Thursday, July 7, 2011

Christianity 101-Responding to the Gift of Grace

For new readers of this series, if you are just finding this particular series, please don't start here.  Go and find the other posts that pre-date this one, and start from the beginning.  The basis for what I am sharing here is built there.  Thanks!

Folks, it’s been a while, so let’s have a quick review.

A. God is all about the relationship. He loves us and He wants us to love Him back.
B. Sin separates us from God, not because He gets angry so much as because by His very nature, He cannot coexist with sin.
C. We have all sinned, resulting in a split with God.  Our sin causes a separation with God.
D. We cannot fix this in and of ourselves.
E. God wants the relationship back so He has devised a way. That way is collectively called GRACE.

Grace is a gift, the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. In short, Jesus IS that gift of grace.
It is important that we understand the foundational concept of grace because a misunderstanding can send us spiraling off in a couple of different directions. One way leads you to the perception that it doesn’t really matter what we do or how we live; a concept that some have called “cheap grace.” The other direction discounts the importance of grace, focuses on legalistic performance, and murders spiritual motivation.

I’ve witnessed one and lived through the other.

We have to understand that we cannot earn this grace. We do not deserve it. We cannot be good enough to gain it for ourselves. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren't some expectations from our Lord as it pertains to our response to the gift. We do have to respond to the offer. We do need to act in such a way that shows our appreciation. Grace should act as a primary motivator in our lives, if not THE motivator.

A proper understanding of grace humbles the heart and motivates the life. Any other response is fed by a misunderstanding.

So, the questions arise: How does one receive this gift? What is our proper response to this offer from God?

God did not leave us hanging. Nope. He gave us some examples. There is one place in the Bible where there are specific instances of people actually starting from a point of separation, responding to the gift, and moving back into a relationship with the Father of Creation. That place is the Book of Acts.  Examples galore!

Before we go there, I want to build in one more piece of foundation. Let’s look at Matthew 16:13-19.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

This is a famous verse; a famous interaction between Jesus and his friend Peter. There is a lot buried in that verse, and it could warrant its own post. In fact, that verse has inspired countless other writings over the centuries.

For now though, I only want to focus on two things: 1. Peter was given a set of keys, keys to the kingdom of heaven. 2. He was given the authority to BIND things on earth and LOOSE things in heaven.

Amazing. Keys are used to lock and unlock. Peter was told that he would have the authority to bind on earth and loose in heaven. Incredible responsibility. I wonder how he used that? Maybe we’ll see….take a look.

Now, to Acts, specifically Acts 2. For some background, as we enter the story, Jesus has been crucified, risen from the dead, and after spending some time with his followers, has ascended back into heaven. His followers now only number 120, and on this day, the Day of Pentecost, which is 50 days after the Passover (and roughly 50 days since Jesus’ crucifixion.), they are all gathered together. The church has not yet been established. It is still a loose fellowship of those left after the emotional events of the previous weeks.

There is a strange, rushing wind. There are tongues of fire. The Apostles begin to speak in various languages. And, then Peter stands to speak.

Acts 2:14-41

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him:

‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”

Therefore let all of Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

This is known as the beginning of the church as a body of believers. All Christians trace their heritage back to this point. What are the key points of Peter’s sermon?

1. Jesus was accredited by God—Verse 22
2. God gave Jesus into their hands—Verse 23 (They had to make a decision about Jesus…just as we do. We each need to decide what WE are going to do with him.)
3. They put Jesus to death—Verse 23 & Verse 36 (Why did Jesus need to go to the cross? Because of our sin, right? This makes us culpable for his death also. We made him the only answer to the problem of sin, which brought about his death.)
4. God raised him from the dead—Verse 24 & Verse 32 (Do you and I really believe this? Stop. Think about it.)
5. Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God—Verse 33
6. Jesus is BOTH Lord and Christ—Verse 36

Let’s take a side trip for a moment. Jesus is both Lord and Christ. Our western sensibilities like the concept of Jesus being the Christ or Messiah or Savior. We like the idea of someone saving us. It’s the ‘Lord’ part that we struggle with. Lord = Master = King = authority over our lives. That part we don’t like so much. We don’t want anyone…even Jesus…telling us what to do.

Tell me I’m wrong.

Even if we don’t like it…He’s still the Lord. He still has the authority. Self-denial won’t change that fact.

Back to the point. What did these people know at the end of this sermon?

A. God sent Jesus
B. They rejected him
C. God raised him
D. He is now their Lord and Christ

Think about that. How would you feel if you found out that the person you thought you had killed was in fact alive, and not only that, he was now your Lord/Master/King?

Ooops. Time to hide. There’s a problem, though. You can’t hide from God.

How did the people respond to the knowledge that they had sinned against their God and His son, their Lord and Savior?

"When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart…"

Cut to the heart.

Broken. Hurt deeply. In emotional pain because of their sin.

Have you been there? Ever? When was the last time? Now? What would it take to get you there?

“Brothers, what shall we do?” —What does this question tell us about these folks? I think the following:

1. They recognize their error (sin).
2. They are ready to change
3. They are open to whatever they are told…they aren’t going to fuss about the details.

Peter told them two things:

A. Repent
B. Be baptized

Would you fuss about those two things?  The first one is hard to do, the second one is really easy.  Typically, we ignor the first and argue about the second.  Does God scratch His head and wonder why we are such goofballs?

He (Peter…the guy with the keys…the guy who can bind and loosen) said that giving those two responses would provide them with two things:

1. Forgiveness of sins (That thing that has caused the separation from God)
2. The Gift of the Holy Spirit

Those that did it were “added to their number.” At the end of that single day, the church went from 120 believers to 3120 believers.

What a day!

In our next installment, we’ll explore the word “Repentance.” We’ll follow that up with another post on “Baptism.” Look for those two posts in coming weeks.

Adios...or Go with God!

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