This morning, I would like to ask a question. How much of God’s grace do we need in our lives? Is it 10%, or 30%, maybe 60%? Well, if you have already looked at the sermon title then you know the answer that I am fishing for, which is 100%. But being told that we need 100% of God’s grace is different than realizing that we need 100% of God’s grace. This distinction is important as we take a look at Jesus’ teaching. For at the heart of Jesus’ teaching is our need for 100 percent of God’s grace. So, I invite us to listen to the Word of God as it is found in the eighteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel, where I will begin reading at the ninth verse. Listen now for the Word of the Lord… In our text today, we have two man who have come before the alter of the Lord, to pray. The first man, the Pharisee, is a just and sincere man, who thanks God for making him such a good man. He has laid out his many accomplishments for God to see. Not only is he a man who avoided dishonesty in his business and infidelity in his personal life, he has also exceeded the legal requirements in piety. You see, he did not fast just once a week, he fasted twice a week and when it came to figuring his tithe, he did so before taxes, not afterwards. He is by all considerations a good man. He is the role model that we would teach our children to look up to. Now, the second man, the tax collector is the complete opposite. To put it nicely, the tax collector is a scoundrel; he is a no good cheating turncoat. As we learned in last week’s lesson, the tax collector was one of the most despised men of the community. There was nothing good that could be said about this man. Nevertheless, in a shocking turn of events, Jesus said that after they prayed, it was the tax collector and not the Pharisee who went home justified before God. In other words, it was the tax collector who was at peace with God. The most sensible question that we can ask ourselves is, “How can this be?” How can this no good tax collector go home justified before God while the Pharisee does not go home justified before God? Well, the answer lies in their understanding of their need for God’s grace. The tax collector realized that he just didn’t measure up. Therefore, he knew that he needed God’s grace. That is why he asked for God’s grace saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” And, the tax collector received God’s grace. Now the Pharisee’s approach to grace was a little different. If we were to ask the Pharisee how much grace did he need, he would probably tell us that he needed 100 % of God’s grace. For, that is what he had learned, but by his prayer he showed that he did not fully realize his need for God’s grace. Instead he looked around at all the good things he had done and he looked at how much of a better person he was than the tax collector. So, rather than seeking God’s grace, he simply told God all the good things he had done. It is ironic, but the Pharisee asked for nothing, and so received nothing. The tax collector asked for mercy and received mercy, and was therefore, the one who was justified or at peace with God. Whether he realized it or not, the Pharisee was seeking validation from God for all the he had done. In many ways he was telling god that God must accept him and all that he had done because he was good and righteous in how own eyes. And, it was this attempt to cash in on his own goodness that causes the Pharisee to deny the reality of his need for God’s grace. By looking around and seeing himself as a little better than others, the Pharisee began to see less and less his own need for grace, because he had his own goodness on which to rely. It is probably fair to say that the Pharisee started out with the best intentions, wanting to serve God and do all that the law required, but what he forgot was that serving God did not lesson his need for God’s grace. For you see, serving God was to be re-active and not pro-active, meaning that serving God was to be a response to the wonderful grace that God has given, not a pre-requisite to receiving God’s grace. What has taken place with the Pharisee is something that can easily happen to us. It is easy for us to begin looking around and making comparisons of our lives over and against other people. It begins as we watch the news and we hear about the awful things that people do and we hear a lot of it because it seems as though that is all that is reported in the news. So, it is easy for us to say, “I am not as bad as that person, and by human standards that would be a true statement. However, our need to compare does not stop there. Pretty soon we begin looking around at other people, people in our community, even people in our church and we begin to rate ourselves against these people. So and so drinks, but I don’t drink. So and so smokes, but I don’t smoke. So and so doesn’t go to church as often as I do, doesn’t help out as much as I do, isn’t as devoted as I am, is not as great a person as I am. We start building a case for ourselves. Then we can go to God and say, “God aren’t you glad that you have me on your team? Because, I am so much better than other people. I am certainly better than the people I hear about in the news. I am better than so many people in the community. I am even better than some of the people here in the church. All these other people, well, they need so much of your grace, but me, I have so much goodness on my side.” When we look to others to try and see how we measure up, we get a false sense of who we are, and we begin to deny the reality of our need for God’s grace. But, when we look to God then we discover the truth about ourselves, which is that we too need God’s grace, 100 percent of God’s grace. Last week I asked you to think about the worst person you knew, either from personal experience or from history. Then I challenged you to ask whether or not God still loved that person. Well, this week, I want you to again think of the worst person you know. Then ask yourself the question, “Who needs God’s grace more, that person or me?” If you answer that person, then I would encourage you to think some more about the meaning of God’s grace. I realize at this point some of you may be thinking, “Of course, I know that I need God’s grace. Nobody would deny that?” And, it is truly that consciously we probably wouldn’t deny our need for God’s grace. None of us would go to God and say, “Hey God, thank but I don’t need your grace.” But, to say that we must rely 100 % on God’ grace means that we must rely 0% on ourselves, and I know that is not easy. To rely 100% on God and 0% on ourselves means giving up control and that can be extremely difficult. The fact is, the more that we can point to our own goodness, and the more that we can point to the things that we do, then the more we feel we have some control, that we are in control of our own destiny. By pointing to our own goodness, especially in light of other people’s failings we get that false sense that somehow we are contributing to our own salvation. The Pharisee doesn’t ask for grace because he is simply looking at himself, or comparing himself with others. The tax collector is looking to God, or at least trying to, and by looking to God he realizes that what he needs more than anything else is God’s grace. Now, it is worth asking the question, “If we are in need of 100 % of God’s grace, does that mean we no longer have to worry about doing good things? Can we just go out and do whatever we want because whether we do good or bad we still need 100% of God’s grace?” Or, it is worth asking the question, “What if I want to do good for God? Doesn’t my desire to do good for God count for something?” Well, if you want to do good for God, great, go ahead and do it. Serve God and God’s people. It is the right thing to do. Because, you see, that desire to do good for God is the natural response to the grace you have received from God. Doing good for God is like saying to God, “You have given me so much. You have blessed my life and filled it with grace that now I want to go out and serve you by doing good things and obeying your will.” This desire to do good for God, reminds me of a how it is when a child wants to do something for mom or dad, like color a picture, or pick a pretty dandelion. The child does that, not to get love from mom or dad, but because they have already received love from mom or dad. It is a natural response, which brings me back to the first question I asked about using grace as a license to do whatever we want. If you ever think that having God’s grace means that you can do whatever you want, then I encourage you to spend some more time think about what God’s grace really means. I said earlier that when we look to God we discover the truth about ourselves, But, it is that truth that can truly set us free. For, in the truth we discover that not only do we need 100% of God’s grace, but we also discover that God gives to us 100% of his grace. Jesus has made it clear that the one who trusts in his or her own goodness and self-righteousness, is the one who has placed their trust in the wrong place. For, it is the one who has exalted himself that will be humbled as he realizes that all his goodness and self-righteousness will not get him accepted by God, nor will it contribute to his own salvation. Instead, it is the one who places his trust in God that will be excepted by God. For, the one who is humble enough to realize that all goodness comes from God is the one who is humble enough to realize his need for 100% of God’s grace. And, Jesus has told us that it is the humble who will be exalted, and more than simply telling us about humility, Jesus has shown us. We cannot forget that at this point in the story, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He is on his way to take up the cross, to undergo our death. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem in order to humble himself in obedience to God. The good news is that the one who humbled himself is the one who will be exalted by God. For, when God raised Jesus from the dead, he exalted Jesus. Jesus humbled himself and was exalted in order that God’s grace would be made available to us. Therefore, we are called to humble ourselves, to realize our need for 100 % of God’s grace. When we do so, we will find that we too shall be exalted by God, not because of any goodness on our parts, but because of God’s 100% grace.
Pastor Jim's past sermons:
100 Percent Grace
Links to past sermons can be found at the bottom of this page.