Grace and Peace - Part 1
Series: My Preaching Bucket List
May 21, 2017
Last week I preached the introduction to the second round of My Preaching Bucket List messages. It’s called simply Grace and Peace.
When you read the NT, you discover that phrase over and over again. Out of the 27 NT books, two special words are found together in 15 of them (mostly in the letters), all at the same place: the greeting.
Grace and peace is included in the greeting of every letter Paul wrote (if you exclude Hebrews), every letter Peter wrote, and one letter John wrote plus Revelation.
That’s over half the NT books. This so impressed me years ago that when my girls were little, it was how we said good night.
If you remember, grace was a play off the way the Greeks (or the Gentiles) said hello in ancient times, and peace (shalom) was the way the Jews said it. So it’s not surprising we find them in the greetings of the NT letters. But even so, these two words are pregnant with meaning for the Christian. And over the next few weeks I hope to deliver those meanings to you in some small way. I could, of course, never do them justice.
Today let’s get things going by looking at grace.
This is one of those words we generally understand but are probably hard pressed to define, like love or truth.
- Grace can mean a prayer said before a meal.
- It can mean elegance of movement.
- It can mean showing good will toward someone.
But we are interested in what grace means in the Bible, what it means from a Christian perspective.
Grace comes from the Greek word charis, and it’s found in one form or another 154 times in the NT.
Here are are a few key grace texts…
John 1:16–17 (ESV) — 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:15–21 (ESV) — 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Ephesians 2:4–9 (ESV) — 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
The concept of grace is not isolated to the NT. It’s just as present in the OT; we just don’t notice it. In the OT it usually reveals itself as favor, translated from the Hebrew word hen (like a chicken).
Psalm 30:5 (ESV) — 5 For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Proverbs 3:34 (ESV) — 34 Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.
Genesis 6:8 (ESV) — 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
There is a much bigger grace connection between the OT and NT than we realize. Back in Jesus’ day many Jews were unable to read Hebrew, being brought up in Greek culture. So 70 Jewish scholars got together and translated the OT from Hebrew into the common Greek language (the same street Greek the NT was written in). Its called the Septuagint, which means 70.
When we look at the verses above in the Septuagint, guess what Greek word those Jewish scholars used to translate hen? Charis…. GRACE
So what is grace?
Grace has classically been defined as God’s unmerited favor toward man.
You are probably feeling really good right now. You are settling into the pew thinking how encouraging and uplifting this is going to be. You are already getting the fuzzies. I’m going to throw a curve ball at you.
Note that our definition mentions how God’s favor is unmerited. To understand God’s grace, we must begin by understanding why it's unmerited. That’s the part we don’t want to hear, the part we don’t want to talk about but we have to.
God’s grace, God’s favor toward us is unmerited, undeserved because of our depravity.
Depravity means moral wickedness. You’ve heard someone actions as being depraved.
The depravity of man in theological terms is defined as “...the damaged relationship between God and humans and...the corruption of human nature such that there is within every human an ongoing tendency toward sin. ... the effects of sin on all humans [is so comprehensive] that all are unable to do anything to obtain salvation... [it extends] to every dimension of human existence...
The prophet Jeremiah put it this way...
Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV) — 9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
David, in his characteristic transparency and honesty, said of himself and ultimately all of us...
Psalm 51:5 (ESV) — 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Psalm 51:5 (CEV) — 5 I have sinned and done wrong since the day I was born.
Paul wrote, quoting OT texts tells us it is universal...
Romans 3:9–12 (ESV) — 9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Now this all traces back to what happened in the garden. You know the story of Adam and Eve. God had only one rule (just one rule, have you ever thought about that?). Adam and Eve decided they knew better than God and chose to break that rule. They unleashed sin and death on the world. Mankind has been deciding it knows better than God ever since. This explains why things are the way they are.
Now some might stop here and say, “I don’t buy that. I’m not so sure I believe the Bible is right. I believe the opposite. Man is basically good. It’s environment and a lack of education that makes people do bad things.”
Look at recorded history. What does man always end up doing? Causing suffering and committing the unthinkable. Look at the holocaust (some very educated people did that). Look at Human trafficking. Or just read the news.
Of course, we haven’t come close to doing any of those things. The depravity of man doesn’t mean that everyone will do those things, just that within us is the inborn tendency to do those things if left to ourselves. Someone has said that within us all is the ability to be a Hitler.
If you are having a hard time with this, let me ask you a question. What if you woke up tomorrow morning and there on the front page of the news next to your picture were printed the shameful things you’ve done in the past or your deepest darkest thoughts?
Some years ago I was in a small group. The topic was the masks we wear as Christians. The group leader asked, " Why are we are afraid to let others know what we are really like, what we really think, what’s really going on in our lives?"
I spoke up and half joking said, “Because someone might call the police!”
If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we must surrender and admit the Bible seems to be on to something, doesn’t it? We all are sick with sin, broken beyond repair.
Now some may say, “Wait a minute. I’m not that bad. I’m a good person. It wouldn’t be the end of the world for me if my stuff was printed in the paper.” If we were using the world’s standards that might be true. But we aren’t using the world’s standards here; we’re using God’s.
Look with me at an encounter the prophet Isaiah had with God…
Isaiah 6:1–7 (ESV) — 1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
Isaiah experienced the holiness of God. Holy means “set apart.” It has to do with the “wholly otherness” of God himself in relation to everything earthly. I like to call it the otherworldliness of God. We have a hard a time getting this in a post modern, 21st Century culture.
God is pure love and light and truth and PERFECTION. Now listen to what Jesus said…
Matthew 5:48 (ESV) — 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The standard God uses is not how we measure up to others, it’s how we measure up to him. This is why Paul could write…
Romans 3:23 (ESV) — 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
There is an infinite divide between us and God, an immeasurable rift caused by our depravity and His holiness and perfection. This is what makes God’s favor so unmerited. And this is what makes grace so amazing when you consider that he loved us anyway.
Romans 5:8 (ESV) — 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
And so begins our study of grace in grace and peace.
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