TEXT: Ephesians 2:1,4-10
I want to tell you about a horse named “Grace.” [picture]
Imagine that you are a struggling farmer just getting started: think “Little House on the Prairie.” And you have to plow your field. You have to take the produce to market. You have to carry materials from one place to another. And all you have is this heavy cart that you’ve put together. It’s a handy tool, but it’s back-breaking work to do all that you have to do, even with the cart. And one day a kindly neighbor comes over and says, “I have a gift for you. I want to give you this horse named ‘Grace.’ I have many horses and I see that you need ‘Grace’. So I want you to have her.”
The neighbor won’t take any money in exchange and is insistent that you accept the gift. And so you do. Now here’s my question: do you…
- Keep Grace safely in the barn and keep plowing, hauling, and struggling on your own strength?
- Do you – as even more ridiculous as this sounds – turn Grace loose on her own in the field in hopes that she’ll take care of the work herself?
- Do you make use of Grace as she was intended and work with her to get the work done?
Okay… I’m kind of stretching that analogy about as far is it will go. But what put it in my mind was the old saying, “Don’t put the cart before the horse.” And that’s just what we so often do with God’s grace. We work and work and try to be good and hope that we will somehow work our way into God’s good graces. But that’s not how it works. God’s grace – His love, forgiveness, and invitation to discipleship – is a gift. It’s also a gift we sometimes shut away or don’t engage with. But God’s grace is given like a blessing – that we might then bless others. There is a work to be done, but it flows OUT OF God’s grace and is empowered BY God’s grace and presence in our life.
We are in the fourth week of “The New Testament in Seven Sentences.” So far we’ve talked about FULFILLMENT – Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s planned and promised salvation, deliverance, and Messiah. We’ve talked about KINGDOM – the message Jesus proclaimed about the presence of God’s Kingdom here on earth as well as the Kingdom yet to come. And we’ve talked about the CROSS – the singular act of suffering and sacrifice that both atoned for the sin of the world and calls us into a life of obedience and discipleship.
Today we are focused on grace. The fourth ‘sentence’ comes from Ephesians 2:8-9… “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
One of the misconceptions about grace is that it is a “New Testament” thing, that the Old Testament is all Law and wrath and it’s only with Jesus that we hear about love and grace. Nothing could be further from the truth! There is only one God and when you dig into the Old Testament you see just how gracious God is. I try to remind you of that almost weekly in prayers and at the Lord’s Supper when I describe how God did not turn away from humanity when we disobeyed in the Garden. Rather, God has come after us – after humanity – again and again, making grace-filled covenants of promise, giving the Law not as a prerequisite for salvation but as a means of experiencing health, safety, and blessing. God sent prophets to speak His Word and call people back to the way of Life. And one of the most used traits of God in the Old Testament is hesed – the mercy, lovingkindness, or compassion of God.
God is holy, perfect, and righteous – but the place we see that burning holiness most completely demonstrated is towards Jesus on the cross, not toward us! God is patient and merciful toward humanity and only finally pours out the full consequence of sin on Jesus in his sacrificial and willing death on our behalf. So, if anything, grace is more evident in the Old Testament and wrath in the New!!
Grace and Works
But what I want to finish and focus on is reminding you once more of the place of grace and works in our lives. And I can’t think of any passage of scripture that spells it all out more clearly than Ephesians 2. Let me walk us through it.
There, in verse 1, is our spiritual situation apart from God’s intervention and salvation: “You were dead in your trespasses and sins.” No “do better” or levels of righteousness… dead. And then in verses 4-7 a compact description of all that God has done for us out of his great mercy and love. Listen and try to take all this in. It is all from God toward us:
“But God, being rich in mercy,
because of His great love with which He loved us,
even when we were dead in our transgressions,
made us alive together with Christ
(by grace you have been saved),
and raised us up with Him,
and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches
of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
You could spend a week of devotional time pondering each of those phrases! You could spend a lifetime coming to understand those phrases! All of that… ALL of that is God’s gift to us before we’ve done a thing, because we cannot do a thing. God’s mercy and love raised us from death to life!
And that part in the parentheses in v. 5… Paul expands on it in verses 8-10 and includes the roles that good works have in all this:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith;
and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
For we are His workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
Salvation is by God’s grace through faith… and even faith is a gift of God to us!
Is there nothing for us to do, then? Not for salvation… but there is a world of action for us. It’s what God created us for; it’s what God saved us for. I love the word “workmanship” – God created us for a purpose. And we’ve talked about it almost every week this summer. We are saved to be sent. We are blessed to be a blessing. We are called to participate in God’s work of mercy, justice, kindness, and compassion in the world and in our community and in our relationships. We carry the Good News of God’s salvation and God’s desire for the mercy and justice, and we are part of it.
That’s the cart. It’s not to be left in the barn and it’s not to go out ahead of or without the horse. But together, led by God’s grace, it will change the world.
I have two questions for you, then. The horse and the cart, if you will:
- HORSE: Do you know God’s grace in your life? Not just a generic sense of God being good to you, but what Ephesians 2 is talking about… God’s mercy and love that has raised you from death to life with purpose? It’s all there to be unpacked, to be believed, to be received!
- CART: God has a purpose for us in the world; we are His workmanship. What is in your cart? Is it the priorities and commitments of the Lord that we’ve been reading about all summer? Is there the “produce of the Holy Spirit” – examples of justice, mercy, kindness, Good News, help, hope, comfort, and joy? Those are thing you do have to choose to do, though God’s invitation is ongoing. Is there at least one of those things you can embody this week and what is it? Can you name it in your mind and commit to it in the next week? That’s where God would lead you because that’s what God has been up to since the beginning.
May it be so!
Some Music Used
- God Has Smiled On Me/Amazing Grace
- CHOIR: Amazing Grace (Craig Courtney)
- Your Grace is Enough (Maher)
- My Hope is Built on Nothing Less
- Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone