The Case for Grace: Transformation - 2nd Corinthians 3:17-18
During one scene in the movie Bruce Almighty, we see Bruce, in the roll of God, listening to his girlfriend’s prayer. In this prayer, she asks to stop loving Bruce because of all the pain that love brings. Hearing this prayer brings Bruce to his knees, turning to God and saying, “I don’t want to be God any longer, I surrender to your will.” We have talked about what it takes to get to the point that Bruce found himself. Bruce was like many of us, we want to be God. We want to be in complete control of things, of our lives, of the things happening around us. In the movie Bruce Almighty, God grants Bruce that unspoken wish that so many of us have at some point in our lives. While it was a fictional movie, C. S. Lewis points to the truth behind the movie when in The Great Divorce he writes, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’” God grants that freedom, for us to declare ourselves God and be in charge of our lives, just as he did with Bruce in the movie, God did with Adam and Eve in the Garden…He gave them the opportunity to choose…He gave them the gift of Free Will, just as He has given it to each of us…and they choose their wills over God’s Will…just as we often do. The result for our ancestors is the same as the result for each of us, we all have chosen to make gods of ourselves, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and we all deserve death.
Did you note in the movie what brought Bruce to the realization that he no longer wanted to be god? The prayers of his girlfriend. Of great importance is Bruce’s girlfriend’s name – Grace. It was Grace that brought him to the realization that he needed God to be God and not himself.
For several weeks, we have been making The Case for Grace. We began by realizing that it is God’s grace that keeps us from getting what we deserve…for, as we have repeatedly remembered the words of Paul, “the wages of sin is death.” Yet what we have received is the love of God in His grace.
God’s grace is first poured into our lives through what John Wesley would call “prevenient grace.” It is the prayer of Bruce’s girlfriend. It is our parents or a friend bringing us to church. It is the chance encounter in a difficult situation. This is God’s grace coming to us before we are even aware of it. This is God first loving us…this is Christ dying for us while we were yet sinners…this is God inviting us into a renewed and redeemed relationship with Himself. It is when this grace is poured into our lives, that on hearing an invitation from a Holy God that we realize that we are completely unworthy to be in the presence of God.
Last week we considered if God left us with the invitation to a relationship and the realization that our sin made us unworthy to be in that relationship that we would be stuck, and on our own we are stuck. However, God’s grace continues to be at work in our lives and where we can do nothing to redeem and save ourselves, God’s justifying grace enters into our lives and through the faithfulness and obedience of Christ to God in His death on the cross, the blood of Christ cleanses us from our sin and God looks upon us, seeing not our unworthiness, but the sacrifice of His beloved Son. As we surrender our wills to God’s, we are justified by the faithfulness of Christ.
That’s the end of it, right? God’s grace invites us into a relationship and reveals to us that we are sinners, then God’s grace declares us to be free of sin, like Christ. All is good, then. We just carry on our lives as usual, thankful for God’s grace, right? That sounds good, except that the righteousness that we now possess is the righteousness that belongs to Christ…nothing has changed about our nature…we are still in need of constant doses of prevenient and justifying grace because we are still trying to be our own gods and sinning and needing God to reveal His Love day in and day out pour more and more grace out upon us.
With all of our sinfulness bringing about all of this grace, the logical mind would think, “hey, the more I sin, the more the world can see how amazing God’s grace is…so I should sin more since my sin reveals the grace of God to the world.” The early Christians of Paul’s time used this argument, trying to justify continuing in their behavior without changing.
Paul addresses the church in Rome: “What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1) We can understand that question, can’t we? It makes sense…the more I sin, the more grace I need, the more grace God offers me, the more the world can see just how gracious God is. The question of the Christians in Rome is very reasonable, “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?”
Here is one place all our translations get it right, because as confusing as Paul is in some places, he is perfectly clear here. “No!” “By no means!” “Certainly not!” or, as the wonderful King James Version puts it, “God forbid!”
You see, God loves us enough to give us grace and accept us as we are. He doesn't ask us to clean up our act before He pours grace into our lives. God loves us just as we are. However, God loves us too much to leave us where we are. God know that the sin that we are so deeply embedded in is not good for us. God wants us to be able to truly live, and we can only do that when we leave sin behind. Like water flowing unceasingly over a waterfall, God continues to pour out His grace into our lives.
This is the grace that changes and transforms us. God’s Sanctifying Grace comes into our lives and takes us from the point of wearing Christ’s righteousness begins moving us to become righteous people. We can think of it in this way. When we receive God’s prevenient grace, we are a caterpillar, God’s justifying grace wraps us in the blood of Christ in a chrysalis or cocoon, and as God pours out his Sanctifying grace, we are transformed into butterflies. This is living into response to what Christ has done for us. We no longer strive to sin, making gods of ourselves, doing what we want, but filled with the life-altering grace of God, we seek to live as God calls us to live. We seek to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. As we begin living our lives surrendered to God, as God directs us to, God’s grace enables us to live changed and transformed lives.
An encounter with the grace of God is an encounter that leaves us changed in such a way the world can see. Paul makes this clear in our reading today: “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
What’s with the unveiled faces? For that, we need to remember some of our Old Testament history. We go back to the time of Moses. Moses was the one who would encounter God first on Mount Sinai, and later in the Tabernacle. After Moses encounter the very presence of God, his face would radiate with such light that it cause the Israelites, because of their sin, to be afraid to be in his presence. Because of this, Moses, when he left the presence of God, when he walked amongst the people, would place a veil over his face to hide that he had been changed by being in the presence of God.
Paul says that we are not to walk around with veiled faces. We have encountered the presence of God through His amazing grace and it should shine forth from our lives in such a way that the world would have no doubt that we are changed people. We have to understand that God’s Sustaining Grace moves us from being people who would use the excuse, “I’m only human” to being people who are truly human, who are living as God created us to be, male and female, created in the very image of God. Our lives should not be continually marked by intentional sin, though we will fail and sin, but our lives should reflect, through the empowerment of God’s Sanctifying grace, poured into our lives through God’s Spirit, the very nature and grace and holiness of God. With unveiled faces, we should radiate God’s holiness into the darkness of our world.
My brothers and sisters, I have to tell you that as studies have been conducted as to why so many people have left the church or do not come to church, it is because we have either rejected God’s Sanctifying Grace or we think we need to walk around with lives that are veiled, hiding our encounter with God. The common complaint is that those outside the church look at those inside the church and see that, often, we are no different from the world—whether it is greed, argumentativeness, or outright sinfulness they see, they are not seeing lives that have been transformed by God—they are not seeing lives filled with God’s Sanctifying grace. Yes, we may be still be sinners, just as they are, in need of God’s grace, but if we have encountered God’s grace, we have to look different. We can’t be content to look like the caterpillar…we better look like we are in a cocoon…or emerging as a butterfly. When the world looks into the congregation of St. Paul’s, they should encounter people who have encountered the grace of God, who are living lives that have been or are being transformed by God’s Sanctifying Grace, and who are striving, with that grace, to reflect the Glory of God, with unveiled faces, into the darkness of the world.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.