Do you believe that anyone is so far gone that he cannot receive saved? Thankfully, the answer is an emphatic NO! We serve a merciful and forgiving God whose grace extends a long way. I once asked a group of people how they felt when they heard conversion stories about bad individuals who had done some heinous things? I asked, “how does it make you feel when you hear about murderers, criminals, and even abusive people coming to faith in Jesus Christ?” Everyone responded in a positive manner. However, we know this is not always the case. Sometimes people can respond in judgment, bitterness, anger, self-righteousness, and fear. I believe it is true that regardless of what any of us have done in the past God’s grace, love, mercy and forgiveness is available to all who encounter Christ and respond to his call to become a follower of Jesus.
We are continuing our new series titled “We Believe” as we have been talking about the 8 core beliefs of our church as outlined in our statement of faith. I began the series as we talked about the scripture or Bible and its inerrancy, it is God breathed, and trustworthy. Then we looked at the Trinity and we noted the multiple passages to show that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are in fact one. Following that I talked about salvation where we looked at the reality of sin entering the world and humanity needing salvation. This salvation is found in Jesus Christ. Three weeks ago I talked about humanity and how we are all created in the image of God, thus we have value and purpose. Two weeks ago, Harry talked about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Last week, John talked about the Lord’s return.
Today, I will talk about one of the most beautiful doctrines of Christianity… grace. In preparation for this message I was praying about what passages to use to support this beautiful doctrine and I concluded that it would be best to show you what grace looks like from the Bible instead of giving you a bunch of scripture passages. We will spend some time in Acts 9:1 – 9 where we will witness God’s act of grace in the conversion account of the Apostle Paul.
TOO FAR GONE
Some of us here today may have been considered at one time “too far gone” to be saved. You may have been too far deep into your sins and maybe even some people could not believe that you would ever find you way out. I know there was a time in my life when this seemed true. I was considered “too far gone” by people who, ironically, came to be one of my best friends. I also became a follower of Jesus as the direct result of the diligent prayers and genuine concern for my salvation from another who is still to this day a great friend. Both eventually became friends, mentors, and role models. Thom and Drew are/were unique individuals. I am thankful God brought them into my life because they cared enough to invest in me as both a heathen and eventually a young believer. They were both able to see past who I was and would pray for me to become the person I am today.
Today I want to share a moment about Drew and his influence on my life. He currently lives in Washington State and he is the artist who draws the pictures for my Friday Devotion Days. Early in my life Drew and I were great friends. We used to hang out all the time. There was a point in both of our lives where we went in opposite directions socially (he became a Christian and I wanted nothing to do with Christianity) but we remained friends. He watched out for me during my rebellious years. I look back and I remember that I did many stupid (and irresponsible) things as a college student. I was living a life of rebellion. I lived a reckless and sin infested life. To say I was a rough individual would be an understatement. I lived in complete abandonment of rules and regulations. Fortunately, and thankfully Drew was there to watch out for me. He cared about me, he was concerned for my safety and most of all he wanted me to come to know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. In an unusual sort of way Drew had a servant attitude to me as he would accompany me to parties and bars to make sure I stayed out of trouble. He would often share Jesus with me, and I would just pass him off as a Jesus freak. My other friend Thom, would often say to Drew, “Why do you waste your time on Jeff? He is never going to change.” Thankfully, Drew did not believe this nor did he give up on me. Eventually, even Thom came around and realized I was worth the investment. As a result of their Christian witness to me, their faithful prayers and the grace of God I am who I am today… A child of God.
I am thankful for the prayers and the time and life Drew and Thom invested in me, but I am most thankful for the grace of God. I am thankful for Ephesians 2:8, “For you are save by grace through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is God’s gift -” It is not just a gift… it is THE gift from God.
Nobody in this room today who is a born-again follower of Jesus can say, “I am a Christian because of who I am or something I did.” Not even one of us is so good, pure, moral, and holy that you deserve God’s grace and yet, not even one of us too far gone, sinful or lost to receive God’s grace. We all should rejoice and be thankful for the God’s extending grace.
SAUL TO PAUL (Sinner to Saint)
(Read Acts 9:1 - 9)
“Now Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul said.
“I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting,” he replied. “But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. He was unable to see for three days and did not eat or drink.”
A few weeks ago, I introduced you to the Latin phrase Sola gratia… This means “Grace alone”. Grace is a beautiful word. But more so, God’s grace is a beautiful theological truth.
Grace – “God’s unmerited kindness shown to undeserving humanity.” Without grace we are all lost.
The Apostle Paul understands, appreciates, and loves the grace of God. This was not always the case though. He may not have understood grace until he has his encounter with Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road. Paul loved grace. He spoke about it often in his writing. He brought the message of grace through faith in Jesus to the Gentiles through his preaching and writing. However, Paul was not always a grace loving, Jesus preaching, messenger of hope that we know him to be today.
Before Paul’s Christ encounter, he was one of those individuals that many believed was “too far gone” to be saved. Before he became the Apostle Paul he was known as Saul. He was an aspiring Pharisee who was quickly making a name for himself. We are introduced to him in Acts 7. He was the young man (pharisee) who was looking on with approval and holding the cloaks of the elders and scribes they stoned the Apostle Stephen. Early in his career Saul launched a campaign against this Christian movement. He ravaged homes, threatened, murdered, and arrested men and women and had them put in prison. This was all done with the approval of Israel’s religious leadership of his time. This tyrant caused a great dispersion to occur among believers (which we now know was part of God’s plan) who fled for their lives and relocated to various Jewish and Gentile cities. Pastor and author Charles Swindoll writes, “He hated the name of Jesus, so much so, he became a self avowed, violent aggressor, persecuting and killing Christians in allegiance to the God of heaven.”[i]
Saul was born a Jew in the city of Tarsus. In his youth he went to Jerusalem to study under the teachings of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), who was perhaps one of the most notable of first century sages. Saul was totally committed to the Law as interpreted and understood by the Rabbis, and he became a member of the sect of Pharisees with high aspirations. To Saul, followers of Jesus were heretics and they were an abomination to the God he served. In response to this he joined in the persecution of the Christian church. He would stop at nothing to accomplish the goal of destroying Christianity. [ii]
Paul’s Christ Encounter
Verses 2 & 3: Saul approaches the high priest and asked for letters to the synagogue at Damascus to seek out and arrest anyone who was a follower of Jesus. He set out for his 150-mile journey (It would take him about a week). On the road to Damascus Saul comes face to face with the risen Jesus Christ and has a Christ encounter that changes his life radically. He would literally become a new person with a new outlook and purpose.
Verses 3 & 4: “Suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ He responded, ‘Who are you Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’” At this very moment Jesus in his grace reached down and called the man who was persecuting his people to become one of the people he was persecuting. Isn’t grace amazing? In God’s never-ending grace he stops a murderer (Saul) dead (pardon the pun) in his tracks and calls him to become that which the murderer despises. Jesus tells him specifically to stop what he is doing and do what he is told to do. He was now going to become a messenger of Jesus Christ to both Jews and Gentiles about the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
This all happens with men who were traveling with Saul and they stood there speechless because they could hear what was going on but not see anything happening. This encounter was a time where God pours his grace on Saul and he is converted to Christ. His life will never ever be the same again.
In this short passage we witness an event that has reshaped the face of Christianity. A murderous tyrant comes face to face with the savior and has a salvation experience that completely rocked his world. Paul understood on this day that all he had devoted his life to destroying was in fact a movement of God. Up to this point Paul was completely dependent upon himself and his works for his righteousness. Yet he eventually realizes that all his law keeping, and rule following was all for naught. Paul says this in Philippians 3:4 – 11… “although I have reasons for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless.
But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as dung, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ[a]—the righteousness from God based on faith. My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.”
He acknowledges that his conversion and transformed life is all a result of God’s grace. He says if anyone could boast in the flesh of his works it would be him. However, he counted it all as loss in relation to the grace of God. He knows and acknowledges that it is only by God’s grace that he will receive eternal life. If Paul wrote nothing else other than these verses it would be enough to know that he understood the beauty of God’s grace.
GRACE! It is the gift from God, it is not something we deserve, He has given it to us regardless of who we are and what we have done. Our salvation does not depend on how good we are, how popular we are or how little we sin in life. It depends solely on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and our response to His offer of the gift.
God has an abundance of grace and love for you. This was displayed through the cross of Jesus Christ. Even when all of you were entrenched in your sinful ways and in complete disregard for Jesus it did not take away the fact that He still gave His life for you. God’s love for you is never ending. Jesus did not die on the cross based upon what our response would be to Him, He did it so humanity could receive redemption, life, and eternal joy.
You and I have been saved by grace. We did not deserve to be saved; we deserve hell. God’s unmerited favor shown to you and I, He provided a way. It is THE gift from God.
Regardless of our past we all need to realize that our salvation is not based upon what we do (works) but based upon what Christ did for us (His grace). When we were called by God it was because He first loved us, not vice versa. Our response to Him is based upon our conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit, this leads to the realization that we are indeed sinful, decrepit, and in need of a savior. God calls all of us to receive His gift of grace.
No body in the room is so far gone that God cannot extend his grace to him. God’s grace has the power to transform. His grace turns sinners into saints. This is great news for all of us.
[i] Swindoll, Charles (2002). Paul: The Man of Grace and Grit, p.4. Nashville, TN Word Publishing.
[ii] Richards, Larry: Every Man in the Bible. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1999, S. 177
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I currently live on the Gulf Coast of Florida with my beautiful family. The Lord has blessed me with over 25 years of full time ministry. He is and has been faithful.