Understanding Grace


Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon on the Theology of Grace at Resurrection on March 11, 2007.  The gospel lesson is Luke 12:1-9.



Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.


One of the theological truths that attracts many of us to Resurrection and this denomination is the theology of grace.  Grace signifying our undeserved  favor and love from God.  Grace signifying that everything we have and are is a gift to us from God.  Grace signifying that Jesus death on the cross paid the price for the forgiveness of our sins and our way to eternal life.  Grace signifying that we cannot add anything to Jesus’ sacrifice that would make us any more worthy in the sight of God.


All that sounds mighty good and satisfying and true.  Especially does it sound good in contrast to some other denominations that sound so legalistic in their preaching and teaching.  You know the denominations I’m referring to, the ones that emphasize such things as “you better measure up and act a certain way” or “you better do good deeds or you won’t get to heaven.” 


I have a concern for us today.  My concern is that many of our people don’t understand what the theology of grace is all about and have come to misunderstand what the Bible teaches.


It’s my observation that many former Baptists that join the Lutheran Church are often very willing to jump in and do hands on ministry and engage in leadership positions.  Many former Baptists have a heart for Bible Study and Prayer and Evangelism.


It’s my observation that many former Roman Catholics are drawn to social ministry – such as feeding the homeless and providing for the women’s shelter. 


I pray that you and I will never use our wonderful theology of grace as license to not become engaged in God’s mission to love and serve this world.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this kind of grace understanding “cheap grace rather than costly grace.”  It’s not acknowledging the price that Jesus paid on our behalf and not showing thanks to God by serving others.  Yes, it is true that we cannot earn our way to heaven by the good deeds we do.  It is also true that our actions are a response of thanksgiving for what God has already done on our behalf.


The parable of Jesus in today’s gospel is a good one for folks who think that grace means all the bases are covered and they do not have to do a thing in this life; the parable is about a fig tree that was not bearing fruit.  The whole purpose of a fig tree is to bear fruit.  The owner wants to cut down the tree but the gardener persuades him to give the tree one more season so that it will be given another chance to bear fruit.  There’s grace in that story, but there is also an expectation from the owner of the vineyard.


I like the way Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame describes Christians, “You can become a Christian by going to church just about as easily as you can become an automobile by sleeping in a garage.”  What we’re speaking of is the danger of presumed spiritual security.  Our parable says we are not called just to be here.  It is a clear warning against a fruitless existence in the light of God’s grace give to us.


So what do we do in the light of God’s grace?  A long time Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order, put it this way:  “Work hard and struggle as if everything depended on you; yet pray and trust God as if everything depended on God.”


My friends in Christ, that is the theology of grace.