Guilt+ Grace = Gratitude

Ephesians 2:1-10
Gratitude Series #2
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Give me, O my Lord, that purity of conscience which alone can receive your inspiration. My ears are so dull, that I cannot hear your voice. My eyes are so dim, that I cannot see the signs of your presence. You alone can enable my hearing and clarify my sight, and cleanse and renew my heart. Teach me to sit at your feet and hear your word with gladness, and full resolve to be more faithful, through Christ our Lord. (adapted from John Henry Newman, 1800’s)

Today we elect elders and in my twenty years of experience with elder nominating committees, there is always at least one persons who says “no” to the call to serve as elder or “yes,” with great hesitation because they feel unworthy. “I’m not good enough to be ordained, to be seen as a leader in the faith I’ve not always lived.” And they are speaking the truth. Elders about to be elected, you are not good enough. There is no one good enough, no, not one. Not I, not you, not Mother Teresa, not anyone, apart from God’s grace. That’s one of the essentials of our Christian faith that is often lost in most modern church thinking. Total depravity is the official doctrine, which dates back to St Augustine in 4th Century. In modern parlance “We’re all jerks.” Oh sure, we are created in the image of God, but that image is distorted by our propensity to sin. We are not capable of loving God fully, but rather are inclined to serve our own will and desires.

We had an interesting debate about this in one of our worship reflection classes recently. What does it mean to be human? There are two answers. To be human is to be created in the image of God. To be human is to be depraved and far from the image of God. Both are correct and so it becomes a matter of emphasis. Catholics and Protestants in the West have emphasized our depravity, our inability to live as we should and Orthodox Christians from the East have seen thought this doctrine leads to widespread pessimism. Even though humanity has fallen, the potential for divine vision remains intact in the innermost soul. And the power of the resurrection of Christ can shine through in abundance, if the disciple gives obedience with generosity of heart. (John Anthony McGuckin)

But all Christians would agree that our aim as followers of Christ to regain our best humanity, is to be truly humane, to be like Jesus, living fully as God intends. All would agree that we simply cannot achieve that, least not of entirely of our own volition. We are in desperate need of God’s grace, but even with it, and because of it, we cannot stop striving to become the faithful people we are intended to be.

This paradox is seen most clearly in the verses of our text today, especially in the last three verses. Hear the word of the Lord:

Ephesians 2:1-10

You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived,

following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air,

the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.

3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh,

following the desires of flesh and senses,

and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

4 But God, who is rich in mercy,

out of the great love with which he loved us

5 even when we were dead through our trespasses,

made us alive together with Christ -- by grace you have been saved—

6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him

in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

7 so that in the ages to come he might show

the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith,

and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God

-- 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works,

which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (NRSV)

You were dead. You were lost. You are a wretch, a loser, a child of wrath, a sinner. These things used to be preached in church revivals, but we’re not hearing such slams of our character much anymore. We are in a culture of praise and affirmation. Don’t tell me “I’m bad.” Tell me I’m good and maybe I’ll actually become what you say. It’s true that I do good things on occasion, though even in my good, I am often puffed up with pride, thinking wrongly that I deserve God’s blessings. People are motivated more by affirmation than criticism, that’s for sure. But guilt is guilt. And grace always follows, but let’s not presume upon God and act like God doesn’t care that we sin, or that there are not natural consequences of sin. What bothers me is that we are so quick to accept our tendency toward sin, that we begin to ignore the guilt and take for granted the grace. Grace is no longer amazing when we blithely assume it will be there. It’s always there, just as sure as the sin.

Some say that messages of guilt were too great, too destructive, not helpful, and I can see at times what they mean. But it seems to me it is worse when we lose our remorse for sin. We do not even recognize the deathliness it creates. If you’re only seeing salvation as your ticket to the afterlife, then you might not appreciate the way sin is deathly even now. Excuse the sin and have no need for grace. No need for grace and there no gratitude. No gratitude and the world’s a mess, everyone blaming, no one accepting responsibility.

Why cannot we get back to real and honest acknowledgement of our sin? Don’t wallow in guilt but realize that in fact, you are a jerk sometimes. Furthermore, when you’re not being a pain in the patooty, you certainly have not achieved perfection as a child of God. And not only that, you are caught up in complicated systems that mistreat people – sin of a global nature. So we begin with sin, with guilt, but we do not ever stop there. No, once we’ve appreciated our fallibility, our flaws, our faults and our foibles, we can appreciate even more what it means that God is there offering gifts of grace, goodness, and generosity.

If you’ve never done anything wrong, or if you have all kind of excuses for why you did wrong that end up putting the blame on other people, or if you don’t think God has high expectations of you, then grace is kind of a ho-hum thing. Oh, grace, that’s nice, but it doesn’t really hit home. But if you know you’ve screwed up in some pretty bad ways or you let God down significantly because God has the bar pretty high up there, then you are really grateful to know that there’s this free gift of love that you do not deserve and cannot earn, but still have. It is the gift of God, not the result of works. Nothing you do can achieve God’s favor, but it is given nonetheless. Hallelujah, it is given through the gift of God’s life, death, and resurrection in the person of Jesus Christ.

So we cannot stop at guilt, but must go on to grace, and we cannot stop at grace but must proceed to gratitude. The last verse of our text makes it clear. You cannot just read verses 8 and 9 and be done. (slide) God’s given me the gift of grace and that’s all the matters.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith,

and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God

-- 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works,

which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

No, we are created in Christ for a purpose and that purpose is to please God with our good works. So we move from guilt to grace to gratitude. And our gratitude is to try to live more like Christ.

The Heidelberg Catechism in our Book of Confessions is oriented around two opening, “What is your only comfort in life and death?” That I belong – body and soul, in life and in death, not to myself but to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me….(it goes one to describe that freedom) Question 2 is this – How many things must you know that you may live and die and the blessedness of this comfort? Three. First, the greatness of my sin and wretchedness. Second, how I am greed from all my sins and their wretched consequences. Third, what gratitude I owe to God for such redemption.” Three things – Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude. That’s what we need to know.

When my kids were little, I think they learned rather quickly that there’s nothing that makes mom madder than refusing to apologize. If you cannot say “I’m sorry” then you’re in more trouble than you thought. If you start with “I’m sorry, then we can have a productive conversation, no matter the problem.” If you cannot find a way to see that in some small or large way, you are part of the problem – whatever the problem is – then we do not have a starting place. Refusing to acknowledge your faults is what’s called an unrepentant heart. I am going to venture to say that unrepentant hearts are the causing more problems in today’s families, churches, communities, countries than any other problem.

The world would be a better place with more repentant hearts, because people who say they are sorry and mean it, are at least taking the first step toward more graceful, grateful living. And the guilt + grace = gratitude life multiplies the goodness everywhere. This is what God intends. You know this to be true. When people acknowledge their own guilt, there’s room for grace. When grace is received with gladness, the glad heart works hard to please God. We are made for good works, good works which are the fruit of grateful hearts. Grateful hearts are generous toward God, eager to please God, zealous for God, and full of goodness and grace toward all the people God has made.

To conclude this sermon, I have written a rhyme, a rap, a poem of sorts.

When you’ve built up guilt from the trend toward sin,

then it’s time to embrace the goodness of grace.

Because of God’s grace, which in Christ gives you space,

have an attitude of gratitude, giving thanks for your place,

Bless the Spirit each day for your brand new face

in the wonders of Jesus’ amazing grace. There’s not a trace

of that old sin, that ugly sin that you were dead in,

that deceptive sin, a rubbish bin, falsely claiming to be your friend.

So have an attitude of gratitude. It is no platitude

that you will not wilt, your heart riddled with guilt. Go on, full tilt,

in this race of full of grace, always ever seeking Christ’s face,

never willing to step out of pace, working for God,

with God conquering sin, ready every day to do it again.