As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
(Ephesians 2:1-10 NIV)
It is apt that we share gifts at Christmas as it is an echo of God’s gift of grace to us in Christ Jesus.
Grace is central to the Christian gospel – that it is not by anything we have done that we are saved but rather it is the free gift of God.
It reminds me of one of the best sermons I ever heard about grace by our Pastor at South Parade Baptist Church, David Morris. He preached this sermon about 10 years ago and I can still remember it! The analogy he used to describe how we often misunderstand God’s grace was this:
Imagine you’ve gone to visit an aunt, she’s told you that she would like to give you a gift of money – £5000 in cash to spend on whatever you want. You thank her profusely but then realise that you’ve got to go home on the bus with all this cash. So you timidly ask if you might have a brown envelope to put the money in. She then flies into a rage and says “a brown envelope? A brown envelope, I couldn’t possibly let you have a brown envelope!”
This is how we think God will react when we ask him for something when he’s already given us so much!
One of the most important things about grace is that it’s not at all about anything we’ve done, good or bad. So many people misunderstand the Christian message, thinking it’s all about getting brownie points to get into heaven. Paul makes it clear in today’s reading that our good works come out of God’s grace (see the last verse) but are not something we do to earn God’s grace. I couldn’t put it better than Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
To be like this God, who gives up on no-one, who loves us, not because we are loveable but that we become loveable only because God loves us, God loves us with a love that will not let us go, a love that loved us before we were created, a love that loves us now, a love that will love us forever, world without end. A love that says of each single one of us: “I love you, you are precious and special to me, I love you as if you were the only human being on earth, I love you and there is nothing you can do to make me love you more because I already love you perfectly.”
How incredibly, wonderfully, it is that God says to you, to me: “There is nothing you can do to make me love you less. I take you, I take you very seriously, I take you – you – body and soul, you the visible and the invisible of you, I love you, I love you, I love you.
Read the full sermon here.