JANUARY 24 2016

Accountability Under Grace


Our Scripture reading today is from Ephesians 1:5-8. 


During the late 1800s English evangelist Henry Moorhouse made several trips to America to preach. On one of these occasions, he was taking a walk through a poor section of the city when he noticed a small boy coming out of a store with a pitcher of milk. Just then, the boy slipped and fell, breaking the pitcher and spilling the milk all over the sidewalk. Moorhouse rushed to the youngster’s side and found him unhurt but terrified. “My mamma’ll whip me!” he cried. The preacher suggested that they try to put the pitcher back together, but the pieces of glass would not stay together. The boy kept crying. Finally Moorhouse picked up the youngster and carried him to a nearby store where the preacher purchased a new pitcher. Then he returned to the dairy store and had the pitcher washed and filled with milk. With that done, he carried both the boy and the pitcher home. Putting the youngster down on his front porch, Moorhouse handed him the pitcher and asked, “Now will your mama whip you?”

A wide smile spread upon his tear-stained face, “Aw, no sir, ‘cause it’s lot better pitcher than we had before.”


That is grace. Henry Moorhouse did not know this boy and was under no obligation to help him. He could have just given him some money to get some milk and a container. Instead, he picked the boy up and took the time to buy him a new pitcher and milk. Then he carried him home.


This is the way God cares for us. At one time you were a little child who broke his pitcher – your life was shattered – and the milk was spilled on the sidewalk. Everything that you thought you had was gone. But the Lord came to you and picked you up. He did not just put your pitcher back together. He gave you a new pitcher – a new life. One that is better than the old one. He filled it with fresh milk – the Holy Spirit, His own divine life which nourished you and sustains you. And He is going to bring you home. Not just bring you home but carry you there! It is all of grace because we deserve none of it. We are far worse than that little boy. Children have a certain sense of innocence. We, on the other hand, do not even have a sense of innocence. We were full of sin and rebellion. But God’s grace came to us.


[I] It is because of this grace, this favor of God upon us, that we praise the Lord.


[A] In verse 5 we see that it is because of God’s love for us that he predestines us to be his children through Jesus Christ. “In love he predestinated us for adoption through Jesus Christ…” We have been brought into God’s family because he loved us BEFORE our adoption!


Verse 6: This is “to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” We must see how glorious this grace is! This grace blesses us. This grace is found only in the Person of Jesus Christ.


It is because of God’s grace that we have forgiveness of sins. The forgiveness of our sins is “according to the riches of his grace. “ (vs. 7)


His grace is his favor. This favor he “lavished upon us!” Do you know that his grace has been, and still is, lavished upon you? Hallelujah! If you belong to him it is!


[B] Not only did his love and grace predestine us, not only did it redeem us, not only did it bring us into God’s family, but it will keep us until the end!


            And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

(Philippians 1:6 ESV)


The apostle Paul did not just believe that God would bring the work that he began in the Philippians to completion. He was certain of it. “Through many dangers, toils, and snares we have already come. ‘Tis grace that has brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.”


If Paul were writing to New Salem he would say, “I am sure of this, New Salem saints, he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.”


Jesus Himself was emphatic on this reality.           All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.

(John 6:37 ESV)


Have you come to the Lord Jesus for salvation? If you have he has promised that he will never cast you out! Why? Because it is the will of the Father. The will of the Father is the will of Christ. Therefore, both the Father and the Son will that you will never be cast out. The will of God flows from his grace and love towards you. It is by grace that we are saved. And it is by grace that we will be brought home.


It does not depend upon you. It depends upon the love and grace of the Father. And his love never fails.


It does not depend upon you. It depends upon Christ. And Christ never fails.


A group of botanists went on an expedition into a hard-to-reach location in the Alps, searching for new varieties of flowers. One day as a scientist looked through his binoculars, he saw a beautiful, rare species growing at the bottom of a deep ravine. To reach it, someone would have to be lowered into that gorge. Noticing a local youngster standing nearby, the man asked him if he would help them get the flower. The boy was told that a rope would be tied around his waist and the men would then lower him to the floor of the canyon. Excited yet apprehensive about the adventure, the youngster peered thoughtfully into the chasm. "Wait," he said, "I'll be back," and off he dashed. When he returned, he was accompanied by an older man. Approaching the head botanist, the boy said, "I'll go over the cliff now and get the flower for you, but this man must hold onto the rope. He's my dad!"


That boy trusted in his father because he knew that his father loved him. God’s grace, which issues from his love, will keep us. Do you see how marvelous his grace is? We must praise him for his grace towards us!


O Lord! Thank you for your grace which predestinated me!

Thank you for your grace which redeemed me!

Thank you for your grace which adopted me!

Thank you for your grace which keeps me!

Praise you for the glory of your grace!


[II] Those of you who have children, do your children disappoint you at times? Of course, they do! Sometimes they disappoint us greatly. Do not be too discouraged. They are still being formed. That is, they are still developing their character. They are selfish. But, through the difficulties of life they will become less so. They do not understand what is important in life. But, through your counsel along with learning from their own mistakes, they will. They disobey at times. (There are some children who are quite obedient. Those have an extra supply of God’s grace!) But, through discipline – your discipline – they learn obedience. When parents fail to give discipline they will have children who disobey often.


This is the way we are with God. We are selfish. We must learn to stop being selfish. Therefore, God sends us difficulties. We fail to see the important matters of this life. Therefore, God gives us his word, the Bible, to show us. And, he allows us to experience the consequences of our foolish decisions that were made because of muddled priorities. We disobey at times. Therefore, God disciplines us.


This is accountability under grace. We are held accountable for the way we live. This accountability is because of God’s grace and within God’s grace.


            Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

            (1 Corinthians 11:27-32 ESV)


In this passage the apostle is dealing with a particular sin: the sin of not discerning the body of Christ during the Lord’s Supper. He writes that those who do not discern are judged by the Lord. This judgment could come as a weakness, an illness, or even death. He goes on to say, in verse 32, that this judgment is not a judgment for judgment’s sake alone, but it is for discipline “so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”


You see, it is God’s grace that keeps us from being condemned. His grace brings discipline. If his favor was not upon you, he would just let you go your own way. In reality, the greatest and worst judgment of God is to let us go our own way. “Do our own thing.” He loves us enough to discipline us.


[III] The Lord has four motivations for us to live in obedience to him. The first and greatest of these is love. When we love someone it is an easy thing to do those things that please the one we love. We have spoken often of the love we have for our Lord. We ought to nurture this love by spending time with him, especially in the Word.


The second motivation is joy. The Holy Spirit has worked in our hearts in such a way that when we live in accordance with his will we are filled with joy. There is nothing quite like the enjoyment that comes from doing the will of God. Jesus called this joy his food.


The third motivation is rewards. The Lord has promised marvelous rewards to those who overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. We have spoken often of the rewards that are promised to the faithful and we will continue to do so in the future. The Lord has spoken often of rewards in the pages of the NT. Therefore, we ought to speak often of them as well. He has placed the promises of rewards in the Bible precisely because he knows that they are a good motivator to divine service.


The last motivation is fear. Last October I preached an entire sermon on the fear of God. It is still accessible on the church website. The fear of God is a good thing. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that our love for the Lord wanes. If we are still sinning this means that we love our sin more than we love the Lord, at least at the moment that we are sinning, because we always choose according to our greatest desires. If we are honest with ourselves we will admit that we find joy in other things besides the will of God. Now, God did create all things for our enjoyment. Our trouble is that we too often choose lesser joys rather than the best joys. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we are often lazy so that the wonderful rewards that the Lord has promised us are overtaken by sloth. Therefore, we need the fear of God as a motivator. Today, I wish for us to consider just one aspect of the fear of God for the believer: the accountability for our actions at the Judgment Seat of Christ.


[A.] Christians have a tendency to think in terms of heaven after death and give no other consideration as to what the Lord has revealed regarding judgment for his own people and the ages to come. However, the NT authors had much to say about our accountability to the Lord after death. Peter writes in his first letter:


            As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,

(1 Peter 1:14-17 ESV)


Peter is writing to Christians. We are obedient children. That is, we turned from our disobedience to God to obeying him. That is called repentance. Without repentance there is no salvation. Yet, Peter knows that, even as those who live by God’s word, we face the danger of being conformed to the passions of the world. They are all around us and they beckon us:


  • the passion for wealth,
  • the passion for pleasure,
  • the passion for making a name for ourselves,
  • the desire to languish when there is work to be done


We are called to deny them and be holy, that means to be separate from, to be different, to be peculiar, to not fit in with “the crowd.”


“You shall be holy, for I am holy,” says the Lord.


In verse 17 we see that because we know that the Father – our Father – will judge each one – that means us – according to what we do on earth, we ought to conduct ourselves with fear while we are here. Peter thought fear was a good thing.


The Father will judge us, the believers, through his Son, Jesus when he returns to the earth. Here is the sequence of events as revealed by the NT writers:


  • upon death everyone who belongs to Christ will go to be with him in Paradise. There, we enjoy the presence of the Lord and rest from our labors. There will be millions of saints there from ages past and from the current age of grace in which we live. Some saints, like Abraham, have been there for four thousand years. Abel has been there for six thousand years.
  • Jesus will return to the earth to bring an end to this current age. He will judge the peoples of the world who are alive when he comes. At this time he will also judge those who belong to God who have died. This judgment will not be for eternal life because that judgment was taken care of at the cross. It will be a judgment according to how the believer has lived after coming to faith. Some will also receive a new body at this time.


The apostle Paul mentions this judgment several times.        So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

(2 Corinthians 5:9-10 ESV)


Again, Paul is writing to Christians. He says, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” Why? “So that each one” – no exceptions – “may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” We are going to receive something for what we have done. If we have done good things on behalf of the Lord then we will receive a reward. If we have done evil things then we will receive chastisement. What that chastisement is we do not have time to address this morning. Suffice it to say that the divine discipline, the chastisement, will have similarities to the discipline that we receive from the Lord right now. It may be relatively light, but it may also be severe and long lasting, more severe and longer lasting than you may have heretofore realized. This is why Peter says, “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your” time here on earth.


Paul also writes in Colossians:           Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

(Colossians 3:23-25 ESV)


Some of you may be thinking right now: “I’m in trouble. I have done some pretty bad things since I became a Christian.” If the Christian were to be judged for all their sins since coming to the Lord as well as for their failures of service to Him, then this would be a very discouraging state of affairs.


The good news is that we will not be judged for all our sins and failures. Only certain ones. Which ones are those? They are the same ones for which we are judged now. This answer may be phrased another way: The sins and deeds that we will be judged for at the Judgment Seat will be the same sins for which we are disciplined by the Lord NOW.


This pushes back the question once more. What sins and deeds bring the Lord’s discipline today? That question is easier to answer: We are disciplined for those sins for which we do not repent. One of the prevailing themes of both the Old and New Testaments is this: “My people,” says the Lord, “I have this against you. You have done this and this. Unless you repent, I will come against you with the sword of my mouth.” This warning is repeated to five of the seven churches in Asia Minor in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. If they repent they will be forgiven. If they refuse to repent the Lord’s judgment will come upon them in this life.


Therefore, the deeds that we have done that are contrary to the will of God will be brought up at the Judgment unless we repent now. This is not a judgment regarding eternal life. This is the Judgment at Christ’s return to determine rewards and discipline.


[IV. Application & Conclusion] What ought we to do? First, we must dispose of the numbing effect of nominal Christianity that simplistically teaches that once you make a profession of faith all is well and you will live in heaven forever. That is not in the Bible. If we call upon the Lord for salvation in sincerity then we will, indeed, find eternal life. But that is only the beginning of our journey. The real Christian life is one that is a life-long process of sanctification. That is, of being conformed to the image of Christ on a daily basis throughout our entire lives.


The real revelation of the Scriptures shows that there will be a Judgment that, as ones who have already been brought into God’s family, must focus our attention upon.


That is the second thing we must do. We must look to that great day. We must have in our minds and in our hearts the world that is to come. We must set our minds on things above. That day of Reckoning should be in our thoughts daily.


Finally, we must prepare for that day. We prepare by confessing our sins to the Lord and, if need be, to one another. Each night before going to sleep we should assess our day. If there were any sins that come to mind we should confess those to the Lord. Better yet, as soon as we sin we should confess the sin to the Lord. For those sins that continue to persist in our lives we must take measures to mortify them – that means put them to death – eliminate them from our lives altogether. The Lord has given us the power and the tools to do this.


The day is coming. Let us gird our minds. Let us prepare. Let us repent if necessary. And you are able to do this because His grace is upon you!


The girding of your mind, thus far, has been like a boy’s broken pitcher. Your lack of preparation for that great day is has been like the milk that has spilled upon the sidewalk. You cannot mend the pitcher and you cannot re-gather the milk. But the Lord is gracious. If you will repent of your clumsiness and set your mind upon being ready the Lord, like Henry Moorhouse, will buy you a new pitcher and bring you fresh milk. A better pitcher and fresher milk! You cannot regain what was lost but you may have a new beginning.


“O Lord! I have, by-and-large, wasted a good deal of the life that you have given to me. I repent. Awaken me from my slumber and supply me with your life. Help me to prepare for that day. Amen.”