9/11/17 - Mark Tibben
I remember going to the circus for the first time in my life.
You may remember your first big show like I do mine; barely. A blur of color and excitement, it was all too much for my young mind to take in.
I do remember looking up, totally captivated by the acrobats performing amazing feats on the trapeze at dizzying heights above me. The only thing between them and the ground was a safety net.
Last Sunday at Church we were thinking about Sola Gratia; by grace alone. It’s one of the first things I learnt in Church. Jesus has saved us by dying on the cross even though we were undeserving; this is grace.
We often live our Christian lives like the trapeze artists: we go about life swinging away, putting in effort, time and energy to do the right things, trying our best, knowing the safety net of grace is below us, ready to catch us when we fall.
And inevitably, our arms get heavy, our hands blister, our shoulders burn.
And we do fall.
Yes, but we fall into the net of grace. We remember we are forgiven. It’s Jesus that has saved us. We repent. We are sorry for our sin and failure, and are ever so thankful to God for the safety net.
Before long, we begin to make the slow climb back up the ladder, careful not to look down, convinced this time we’ll do better, promising God that this time we won’t fall, this time we won’t fail; deluding ourselves that this time might be different.
This may be how many Christians live. It’s a burdened Christian life; I’m certainly prone to it. And there even is an element of truth to the picture. After all, we do fall into a safety net of grace, right?
But if it doesn't paint the picture of a totally incapacitated Christian, it paints the picture of a debilitated Christian. And if there is an element of truth to it, it’s only a fragment of the truth that is part of a far more beautiful reality.
Living life on the trapeze will lead to either pride that will destroy you, or guilt that will crush you.
You’ll figure out ways to stay on the trapeze longer than others around you, and pride will deceive your heart that you’re actually better than most people – this is not what a life of grace looks like. Or, you’ll realize that you keep falling and failing, and the guilt and shame will become suffocating – this is not what a life of grace looks like.
Grace alone is still the answer. But the reformation principle of ‘grace alone’ is so much more than a safety net for when we fall. Grace is the life-transforming, identity shaping, animating essence of the Christian life. We sell ourselves so short if we use it as a back-up system.
Imagine you had a friend, who had been given millions of dollars, but lived a life of poverty. They skipped meals because they couldn’t afford to buy food, wore old and tattered clothes and didn’t bathe because the price of water was just too high. You’d rightly tell them to withdraw from their account, to live into the wealth they had been given.
We need to do the same by living into the grace that has been poured on to us in Jesus. As Paul says in Ephesians 1:7-8:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight…
We need to not just know the truth of ‘grace alone’ but for it to also penetrate deeply into our hearts like the Korean Pastor, Yang-won Sohn, whom Young talked about on Sunday.
A grace that penetrates deeply into our hearts is a grace that has a life-transforming effect and produces a radical fruit of grace within us.
Grace is more than an entry point into the Christian life, and it’s more than a safety net for when we fall; grace is the freedom to live.
The reformer John Calvin said: “Human will does not by freedom obtain grace, but by grace obtain freedom.”
If you’re trying to stay up on the trapeze through sheer will power and effort, your freedom will destroy you with pride or crush you with guilt. But it’s by grace alone that you obtain the freedom to live as sons and daughters of God.