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03.15.15 The Grace that Saves Us Ephesians 2:1-10 Sermon Summary

by on March 16, 2015

It’s probably a good thing no one asks me, “When were you saved?” The reason is because I no longer have an answer.

I used to be able to tell you when I was saved. It was in November of 1985 at a youth camp where a short plug of a man from Anchorage shared the gospel. Then it was in February 1996 when a classmate preached a sermon in seminary chapel. Then it was June 1997 when I entered the sacramental covenant of marriage. Then it was March 2005 when I became a father. Most recently it was this past weekend.

If you want to schedule salvation, you first have to quantify grace, because salvation and grace are related.

Ephesians is one of my favorite books in the Bible. Of many famous passages, the first ten verses of chapter two are perhaps the most well-known. Ephesians 2:1-10 summarizes Paul’s understanding of salvation by grace. It offers us three perspectives on grace.

First, grace is the surprising discovery of undeserved mercy. While in the Wilderness on the way to the Land of Promise, the ancient Israelites complained. They didn’t like the food, they wanted more water, and they even began to feel nostalgia for their slave days in Egypt. God finally got fed up with it, and infested their camps with poisonous snakes. They deserved it, I suppose.

Grace came in when God told Moses to make a snake statue. Anyone who looked at the statue after being bitten would be healed and live.

When you have an experience of God’s undeserved mercy, it reorients your life. It causes a conversion. You feel enlightened, have a change of heart and mind, and embark on a new path. When you have a surprising discovery of God’s undeserved mercy, you repent.

That’s what happened to me in November 1985 at camp. And the Ephesians had that same experience. “We all once lived among those who are still disobedient,” the author reminds them. “We were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.” But grace intervened and changed all that. And the primary response to such a deliverance is gratitude.

Second, grace is the realization of the divine love that precedes divine judgment. Jesus used the snake statue episode as an analogy of the saving grace that he would bring: “As Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so also the Son of Man must be lifted up, that all who believe may have eternal life.” The difference between the two is that in Jesus, God wasn’t simply rescuing us from judgment. God was expressing his love: “For God so loved the world,” Jesus goes on to say, “that he sent his only son.”

Ephesians describes it this way: “Out of the great love with which God loves us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, God raised up with Christ.” Unlike the ancient Israelites who first cried out for mercy, what transforms our lives is not our repentance, but rather God’s love which precedes it.

That’s what I experienced in February 1996. In what I still consider the darkest time in my life, a seminary classmate proclaimed a message of God’s prevenient grace. And I realize that despite all the confusion and stupid decisions, I was still a beloved child of God. The primary response to realizing that God’s love precedes judgment is that we have a new identity.

Finally, grace is the manifestation of our gratitude and our new identity in works of love. Ephesians concludes with this charge: “We are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” When we are grateful for God’s undeserved mercy, and view ourselves through God’s love, we begin looking for and responding to opportunities to express our thanks and live out this new identity.

This past Saturday I had plans. We went to the St. Patrick’s Day parade. We were going to see a performance of Mozart’s Requiem. Between these I was going to take a walk, take a nap, and do some work on this sermon. But then I got an email from a woman asking me to visit her mother who was “in her last hours.”

On the way, I prayed for grace to overcome my disappointment and resentment. I prayed that God’s grace would cause Christ to increase and me to decrease, to quote John the Baptist. God answered those prayers by the time I was bedside reading scripture, singing hymns, offering an assurance of pardon, and praying with this dying woman and her grieving daughter.

Grateful for what grace has done in my own life, and because by grace I am a beloved child of God, I set my own plans aside and served this family. And I discovered grace yet again.

Lent is a time when the church invites us to experience the kind of grace described by Ephesians. We can experience it through repentance, as we allow the Spirit to search and convict us of sin. We can experience it through our identity, as we remember that baptism unites us to Christ. And we can experience it through works of love, when we participate in the ongoing ministry of Christ.

During Lent we set aside time for the experience of grace, for the experience of salvation. But through the years I’ve discovered that I can’t tell you when I was saved, because to schedule salvation, you have to quantify grace. And grace by definition can’t be quantified. Ephesians says that it will take, “ages to come for God to show us the immeasurable riches of his grace, in kindness towards us, in Christ.”

Grace can’t be quantified. Salvation can’t be scheduled. It can only be received—one day at a time. May we receive God’s grace today.

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