Everything has a starting point and what we sometimes forget is that faith has a starting point as well.
For most of us, our faith starting point happened somewhere in childhood with a conversation with a parent, or a priest, or a pastor. Maybe it was something you heard in church, or at a camp.
But somewhere in your childhood, you were handed some building blocks and your faith journey began.
But as you got older, you began thinking about life, the meaning of life and the purpose of life and you kind of hope that there’s a God out there somewhere but you’re not sure if it’s the Sunday School God you grew up with.
So, what we've been doing over the past few weeks, is hitting the restart button, and asking the question, "What if we didn't know anything, where would we start?
Today, I want to talk about something that we all have in common, as kind of a launching point for today’s discussion, and that is our propensity to bargain and do deals with God.
We’ve all done it. At some point we’ve all said things like, “God if you will . . . I promise to . . .” or, “God if you will, I promise I will never again . . . “
We’ve all done it. We’ve all tried to bargain and negotiate with God.
Even people who don’t believe in God, have tried to negotiate with God. It’s like, “To whom it may concern, if there’s anybody out there, I have reached my end. I am at my limit so now is your opportunity to show me a sign, or proof of your existence. If you do, I will go to church.”
We’ve all done it; whether it’s for something serious like somebody is sick and the doctors can no longer help or something silly like, I’m late again, please don’t let my parents be awake when I come home.
Here’s the problem . . . We don’t keep our end of the deal.
You negotiated with God and it worked out in your favor, crisis is over, and you say things like, “Well, I was just lucky” or “That one didn’t count because I was an emotional wreck and I shouldn’t be held accountable for what I said during that time”.
And yet, when God doesn’t hold up his end of your bargain, we get angry and frustrated with him and say things like, “Why would a good God let bad things happen?” If God was good, then I wouldn’t be grounded for coming home late. Or, my Dad wouldn’t have died.
Now here’s the thing about bargaining with God . . . there are two assumptions being made.
First, you assume that there is a God and that he knows you exist. Now this is a big deal because if you have ever tried to negotiate with God, you have more faith than you think you do.
There are 7 billion people on this planet and you think God knows your name, your circumstances, and that he gives a rip. That’s a lot of faith.
Second, you believe that you have something God wants. It’s like, “God here’s something I want from you, let me see what I’ve got that you want; how about some obedience? or some church attendance? or I’ll lay some cash somewhere that I think is important to you . . . here’s a dollar.
So, the assumption is that you have something that God wants, right?
But here’s the deal. Here’s the thing that separates Christianity from every other faith system and this is really good news. It’s very refreshing.
God doesn’t want something FROM you. God wants something FOR you, and that’s a really, really, really, big difference.
There’s no point in in bargaining or trying to close the deal with God because you don’t have anything God needs. You don’t have anything God wants.
And I know that for some of you, this is hard for you to digest because somewhere along your faith journey, you understood that when it comes to your relationship with God there’s a little give and take. I’ll do for God so that God will do for me.
But there’s no place in Scripture that you’ll find that. If you point to the ten commandments, you’re not going to find it because as we talked about a couple of weeks ago, the ten commandments were a confirmation of their relationship with God, not a condition for their relationship.
If you are going to point to Jesus and his sermon on the mount, we talked about this week 2, where he raised the goodness bar so high that nobody could possibly be good enough, not even the religious people whose jobs were literally to be good people . . . and all the people listening that day were thinking, “Great, there’s not hope for me. I’m doomed. I’m toast.”
If you’re going to point to that then you can’t forget the part when Jesus rushes in and says, “That’s exactly why I’m here . . . I need you to know that there’s nothing you can do to earn God’s love. He already loves you.”
There is nowhere in Scripture that you will find God saying, “Our relationship is a bargaining chip.”
God doesn’t want something FROM you. God wants something FOR you
The word that encapsulates that whole idea is grace. It’s what drives everything as it relates to being a follower of Jesus.
When I was a kid, the definition I was given is simply this . . . unmerited favor.
Unmerited means that you didn’t do anything to deserve it. It’s unconditional and it’s all about the person who is dispensing the grace, not about the person who is receiving the grace.
When someone receives something, they didn’t deserve, they don’t walk away going, “Am I awesome or what?”. At least, they shouldn’t.
When you receive grace, the person who dispenses grace is the hero. They’re always the one that gets the credit and this is the dynamic that you find is central to Christianity. It’s what sets it apart.
I want us to look at a passage found in Ephesians. A letter written by Paul, to a group of Christians who, like us, were struggling with what it meant to be followers of Jesus. And in this letter, he gives us extraordinary insight into what it means to embrace the grace of God.
Read Ephesians 2:1-10
So, he starts of kind of negative wouldn’t you agree . . . “As for you, you were dead”.
By dead, he meant that you were separated from God. In terms of your relationship with God, you didn’t have one.
And then he goes on for a few verses and he just elaborates on this whole idea of being a sinner. The things we were doing, they weren’t just mistakes because you can correct mistakes. They were deeper than that. We talked about this in week 2 of this series.
And then, a few verses later, he hits a transition point. Two words. Depending on the translation you have, these two words can get buried in the sentence.
In the Greek language, they didn’t have a way to highlight or bold or italicize things so when something was important, they would move it up to the front of the sentence.
He says, “You were dead in your sin. You were separated from God” and now here it is . . . “But God.”
This is important. The traditional way of approaching God is this:
• God I’ve done some bad things, I’ve really messed up, but I am going to do better.
• God, I know I haven’t talked to you in a while but I am going to start praying more.
• God, I haven’t been very kind to people, I’ve been judgmental, but I
• But I, But I, But I
And what Paul is saying is, “Okay, it’s a new day. When you realize that you are far from God, when you realize that maybe you need a new starting point with God, it’s not a ‘but I’, it’s a ‘but God.”
“But God . . . being rich in mercy”. God has so much mercy, he has extra mercy.
Let’s remember who is saying this. Paul is a guy, who at one point, made it is life goal to stamp out Christianity. This is a guy who God had every reason to squash like a bug . . .
But God . . . appeared to him and said, “So, you’re trying to destroy my church. I got an idea. I’m going to show you how rich in mercy I am. I’m a going to show the whole world how rich in mercy I am. I am going to choose you, the Christian killer, to plant more churches than anyone else in this generation.”
This is a guy who knows mercy and he says, “But God, who is rich in mercy.”
And he goes on and says what I think is the most important phrase in this entire passage, “Because of His great love with which he loved us.” It’s kind of qwerky run-on sentence but it’s important.
The reason this is important is because it answers the question, “God why do you care? Why would you even pay attention to me? Why would you be merciful to me? Don’t you know what I’ve done?
To which God says, “It has nothing to do with you . . . it is because of my great love with which I have loved you.”
You need you to hear this because it’s the place where we need to renew our minds as we are thinking about a starting point, or a restarting point for our faith.
God pours out his mercy on us . . . not because we earned it or deserve it . . . but because he loves us.
So, I want us to say it together but change the “us” to “me” because this is the essence of grace. Let’s say it together, “Because of his great love with which he loved me.”
That’s why you don’t have to negotiate. That’s why you don’t need to know the art of closing the deal. Because he doesn’t want something FROM you . . . he wants something FOR you.
Here’s what he wants . . . He wants to make you alive. He says, “God made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead.”
You were separated from God . . . But God, not you . . . who has a ton of mercy . . . and because of his great love for you wants to give you, and you, and you, life through his son, Jesus.
In other words, God chose to un-separate you because he loves you.
Then he goes on in another direction with a bunch of other run on sentences but then he circles back to his starting point and he says, “For it is by grace you have been saved”.
It is grace, unmerited favor, that you are given life. There’s nothing you can do to deserve it or gain it. But he adds, “by faith”
Taking us all the way back to what we discovered when we talked about Abraham. All the way back around to what we discovered when we talked about the national of Israel leaving Egypt.
Like Abraham and like Israel . . . the way you experience, the way you step in to, the way you get harmonized with God’s grace, the way this becomes a reality for you is by a single act of faith.
When you acknowledge that God loves you and his expression of love was sending his son for you, all that grace becomes a reality for you. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.”
It’s not a trade. It’s not a bargain. It’s not a negotiation. It’s not “If you will, then I will” Paul says, it’s a gift from God . . . and it’s called grace.
God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
Here’s the question I want you to answer this week; most people respond to the idea of unconditional grace with a, “But what about . . .” What’s you “What about”?
For some of you it’s a verse, some of you it’s just an idea, some of you it’s something someone told you but we’ve all got one . . . what’s yours?
Everything has a starting point and what we sometimes forget is that faith has a starting point as well.