Amazing grace

Sermon: Sunday, 30th June, 2024
Speaker: John Johnstone
Scripture: Romans 3:10-26

CS Lewis once entered a large conference on comparative religions. They were discussing if there is anything unique to the Christian faith – something in Christianity which you simply do not find in other religions. CS Lewis said: ‘O, that’s easy. It’s grace’. For Lewis, grace sets Christianity apart from the world’s false religions. Grace is an enormously important word for Christians. It is a beautiful word. It means Christianity isn’t so much about what we can do for God (for we cannot earn his favour) but Christianity is about what God can do for us – what God can do for you!

What is grace?

‘Grace is God’s free and unmerited favour shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment. It is the love of God shown to the unlovely. It is God reaching downward to people who are in rebellion against Him.’ (Jerry Bridges)

We are all sinners. We are all those who fall short of God’s standards. Our culture has a dangerously optimistic view of the human condition, saying that we are all basically good people. Sure, people say, we’re not perfect. Sin is downplayed, with actions blamed on our environment or our genes. However, if people are basically good, why then is sin so universal? Why is the world full of inequality, racism, greed, pride, war and exploitation. When we read the newspapers, it seems more accurate to say humans are basically bad. If we’re honest, we see this sin in our own homes and hearts too. How does God describe our condition? As it is written: ‘There is no-one righteous, not even one; there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no-one who does good, not even one.’ (Romans 3:10-12)

This is God’s estimation of our hearts. As far as he is concerned none of us is good. Quite the reverse. Our hearts are black. We are slaves to sin. But against this black canvas there is the sparkling diamond of the grace of God. Have you ever gone to buy a diamond ring? The salesperson in the jeweller’s puts the ring on a black cloth. This is so we can see the beauty of the diamonds in the ring. The grace of God is like a diamond- shining all the more against the backdrop of sin and guilt in our hearts.

1. Our ruin and God’s remedy – the 3 buts

We all know what the word ‘bankrupt’ means. When a business is bankrupt, it is no longer able to pay its debts. The Bible speaks of each one of us as being ‘spiritually bankrupt’. We’ve broken God’s good and holy rules countless times and so are in great moral debt to God. We have nothing to pay off these debts with. In fact, each day we sin more and our spiritual debt increases. We’re bankrupt! I doubt many here are financially bankrupt. But without Jesus, we’re all bankrupt morally. ‘There is no one righteous, not even one…’ (Romans 3:10)

However, Romans 3 does not end with just an outline of our total moral bankruptcy. It goes on. ‘Therefore no-one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’ (Romans 3:20-24)

God’s laws are not a ladder which we can climb to enter into Heaven. Actually, the opposite is the case. God’s laws are like x-rays which show up just how much sin is in our hearts. For example, the 10th commandment, ‘Do not covet’, only underlines just how often we want the best for ourselves and don’t like it when someone else has a better house, car, spouse or holiday than we have. What is God’s remedy to our ruin? ‘But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known…’ (Romans 3:21)

We are justified freely by his grace. (Romans 2:24) If we have faith in the work Jesus did on the cross then we are forgiven. Were God to count our sins against us none of us could stand before him (Psalm 130:3). Were God to weigh our lives in his scales we would all fail. But we can be justified – we can be made right with God. What happens? There’s a swap. Our sins are made over to Jesus and his goodness is freely given to us. Is this fair? No! This is grace.

In theological language: ‘God has imputed or charged the guilt of our sin to Jesus Christ; and he has imputed or credited the goodness of Jesus to us.’ That’s grace. God taking the blame for us.

‘God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice…’ (Romans 3:25) Why did Jesus die? As a sacrifice for sins. Why? Because God needs to demonstrate his justice. He cannot ignore the sin in our hearts. But he provides a solution.

‘… and (we) are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.’ (Romans 3:24-25 ESV)

The ESV has this word ‘propitiation’ = by his death, Jesus turned aside the wrath of God by taking it on himself. He bore our sins in his body and endured the full force of God’s wrath.

Why? Why did he do this? Because of his grace. Remember the definition. It is the love of God shown to the unlovely. Is there a more amazing love than this? Are you impressed by God’s love?

Let’s see other passages showing the contrast between our black hearts and God’s grace!

What were we like before we become Christians? ‘As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.’ (Ephesians 2:1-3)

We are dead in our sins (spiritually) and under the influence of Satan. We are prisoners to our own sinful lusts. We are objects of God’s wrath. This is a serious state. We might find this language offensive, but the truth is this – we cannot even go through a single day with doing wrong!

Where’s the grace? Where’s the ‘but’? ‘But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.’ (Ephesians 2:4-5)

But the good news is – God intervened. Why? Because of his great love. Because of his grace. Think of Lazarus in the grave. That’s a picture of what we were like spiritually. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. But God says to Lazarus ‘Come out!’ Why? Because of his grace!

What’s the next description? ‘At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.’ (Titus 3:3) We were slaves to sin.

Where’s the ‘but’? What will God do? ‘But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.’   (Titus 3:4-7)

Because Jesus completely paid the awful penalty of our sins, God could extend his grace to us through complete and total forgiveness of our sins. That’s why the cross of Jesus is so vital. Because on the cross Jesus is taking the punishment we deserve upon his shoulders.

2. What happens to our sin?

(a) How far away does God remove our sins?
‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.’ (Psalm 103:12)

How far are east and west apart? That’s an infinite distance. This is God’s way of telling us that our forgiveness is total/ complete/ unconditional. This is different from north and south—you can travel north only so far (to the north pole) before being forced to travel south; so, north and south meet at the poles. But east and west never meet.

In Fife east to west would be Crail to Kincardine. In the ancient near east it would be maybe from Egypt to Persia – 1400 miles. However, God has no fixed point in mind- it is an infinite distance!

(b) Can God still see our sins?
‘Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.’    (Isaiah 38:17)

What has God done with our sins? He’s put them behind his back. What does that mean? It means that they are unseen – they are not to be considered anymore. Not to be brought up. We have the English expression; ‘We’ve put that behind us now’ = not to be brought up again.

Are you a Christian? Did you know your sins were behind God’s back? So, when God looks at his children, he no longer sees the filthy clothes; these have been replaced by white robes given to us.

How did our sins get behind God? Jesus makes this possible; by dying for us and paying our debts, as far as God is concerned, it is as if we had never sinned. Our sins will not be thrown in front of our faces ever. They are behind his back.

(c) Are our sins really gone forever?
‘You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.’   (Micah 7:19)

In Exodus 15, God hurls the Pharaoh’s chariots into the depths of the sea – they sink like stones. God deals with the enemies of his people decisively. Pharaoh’s chariots could not catch up with the people. They were free. It’s the same with our wrongdoing. God hurls them into the sea. They are lost forever, never to catch up with us. He wants them to be lost forever because they have been fully dealt with on the cross. That means we are free from our sins. Imagine I threw a certain pebble into the ocean and then asked you to find it again. You could not. That’s how God sees our sins.

(d) But what happens to the record of our sins?
What about the files of all we have done? Isn’t it like social media, that once you post an unwise comment, it is there forever?

‘I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.’   (Isaiah 43:25)

Picture a scribe taking a wet rag and rubbing out a mistake from a parchment. God is the great Judge of all the earth. But when we trust in Jesus, he takes a wet cloth and wipes the board clean.

Think for a moment about all the wrong you have done in your life. Is this good news? Can you say God has forgiven you? Do you trust in the death of Jesus?

Then understand this: God removes our sins as far as east is from the west, he puts them behind his back, he hurls them into the depths of the sea, he wipes them out, he remembers them no more.