The Pace of Grace
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:4–9
The Pace of Grace1 Corinthians 1:4-9
Sunday, January 9, 2005
Pastor Randy Smith
Someone once prayed:
Dear Lord, so far today, God, I've done all right. I haven't gossiped, haven't lost my temper, haven't been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish or overindulgent. I'm really glad about that. But in a few minutes, God, I'm going to get out of bed, and from then on I'm probably going to need a lot more help."
If we rightly understand the demands of God and we are totally honest with ourselves, we have to admit that being a Christian is very difficult. Anybody can sleep in on a Sunday morning, but going to church takes effort. Anybody can follow their sinful pursuits, but practicing self-restraint and holiness takes effort. Anybody can pursue various forms of entertainment, but disciplined Bible reading and prayer takes effort. Anybody can love themselves, but going out of your way to love others takes effort.
It is not easy to forgive those who hurt us. It is not easy to grow in our knowledge of the Lord. It is not easy to rejoice in our trials or labor in ministry. It is not easy to disciple those spiritually immature or serve God rather than money. It is not easy to share our faith or suffer for Jesus or submit ourselves fully to Christ's lordship. Real Christianity touches every aspect of our lives - and it is not easy!
After all, the standard is: Mark 12:30 - "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." 2 Corinthians 7:1 - "(Perfect) holiness in the fear of God." 1 John 2:6 - "Walk in the same manner as (Jesus) walked."
Yes, we may start strong in the Christian life. Yes, we may even have a few good days or weeks here and there. But how difficult it is to maintain the balanced, steadfast, consistent spiritual walk with our Lord on a daily basis. We concur with the prayer mentioned earlier. "Lord, I'm going to need a lot more help."
We examine our own life and ask: Does God want us to settle for mediocrity or find the joy and satisfaction He promised? Does God want us to adjust His standards or fulfill His expectations? Does God want us to rely on our own strength or depend on Him for the strength He supplies?
God in His excellencies has called us to live an excellent life - a life reflective of His greatness. But He did not save us and then leave us to fend for ourselves. No, He is too good and too loving to be some distant deity. Our God is intimately involved in our lives. He gives us all the help we need to live the demands of the Christian life on a day-to-day basis. God is there to help, and His help comes to us through that wonderful word called "Grace!" Hebrews 4:16 says, "Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
God distributes this grace through a variety of means. Last week we learned about a few of them.
It is grace (verse 1) that inspired the Apostles to give us the Bible. We no longer have to wonder who God is or what He expects of His creatures because He has provided us sufficient revelation in the Scriptures. God gives us grace through His Holy Word.
It is grace (verse 2) that God has given us the church. We are surrounded by a group of like-minded believers who encourage us, pray for us, hold us accountable, and exemplify Christian living. God gives us grace through Christian fellowship.
It is grace (verse 2) that enables us to call on the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not left as orphans. We have the ability to call on Jesus Christ to be our ever-present help in the time of need. God gives us grace through prayer.
It is grace (verse 3 - "grace to you") that continually comes into our lives through these means and countless others to help us live daily in a way that is pleasing to our Lord. God wants us to see our need and cling to Him for grace. We sing:
Oh to grace how great a debtor,
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to Thee
(Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing - Robert Robinson)
The great American evangelist, D. L Moody, once said, "A man can no more take in a supply of grace for the future than he can eat enough for the next six months, or take sufficient air into his lungs at one time to sustain life for a week. We must draw upon God's boundless store of grace from day to day, as we need it" (Quoted in: A Place of Quiet Rest by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Moody, 2000, pg. 93).
As early as next week's sermon, we will be exposed to the Corinthians' sins. You can find a different one in every chapter of this epistle. They begin in verse 10 and continue throughout the entire letter. So what was Paul's solution to help this church overcome their sin and begin pursuing a life of holiness? The answer is: Grace! Grace is rocket fuel for the soul that propels us to grow in Christlikeness. Titus 2:11-12, "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age."
"But, oh pastor, you don't understand my situation. There's no hope for me." You're right, I might not understand your situation, but God does! The writer of First Corinthians suffered more than any of us in this room and he heard those famous words off the lips of the Almighty: "My grace is sufficient for you" (2 Cor. 12:9a).
Someone once said, "If you don't understand grace, your hunger and thirst for God is too small." If you have trouble reconciling a relationship, you don't know about grace. If you have trouble desiring and pursuing holiness, you don't know about grace. If you have trouble rejoicing in the Lord, you don't know about grace. If you have trouble fellowshipping with other believers, you don't know about grace. If you have trouble worshipping the living God, you don't know about grace. I can continue, but I think you understand my point.
Think about it! How can God give us clear expectations for living the Christian life and then be indifferent to how we live or not give us the strength we need to succeed? We need to daily draw upon God's never-ending wellspring of grace if we wish to overcome in the challenges of the Christian life and walk away victorious.
Now, much of the present need for grace was covered in last week's sermon. However our text this Sunday, verses 4-9, deals with past grace and future grace. In addition to understanding what God is currently doing in our lives, it is essential we know how God has worked for us in the past and how He plans to work for us in the future. Many Christians are plagued with anxiety, worry, doubt, fear, apathy and pride because they misunderstand these elements. Just as God is at work dispensing grace in the present, I want you to see how God's grace was also at work in the past and will be at work in the future.
1. THE PAST ELEMENTS OF GRACE
In verse 4 Paul says, "I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus." This verse speaks of the past element of grace. Paul said he thanks God always for the grace of God that was (past tense) given to them.
Paul wanted the Corinthian church to understand they were recipients of God's grace in spite of all their sins. Remember, they were (verse 2) "saints by calling" because they were already (verse 2) "sanctified in Christ Jesus." Therefore Paul in verse 4 does not thank the Corinthians, but he thanks God for His generous display of grace in their lives that made them His children.
Understanding past grace helps us to understand that we are saved based on God's goodness and not our own. As I like to say, "God doesn't clean His fish before He catches them." Just as Jesus saved the vilest sinners of His day, God continues to call sinners out of darkness and declares them holy through the blood of Jesus.
Consider what Paul said to the once vile Corinthian believers: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."
John Newton was not much different than the Corinthians, though he came about 1,700 years later. He was a sailor and though these men are not noted for their manners, history tells that Newton had a reputation for profanity, coarseness, and debauchery that even shocked many a sailor. He was known as "The Great Blasphemer." By career it doesn't get much lower. He worked as a slave trader in Africa and later moved on to a position to captain slave ships. However, on March 21, 1748 everything changed while Newton battled a fierce storm at the helm of his ship. In recollection of that event he said, "On that day the Lord sent from on high and delivered me out of deep waters." By grace, God saved the filthy sinner. Later in his life he penned these words as a testimony of God's past grace. Maybe they're familiar to you.
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now I'm found,
Was blind, but now I see.
(Amazing Grace - John Newton)
Beloved, we are not accepted by God when we are "good enough." We are accepted by God when He gives grace to the needy sinner. It comes to the undeserving. It comes to those without merit. It comes as a gift apart from our works. It comes the moment we place our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ regardless of our past. It comes not for us to boast in our own goodness, but in order to boast in the goodness of God and commit our lives to Him in utter obedience out of joy and gratitude.
When we understand that it was grace that brought us to Christ. When we understand what Paul meant when he said in verse 30 that "by His doing (we) are in Christ Jesus" and at the end of verse 9 that He "called (us) into fellowship with His Son." When we understand that we are all saints who still sin. Only then, when we understand these things, will we be more patient and forbearing and forgiving with others. Only then will we love and praise and serve God for a gift that we did not deserve. And only then will we live our Christian life understanding that God loves His children based upon His promise and not their performance. Ephesians 1:7, "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace."
But there's more to past grace. God didn't save us only to deliver us from hell and then continue to live this life in sin. That's what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace." God loves you the way you are, but He loves you too much to leave you the way you are. God saved us in order that we may glorify Him through holy living and be used by Him to build His kingdom. "He died for all," (say 2 Corinthians 5:15) "so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf." 1 Peter 2:9 says, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."
You ask, "How does my need to glorify God have anything to do with past grace?" The answer is contained in verse 5. You see, when God saved you, He gave you all the tools necessary to honor Him. As a manifestation of God's grace, Paul tells the Corinthians (verse 5) "that in everything you were enriched in Him."
Do you realize that at the moment of your conversion, God equipped you with everything you need to serve Him? Have you ever fathomed the spiritual treasures at your disposal? Treasures that money cannot buy, thieves cannot steal and time cannot fade. 2 Peter 1:3, "Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence."
Recently we bought our children a beta fish. We thought we would mercifully save one from those little glass jars in the pet store. The fish was inexpensive and promised to be low maintenance. However, once we decided on the fish, the sales person began to inform us of all the "required" accessories. When it was all said and done, we walked out with a: Glass fish tank, stones, water purifier, food and little plants and sculptures that the fish can swim around enjoy. We spent much more on the accessories than we did the actual product. I believe our fish are now the envy of the beta community! And there's still more we could add to enhance it's environment!
Yet when God saves us, "all parts are included." He has already "blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3b). In His divine sovereignty, God has given every believer, everything he or she needs to serve Him faithfully. Additional features do not need to be added at a later time. We are not incomplete. We don't need to ask for greater components. The church does not consist of the "have's" and the "have not's." "In everything," Paul said, "You are enriched in Him."
One evidence of this enrichment is spiritual giftedness. Paul mentions two of them in verse 5: speech and knowledge. We'll cover this in detail when we get to the later chapters of 1 Corinthians. But permit me to say at this point that at the moment of salvation, when (verse 6) "the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you," God gave every one of you a unique blend of spiritual gifts.
I read one author who compared spiritual gifts to physical body parts. When we are born we possess all the body parts we need to exist. But as we grow those body parts become further developed. In the same way, Christians have already been given their spiritual gifts when they are born again. We must identify these gifts and develop them through spiritual food and spiritual exercise.
Understanding spiritual gifts helps us to understand that all Christians are equally as valuable to the church. This was important in the Corinthian context as Paul was dealing with a church that greatly boasted of personal superiority based on spiritual gifts.
Please understand, though my gift package may be teaching and leadership and your gift package may be mercy and encouragement, both of our packages are tokens of God's grace. Both of us are equipped to serve the body of Christ for the common good. And both of us are equally important and equally necessary to this church. Our gifts are the product of God's past grace. We need to realize what Paul said in the beginning of verse 7 "that (we) are not lacking in any gift."
2. THE FUTURE ELEMENTS OF GRACE
Now all we have mentioned so far was spoken in the past tense. They were the past elements of God's grace. Verse 4- We have received grace which led to our salvation. Verse 5- We have been enriched in everything. Verse 6- The testimony of Christ was confirmed in us. Verse 7- We are not lacking in any gift. For fruitful, humble and confident Christian living, we must understand the past elements of God's grace.
Now in verse 7, Paul does something amazing. In mid sentence he switches from the past elements of God's grace to the future elements of God's grace. He says, "So that you are not lacking in any gift (now here's the switch to the future) awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ." What's the connection?
I believe Paul wants the Corinthians to understand that though they are not lacking any spiritual gift, they have not yet arrived (1 Cor. 4:8; 15:12). The "superior" gifts they boasted in will cease (1 Cor. 13:8-10). Though all believers are presently complete in Christ, the best is still yet to come. This life brings unspeakable joy, but no eye has seen and no ear has heard "all that God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor. 2:9b). This great promise in the future is nothing we can achieve, because it's another token of grace. Once again, its something we receive.
When do we receive it? According to verse 7, it will come when God ushers in the final phase of His redemptive plan. It will come at the Second Coming at "the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ." Therefore Paul commands the Corinthians to "await eagerly" (connotes intensity and earnestness) for the return of their Savior.
What do we receive? Verse 8, "Who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." The Day of the Lord is a reference to the time when God will judge the world through Jesus Christ. It will be an horrific time for the world, but this verse declares that the same one who executes judgment also confirms us to the end, blameless. The Judge will declare us innocent because we have believed upon Him to be our Savior. Why are we innocent? Because He sees us washed in the blood He shed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. We are blameless because our Judge took our blame upon Himself and credited us with His righteousness in return.
As we wrap things up, do you see what Paul is saying in verses 4-9? Due to past grace, verse 9 says God has called us into fellowship with His Son. Now due to future grace, verse 8 says we will be blameless on the Day of Judgment. Thanks to God's grace, our salvation from beginning to end is held firmly in the immutable hands of God. It's all of grace! We did nothing to receive it and therefore we can do nothing to loose it! Philippians 1:6, "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." Romans 8:30, "And these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified."
Is it confidence in our own works or giftedness to make us acceptable in the eyes of God? Absolutely not! Our confidence is in the grace of God: His past grace to declare us innocent in Christ Jesus, His present grace to help us persevere daily in the Christian faith, and His future grace to confirm us blameless before His throne.
How can I be so confident that this will happen? How can the Corinthians (whose behavior was anything but blameless) be so confident this will happen? Because God promised it and as verse 9 declares, "God is faithful." God is faithful to keep His word. Therefore do you realize God's own reputation is at stake in the guarantee of your salvation?
In verses 4 to 9, Paul makes it clear that God has worked, is working and will work among the believers in the Corinthian church. He never praises the greatness of the church. His focus throughout this entire section is on the greatness of God. That's why he began in verse 4 by always thanking God for His wonderful gift of grace.
We may wonder why God included this story of the sinful Corinthians in Holy Scripture. After some thought this week, I'm personally glad God gave us this inspired letter. It shows us that no one is beyond God's saving grace. It shows us that present grace is available to help us overcome sin. It shows us that one day we will have the righteousness of Jesus Christ both in position and practice. The great Puritan Richard Baxter once said, "This life was not intended to be the place of our perfection, but the preparation for it."
Be thankful for past grace that made you holy in position. Use present grace to make you holy in practice. Anticipate future grace to confirm you to the end holy in position and practice. Grace - it is God's tool for our joy and His glory. Why does God need to send us to heaven? Because it will take an eternity in heaven to sing the praises of our gracious God. In the words of John Newton himself:
When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we'd first begun.
(Amazing Grace - John Newton)