Today is the first International Service of the new season.
Last season as a church we went through a time of transition.
>> I handed over lead eldership of this church to Emmanuel, I’m still on the board of elders, but my responsibilities are changing: overseeing other NF-churches, training leaders and helping Church Plants establish.
>> We’ve now entered a new season in our church. A harvest season. And Emmanuel is the right visionary leader for this moment to lead us as a church in reaping the harvest.
Compare it with agriculture: in Holland August is the month of the grain harvest. Earlier this year the farmers have sown and planted their seeds, they’ve grown and now they’re ready for the harvest.
One of the most important things we discovered over the years is the grace of God. For many people Christianity is about rules and laws and behavior. However, this is a false expression of what God really meant. His ultimate goal is to restore mankind with Himself and show His love, which He wants to give to everyone through the church.
Out of His desire for reconciliation with His own creation, He went that far to sacrifice Himself in the person of Jesus, since nothing else really did work. You can’t rely on people, you can’t even rely on yourself. In the end they let you down. They don’t keep their promises and at the end of the day they choose for their own convenience.
God knew all that and that’s why He choose a Godly solution by offering His unconditional love to those who believe in the One He sent: Jesus Christ.
Grace, the agent of God’s love for us
The way God gives us His love is by grace. You can’t merit God’s love by doing good deeds, punishing yourself, or helping others. The only thing you can do is admit that you need God and that you can’t reach Him by your own. In short: accept that you’re kind of ill; you suffer from your natural tendency to do what you please. Like Jesus said: ‘those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick (Luke 5:31). Admitting that you can’t help yourself opens the way for God to show His grace.
Today I want to preach about the necessity of grace for both our individual lives and the church.
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 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. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
1 Cor. 15:9-10
9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
Almost everyone in the world knows the famous Christian hymn “Amazing Grace” written by the English poet and clergyman John Newton (1725–1807), published in 1779. The clear message is that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God.
“Amazing Grace” is one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world.
Newton wrote the words from personal experience. He grew up without any particular religious conviction, and lived a very ungodly life in the military and as a slave trader. In 1748, a violent storm battered his vessel so severely that he called out to God for mercy, a moment that marked his spiritual conversion. However, he continued his slave trading career until 1754 or 1755, when he ended his seafaring altogether and began studying Christian theology.
In 1764 he became ordained in the Church of England and also started to write hymns. “Amazing Grace” was written to illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day of 1773. Later on it has been put to music as we now know it and it served in times of Revival.
Author Gilbert Chase writes that “Amazing Grace” is “without a doubt the most famous of all the folk hymns,” and Jonathan Aitken, a Newton biographer, estimates that it is performed about 10 million times annually.
I’d like to read the words to you and then we’ll listen to a performance of the song by Elvis Presley.
Grace, the motivation of Jesus
Jesus’ life on earth was marked by grace.
- The way he treated the woman caught in the act of adultery (‘Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more’).
- He raised the only son fo a widow from the dead out of compassion.
- He mingled with sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors and rebuked those who were presumptious and self-satisfied.
- He sits down and praises the poor widow who gives her last coin to God. It’s not much, but it’s all she’s got, which makes it much.
Peter says: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.
In short, without grace of God no life will be possible. And a humble person wants to acknowledge that in which he believes he needs to be saved from himself by the substitute death of Christ.
Grace, the motivation of Paul
The apostle Paul was also greatly motivated by grace. Not just the grace he gave, like Jesus did, but most of all the grace he had received and still did receive.
‘by the grace of God I am what I am’, he says. He’s been saved by grace and thanks God for that, because he reckons himself to be one of the greatest sinners (a wretch, John Newman would say).
But he also recognizes that everything he has achieved in his life is by grace, and not by works. Yes, he worked hard but it’s not the merit of hard working that shaped his life, but the grace of God who made it possible for him to work. In other words: grace is the foundation under our lives and determines us in everything we do. We see this in the story of the lady who anoints Jesus’ feet, prior to His death. And Jesus praises her saying: she’s thankful, for lots of grace has been shown to her.
How about us: do we live by grace (not just are we saved by grace). Are we aware of the fact that we can’t do anything to make things work in our lives except from the grace of God?
Grace, the Christian’s engine
You can have a beautiful car, but if there’s no engine in it, it won’t run. We could consider grace the Christian’s engine. The engine of a car will determine whether or not it works. It’s the same with grace.
Paul: ‘I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.’ And further: ‘For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse.’
He is clear: our own efforts won’t help us in any way. The only thing that makes life work is grace.
What is a life modeled by grace?
- Grace is the foundation of our salvation. We receive it freely from God, if we believe He sent Jesus on our behalf.
- Grace is the assurance of our salvation. If salvation would be dependent on our good works, we wouldn’t make it, because we’re not trustworthy.
- Grace helps us to do what we want to do or for which we are called.
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain (Ps. 127:1).
It is not our effort that make things work, but God by His grace.
- Grace helps us to live a godly life. By His Holy Spirit God is changing us if we seek Him and He makes us a different better person: ‘And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules’ (Ezek. 36:27).
We don’t change ourselves, God does that.
- When we receive grace, we live out grace. People will be blessed by being in our company. The mission of the church will be blessed by church members who live by grace.
As a church we’re entering a new season. We realize that it’s not dependent on our effort whether or not we will reach non-Christians with the changing power of the gospel.
It’s God’s grace in us and through us that will make things happen. We simply do what we have to do.
Is your life marked by grace? Or by fear? Feelings of guilt? Of endless efforts to make yourself a better person.
If so, then do as many people did: they came to Christ as they were: wretches, and believed that He could make them a new person, a newly born person by His death and Resurrection.
The only way to be part of the new life in Christ is by grace!