Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Christianity 101-Magic Words, Secret Formula, or Grace?

There were two things that I really liked when I was a child: magic and cakes.

“Abra Cadabra!” and the guy pulled a rabbit or a card or a colorful hanky out of someplace that it should not have been. The magician would put a girl in a box and with a few waves of the arms he’d open it up again, and she’d be gone. Amazing!

Big Wacky Cakes. German Chocolate Cakes. Cheese Cakes. My mom had the recipes down. She didn’t need to check the cookbook. She just knew the formulas for making great cakes.

With those two metaphors in mind, there is at least a reasonable chance that I’m going to step on someone’s toes with this article. I guess we’ll see.

First, a review of the stuff we’ve come through already…

• With God, it’s all about the relationship!
• The most important commandment is to love God!
• We have sinned…all of us!
• Sin causes separation from God! (We caused the separation.)
• God doesn’t want us to be separated.
• That separation is a predicament for both God and us.

Remember the example of the folks who tried to swim from New York to London? Some went much further than the others, but in the end they all died. It really didn’t matter who went further, they were all equally dead. It is the same with our sin. Some might be more righteous in and of themselves than other people, but when it is all said and done, in and of themselves they are separated from God due to whatever sin they actually have committed.

So, what is the answer? What do we do about it?

The answer is NOTHING. We, you and me, can do nothing to change our situation out of our own ability. The answer rests with God.

But, let’s examine a couple of “answers” that some folks cling to.

First, there are the “Magic Words.”

What are magic words? Well, they are words that when spoken at the right time and in the right order and in the right way will bring out a magical reaction. Here are the magic words that I’m referring to:

“Lord Jesus, I am a sinner. I am truly sorry for my sins and I want to change. Please forgive me. I believe in you; that you died for my sins and that you rose from the dead. I invite you to come into my heart, and I will follow you from this day forward. In Jesus name I pray, amen.”

This, or something very similar to it, is commonly used in church circles today and it is called “The Sinner’s Prayer.” It sounds very good. And, I think it contains a great deal of truth. It holds all of the attitudes that an individual should possess who is coming before the throne of God. It even sounds scriptural.

I have two problems with it, however.

1. It is not found ANYWHERE in the Bible. This is a nice compilation of someone’s concept of how a person would or should respond to God, but there is no scriptural precedent or example from which you can directly pull it. There is no example of anyone in the scriptures ever responding to the message of Christ in this manner.

2. I have often heard this presented like it is the magic words of salvation. It’s almost like the words themselves held some sort of power over God. “Say this prayer with me, and you’ll be saved.”

Abra Cadabra! The magic words! Wam, bam! I’m saved! No purchase required!

Second, there is the “Secret Formula.”

Kind of like baking a cake, this approach makes it a scientific effort. As long as you put all the ingredients together in the right order, then you’re saved; simple as pie.

  • Hear
  • Believe
  • Confess
  • Repent
  • Be baptized

And, we all know that the most important one is baptism. Right?

Really? What ever happened to what Jesus said was the most important thing? (For those who may have missed it, He said it was to love God with all that you are.)  And, is repentance really less important than being dunked in water?

Again, it’s like the formula holds some power over God.

Now, like the earlier example, I do believe that there is truth in this. All of these steps are found in scripture. In this case, there are actual hard examples that point toward these very things, and I believe they are important.

However, there are some basic things missing.

1. There is no “heart” in the process. It is very clinical. Where is the heartfelt remorse over your sin and your separation from God?

2. Where is the love? Where is the desire of the heart for the relationship with the Father? Maybe a person has that, but the formula doesn’t address it.

Either way, as I noted above, there is nothing WE can do to bring about our own salvation on our own. It is not within our power. But, God has the power. Let’s take a few minutes to explore the answer HE has provided.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:1-10


We are saved by GRACE.

Grace makes the difference.

We didn’t do it. We couldn’t do it. It is beyond us.

We can’t earn it. We can’t be good enough. It is a GIFT!

The “magic words” without GRACE are nothing but empty syllables. The “secret formula” without God’s GIFT is a worthless act of a helpless soul.

We all fall short, but it is the grace of God that makes up the difference. Consider the following scale.


Whether we fall short by a little or by a lot, we are all lost…except that THROUGH the GRACE of God we aren’t. It is GRACE that allows us to stand before God when we deserve to remain spiritually dead.

Consider this…

I think that we, the religious ones, often expect that everyone needs to be at least as righteous as we are BEFORE God’s grace can help them. They aren’t good enough to be saved unless they’ve at least met our own standard. WE ARE JUDGING BY THE WRONG STANDARD! After all, and again, we have ALL fallen short. We are all dead in our transgressions.

On a side note, consider this chart…

Think about this. If God’s grace is big enough and strong enough to bring salvation to the thief, the murderer, and the rapist, then can it not be enough to handle the person who otherwise follows God with all his heart but misunderstands a point of doctrine that we consider critical? Surely grace can fill the gap in doctrine as well as in life.

I don’t know where God draws the distinctions and the lines with regards to who is too far gone. I just know that the Judgment Seat doesn’t have my name on it, and I’m pretty doggone reluctant to sit down in it these days.

I love the next verse because I think it really gives us insight into how God feels about each one of us. For a little background, the situation is that King David’s son Absalom has murdered his brother Amnon and has fled to escape the consequences. David is heartsick both because of the acts that his son has committed, but also, and perhaps mostly because of the loss of his relationship with his son. He wants Absalom to be with him. As a result, he is completely downtrodden to the point that his right hand man, Joab concocts a plan to spur David to bring Absalom home. He sends a woman to David to pretend to have a distressing situation that is specifically designed to get David to soften his heart and to arrange the reunion. Ultimately, David figures out that Joab is behind the scheme, but it still has the desired effect, and soon Absalom is home.

However, there is one line that the woman speaks that I think gives real insight into God’s feeling toward us:

Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.
2 Samuel 14:14

As I’ve been saying…GOD IS ALL ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP! We separated ourselves through our sin just like Absalom separated himself from his father. And just like David, God wants us back

So, he devised a way. (Jesus. A cross. A rolled stone. An empty tomb!)

We don’t deserve it anymore than Absalom did, but God (our Father) is heartsick enough to manipulate all of history to bring about the salvation that is our gift in Christ.

Grace is defined as an unmerited gift, one freely given. It is the love of God given to us.

One last thing…

If I asked you to mow my yard, and in return I’d give you $50, then you would have an opportunity to earn the reward. When you did the work, I would owe you the promised amount. However, if I said I had a gift for you, it was $50, and all you had to do was come over to my house and get it, then you are not earning it by showing up and sticking out your hand as I extended the money to you with mine.

Any gift given must be received and taken, or else it remains in limbo. God has given a gift. That gift is collectively called “grace,” or “the grace of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Even though God has prepared the gift, each individual must receive it.

A few weeks ago, I decided to give a little money toward my nephew’s mission trip to Cambodia. It wasn’t much, but it was a gift. I sent a message that he needed to come see me. My intention was that when he came, I’d write the check and hand it to him. It wasn’t long, and he was at my door. I told him to follow me up to my office. He followed me up. We talked for a while, and then I handed him the check.

Hmmm. Would he have gotten the money from me if he had ignored my message? What if he messaged me back and told me to come bring it to him instead of him coming to get it? Hmmm.

Often times, we know that God has given us the gift of Grace, and all He wants is for us to come get it. But, we don’t show up. We don’t respond. Or, worse yet, we want it on OUR TERMS. “Bring it to me, God!”

In the next several posts, we will explore our response to the gift.

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