No sin is so great, no bitterness so deep that God's grace cannot transform the heart and rewrite the story. Grace is Greater is a three week series that looks at Grace, based on Kyle Idleman's book of the same title. This week we see that our sin is ugly, but God's grace is greater than any past mistake or regret.
Romans 3:23, John 21:15-19
This morning we are starting a new three-week series based on Kyle Idleman’s book, Grace is Greater. This was a great book, if you can get your hands on it, you’ll be glad you did, I recommend it highly. As we get started this week, I want us to understand two things. First, as you saw in the opening verse, Romans 3:23, we’ve all sinned. You are a sinner. We’re all sinners. You might be a visitor here this morning, and I don’t know anything about you, but I know that you are sinner.
I say this because we’ve all made mistakes – we all have. I have. And I freely admit it. I’ve made mistakes. I’m a sinner. I’ve battled with sin, and I’ve probably lost as often as I’ve won. I’m not perfect. But I’m in the fight. I’m working at it. And I hope you’re in the fight.
But there is another thing I know this morning, and that’s that God’s Grace is greater than my mistakes. God is bigger than my sin. And God will forgive my sin if I repent and I ask Him. So You need to know that you’re a sinner, but you also need to know that no sin is so great, no bitterness is so deep, that God’s grace can’t transform your heart and rewrite your story. This is a series on grace, and on developing a deeper understanding of the incredible power of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness.
So let me start off with something a little fun. I’ve come across a couple of words that have recently been added to the dictionary, let’s see if you can tell me what they mean. The first is phonesia, anybody know this one? Phonesia is what you have when you dial a phone number and forget who you called just as they answer. Have you ever done that?
Here’s another one I’ve done, have you ever heard the word disconfect? Anybody know this one? Disconfect is when you drop some candy on the floor, and you pick it up and blow on it, as if blowing on it will somehow remove all the germs. I’ve done that a lot, and not just with candy. It’s the 5 second rule, right? Only you get the germs off, first.
One last one, let’s see if you’ve done this one, the word is blamestorming. I bet you’ve done this one, too. And you could probably guess what it means, and you probably don’t want to admit that you’ve done it. As you can imagine, blamestorming is a group discussion that seeks to place the responsibility for something bad to someone else, not part of the group. That’s not a good one, though it happens enough as it is, let’s try not do that one. So these were some actual words you may have never heard before.
But grace is a word we’ve heard thousands of times. In fact, we hear of grace so often, it brings with it a certain danger. Kyle Idleman wrote, “The word grace is so common it doesn’t feel very amazing.” So we’re going to dig into the word grace and really see what it actually means. Because God’s grace is more beautiful, more freeing, and far greater than we could ever imagine.
Let’s start with three things we need to understand in order to grasp the richness of God’s grace:
1. In order to understand the beauty of God’s Grace, we have to understand the ugliness of our sin. Idleman wrote, “Our ability to appreciate grace is in direct correlation to the degree to which we acknowledge our need for it.” Let’s think about this for a minute. We’re all good people, right? I mean people are basically good, aren’t they?
A lot of people believe this, but biblically, from God’s perspective, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In fact, from birth, the notion of Original Sin is not just a Catholic thing, it’s a biblical thing. We all inherit sin from Adam, just as we can all receive righteousness through Jesus. The sin is automatic, we’ve all got it, we’re sinful from birth. The righteousness is a gift, but it’s not an automatic gift. It takes faith in Jesus Christ, He has to become your Savior, then you receive this free gift. If you’re not living for Jesus Christ, then you’re still living for yourself, you’re still in your sin, and you haven’t received that gift yet.
But many people today think that we can earn that gift. In the book, Idleman has a quote about Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City. The quote was written by Jeremy Peters, a New York Times writer. Peters was writing about Bloomberg’s attending his 50th college reunion, and how sobering Bloomberg thought it was that so many of his classmates had passed away.
But Bloomberg had no doubt about his final destination. He told Peters, “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.” From Bloomberg’s perspective, he doesn’t need God’s grace, because he’s lived a good life, he’s worked hard, and he’s accomplished a lot of good. But he doesn’t understand the ugliness of his sin. He doesn’t understand that because he is a sinner, he can’t get in on his own. He needs a savior. Do you realize that? Do you understand how ugly our sin is to a Holy God?
Bloomberg thinks he’s more than good enough to earn God’s forgiveness. He’s done more than enough good things, God owes him that gift of salvation. But his sin has separated him from God. A lot of people work hard to convince themselves that they aren’t that bad, but the truth is, we are worse than we ever imagined. Sin is dirty, Sin is ugly, and Sin separates us from God. The more you push back on that, the more you push back on experiencing God’s grace.
2. God’s Grace is More Beautiful Than Your Brokenness. Your sin is ugly. But God’s grace is beautiful. In John 4, we see the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. In this woman, we have someone who realizes how ugly her sin is. She is out getting water in the middle of the day, it’s hot, everybody else came out in the early morning to escape the heat of the day. But she comes out now so she doesn’t have to see anybody else there, she doesn’t have to hear their snide comments or their name calling, their cold stares, and their ignoring her. Her past has been bad. Five ex-husbands, now living with a man who she’s not married to.
Today we might call her a floozy, somebody who gets around. Back then they had other terms, even more hurtful. And she knew they were right. She admitted it all. When Jesus spoke to her, she confessed her shame and guilt, but Jesus didn’t judge her past. When the disciples had returned from getting supplies, she ran back into town and told anybody that would listen, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” They stayed in that town for two more days, and many believed. But it was the faith of the woman at the well that made it all possible.
As ugly as her past had been, as bad as her sinfulness was, as she confessed the shame and guilt she felt, that opened the door for God’s grace to enter. Idleman wrote, “When God’s grace and mercy collide with our shame and guilt, it’s messy but it’s beautiful. Jesus knows everything you ever did, but he wants to make sure you know that his grace is greater.”
So if you recognize your shame and guilt, if you recognize the ugliness of your sin, recognize also that God’s grace is so much more beautiful, and surrender to Him this morning. As Idleman wrote, “The worst thing that could happen is that you spend your life trying to outrun God because you think he’s chasing you to collect what you owe – when in fact he’s really chasing you to give you what you could never afford.”
3. God’s Grace Redeems All Our Past Regrets. In John 21, the second part of our reading this morning, we heard about reinstating Peter. Peter was the bold one. Peter was the one that stood up, the spokesman for the group, the one who talked when nobody else knew what to say. When Jesus was telling the disciples He would be crucified, Peter said no way! We’re never going to let that happen. We’ll defend you to the death.
And when the moment of truth came, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter was certainly brave enough, pulling his sword and cutting off Malchus’ ear. Peter was quick to use the sword when they arrested Jesus, but when the trial started, he was standing outside, on the outskirts, just where the light would reach, and to the three people that saw him there, he denied knowing anything about Jesus.
But in John 21 we see a beautiful picture of Jesus’ grace as he reinstates Peter. Jesus asked him, “do you truly love me more than these?” What do think he was talking about? These what? I wonder what Jesus was pointing to. Was He pointing to the other disciples, do you love me more than they do? Was it Jesus’ practice to elevate one person above another? I don’t think so. Was He pointing at the fish, do you love me more than food? Was He pointing at the fire, do you love me more than warmth? Was He pointing at the lake, do you love me more than fishing? That was Peter’s livelihood before Jesus, and after Jesus was killed, Peter went fishing again.
I don’t think He was pointing back to anything physical. I think He was pointing back to the shame and guilt Peter felt, pointing back to the sin of denial. I’ve never seen a commentary that supports me on this, so maybe I’m way off base. But Jesus is having a spiritual conversation. I don’t think He’s talking about something physical. He’s asking, Do you love me more than your shame and guilt? Do you love me more than your sin? Do you love me more than your past mistakes?
That’s a question I’ll leave you with this morning. Do you love Jesus more than your past mistakes? Do you love Him more than your sin? Will you follow Him?
Will you let your past mistakes destroy your life? Or will you let them become a sort of “trophy of God’s grace?” That’s what Paul did, isn’t it? He’d actually seem to brag about his sin, but then he would brag about God’s grace that is big enough to save even him.
Folks, if we realize how desperately we need God’s grace, and we surrender ourselves to Him, His grace will transform our lives.