Sermon for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Ephesians 2:8-10
It is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God's gift, so that no one can boast about it. God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do.
Castle Church at Wittenberg

Grace and obedience

Right at the beginning of the Bible people had a problem with obedience. After creating heaven and earth, God created Adam and Eve. And already early in piece God said to Adam and Eve, "Donít!"
"Don't what?" Adam replied.
"Don't eat the forbidden fruit," God said.
"Forbidden fruit? We have forbidden fruit? Where is this forbidden fruit?" Adam asked.
"It is found on the tree right in the middle of the garden. Do not eat the fruit! Donít even touch it", said God.
"Because I am your Father and I said so!" God replied, wondering why he hadnít stopped creation after making the elephants.
A few minutes later, God saw his children having an apple break and he was ticked off!
"Didn't I tell you not to eat the fruit?" God asked.
"Uh, huh," Adam replied.
"Then why did you?" said the Father.
"She started it! She gave me the fruit to eat," Adam said.
"Did not", Eve replied. I was tricked by one of those creatures you (pointing at God) put in the garden Ė that snake over there.

Thus, the pattern was set and it has never changed. Everyone has had trouble with obedience ever since. Ask any parent and you find that obedience is one of the first lessons that a child has to learn. Parents have to be firm in helping their children understand that obedience is part of being safe. A child must sit in their car seat with the seat belts on Ė this is for their safety if the car has to break suddenly.
A child has to learn that a power point is a very dangerous thing and parents say, "Donít" in much the same way God said that to Adam and Eve.

There are the many examples of how obedience led people down amazing paths. I think of Dr Paul Brand. He's a world renowned orthopaedic surgeon. His wife is well qualified ophthalmologist. Together they could have grossed $1 million a year. But would you believe that for more than 17 years all they were given was food, clothing and shelter for themselves and their six daughters in India as they served as missionaries?

Crazy might be a way of describing this amazing couple. Obedient would be a much better description. They believed that sharing the love of Jesus through their medical skills was more important than a million bucks a year.

What is our attitude?
Do we think that it is important for us to be obedient to God?
Do we think that our obedience to God has anything to do with how we live every day? For instance, do we think that it really matters whether we pray every day,
hear God speaking to us through the Bible,
avoid sin,
turn away from temptation,
forgive others,
love our neighbour. Or perhaps we are inclined to think that itís pretty hard to live up to God's standard and so why bother trying. After all, he forgives us.

In the same vein, does it matter whether we are slack Christians,
blending in nicely with the world,
irregular at worship,
committed to all kinds of temporary things and no commitment to what really counts, namely Jesus?
Does it matter that we give in to sins such as greed, selfishness,
being judgemental or being the source of unkind criticism?
Does God expect better of us than this or is he so full of grace that our disobedience is of no consequence to him?

Iím sure none of us would say that obedience to God is optional but how good are we are being obedient to God's will for us and his church?

Letís look at the key text from Ephesians 2. I read, "It is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God's gift, so that no one can boast about it. God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do" (v 8-10). Letís unpack what Paul is talking about here.

The first sentence talks about our salvation and specifies that our salvation happens by grace. This means our salvation has been given to us as an undeserved gift. It is not something that we earn or deserve. "It is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God's gift, so that no one can boast about it."

The Bible explains further in Colossians 1, "Through the Son (Jesus) God decided to bring the whole universe back to himself. Ö At one time you were far away from God and were his enemies because of the evil things you did and thought. But now, by means of the physical death of his Son, God has made you his friends, in order to bring you, holy, pure, and faultless, into his presence" (v 19, 21).

The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross in loving obedience has changed us from being the enemies of God to being his dearly loved children and friends: holy pure and faultless in Godís sight. Sin, death and the devil have been defeated. They can no longer condemn us and rule over us. The gap between God and us caused by sin has been closed. We are now reconciled to him through the blood of Jesus.

Let this sink in for a moment. We are holy, pure and free from accusation. When we struggle with sin in our lives this is what we keep coming back to. Instead of becoming depressed because it seems that sin has taken control of our lives we say, "Jesus loves me. He gave his life for me. He has saved me from judgement and hell. Yes, I do fail in the daily battle with sin but I am a winner because salvation is by grace, a gift from the loving hand of God."

As we delight in this ever so important truth about God's grace, letís go to the second half of our text from Ephesians, where we read, God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do.

It is clear from this that good works are actually not our works but Godís. Even our obedience and faithfulness, our great deeds for God are in fact Godís own deeds because we have been re-created in Christ Jesus to do these good works. Once again all credit goes to God. The power for obedience, the works of obedience, the outcome of obedience Ė everything comes from God and his good will.

God is serious about good works. He wants us to do the good works for which we are created. These good works bear fruit. Obedience brings blessings while disobedience brings the opposite.

And so we hear the apostle Paul calling God's people to obedience throughout his letters. He writes to the Colossian Christians, "You must get rid of all these things: anger, passion, and hateful feelings. No insults or obscene talk must ever come from your lips. Do not lie to one another, for you have put off the old self with its habits and have put on the new self" (3:8).

This is not a request - something that you might do if you feel like it. It is a call to obey Ė "you must get rid ofÖ" - "no insults" - "do not lie. And then he goes on to describe how they must behave as people who have been made new through the blood of Jesus. "So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you. And to all these qualities add love" (3:12-14).

This is not wishful thinking on Paulís part. This is a call to obedience in much the same way that Jesus called people to take action when he said things like, "If anyone wants to come with me, he must forget himself, carry his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34) or "As I have loved you so you must love one another" John 13:34).

Salvation is by grace. Good works are by grace. Our obedience is by grace.
God saved us for obedience.
God empowered us for obedience.
God prepared in advance the good works which we must do and
God resolved to either bless our obedience or, in time, discipline our disobedience.

This is not to say that Christians have to be absolutely perfect. We donít have to be perfect but we need to be repentant for those times we fail to be obedient. We are made perfect through the blood of Jesus.

That is all very nice but what practical implications are there for us here at St Paulís and for us as individuals. Here at St Paulís there is so much to be excited about as God moves us in new and interesting directions, but dare I say it, we are in constant danger of sidelining God's plans and ignoring what he wants Ė that is disobedience.

The Holy Spirit stirs us up to follow Christ and through Godís Word challenges us to be his people in our community, and to share his love with our fellow Christians. We get all excited about this or that aspect of what God is doing through us. But there is always that undermining disobedience. We are saved by grace for good works but too often we are saved by grace, we think, to keep on following the same old paths instead of letting the fruits of the Spirit control everything we do. Look at your own life and see just how often you have let hateful feelings, anger, back-stabbing, gossip, lack of commitment to God's work in the church, prejudice and spitefulness take control.

Just imagine the following.
We donít hear from God because we donít read the Bible or hear it spoken to us. We donít speak with God or ask him for anything in prayer.
We donít enter into his presence in worship.
We donít deal with the sin invading in our lives: be it addiction, or unforgiveness, or our temper, or whatever.
We donít practise our faith and let it shape how we care for others or how we respond to the challenges he puts in front of this congregation.

I know this is extreme but what is the consequence of that kind of disobedience? We miss out on the blessing that God wants to give us.
We donít really know much about what God wants us to do as his chosen people, and how his power can change our lives.
Nothing changes because God's grace has become a soft cushion to sleep on.
We become comfortable with our religion and we donít expect too much. "My life is not too bad, the people at church are friendly, the worship services are okay, I am saved, Ö everything is sweet".

No, itís not. There is more to our faith than that. If we think like that and come to worship like that Ė if we fail to diagnose our disobedience Ė then our worship on Sunday mornings will become just some religious exercises Ė as good as they may Ė but miss out big time on God himself and the blessings he wants to give us..

As we sing and pray, worship and listen, eat and drink the body and blood of our Lord in Holy Communion, God wants to change us and move us. Because of God's grace nothing will ever be the same again as we are led down the path of obedience Ė doing what God wants us to do. As I said earlier obedience that arises out of God's grace has led people and churches to do some amazing things. I conclude with just this last example. In 1985 St Paulís members decided to look at their role in the community and how this could be extended. This meant relocating to the edge of town on a bigger property. God had planted in their hearts a vision of a church, a school and an aged care village. Itís not been all smooth sailing but look at the blessings that the obedience of those folk has brought us today.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
29th October, 2006

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