Grace: The Foundation of the Church
David gave this talk at Woodside Church (Bedford) in 2017, as part of their "Amazing Grace" series. Click here to download it.
The word grace is used in many ways today:
- She danced with grace (elegance).
- He’s a horrible character with no saving grace (attractive qualities).
- You must repay the loan after a six month grace period (time when you needn’t pay).
- Will you say grace please before we eat.
- His Grace will see you now. (Form of address to a Duke, Duchess or Archbishop).
- Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.
- This series is to help us all understand what Scripture calls “God’s grace in all its truth”, Col 1:6
Today we will be looking at a story from the life of Jesus, and a brief summary of Paul’s teaching in Romans in his letter to the church in Rome – where he defines the good news or gospel of God’s grace which is to preached in the whole world.
A Pharisee called Simon had invited Jesus for a meal. Pharisees were those who kept the ceremonial laws of the Jews rigorously and looked down on those who didn’t. We can't be sure of his motivation (perhaps it was duty or curiosity), but meals for religious study and debate were quite common.
They were reclining at table - which showed a formal occasion. There would have been a long low table or just large dishes in the courtyard of a large home. Each leaned on their left elbow in order of rank on low couches. They would have taken off sandals, feet backwards, so could be washed by household servants. Feet were unclean (and so the greatest triumph over and disgrace of an enemy was to make them the footstool).
The fact that feet not washed - nor was Jesus given formal greeting - is very significant. It's a mark of contempt, or at least a claim to a higher social position. The insulted guest would normally be expected to make a few terse remarks and withdraw. Jesus graciously stays in the room.
So tense, hostile atmosphere. It was into this atmosphere that this woman - known as a sinner - probably a prostitute, comes forward and in an unpremeditated way makes up as an act of sheer love and devotion for the calculated insults of the Pharisee. It was common for the ordinary people to come in and watch the banquet and, as Jesus makes clear, the woman had been there from the beginning and had therefore seen the insults of the Pharisee to Jesus.
Another unpremeditated act of love - it was shocking for a woman to let her hair down in the presence of men. The flask of perfume carried by such women was probably bought with immoral earnings.
Simon thought he had got one over on Jesus. He thought he had proved that Jesus can't be a prophet. Jesus demonstrated that he was by discerning what Simon was thinking and bringing a clearly appropriate word. Simon had, it seems, invited Jesus partly to test out whether he was a prophet.
Jesus then tells a parable of two debtors – one who owed 500 days wages, the other who owed 50. Both are forgiven. The word used to describe the freely forgiving of their debts was in Greek a word containing the word for grace. Debts and sins were the same word in Aramaic. So, the woman was forgiven, but Simon the Pharisee could also be forgiven his insults.
THE LESSON JESUS WAS TEACHING
The love in the parable and in the action was a response to pure grace (God's love for those who don't deserve anything but judgement). The creditor just decided to forgive. He didn't have to. The woman had just been forgiven - therefore she could be very loving. Her great love proved that her many sins were forgiven.
Now Jesus commends the woman for her actions. It was shocking to praise a woman in a mans company. Even more to contrast with the host. Jesus' commendation was of a right response to his free unconditional grace.
It doesn't mean that Simon had not done much wrong and therefore couldn't be forgiven much and so love much. Rather Simon did not love because he did not see his need of grace. It is only as we understand that we deserve nothing that we can love much. Furthermore, Simon in a sense represents the condemnation of law. The woman was set free from shame as well as from law.
HOW IS THIS MESSAGE ESSENTIAL?
a) It is how we are saved by grace through the cross received by faith.
b) Many Christians realise this but then often start to live the rest of their life under Law and try and earn God's favour.
- They're motivated by guilt.
- "Overcoming" demands tremendous effort.
- People live under condemnation.
- There's a lack of self-acceptance - so we don't accept others.
c) The way this is explained theologically in Romans is that people are either
- In Adam (Non-Christian) or
- In Christ (Christian).
In Adam we are under the reign of
- Death (Rom 5:14)
- Sin (Rom 5:21)
- Law (Rom 7:1-6).
These are the dominating characteristics in a persons life.
In Christ Grace reigns, “so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:21. This means I now can never be condemned, the death of Jesus covers all the sins I have committed and all the sins I will commit. Nothing I do for God no matter how hard I work will change God's acceptance of me. The higher the standard, the bigger the grace, the higher the sin, the more grace overcomes. Let's look at this in more detail:
In Adam we cannot help sinning - this does not mean we are not responsible. In Christ we died to sin and as evidence we are buried in baptism. Sin has no power or authority over a dead person.
Henceforward I know that because God has put his power within me, his new nature in me, I do have the authority over sin. Previously I was under that master like a slave master, now I am under a new master, Grace. It is grace which enables me to overcome sin practically:
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:11-12).
The fear of death brings bondage. Death is the last enemy. Hebrews 2:15. How do I overcome this enemy? By reigning in life. How? By trying harder? No - by receiving God's abundant gift of grace and his free gift of righteousness. One sin of Adam brought condemnation to all in Adam. Many sins of those in Christ are taken away by the free gift of his grace.
The law is presented in Rom 7 like a husband who is:
- Always right
- Never satisfied
- Always accusing
- Always condemning
- Never helps
- Will never die.
How are we released? We die to the Law.
WHY DID GOD GIVE THE OLD TESTAMENT LAW?
Different types of laws:
- Ceremonial law – sacrifices, offerings told us that only a perfect sacrifice – fulfilled in Jesus Christ!
- Laws that kept Israel as a separate nation, such as the food laws. Needed to preserve them as a nation from whom the Messiah (Jesus) would come to rescue the whole world from sin, death and the devil. Fulfilled now in Jesus Christ – now believers from every nation (whatever they eat) are fully part of God’s family.
- Moral law – living God’s standards – e.g. no lying, killing or committing adultery. Fulfilled in Jesus Christ – who lived a perfect life but fulfilled in us too! “… in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:4. And these laws are even stranger – so not just “love your neighbour” but “love your enemies” – forgive those that hurt you like you’ve been forgiven. Grace and truth.
The standards under grace are higher but we have power to fulfil them through God’s grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
WHAT IS BEING “LEGALISTIC”?
It's living under law today – whereas the Christian is not “under law”. It's feeling accepted by God and others by what we do. It's misapplying Old Testament laws for Israel. It's condemning or looking down on others regarding externals. In Christ – no condemnation. It's inventing new laws not in the Bible!
Modern day legalism is present in the secular as well as the religious world. We use legal terms to tell people what they should and shouldn't do. We shame people (such as through social media bullying). Today people have given up God’s law, but shame people by their new “laws” – there's still no freedom!
We are under the reign of grace – it is our new identity, our acceptance, our forgiveness and to characterise how we treat one another and how we show mercy to the world.
THE SCRIPTURE – LUKE 7:36-50
“36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. 37 When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38 Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”
40 Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”
“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.
41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver[b] to one and 50 pieces to the other. 42 But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, cancelling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”
43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”
“That’s right,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.
47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” 48 Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?”
50 And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”