Saved by Grace

When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:4-5)

What can happen if you forgot to close the gate in your back yard and you let the dog out? You were 99% sure you closed it. What might happen if you are 99% sure you turned the stove off before you left the house? We don’t like to be less than 100% sure of something; it makes us uncomfortable that something bad can happen.

That’s why we really like the word GRACE. For five centuries the Lutheran church has focused on the fact that the Bible tells us very plainly that we are saved by grace. God tells us that he has done everything for our salvation and he gives eternal life to us as a free gift—there is nothing we have to do for it. This is an amazing message of good news!

However, the proclamation of God’s Word wasn’t always clear. For many years the message of the Bible was not made available to everyone. People went to church, they confessed their sins, they heard the priest tell them to go and do certain things and then maybe, hopefully they might make it into heaven. How would people ever know if they did enough, or if they were good enough? They were led to believe that Jesus’ life and death were not enough; they still had to contribute in some way for their salvation. Even after they died, someone still might need to do something to help them finally reach heaven. Imagine the doubt.

The Word of God removes all doubt about our salvation. The Bible teaches us: “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” Salvation does not depend on what we do, but entirely on what Jesus Christ came to do for us.

Jesus had great mercy on us. In his love he died the death we deserved and rescued us from our sins. By faith in him as our Savior, we have complete confidence of eternal life in heaven.

This is the main message of the Bible that we preach and teach in the Lutheran church. We are saved by grace through Jesus. Please come and hear it for yourself.

How do I make a decision for Christ?

I’m not very good at making difficult decisions. I remember standing over a college application, trying to decide what area of study to enter. I remember lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to decide if the car I had just test-driven would be my first car. I remember staring at dozens of real estate listings and actuary tables, trying to decide which house, if any, would be my first home.

I’m not very good at making difficult decisions. Whether or not you’re the same way, I think we would both agree that we want the right to make them. We want to be able to chart our own course, to succeed or fail on our own.

So what about Christ? When we talk about making a decision for Christ, we are talking about the most important decision of all. Our attitude toward Christ has an impact that lasts longer than a four-year college, longer than the life of a car, even longer than a thirty-year mortgage. We’re talking about eternity here. So it’s understandable for us to be concerned about this important decision.

But interestingly enough, this is one that we have no ability to make. The apostle Paul spelled out the truth clearly in a letter to Christians in the city of Ephesus. Paul said that by nature human beings are “dead … in sins” (Ephesians 2:1). He meant that, left to ourselves, you and I have the same ability to make a decision about Christ as a dead body has to make a decision about a college, a car, or a house. Absolutely no ability at all.

As much as not having a choice is very distasteful, in this case it is good news. It means that life’s most important questions don’t start with the words, “How do I…” Those questions always lead to doubt and uncertainty – things that none of us wants when we’re talking about eternity. Life’s biggest questions are not directed inward. They are directed to one who is outside of us. Questions like, “Does God love me?”

And the answer to that one is easy. In spite of the fact that we have sinned against him, in spite of the fact that we have treated him and the people around us as supporting actors in a drama that is first and foremost about me, yes, God still loves me. In fact, the Bible says, “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” (John 3:16). “The world” is all-inclusive. God loves us all, no exceptions.

You won’t find your name in that passage. But ask yourself this: when God tells you how much he loved the world, how he sent his Son Jesus to die for the sins of the world, how he has done everything needed for the salvation of the world, does that also include you?

A “yes” is the answer of faith. But realize that a “yes” does not indicate that you made a decision for Christ. There’s much better news. God made a decision for you. In that same letter to the Christians in Ephesus, Paul wrote, “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” The decision about Christ is more firm and more certain than the very foundations of the world. And for that very reason, that decision was made by him, not us.

Do I have to worship in a church?

Have you ever grilled with charcoal?  I used to do it all the time.  To get the coals started, I would pile them up, spray some lighter fluid on them, and then apply a match at several strategic locations.  Those coals would begin to burn, and eventually they would be hot enough for cooking.

But sometimes my pile wasn’t quite what it needed to be.  On those occasions, some of the coals would roll off the pile, over towards the edge of the grill.  Almost without fail, those coals would quit burning.  To get those coals lit again, I’d have to push them back over to the burning pile, and soon enough those individual coals would be burning also.

When it comes to our spiritual life, you and I are a lot like those coals.  We tend to need to feed off other believers, to be encouraged by them, to be inspired by them.  God says it this way: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  (Hebrews 10:23-25)

So, is it important for me to gather with fellow believers?  Yes, it is.  God urges us to do so.  When you gather with other believers, not only do they encourage you, but you give encouragement to them.  Just by being there, you tell others that you believe in Jesus, that God’s work is important to you, that spiritual matters are your priority.  That gives wonderful encouragement to others!  And you’re doing it just by gathering with those fellow believers.

Now, to be clear, God also hasn’t told us how to do that gathering.  So, it wouldn’t necessarily have to be in a church.  It could happen in a variety of other ways.  (Like, for example, a home Bible study group.)  God doesn’t command a specific way to do it.

At the same time, Christians throughout history have gathered in a “church-like” setting.  In fact, Jesus himself did so.  In the book of Luke we read, “He (i.e. Jesus) went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom” (Luke 4:16a, emphasis added).  Jesus went to worship at the synagogue.  In our way of speaking, “Jesus went to church.”  And, he did so customarily.  If it made sense for Jesus – the Son of God – to go to church regularly, might it not also make sense for us?  Sure!

Now I’ll quickly confess – I’m not always really excited about going to church, about attending worship or Bible study.  That’s because I’m a sinful human being.  So we go back to that Luke passage above, hearing that Jesus went to the synagogue regularly, and we thank God!  Why so?  Because Jesus was living a perfect life, and doing so in your place and in my place.  Remember,  Jesus not only paid for our sins on the cross, but He also lived a perfect life in our place.  When God put faith in your heart, God gave you credit for the perfect life which Jesus led.  So now God looks at you and at me as being perfect and holy, just as Jesus was!  And that includes our worship life; because Jesus worshiped perfectly, God considers you to have worshiped perfectly, too.

Wow!  That’s good news!  That God would consider me to be … perfect?!?  That’s awesome!  So, what would I like to say to God?  Well, I’d like to say “Thank you!”  Correct?  Sure!  Gathering with other believers can be a wonderful way to do so!

There are other thoughts involved.  For example, which church would I want to attend?  I want to attend a church which is teaching all the truths of the Bible accurately.  What if there isn’t a church like that near me?  Well, perhaps I’ll have to get videos, or access worship opportunities on the internet, or perhaps God might use me to be part of starting a congregation which teaches all the truths of the Word accurately.  Those are difficult situations.

But the general thought is, “Yes, God wants me to gather with my fellow believers, and to do so regularly.”  Why so?  Because God wants to encourage me with His Word, wants me to be encouraged by other believers, and wants to give me the honor of giving encouragement to others.  Blessings on your “gatherings!”

I’m not perfect; I make mistakes. So what?

In 2013, the Florida State Seminoles were celebrated as college football’s BCS Champions after completing a perfect 14-0 season. In the long history of Major League Baseball, only 23 pitchers have tossed a perfect game. Each of those 23 pitchers is widely celebrated for accomplishing one of baseball’s rarest individual feats. In 2009, USA Today reported that a Michigan teen got a perfect score on her ACT–and her SAT–and her PSAT! She was rewarded with a full-ride scholarship to Princeton University.

If perfection is so celebrated because of its rarity, should the opposite be true as well? Should imperfection be condemned? I mean, if perfection is considered the rarest of all feats, shouldn’t it be considered acceptable if the rest of us don’t achieve such a vaunted status? Nobody’s perfect at life! We all make mistakes. Who cares?

God cares. While imperfections are an accepted part of life for us, they are not acceptable to our God. Imperfections run contrary to the way God intended this world to function. When he finished his work of creation, God was pleased to know that everything worked in harmony. There were no imperfections; “God saw all that he made and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Our imperfections are therefore an offense to our perfect creator God. They are not excused; they are not overlooked. They are punished for the offense that they are.

Sure, nobody’s perfect. That’s why we need someone to be perfect for us.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Yes, Jesus Christ who had no sin or imperfection became our imperfection so that he might receive all of the punishment that we deserved, paying for it all by his death on the cross. In return, he grants us the perfection that we could not achieve on our own. In Christ we become “the righteousness of God.”

As much as we celebrate individual accomplishments of perfection–the perfect season, the perfect game, or the perfect test score–how much greater can we celebrate the perfection that is ours by faith in Jesus Christ! In Christ you are perfect; believe it! Celebrate it! Live it!

I am too busy to go to church

“Are you going to church this morning?” Mary asked her mother. “Oh, no!” her mother replied. “I have way too many things to do! I just don’t have the time.”

It’s amazing how busy our lives are. What is even more amazing is how much we can miss because we are so busy.

Jesus had a very close friend who was very busy. Her name was Martha. Jesus had come to her home for a visit, and Martha wanted to prepare a special meal for him. She was busy with the meal preparations and she was irked that her sister Mary was not helping her.

What was Mary doing? She was listening to Jesus teach God’s Word. When Martha complained about her business and Mary’s lack of help, Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

Mary could have been busy too. But she chose to put off her business to listen to Jesus’ word. The Word that Jesus spoke had eternal consequences because it was God’s Word of love and forgiveness.

That precious Word was more important than anything Martha might be busy doing. God’s love and forgiveness is the one thing needed in your life too! Being busy is okay, but as you realize the good news of God’s Word you can find room for it in your busy day.

How can I be sure God loves me?

The sun is shining. The sky is blue. The lake reflects the sky. The trees are deep, living green. You and your family are healthy and happy. Work has been going great. You feel like a million bucks.

Wouldn’t you agree that God loves you?

Yes, today perhaps.

But clouds may cover the sun tomorrow. The lake can look rough and angry. The leaves will fall. The world can look bleak. Today’s good health turns into tomorrow’s sickness, accident, or death. Things may go sour at work. A family’s fragile happiness can turn to dust. Horrible things like earthquakes and terrorist attacks happen in God’s beautiful world. Then you ask, “Does God still love me? How can I be sure?”

You can’t be sure by looking around in the world. In fact, there’s another complication. We all have the voice called conscience inside us. Conscience tells me that I should do right. It also tells me that sometimes I do wrong. I don’t deserve God’s love. In fact, I deserve to be punished. I can’t be sure that God loves me by looking inside myself.

No, the only way to be sure that God loves you is if he tells you so himself.

He did tell you. He sent his Son Jesus with a message for the world. No one has ever seen God, but God the heavenly Father’s Son came to earth to tell us about him. Jesus tells us that God loves the world—all people. He loves us in spite of all the wrong we do. Jesus showed us God’s love not just with words but in action. He gave his life for us.

So how can I know that God loves me? Not by my experiences in the world. Not by looking inside myself. Only God’s messenger, his own Son Jesus, can tell me for sure. The message Jesus brought is written in the Bible. The Bible brings us Jesus. Jesus says God loves us—always. His word can make us sure of that.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).

How do I worship God?

Worship, most of us think, is something that happens in church. And it does. But it does not start or end there.

It is better to say that worship is something that happens in our heart. It’s what happens when God speaks to our heart and our heart responds to God.

For worship to take place, we have to hear God’s message of love. We call it the gospel, which means “good news.” God tells us that good news in his Word, the Bible. He tells us how he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to win forgiveness of sins for us and give us eternal life.

When God’s good news reaches our heart, it lifts the weight of guilt from our soul. It makes us happy because God loves us and he cares for us. Our happy response is to love him back and to say, “Thank you, God!” And we praise him. Also, as with other good news, we want to share it with others.

That is worship. Because it starts in our heart, we can worship anywhere. We just need to keep in mind that it has two sides: God speaks to us, and we respond to God. Another way of understanding worship is that it is everything we do because of our faith in Jesus.

The impact of worship multiplies when we join in worship with other Christians. That is where church comes in. In church God talks to us through Bible readings and preaching. The church service is designed to remind us how much we need Jesus and how he has filled our needs. He lived a perfect life that God the Father credits to us. Then he took upon himself the punishment we deserve for sin when he died on the cross. He proved our eternal joy when he rose from the dead, assuring us of a new life in Christ!

In church, believers together respond with music and song, thankfulness and praise. We pray for each other and encourage each other with God’s promises. We form a bond of Christian love and faithfulness. We work together to serve God. Therefore, each of us can say with David in Psalm 122:1: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’ ”

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More Bible passages about worship, taken from the New International Reader’s Version Discoverer’s Bible:

Colossians 3:16, 17. Let Christ’s word live in you like a rich treasure. Teach and correct each other wisely. Sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing with thanks in your hearts to God. Do everything you say or do in the name of the Lord Jesus. Always give thanks to God the Father through Christ.

Romans 12:1. Brothers and sisters, God has shown you his mercy. So I am asking you to offer up your bodies to him while you are still alive. Your bodies are a holy sacrifice that is pleasing to God. When you offer your bodies to God, you are worshiping him.

Hebrews 10:25. Let us not give up meeting together. Some are in the habit of doing this. Instead, let us cheer each other up with words of hope. Let us do it all the more as you see the day coming when Christ will return.

What is love?

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. – 1 John 3:16

If you asked ten different people what love is you may very well receive ten different answers. Ask a three-year-old and his answer may be a simple “mom.” Ask a psychologist and you may have to settle in for a long and complicated response. The answer given by a fifteen-year-old girl will likely be very different than the one given by a sixty-year-old man who has been married to the same woman for 42 years.

Even though these answers may all be different, they likely all revolve around the same thing–emotion. Describing what love is usually involves describing how a person makes them feel or the committed feelings they have about a certain person.

God doesn’t talk about emotion when he describes love in his Word. He talks about action. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”

Love is defined by the greatest act of self-sacrifice ever made. God’s own Son gave up his life for you. He didn’t do it because of the way you made him feel. He did it because he knew it was the only way for you to live with him forever. He shed his blood not because he saw some great potential within you. He shed his blood because the sin within you needed to be washed away.

Jesus Christ laid down his life for you because his desire to save you eternally was far greater than any desire to preserve his own life. That selfless, self-sacrificing action is the very definition of love.

Now that you know what love is, go and love others.

Why does God love sinners?

Let’s take another question first. “Why do mothers love their children?” Mothers love their beautiful babies, but they love their ugly babies, too. It’s not because of how the child looks or what the child does. Mary, the mother of Jesus, loved her son. But probably the mother of Judas, the traitor who turned Jesus over to his enemies, loved her son as well.

Why do mothers love their children? God made mothers that way. Mothers love their children. That’s the way mothers are. We call it “mother-love.” It’s an unnatural mother that does not love her own child.

God’s love is something like mother-love. God loves the people he makes. That’s the way God is. In fact, God made us so that he could love us. In the beginning God made the world. At the end of his creation he made the human race, a man and a woman. The world and everything in it is a gift from God to the human race. He made you and me in our time because he wanted to love us, too.

Because God our maker loves all of us so much, he deserves the obedience, respect, love and trust of the human race. Beginning with the first humans, we haven’t given God what he deserves. We keep cutting ourselves off from the God who made us. We are rebels who run away from God. In other words, we are all sinners.

Why does God still love us?

He loves us because that’s the way he is. God is love, and he doesn’t change. Because he loves us, he made a plan to bring the rebellious human race home to himself again. That plan is the main plot line that runs through the whole Bible.

Really, the whole Bible is the story of God’s love for sinners like you and me. Why does he love us? That’s the way he is. God is love, and he doesn’t change. No matter who we are. No matter what we’ve done.

God says: I the LORD do not change (Malachi 3:6). God is love (1 John 4:16). He describes his plan in John 3:16: 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.

Why is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead significant for me?

It was refreshing, though the situation certainly wasn’t. Sandy’s mom had spent a wonderful, joy-filled day with her and her ten-month-old daughter. But it took just one moment. What started as a minor health scare quickly escalated, resulting in an emergency trip to the hospital. Less than two days later, Sandy’s mother went home to heaven.

They weren’t ready to lose her. If they could have their way, she’d still be here. So what was so refreshing? “We ask that God’s will be done.” “I’m glad she is in Jesus’ arms.” Throughout the entire tragedy, that’s what Sandy wrote.

How could she be so upbeat? In the midst of mourning, she was a modern-day Martha. Martha, fighting through tears for her brother Lazarus, freshly laid in the grave, boldly proclaimed to Jesus, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24).

How could she be so confident? How can I be so confident? As a result of Adam and Eve’s first sin, death was introduced into the world. As a result of sin, I’ve lost loved ones. As a result of sin, I myself will lose my life one day. And as a result of my sin, God tells me there’s only one place where I deserve to go, hell.

How can I be so confident? Because I have a loving Savior. Where I struggle and fail each day to love and obey God, Jesus didn’t ever fail. Even when loving God meant dying for me, Jesus obeyed. His love for me took him to the cross. His love has taken away all the guilt of my sins.

How can I be so confident? Because I have a living Savior. Jesus died, but he’s not dead. His resurrection is more than just an occasion to commemorate once a year on Easter. It’s the proof that Jesus not only forgave my sins and conquered hell, it’s also the promise that because he lives, I also will live. When I die, in his loving and living arms, I will live!

Jesus’ resurrection gives me confidence. It makes me confident to say, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” I am refreshed in every joy and every sorrow because I know that my Redeemer lives. And when at last my earthly journey is done, I will wake to live forever with my Savior because my Redeemer lives.