One Sunday afternoon, Dawn and I were working in our yard, and our neighbor noticed us working and came over to see if he could help. The difference between us and our neighbors, is everything that we try to do, they actually have the tools to do. So he came with his tool and the job actually got done.
As we were working, we got to talking.
He, like most of our neighbors here in Southwest Detroit, is Catholic... and being that it was Sunday, we had both gotten home from church not long before this moment... and it was fresh on our minds.
Knowing that we pastor one of the only protestant churches around, He began asking all sorts of questions about our church, trying to understand if there was a difference between our church, and the church that he took his family to that was three blocks closer to his house.
During the conversation, the concept of "confession" came up, and he couldn’t believe that we don’t do “confession” at Courage…
I tried to explain to him as simply as possible, that where we believe in confessing our sins both to God (1 John 1:9) and to one another (James 5:16), we believe very strongly that we don’t have to live in the mistakes that we make every day until we can get to that booth, and that to us, the gospel is not about us doing something wrong… it is about Jesus doing something right… and about us becoming ALL THAT HE IS because He became all that we were when He died on the cross in our place.
and as we talked through our obvious differences, He couldn’t believe it… He loved the idea of being a part of a place where He didn’t have to go to “confession” every time he made a mistake… he had the biggest smile on his face.
but even though He loved the idea… you could tell that he didn’t quite buy it.
Like it was just a little too easy.
That was a huge reason for the Protestant Reformation in the first place… the Protestant Split from the Roman Catholic Church. The selling of indulgences for the forgiveness of sins. A free gift, that had been monetized. A gift that was for everyone, yet not accessible to all people.
and this verse was crucial in that:
Ephesians 8 - 9:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
If you read the whole section of Ephesians 2:1-10, you will notice that this is the SECOND time in this short set of scriptures that Paul says “its by grace you have been saved.”
I love the way that this says “this is not your own doing.” -
He has to spell out what it means that it is by grace…
YOU DIDN’T EARN IT… THERE IS NO MERIT BY WHICH YOU ARE RECEIVING THIS!!!
people often ask me about this phrase: “born again.” - what does it mean to be “born again” - and that is obviously a COMMON QUESTION, because when Jesus was talking to a man named Nicodemus, and He said to him John 3:3) “you must be born again!” Nicodemus responded like any of us would respond, He said
“How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4)
Because it seems so backwards… really it seems so strange… how can a person be born again? But really, it is the absolute greatest image for what Jesus actually does to us…. Its just like how Paul talks about being dead, and the dead being made alive in Christ.
Birth and death are really the only ways to describe it…
Think about when you were first born… you were in your Mother’s womb. The truest statement that nobody can ever refute is this: You did nothing to earn your life.
The breath in your lungs, a heart that beats inside of your chest. You didn’t work for it, you were handed it. Two people came together, your mother carried you, giving up essentially her own body for 9 months and then many aspects of her life for the years that followed… you had nothing to do with you being made.
There is NOTHING about a child being born that has ANYTHING to do with the child. Life is an amazing image of grace. and that is what makes the idea of “being born” the perfect picture of what happens when Jesus comes into your life.
Jesus did everything… and we did nothing.
We contributed nothing to our first birth, and in the same way, we contribute nothing to be born again in Christ.
Otherwise it wouldn't be “being born”
and what Paul says here is so significant… it is not by your own doing…
but here is where it gets sticky…
A lot of people believe that IF grace really is that great… then why not keep living the way that we want to live, and clinging to grace. But first of all, if you actually are thinking that way, it is proof that you have not comprehended the first 9 verses of Ephesians 2. It is clear that you are still dead in your sins.
Even Martin Luther, who championed the reformation and concept that we are saved by grace alone said this: “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” Otherwise it is just a mask… its an act… being poor in Spirit doesn’t mean you stop sinning… it means that you realize you are sinning… it means you realize that you are destroying your eternity, and the lives of others around you… it means you make Jesus Christ the Lord of your life and in order to call Him Lord, you still need to do what He says…
Paul addresses this in Romans… (Romans 6) He says what shall we do, just keep on sinning so that grace can keep abounding? but Paul says NO! BY NO MEANS! and in fact, in the same way that Paul says in Ephesians that we were dead in our sins… He says in Romans, that when we come to Christ… we become DEAD TO OUR SINS. and I understand why this can be a lot to grasp… because you aren’t saved by what you do… but only by what Jesus does… but the evidence of whether or not you are following Jesus is by the FRUIT OF YOUR LIFE.