Standing on the ground of grace (Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B, 18 March 2012)

Standing on the ground of grace

Readings
Ephesians 2.1-10
John 3.14-21

Grace.

It’s a word we hear in church often. We hear it outside of church too—we speak of a dancer who dances with a certain grace, a certain beauty and delicacy. People say grace before a meal. If someone offends another, they may have the grace to apologise. You may receive a year’s grace before you must pay a debt—but if you don’t pay, you’ll fall from grace. And if Kate Middleton were ever to come here, she’d want you to call her ‘Your Grace’. It’s a very positive word!

Yet grace has another kind of positive meaning when St Paul says,

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…

Here, the word ‘grace’ means something greater and grander than any of the other ways we use it.

Grace is a great word, one of the greatest in the whole of the scriptures. We read in John’s Gospel chapter one that ‘grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’:

the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

And Paul says in Romans,

since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand…

Jesus Christ has brought us grace upon grace; grace is the very ground on which we stand.

But what is grace? What do we mean? This is the best way of putting it that I know:

Grace is God’s unfailing commitment to love.

God’s ‘unfailing commitment to love’ is the solid ground upon which we stand. It’s not that we have asked Jesus into our hearts. It’s not because we’re good. It’s because God has determined to love us. God is committed to us.

Why? It’s simply because God is love. God doesn’t have a loving side and a judging side. God is purely, God is simply, Love. That’s why we can say God loves us; God is being true to himself.

When we look at the evil things that people are capable of, it can be hard to believe that God could love everyone. But that’s what grace is: God’s unfailing commitment to love each human being. In fact, love is God’s unfailing commitment to every single created thing.

A wonderful writer, the late Bishop John V. Taylor, speaks of his

painfully reluctant realization that my Father is not going to be any more pleased with me when I am good than he is now when I am bad. He accepts me and delights in me as I am. It is ridiculous of him, but that is how it is between us. In consequence I want to show my love for him fully and continuously, and I can do that best by insisting on my freedom to come into his presence, grubby and outrageous, without having first to wash my hands and comb my hair.

This really is only what Paul is saying: ‘by grace you have been saved…’ God is pleased with us when we are good. God is pleased with us when we aren’t good. We have a scandalously loving God!

We often sing Charles Wesley’s words:

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus and all in him is mine.
Alive in him, my living head,
and clothed in righteousness divine.
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ, my own!

We can approach God’s throne with boldness because we stand on the solid ground of God’s grace, God’s absolute determination and desire to be true to his loving nature. God has declared us to be his children, and children can always come to their Father and Mother God.

If God is pleased with us whether we’re good or bad, why be good? We don’t have to be good to please God. Here’s the thing: God’s grace inspires us to choose what is good. We follow Jesus as his disciples out of gratitude to the God who loves us so.

I’ve said grace is the ground on which we stand. When we’re disappointed by others; when we disappoint ourselves; when we don’t know where to turn, we stand on God’s grace. God has made an unfailing commitment to love us.

What then is faith? Faith is not the ground on which we stand. We don’t stand on our decision to believe. We don’t have faith in our decision to have faith. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour on 6 April, 1968. From that time, I have believed this: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ But I have put my faith in the gracious God who will never leave me nor forsake me. My faith doesn’t stand on my decision to believe back in April 1968.

What then is faith? It’s been said that ‘Faith is life lived resting on God’s grace’. I love that! Our faith is too puny to be the thing we stand upon. It can evaporate very quickly indeed, when trouble or failure or illness or rejection strike. Faith is resting on God’s grace, it’s the way we stand on God’s grace. It’s a life of trust in our gracious God. And even when our faith is weak, God’s grace remains strong and sufficient for us. We have a wonderful God.

We who have received God’s grace are also called to extend grace to others. We can’t claim to be standing on the grace of God if we do not act graciously towards the people in our lives. There’s something dreadfully wrong if we say we believe John 3.16, but treat other people badly.

And you know, some of us may need to hear that we can receive grace from other people; we may need to hear that God says we are worthy to be treated well.

God’s grace is the only ground we have. It’s the ground of our acceptance by God in Christ. It’s the ground of our desire to live for God. It’s the ground of the way we treat others—and allow them to show us kindness.

Let’s stand on the sure ground of God’s grace every day of our lives.

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