Part III of the Sermon Series: The Grace-Full Life:
Text: Ephesians 3:14-21
Theme: “God’s Character-Shaping (Sanctifying) Grace
One of the little things that fascinates new comers to the US, especially those of us from developing countries is a garage sale. But there is something about it that is more intriguing to me. Sometimes I see a brand-new item that I partly recognize, but then I notice that it’s a much more modern brand than what I thought. In some instances, I would ask the seller “How do you use this?” At that point, I would get this surprising response, “I don’t know either. It was given to me as a gift by, _____, but I never used it; as you see, it has been in the case or box since.”
Let’s imagine someone having the thought about you; followed by their search online or in the stores to find something they were pretty sure we would love, appreciate and use. Not only that, but they go on to use their hard-earned money for the item and give it to us as a gift. We receive it, and it remains in the case or box unused!
Well, my aim of bringing this up is not to beat upon those who receive gifts and don’t use them, because several factors could be responsible. But I want to make a comparison between this scenario, and the subject of God’s grace as I transition from God’s saving(justifying) grace, to God’s character-shaping(sanctifying) grace in this series. Just like every gift given without any strings attached, God’s saving (justifying) grace is a gift given. Once again, Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
But when it comes to God’s Character-Shaping (Sanctifying) Grace, it requires our participation and collaboration with God. To set the basis for our text this morning, let me read Philippians 2:12 &13. Paul writes, “Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God,”. Here Paul is asking us to redouble our effort and be energetic in our life of salvation. In the ending part of this verse, Paul says, “That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you. For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
To put in a nutshell, God saved us freely, which brings us into a new season and gives us an experience where our salvation must be put to work. This is the period of sanctification. But God does not leave us alone during this time. God provides the strength and keep shaping us into the image of Christ.
In his prayer for the Ephesians believers and to all of us today, Paul says, I asked God to strengthen you by his Spirit. -not a brute strength, but a glorious inner strength-that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly in love, you will be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depth! Rise to the height! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
This is a great challenge, but it’s not impossible because we are not alone on this journey. Therefore, Paul concludes the text with these words. “God can do anything, you know, far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request. He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
In other words, you and I are under construction. God is not done with us yet. He is shaping and molding us into what we must become. This is God’s character-shaping(sanctifying) grace; the grace of this moment.
Let’s consider the birth of a child, which is an event. But after that, real life which is a not an event but a process, begins. In the same way, God’s saving or justifying grace is an event. A person accepts Jesus Christ, or a child is brought forth for baptism and later for confirmation and God’s accepts us and gives us salvation as a gift. A new life begins. But God also provides the nourishment through his sanctifying grace, so that we can grow, crawl, walk, talk and mature.
Through God’s All-Saving or justifying grace, we are born anew. But this is just the beginning process of our spiritual journey and relationship with God, at which we don’t sit idle. God has his role, as well as we have ours.
In his book, The Cross Centered Life, C. J. Majaney, writes, “Sanctification is about our own choices and behavior. It involves work. Empowered by God’s Spirit, we strive. We fight sin. We study Scripture and pray, even when we don’t feel like. We flee temptation. We press on; we run hard in pursuit of holiness. And as we become and more sanctified, the power of the of the gospel transforms us. We just cannot remain as we came to Christ with all our baggage. We must respond to God’s character-shaping grace and be transformed.
The mission of the United Methodist Church is to “Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.” This is our mission. It means you and I are God’s agents of transformation wherever we find ourselves; be it in our work places, our communities and the world around us. But once again, we are not alone. God is shaping us for this very purpose through this sanctifying grace. Where are you on this journey. Are you growing? Are you maturing? Is your inner transformation being reflected in your actions?
Look church, God did not save us just for saving sake. He did so for a purpose. God wants to reclaim his creation; God wants to transform our world. And that transformation must begin with you and me.
Acevelo and Olds, writes, “Just as little kids dream of the day they will become tenagers, and teenagers dream of the day they will be adults, we have an invitation from God to “grow up” in God’s Character-Shaping grace.”
I am sure when we allow God to shape us, it’s going to impact our outlook of life: our love for another human being, regardless of geography, color, and creed; it will impact our willingness to reach out to the needy, to use our time, energy and even money to make a difference in our community.
May the Lord who has freely saved us through is justifying grace, continue to empower and shape us through his Character-Shaping(sanctifying) grace so that we may be empowered and transformed and serve as his agents of transformation in our community and our world.
God bless you.