Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Gospel of Grace

My pastor, Charles Garland, is gifted in preaching the Gospel of Grace like few men I have ever heard. His sermons leave me feeling utterly sinful and convicted, yet completely loved and accepted by God. That's a hard balance to strike, and this past Sunday's sermon was no exception. I'm so blessed to sit under such teaching each week.

Christianity is a pretty decent, attractive religion except the stumbling block that the cross represents. Christianity has community, ethics, morality, service, spiritual connectivity, all good things. . . but the cross introduces a new dimension, that brings discomfort into a nice, tidy religion. It's easy to accept the fact that we need some help from God, but it's very hard (impossible, in fact, without a change of heart) for man to accept that the kind of help he needs doesn't just require God as a cheerleader or a helpful friend; the kind of help man needs requires God to send His own Son to die for him. It's hard to admit that we need help that bad.

The text of the sermon last week was from Mark 14, specifically a look at Peter the night before the crucifixion. Peter was a close associate of Mark, and likely the Gospel of Mark was written largely from Peter's own viewpoint. What is therefore interesting is just how imperfect Peter is depicted in the Gospel of Mark. There is no attempt to brush up the portrait of Peter; instead he is shown for just how fallible, pompous, and self-reliant he truly is. . . until he is broken. With his denial of Christ, Peter's pride and self-reliance is shattered, and he finally truly comprehends his need for grace. Far from making Peter useless, his failure makes him more useful in Christ's kingdom, for when he is weak, Christ is strong.

That is the Gospel, not that we come to God with a resume for our accomplishments that show our usefulness for His kingom, but that we come empty-handed, broken, and dirty, and in need of a Savior. Only then, when we come knowing we have nothing, can God begin to use us for His purposes. That is the Gospel of Grace. That we are utterly sinful (not just sort of sinful), but that God will completely accept all those who turn to Him in faith. Utterly sinful and completely accepted. What a paradox, a stumbling block! - but what a beautiful truth. God's mercy is great. His grace is abundant.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

If you are interested, last week's sermon by my pastor can be found here. Choose "sermons" from the left taskbar, and then choose "Peter and Judas" from October 8th. I especially thought the comparison of Peter and Judas was interesting.


Adrian C. Keister said...

That is good that your pastor has a balance of law and grace. That's one thing I've appreciated about Chris. Praise God!

In Christ.

Susan said...

Indeed. God definitely led our pastoral search committee!

JimSimply said...

I missed this sermon live, since my wife and I just started attending. But we have had the same response. At least once every service, I nudge my wife and say or write, "Have you heard anyone speak like this before?"

I've spent my entire life in churches, and I have never heard someone speak so frankly about our condition, mitigating it always with the love and stupendous mercy of God. It's a grace of God to be able to hear such sermons.

Nice to find another blogger in the pews!

Susan said...

Thank you for the comment, Jim. How fun to find a local, even intra-church blogger! I hope to meet you and your wife in person sometime soon, maybe. I'm pretty easy to spot in church - long blond hair and a hat :).