
With a touch of irony, Bono sang: “Grace. It's a name for a girl. It's also a thought that Changed the world…”
It’s because of this Amazing Grace that we as Jesus Followers are recipients of the following:
We are justified because of God’s grace (Romans 3:24) The Lord God Almighty has declared us innocent even though we were guilty! How can he do such a thing? Quite simply because Jesus has taken the blame for all of our selfishness, wrongdoing, rebellion and mistakes. Wonderful!
We are redeemed because of God’s grace (Ephesians 1:7) In our previous way of life, we were slaves to our own passions and desires. We were trapped in a cycle of living in a way which was simply wrong and self-serving; and there seemed to be no way of bringing about any major and lasting change. Unbelievably (except it’s true!), Jesus has paid the price through his death on the cross for us to be set free from the power of sin so that we can live in the liberty which comes from being God’s child!
We are saved because of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8) Imagine going overboard in the middle of an ocean. You are struggling to keep your head above water. You are just about to go under for the third and last time when suddenly you hear the sound of a helicopter. A few moments later you look up and there is the winchman on the end of a rope, risking life and limb in order to lift you out of the churning waves. You have been rescued! You are saved! Jesus Christ was God’s winchman who gave everything on the cross to rescue you from the empty way of life you once had and to bring you into the presence of God!
Again, Bono sings “Grace, she takes the blame. She covers the shame. Removes the stain… Grace makes beauty out of ugly things…”
U2’s lead singer is right. Grace has changed the world. And grace has transformed our messed up, ugly lives into lives full of confident hope, joy, purpose and beauty.
Let Grace be what marks you out as a believer; and let’s share this Amazing Grace so that those around us can be justified, redeemed and saved!