Today we start our big fall series Redeemed and Forgiven.  As Ken and I built this series I just kept getting more excited, because we are going to be exploring what it truly means to live out a life in Christ.  We want to talk about what it could look like to live a life that is truly redeemed and forgiven and most importantly how we can actually live like we are redeemed and forgiven…do you see why maybe this would be something that excites us here at MRC?  Yeah this is going to be a fun discussion for sure!  This series will really be an intentional building process to get us to a place where we can answer some important questions.  Like how do we live like we have been redeemed and forgiven? How do we take our freedom and apply it to life? How do we live with courage when we face so many challenges in our lives…life is so tough isn’t it?  So how do we live with courage while facing sin, pain, stress, fear, harmful relationships, negativity, and all that goes on in this world…forget courage for a moment, how do we live with joy, and peace with all of that stuff pushing against us.  Well that is the goal of this series to get us to a place where we can truly live as the forgiven and redeemed.  I told you this will be a process, and really there are three parts to this series, all important subjects to discuss, all of which build on the other…so here’s the three parts of the series we are heading into.

  • In part 1 we will talk about the thing that everyone needs, which is transformation.  This will be five weeks really diving into the foundational parts of our faith.  We can talk about a transformed life, how we can ruin the Gospel, what our identity truly is, choices we make, and even what to do when we struggle and mess up along the way.
  • In part 2 we will talk about the thing that most Christians struggle with, which is living this out.  This will give us four weeks to discuss the realities of living this life in Christ out, we will talk about how to see with Spiritual eyes, how to grow up Spiritually and pour into a relationship with our Heavenly Father.
  • In part 3 we will discuss the last thing most Christians would ever want to do, which is surrendering our lives to God.  After the first two sections we will be ready to push into a discussion on living a surrendered life.  We will talk about why it is so important, and what living a life fully surrendered to God could mean.

So this is a big deal, and it’s going to be a really important series, where we look at the process of going from “I asked Jesus into my life, and am doing some good Christian activities because I know I should do those things”, to actually living out and experiencing the life we read about in Scripture.  This has the potential to be a total game changer for us, because for so many of us, we want to live out and experience the kind of life that is described in our Bibles, but it’s just not happening.  Well I think that is where we need to start today.  And I think it starts by us answering two questions.  What is grace and what is this life in Christ?  For so many of us before we can’t start talking about transformation, or the idea of living out our faith, or the importance of a surrendered life without wrapping our minds around something…and if we do not wrap our minds around this thing, I’m not sure we will ever be able to connect the dots that would lead us to this new life in Christ that we all want to be living.  Today we are going to try to wrap our minds around God’s grace!  It’s a huge topic that could be an entire series of its own, (and has been) but it is the starting point.  Why would I call wrapping our minds around God’s grace the starting point of a series on living out a redeemed and forgiven life?  It’s because when you start to grasp God’s grace you can’t help but live differently.  This is when you start to really experience what the Bible describes as a life lived with God.

So what is grace?  Well if we go to a dictionary or I guess Siri or Google these days, we would find the word grace defined as the unmerited favor of God, a free gift, and we hear this word a lot at church and we see it all through our Bibles too!  I mean the word “grace” is used over 170 times just in the New Testament!  And it’s something we need to understand.  Grace is a free gift from God to us, the undeserving, sinning, imperfect, often selfish and stubborn people who God loves.  There are so many Scriptures I want to stop and bring up right now, but let’s start here…

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. NIV

Paul would say that salvation comes through this grace thing that we are trying to understand today

Ephesians 2:1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 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. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 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. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. NIV

So what is grace?  It is THE GIFT from God!  It’s really what we celebrate and worship every Sunday we get together!  This is the rallying point for us all!  The fact that by His amazing grace we have been saved is so big and it was so needed, and I think Paul really shows us why…because of sin we were dead.  But because of God’s great love for us, God made us alive with Christ, and this is completely unearned, undeserved, but done out of his great love for us.  So grace is a gift, it is unmerited favor, allowing sinners like me to experience salvation, and a new eternal destiny, and it also allows us to experience all that our current lives here on Earth can be with God in it!  You know that amazing life, that “new life in Christ” that we read about in Scripture, that our Pastors preach about all the time, that life that I have mentioned more than once in this talk already, you know the very life that Jesus told us He came to provide for us…

John 10:10 (Jesus says) I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. NIV

So what is this new life in Christ, this life to the full thing?  Well we could come up with a large list of what this life to the full thing could look like.  Some people can really twist this life to the full into a successful life, or an easier life without pain and suffering and adversity but we know by now here at MRC that just is not the reality of life.  There will still be challenges and pain but the difference is when Jesus is part of your life you get to walk through it all with Him.  So let’s think about just a few ways this new life could be described.

A life of freedom – John 8:34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. NIV

A victorious life – 1 Corinthians 15:57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. NIV

A life filled with joy – John 15:9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” NIV

A peaceful life – This is from Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1:78 Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, 79 Shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, Then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace. MSG

We could go on and on here, but maybe it’s best to just look at what Paul says a life with God in us should and can look like here…this is what we call the fruit of the Spirit or product of God dwelling in us.  Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.  NIV

So we have been looking at the idea of what grace is, and what this new life in Christ is or should be…and we see and understand that Jesus came to give us this life and life to the full, or this abundant life…which is awesome but can we just be really honest here for a moment?  Would you describe your life this way?  Are we experiencing freedom, victory, joy, peace, and seeing all those fruit in our lives?  I don’t know about you but for so many of us life continues to be really difficult, and extremely hard on us…and this life to the full sounds awesome, but it doesn’t seem to be something that we are experiencing…and I think it can make us a little frustrated when we hear about this amazing life in Christ, and read all of these amazing descriptions about this new life, and hear our Pastors and teachers tell us how great it is, while walking through life and not seeing any of it.  Many…I will go this far…most Christians I believe are walking through life, beat up, tired, hurting, struggling, stressed out, and wondering where in the world this “life to the full or abundant life” really is…well, if that is you, you are not alone, and it’s why I think we need to talk today.

Listen, the reason that so many people who love God, and have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior yet still aren’t experiencing this amazing life to the full that we bring up so often at MRC is because we simply aren’t grasping and wrapping our minds around the truth of God’s grace and love for us.  It sounds like it should be simple to do, but it isn’t and I will tell you why.  It’s because you know you.  You know your thoughts, and your issues.  You know your past sins, and your present sins…and it is really hard to pull out of your own issues, insecurities, sin, and failures so that you can see yourself as God sees you…and how does God see you?  I brought this up two weeks ago, that if Jesus is part of your life, God isn’t looking at you and seeing your sin, but seeing Jesus in you…remember this?  It’s so important…

2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. NIV

We hear this Scripture almost as often as we hear words like “grace” and phrases like “Life to the Full” but it’s just so hard to wrap our minds around these statements because God’s love is so incredible it is difficult to believe and to get to a place where we can live differently we have to grasp some really important things about love and grace, and maybe get to a place where even though we know our shortcomings we can begin to extend the same love and grace God gives us to ourselves.  As the king of beating myself up I will tell you this has been a challenge for me as well.

I would like to ask you another question this morning.  Have you heard anyone ever talk about “the good news?”  It’s really what we are talking about today, something all Christians are to share, that God loves us this much right?  Well there is another piece to this Good News message that I think is often overlooked and can really help us start to understand this grace thing.  So let’s go back to Paul for a moment and I want you to see something about the Good News here that isn’t talked about enough and frankly was the central thought and prayer for this introduction to the series on living out this new life.

Ephesians 3:16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. NIV

This is so important.  Paul prays that we will be rooted and established in love, and that we can begin to understand the magnitude of God’s love for us, a love that surpasses our knowledge, but will allow us to be filled with the fullness of God.  Whoa, let’s read it again, I will change versions just for fun here…

Ephesians 3:16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. NLT

Wow!  So the good news for us all is that God loves us, and Paul really prays that while it’s so difficult to completely understand that it becomes something we really wrap our minds around.  I think this is a really simple statement and concept, but it is so difficult for us to understand and experience.  Why is that?  Well it’s because we know our struggles, sins, issues…I know that I clearly know mine!  Because of that, it becomes really difficult for us to wrap our minds around His love for us.  Is this a struggle for you?  Do you understand and believe the Good News message?  Do you grasp grace and God’s incredible love for you?  Have you ever really stopped and thought about it?  I know if you are a Christian, you hear about it, you sing about it at church, and you may even talk about it with people, but do you grasp how wide, and high, and deep God’s love is for you?  If you aren’t sure where you come out on this, I want you to think about how you picture Jesus.

How do you picture Jesus?  I think this is an important exercise.  Take a moment right now, close your eyes and picture Jesus.  Can I tell you something about me?  I grew up around the church and was constantly hearing about the Good News of Jesus Christ and God’s love for me but I really turned away from that for a time.  I did so much wrong, I was so selfish, I sinned so much…and for me the worst part was I felt like I knew better.  I was young, hurt, angry, and selfish…and even as I came back to faith I still struggled with all of those decisions and I had a personal breakthrough that came from how I view Jesus.  I was actually down at Catalyst Conference with a bunch of people from MRC, and we had a time of prayer…and I realized something that I had never processed before.  When I pictured Jesus do you know what I saw?  I saw the bloody, beaten, mutilated body of Our Savior in pain on the Cross…for me.  I would sing the song “Amazing Grace” and know very confidently that I was “the wretch” that Jesus had to do that for…and deep down I walked in that everyday of my life.  That night as we prayed, I sat there with my head down, and my eyes closed picturing Jesus on the Cross…and I just broke down in tears but something happened.  I had a vision where Jesus, brilliant white, healed and whole, stepped thru that bloody, beaten image and put his hand on my shoulder and smiled and said, “Sam, I’m ok.  That isn’t me anymore.  I won.  I love you.  I am ok.”  It crushed me, I couldn’t pick my head up as I just felt the Holy Spirit flooding over me…and for the first time in my new life in Christ I recognized that I was not understanding the full depth of the Gospel, I didn’t understand His grace…and I realized I had never been able to let go of my sin, and forgive myself for what Jesus had to go through because of me.  The guilt, and shame, and hurts from my past were heavy on me…but God has taken that away from me!  The Good news is that God paid the bill for us and doesn’t hold that bill over us.  The Good News is the enormity of God’s love for us that was given to us…no strings attached.  If you are struggling to see freedom, victory, joy, peace…and this abundant life to the full that we are told we can have, maybe it starts by asking yourself how you view Jesus.  Until we begin to really grasp God’s love, just how deep, and wide and long and high it is I’m not sure it’s possible to really walk in this abundant life that we all want.

So let’s think about Jesus dying on the cross…and remember it didn’t end there!  He has won.  He is alive…and we are free…free from the guilt and shame of our sins, and also free from any burden of debt owed for it.  When I picture Jesus Christ dying on the cross today, I see the free gift of God’s grace in Christ and what it now means to me and this entire world full of sinners like me.  When I sing the song “Amazing Grace”, I’m still just crushed by the line “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.” I am still impacted by that but in a new way, and it’s one that I hope you can engage and stand in.  We people can hardly grasp the concept of grace and the gift it is to us…and I think most of us want to repay it somehow.  I think our human brains think we must repay it, there must be an equal return for this amazing gift.  We can hardly comprehend the full meaning of this grace of God. But as we start to wrap our minds around grace thing will begin to really change in our lives and that life to the full becomes a reality for us all.

Listen, grace isn’t a favor you can achieve or earn by being good; it’s the gift you receive by being God’s!  It’s incredibly about hard to wrap your minds around the fact that The God of the Universe is madly and passionately in love with us, AND He is pursuing us!  God is bringing grace to us when we do not deserve and maybe aren’t even looking for it.  That is all but unbelievable isn’t it?  God pursuing us and calling us into His Kingdom…making us His royal subjects regardless of what you have been doing…it has nothing to do with what you are doing but is our gift because we are His.  Remember Paul’s words earlier?

Ephesians 2:6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 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. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. NIV

God loves you this much and is pursuing you!  God chose you and loves you and He will never stop loving and pursuing you…regardless of what you do or how badly you mess up and it’s something we need to see.  I know I have really been pounding this idea home today but I don’t think we make a big enough deal out of what God did for us.  I think what we tend to do is make a bigger deal out of our sins and our issues and all the dumb things we have done than what we tend to do with God’s grace and that is the problem.  When we make a bigger deal out of what we did, rather than what God did for us through His son Jesus it leaves us walking in guilt and shame and spending our lives walking in a weight that will never allow us to truly live a transformed life in Christ.  We simply can’t live out this life and life to the full when we don’t understand the true gift of God’s amazing grace in our lives.  When we get to the place where we actually trust and accept that what Jesus did was enough, and took care of all our sin (past, present, and future) we finally begin to walk in that abundant life that Jesus told you He came to give you.

We work so hard to be good, and the reality is we are not good.  We try so hard to be holy and not sin, but the reality is we all sin and fall short of God’s glorious standard…which leads us all to the same place, imperfect sinners, in need of a Savior with a Heavenly Father who loves us enough to give us all we need in Jesus.  This is grace.  You and I…we don’t measure up, so God took care of it for us.

So today as we start a brand-new series, where we really are tackling a big process that is so essential to our faith.  We are starting to discuss the idea of moving from people who have asked Jesus into their lives and are doing some good things but not experiencing this amazing abundant life into people who have truly been redeemed and forgiven…allowing us to live out this life that we keep reading about, and talking about, while deep down wondering why we aren’t experiencing it and I think the reason most of us don’t experience it is because we do not understand God’s grace.  We aren’t getting to this place where we can begin to center on just how big and deep and high and wide God’s love truly is and because of that we don’t experience life and life to the full

So as we close this thing down today I want to ask you a few questions.  Have you asked Jesus into your heart as your Lord and Savior?  If you haven’t and want to I think today is your day.  Now if you have asked Jesus into your life do you walk in this abundant life, this life to the full?  Would you describe your life as a life of freedom, victory, joy, and peace?  Do you see the Fruit of the Spirit in your life?  Are you walking in Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, and Self Control?

If you are not, it’s time to slow down and ask yourself if you understand God’s grace.  Ask yourself if you are making more out of what you did compared to what Jesus did for you.  Think about how you view Jesus, and center on the fact that He is ok…yes, He went to the Cross and died a horrific death…but it didn’t end there!  He rose, and is ok, and is not holding that over you…and if Jesus isn’t, then you should not be holding that over you either.

The reason so many good God loving people are walking through life miserable, still weighed down by guilt and shame is because they do not understand God’s grace, and while it’s difficult to understand we must begin to wrap our minds around it because it is the game changer for us all, and can start the process of growth that takes us from the moment of inviting Jesus into our lives to living a truly transformed life in Christ…which is when things get fun.  I would like to leave you with Paul’s prayer today as I feel it is a prayer for all of us.

Ephesians 3:16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. NLT