Life no longer has any worth for Christians independent of the good news of the grace of God in Christ. Put so bluntly that sounds almost monomaniacal but it is exactly what Paul says in Acts 21:24. For everything else in the whole world to blur into the background in comparison with this grace must mean that grace is amazingly wonderful. Why would we gladly let all other things go unless we are utterly ravished and enraptured by it?
Of course that's exactly the point of stories that Jesus told like the treasure in the field or the one about the great pearl: it is totally worth surrendering everything else to get it because it is incomparably better than everything else. It is not surrendering to grace that is foolishness for then we lose out on glory after glory.
Therefore let every Christian get more and more interested and excited about grace, and let every church preach it more and more powerfully all the time. I have been given the title "justification by faith" for my evening message this coming Sunday and I couldn't be more excited about it! As I stand to preach the Bible I know from Acts 20:24 that the message of grace I have to bring from Romans 4 is more important and wonderful by far than my life.
Now, a bit more about Acts 20. It is an axiom for me that biblical meaning almost always flows out of the structure of a book (Proverbs being an obvious exception). It is no coincidence that Luke relates how Paul tells the Ephesian elders to defend the gospel and grow the church so close after the account of how the idol-makers in Ephesus wanted to defend their trade and grow the cult of Artemis. Their strategy was false charges, mob rule and physical violence. Our strategy is being commited to God and the word of his grace which can build us up and give us an inheritance among those who are being sanctified. Note, the word of grace:
- builds up - because it teaches us to rejoice in God, in future hope and in the godly character that suffering brings.
- sanctifies - because its light throws sharp relief on darkness, thereby teaching us to say no to ungodliness. I know plenty of folk who think that teaching that we are under grace rather than Law promotes ungodliness. They couldn't be more wrong
The contrast with the idol-riot is stark. Artemis was defended by people overflowing with rage. The gospel goes out through people overflowing with glorious joy. The tourist traders of Artemis did everything - legal or not - to defend their trade and livelihood. The gospel goes out by us laying down our lives for the sake of those who don't yet know God. Why? Because we have been swept away by his grace.
But there is second way in the passage that the church has to be protected, and that is from savage wolves, and those who twist the truth to lead people away and get a following for themselves (v28-31). That is, those who sneak in from the outside to try to destroy, and those on the inside who get power crazy. What is the truth that they will try to distort? It has to be the word of God's grace. Take grace away from the church and everything falls apart.
So, is your church teaching and delighting in grace regularly? Are there people in the congregation who throw doubt or suspicion on the message of grace? Or who place other things before the message of grace for justification or sanctification? Beware. That way lies church death. Are there people who - in the words of Hamlet - smile and smile, but who have nothing of the grace of God in their dealings in the church? Similarly, beware.
Vibrant church life or truth-twisting church death. Put most simply, it all comes down to the word of God's grace. Is your church a place where it is loved?