The Fourth Sunday in Lent March 18, 2007
26(1-4,5), 143(1-5,15), 374, 179
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
The early Christian church gave a name to every Sunday during the season of Lent. Today, the fourth Sunday in Lent, was called Laetare Sunday. Laetare is the first word of Isaiah 66:10 as it is read in Latin and Isaiah 66:10 is the first verse in the historical Introit for this Sunday. The introit is intended to set the tone for the entire worship service, and so this became Laetare Sunday. What is Laetare in English? REJOICE!
Jesus’ suffering and death, pain and agony, sorrow and misery are the focus of Lent. Even so, we should never forget to rejoice because through that suffering God accomplished our salvation. On this day of rejoicing we turn to God’s Word and learn that SALVATION IS GOD’S ACCOMPLISHMENT ALONE! I. We are the objects of His grace and II. We are the work of His hand.
Grace is a word that is used very often to explain God’s dealings with sinners. Because of its familiarity and frequency of use, grace can become a word that is spoken without much comprehension or consideration.
A simple and accurate definition for grace is “God’s undeserved love for sinners.” Grace goes even deeper than simply undeserved because it represents something that is done without any expectation of return. When grace accomplishes something it is not done for the one who gives it, but to satisfy a need in those who receive it. Therefore, when Paul says, “By grace you have been saved…” [v.5] we conclude that we are undeserving of this salvation and it is 100% free—God expects no payment in return. God’s motivation in saving us is that He saw our need, that He was able and willing to help, and that He generously rescues us.
Before the words of our text, Paul describes us: “You…were dead in trespasses and sins in which you once walked according to the course of this world…among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath just as the others” (Ephesians 2:1ff). You are by nature a child of wrath—not love, not mercy. We were dead in sins, corrupt, and not worthy of anything from God except His wrath and displeasure.
“But God…” Paul continues, “who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” [v.5-6] Mercy is compassion toward someone else’s misery. God saw our helpless miserable sinful condition and had compassion on us. God is not just merciful, He is rich in mercy. We know this to be true because of the great love He showed us even when we were still dead in our trespasses and sins.
Out of love and mercy, God accomplished our salvation. The way in which God did this, Paul makes exceptionally clear. In the six verses of the text, Paul uses the phrase, “in connection with Christ Jesus” four times. God gives us life and salvation but it doesn’t come out of thin air. It comes to us because of what Christ Jesus did for us. We are by nature dead in sins and condemned, but God has made us alive through the forgiveness of sins which Jesus earned on the cross.
Having been brought to life by the forgiveness of sins, we are raised up to a whole new life. No longer do we live for ourselves and follow the wickedness of the world, now we live for God. No longer do we aimlessly wander on this earth, but we follow God. No longer are we dead in trespasses, we are alive in Christ! This new life doesn’t even end when our bodily life on earth ends. Just as God raised Christ from physical death on the third day and “seated Him at His right hand in heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:20), so too He has raised us up from death with Christ and seats us with Him in the heavenly places.
All of this is accomplished by God and given to us—the objects of His grace—through Christ Jesus. Jesus’ death for sin is our death for sin. His resurrection is our resurrection and His glory is our glory. “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:4-5).
God has accomplished salvation for us in order “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” [v.7] Grace in itself is an amazing and wonderful thing. To this concept of grace, Paul adds the riches of God’s grace and speaks of its abundance and value. Then there is still more! Paul adds, “the exceeding riches of God’s grace.” The magnitude of God’s grace is beyond understanding! “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20).
The exceeding riches of God’s grace are shown to us in the present time and we see how God showered the same blessing on all the past generations. Future generations will look back and see the same thing in their past as well as in their own time. From generation to generation, God’s loving-kindness is demonstrated and displayed in a very personal way as each generation sees what God has accomplished for them in Christ Jesus.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” [v.8-9] You stand in favor with God as a redeemed sinner because of what Jesus accomplished once and for all on the cross. That salvation stands for all time, it never runs out, and it is purely a result of God’s grace.
God’s gracious salvation comes to each of us personally through faith. God’s grace and salvation are out there, but if unbelief denies their existence and rejects the salvation through Christ, then the salvation remains “out there” and is not personally received. The new life comes through the forgiveness of sins and that forgiveness comes simply by trusting that Jesus did die for your sins and that in Him there is forgiveness and new life.
Not one bit of this comes from ourselves—not the work for salvation, not salvation itself, not the faith through which we receive salvation. “Not from us, from God is the gift,” Paul says, and it is a gift. What God has accomplished is given to us a free gift. If we were to try to pay God for His help, anything we could give would fall hopelessly short. Luther compared any attempts at repaying God to a poor beggar who comes to a mighty king and begs from him, but will not take anything from the king for nothing. Instead, the beggar insists on digging into his pockets and giving him four pennies or lice in payment.
Paul uses two very important words: grace and gift. If we attach anything to ourselves that makes us worthy of salvation, then we would have a right to boast in ourselves, we would deserve some of what God gives us, and then we would no longer be objects of God’s grace for it is undeserved love. If any work that we do accomplishes any part of our salvation then salvation is no longer a gift, put a payment for what we have done. “If by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work” (Romans 11:6).
We do nothing to accomplish our salvation. God accomplished it alone! It is a gift from Him. We are objects of His grace.
Since God has made us the objects of His grace and He alone has given salvation and new life to us, it is He who has made us what we are. God says through His prophet Isaiah, “Everyone who is called by My name, whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes I have made him” (Isaiah 43:7). Paul told the Ephesians, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works…” [v.10]
At first glance, Paul seems to contradict himself because he has said that our works do nothing, but then he says that we are created for good works. Our salvation is not accomplished by good works, but it is accomplished for good works. It is not good works that cause the effect of salvation, but rather salvation causes the effect of good works.
God’s purpose is that His children do good works. God has brought us out of death and condemnation and our wicked way of life. Why would we ever want to go back? That sin is washed away by Jesus. Our redemption and salvation is complete. Through Jesus we are declared righteous in God’s sight.
Having been freely rescued from death and sin, we love to please God who rescued us. We want to follow His will in our lives and actions in our words and deeds. Our Christian living is a result of our salvation and a response to it. This Christian life is our sanctification, which means, “being set apart.” Our life in Christ sets us apart from wickedness and sin. As our life in Christ is displayed in our actions, those actions will also set us apart from the wickedness around us.
Unlike our salvation (justification), our sanctification will never be complete on this earth. Sanctification is a matter of growth. We will never be perfect and constantly lead a pure life…far from it! However, having been delivered from sin and death our attitude will not be “I am going to sin anyway so what is the big deal,” but rather it is one which sorrows over each sin. When you are in sorrow because of your sin, God comes to you with His Word of comfort that Jesus died for your sins. So pick yourself up and with joy go forward to show your love for Him in your lives.
Our growth in sanctification and Christian living won’t come from ourselves. We are God’s workmanship. He has made us what we are. Growth in our Christian life will come from Him. “For it is God who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). As we hear God’s Word and learn from it, the Holy Ghost works through the Word to impress on us the wonders and blessings we have through God’s grace. As we grow in love and appreciation for our God, our Christian life will also grow. When you feed your souls with God’s Word you will grow and mature as Children of God. Without the food of God’s Word your faith will get sick, weaken, and die. Our good works are a testimony that we have been redeemed by Him. A “good work” that is pleasing to God and a testimony to Him is first nothing that contradicts God’s Word. Those things which do follow God’s Word are not necessarily good works in the eyes of God either. “Without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Hebrews 11:6), and “Whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Without the righteousness of Christ which we have through faith, nothing we do would be considered good by God. Even when we do things that follow God’s law they are tainted by sin—”All of our righteousness are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). But when words and actions flow in response to what Christ has done and are done out of faith and love for Him, then God sees them as good because of the holiness we have from Christ.
Paul teaches us another thing about our good works. “…good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” [v.10] Before we ever do a good work, God has prepared it for us and provided the opportunity to us. When we don’t do good works we are not making used of the opportunities God gives to us. Luther pointed out that a maid scrubbing the floor is doing a good work because she is faithful in the calling to which the Lord led her. Scrubbing was an opportunity to do a good work which the Lord had prepared for her.
When we lead a Christian life and do good works, every part of that comes from God and is the work of His hands. You don’t do or create anything. God has accomplished it all alone! You cannot rightfully credit any good that you do to yourself or boast as if it were your accomplishment. God alone deserves the honor and praise for all that we are and all that we do. We dare not look for any part of our salvation in ourselves and we need not look. Don’t worry or question your salvation by wondering about yourself. Be assured! Be confident because Christ has died for you and God has accomplished everything! No wonder then, that we can say, Laetare — Rejoice! Amen.\
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.