The lowly asterisk often means a lot – especially when you see a deal that seems too good to be true. The gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ can seem that way – and there is an asterisk on its “free”-ness – but it’s all good news. Have a listen to this message, based on Romans 6.1-14.
I’m not a big fan of drive-thrus, since, unless one drives a hybrid or an electric vehicle, they tend to be bad for the environment (and for physical fitness). But there’s one thing I like about drive-thrus: they’re the commonest places to find people “paying it forward”.
Do you know what I mean by that? The whole “pay it forward” notion may well be quite old, but it has become more popular with the advent of drive-thrus. Originally, it referred to repaying someone for their benevolence not by repaying the benefactor, but someone else in need. Nowadays, it can be something as simple as paying for the order of the person behind you in the drive-thru.
What’s so neat about it is that if someone pays for your order, you can’t even thank the person, because she or he has already driven away. It’s pure grace – undeserved favour.
As I’m going to discuss in my message this Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, this is a great way to illustrate the grace of God in our salvation. When we come to faith in Christ, we aren’t simply called to be good, moral people – as if to appease God’s wrath. We’re called to live as those saved by grace, to please God. Our salvation isn’t dependent on what we do; it is the motivator for what we do.
When we pay for another person’s order in the drive-thru, that person is powerless to pay us back. The hope is that she or he will do the same for another person at some point. Likewise, God in Christ has paid for our sins – atoned for them on the cross – and we are powerless to pay God back. By living for him, and demonstrating his grace in different ways, we are ‘paying it forward’.
What creative ways can you demonstrate the grace of God to others, both in word and in deed?
“You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price” (1 Corinthians 6.19b-20a, NLT).
Since my friend Matthew Ruttan wrote about grace this morning, I feel inspired to offer a word or two about mercy, grace’s companion in the Christian life.
Grace is getting what you don’t deserve – unmerited favour, like (as Matthew so brilliantly said) dissing a cashier, finding that your debit card was rejected, and then finding the cashier paying for your order. That’s grace: getting what you don’t deserve.
Mercy, on the other hand, is not getting what you do deserve. I’ll admit that it’s a little bit less popular (okay, a whole lot less popular) to talk about mercy than grace. Grace is always framed in the positive, while mercy tends to be framed in the negative. But each is equally important if we are to understand the Christian life.
Mercy is harder for us to swallow because, for the most part, we tend to think that we can’t possibly deserve something bad enough that it needs to be held back from us. After all, we might think, we give to the church, we help little old ladies cross the road, we haven’t killed anybody (yet). Surely that means we’ve ducked from punishment, right?
Honestly, that’s not how the Christian life works.
Put simply, a holy God requires perfection, apart from which perfect sacrifice is necessary. This is what we see portrayed in the Old Testament. Humanity has been in rebellion from God since our first parents disobeyed. Yet only once did God flood the earth and effectively decide to start again. How many time since must God have wanted to obliterate the human race and hit the reset button?! But he has not done that.
No. God has shown mercy. He has not given us what we deserve.
The beautiful part of salvation is that grace becomes the icing on the cake. When Jesus died for our sins and rose again to bring us eternal life, that was the greatest example of grace ever given: we got what we didn’t deserve. And we got it because we didn’t get what we did deserve. We received mercy.
I don’t know about you, but the thought of this makes me fall on my knees in gratitude! God has spared us when we deserved death. God has saved us when we deserved nothing. This idea isn’t intended to make us feel lower than a snake’s belly; it’s intended to remind us of the wonder of God and his kindness in extending both mercy and grace to us. May you express your gratitude to God today!
“Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy” (1 Peter 2.10, NLT).
As followers of Jesus, we throw around a lot of words that don’t show up in everyday society – or, at least, their definitions differ from those applied by the world around us. I’d like us to consider two of those words: mercy and grace.
In general, the word mercy doesn’t show up in everyday lingo very much. In sports, we sometimes think of a “mercy” rule, wherein a game is finished early because one team is beating the tar out of another team, and a turnaround doesn’t seem remotely possible. In childhood play, if we wrestle with a sibling or a friend, and one gets the other in some sort of locked position, there might be a requirement to “cry ‘mercy’” in order to be let go. These concepts of mercy fall short, though, don’t they? One seems more like sympathy, and the other more like submission. So what is mercy, really?
For the Christian, when we talk about God’s mercy, we refer to not receiving what we deserve. So what do we deserve? What does Scripture say? “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6.23a, NLT). God’s standard is perfection, and we fail to be perfect; we sin every day (well, speaking personally, anyway). The wages of sin is death: that’s what we deserve. But one of the key characteristics of God is that God is merciful. He does not give us what we deserve. We are spared from death by his mercy in Jesus Christ.
In the world, grace tends to be seen as either something that has to do with how a lady carries herself – graceful – or a prayer that is said before Thanksgiving dinner. Though grace is a decidedly God-oriented word, it isn’t often used that way. Sometimes, we use the words mercy and grace interchangeably, but they really aren’t.
For the Christian, to receive grace is to receive what we do not deserve. It’s unmerited favour from God. My favourite acronym for grace, as a good definition, is, “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense”. So what is it that we do not deserve? What does Scripture say? “…but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6.23b, NLT). Grace is God’s gift – eternal life. We don’t deserve it, but by faith in Jesus and his death and resurrection, we receive eternal life as a gift. We can’t earn it, no matter how hard we try. Nothing we do, good or bad, can bring us grace. We don’t deserve it, and we can’t deserve it in anyway.
Mercy: not receiving what we deserve. Grace: receiving what we don’t deserve. God is gracious and merciful toward us. In Jesus, we receive mercy and grace. What better reason to give thanks do we need?!