The Case for Grace: Not Our Own Effort - Titus 3:4-7
Her name is Stacie Halas. For ten years she was a middle school teacher. However, about a year ago she was dismissed from her classroom. Was she doing something wrong? I mean with as difficult a time as there is with teacher recruitment she must have been doing something wrong in the classroom or in her personal life that made her dismissal necessary, right? Actually, no. The trouble had nothing to with her career as a teacher. The problem, at least according to her school district, is that for a nine month stint prior to being hired as a teacher, after finding herself in a dire financial situation, was known as Tiffany Six, starting in multiple pornographic movies. Ms. Halas tried desperately to overcome her past sin, but matter how hard she tried, regardless of all her efforts her past has come back to haunt her and she lost her case, leaving her condemned by the school board and a three judge panel, declared unfit for teaching.
My friends, we are in week three of our Case for Grace series. We began by realizing that none of us really want what we deserve, because the wages of sin is death, and we are all sinners because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God-God's justice demands our death. However rather than get the death we deserve, we praise God for He not only is a God of justice but also a God of mercy and rather than automatically carrying out the sentence of death on us He offers us grace.
The first way we experience that grace, as understood in our Wesleyan heritage is prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is that grace that goes before. It is the way God acts first in our lives. We are born in sin, we are fallen as we enter this world. We are estranged from God and cannot get back in the relationship by our own efforts, so God puts out His grace upon us, inviting us into a relationship with Him and revealing to us or sin and that somehow that sin must be atoned for.
That's where we stopped last week and where we pick up this week. God has revealed our sin and invited us back into a relationship. Yet, the result of prevenient grace is that we are stuck. God wants us in a relationship, however we know because of our sin we are unworthy to be even remotely close to God. Before the throne of God, we are all Tiffany Six. We are stuck and cannot dig ourselves out.
Honestly, my brothers and sisters, there is nothing we can do. Ms. Halas tried to hide it. She had used a fake name, she called the producers to try and make sure her real name wasn't connected, she worked hard as a teacher, changing the lives of her students. Despite all her efforts, though, in the eyes of the school board, those judges, and I'm sure many parents, she was a porn star in the classroom.
Nothing we can do or say will change us from being sinners before the throne of God. God created us and gave us life. All that we have and are is a gift from God. It all belongs to Him, we are simply stewards of His resources while we walk the face of this earth. He has charged us with trending to His Creation, so when we work to care for the earth, we are simply doing what we are supposed to do. God charges His people with varying for the poor, the widow, and the alien. So when we give a hand up to the homeless, company to the lonely, and aid to the hurting, we are only doing what God already created us to do, what He desires from us, what we already owe Him, so none of it will transfer us from the realm of shameful sin, paying off the debt of our sin, into God's kingdom, into His holy presence. Something more has to be done in order for us to be acceptable before God.
The truth of the matter is, my friends, something has been done. In the Jewish faith, in order to atone for the sin of the people, sacrifices were made. These sins would have to be made over and over for the blood of the livestock was unable to cover the continuous sin of the people. The only thing that would truly bring this cycle of sacrifice to an end would be a perfect sacrifice. We find in Hebrews that the perfect sacrifice has occurred:
"And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, ‘he sat down at the right hand of God’, and since then has been waiting ‘until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.’ For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds’, he also adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’ Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin." (Hebrews 10:11-18)
Jesus Christ came in and made the sacrifice that none of us could ever make. As both God and Man, Jesus the only one without sin to ever walk the earth, willing went to the cross offering His life as the perfect atoning sacrifice for our sin. The question for us is how is the sacrifice of Christ made real for us? How does what happened on a cross almost two thousand years ago have any effect on us and our sin? What can we do?
We can do nothing. It is not by our efforts that we can ever do anything about our sin. It is only grace that can bring Christ's sacrifice into our lives. It was God’s prevenient grace that brought us to the point of realizing our sin and how far from God we really are. It is God's justifying grace that brings us back into a relationship with Him. As a gift, God looks not on us and our filth sin, but on His Son, and His sacrifice, and declares that Christ's righteousness is now ours.
How does this happen?
It happens when we open the gift of God's grace. When we open the gift of God's prevenient grace, we realized that God was inviting us into the relationship but our sins separated us from Him. It is when we realize that and surrender to the fact that we are sinners in need of a savior that we open the gift and through God's justifying grace, the blood of Christ cleanses us of our sin. God looks at us and does not see Tiffany Six, He does not even see the sins of Lee, Bill, Emma, Carl, Judy, or anyone else, through His justifying grace He chooses to see His Son and declared that the work of Christ covers us all.
We cannot hide our sin. We cannot pretend that it never happened. We can't change our name. We can't contact others involved and ask them to keep it quiet. We can't work it off. We can't get credit for good behavior. We can only surrender and receive the grace of God.
And the grace of God also does something we can't do. Where Ms. Halas' past came back to haunt her...where her efforts to hide it, ignore it, or move past it failed. Despite all her efforts, ten years later, she is still seen as a porn star.
When we give up trying to take care of it on our own and own up to our sin, God clears it from our past. We may still have to face earthly consequences for our sin, but God will not bring back up what we have done. There is no sin to great that the blood of Christ can't cover it through the grace of God. You may have lied or cheated. You may have spread gossip or stolen. You may have been a porn star or been sexually immoral in some other way. You may have assaulted a neighbor our murdered an entire population. It doesn't matter; once we have surrendered to the grace of God it is erased. God is not going to come back ten years from now and say, remember what you did--remember cussing out that lady who cut you off, remember sleeping with that woman while your spouse thought you were working late, remember disrespecting your parents, remember getting drunk or high--you are not worthy, get out of my presence. No, one we have surrendered and been washed by the blood of Christ all that history is gone...God will not call it back up. Paul understood this better than anyone. He had participated or overseen the torture and execution of many Christians, yet after his encounter with Christ, God’s grace had cleansed that sin from him, and God used him in mighty new ways:
"For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" (2nd Corinthians 5:14-16)
My brothers and sisters, surrender to the love of God and His amazing grace and be cleansed of your past, and enter into the new day God sets before us. In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.