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WE CANNOT PUT LIMITS ON GOD'S GRACE

A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT

THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
United Methodist - American Baptist

By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor

4 MAY 1997

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

Jonah 3:10; 4:1-3
Acts l0:l-6, 34-35, 44-48

To come to the point of truly understanding God's grace is probably one of the hardest things for most people to do.

When a person is questioned about why they think that they will go to heaven, we get answers such as:

"I've tried to live a good life, and God knows it."

"Because God is a God of love, He wouldn't send anyone to hell, so in reality, everyone goes to heaven."

"I've worked hard for the Lord all my life."

None of these answers speak of the way God really is.

He may bless us for being good or for working for Him, but that does not involve grace; it's more of a payment for services, and it doesn't necessarily mean that we are saved.

And unfortunately, there are many people who seek a reward instead of true and eternal acceptance.

There are many people in the world that any one of us might consider hiring to perform a job, but that doesn't mean we would necessarily want them to become a member of our immediate family.

And this is the way we are to understand under what conditions God would want us to be part of His family.

It is here that we come closer to understanding God's grace.

When a truly redeemed Christian is asked why they are going to heaven, we get a different kind of response:

"I realized I didn't have all the answers, and I reached out to God with a repentant heart, and He saved me."

"I realized I was a sinner and didn't deserve to be in God's presence; so I reached out to Him in my helpless state, and He forgave me, and filled me with His Holy Spirit, and has guided me ever since."

In the first set of examples, we are talking about works, or what we can do to get God's reward.

In the second set of examples, we are talking about our helpless state of being as sinners, and the fact that we can't do anything to make ourselves acceptable to God.

We have come to the point in our lives when we realize we need a Savior.

We have come to a point in our lives when we realize that in Jesus is our only hope and salvation.

It is from this humble helpless state that we reach out to the Lord, by faith, and He answers us with His grace.

We don't deserve to be saved, but simply because of our faith in His ability to save us, and our desire to have Him be Lord of our lives, He saves us.

This is grace.

This is receiving something we don't deserve.

No one knew of God's grace more than Jonah, and that's why he ran away.

He knew that if the people of Nineveh repented, God would spare them. (Jonah 3:10)

And Jonah, being a Hebrew, one of the "chosen people", wanted to preserve his special position to the exclusion of every one who was not a Hebrew. (Jonah 4:1-3)

And even up until Jesus' time this feeling of exclusiveness was a dominant force in Jewish culture.

They saw themselves as the keepers of the covenants of God.

That is to say, only they were God's people; but their hearts and souls were not in it.

They performed the rituals, which was a sign of their works, but not of their real faith.

But after Jesus' death and resurrection, something very curious began to happen: non-Jewish people were being accepted by God as being among the "people of God".

How did this happen?

Let's take a look at what happened at the home of Cornelius, a Roman military officer.

Because he believed in God and prayed, and gave to the work of the Lord, God sent an angel to Him, not to save him just then, but to lead him to Jesus, or initially to Peter. (Acts 10:1-6)

Now Peter, like Jonah, was very jealous of his Jewishness; but unlike Jonah, Peter was willing to go to people who were not Jewish .

Note what happened after Cornelius told Peter all that had occurred (Acts 10:34-35):

34. And opening his mouth, Peter said:

"I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality,

35. but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him.

Now, at that time, that was quite a statement for a Jew to make.

But if we think about it for a minute, do not most of the people in every religion, and in many denominations in these religions, think that they have the only true answer?

What Peter came to realize, and is saying, is that these assumptions are incorrect; God is not partial to anyone.

It's not our religion that saves us, it's God's grace, because of an individual person's personal faith, and repentance, and desire to be God's child.

And this is what happened to Cornelius and the people of his household.

And God answered the cries of their hearts and souls.

44. While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message.

45. And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also.

They were amazed, because they thought the gift of the Holy Spirit was meant exclusively for those Jews who believed in Jesus.

They were amazed because, in their own minds, they had limited the magnitude of God's grace.

46. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered,

47. "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?"

48. And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.

God's grace is unlimited.

It is only we who limit it.

And as you have probably come to realize with Mary and me, we see God's grace even extending to the animals, and perhaps in different ways, to all of His creation.

We cannot put limits on God's grace.

As people of God, we need to open our hearts and minds to accept God's grace wherever we encounter it.

We need to look more closely at our own spiritual being, and make sure we really and truly believe with our complete heart and soul.

We need to make sure we are fully committed to serving the Lord our God, and submitting our will to His.

We need to be sure we have received the Holy Spirit.

And if we're not completely sure about any of these things, we should reach out to the Lord and recommit our lives and our faith.

Lord, forgive us and help us.

Amen.

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