First Mennonite Church
October 1, 2023
The Incomparable Riches of God’s Grace
Texts: 2Corinthians 6:1-2, Ephesians 2:1-10
As God’s co-workers, we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says,
“In the time of my favor, I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”[a]
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
As we follow Paul’s communication with the Corinthians, he arrives at this point where he makes an urgent call about an issue where there is no room for error. It is a life-or-death situation for the Corinthians believers. And I believe it is also an issue we as believers in Christ must take very seriously—the matter of what we do with God’s grace given to us in Christ.
But first, I must admit that “grace” is an overused word in church language and it can be easy to miss its important significance concerning our relationship with God. For that reason, I want to take this opportunity for us to consider or reconsider its important meaning according to Paul’s usage.
Paul urges the Corinthians “not to receive God’s grace in vain.” The Greek word “charis” means favor, gratitude, goodness, benevolence, benefit, and grace. It is also the root word for charismatic, charity, charm, and others.
In the Old Testament, the equivalent word for Charis is the Hebrew word hēn, which is translated as “favor.” For example:
Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering (Genesis 4:4).
But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8).
Joseph found favor in the eyes of Potiphar who made Joseph his attendant (Genesis 39:4).
Ruth found favor in the eyes of Boaz (Ruth 2).
David found favor in the eyes of Saul and Jonathan (1Samuel 20).
The meaning of the word favor, according to these examples, is that the barrier or distance between the powerful and the weak, the rich and the poor has been bridged at the initiative of the superior one. The Almighty God accepts Abel and his offering (Please note: not because of his offering.) In the midst of sinfulness, God sees with kindness to Noah and saves him and his family. The foreigner slave Joseph is given the status of management in the master’s household. David, a young shepherd is accepted by the king and his son. “Favor” in the Old Testament usage describes the condescension of the powerful toward the lowly—giving him or her something or status that is beyond his or her potential to attain on their own or is unworthy to receive. When God shows his favor, he reaches down to choose someone, to protect from ominous danger, or to show compassion even when the recipient is undeserving.
In the New Testament, Paul describes God’s work in Christ in that very same light. One of those passages is Ephesians 2: 1-10.
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 flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving 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 is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
In order to show the immeasurable nature of God’s goodness in Christ, which Paul calls “the grace of God” he make a contrast between the past condition and the present in Christ. Paul explains to the Ephesians how the divine loving and gracious intervention through Christ has radically changed not only their standing before God, but also the very condition and purpose of their lives.
They were dead in transgressions and sin, they were held slaves to the power of evil which works in those who disobey God and as a consequence, they deserved God’s wrath. Such a description is not only of the Ephesians but of all humanity. It was my and your condition before coming to Christ, also. The power of sin makes our hearts inclined to everything, but God. Sin is the master that has the world marching towards its own destruction. And, without Christ, we too would be marching our way to our death, including eternal death. But that fate was changed at the coming of Christ for the Gentile world. You see, in the Old Testament, only a few were considered receiving the favor of God. But with the coming of Christ, both Jews and Gentiles can enjoy God’s favor, which Paul calls grace.
Paul describes three marvelous benefits God has given us through his amazing grace. These are that: God made us alive with Christ, raised us with Christ, and sat us in the heavenly places where Christ now rules over all powers and dominions.
In God’s bountiful grace, he has made us alive with Christ. Remember, in the past, we were dead in sins and trespasses. We were under the dominion of sin and death. We were by nature children of wrath. But in God’s abundant mercy and out of sheer goodwill, God has given us a new life in Christ. We breathe the breath of God’s Holy Spirit now living in us. Praise be to God!
The second benefit we have in God’s grace is that we have been raised with Christ. We now live the new life in Christ. When we were baptized, we were buried and raised in Christ to walk in the newness of life. God has recreated, and transformed us in Christ to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (v. 10). We cannot live as those who are not in Christ. We now live according to God’s will, serving in love and always trying to please the Lord in every way.
And the third benefit of God’s grace is that he has seated with Christ in the heavenly places, where he rules over all powers so that in the coming ages, he might show the incomparable riches of his grace expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
God in his grace not only comes to knock at the door of our hearts but also renews our entire being and destiny. God’s grace in us through Christ is not only visible in us as we do the good works God anticipated for us to do but will become the ultimate display of his kindness to us through Christ. In other words, God’s grace is the greatest expression of his love for us in Christ, which is now and will go into eternity. Thus Paul exclaims: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
This reinforces the sheer enormity of God’s mercy, love, grace, and kindness which has brought about such an altered state of existence for every believer. Likewise, it also reminds us of the stark difference between our ongoing state of salvation and the state of non-believers who remain dead in their trespasses and under the devil.
Second, while the text emphasizes that our salvation is not from works, it also understands works to be an indispensable component of God’s grace. Because we were created in Christ Jesus (i.e., made alive and raised with Christ), we are God’s handiwork with the goal of good works (2:10a). These good works are so vital that God had prepared them ahead of time (2:10b).
Our works have not saved us, but they are part of the goal God had in mind in saving us. Hence good works are not simply the by-products of our conversion but were pre-planned and pre-prepared by God.
Now with that in mind we go to Paul’s urgent call to the Corinthians in our passage: As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says,
“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
You may have heard the saying in some Christian circles, “Once saved, always saved.” Well, that is not what Paul says is the case. His warning about how we respond to God’s grace allows for no error. See that you do not receive God’s grace in vain,” is a warning not to be taken lightly. This we read in Hebrews 12:15: See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
In Galatians 4:8-9, we read: Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?
Also in Galatians 5:4, Paul continues: You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
My dear friends, I want to make the same urgent call: Do not receive God’s grace in vain. And if you have not received it yet, I urge you: Receive the Grace of God in Christ today. Today is the day of salvation. Now is the time of God’s favor and grace for you. Ask Jesus to come into your heart. God will raise you up with Christ. You will pass from death to life. God will seat you with Christ in the heavenly place. You will become God’s ultimate displace of the riches of his mercy in Christ Jesus throughout eternity. Receive God’s grace in Christ. Let us pray.