The Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 14, 2021
Created by Grace for Grace!
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 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. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Over the course of the last thirty-five years I have truly enjoyed seeing the wide variety of wonderful gifts that the good Lord gives to His children. I have had members who were given the gift of music. Listening to them sing was like listening to an angel. Hearing them praise their Savior by means of an organ or a piano or a keyboard, lifted my eyes and my heart to heaven. I have had members who were given the gift of administration. Whether it was managing the finances of the congregation or maintaining the church’s records, their dedication and their faithfulness are commendable.
While I certainly appreciate the wide variety of wonderful gifts that the good Lord gives to His people, one of the gifts that I admire the most is the gift to create. I had a member who could create magnificent original musical compositions for the piano. I had a member who had the ability to take a blank canvass and create beautiful works of art. And, I have had members who could take ordinary pieces of wood and create something that is both beautiful and powerful— such as this cross.
This cross was given to Brenda and me on our 25th wedding anniversary. It was created by a member of the congregation I was serving at the time— a man by the name of Gary Gaines. It may be a little difficult to see from where you are sitting, but it is very obvious that it took a great deal of skill to create this cross. The dimensions, the finish, the dove in the middle— it looks gorgeous! And if you turn it over there are two noteworthy details. The first detail is a penny. Gary took a penny from 1982 (the year Brenda and I were married) and inset into the cross. The second detail is where is says, “Handcrafted by Gary Gaines.” Every time I see this cross, I not only thank the good Lord for the gifts He has given to Gary, but I also thank the good Lord for the humbleness and the dedication, the faith and the faithfulness He has given to this child of God.
I would like to use this cross as an illustration of how I want us to study our sermon text for today. While this is a very familiar portion of Scripture— portions of which we may all know by heart— let’s study this text under the theme: Created by Grace for Grace!
In order to help you understand how I arrived at that theme we need to begin by looking at the closing verse of our text. In the NIV this verse reads, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” A more literal translation of this verse reads, “For we are His (God’s) work/ God’s creation, created/produced/brought into being in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand in order that we might walk/move about/live in them.”
As Christians we are God’s “work,” God’s “creation.” We could even say that as Christians we are “handcrafted” by God Himself! Why is this a key point to recognize and remember? Because of what the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write in the opening verses of Ephesians chapter two. In verses 1-3 Paul says to you and to me, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”
These are powerful words! They are powerful words that accurately describe how the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth sees everyone! From God’s perspective everyone is by nature spiritually “dead” in their “transgressions and sin.” We are not born spiritually “neutral.” We are born spiritually “dead.” We are not born spiritually “weak” or spiritually “ill.” On a spiritual level, that is, from God’s perspective we are born a “lifeless corpse.”
The fact that by nature everyone is born “dead” in their “transgressions and sin” plays out in their lives in a variety of very tragic ways. Paul gives us a brief description of this when he says, “All of us lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” By nature a person is selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed. By nature a person is concerned about themself more than anyone else— “Me first, me only, me always.” From infancy to old age we are by nature convinced in our heart that we are the most important being in the universe and that everyone and everything else is here to serve our needs and our wants. What is the result of this? By nature we are ”objects of (God’s) wrath”!
Why is it so important for us to recognize and to own this truth, my friends? It is important so that we don’t think that there is something we can do to positively impact our relationship with God. It is important so that we don’t think that there is anything we can do to positively impact our eternity!
Then how? How can this tragic natural condition ever be changed? That brings us back to Paul’s inspired words, “For we are (God’s) work, God’s creation, created/produced/brought into being in Christ Jesus”! In short, we are “created” by grace— God’s grace as it is poured out on us in Christ Jesus our Lord! And did you notice how Paul emphasizes this truth twice here in our text? In verses four and five he says, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions— it is by grace you have been saved.” And then in verses eight and nine Paul says, “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.”
God’s response to our natural sinful condition is found in words such as His “great love,” “rich in mercy,” “made us alive in Christ” and, “it is by grace you have been saved.” Like the most beautiful diamond you can imagine, no matter what angle you view it from, the fact that we are God’s “work,” God’s “creation” is a testimony to the amazing grace of our God! The fact that God’s “work, God’s “creation” is inseparable from the words, “with Christ” and “in Christ Jesus” only amplifies that who we are is indeed a “gift of God.” As we stand in awe of the fact that through faith in what God has done for us (Pointing to the cross) we are “created” by grace, we understand completely when Paul emphasizes that this is “not by works, so that no one can boast.”
But there is more! Not only are we “created” by grace, but we are also “created” for grace! Look at what Paul tells us in verses six and seven of our text, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
These words remind us that the Lord our God lives in the eternal present. For Him there is no past and there is no future. He sees all of eternity all at the very same time. This means that the instant we were brought to faith in Jesus as our Savior— whether that was when we were baptized as an infant or through the power of God’s Word when we were older— God’s grace and God’s power and God’s faithfulness makes the grace that we are looking forward to in the future a “done deal”! From God’s perspective we have been “raised up with Christ Jesus.” From God’s perspective we have been “seated with him (Christ) in the heavenly realms.” From God’s perspective He always is and always will “show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Think about what this means, my friends. As much as God “shows” us the “incomparable riches of his grace” now, as much as God “expresses his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” now— when we get home to heaven we will be astonished by God’s “grace,” we will be astounded by God’s “kindness” — for all of eternity!
The glorious fact that we have been “created” by grace and for grace is what motivates us to respond to God’s grace in a way that is pleasing to Him. How do we do this? Look once again at verse ten of our text, “For we are His (God’s) work, God’s creation, created/produced/brought into being in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand in order that we might walk/move about/live in them.”
The God who “created” us by grace and for grace graciously provides us with opportunities to openly express both our thankfulness to Him as well as our love for Him by doing the “good works” which He has “prepared beforehand” for us to do! What are these “good works”? Think of it this way: As you are walking along the journey of your life as a “new creation” of God, you might come across someone who does not know what Jesus has done for them, (Pointing to the cross) As God’s “new creation” you can say to yourself, “I love you so much, Lord, for the grace that you have showered on me, that I am going to share you and your grace with this person!” As you are walking along the journey of your life as a “new creation” of God, you might come across someone who is struggling to provide for themselves and their family. As God’s “new creation” you can say to yourself, “I am so thankful, Lord, for all the material blessings that you have given to me that I am going to take some of those blessings and share them with this person!” The “good works” that God has “prepared beforehand” for you might include calling someone on the phone just to see how they are doing, sending someone a card to let them know that you are thinking of them or — when it is deemed safe once again— giving someone a hug to let them know you care.
Every time I see this cross, I automatically thank the good Lord for the skill and the humility, the faith and the faithfulness that our dear Lord has given to Gary. Every time I see this cross, I automatically thank the dear Lord for the greatness of His love for us, for the depth of His mercy and for the incomparable riches of His grace! In Christ Jesus God has “created” us by grace! We are His dearly beloved children! With Christ Jesus God has “created” us for grace— not only for this life, but especially for the life to come!
May God grant that we will always rejoice in knowing that we are “created” by grace for grace!
To God be the glory!