Mark Batterson - Sola Gratia
In the fall of 1516, a 32 year-old theology professor named Martin Luther was teaching through the Book of Romans at the University of Wittenberg. He got to Romans 1:17, the just shall live by faith, and he had a revelation that turned into something we call the reformation Now at the time, Pope Leo II was selling indulgences to help build St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. For a few pence, you could pay down purgatory. There was a catchy little jingle: "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs".
Just because something rhymes doesn't make it right. Salvation was for sale, which is as far as you can get from the gospel. And so on October 31, 1517, Luther posted 95 theses on the doors of the Castle Church. It was a tipping point, it was a turning point in church history. In mathematics, there's a technique called isolating the variable whereby complicated algebraic equations are rearranged to understand the effect of one variable over and against another. Luther in a sense isolated five variables that we call the five solas: sola gratia, sola ﬁde, sola Scriptura, solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria. By grace alone, by faith alone, by Scripture alone, by Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. Lots of people deconstructing their faith right now. Nothing wrong with that as long as you reconstruct it.
The Apostle Paul said, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling". Work out. You break the muscle down to build it back up. What's true physically is true spiritually. And so deconstruction is healthy and holy as long as you reconstruct. I think this is how we find faith with our fingerprint on it. So what I wanna do this weekend is deconstruct and reconstruct grace. We'll break it down. We'll build it back up. I want you to grab your Bible. You can meet me in John chapter 8. We'll get there in a few moments. Let me give you a definition and three dimensions of grace. Grace is the unmerited favor of God. By definition, it is undeserved. The only way you qualify for it is by not qualifying for it. It cannot be earned. It can only be received as a gift, a gift, hmm.
I like to think of it this way. Maybe I can have a a little bit of fun. I think love is our business card. Love God, heart, soul, mind and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. This is who we are. This is what we're about. I think faith is our credit card. It's being sure of what we hope for, certain of what we do not see. But I think grace is our gift card. I've got a gift card. I feel like gracing somebody. So I just, I hope this is okay. I just, Zion, it with such a joy to meet you this morning, and I just have just a little gift for you. And now, if you're a first time guest, we don't do this every week, okay? But no strings attached, just thank you and bless you. Yeah. Grace, grace is our gift card, and it comes in three primary flavors, okay?
Now, the first flavor of grace is called common grace, and we'll just call it vanilla. And I don't mean that as an insult. Vanilla is like my favorite flavor. Anybody, any vanilla in the house? And so James 1:19, every good and perfect gift comes from above from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change, like shifting shadows. The air we breathe, common grace. The food we eat, common grace. Jesus said it this way, "God makes the sun rise on the good and the evil". That it rains on the just and the unjust. And so common grace is any blessing short of salvation. And there's so many, right? Oh, man. Now I wanna rabbit trail. Do you know in Judaism you pronounce 100 blessings a day? Anything that you enjoy but don't give thanks to God, it's as if you have stolen it from him. Praise God for his common grace.
Now, that brings us to saving grace. Woo. That tastes good. We are saved by grace through faith. Ephesians 2:8. There is this false notion that salvation is somehow earned. That if you do more good than bad, that you're good to go. The problem with that is this: all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And the wages of sin is death. But the gift of God, gift, the grace of God is eternal life. So if you're taking notes, jot this down, this is an important distinction. Religion is spelled D-O. It's all about what you can do for God. And let's be honest, part of us wants partial credit. We want to be a part of the equation of our own salvation, but that's just not the way it works. Religion is spelled D-O, Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E. It's all about what Christ accomplished for you on the cross. And you can receive it as a free gift.
We'll call that second flavor brown butter almond brittle. Woo. I kinda like Jenny's ice cream, that's my go-to. Alright, this third one goes by a few different names. Sanctifying grace, special grace, sustaining grace. I think you could even call it sufficient grace. We'll call it Rocky Road. Yeah? One way or the other, it's an extra measure of grace. How many of you know there are times in life you need an extra measure of grace just to get to the other side. And I would also say that God wants to grace you, gift you, same word in Greek, beyond your human ability. And now we begin to grace other people with the grace of God that we've received. And so with that as a backdrop, John chapter 8, we're gonna dive into a story, put a little skin on it.
Jesus is teaching in the temple courts when the religious leaders drag a woman into the courts who is caught in the act of adultery, which raises a question, where's the guy? Last time I checked, it takes two to tango. These religious leaders ask a question. And you know what they're trying to do? They're always trying to trap Jesus. I mean by, by the way, I would describe him this way. They'd rather be right than righteous, which makes them self righteous. It says, in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. What do you say? What this woman did was wrong. No, if, ands or butts about it. We live in a hookup culture that celebrates one night stands. And then we wonder why there's so much sexual brokenness.
Can I remind us, sex is not just a good thing, it's a God thing. But he puts a fence around this playground called marriage. And sex is a sacred covenant between a husband and a wife to be enjoyed in the context of marriage. It's holy, it's sacred. And so this woman breaks her vows. And I don't wanna downplay that, but I do wanna notice the reactions in the story to what's happening between the religious leaders and Jesus. The Pharisees were so good at gotcha. Like just always catching people doing things wrong. Whew. Listen, cancel culture is nothing new. The Pharisees wrote the book. But Jesus flips the script. Always catching people doing things wrong. The Pharisees, all about writing people off, Jesus, all about writing them back in, 70 times 7.
Now, speaking of writing them in, there's this curious moment in verse six where it says, Jesus bent down and started to write. Lots of debate about what Jesus wrote. The reality is no one knows, but there is a subtext. I just find it interesting that Jesus doesn't respond right away. The faster you react, the more likely you are to overreact. Again, we're in a culture that it's almost like a race to respond on social media to whatever's happening. And in my experience, if I don't hit the pause button, if I don't catch my breath, catch my emotional breath. If I don't collect my thoughts, collect my thoughts, I say stuff I have to apologize for. And so I think there's a little lesson in grace to be learned, even right here. It says, Jesus wrote in the dirt. I might recommend a journal.
Well, one way or the other, you have to process your thoughts, process your feelings. But even more than that, oh, may we be a people that discerns how God is moving and what the spirit is speaking. What's happening in this situation beyond what's going on, what's really happening beneath the surface, and then we begin to function in the gifts of the Spirit with words of knowledge and words of wisdom, even prophetic words. Now we step into the gap as a grace giver. And it changes the game. Grace is not reactive. Grace is proactive. It's loving people when they least expect it and least deserve it. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. When we were at our worst, he was at his... That's grace.
Dick Voth called me this week. Kind of fun. He's preaching on the same subject in Colorado this week. And by the way, he and Ruth doing well, recovering from COVID, back on their feet. Praise God. And Dick asked me the question, "Mark, when and where and how did grace find you"? And I told him what I'm about to tell you. When I was five years old, I was at my grandparents house in Fridley, Minnesota. Now my grandparents, my grandma, sweetest person on the planet. Oh, those cookies. Those, those cookies. Whew. And my grandpa, I would describe as godly. You've heard me tell a story about him. He was hard of hearing, but he had a little habit before bed. He'd kneel next his bed, take off his hearing aid, and he couldn't hear himself, but everybody else in the house could hear him.
Some of my earliest memories are hearing my grandfather pray for me. He died when I was six, but his prayers did not die. There is no expiration date on prayer. There have been moments in my life where the Spirit of God, something's happened that I don't deserve. And the Spirit of God has said, "Mark, the prayers of your grandfather are being answered in your life right now". Oh, but there's a moment when I was five, I'm at their house, and there was one rule, just one. Don't play with Grandpa's fossil collection. You could call it the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And you can call me Adam. I just, I couldn't resist. Okay? And so I pick up one of those fossils and it slips through my five year old fingers. And when it hits the ground, it's not the only thing that broke into pieces.
Like my five year old heart, I can still feel my heart racing because I knew what I did was wrong. I had no idea how my grandfather would react. And I'll never forget as long as I live, he walked into the room, he kind of assessed the situation. Then he walked over, he picked me up, didn't say a word, just held me. That is when and where and how I found grace. Or maybe I should say grace found me. The pastoral instinct in me wants to walk around this room and give everybody a hug. His grace is sufficient. See two it, Hebrews 12:15, that no one misses out on the grace of God. Approach the throne of grace with confidence, Hebrews 4. Come on. We need it. And God's offering it. Hallelujah. On the way in this weekend, you got a grace card. I know you wanted a gift card, but you got a grace card. You got a grace card, and you're gonna have an opportunity this week. It doesn't even take a prophet. There is going to be a situation this week, not unlike this woman caught in the act of adultery. Someone needs you to do what Jesus did. Give them grace. John 1:14 said, Jesus was full of grace and truth.
Now, stick with me. We're talking about isolating variables. And now I want to talk about reflexive antagonism. It's a concept in physiology that is gonna help us navigate what sometimes seem like character traits of God that are in opposition to one another. So stick with me. It's a phenomenon whereby muscles with opposing functions inhibit each other. Give me, let me see it. Come on. Gimme a bicep. Come on. This isn't all play? Give me a bicep. When you gimme a bicep, those triceps relax. Now give me a tricep, give me a tri. Now those biceps relax. It's reflexive antagonism. If you wanna understand the nature of God, these character traits seem to be in opposition to one another. You have to think in these terms, in grace and truth. Or like exhibit A. Grace means I'll forgive you no matter what. Means I'll love you when you least expect it and least deserve it. It means I will never give up on you. Truth means I'll always be honest with you. I'll hold you accountable.
Truth does not, cannot, will not compromise its conviction. Why? 'Cause it's not loving. Grace plus truth equals love. God is just, God is just, which means God cannot, does not let sin go unpunished or unpaid. He is the God who writes every wrong. But that's where grace enters the equation. See, God doesn't let us off the hook. He takes our place. Wait. What? Yeah. Yeah. 2nd Corinthians 5:21. God made him who had no sin to become sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God. I owed a debt I could not pay. He paid a debt he did not owe. It's almost like God says, "Here's the deal. Why don't you take all of your sin, everything you've done wrong, why don't we go ahead, let's transfer that over to my account. We'll just pay it in full". When Jesus was on the cross, he says, "It is finished". It's one word in Greek, tetelestai. It's an accounting term. It was written on ancient receipts.
Archeologists have found this. It means paid in full. It's the last payment on a debt owed. In other words, God says, "Forgiven". Forgiven, but that's only half the gospel. Okay? Then he says, "Why don't we take the righteousness of Christ, everything Jesus did right, why don't we go ahead and transfer that over to your account and just call it even"? Okay, grace, there's an acronym for grace that's helpful. Grace is God's righteousness at Christ's expense. Whew. It's that gift card. And it's a big one. It's like a gift card with no balance. Like it's unlimited. Unconditional love, unlimited forgiveness, unbelievable. All of that to say this, grace is the place where justice meets mercy. And so what do we do? We approach the throne of grace every day. Right? It was Jerry Bridges who said, and I love this. I'm gonna have to pull it from memory. He said... "No day is so good that you're not in need of God's grace. And no day is so bad that you're beyond God's grace. Every day, every day is the basis for relating to God on the basis of grace alone, solo gratia".
We are grace people. And this is a grace place. It's okay to not be okay. Come on. Who needs another one? Who needs 3 or 4 or 10? Right? So God keeps giving us that grace card. Hey, I have a daily Bible reading plan. And this verse, just the Spirit quickened it. I've been praying it for you. So can I just tell you what I've been praying for you? Ezra 9:8, the Israelites, they were in captivity. Babylon returned, a remnant and God gives them a little promise in Ezra 9:8. Now, now for a little space, little space, grace. Oh, now for a little space, grace has been showed from the Lord our God. And I love this. The language in the Hebrew is kind of unbelievable here because it almost foreshadows what Jesus does as our high priest. It says to give us a nail in the holy place. Woo! Where's your sin? It should be nailed to the cross, last time I checked.
Colossians 2. When we confess our sin, faithful and just to forgive us our sin. And then it says that our God may lighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving. Woo! Some of you need an extra measure of grace. Oh, I'm so glad you're here. Really tough circumstances at work or at home, just emotionally, the anxiety, the depression, the grief, just overwhelming. Maybe in a tough spot relationally. I am praying this promise. I am praying for a little space. Grace. Grace. And he knows what kind of grace you need. Common grace, he'll give it. Saving grace. Come on. Sustaining grace. I believe it for everybody in this place. I believe it for everybody online, at all of our campuses. He wants to give us a grace card. Verse seven. Now, when they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone". Brilliant. With an English accent. The Quakers have a saying, an enemy is one whose story we have not yet heard.
The poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it this way. "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life enough sorrow and suffering to disarm all hostility". I shared this during "Rule of Life", but there are two rules of thumb. Two rules of life whenever I meet anyone. One, everyone is my superior in some way in that I learn of them. That's an old Emerson that I picked up about 20 years ago. I wanna learn from you. And two, everyone is fighting a battle I know nothing about. I mean, this is embarrassing for me to admit, but I can't tell you how many times I've been frustrated about someone, formed an opinion, a strong opinion about them. One fact and grace floods my heart. I didn't know, I didn't know. Oh, come on. We have gotten so many grace cards. We gotta give those back in Jesus' name.
Now let me poke at this. Okay? We're gonna widen the aperture a little bit. We tend to put people in camps. Good people, bad people. Good people, people like us. Bad people, everybody else. Listen, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. There is a sinner in every saint. There's a saint in every sinner. Alexander Solzhenitsyn said it this way, "The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being". And you know this is true, don't you? Because you have a sin nature, just like I do. And what that means is even good people can do bad things. But we also are created in the image of God. And what that means is even bad people can do good things. So it it begs the question, are we inherently good or inherently bad? And I was gonna divide the house, but it's a trick question because we're both.
If you start with Genesis 3, the fall, we're inherently bad. But the sequence I think is significant. We do believe in original blessing before original sin. At our very core, we are created in the image of God in the Imago Dei. And so we gotta live with the tension of these two things. Genesis 1:26, let us make man in our image, in our likeness. Everything from TVs to T-shirts have a label on it, made in Mexico, made in Canada, made in America. If you had a label, it would say, made in the image of God. The image of God in me greets the image of God in you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are his workmanship.
C.S.Lewis said it this way. "There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play, but our merriment must be at the kind which exists between people who have from the outset taken each other seriously. No flippancy, no superiority, no presumption". I might add no pride or prejudice, no baiting or trolling or shaming or canceling. And it brings us right back to this woman caught in the act of adultery. Jesus says he who is without sin cast the first stone. Who's the only person left who actually met the stipulation that he set up? But Jesus doesn't cast a stone. I love this about Jesus. You can stone her over my dead body. It's grace. It's grace.
Man, when she gets that grace card, Jesus turns the worst moment of her life into a holy moment. I wanna keep going here a little bit. Do you have the capacity to really think about what I'm about to say? "Coddling of the American Mind", Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, talk about identity politics. And they make a distinction between two very different approach paths. Common enemy, common humanity. And this'll make intuitive sense to you. Common enemy leverages emotions like fear and hate. And it demonizes anybody who's part of the out group. Common identity doesn't demonize, humanizes, it appeals to our better angels. It finds common ground which leads to common grace.
Can I poke a little more? I think this goes back to our origin stories. There are two primary meta narratives. Okay? One is macro evolution by random chance. And the other is intelligent design. And I have no issue with evolution. Just read a thousand page book, light reading, 'cause I'm fascinated by this. And I'm of the ilk, Einstein said, "Religion without science is lame. Science without religion is blind. Science is our friend". Romans 1:20, God has revealed his invisible character through what he has created. If by evolution you mean the ability to adapt and change, the ability to evolve like the body's ability to heal. Oh, I mean that's just a testament to God's creativity and ingenuity. The problem with macro evolution by random chance is that it violates the second law of thermodynamics. "Let's be scientifically honest".
Said Sir Fred Hoyle, the guy who coined the phrase big bang. "The probability of life arising to greater and greater complexity by chance through evolution, is the same probability as having a tornado tear through a junkyard and form a Boeing 747 jet liner". What I'm getting at is this, is I at least wanna level the playing field. Macro evolution by random chance and intelligent design are both tenets of faith. Random chance is no less religious. You still need a cosmological starting point. The problem with random chance is not just scientific, it's ethical, it's a dead end. There is no path to morality or equality or dignity. It's survival of the fittest. Are we doing okay? Darwin concludes the "Origin of Species" this way. "Man, with all of his noble quality still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin".
I could not agree with anything less. You're made in the Imago Dei. You are made a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory. These are very different visions of humanity. I think you can say, Pastor Mark, that's causation without correlation. But I just don't think you can preach random chance and it not affect the moral compass called the conscience. I don't think that you can preach a lowly origin and it not affect the way you see yourself or see others. You just can't. So can we just say it like it is? It trends towards common enemy. The Bible doesn't give us that option. It's neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. It's about our common humanity. All of that to say this. And I hope that wasn't a diatribe.
I may talk a little bit more about that in a couple of weeks. All of that to say this, the genesis of common grace is common identity and it leads to common good. We have a theology of dignity, a theology of equality, a theology of solidarity. And this affects the way that we treat anyone and everyone. Let me close with this. Verse nine. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time. The older ones first, until only Jesus was left with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you"? "No one, Sir". She said. "Then neither do I condemn you". Jesus declared, "Go now and leave your life of sin".
Just kind of a final, final thought. Put yourself in this situation. Put yourself in this woman's sandals. She made a mistake. Huge mistake. Broke her marriage vows, about to get stoned. Jesus steps up and steps in. Doesn't read the riot act, doesn't write her off. She doesn't get... Actually rewrites the rest of her life. In story structure, narratology, this would be called an inciting incident. The worst moment turns into a holy moment. Jesus gives her a grace card, gives her a new lease on life, gives her a second chance. Wants to do the same for you. I will say one more thing. He also plays a truth card. Doesn't condemn, but he doesn't condone either. I think what he's saying here is, "I forgive you". You will never walk out of this church, I hope, feeling worse than you when you walked in. Sure, there will be moments of conviction, but we never look back. It's not about things we have done in our past. It's about receiving the grace of God and walking into the future. And I will know it's truth that sets us free.
So Jesus doesn't wanna just forgive us, wants to change us. That's so much better. How? With his grace. 2nd Peter 3:18. Grow in grace, grow in gra, well, how do I grow in grace? Oh man, it's usually by being in situations that require it. Well, that's my prayer for each and every one of us. I don't know what you've heard today, but I'll just say, I trust the Holy Spirit. As soon as I'm omniscient, I'll let you know. But I wouldn't hold your breath. I reserve the right to get smarter later. I'm like everybody in this room. I'm deconstructing and reconstructing. I'm always in pro, I am a work in process. Lord, help me. But here's what I know for sure. God resists the proud, but he gives grace to the humble. So if we want grace, why don't we just start with humbling ourselves before the Almighty Creator of the heavens and the Earth, who said in the beginning, "Let there be light". In those four words, still creating galaxies at the edge of the universe. Oh God. Would you join me in prayer?
We humble ourselves before You, God, let us be people of truth. Let us be people of grace. Grace without truth is weak sauce. Truth without grace is hot sauce. Grace and truth. Secret sauce. We receive it. Lord, sometimes we talk about our faith in you. But what's more amazing is your faith in us. A God who cannot, will not give up on us. So right now, any situation that we find ourselves in, I speak God's sufficient grace in Jesus' name. Amen and amen.