Grace for Sinners: Unearned

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

We’re digging into the impossibly simple and gigantic idea of grace this week. Specifically, we’re going to listen to Paul tell us about God’s saving grace in his own life, but we’re starting with today’s famous passage to put a handle on the concept.

grace_350Boiled down, grace is “unearned good.” In the case of our relationship with God through faith in Christ, that good thing is the most impossibly fantastic thing ever in the universe – eternal life in heaven, finally living as we were meant to with God and with meaning and without any death or mourning or crying or pain.

Today’s verses tell us three key things about that grace:

1) It’s how we are saved.

2) It is a gift from God.

3) It is not worked for or earned by us in any way. At all. Period.

Think: Do you believe in God’s grace in your head? Do you believe in your heart that he saved you for free and not as a result of anything you have done or ever will do? Why would someone have trouble believing in God’s grace to sinners?

Pray: Thank God for the gift of his saving grace because you could never have saved yourself.

Do: Read Ephesians 2:1-10 to see how these verses fit into Paul’s longer thought.

Grace for Sinners: Rough Grace?

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service.” (1 Timothy 1:12)

Paul is about to tell us how God gave him grace through faith in Christ, how Paul personally experienced receiving good from God in spite of NOT having done nothing good himself.

grace_350Remember how Paul came to Christ? You can read the whole story in Acts 9. Paul was on his way to arrest some people for believing in Jesus when Jesus showed up, knocked him down, blinded him, and told him to stop persecuting Christians – then made him the official “instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.”

That’s not a gentle story of God wooing Paul to faith in Jesus. That’s grace – God’s good for Paul’s evil – but it sounds like a harsh grace. It’s abrupt and absolute. It probably didn’t feel good at first.

And in today’s passage, Paul says, “Thank you, Jesus.”

Think: Why do you think Paul thanked Jesus for appointing him to service? Has God ever used a harsh experience in your life to give you a good thing, even if it didn’t feel really good at the time?

Pray: If you are a Christian, thank Jesus for giving you strength and appointing you to serve him.

Do: If you haven’t recently, read through the story of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9:1-22.

Grace for Sinners: Once a Blasphemer

“Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” (1 Timothy 1:13)

For Paul, grace wasn’t just about theology and doctrine and getting the words in the right order in Sunday School. It was the rock-bottom reality of his life. Paul was the villain of Acts. He was “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” He was the Bad Guy.

grace_350He was a blasphemer, denying that Jesus is the Son of God. He was a persecutor, sneering near the coat pile at the execution of Stephen for believing in Jesus. Paul was a violent man; he wanted blood.

Instead, God gave him mercy. Why? Because he wasn’t really that bad? No! Because he didn’t believe, yet. So God helped him believe and set him on a new path.

Why would God do that for someone so sinful? That’s the question of grace. We’ll find out more about the answer the rest of this week.

Think: What have you earned from God for the worst of your sinful choices? What has God given to you? Why?

Pray: Thank God for his mercy for sinners like you.

Do: Read about Paul’s transition from villain to one of the good guys in Acts 9:20-31.

Grace for Sinners: Poured

“The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 1:14)

Paul just got done listing what he had to offer Christ: blasphemy, persecution, violence, ignorance, and unbelief. Now he describes what Christ gave to him: “superabundant” grace, faith, and love.

grace_350If you are in Christ, he has done the same for you. The best of your goodness was worthless, evil, impotent. You had nothing to trade for God’s help. You had nothing of value to offer in exchange for even a little, tiny taste of his love.

So he gave you the ocean of his acceptance and forgiveness as a gift through faith in Christ. For free. Because he loves you. Anyway. He took your unbelief and gave you faith. He took your love of violence and gave you an unlikely love for him and his people.

He is rebuilding you not to make you acceptable to him, but to make you who you were always intended to be. Tat looks a lot like Jesus.

Think: Why is it so hard for some of us to believe we have no goodness in ourselves to make us acceptable to God? Why is it so hard to believe that he pours out his grace on us for free?

Pray: Thank God that he pours out his abundant grace on believers, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Do: Think about memorizing this short verse and kicking it around your head for the next week or two.

Grace for Sinners: Even the Worst

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

Think Paul wanted to make sure his readers where paying attention? He did everything but underline and circle this statement. And since every statement Paul wrote as Scripture was “trustworthy” and deserved “full acceptance,” this one must be huge.

grace_350“Jesus came here to save sinners.” He didn’t come to condemn sinners. He didn’t come to evaluate sinners for potential. He didn’t come to give sinners a little help so they could maybe stop sinning and make it to heaven eventually. He came to save sinners, from the “best” to the “worst” of us.

Paul said, “I am the worst.” Not “was” the worst, even though he had been a Christ-follower for quite a while when he wrote this. Jesus didn’t wait for Paul to stop sinning – or become less of a sinner – before saving him. Jesus saved Paul while he was still a sinner.

That’s grace; it’s what Jesus does for every believer.

Think: Why did Paul call himself the worst sinner? Does being less of a sinner make anyone more or less likely to be saved by God? Why?

Pray: Thank God for sending Jesus into the world to save sinners like you and Paul.

Do: Read what Jesus said about why he came into the world in John 3:16-21.

Grace for Sinners: Unlimited Patience

“But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16)

“If God can save that guy, he can save anyone.” Maybe you’ve heard that idea applied to a murderer or a rapist or a drug dealer. But that’s not quite what Paul was saying here. He wasn’t talking about who God “can” save – God can save anyone he wants to, right? – Paul is talking about who God is willing to save.

grace_350If God is willing to save even a guy who rejected faith in Jesus, a guy who participated in killing Christians, a guy thirsty for the blood of Jesus-followers, then the grace of God must be huge. It must be bigger than we imagined. His patience must be “unlimited,” outlasting even the worst of all my repeated sins.

Paul’s salvation was a billboard for the grace of God. His message was his life: “Believe on Jesus and receive eternal life no matter what you’ve done. God forgives it all.”

Think: Is your life a billboard for the grace of God? If you are a Christian, how could your life NOT be a billboard for the grace of God?

Pray: Thank Jesus for his mercy, for his unlimited patience, and for the gift of eternal life for all who believe on him.

Do: Write 2 or 3 sentences describing how your life is evidence of the grace of God.

Grace for Sinners: Now What?

“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17)

How can you possibly respond to the grace of God? Once you really understand what it is – that what seems way too good to be true really really is true – what is the only logical response to the God who gives love and forgiveness to those who have earned rejection and hell?

grace_350One response makes sense: Worship. That’s it. You can’t “pay God back” for saving you. You can’t get busy “earning” his gift of eternal life. He doesn’t want you to spend the rest of your life focused on yourself, anyway, feeling guilty for what’s been forgiven or feeling determined to prove yourself to him.

The only logical thing for the grace-receivers to do is to spend our lives focused on him. That’s what worship is, and it’s what Paul turns to in today’s verse after telling his story of grace.

Honor and glory to the forever King, the only God, forevermore.

Think: What are some lousy ways that Christians might be tempted to respond to God’s grace? How have you participated in the worship of our good God this week?

Pray: Tell God about his greatness and about your love and appreciation for him.

Do: Make a quick list of three things you could do during this next week to express worship to God.