MODELING GRACE (1 of 2)
God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 5
Romans 1:8-15 ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney
We’re in a series of messages I’ve entitled God’s Invitation to Grace. I labored over this title as I began preparing this series because I wanted to attempt to capture the essence of the message of Romans in one sentence. I thought I’d done a decent job of it until I tried to unpack the word grace. Paul uses the word twenty-two times in Romans. He has two main uses of the term that I see. One refers to our salvation: God’s undeserved unmerited forgiveness and favor through our faith in Jesus Christ. That is, we are fully and unconditionally accepted by God through our faith alone in His Son(Romans 3:28). The second use of the word grace refers to God’s ongoing work in the believer equipping empowering him to do God’s work and transforming him to become more like Christ (Rom. 8:30). So, Paul’s basic use the word grace speaks – One: to our salvation and two, to our transformation. As true as Paul’s sweeping use of the word is, it still fell short of getting to the heart of God’s grace.
I felt a little like the man flying in a hot air balloon who realizes he is lost. He reduces height and spots a man down below. He lowers the balloon further and shouts: “Excuse me, can you help me? I promised my friend I would meet him half an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.” The man below says: “Yes. You are in a hot air balloon, hovering approximately 30 feet above this field. You are between 40 and 42 degrees N. latitude, and between 58 and 60 degrees W. longitude.”
“You must be an engineer,” says the balloonist. “I am,” replies the man. “How did you know?” “Well,” says the balloonist, “everything you have told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost.” The man below says, “You must be a manager.” “I am,” replies the balloonist, “but how did you know?” “Well,” says the man, “you don’t know where you are, or where you are going. You have made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. The fact is you are in the exact same position you were in before we met, but now it is somehow my fault.”
You cannot get to the heart of God’s grace by simply giving a descriptive latitudinal and longitudinal definition of it. God’s grace is really more caught than it is taught, modeled more than it is explained. Maybe that’s why Jesus never used the word itself. Instead, He lived it. John writes, And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). John says we saw in Jesus’ divine grace lived out in flesh and blood before our very eyes. In almost the next breath John says, For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace (John 1:16). This same manifest grace rubbed off on Jesus disciples leaving them radically different. So different, in fact, they literally changed the world. Looking back on my own life, believers who’ve had the greatest impact on my relationship with Christ were those who modeled God’s grace.
This morning we’re going to take a close look at how God’s grace transformed Paul’s life. Prior to God’s grace ambushing Paul on the Damascus Road, he was a frightening madman driven by violent persecution of Christians. We see it modeled in Romans 1:8-15. We need to pause here though at the outset of this study to prevent us from approaching Romans merely as a doctrinal treatise of our salvation in Christ. God gave us the book of Romans for our hearts and our minds. I don’t want us to miss this.
I want to do two things this morning: One, answer in brief the question – What makes God’s grace so amazing? And two, take a close look at the portrait of grace we see in Paul’s life.
What makes God’s Grace so amazing? Four major changes – our eternity, our identity, our family, and our personality.
- Grace changes our eternity. When we turn from our sin and place our trust in Christ there is major directional shift of our eternal destiny – we change from Hell to Heaven. Jesus talks about Hell more than anyone else in all of Scripture. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life(John 5:24). Paul writes, Those who do not know God to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord(2 Thessalonians 1:9). God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth (1 Tim. 2:4). He is patient not wanting anyone to perish (2 Peter 2:9).
I’m reminded of the man who woke up in the hospital after surgery to find his room completely dark. All of the curtains had been closed. Alarmed, he called out to the nurse, “Nurse, nurse!”he shouted, “why is it so dark in here? I want to see outside.” “Now, now sir, be patient,”she replied, “I drew the curtains because there is a terrible fire in the building next door, and I didn’t want you to think the operation was a failure.”
Hell is an unpopular subject. Most would rather ignore it. I don’t blame them. But I’m glad Jesus didn’t. Those who deny Hell are calling God’s Word and Jesus a liar. To deny Hell is in the words of one theologian to say God is, a God without wrath (who) brought men without sin in to a kingdom without judgement through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.Grace changes our eternity.
- Grace changes our identity. The Bible says God makes us a saint by virtue of our faith in Christ. We saw this last week where Paul calls the Roman believers saints (Romans 1:7). He does the same for his readers in Ephesians (Eph. 1:1). He even addresses the spiritually dysfunctional Corinthians as saints. To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling (1 Corinthians 1:2). Neil Anderson writes, “Tragically, many Christians live their lives as though the passage reads, ‘To others in the church who are struggling to be sanctified, sinners by calling (or saints by hard work), with some who call upon the name of the Lord, my Lord, but I’m not sure about the others’”(Anderson, Who I Am in Christ, p. 67). When you trust Christ, your identity radically changes from sinner to saint. You’ll still mess up, but that doesn’t make you a sinner but a saint who sometimes sins.
- Grace changes our family. John 1 tells us, But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name (John 1:12). beloved of God (Romans 1:7). In His grace God gives you the right to become one of His children. When you come to Christ you get a whole new family. You belong for the first time. God’s grace makes this a reality. You don’t enter God’s family or remain in God’s family by your behavior, but by your belief. Charles Spurgeon said it simply: You stand before God as if you were Christ, because Christ stood before God as if He were you. God will no more reject you as His child then He will Christ.
Some families make being a family member conditional. If you behave a certain way, then you’ll be loved and accepted. If you don’t, you’ll be rejected. With God, His love and acceptance of us is unconditional. God wants you to be secure (Rom. 8:1).
- Grace changes our personality. But by the grace of God I am what I am (1 Corinthians 10:15). For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it (Galatians 1:13). What changed Paul from a vicious Pharisee to a man of winsome compassion? Grace. God’s grace not only changes our identity, our destiny, but it also changes our temperament. Many need a grace-lift.
No one would argue that God radically changed Paul from radical persecutor to preacher. God’s grace left Paul a profoundly changed person. Grace changes everything. We saw last week that true faith confirms itself by obedience (1:5a). Genuine faith produces the fruit of obedience. God changes us from being rebels into worshipers. God’s grace is the power to change where we cannot change ourselves. Charles Spurgeon, The grace that does not change my life will not save my soul.
Years ago I led a Bible study in the Gospel of John. About the fourth week of our study, I told them they’d heard the gospel and asked them if they’d like to trust Christ. One man, named John, I’ll never forget. He was in his late fifties. He always came to the study wearing a black hat with the playboy bunny emblem on it and a defiant chip on his shoulder. He’d never learned to read, but he was incredibly canny when it came to making money. On this night, I asked him if he was ready tor place his trust in Christ. With a stubborn look on his face, he said didn’t think decided his eternity was all that important. I reminded him he didn’t know if he had tomorrow. We don’t know how many days God has given us.
That night he went home and had a heart attack. He survived but would need open heart surgery. When I visited him in the hospital, I asked him if he was ready to trust Christ now. Suddenly, he was very interested in knowing Christ. He trusted Christ right then.
From that day on, he was a changed man. He no longer wore the same black hat with the playboy bunny. No one said a word to him about it, but it was the evidence of God changing him inside. Not many years later, he passed away. His wife told me after he trusted Christ, he was a different man.
God’s grace changes everything. It is this grace Paul wants to rub off on us as we examine the book of Romans. Paul was not writing merely to edify the Roman believer’s minds, but hearts and souls as well. Romans 1:8-10.
Paul: A Portrait of Grace Like a master artist, God fashioned Paul’s life to become a stunning portrait of grace. What are the Divine brush-marks of grace? Let me give you two of them.
- Rejoices in the obedient faith of others. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world (Romans 1:8). This is a signature theme of Paul’s. Twelve of Paul’s thirteen letters in the NT reflect his joy at hearing of the faith of other believers. The heartbeat of God’s grace at work in us is rejoicing in the obedient faith of others.
What was Paul doing by letting them know he was thankful for their faith? He was enabling them to stand taller in their faith. These were distant believers who’d never met Paul but had heard plenty about him. His reputation as a man whom God had used mightily had spread throughout the known world. This was something like receiving a letter from Billy Graham letting you know he’d heard of your faithfulness in Christ and wanted to personally express his admiration. To have received a personal letter like this from Paul was no small thing.
But I don’t want to miss the heart of grace Paul is showing us. God’s grace seeks to affirm the faith of other believers. The truth be known, a lot of people are anorexic when it comes to affirmation. They receive very little encouragement from their work, their spouses, fellow believers. A simple word of genuine affirmation can surprisingly buoy someone’s faith who feels as though their drowning in overpowering waves of discouragement.
There is something else we need to pay careful attention to as well. Paul said he was thankful because their faith was being proclaimed throughout the whole world. Paul thanked God for their faith. What is faith? Believing God’s Word and acting on it. What makes the faith of the Roman church stand out is this was not the faith of one or two people, but the whole church in Rome! Paul was not speaking of their initial saving faith, their persevering faith. This was faith in the lion’s den of the world. Their inward faith in Christ was consistently being seen by their outward obedience to Christ. Not long many years later Christians in Rome experienced horrific persecution. Even as Paul penned these words, they were feeling the growing heat of persecution.
In America, there have been a number of churches that were well-known, but not necessarily for their faith. Some churches are famous for their architecture. Remember the Glass Cathedral Church in California? They made millions for those who invested stocks in Windex. Some churches are well-known for their celebrity pastors. Some are famous for their music. Some are famous for their size. Some are famous for their wealth. Some are famous for their denomination. I think much of the reason people are not interested in the Church today is because we’ve made things other than our faith in Christ important. The church in Rome was famous because of their obedient faith in Christ. This is what caused Paul’s heart to rejoice.
I appreciate the words of Donald Gray Barnhouse. He asks, Is it possible for us to develop true centers of faith? And how? The answer comes from the eternal truth, that truth is eternal. Therefor it is possible for faith to break forth today. He notes there are some churches today that are famed for their faith and the reason he says in every case is because they are centered on the Word of God. The Lord has never promised to bless oratory, though sometimes He uses it. He has never promised to bless music, though it may gush forth form the pressure of true blessing. But He has promised to bless His Word. If we cleave to the Word there must be blessing(Barnhouse, Romans, Vol. 1, p. 113). The first Divine mark of grace is a heart that rejoices in the obedient faith of others.
- Serves God from the heart. For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son(Romans 1:9a). Grace is first and foremost a matter of the heart. If there is anyone who understood this, it was the Apostle Paul. Having been a Pharisee of Pharisees, he was more than acquainted with the dry mechanical religious routines he’d known as a young man. Their external display of superficial routines left him empty. Paul was well aware of the competitive self-interest that motivated many in religious circles. During his years as an inflexible graceless Pharisee Paul admits he served God with an external and self-interested motivation (Phil. 3:4-7). His confidence was in himself, not God (V. 4). Paul was the poster-boy of lifeless sour religion. But meeting Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road changed everything. It was there the eyes of Paul’s heart were opened by God’s grace. It was there Paul learned what it means to serve God from the heart.
Paul tells us he serves God in his spirit. The word for serve may surprise you. It is not a word we might necessarily think. It is a word used for worship (Latreuo). In other words, Paul understood all he did in serving God was an act of worship. Here he says when he preaches the gospel of God’s Son, he is worshiping God. Paul understood sharing the Gospel was an extension of the same life-changing grace God had shown him.
I’ve discovered what Paul shares here is true. Serving God in my spirit opens the floodgates of His grace. Let me say this in another way. Obedient faith from the heart opens the floodgates of God’s grace in our lives. On the other hand, nothing will suffocate God’s life-giving grace faster than when we try to serve God in our own strength.
If you’ve been a believer for some time, you can relate to Paul who understood the danger of attempting to serve God in your own flesh. One author calls this the most dangerous heresy on earth.It is the emphasis on what we do for God, instead of what God does for us. There are some who are convinced this is true. They’d go nose to nose with you defending their favorite verse in the Bible that says, “God helps them that help themselves” (Swindoll, Grace Awakening, p.19). Paul would say, let me tell from hard-earned experience, it’s a dead-end road, a one-way ticket to insanity. Serving God from the heart is depending on His grace that empowers, equips, enables, and encourages us. It’s all about Jesus. Jesus Himself said, You can do nothing without Me(John 15:16). Paul would tell us the one and only password to Heaven is grace.