Undeserved Favour

Luke 7:36-50 Jesus forgives a sinful woman

When a Red Indian who had been converted to Christ was asked what it meant to him, he picked a worm out of the soil, placed it on a dry leaf and then set the leaf on fire. As the fire drew close to the worm he suddenly plunged his hand into the flame and pulled the worm out. Then he said “Me, that worm.”
The ‘sinful woman’ that was forgiven by Jesus as she wept at his feet could have said the same thing. Her life was in a moral mess but God plucked her from certain destruction.
It’s interesting that Jesus said her faith had saved her because I think it’s quite obvious to everyone that something far bigger than faith was also involved; namely God’s grace.

The woman approached Jesus rather than the Jewish religious leaders because she sensed this is where God’s grace could be found.
Let’s face an important fact here; grace is bigger than faith, this is because grace is God’s action towards us, while faith is simply ours towards him. Listen to what the apostle Paul had to say about grace and faith:
‘But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made as a live with Christ even when we were dead in transgression – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming age he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourself, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast’ (Ephesians 2:4-9). Paul is clear; we are saved by grace, and even the faith we use to respond to that grace is a gift from God.
As we have seen so often in the movies, when soldiers capture a hill they immediately set up a flag on that hill to show who is in control. Now let me ask you a question. If you were part of God’s spiritual army and had two flags, one saying ‘faith’ and another saying ‘grace,’ which one would you put on the hill? I am sure it would be ‘grace’ because the people of God are not ruled by faith, they are ruled by grace. Grace is bigger than faith.
And let me add this; grace is a very Christian flag. The world’s other religions have very little to say about grace. Islam does not emphasize it; in Islam you are saved by your good works outweighing your bad ones. Hinduism and Buddhism are similar; good karma must outweigh bad karma if you are to have a better next-life.
These major religions could offer little hope to the sinful woman kneeling at Jesus’ feet. Her sin was too great for her to even begin thinking of ‘outweighing’ them with good deeds. Only in Christ is there hope for the truly bad person, because Christ is laden with grace.
Think of Mary Magdalene who became a dedicated follower of Jesus after she was delivered of seven demons. Think of Saul who murdered God’s people but was transformed by grace on the road to Damascus. Only by the hand of grace can the bad be saved. And of course no one is really good; we all need God’s grace.
The grace of our Creator is extraordinary. We really do need to appreciate this aspect of him. The Bible tells us that God is holy, that he lives in unapproachable light, that the angels in heaven are so captivated by his holy countenance that they and sing ‘holy, holy, holy’ before his throne. Now, add to this the fact that every sin we commit is against this holy God, for we are made in his image and when we sin we distort that image. And then add to this the fact that God is the giver of life and when we use our life to sin we make a mockery of his wonderful gift.
Such actions against a holy God have obvious consequences; the Bible simply says, ‘The wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23). And of course it is; who can argue with that?
With all this considered; how earth shattering it is when we realize that this holy God came and died on a cross for those that had offended him!
Let’s add some perspective. Imagine if you had committed a serious crime and the judge said, “My decision is that you will be sentenced to death. An execution by hanging will take place at 9 am tomorrow morning.” Then he says, “But because you have a partner and children, and I don’t, I will serve your sentence. As judge of the court I have the right to sentence you, and the right to serve your sentence.”
How do you react to such a decision? Would you go, “Whoopee! I’m free! Thanks judge!” I don’t think so. I’m sure you would have no words. It would be hard to even say ‘thank you’ because those two words do not say enough. I imagine you might just sit on the floor and hang your head in shock, or perhaps weep. What can you say to such grace?
The situation is well described in the song ‘Unspeakable Joy.’ The words go, ‘My highest praise belongs to you, for grace upon grace you have given me. As I come in worship before you I bow down and still my own voice. In silence my soul will adore you, for I’ve found and unspeakable joy.’
Many churches today don’t know how to worship silently, but I think it’s an appropriate response when we realize the depth of God’s grace. When the reality of what God has done hits us we are left speechless; and rightly so.
I think God’s grace pushes two important things: First, it says you are bad already, so forget trying to earn your way to heaven – you need a savior. Second, it says God wants your heart before your obedience. The second one is graphically demonstrated in that the sinful woman had nothing to offer Jesus except her heart, but that’s all he required.
Both these things separate Christianity from the world’s other great religions. Take Islam for example. Islam is mainly about external practices, it does not emphasize the believer’s heart. Conversion to Islam can take place without involving the heart. In fact many people convert to Islam for marital purposes. But in Christianity the heart is essential. For Christians, conversion without real belief in the heart is false conversion. This is why Christians will not force others to become Christians nor force their own to remain Christians. A heart response has to be a free response, it cannot be coerced. Religion done without the heart is meaningless to humans, and unacceptable to God.
What God did through Christ at the cross enables Christians to respond from the heart. Christian worship is all about gratefulness to God; it is not about a fear of what God will do if the believer disobeys. This is why Christianity is a singing religion. Christian singing is a response to the God of grace.
But it’s also true that Christians often forget about God’s grace. When Christians become self righteous or self condemning it is based on the fact that they are putting an emphasis on deeds rather than grace. The self righteous believe their good deeds give them have more favour with God, and the self condemning believe their bad deeds give them less favour with God. And naturally both types of people begin to think that some sins are worse than others. The self righteous think their sins are small and the self condemning think their sins are big. But Jesus said, ‘Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ So he makes the thought of adultery equal to the act of adultery. The truth is that no sin can enter heaven; the so called ‘small ones’ keep us out as much as the ‘big ones’ do, and in that sense they are all equal. This is why a savior is needed.
It’s easy to be a self righteous Christian who thinks their deeds are better than others, but that is a deception. Think of it, Christian may be proud that they fast once a week, but they might be harsh on their staff at the same time. Or they may be proud that they pray for an hour a day, but they might be manipulating their partner behind the scenes. Or they may avoid be proud that they avoid alcohol, but they might be addicted to chocolate or some form of overeating. Both drunkenness and gluttony are considered sin in Scripture, but we tend to make one a bigger sin than the other.
Self righteousness can also get quite extreme. There are branches of Islam that think good believers should kill bad believers. In such a belief system you have to either believe that you never sin, or all your sins are not as bad as the sins of others. Both are untrue.
Some people think grace is soft, that a belief in a God of grace allows anyone to get away with sin. But grace is not soft; in fact it can be very hard. Once we are saved by grace we become children of God, and once we are God’s children God begins to discipline us. As the writer to the Hebrews said, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a son’ (Hebrews 12:5-6). In addition, God’s grace also provides an opportunity for Christians to challenge one another saying, ‘If Christ died for you, why are you not living for him?’ And for those who love Christ such a rebuke is impacting.
I want to finish with this; if you are a Christian let your obedience show how much you appreciate the God of grace. May people see your faithfulness, and when they ask, “How come you never miss church, how come you are always helping others, how come you are always so enthusiastic about life?” Then you can respond, “It’s because of what Christ has done for me, I have favour that is undeserved, and I am grateful.”
The Bible translator James Moffat said that the religion of the Bible ‘is a religion of grace or it is nothing … no grace, no gospel.’

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