God loves us. I talked this morning about just how much God loves us. He lovcs us so much that Christ died on the cross in our place so that God could forgive all our sins and make us His children. God loves us so much that He gives us the free gift of eternal life and He assures us of a place in heaven with Him forever. God’s love is so wide that it reaches everybody. It is so long that it endures forever. God’s love is so high that it lifts us up to heaven. And it is so deep that it reaches down to our deepest needs and the deepest parts of our being. “See what incredible love God has for us!” (1 John 3:1 J.B. Phillips translation). And this is all God’s completely free gift to us.
The wonderful love of God is perfectly illustrated by the kind of love shown by the father in Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-25). The father doesn’t treat this wasteful son as he deserves for squandering his share of the family estate, but instead welcomes him home. God the Heavenly Father is always on the lookout, ready to welcome the wanderer home. The word used in the Bible for this welcoming, forgiving love is grace. Grace is God’s undeserved favour, what John Stott described as “love that cares and stoops and rescues.”
God’s grace welcomes back that wasteful prodigal son. Grace welcomes a slave trader like John Newton, and tax collectors like Matthew and Zacchaeus, and thieves like the man who hung on his own cross alongside Jesus. Grace welcomes sinners of all kinds, prostitutes and murderers and drunks; as a friend once put it, scumbags, every one. God’s grace even welcomes miserable sinners like you and me. God will welcome and forgive everybody equally. God’s love and God’s grace are unconditional.
Receiving the punishment we deserve for our sins would be justice. Being spared that punishment which we deserve would be mercy. But sharing the benefits of Christ’s glorious resurrection, receiving blessing upon blessing, that is grace. It is as if a parent whose child was murdered, instead of demanding justice, welcomes the murderer into their own home and adopts them as their own child. That is a picture of what God has done for us. All we deserve from God is punishment for rejecting Him and running away from Him. But instead, we are alive with Christ, raised up with Him, seated in the heavenly realms with Him.
Grace is all those blessings we could never earn or deserve, lavished upon us by our loving heavenly Father. Grace is everything for nothing for those who don’t deserve anything.
We cannot do anything at all to earn or deserve God’s wonderful free gifts of forgiveness and new life.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast”.
God loves every single human being that much. And this wonderful grace is for everybody! There are absolutely no barriers of race or gender or social standing or sexual orientation – God’s love is completely unconditional. It is vital that preachers and churches make this absolutely clear. God’s love is for everyone. But some people make a mistake at this point. They wrongly assume this means that God’s amazing grace will come to every human being automatically. That is incorrect. The truth is that some people never come to experience this unconditional love of God. God’s grace is so amazing. So why is it that some people do not receive it? The answer is very simple. Because God’s love and grace are gifts, and like any gifts they need to be accepted. The free gifts of grace and forgiveness and eternal life are offered to everybody. But not everybody accepts God’s gifts – many people reject them.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God
Everybody needs to accept for themselves God’s free gifts by faith. They do not come to every person automatically.
Romans 1:16-17 says this. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last.
The gospel is the message of Good News which leads men and women to all the blessings of salvation. But each person needs to receive and believe that message for themselves. It is clear that salvation is God’s gift which is available to all and offered to all – but not accepted by all. The Bible is clear that salvation only comes to those who believe. God’s righteousness needs to be received by faith.
So many passages tell us that salvation does not come automatically to everybody but it needs to be received by faith.
Perhaps the best known Bible verse tells us so.
John 3 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
We just read at Christmas
John 1 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
In John 6 40 Jesus said, For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.
And we often read at funerals,
John 11 25 Jesus said to (Martha), ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.
Jesus Himself said many times that the blessings of salvation are for those who believe in Him – who put their trust in Him. Believing in Jesus, is much more than an intellectual agreement to the truth of certain facts. Faith is a commitment to trusting God which affects every part of our lives. Faith in Jesus is not merely believing he is able to save me. Faith is putting my life into our Saviour’s hands. Faith means trusting our Heavenly Father in the context of a personal relationship with God.
Romans 10:9-11,13 makes the same point. “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame. … For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” “
This is the truth which not only the apostle Paul but all the first Christians proclaimed. Not everybody is put right with God. The people who are brought into a right relationship with God are the people who believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. It is the people who confess “Jesus is Lord” who are saved. It is the people who call upon the name of the Lord who are saved – those people and only those people who have put their trust in Christ to be their Saviour.
In order to experience salvation, we simply need to put our trust in God. Faith is the channel by which God’s blessing comes to us. This is not saying that we earn our salvation by putting our trust in God. Faith is not some kind of good work we have to do to deserve God’s love. We never could earn or deserve God’s grace. But we receive God’s free gift of eternal life simply by believing God’s promises and accepting them for ourselves.
And the Bible says in Romans 10:9-11 that believing in our hearts will always be accompanied by confessing with our mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord. Christians are obliged to express our faith in words and declare in public our allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord. There is no such thing as a secret disciple. Either the secret will destroy our discipleship or our discipleship will destroy the secret. Believe and also confess. When a person has truly experienced the unconditional love of God they will then want to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
Christians believe that Jesus is Lord because of who He is in Himself – the Son of God. Jesus is also Lord because of what He has done in the act of creating everything that exists. Everything was created by Him and for Him and He holds everything together. Somebody has said, “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not declare, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!’” And then one event in history reveals to the world just how important Jesus is. That was His resurrection from the dead. We know that Jesus is Lord because God raised Him from the dead. The resurrection is God’s demonstration to the whole universe that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. This is why believing that God raised Jesus from the dead is so important.
Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is our Master. So much more important than any political or military leader. So much more important than any boss. We do what Jesus says. We go where he goes. We follow Jesus without reservation, without qualification, without hesitation. Because Jesus is Lord. This simple declaration is the core of our response to the gospel.
Let us be clear: Jesus is not Lord because people allow Him to be Lord. Jesus is not Lord because people have voted for Him to be Lord. Jesus is Lord because Almighty God has said it is so. It is a fact and the different opinions people might have about that fact do not change anything. Jesus Christ is Lord of all. Fact. It does not make any difference whether a person believes Jesus is Lord or chooses not to believe Jesus is Lord or even if they don’t know that Jesus is Lord. The Lordship of Christ is like gravity. It is a fact. Gravity isn’t affected by whether we believe in it or not. If we are sensible we will recognise that gravity exists and has a claim on our lives. From time to time some people try to live as if gravity doesn’t exist. They jump out of planes and for a few seconds pretend they are completely free of any pull gravity might have on them. But gravity has a way of bringing everybody down to earth with a bump sooner or later. The Bible tells us that sooner or later everybody will recognise that Jesus is Lord whether they have chosen to accept Him or even if they have devoted their lives to rejecting Him. Jesus is Lord. Fact. The sad reality is that people will not experience the unconditional love of God if they refuse to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord.
God’s love and God’s grace are offered to everybody. But each person needs to received those gifts by faith and by submitting to Jesus as Lord. And from the beginning of his ministry, Jesus spelled out what people need to do to in order to receive God’s free gift of forgiveness and eternal life and begin to enjoy a personal relationship with God as Father.
Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14-15)
Alongside putting our trust in God, Jesus called for people to repent. Repentance is an important idea for everyone who wants to follow Jesus Christ. At its root the word means a complete change of direction. To do a U-turn in life. If anybody wants to meet God, they have to change direction. If we have our back to the light, all we can see is the darkness of our own shadow. If we want to see the light, we have to turn around and walk towards it. When we acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, we need to live under that Lordship.
The starting point in the process of repentance is recognising the problem of sin which separates us from God. We need to accept that there are things in our lives which need to change. All the things we do and say and think which hurt other people and actually hurt ourselves most of all: all the things we would love to change about our lives if only we could. To use a phrase from the Church of England Book of Common Prayer, we need to “acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness”. We need to be truly sorry for our sins. Then we need to confess those sins before God and ask his forgiveness, for the times we sin against God and against our neighbours, through ignorance, through weakness, but most of the time through our own deliberate fault.
However, more than just admitting our sins, repentance means being sorry enough for our sins that we are ready to give them up and ask God to change us. The Good News Bible translates Jesus’s call to repent as “turn away from your sins.” The Message Translation is “change your life.” Repent: acknowledge your sins, confess them and change your ways. The New Testament was written down in Greek and that language has two ways of giving commands. One would be the one-off event, repent just once. But the word Jesus used commands an action which is repeated. It means repent lots of times, not just once but keep on repenting. The first act of repentance is only the beginning. Just as we need to keep on putting our trust in God, so also we need to keep on turning our lives round, to keep on saying no to sin and yes to God. God loves us so much that he accepts us just as we are. But He loves us too much to leave us just as we are. So calls each one of us to repentance, so that we live lives controlled by the Lordship of Christ.
The invitation to experience the unconditional love of God is always at the same time an invitation to repentance. Before he could experience the unconditional love of his father, the prodigal son needed to come to his senses and get up and head back towards home. Otherwise he would never have discovered just how much he was loved.
So, God offers each and every one human being unconditional love and His amazing gift of forgiveness and new life. He promises to change us from enemies into friends, to welcome us as precious sons and daughters. By his amazing grace, God will put us back in a right relationship with Himself on the basis of Christ’s death and resurrection. The gospel offers us that gift of righteousness and all the blessings of salvation but it is the power of God for the salvation, not of every person, but only of all who believe. We can all receive God’s free gift when put our trust in Jesus and obey His command to repent and believe. When we change direction in life and as we confess with our mouths to the watching world that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord of all. God’s love is completely unconditional. But every one of us needs to receive for ourselves God’s gift of salvation, by putting our trust in Jesus. If they don’t, people will never experience the amazing blessings of God’s unconditional love.