given on Sunday, February 8, 2015
5. Grace & Grace with accountability
Building a new home takes knowledge, planning, and supplies in order to create a structure that is durable, safe, and functional. Adding the touches that turns a house into a home depends on those living within the walls of that structure. A home, built on a solid foundation, becomes a source of comfort, provides security, and reflects the personalities living there.
Building our Christian foundation can be compared to building a house, also. Yet, without Christ in our lives, we are empty inside. We can attend church and show that we know who God is—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; but living our faith honestly takes grace.
Grace is the intangible quality of unconditional love that God provides each and every individual, even every living creature living here on earth beside us. He accepts us as we are; He comforts us when we hurt; He provides us the security of eternal life; and He grants us the gifts that make us who we are.
Why, then, is grace so hard to understand? Grace from God is free, arrives with us even as we are born, cradles us as we grow up, and catches us whenever we make mistakes. God’s grace is a constant we can count on.
How come we, as his children, do not accept that grace? How come we do not model that same grace in our own lives? Why can’t we use grace automatically like God does? Among all the wonderful gifts and traits that we are born with, why do so many seem to have missed the grace gene?
Really it does not matter, what does matter is that we accept God’s grace and work on all the essential pieces that do build our Christian foundation. As we read and study the scriptures, we find example after example of God’s grace. As we study the gospels and learn how the Holy Spirit baptizes us into God’s family, we experience God’s grace. As we join in the universal church, we begin practicing that grace by unconditionally accepting our Christian brothers and sisters also.
Grace is part of Christianity. Grace is part of the DNA of Christians around this world. God’s grace is reflected in each and every one of us. All the ways that we share God’s love, without reservation, demonstrates the power of grace even in the worst circumstances imaginable.
John Wesley identified grace as a core term for Christians. In his notes, he provides insight into the application of grace in our lives:
Grace is actually a relational concept: God’s active presence and transformative power in our lives. The name Emmanuel speaks to this reality—God with us. We perceive the divine presence by the results of the divine energy working within us, enlightening, convicting, forgiving, liberating, assuring, chastising, empowering, strengthening, comforting—assisting us to become what God intended humankind to be, faithful creatures whose love for God and their neighbors is manifest through works of piety and mercy.
God’s grace is ours for the taking; but once we take it, we must use it. We are to be accountable to God in how we use grace in our lives.
As God’s missionaries, we are to use grace with accountability. This phrase is key to working with one another. And yes, the phrase is even used in schools. In fact, one behavior system BIST has developed in the Kansas City area and is used at the Ozanam School and Crittenton, a treatment approach to managing student behaviors. BIST’s key phrase is “grace with accountability.”
God’s grace is given and when we accept it, we agree to provide grace to one another. The human element of grace is accountability. We are accountable to God in how we use grace with others, but we are expected to use it responsibly. We are commissioned to share God’s Word so others, too, may join in relationship with God, accepting love and grace.
Our baptism into the Christian family includes a promise to be accountable. We are to love one another as God loves us. We are to offer grace to others just like God offers it to us. We are to do all that we can—as you so often hear said—to all we can.
If God can demonstrate grace to Saul, the Jewish Pharisee who was persecuting the earliest Christians, then we have no reason to doubt that he offers the same level of grace to us. Saul was struck blind in order for God to get his attention, but upon accepting Christ, Saul—now Paul—became accountable by demonstrating grace to others even from the prison cells. Paul knew what grace with accountability meant.
The letters we have from Paul share how to accept grace and how to use grace with accountability. In the letter to the Ephesians, we learn the formula in that first chapter, verses 7-8:
7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. 8 He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.
The connection to another essential in building Christian foundations is referred to in these two verses: The Triune God. Wesley wanted to make sure Christians understood that connection in explaining the core term grace:
Grace is a Trinitarian concept, grounded in the love and mercy of God the Father; especially manifest in the life, death, and resurrection of God the Son: and experienced through the work of God the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Grace is essential in our Christian foundation. Grace is the mortar used to create the brick walls, the screws and nails connecting all the pieces, and even the wires running throughout the structure carrying all the energy to all the places it is needed.
As Christians, we accept grace and we must use it with accountability. Paul never gave up on any of the young Christian churches he planted throughout the Mediterranean area over 2,000 years ago. His own methods of communicating and demonstrating grace kept those young Christians accountable just as he does today as we study the scriptures.
James, too, Jesus’ own brother, taught the early Jewish Christians how to be accountable with grace:
7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. 9 Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.
Each one of us must work to maintain the Christian foundation God has provided us. We have all the instructions needed in the scriptures. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit. We have the skills and talents God has given us. We have grace for all the times we make mistakes because God loves us so much he gave his son so that we might have eternal life.
God’s grace is the essential element that takes us and makes us the hands and arms of God in this community in which we live. We are accountable for how we demonstrate grace to one another. We are Christians filled with grace.
Dear Gracious Father,
We arrived this morning with weariness in our souls.
We have had un-Christian thoughts and made poor decisions.
We even questioned whether or not we believe.
Thank you for your grace.
Thank you for unconditional love.
Thank you for our Christian family.
Renew my faith through today’s worship.
Renew my spirit with the hope you provide.
Renew my resolve to offer grace to others.
Help me to be accountable to you and to others.
Help me to trust in the Holy Spirit to guide me.
Help me to share your Word
so others, too, may experience your grace.