June 9, 2013: GRACE: The Power of the Cross

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, how wonderful and comforting it is to live in, with, and under Your grace! Likewise, how foreign it is to our natural thinking to focus on Your grace and take daily comfort in it. Today teach us to do both so that our lives may be enriched beyond all human measure. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE AUTHOR OF GODLY GRACE!

TEXT: Romans 8: 28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

Grace, or God’s undeserved love for us in Christ, is the most misunderstood and yet the most glorious truth in all the Bible. Let me illustrate what I mean.

Sally looses her job, the bills mount up and foreclosure looms. Sally is a Christian, although she doesn’t attend church too often and doesn’t pray on a regular basis. Sally is afraid of the future. She begins to ask herself: “Why did God send all this on me?” Her answer is: “He must be punishing me for being so slip-shoddy in my faith. So, if I go every Sunday and pray every day hopefully He will remove this burden from me.” So, she re-attends church out of fear.

Frank has been strong and healthy all his life. Suddenly he develops cancer and the doctor gives him a bad prognosis. Frank gets depressed. He’s gone to church most of his life. He’s been active in his congregation. But now it appears to him that it was all for naught. One question haunts him: “What is God trying to tell me with my cancer?”

Meanwhile, Mary gets into a car accident on the way home from work. She isn’t hurt too badly, the usual scrapes and bruises. But it is unsettling to her. Her question is: “Why did God send this evil upon me at this time? What does He want me to do differently with my life?”

I

The common refrain of suffering believers usually includes either blaming God for their problems, or viewing them as a Godly punishment for certain sins. Is this the correct attitude for the believer? No! Why do I say that? Because as Christians we live in, with, and under God’s grace.

First of all, God isn’t the author of evil—never, ever. Satan is. And Satan has a ready ally in the form of our frail flesh corrupted by original sin. Don’t forget, we call: the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh the “unholy trinity” for a reason. Second, we dare never confuse God’s grace with His providence. Under grace God guides, protects, saves, and uplifts His beloved children. This creates spiritual blessings which in turn spill over into all aspects of our earthly lives. Under His providential care God allows “the rain (or lack thereof) to fall on the just and the unjust.” He allows evil to exist, but sets limits as to how far Satan can go—with the betterment of believers always foremost in His mind.

My sainted mother-in-law, Lois, had a nasty car accident many years ago. She wasn’t hurt very badly, but she did suffer neck problems from it the rest of her life. For a few years after it happened she would wonder out loud: “What was God trying to tell me by having it occur?” Finally, I told her in total exasperation: “Maybe God wasn’t telling you anything! Maybe the old couple that hit you weren’t paying attention. Maybe Satan blinded them for a moment. Maybe the state didn’t plan on high corn fields which blocked sight lines when they laid out the road? Don’t blame God for any of this. Evil occurs in this life. It is never God’s fault. However, God does promise us that He will always use evil, or bad things for a good purpose, so let’s dwell on that fact. You live under His gracious care. It could have been worse. God protected you from more serious injury. Rejoice over that fact and praise Him for it! Focus your energy on what you do know from God’s Word instead of dwelling upon what you don’t know!” In other words, I basically quoted her the truth of our lesson: “All things work together for the good to those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

II

It speaks volumes about our human nature that when evil intrudes into our cozy world we almost always knee-jerk into somehow blaming God for it. Why don’t we blame Satan? Why don’t we blame ourselves? Why don’t we blame this crazy world? But no, we usually try to turn God into a scapegoat, don’t we? My friends, don’t let that happen to you! Live under grace, not fear. Live under the certainty of His daily love and not under the storm clouds of second-guessing. Live under Christ. Like Job of old, focus on God’s love and forgiveness.

Remember the passage where Christ tells the people that He has “numbered each hair of their heads?” Recall the passage where Jesus says: “What father will give his son a stone or a scorpion when he asks for bread?” God loves us. Christ loves us. Grace means that God sent His only Son into this world to suffer evil in our place. Jesus died because of evil. He died to pay evil’s debt to God Almighty. “The wages of sin are death.” Well, those wages have been paid in full by Jesus on the cross for you! You don’t owe God anything for your sins. Christ has paid the bill in full. He did this out of undeserved love for you and me. This is what grace means. And now, since He’s called us and predestined us to faith in Christ, He doesn’t hold our sins against us any more. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not holding their sins against them any more” as Paul writes in Romans. Because of this inviolate truth, God never sends evil upon us as some sort of punishment. For, He already punished Christ in our place!

III

But Pastor, why do “bad” things happen to Christians, then? Well, that’s life on this mortal coil! Providential care is different than grace. Providence sets limits to evil but it doesn’t wipe it out. But Pastor, what about when God talks about “disciplining His children?” Could that we the reason why I’m suffering right now? It could be. But in any case, instead of dwelling on the why of it—which is unclear, focus on what is clear! That is, how are you handling a “tough time?” Are you using it to grow in your faith, or not? Are you using it to reach others who are also suffering, or not? As the old adage goes: “Are you turning lemons into lemonade? Or are you letting them rot because they taste sour without a sugar additive—we’ll call it: grace?

To be sure, Satan and his allies work especially hard on believers. They pull out all the stops when it comes to attempting to destroy our Christian faith and confidence. They did it with St. Paul. He suffered beatings, a stoning, prison, ship-wreck, poisonous snakes, a dogged opposition that trailed him from town to town around the world—literally—among many other situations. And yet, He never, ever, blames God for causing this grief in his life. Instead, he writes: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

How many people suffering from chemical addiction have been saved by your sobriety and confession over “being clean?” How many cancer patients have been uplifted by your example of how you handled that scourge? How many accident victims have been comforted by the strength of your Christian character? The list goes on and on. How we handle evil when it comes our way defines us, as people and as Christians. So never, ever, forget: “We live under God’s grace and we seeks to show it in all things.” All things include evil times and good times. And never forget: God always has the last smile in this: He will always turn evil into good, into blessing, if we but let Him! That’s GRACE: the power of the cross. And it’s God’s special gift to you! Amen