Grace Is For Good People – 04.25.2021
[Matthew 9:9-13 and Romans 3:10-22]
Juan Carlos Ortiz tells us, watching a trapeze show can be breathtaking. We watch as people hurtle through the sky. We wonder at the dexterity and timing, we gasp at the near-misses. Now, in most cases there is a net underneath. When they fall, they jump up, and bounce back to the trapeze and carry on. You see, as a Christian, we live on the trapeze. The whole world should be able to watch our lives and say, “look how they live, look how they love one another. Look how well the husbands treat their wives. And aren’t they the best workers in the factories and offices, the best neighbors to have, the best students?” To live your life with so much trust that it almost appears reckless to those who do not understand the net is there. Because, for a Christian we can live flying through the air, because what happens when we slip? The net is there – the blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ, has provided forgiveness for ALL our sins. Both the net and the ability of stay on the trapeze are works of God’s grace. But here’s the thing – just because the net is there, doesn’t mean that when we fall we can lay down and take a nap on the net. If the world was simply watching us sleep on a safety net, they might doubt we are trapeze artists at all.
Today we are returning to our sermon series called Homegrown Heresies. We got started a few weeks ago, took a break last week to hear a very good word from Michelle, and then we’re getting back into it today. This series comes from a conviction that the truth is worth defending, and as members of God’s church we need to be on guard to pursue right teaching. So what we’re doing each week is looking closer at some common phrases or popular teachings to see if we have weeds sprouting up in the garden of God. So last time we talked about how Jesus is God, and how that affects the way we read the bible. This week we are going to be tackling a very common belief that you can find in just about every church in America. The idea that Grace is only for good people. This idea is actually so common that I felt it was necessary to mention it every single Sunday. What was the first question I asked when we started worship? “Is anybody here perfect?” We begin every single worship service with a reminder that grace is NOT for good people. Let’s see what Jesus has to say.
[read matthew v.9-10]. Now you might be wondering, what does that mean “reclined at table” – it’s sort of a strange phrase, but you have to remember Jesus never sat at a kitchen table on a chair. The way they ate meals back in the day, in the middle east, the tables were really short, and there were low couches with cushions. People would recline on the cushions, prop themselves up on the left side and eat with their right hand. This was how they ate meals together. So first Jesus calls Matthew to follow him, and then he “reclines at table” or lounges and lays down and is eating a meal. But not just any meal – eh? He’s reclining at table, with tax collectors and sinners – lots of them. [read v.11] So the pharisees see Jesus sitting over there with THOSE people, and they clutch their pearls. How COULD he? And it’s funny, and we can poke fun at pharisees in the modern world and we tell ourselves, “I would never do that.”
See here’s the thing – there’s a trend going around in our country, where we create an insulated bubble, and we fill it with people who agree with us. Who think like us, who look like us. The internet has given us an incredible capacity to connect with other humans – and how do we use it? To find more people just like us. And there’s nothing wrong with connecting with people over a shared interest or hobby. But we take it way too far. We create these perfect, fragile little bubbles – and everybody inside our bubble is a good guy, and everybody over there, in that other bubble – those are the bad guys. And this isn’t just about social media – did you know that there are more than one source of the news? This is going to blow your mind – there are some news agencies that cater specifically to progressives. And then there is a whole separate bubble, I mean “news station” that caters specifically to conservatives. And if you don’t like that one, there’s a more conservative station you can turn to. Or a more progressive station you can tune in to. We live in a world where, if you do it right, you never have to hear anything you don’t want to hear. And the only time we pay attention to the other bubbles, is if we need ammunition, we need something to get all worked up about. We’re not a country anymore. We’re not a society. We’re a collection of bubbles, floating in the wind, judging all the other bubbles. But I’m here to tell you this morning – Jesus, like my 2 year old, is a master bubble popper. Jesus is not interested in the lines that this world draws. The pharisees had their bubble. Their happy little religious church people bubble. But then they see Jesus is hanging out over there, in the wrong bubble. They ask the disciples, WHY does he eat with THOSE people? But Jesus hears them
[Read v.12] – This is the key verse of the whole thing. Our job is not to stay safe in our bubble. Our job is not to find a church that makes us feel good and volunteer a couple times in a ministry that makes us happy. Your faith is not about you. Our job is to connect sick people to the physician. Our job as Christians is to help people, no matter where they start out, to help people know and be known by God. To bring the good news of salvation through Jesus to people who don’t know about Jesus. The Pharisees wanted Jesus to stay inside their bubble, to stay in their little circle of “goody two shoes” and pat them on the back because they personally were doing such a great job. But Jesus tells them, you’ve lost sight of it. You’ve lost your sense of purpose as God’s people. Your job is help starving people find the source of food. To help those lost in the darkness find their way back into the light. To help those who are broken and ashamed reclaim their dignity and value in the love that comes from God. Jesus said, the doctor is in the house – and I’m here for those who are sick.
He finishes this little interaction with [read v.13]. Now don’t miss what he just said. For the pharisees, their whole world is sacrifices. According to the Old Testament code – that was how they got right with God. Sacrifice. But what he just said, is actually a quote from the Old Testament, back in Hosea chapter 6, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. And Jesus is telling them, “you’ve gotten wrong all this time.” What Jesus is teaching is that, yeah – sacrifice is important, and he’ll deal with that on the cross. But what you need to do with your life, every day we live and our bubble bumps into groups of different people –God says, I desire mercy. Jesus has come to call sinners. We don’t judge them, we don’t hate them, we don’t put ourselves above them. We offer them God’s mercy. Jesus came to call sinners, to offer them grace and forgiveness. And now, thousands of years later – that’s our job. To offer sinners God’s grace. Robert Farrar once said, “the name of the game from now on is resurrection, not bookkeeping.”
Now, before we move over to our scripture in Romans – I wanted to talk about something I call the Bootstrap assumption. Now, of course, you’ve all heard the phrase, “pull myself up by my bootstraps” – which is an old expression that with hard work you can accomplish your goals without any help. You do it yourself. This is an idea that is deeply built into American culture. We are very much a bootstrap culture. We don’t like asking for help, we do everything ourselves, even if that makes it 10 times harder. I pull myself up by my own bootstraps. On the one hand, this is one of the things I love about America. We are hard working people, who prefer to earn what we have. We don’t like to take things for granted, in fact we are very uncomfortable if someone offers us something for free. No, no, no – let me pay you back in some way. Because we believe if you work hard, you can truly enjoy what you have rightfully earned. And if you didn’t work hard for something, you should feel guilty enjoying yourself. Americans are hard workers, and we like to believe we don’t need help. The bootstrap assumption. On the one hand, it gives us a great work ethic, BUT when it comes to faith, it gets us into trouble. Let’s take a peek.
Romans chapter 3, verse 10 says [read v.10-12]. None of you are good, no one seeks God, not even one – you are all worthless. Whew, okay – thanks Paul, what an awesome motivational boost. Oh but wait there’s more, talking about all of you – he says [read v.13-18]. Mouths are full of curses, feet are quick to shed blood, their path is ruin and misery, we don’t know the way of peace and we do not fear God. Paul is giving us a very cheerful, rose-tinted picture of humanity. You are all terrible. Now, watch this. Paul is about to take 8 verses of telling everyone how horrible they are and make it good news. Check it out, [read v.19-20]. Wait, that’s still really bad news. “By works of the law, no human being will be justified.” What Paul’s trying to tell you is.. There is nothing you can do to get God to love you. Nothing. No amount of showing up on Sunday, no amount of money in the plate, no amount of volunteer hours can get God to love you. And I know that sounds like bad news, but here’s the reverse – [lean in] He loves you for free.
[read v.21-24]. That’s it right there. Righteousness is apart from the law, it comes through faith in Jesus. Verse 23 – all have sinned and fall short. None of us measure up, but then verse 24 – we are justified by GRACE as a GIFT. Paul doesn’t mess around. He’s not here to try and make you feel good. He lays it out cold – people suck, their methods sucks, getting right with God by works doesn’t work. The only way is Jesus. It’s just Jesus, that’s the whole thing right there. Jesus. But here’s the problem. Our church was built in America. Most of us are Americans. We are bootstrap people. We earn everything we have. We deserve everything we have. We are people who fight for what is ours because we earned and nobody can take it away from us. The bootstrap assumption fights the message of grace. We feel like we gotta earn God’s love, nobody gets love for nothing. That can’t be right – so we have bought in to the heresy that God’s grace is only for good people. For people who have earned his love. For the people in my bubble. You see it all the time when people who make jokes, “I’m afraid I’ll catch on fire if I enter the church” or “the building will probably crumble on my head if I try to go in there.” By embracing the bootstrap assumption, we have accidentally taught people that they need to be perfect BEFORE they can come into our building. That they need to make it right BEFORE they can be loved by God.
But here’s the thing. There aint no price tag on grace. The good news the bible gives us this morning is that God offers grace for FREE. God offers grace FOR FREE. GOD OFFERS GRACE FOR FREE! There is nothing you can do to earn God’s love, and that is the greatest news I could ever have for you because you don’t need to earn it! Because Jesus is already standing there arms open wide. Grace is a gift. Grace is free. That’s hard for us to accept. Because of the bootstrap assumption it is so hard for us to wrap our heads around God’s love. It doesn’t make sense to us. Because for most of us we think if it’s free, then it must be cheap. You get what you pay for. And if you didn’t pay anything for it, it’s not worth very much. And so I want to clarify Grace is free, but it was not cheap. Your freedom was bought with a price. You have been bought with the blood of Jesus. Which is an icky thing to say, but what it means is that Jesus gave up his life for you. He saw your sin, he saw who you are – every mistake you ever made. And because he loved you so much he said, I will pay the price. Romans 3:23, the wages of sin is death. Your sin deserved death. And Jesus said, “deal.” He died, went willingly to the cross – to pay for your sins. Not because you saved sex for marriage or didn’t use any cuss words, or because you did more good deeds than bad. Because the net average of your life was positive. No. Grace is offered for free exclusively to sinners and screw ups. Jesus didn’t die for you because you’re a good person – you’re not that good. Jesus died because he loved you. He thought you, the real you – with all your bumps and bruises, you were worth dying for. Grace is free for you, but it was not cheap.
Now here’s why it’s important. Grace is free. And so our obedience to God is a RESPONSE to love, not a pre-requisite. This is such an important switch. Obedience is a RESPONSE, not a pre-requisite. We obey God because we love him, and we love him – because he loved us first.
Let’s look at this practically. The big drive behind this sermon series, the reason that the truth is worth defending is because it affects the way we live our lives. These sermons are little bit up here [point at head] very intellectual – but it matters because it plays out in our day to day. God offers grace for free and so obedience is a response to love, not a pre-requisite.
So the first thing we need to do is Stop trying to earn God’s love. Stop it right now. Stop trying to earn God’s love. He already loves you. And stop trying to get other people to earn God’s love. Right? Soon as he gets sober, I’ll bring him to church. If I could just get them to stop having sex with each other, then I’m just sure they would come to church and God would love them. Or as soon as he gets clean, I’ll try to tell him about Jesus. No. This is going to sound a little weird, but bring me your drunks, your drug addicts, your hopeless cases. I know people who will not bring their friends to church – even though they need Jesus – because they are nervous the friends might curse in front of the pastor. Do you think I’ve never heard those words before? The walls are not going to catch on fire, just because someone who doesn’t fit in our bubble – steps in here without knowing Jesus. In fact, I have it on very good authority – that the angels rejoice when broken people who are still broken get to hear about God. The game we play in this house is resurrection, not book-keeping. Nobody needs to earn God’s love, Nobody needs to be good enough to come in here and hear about Jesus. This is my promise to you as a Pastor, if you bring them to me – no matter who they are, no matter what they’ve done – I will tell them about Jesus with love. And my challenge to you as a congregation is that when “those people” show up. The sinners and the tax collectors – I expect you to offer them God’s mercy, not expect a sacrifice. The first challenge for us today is the stop trying to earn God’s love.
The second challenge is to start living into God’s grace. Like a trapeze artist who knows there is a net, we should be willing to live into God’s grace in a way that looks reckless to the world around us. There’s this shift that happens in life when we look at God and stop trying to earn his love, and start to receive his love. Conditional love, love that you earn is limited by how good you are as a person. But Unconditional love, God’s love – which is offered without condition, is unlimited. God’s unlimited, unconditional love is transformative. It changes who we are and how we live. Let me see if I can explain it like this. Let’s say I buy my wife some flowers. I stop by the local place and grab a beautiful bouquet. I get home and I present them to my wife. She feels loved, and she says – thank you so much. And I respond, “no big deal. I just did it because I have to. Husbands are supposed to buy flowers. I didn’t really think about you, it was on my way anyways, they were having a sale and it was just a couple of bucks. I didn’t really care.” Is my wife going to feel loved if this is how I present flowers to her? And yet for so many of us – this is how we live into God’s love. When we believe in earned love, limited love – we present God with the bare minimum, whatever we need to do to keep the ol’ ball and chain happy. But if we reject the heresy of limited love, and experience God’s unconditional saving love, it changes our life. We say that the old life is dead, and we get a NEW life to live into God’s love. Obedience is a joyful response, instead of a begrudging obligation.
Grace is for good people. [shake head]. In a world filled with bubbles and bootstraps we need to be very clear about one thing. Grace is not for good people. Grace is the exclusive gift offered ONLY to sinners. And so I’ll leave you with this, May you stop trying to earn God’s love, and start to receive God’s love. May you stop trying to get other people to offer sacrifices, but instead start to offer them mercy. Let Jesus pop those bubbles And finally – may your obedience to God become a response to transforming love. Amen.