In yesterday’s sermon I left two important points about God’s grace unsaid. Allow me to say them here.
The sermon described how the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 decided not to require Gentile Christians to be circumcised. The council felt that putting such conditions on our salvation would be “putting on people’s necks a yoke neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear” (v.10). They utterly rejected the yoke of trying to win God’s acceptance by keeping religious laws. But after service one of you asked me an astute question: if the grace of God won by Jesus is without condition, why then did the Council tell Gentiles to abstain from food dedicated to idols, from sexual immorality, and from eating the meat or blood of animals that had been strangled (v.20-21).
The answer is simple: it was out of consideration for Jewish Christians. Jews found those common pagan practices especially repulsive and difficult to stomach in their churches. Abstaining from them was meant to preserve unity in the fellowship. Abstaining was not a condition on God’s grace, it was an act of love for Jewish sisters and brothers.
The second thing I left unsaid about grace was this: does receiving God’s grace mean that God no longer judges us when we do wrong? No. That would be like not disciplining your child who chronically plays in the traffic. Jude addresses such permissiveness when he writes about false teachers: They change the grace of our God into license for immorality (1:4).
In our earthly life God judges us believers in order to return us to grace when we are drifting. So God’s judgment is really a form of tough love. How loving would it truly be if God ignored our sins? It would be like allowing someone to board a train whose rails run over a cliff. As Hebrews 12:6 says the Lord disciplines those he loves.
But when Christ returns he will render a final judgment on all of us. It is profoundly beneficial for us to know and anticipate this. For the faithful believer it is a day of affirmation and reward. Yet for the unbeliever, the person who never decisively repented and entrusted his life to the Lord, it will be a day of exclusion. Jesus with sadness foresees that they will “weep and gnash their teeth” (Matthew 8:12, 13:42, 13:50, 22:13, 24:52, and 25:30).
On that day no believer will say to the Lord “I deserve to be welcomed into your kingdom – just look at all my loving deeds!”. Rather they will say: “It’s not because of anything I did – it’s because of what you did on the cross that I am wanted and welcomed in your kingdom.”