In my time as a follower and as a minster of Jesus, I have seen some students walk away from or fade away from their faith. Other students have endured over the years, growing into a person that embodies the love and beauty of Jesus. There are all kinds of reasons for the difference, but the consistent reality behind thriving faith is deep roots. We spend so much time worrying about what is above the surface of our lives. Looking the right way, sounding the right way, and having the right reputation. Yet what is on the surface does not always reveal what is beneath the surface. I have seen so many pretenders, so many people that looked the part and talked the talk but beneath the surface they were far from God and faking it. This is what Jesus meant when he focused on the heart and past the externals. The invisible roots, the support structure, are the most important need your soul. Appearances account for very little. True fruit comes from deep roots. Echo is exploring in this series realities that we need to grow down into, to become firmly rooted in. Colossians 2:6-7 – “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
Rooted in Grace – Far too often, the bedrock of the Jesus Way gets replaced by some list of rules or expected behaviors. I see this over and over again. Rules are easy. People assume that rules will keep us holy, that rules will enable us to let people know the boundaries and the expectations of our movement. It helps us to be tough on sin and to do the right thing. Except it doesn’t. It doesn’t work. People get frustrated with something so shallow and so dependent on human effort. They fail their way into frustration or they fake their way into isolation and irrelevance. Show me someone who cannot accept the frustrating and mystifying reality of GRACE and I will show you someone whose faith is destined for failure. We don’t want to admit it, but we need grace. This is the stronghold of your identity in Christ and the reality that secures your relationship with God. When you can get the truth of God’s grace deep down in your soul and you let it change the way you think about everything, you will never be the same again. When you finally give up in your effort to earn the love of God, when you finally surrender your ability to produce the favor of God with your performance…you will discover the freedom grace offers.
- We needed the Grace of Jesus. Check out Ephesians 2:1-10 – We were by nature objects of wrath. But because of His love, God made us alive. It is by grace, not by works. This is not something we like to talk about, but this is an important reality to internalize. We were by nature objects of wrath. I know, that it is incredibly unpopular to talk about God’s wrath. The fact remains: humankind is in open rebellion against God. We are enemies of God in our own minds, in our darkened understanding we have made Him our enemy and placed ourselves in a state of rebellion. I know your objection: you are a good person. We all think that about ourselves. But our good is not good enough nor will it ever be. Something is broken on a deep level, deep down at the core of our being, and we cannot repair it. This is not bad news; it is the opposite of bad news. It is great news! It is the Gospel! For while we were depraved and broken and without hope, Jesus came and lavished us with His mercy and grace. Sin is a deeper problem than bad choices; it is a cancer of the heart. It is corruption down to your very nature. You and I in our effort are unable to fix this. This is one of the hardest realities to really accept even if it is easy to understand. Grace is unmerited. It is so difficult to accept something we do not deserve in a culture so highly focused on merit. It is part of capitalism; people get what they work for. We honor industry and initiative; we honor those individuals who make something of themselves. Yet here in God’s Kingdom, as one of the most basic and fundamental realities, we have this idea that we don’t make ourselves into anything good. God alone is remaking us. It is His grace that transforms us. If it depends on you and I and our imperfect effort, we couldn’t do it. God takes what belongs to Him and gives it to us. In this way, Grace is different than mercy. Mercy means that we will not receive the judgment and wrath we deserve. Grace is more than that. Grace means we will receive the favor and blessing and love that we do not deserve. We often think wrongly of grace that it means unlimited “second chances” so we can do better. This is not the Gospel. The Gospel is an even better story than mercy wiping the slate clean every time we fail. The Gospel is the offer to become someone better than we could become on our own. In the grace of Jesus, we move from enemies of God to His friends. We become His masterpiece. God’s grace transforms us into the kind of people that don’t want the junk that God’s mercy had to forgive us of. It is God’s power given to transform us.
- We need the Grace of Jesus. Every time I preach a message like this, or I talk about the wonders of grace, someone in their mind or out loud will think: “That is too easy.” They argue, if it is completely about grace and not connected with human effort in any way, than the most horrible of people are in the same category as me. I’m not sure why you are so certain you aren’t among the most horrible of people, but let’s talk about this anyway. Most religious people think we need some rules somewhere or people are going to walk all over the grace of God. The dichotomy is between two extremes: legalism and antinomianism. These are presented like the only two options. I don’t think so. I think that anyone that tramples the grace of Jesus has never truly understood it. People were saying this kind of thing in the early church as well, that if grace is so freely given we should just run around doing whatever we want because it doesn’t matter. Their error is in mistaking something that is free with something that is cheap. Grace is not cheap because it is free, but because it is free some people will hold it to be cheap. We value what costs us. This is what Dietrich Bonheoffer was trying to correct when he reminded us about the cost of grace. Costly Grace is something we all need to understand. It is costly because it cost the most beautiful life that was ever lived. It is grace because it gives to us the only true life. But let me go back to the idea that rules are going to make us better. They won’t. Paul has a long theological explanation of this is Romans 5-9. Paul’s argument is that GRACE is what is going to set you free from sin, not LAW. Romans 6:14 – “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” Paul argues the rule intensifies the draw toward sin. Paul’s argument is that we are now dead to sin because we were buried with Jesus and raised again with Him. The life we have now is Jesus living within us. This is grace. It is the life of Christ that we did not deserve but we so desperately need. We can live into this truth! Elsewhere, Paul says this: Titus 2:11-15 – “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope…” Our hope, strength, and encouragement to live right come not from willpower or fear or rules, but from grace. When you have received the beautiful and wonderful grace of Jesus, it breaks the power of sin. It dissolves addiction. It busts open the prison of guilt and shame and the need to perform. There is no greater motivation than to live a beautiful life than the beautiful and amazing grace of Jesus. When you live by grace, righteousness becomes gratitude; it becomes the overflow of love instead of obligation of law.
- We will need the Grace of Jesus. This is a complicated world in its corrupted state. Things are not always easy. Even with the grace of Jesus at work in your heart, redeeming and restoring your better nature, you will fail. As a pastor, this is something I want everyone in “my fold” to understand – how to fail. You will fail. This is my biggest issue with a merit-based system of faith. It doesn’t know what to do with failure. It doesn’t understand the heart of God. It promotes pretending as you struggle and hiding after you fall. Both of these behaviors are spiritually destructive and damaging to community. It is exhausting to live a faith that depends solely on your own merit. Judging others is exhausting. Judging yourself is hard work as well. You will need grace. You will need grace to be restored and to try again. You will need grace to become the person that Jesus knows you are. I don’t want anyone to leave our ministry without understanding this. Put your roots down deep into the soil of GRACE. Sink your faith into the reality that your standing with God is not dependent on your performance. God’s love is not conditioned on your obedience. Your relationship with God is rooted in God’s faithfulness and not yours. So grow tall. Grow deep. Withstand the winds of challenge, failure, and doubt. Your roots will hold. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God.