I know lady who
was in a hurry to get to work. I won’t say she was flying low, but the birds
were flying a little higher than normal that morning – to keep out of her way!
She topped a rise, glanced to her left, and there he sat – John Law. The lead
in her foot turned to water. She braked, she slowed, but it was too late.
The lights whirled in her rear-view mirror as she pulled over and abandoned hope.
The cop asked her
where she was going. “To work.” “Where do you work?” “I’m the secretary at
First Church.” He said, “This is your lucky day! I go to church there.”
She got no ticket.
That sudden reversal of our expectations. That amazing,
too-good-to-be-true feeling. As we go through life, we learn what expect, don’t
we? Death and taxes, colds and flu, speeding and tickets. We learn that money
talks and nobody walks. We learn that we pay for what we get and we get what
we pay for. And nobody ever gets
anything but what he deserves.
Then, all of a
sudden, something happens that turns this neat, orderly system upside down.
A little girl runs into the office of Business As Usual, a lovely child with
laughing eyes. She runs straight for the big mahogany desk and messes it up!
She throws pink slips and scatters bills. She cancels doctor appointments and
tears up tickets. She teaches us that life doesn’t always boil down to cause-and-effect.
Her name is Grace. Grace is always a surprise and a delight.
Let me tell you
something I’m sure many of you think too good to be true: Ours
is a gospel of grace. So says Paul, the Apostle of The Heart Set
were we before we came to Jesus? To say we were bad
off is an understatement – like saying Elvis Presley and Princess Di are bad
off. We were dead and damned.
In two dark strokes, Paul describes not only the moral culpability
of the human race, but the moral capability as well. Maybe we wanted to do
better, but we couldn’t. As Petersen paraphrases, we filled our lungs with
polluted unbelief and exhaled disobedience.
That’s the way
we were morally. Spiritually, we were even worse. In fact, we were like my
chickens, the stupid little creatures I fed and watered for weeks. They wore
little white coats stained with their own filth. They were interested only
in their next meal.
their last day, they seemed to smarten up a little. They knew something was
up. If you’d been having a bad day, the sight of me chasing those chickens
would’ve gladdened your heart! But what were they? Just broilers eating yellow
Broiler-Maker, dead and dinner where they stood. It was just a matter of time.
If I read Paul
correctly here, before we came to Christ we weren’t much different. We were
out running little chicken errands, pecking at each other, mindlessly crowing
over our accomplishments. We were afraid and had reason to be. It’s a wonder
God didn’t just sell us to the Devil for his dinner! Lord knows, Satan has
a taste for human flesh!
I think most people
feel like something bad is going to happen to them. If something good happens
to them, they think something bad or worse must happen to even the scales.
Whether they know it or not, they’re thinking about God.
How could anything good or bad just happen to
us, unless God were behind it? And why are we worried about the bad happening?
We must be to some degree aware of our essential guilt, our spiritual deadness.
We might blot the idea of judgment out of our minds. We might get upset if
someone suggests that our loved ones might not make it to Heaven. But, have
you noticed? When it comes to us,
we never say to the Judge “You have no case.”
We know what to expect, don’t we? We’re like Jean
Valjean in Les Miserables, expecting
to be jailed for stealing the bishop’s silver – only to be offered his candlesticks
as well! “Surprise!”
Talk about dodging
a bullet! What we were was dead. What we are, thanks to Jesus Christ, is alive.
For His is a gospel of grace.
Good thing too!
Grace is definitely something we don’t see every day, not in this world. “What?
He’s not out of the first grade yet?” “She’s not married yet?” “They haven’t
bought a new car in 10 years? Well, I’m not surprised! After all, he’s so
slow, she’s so plain, they’re so lazy.” They don’t toe the line, they don’t
reach the bar, they don’t make the grade. Yes, grace is downright unnatural
in this world – this Look Good, Feel Good, Make Good world.
is the gospel of grace. He doesn’t say, “Your children need
a little religion under their belts.” “You folks could use a little
churchin’ up!” “Be Nice, Be Good, Turn over a New Leaf.” Rather,
He says, “Come up with a new life!” The gospel of grace is not the message this world gives us. It’s as unnatural as the
dead rising from the grave, then taking to the skies!
But that’s just
what happens. The gospel of grace raises the dead. It tells of a God who came
to earth . . . and became a gravedigger! Only He didn’t put ‘em under, He dug ‘em
up! He used the weirdest shovel you ever did see-a cross. Jesus died on that
cross, went down into the grave, and then He came out – pulling the dead out
with Him! For His encore, He set them up high with Himself in the heavenly
I don’t know about
you, but I’m embarrassed by all this fuss and bother! Actually, I’m mortified.
To be lifted up and called a son of The King, to be embraced by the Master of All! The Man I killed!
To be pushed up velvet-covered steps and set like a sack of wet sand on a golden
throne! Who am I – a sinner condemned, unclean – to be so exalted! This isn’t
just embarrassing, folks, this is ridiculous!
And the voice of
the Lord says, “Okay, Gary. If you can’t see yourself as a co-heir with Me,
can you see yourself as a turtle on a fencepost?”
I can do that.
Because, like they say, when you see a turtle on a fencepost, you know he didn’t
get there by himself! In other words, “Surprise!”
Through the Gospel
of Grace we went from Dead and Damned to Alive and Above.
made the difference?
I’ll give you a
clue: It was nothing we did!
It was God. God
and His mercy, God and His love, God and His grace, God and His big ol’ gift
that cost Him more than any of us could ever dream of paying.
You see, God doesn’t
love us because we’re lovable. He doesn’t love us because we’re nicer than
we used to be. He doesn’t love us because we do more good than bad. He’s not
a scorekeeper! As Robert Capon says, “If the world could have been saved by
good bookkeeping, it would have been saved by Moses, not Jesus.”
Am I saying it
doesn’t matter how we live? Not at all. I’m saying, let’s not put the cart
before the horse. Paul writes of doing good works. But notice how everything
flows from God: First, our identity
“created in Christ Jesus.” We have no life apart from Him! Second, our activity:
“good works.” God is the author of those good works. We didn’t think them
up, He did. To bolster the idea, Paul bookends verse 10 with God: “His
workmanship . . . good works which God
It’s not about
us and what we do. It’s about God
and what He has done. Obedience does not create grace. Grace creates obedience.
There was a boy
who used to practice his golf swing in the back yard. He wasn’t allowed to
use a real golf ball because that could be dangerous so near the house. So
he used a plastic ball. But he longed for the feel of a real ball at end of
his club. One day when he thought his parents were away, he switched balls,
swung, and sent the ball crashing through his parent’s bedroom window. He heard
his mother scream. He raced upstairs and found her bleeding by the broken window.
“I started to cry
and I couldn’t stop, and all I could say was, “Mum, what have I done, I could
have killed you.” . . . she just kept hugging me and saying, “It’s all right, I’m
After that, the
boy could never again take a real golf ball into the back yard.1
We caused God to
bleed. But everything’s all right now. Don’t you see? Everything’s all right
now. For you, me, everybody. That’s why the boy took his golf ball elsewhere,
why that lady I told you has slowed down, and why you’ll change your ways too,
Now won’t that be a surprise!
Gary D. Robinson
is Preaching Minister at Conneautville Church of Christ in Conneautville, PA.
1. Ian Pitt-Wilson, A Primer for Preachers,
Baker Books, 1986, p. 52.