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About this series
The Prodigal and the Perfectionist
Why We All Need Grace
How often has something seemed confusing until you saw a picture of it and then you thought, "Oh, now I get it!"? Grace is like that -- confusing, until we get a picture of what it is. Scripture tells us that God's grace is available to all who will receive it. But how can we receive it, if we don't really know what it is, or even why we need it? In this series, Chip Ingram explains the meaning of grace that Jesus so clearly revealed, in the parable of Luke 15. Jesus' intention was to help people, then and now, understand God's generous heart and why He is so ready to pour out His abundant grace on all who will receive it.More from this series
What is the biggest challenge that you’re facing, personally, right now? Just the number one biggest challenge. Physical, relational, family, crisis, health, I don’t know. Do you have it?
Now, let me read a promise given to a man who had prayed very hard, who had lots of faith, but God said, “I’m not going to answer it the way that you want it answered.”
It’s the apostle Paul, it’s 2 Corinthians chapter 12 and the Lord says to the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Paul would then say, “Most gladly, therefore, will I rejoice in my weakness that the power of Christ might be manifested,” or, “be made known through me.”
So I want you to think about, as you hear what we are going to talk about, so what is God’s grace and how does it work and how is it operational? I want you to think about that challenge and that promise that God would say to you, like He did to him and says to me, it doesn’t say He is always going to take you out of it, it doesn’t say a check is going to come in the mail, it doesn’t mean necessarily a supernatural healing. He can and has done all those kind of things in our church. But His grace will be sufficient.
If you have some notes, go ahead and pull them out because you’re going to need them. And as you pull those out, I want to make three observations about grace. Number one, I would argue that the single most important, in all of the New Testament, in fact, in all of the Bible, is the word: grace.
Secondly, I would argue that grace and the concept of grace separates the God of the Bible from every and all religions or religious systems in all the world. Over here you have grace and the God of the Bible and over here you have every religious system.
Third, I would argue your understanding, or lack of understanding, of grace will determine the quality of your life on earth and, more importantly, will determine the destiny and the destination of your life after you die.
When you open the Bible, it says, “By grace we are saved,” it must be pretty important. The apostle Paul would say, of his entire life, “I am what I am by the grace of God. And His grace didn’t prove vain toward me, but I labored more than all of them. Yet not I but the grace of God in me.”
Peter would say, “Grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peter would say, “Set your hope fully on the grace that is to be revealed.” You come to know God through grace. You grow through grace. You are sustained through grace. You are called into relationship by grace.
Whatever grace is, it’s really, really important. But here is my observation. And I have been doing this for about thirty-some years. New Christians, not so new Christians, really old Christians, when you sit down with someone and look them right in the eye and you say, “Could you explain grace to me and how it works?” You get kind of an, “Uhhhh, well, it’s, uh, sort of, and it kinda, and it’s free, and it’s unmerited and it’s…” And it’s foggy.
And so what I want to do, as we get started, I want to define grace. Then I want to show you where it comes from. And then we are going to talk about: how do you experience this goodness, this generosity of God, this unmerited, free love that God wants to give us?
So are you ready? So let’s define it. The dictionary, if you just open up the dictionary it will say, “It is a simple elegance; a refinement of movement.” We are thinking to ourselves, That may not be the definition we are looking for.
But it has this idea of grace, of movement, like a dancer or a ballerina. And then it gives us, “The free, unmerited favor of God.” A theological definition is, this is right out of a theology book, it’s, “The free and unmerited favor of God as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowing of blessings.” So theologically, that’s what it is.
Or the Sunday School definition, many of you grew up in Sunday school and the acronym: G-R-A-C-E: God’s riches at Christ’s expense. That’s accurate; that is true. The riches of God, the abundance of God given to us freely by what Christ did.
Here is the problem. The problem is that it is still nebulous. In fact, I looked up the word nebulous and see if this doesn’t reflect a little bit on your view of Grace. “It’s a concept or idea that is indistinct, unclear, vague, hazy, cloudy, fuzzy, misty, blurry, ill-defined, confusing, and ambiguous.”
We have learned: Grace is the most important word in the Bible. You come to know God by grace. You grow by grace. You’re sustained by grace. You’re given gifts by grace. The Greek word for grace is: charis. The word for joy is a root word: chara. The word for gift is: charismata. It’s all about grace and giving and yet, the average Christian really has a hard time getting their arms around, What is it exactly? How does it work? And how do you experience it?
So are you ready to roll? Open your Bibles to Exodus chapter 33 and we are going to take a look at this man named Moses and one of the most interesting passages in all of Scripture.
Moses has led the people out of Egypt. They have seen the Red Sea part. They are going out in the mornings and there is manna to pick up. They have seen miracles. Actually, by this time, he has already gotten the Ten Commandments and he has come down and when he was gone for a while, they decided that they would find a golden calf and they would worship it and the people were involved in blatant immorality.
And Moses, out of his frustration, breaks the commandments and goes back up and talks to God. And he goes through this dialogue and we pick up the dialogue in chapter 33, where Moses says, “If You’re not going to go with us, I can’t go. And, by the way, these are Your people, these aren’t my people.”
And as they began to talk, Moses does something that few people do in Scripture. He is very, very bold. And what he says is, “I want to know, Who is this really? Not just Your presence. If Your favor is going to go with me, I want to know what You are really like.”
“Then Moses said, ‘Now show me Your glory.’ And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim the name, the Lord, in your presence.’”
And so here is one time where someone says, “I want to know who You are. Pull back the veil! I want to see You just as You are.” And God says, “No man can see My face and live,” but here is what I am going to do. I am going to cause My goodness to pass in front of you.
And then He gives Moses instructions. He goes, “Look, I am going to put you, you stand over here and I am going to pass by. I will put My hand here and you can see the flares of My glory. And then I am going to proclaim My name.”
And so He instructs him to chisel out two more stones, he gets them, he brings them back up, he is alone with the Lord. And then as you skip down, look at chapter 34, verse 5. “Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and He proclaimed His name, the Lord. And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord,’” literally, “Yahweh, Yahweh. I Am that I Am, I Am that I Am.” It is His covenant name. “I am the Ever Existent One. I have no beginning; I have no end. I Am. I am the Author of the universe, I am the Author of all history. I have no needs. I am self-sufficient.”
Well, what is this “I Am” God like? The God who is the Alpha and the Omega, has no beginning, has no end, who is the Creator of all that there is, who spoke and the galaxies came into existence, who created life itself. What is He like? What is His goodness like?
And then He fills in the gaps. “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving the wickedness and rebellion and sin.” It is this amazing picture of God’s goodness.
The first two words, some of your translations, if you’re in another one will say, “The God, merciful and loving,” or, “gracious.” The first word is checed. Two hundred and thirty-five times this word is used in the Old Testament. It is His loyal, steadfast love. It’s a commitment love. It’s, “I am for you,” love.
Every time it is from a superior to an inferior or God to man. It’s always the equivalent of grace. “I am for you, I love you.”
And then the next word: gracious? It’s a little word named channuwn. And it’s the idea, one hundred percent of the time it is a free, unmerited, non-coerced, non-legal, unilateral, “I want to bless and give and make you all that you can be. I want to help you and love you and care for you and protect you.”
And grace is a very interesting concept in Scripture because when people are proud and say, “I don’t need God,” He is opposed to the proud but He gives grace to the – who? To the humble. To people who recognize their need.
Imagine, if you will, for a word picture. Grace always flows downhill. It’s like this huge lake of unlimited supply. But think of this. God could have described Himself in any way possible and He says, “I am going to let My goodness pass before you.”
A quote from J.I. Packer in his classic book writes this. He says, “Within the cluster of God’s moral perfections there is one in particular to which the term ‘goodness’ points – the quality which God specially singled out from the whole when proclaiming ‘all of His goodness’ to Moses.” And then when He speaks of Himself, He speaks of being, “abundant,” or, “overflowing in goodness and truth.”
“This is the quality of generosity.” Packer goes on to say, “Generosity means a disposition to give to others in a way which has no mercenary motive. It is not limited to the recipients anything that they deserve.” God gives generously because He longs for the joy and the happiness of His people. They are the object of His affection.
Now here is all I want you to get. You have a picture in your mind and I have a picture in my little psyche of when you close your eyes to pray or look up to pray or when you think about what is going on in your life and you have a snapshot of God – and I am going to suggest that whatever snapshot you have is probably pretty marred. He is not like your dad. He is not like a pastor you met. He is not like a bad experience you have had.
He is not a God whose arms are crossed and this sense of, You need to get with the program. He is not a God who is down on you. He is a God who is abundant in grace and goodness.
In other words, He wants to protect you, He wants to love you. And take this in the right way. He wants you to be happy.
It’s the picture of when a mom hears a baby crying and she rushes in, where does she get that? That is the goodness of her heart wanting to comfort her child. When you hurt, that is how God feels about you.
If you’re a dad and someone picks on one of your kids or wants to hurt them or take them or kidnap them, there is something in a dad that steps up and goes, “You mess with my son,” that’s how God feels when danger and darkness and difficulty and pain comes into your life.
He is good. He is gracious. His predisposition is not merited based on how you happen to be behaving or not behaving. His predisposition – He is good because of what He is like.
And the big error when you look at all the systems of all religion, down in our psyche, ever since sin entered the world, is we have this, and you go to ancient Egypt. Ancient Egypt, when you look at the tombs, they have a picture of a scale. And the whole mindset of the world, then and now largely, is there is this scale of good and bad.
And if your good outweighs your bad, you go into some eternal bliss by every system. And the God of the Bible says, “Your good could never be perfect and holy and righteous enough. And the basis for relationship with Me will be grace. It will be not what you deserve, not what you can earn, not what you can merit, and that grace is most clearly and most powerfully pictured in My Son.”
Turn, if you will, to John chapter 1. “In the beginning was the Word.” John, it’s the last gospel. The other gospels have been written. The Church has been going for roughly about sixty, maybe seventy years. This was about A.D. 90, between A.D. 90 and A.D. 100. He is the last of the apostles. All the others have been martyred.
He is on an island and he is speaking now and all the Church has grown and there are some factions and he wants to pull everything together and remind people: This is why Jesus came and this is who He really is.
And he says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And all things that came into being are from God. And nothing has ever been created or come into being that isn’t from the Word.”
And then he talks about John the Baptist and his role and he came to be a witness to the Light. And then skip down to verse 14.
It says, “The Word became flesh,” the Logos, the Word, the Truth, the Second Person of the Trinity became flesh, “and lived among us for a while. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John testifies concerning Him. He cries out, saying, ‘This is the One of whom I said, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because He was before me.”’) For from the fullness of His grace we have all received blessing after blessing. No one has ever seen God, but God the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.”
Literally, the text is, He has explained Him. If you want to know what God is really like, if you want to know the snapshot or the picture, it’s why almost without exception, no matter where I’m reading in the Bible, I read in the gospels. I want to read about Jesus. I want to watch Jesus. I want to listen to Jesus. How does Jesus respond to these people? How does Jesus respond to this? How does Jesus respond when you’re in a storm? I want to always be reading and thinking about Jesus because He is what the Father is like.
Jesus said to – what? “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father!” And how is He? He is full of both grace and truth, in perfect balance. To understand grace, we need to just keep looking and studying and marveling at the person of Jesus. Finally, we have an amazing opportunity where Jesus explains who God the Father is. I think it is probably, if not His most famous parable or teaching, the Good Samaritan is probably up there neck and neck.
But in Luke chapter 15, Jesus is going to actually explain, This is what the Father is like. Luke chapter 15 and as you turn there, I had a very, very interesting experience.
I teach at Mount Hermon almost every summer and Roger Williams has been the CEO and the director of Mount Hermon, it has grown, it has flourished.
And some of you who are close to the situation understand he died. He battled cancer for about three or three and a half years and this summer, I was teaching at Mount Hermon and normally I teach in the evenings and then I have an opportunity, I go in the morning and if my family is there it’s even better.
And I hear someone else teach and I just, it’s great. I just soak it up. Then they have a little break and then they have all these seminars. Well, if you do what I do for a living, I want to hear one message and then I want to go goof off a little bit. Okay? I don’t want to go to another seminar.
And so I’m deciding what I am going to do with my time and then I hear that Roger is going to do a seminar on Luke 15. And I just passed him and I looked at him and I had that little prompting from God and one of the staff members said, “Roger couldn’t teach last week. Chemotherapy is really bad. They have done all they can do.”
And what I became acutely aware of is: this man is going to die very soon. And I remember, I thought, Well, I need a little break. I’ll just sit in the back so I can get out and not disturb him. And it was in the main…
And he begins to talk and I don’t know if you have ever been around a person who knows they are going to die and die very soon, but they speak with a clarity and a conviction that very few of us ever have. There are no distractions. There are no little issues. There are no little things.
They only talk and think and live and breathe and relate in ways that really matter, because their time is so limited. And he started off and he said, “I have been studying this passage for over ten years.”
And then he said, he talked about, I’ll refer to it later, a Dr. Ken Bailey, who spent sixty years, six decades in rural, peasant villages in the Middle East, Arab world.
And he said, “I have learned, I have been studying this passage for ten years and my view of God has been so transformed, I could never fathom or believe how deeply God loves me, totally apart from my performance or my behavior. What grace is really all about. And it’s a grace that doesn’t set you free to do whatever you want, it’s a grace that compels you to love others and live a holy life.”
And as he began to talk and I could tell he was getting emotional and I went down a couple more rows thinking, I want to get closer to this guy. The long and the short of it, I spent all three days at his seminar. And it was just like, pop, pop, pop! And all of a sudden, I went to school, I have been a pastor thirty-some years, I have a little understanding of grace. But after three days I realized my understanding was like that.
And I got to be in the presence of a man who, not only opened God’s Word, but opened his heart in a way that I thought, Oh, God, I have a thimble understanding of the ocean of Your amazing love for me and if I could just digest that, it would so change how I think about me and how I think about others and how I relate to life.
And so at the third day I went down and he got weaker and weaker and weaker and I stood in line and I said, “Hey, Roger, I’d like to ask you a favor.” And we had known each other for probably fifteen, twenty years.
And I said, “God has really spoken into my life and rather than steal it, I would rather ask permission because I would really like to take some things I have learned and pass it on.”
And he smiled. Probably like a guy who is exhausted and has a baton in one of those relay races. And it was like he took, he looked at me and he took the baton in my hands. He said, “You share that with as many people as you can. It has transformed my life.”