The moment we realize we have nothing to offer God is the moment we receive God’s mercy and grace. This week, we begin our study on the mercy of God from Ephesians 2:4-5.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved”
- Ephesians 2:4-5
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Transcript: Hi, welcome to Five Minutes With Pastor Lutzer. I’m so glad that you have joined us, because we are discussing the attributes of God. And whenever we do that, we should recognize that it leads us to instruction; to direction; but always to worship. And I hope that, as we discuss the mercy of God today, that we will be led to appreciate our redemption even more.
My text is actually taken from Ephesians chapter two, and I’m beginning at verse four: “But God, being rich in mercy”—notice that phrase—“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” What a wonderful passage of Scripture. Here we are in the graveyard, as the apostle Paul puts it; but God comes along and raises us up and us His children.
Now for a moment, I want to distinguish the difference between mercy and grace, because both are mentioned here in the text. Mercy usually is God withholding the judgment that we deserve. Grace even goes beyond that and gives us what we don’t deserve; namely, righteousness, and all the rights and privileges of being children of God. Now in this study of attributes, I do not have a separate section on grace. We’re going to be discussing mercy for the next few times, so I’m going to take the opportunity this time to speak about the grace of God. Because, of course, there is overlap in their meanings. And I want to talk about grace, because even today’s text says, “By grace, you have been saved.”
In order to understand this, I take you to the sixteenth century. Martin Luther, who sought the righteousness of God. Because Luther understood something that people of his day understood, but we don’t understand it today; namely, you will not enter heaven unless you are as perfect as God. Please think about that for a moment, and you will know that what I’ve said is true. The question is, how do we attain to that? In Luther’s day, the answer was through rituals; through good works. We add that to God’s grace in other areas. But he never knew that he had done enough. And there’s some of you who are listening who say to yourselves, “I don’t know whether or not I have done enough to please God and to be welcomed into His heaven.” Grace comes along and says that salvation is a free gift to those who recognize the depth of their need and receive it; and that, of course, is based on the mercy of God. It’s based on the grace of God. Then Luther said, “Now, it doesn’t matter how high God’s standard is, as long as I don’t have to meet it!” Oh, Jesus, I am Thy sin; Thou art my righteousness. That, my friend, today is grace.
Remember the story that Jesus told in the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, about the two people who went into the temple to pray. And Jesus, here, in such a wise and interesting way, contrasts the Pharisees who were the religious elite of the day, who kept the law, with a tax gatherer. Who probably had done a lot of cheating in his life. Jesus said, both go into the temple, and then you know the story; about how the man, the Pharisee, looked up into heaven and said, “Oh, I thank Thee, God, that I’m not like other men, or even like this tax gatherer. You know, I fast twice a week and I’m not an adulterer,” and so forth. And then Jesus said the tax gatherer had nothing to say about himself, but simply stroked his chest and said “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” Jesus said that that man left justified.
Let’s not hurry over this. I want you to think about the Pharisee for a moment. He wasn’t taking credit for the good works that he had done. He said, “I thank Thee, God, that I am not like other men.” And there are branches of Christendom today that teach this: “Of course we’re saved by grace, absolutely. But God gives us the grace to do good works, so our good works also contribute; but it’s all of grace.” Listen to me carefully: Even the works that we do, that God grants us the grace to do—it is perhaps good that we do them—they do not contribute to our eventual standing before God. Yes, we can thank God for His grace that we do these good works; but it’s the man who comes before God who says, “I have nothing to offer. God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” He went home justified.
Can’t help but think that there is some of you who are listening today who are in that category. You think you’re a Christian; you’re not sure that you are, but you’re trying to be. Stop trying to be. Admit that your trying gets you nowhere. Receive the mercy of God freely. But you have to admit that you are a sinner who contributes nothing to that mercy. Today you also can go home justified. Thanks so much. Today, as in all days, go with God; and I’ll see you right here next time.