Why I Came to Jesus: Calling (Luke 5:1-11)

We're starting a new series today called "Why I Came to Jesus." We're going to look at some of the reasons why people decide to follow Jesus. Some come to Jesus for healing. Some come to him for answers. Some come to him for friendship. Today, we're going to look at the first reason people come to Jesus. Some people come to Jesus because he's called them. Two thousand years ago, people actually heard Jesus say to them, "Follow me." You probably won't hear Jesus speak audibly to you today in those words, but there are many who have heard Jesus calling them - through the voice of a friend, a parent, a preacher - and have begun to follow Jesus for this reason. Some people follow Jesus because Jesus has called them.

Twelve years ago, I received a call that changed my life. I was single at the time. I wasn't dating anyone either. I had just had two dates with a girl that I really liked, but things looked pretty bad after our last date. I had taken her to a funeral home on that date. I don't know why, but she wasn't too impressed. I had a friend who lived in that funeral home. It's a long story.

The day I received this call, I had just finished moving into a house in a new part of the city. I lived alone. I had no friends in the area. I was completely alone. To make it worse, I was working as a student pastor in a church, and the only phone line in the place I lived was the church phone. This stupid phone kept ringing and ringing...it was driving me crazy. I thought, "This is going to be a long summer." I refused to answer the phone on that Saturday, until I heard the voice come on the answering machine.

That voice belonged to the date that I had just taken out. That voice belonged to a woman who called to give me another chance. That voice belonged to the woman who would become my wife. I answered the call, and my life has never been the same. I'm glad I answered that call.

There are many important calls you're going to receive in your life. But today I want to talk about the ultimate call: the call that Jesus gives to follow him. I wanted to start with this one, because it's probably the hardest reason for people to follow Jesus. Some people come to Jesus for healing and end up following him. Some people come to Jesus for friendship, or for answers, and end up following him. But some people don't come to Jesus. Jesus comes to them. And before they even see the benefits of following him, Jesus issues a summons. He says, "Follow me." And if that isn't hard enough to grasp, Jesus goes on to raise the stakes. Jesus was known to ask people to give up their careers, even their families, to follow him without even looking back. This is the hardest reason that you could give for why you came to Jesus. But no one who has ever answered his call has ever regretted following him.

This is important because I believe that Jesus is calling some of you. You may be scared out of your mind, because you don't really know if you want to follow. You're not sure what he has in mind.

That's why we're going to look at a story that's found in Luke 5. It's the story of a man named Simon, or Peter, who received a call to follow Jesus. It changed his life, and it's changed the course of Christian history. And it all began with Jesus telling him, "Follow me."

If we hear Jesus calling, what should we do? How do you respond when Jesus calls? Four attitudes that will help you hear the call of Jesus:

1. I MUST BE OPEN TO THE INITIATIVE OF JESUS

The first attitude you need is to be open to the idea that Jesus may be pursuing me. You may think that you're pursuing Jesus. But the whole time, the reality is that Jesus has been searching for you. Jesus has been taking the initiative in establishing a relationship with you. It's all God's initiative. Before you and I ever go on a search for God, God was searching for you. You have to be open to the initiative of Jesus in your life.

When we meet Peter, his name is Simon, and he's a fisherman. I used to have romantic ideas of what fishermen were like - rugged, sunburned, masculine men. Now I know what fishermen were really like. I can summarize it in one word - smelly. Have you ever smelled a boatload of fish? Fishermen were known as crude, uneducated, hardworking people.

Here's a fisherman. He's been out fishing all day and night without any success. He's cleaning his nets - not exactly a fun job at the best of times, but imagine doing this after staying up all night without success. And then he hears this teacher. He's listening to Jesus teach while he works. Luke 5:1 says, "One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God." Peter's just one of a crowd - tired, dirty, and yet mesmerized as you hear Jesus teach.

I wonder what Peter was thinking. Maybe Peter was wondering, "Is this him? Is this the Messiah - the one who is going to deliver us, the one who was promised in the Bible?" His brother had already introduced him to Jesus before as the Messiah. He was probably evaluating Jesus, the same way that some of you are evaluating him. Who is he? Is he going to let me down? Can he be trusted?

Maybe Peter was thinking about what Jesus said to him before. Remember that Peter was just a fisherman. I would bet that nobody had ever seen much potential in Peter. But Jesus did. When he was introduced to Jesus before, Jesus said some simple words that would have been shocking to him. John 1:40 says, "Jesus took one look up and said, 'You're John's son, Simon? From now on your name is Cephas' (or Peter, which means 'Rock')" (The Message). Maybe Peter was thinking about the promise that Jesus saw in him. Peter may have been struggling with what Jesus saw in him, not believing that he could ever measure up to being a rock. Maybe Peter was full of self-doubt.

And then Peter saw Jesus coming his way. Luke 5:2-3 continues:

He noticed two empty boats at the water's edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

One minute you're the smelliest, dirtiest person in the crowd. The next minute you're one-on-one with Jesus. If I were Peter, I'd be wondering what Jesus was going to say when he's done preaching. Part of me would be breathlessly waiting for Jesus' next words to me one-on-one. If Jesus changed my name to Rock last time, what is he going to say to me this time? And part of me would hope that Jesus would just keep on preaching. I'd be afraid of what was going to come up next.

But here's the point. Jesus was taking the initiative in Peter's life, just like he takes the initiative in ours. God moves near to us in Jesus Christ with welcoming arms. No matter who you are, no matter what you've done, God comes to you and he keeps coming to you and he keeps extending his love to you. He's reaching into your life, and he's doing so with great love. He's arranging circumstances so that he has another chance to meet you - to talk to you, to touch you. Jesus is drawing you closer to him.

Make no mistake - when Jesus speaks to you, it's no accident. It's never a co-incidence when Jesus begins to work in your life. It's part of God's eternal plan. Ephesians 1 says, "His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure...He chose us from the beginning, and all things happen just as he decided long ago" (Ephesians 1:5, 11).

Have you sensed that God might be taking the initiative in your life? Drawing you to ask Christ into your life? Have you felt the gentle tugging going on at the heart level? Have people around you perhaps even been trying to point the way? Do you think the reason that you're here this weekend is because God brought you here? You're not here by accident. God has been working in your life. How do you respond to the call of Jesus? The firs t step is to be open to his initiative in your life. Recognize that God is at work in your life.

Here's the second attitude:

2. I MUST OBEY HIM EVEN WHEN I DON'T UNDERSTAND

This is the second attitude that we need if we're going to hear the call of Jesus. We must obey him even when we don't understand. Here's the reason why. The list of things I don't know is staggering. The list of things that Jesus doesn't know is non-existent. When it comes time to decide whether I'm going to follow what I know or what Jesus knows and commands, it's no contest. I must obey Jesus even when I don't understand.

I told you last week that my car broke down. When my car broke down, I did what everyone does, even though I don't have a clue why. I opened the hood and looked inside. What I thought I would find I have no idea. "Yep, the engine's still there. Well, I guess that's not the problem then."

I had the car towed to the garage and felt like I had to leave a note diagnosing the problem from my perspective. It's not that I thought they wouldn't know. It's probably because I didn't want them to think they had a total yahoo on their hands. They're probably thinking, "What does a preacher know about fixing cars?"

In Luke 5, we read what Jesus finally said to Peter after he finished preaching from the boat. Jesus turned to Peter and said, "Now go out where it is deeper and let down your nets, and you will catch many fish" (Luke 5:4). If I was Peter, I would probably be saying, "What did you say you did again? You're a preacher and, oh yeah, you were a carpenter? Leave the fishing to me." The instructions didn't make a lot of sense to Peter. They had just finished cleaning the nets after being out all night. The last thing I would want to do is get them all dirty again.

Here's what Peter said: "'Master,' Simon replied, 'we worked hard all last night and didn't catch a thing. But if you say so, we'll try again'" (Luke 5:5). Think about what you would be muttering to yourself under your breath. But you know what happened. Luke 5:6-7 says, "And this time their nets were so full they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking."

What I think of when I read this passage is, "What if Peter hadn't listened? What if he didn't obey because he didn't understand?" The Bible contains many stories of people who didn't obey Jesus because they didn't understand. There was a man who had everything going for him. He was rich, he was young, and he was powerful. But the best thing that he had going for him was the fact that Jesus loved him. Mark 5:21 says, "Jesus felt genuine love for this man as he looked at him." This man had everything going for him, but he didn't listen to what Jesus said because it didn't make sense. I wonder what he missed out on because he didn't obey Jesus.

Somebody once stuck some bubblegum in my hair. I wasn't impressed. They told me that peanut butter would get it out. I said, "Yeah, right." I thought they were putting me on. I could see them saying, "Nope, that didn't work. Maybe spaghetti sauce will do the trick. Nope, maybe motor oil." Turns out they were right. Peanut butter works great at getting bubble gum out of the hair. Good thing I went along even though I didn't understand.

A preacher in Mississauga went out jogging on a Sunday morning before church. He got sprayed by a skunk. He called around and asked different people, "What do you do to get rid of a skunk smell?" Everyone told him to bathe in tomato juice. Yeah, right. He sent his wife out to every corner store to buy V8, tomato juice - whatever they had. Then he soaked in the tub in all of that juice. Sometimes you have to go along even when you don't understand.

Some of you may have been holding back because you don't understand enough about what the Bible teaches. I'm all for more understanding, but don't make the mistake of limiting your obedience to your understanding. We need to obey even when we don't understand.

If you've read the Bible for any length of time, you know there are things in there that you don't understand. It doesn't matter. God understands. The only question is whether or not you will trust God's understanding.

It just may be that Jesus is asking you to go against everything you know. If there was one thing that Peter knew, it was fishing. But Jesus asked Peter to obey in his area of greatest knowledge. For you, it's probably not fishing. But it could be your career. Maybe following Jesus would destroy your career. It would take away your edge. You couldn't do things Jesus' way and be as successful as you are now.

Maybe it's your relationships. Following Jesus might go against everything you know relationally. You may be about to lose friends and family if you decide to follow him. Whatever the area - Jesus calls you to obey, even if you don't understand.

I want to ask you: what area are you not obeying because you don't understand? Even if you're a follower of Jesus Christ - in what area of your life do you think you know better than God? In what area are you limiting your obedience to God? If you're going to respond to God's call, you've got to obey even when you don't understand.

There's a third attitude that we must have if we're going to respond to Jesus' call:

3. I MUST BELIEVE THAT JESUS LOVES SINFUL PEOPLE

Human nature says that I must be good enough for God to use me. You and I want to make ourselves presentable before God. But that's not what Jesus says. Jesus says that the only way to receive his grace and forgiveness is not to earn it. It's to admit that we need it. It's to believe that Jesus loves us despite our sin.

Peter had just witnessed a miracle. Peter responded the exact same way that people respond when they get a glimpse of God: they're filled with inferiority. They recognize their sinfulness. Peter thought that a man of God would want to have nothing to do with a sinner. Luke 5:8-9 says, "When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, 'Oh, Lord, please leave me-I'm too much of a sinner to be around you.' For he was awestruck by the size of their catch, as were the others with him."

This is a common mistake. A lot of us think that we have to come to Jesus with our acts together. We think that Jesus came to make good people better. We don't really believe that God loves sinful people.

Was Peter wrong about himself? No. He was right. He was a sinner. I wouldn't be surprised if the other fishermen around there were saying, "Yup. Peter's got that one right. He's a sinner. It's a fact. No arguing about that." Peter wouldn't have dreamed that one day we'd be telling jokes about him guarding the pearly gates. He was just an uneducated, unworthy fisherman.

But Peter was wrong about Jesus. Jesus isn't interested in people who have their act together. Jesus didn't come to help those who are already okay. Jesus came for sinners. He came for those who've messed their lives up. Jesus came for you and for me. Jesus said in Luke 5:31-32, "Healthy people don't need a doctor-sick people do. I have come to call sinners to turn from their sins, not to spend my time with those who think they are already good enough."

The first thing that Peter did right is that he obeyed, even when he didn't understand. The second thing that Peter did right is that he realized his position before God. The very thing that he thought would drive Jesus away, actually became his best prerequisite for service. Only when we admit our inability are we ready to receive God's grace. Only when we confess our sin are we ready for his love.

Jesus said to Peter, "Don't be afraid! From now on you'll be fishing for people!" (Luke 5:10)

What does the Bible teach us about sinful people? The Bible says, "But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners" (Romans 5:8). Are you a sinner? Congratulations! You qualify for God's love. Yo u qualify for God's forgiveness. Are you a big sinner? Then the Bible teaches that you get more grace. 1 Timothy 1:13 says, "This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-and I was the worst of them all."

Jesus had a way of passing by the religious people and hanging around the sinners. You see it later in the same chapter. Jesus passes by all the religious people of the town, and chooses the most despised and least respected person in the town, a tax collector by the name of Matthew, and says, "Follow me." Matthew is so grateful, he decides to throw a party for Jesus, and he invites all of his friends. What kind of friends do you think a guy like Matthew has? The religious people of the day asked Jesus, "Why do you eat and drink with such scum?" (Luke 5:30) The entire religious establishment had written these people off, but not Jesus. They're the reason that he came.

If you caught a glimpse of Jesus' power, you too would fall down before him and say, "Leave me. I'm too much of a sinner for you." What's more, you'd be right. All of us are in the same condition. Nobody here is worthy enough on our own to come to Jesus feeling good about ourselves.

Jesus knows all that he's done, but he still says to us today what he said to Peter then: "Don't be afraid!" I don't know what's been going on in your life, but that's what he's saying to you today. He's bypassing all the religious people to take the initiative with you. You can become a new person today. Admitting your inability and your sin is a prerequisite for receiving God's grace.

How do I respond when Jesus calls? Open yourself to his initiative. Obey even when you don't understand. Believe that Jesus loves sinners. There's one more attitude you need:

4. I MUST BE READY TO LEAVE EVERYTHING AND FOLLOW HIM

Luke 5:10-11 says, "Jesus replied to Simon, 'Don't be afraid! From now on you'll be fishing for people!'" Jesus was asking Peter to leave his business. He had already given Peter a new identity by calling him a rock. Now he asks for more. He asks Peter to switch to a whole new set of goals and ambitions. He was asking Peter to follow him.

Luke 5:11 says, "And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus." That makes sense. Dropping the net into the water didn't make sense, but this did. Once you've heard Jesus' call, and seen his power, there's really no alternative. The only option that makes sense is for you to follow him.

Some of you have been hearing Jesus' voice for a long time now. You've been hearing his voice by reading the Bible. There may be someone in your life who's been speaking into your life the way that Jesus did.

The good news is that Jesus wants to give you a new identity. The Bible says, "What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!" (2 Corinthians 5:17) Jesus can give you a fresh start. He can make you a new person - a new set of goals, a new kind of heart.

Jesus can also give you a new assignment. Will you have to leave anything to follow him? Absolutely. Jesus himself said, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life" (Luke 9:23-24).

For two thousand years, people have followed Jesus because they've heard his call. Some of you are hearing his call today. I'm going to invite you to respond to his call and follow him, to receive a new assignment and a new identity. Would you bow your heads with me as we respond to his call.

Prayer

If you've never responded to the call of Jesus, today can be the day. You can pray words like these: "Jesus, I'm a sinner. I'm not worthy. You know that, and yet you're calling me to you anyway."

"Jesus, I want to follow you. Today I turn away from my old way of living, and I make you the Lord, the manager of my life. I'm willing to lose my life so I can find it. Forgive me, make me a new person, and give me a fresh start today, I pray. Amen."

If you prayed that prayer, I'm going to give you an opportunity to respond in a minute. As we continue to pray, I'd like to ask you to take out a communication card from the bulletin, or the pew in front of you, write your name on there, and check the box saying, "I'm committing my life to Jesus Christ."

I'm going to pray another prayer. It's for those of you who have been following Jesus for a while. You may be hearing his call to follow him into new areas - but you've been holding back. You're a little bit scared to leave everything, as Peter did, and follow him. It doesn't make sense to obey because you don't understand. It could be in the area of your finances. It could be a career change. But Jesus is calling you again to follow him.

Would you pray these words in your heart, "Lord, I want to keep on following you. God, I want you to use me. Anytime and anywhere in any way. Make me more like you. Thank you for saving me. And thank you for calling me to serve You. Change me and grow me and use me in ways I never thought possible. Thank you for your grace. In Jesus' name, Amen."

Saving Grace (Ephesians 2:1-9)

Complete these common phrases for me:

If it sounds too good to be true...it is
There's no such thing as a free...lunch
No gain without...pain
God helps those who...help themselves

Everything we're ever taught tells us that you get what you earn in life; that there's no such thing as a free lunch; that you make your bed and then you lie in it. Everything in our lives is predicated on performance. If you want a promotion, you work for it. If you want to make a big purchase, you've got to pay for it. If you want a sales award, you've got to post the numbers. If you want to succeed, you've got to make it happen.

Most of us become pretty good at making it happen. We earn a respectable living and live in respectable houses. We live with heat on in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. Our fridges are full of food. Our cars are full of gas. We think that we can make it on our own. We've worked for it.

We call this the Protestant work ethic. The only problem with the Protestant work ethic is that God doesn't operate on the Protestant work ethic. It's difficult to relate to the way things work spiritually because we're so used to earning our own way.

We're going to look at something so rooted in God's character that we can't possibly understand Christianity unless we understand this. Ephesians 1:4 says that this has been God's plan from before the creation of this world. It is the heart of our relationship with God. It's called grace.

What is grace? Grace is a multi-faceted diamond. There is no single definition of grace to describe what grace is about. One definition of grace is "God's unbelievable accepting of us." Somebody else has said that "Grace is the completely undeserved, loving commitment God has made to us." Another definition: "God's love in action." Or "Grace is the face God wears when he looks at my failures."

Bono, lead singer of the band U2, recently said: "The most powerful idea that's entered the world in the last few thousand years-the idea of grace-is the reason I would like to be a Christian." Bono is right. Grace is the most powerful idea that's entered the world.

Today, I want o look at saving grace. We're going to look at five characteristics of saving grace from Ephesians 2. This is foundational to being a follower of Jesus. You can't understand the Christian life unless you understand what we'll talk about today. This is Christianity 101.

I've built an acrostic to help us talk about grace today - G.R.A.C.E. What is grace?

G - GIVEN TO THOSE WHO NEED IT

Ephesians 2:1 says, "Once you were dead, doomed forever because of your many sins."

If you ask the average person how they will get to heaven, you will hear a variety of things. But I believe you could summarize what they have to say in one sentence: "You have to earn your way." In other words, you have to be a moral person. You have to do more good things than bad things. You need to live a certain lifestyle, and then maybe God will let you into heaven. It's all based on what we do - on works.

The only problem is our condition. We're dead. What Paul says in Ephesians 2:1 is true of everyone. Our natural spiritual condition is death. What can a dead person do to earn their way to heaven? Not very much.

In 1992, a Los Angeles County parking control officer came upon a brown El Dorado Cadillac illegally parked next to the curb on street-sweeping day. The officer dutifully wrote out a ticket. Ignoring the man seated at the driver's wheel, the officer reached inside the open car window and placed the $30 citation on the dashboard.

The driver of the car made no excuses. No argument ensued - and with good reason. The driver of the car had been shot in the head ten to twelve hours before but was sitting up, stiff as a board, slumped slightly forward, with blood on his face. He was dead. The officer, preoccupied with ticket-writing, was unaware of anything out of the ordinary. He got back in his car and drove away.

That is our natural condition. People might say we need a citation. We need to try harder. But the reality is that we're spiritually dead. There's nothing we can do to earn our own way to heaven. It's no use even trying. The most vital part of ourselves - the spirit - is dead to the most important factor in life - God.

Paul continues:

Once you were dead, doomed forever because of your many sins. You used to live just like the rest of the world, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passions and desires of our evil nature. We were born with an evil nature, and we were under God's anger just like everyone else.

You could take a look around you and rate people on a moral scale. Let's all recognize that some people are better than others. There are moral, kind, and law-abiding people. Then there are criminals. You and I are probably a lot better than a lot of criminals. But on God's absolute scale, nobody here is good enough to earn salvation.

At first Paul seems a little harsh. Our society believes that evil deeds lie at the edge of our character and never penetrate to the core. Basically, we're told, people are good. We have a sliding scale of goodness.

But the Bible teaches something different. When we lift our gaze to the ultimate standard of goodness - to God himself - even what appears to be goodness on an earthly level is corrupt to the core. I and everyone else am depraved and corrupted in the totality of our being. There is no part of us that is untouched by sin. You name it - our minds, bodies, and wills are affected by evil. Paul writes, "As the Scriptures say, 'No one is good-not even one. No one has real understanding; no one is seeking God. All have turned away from God; all have gone wrong. No one does good, not even one."

A man asked a pastor one time, "What can I do to be saved?" The pastor replied, "You're too late!" That kind of shocked him. Then the pastor continued, "You're about 2000 years too late! What needed to be done for your salvation has already been done and you can't do anything about it."

That's the fundamental difference between Christianity and every other religion. Christianity is the only religion built on grace - on what God does. We don't have to earn God's approval. In fact, we couldn't even if we tried. In other religions, there's always something you have to do to earn God's pleasure. In Christianity, there's nothing that you can do. God does it for you.

That's the first thing we need to understand about grace. It's given to those who need it. We all need it. As C.S. Lewis said, "Think of me as a fellow-patient in the same hospital, who, having been admitted a little earlier, could give some advice."

Grace is for the guilty. A pastor once said to a police officer who had pulled him over for speeding, "Say, Officer, I bet you've never been part of a real live sermon illustration about grace ..."

You're not getting to heaven based on what you do. You can't earn salvation. You're going to go to heaven because of what Jesus did for you. You're going to go to heaven, it's because you realize that grace is a free gift to those who need it.

The second characteristic of grace is this:

R - ROOTED IN GOD'S CHARACTER

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much, that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God's special favor that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ, and we are seated with him in the heavenly realms-all because we are one with Christ Jesus. And so God can always point to us as examples of the incredible wealth of his favor and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us through Christ Jesus.

If God had chosen to destroy every human being, he would have been justified. If God had decided in his justice to send every single one of us to hell, no problem. God would have been within his rights. He wouldn't have been doing anything wrong. But there's an aspect of God's character that is so rooted in who he is, that God didn't do that.

The picture so far has been on us, and it's been bleak. But in verse 4 the emphasis switches to God. Why did God act? He acted because of his great love. He acted because he's rich in mercy. He acted because of his special favor. He acted because that's his character. Grace is rooted in God's character. It's a reflection of who he is.

Two things stick out in this passage. The first is the extent of God's grace. Paul uses words like the incredible wealth of his favor and kindness toward us. You can't exhaust God's grace. You can't be too bad for God's grace. God's grace is always greater than our sin. Romans 5:20 says, "But as people sinned more and more, God's wonderful kindness became more abundant." You can never outdo God's grace.

The other thing that comes out is how central grace is to God's character - so much so that the entire Bible is about God's grace. If you want a theme for the Bible, it's this: God's grace. The entire Bible is about the God of grace reaching out to people who didn't deserve it. Ephesians 1:5 tells us that it was part of God's eternal plan. It gave him great pleasure. That's who God is.

God knows how bad things are with us, and yet he changes them. Where wrath should have come, mercy comes instead. The wealth of God's mercy and love are not limited. They're part of his character. They're extended to even the worst person who opens to the Gospel message. God is for us. We are the objects of God's love.

That's God's nature. Grace is rooted in God's character.

Not only is grace given to those who need it and rooted in God's character...

A - ACCEPTED BY FAITH

Grace is accepted by faith. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it."

You and I feel like earning our own way to heaven. Yet this passage tells us that there is nothing we can do to earn salvation. "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith." We don't earn grace. We just receive it. The whole of salvation is something we receive. We can take no credit for it.

There's even a temptation to think that faith is the contribution we make in order to go to heaven. The reality is that faith itself is a gift from God. We're saved by faith.

This is so important that Martin Luther once declared that this is the article upon which the church stands or falls. How are we made right before God? Not through penance. Not through good works. We're saved by faith - by clinging to Christ alone for salvation. It's a free gift.

What is faith? Faith involves three things:

It involves UNDERSTANDING. This part is factual. You need to understand grace. You need to understand that Jesus offers forgiveness of sins. You need to understand that he offers eternal life. You need to understand that Jesus came to remove your guilt and that you were made to enter into a relationship with God that will last forever. The Gospel is so simple that that's all you need to understand.

It involves AGREEMENT. Satan has an understanding of salvation, but he's not a follower of Christ. It's not enough to believe. You can believe that 7 times 6 is 42, or that Bern is the capital of Switzerland, but it makes no difference to you. Faith means taking the next step: of admitting that you're a sinner in need of salvation, and that Jesus has paid the penalty for sin, and that he offers salvation to you. You need to make your understanding personal and agree with the Gospel.

It involves TRUSTING. Faith isn't just about beliefs. It's about a person. Once you get to know a person, and the more we see in that person a pattern that is trustworthy, the more we find ourselves trusting that person to be and do what they say. Faith involves trusting Jesus in the same way. It's a matter of entering into a relationship with him.

In John 3:16, Jesus said, "Everyone who believes in him [meaning Jesus] will not perish but have eternal life." Jesus didn't say, "whoever believes him." That would just be factual. He said, "whoever believes in him." In the original language, the sense is believing into. It's much more than an intellectual assent. It's trust. It's a relationship.

Have you come to trust in Christ personally, or are you still at the point of intellectual knowledge and even agreement with the facts of salvation, without ever having put your trust in Christ? It's not enough. You're saved by grace through faith. What's holding you back?

Grace is ready for you. It's given to those who need it. It's rooted in God's character. It's accepted by faith. It...

C - CAME THROUGH CHRIST

Ephesians 2:7, 10 says, "And so God can always point to us as examples of the incredible wealth of his favor and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us through Christ Jesus... He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago."

John 1:17 says, "For the law was given through Moses; God's unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ." Moses gave the law. The law came in the form of cold stone tablets. Nobody was ever saved by the law. On the contrary, the law just condemned us. It showed us how far we had fallen from God's standards of holiness. Moses gave us a system of bookkeeping - figuring out how many things we had done wrong. As somebody has said, nobody was ever saved by good bookkeeping.

Jesus was different. He brought grace. Instead of bringing grace through cold stone tablets, he brought it in the form of a person. Jesus came not to give the law, but to fulfill the law. He came to bring us grace. He came to bring us life. Ephesians says it's not of yourselves; it's a gift from God.

Jesus said himself:

God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. There is no judgment awaiting those who trust him. But those who do not trust him have already been judged for not believing in the only Son of God. (John 3:17-18)

That's the entire reason Jesus came. He came to bring us grace. He did for us what we couldn't do. It's the only way that you can have eternal life. He paid the price. You didn't. The Buddha didn't. Jesus did.

Grace is free, no doubt about that. But it is not cheap. It cost Jesus Christ His life. He paid for your ticket.

There are many things that you've done wrong. Jesus came to this world to take your tattered life - all the mistakes, all the hurts. In exchange he gives you his life. He gives you a fresh start. He makes you into a new creation.

Galatians 2:21 says, "If we could be saved by keeping the law, then there was no need for Christ to die." If you could be saved and could get to heaven on your own merits, the cross was a waste. If you could have gotten to heaven without any help from God, Jesus wouldn't have come and died on the cross for you. He wouldn't waste Himself like that. But there was no other way. You're either going to get into heaven in Christ, or you're not going.

Grace is available to those who need it. It's rooted in God's character. It's accepted through faith. It came through Christ. And finally, it's...

E - EXTENDED THROUGHOUT ETERNITY

We'll never outlive God's grace. God's plan is to continue to give us grace throughout eternity. That's partially hidden in verse 8, where it says, "God saved you." In the original language, Paul points to a past event that has continuing results. We'll never outlive the effects of God's gift of saving grace.

Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death, but the free gi ft of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." This is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving. With God, the best is yet to come. The gift of God is eternal life that begins now and continues throughout eternity.

There's only one catch to this gift. You have to accept it. Although Jesus makes this gift available to everyone, it's effective only to those who receive this gift.

If you're a follower of Jesus Christ this morning, you can't take any credit for it. Your salvation is not a result of anything you've done. It's simply by God's grace. You won't get to heaven and hear people outdo each other with stories of how they got to heaven. It's all of grace. All we can do is be thankful for it.

Lewis Smedes writes:

Why do we call grace amazing? Grace is amazing because it works against the grain of common sense. Hard-nosed common sense will tell you that you are too wrong to meet the standards of a holy God; pardoning grace tells you that it's all right in spite of so much in you that is wrong.

Isaiah 30:18 says, "The LORD still waits for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion." That's his desire. It is his nature to bless undeserving people. He's waiting for you to accept his grace. He enjoys being gracious. He's not mad at you. His heart's broken for you but he wants you to come home.

A banner headline across the top of one Chicago Tribune read, "Guilty Plea Sets Inmate Free." The picture showed the freed man embracing his sister, and the article told how a man imprisoned for eight years cut a deal with the state's attorney's office in which the time served satisfied his sentence.

What struck me was that headline. You could think, "Great. Another criminal gets off with a plea bargain." Or you could realize that this is the story of the Bible: "Guilty plea sets inmate free." Freedom is not in a plea of innocence but in the admission of guilt. Your story is different, but the headline fits perfectly. It's about grace. It's about God's forgiveness.

God's amazing grace is available right here and right now. Today. That's why He brought you here. You're not here by accident. He brought you here. If you have never received that saving grace gift, what are you waiting for?

Prayer:

Why don't you pray this prayer in your heart? "Dear God, I realize that I can never be perfect enough to earn a place in your perfect heaven. I realize that the only way I'll get in is by your grace. Forgive me for thinking that I could be good enough. Forgive me for my pride that thinks I can earn my way into heaven. Thank you that you give me what I need, not what I deserve. Thank you for your forgiveness and I ask for it today. Jesus Christ, thank you for paying for my salvation on the cross. By faith, I accept your grace today. I want you to guide my life from this day forward. In your name I pray. Amen."