Room of Grace
Note: This sermon was given on January 17, 2016 to the High School youth group at The River Church Community. The majority of the message and imagery is credit to John Lynch's Truefaced Two Roads Message. Reflection questions are included at the end.
[Deep breath. Smile.]
Hi, Good evening. I'm excited to get to do this. And I'm feeling honored and a little overwhelmed and nervous. As we begin I want to ask God to make this time count. Let's not just be batting at the wind.
Genesis. You know the story. After Adam and Eve sin they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God. Among the trees in the garden, the Lord called out, knowing full well where he was, “Where are you?” And the man replied, “Well I heard the sound of you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked so I hid myself.” I was afraid because I was naked and so I hid myself.
On that day Adam begins a horrible legacy. He's the first man to look over his shoulder. It's the first time we see anybody's eyes dart. It's the first time we ever see anyone cover themselves pretending to be somebody else.
[Whoosh. Curtain comes down.]
And from there it ripples out to us. And now when you or I get in trouble or feel embarrassed, when we are exposed, when we do something to someone else or someone does something to us, we feel naked. And I get afraid so I want to hide myself. I become convinced that I'm not enough. That I don't match up. And so I learn to hide in one way or another.
Adam began it and I've turned it into an art form. As early as we can remember we have performed for acceptance. If I'm good enough, talented enough, diligent, beautiful, together, and correct enough then I will be loved and accepted and blessed and happy. And if not I will be rejected and receive a lousy life.
You know what that is? It's the “Santa Claus is comin to town theology.” You know the song. You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why. Santa Claus is comin to town. He's making a list, checking it twice, maybe three times. He's gonna find out who's naughty and nice. Santa Claus is coming. He knows when you've been awake and asleep. He knows when you've been bad or good so you better be good for … goodness sake.
Think about that. The culture created it. Figure it out. We sing that over and over. And I think we start to believe it.
We start to believe our value is based on how much you do right and how little you do wrong. And he's constantly writing down the wrong that you've done for future reference to bring it up again to you. If you're naughty then no soup for you. You only get coal. And this omniscient, controlling, legalist, you better watch out, because he's coming to town. Better fear this guy and stop your crying and shape up. Better put on a good face and act like you're somebody different than who you actually are. No matter how you're feeling, better put on a good show. So just be better than you are.
Don't be a whiner. Fix yourself. Try harder. Do more. Be better. Don't have so many problems. Keep up appearances. Get better in a hurry. Because you are constantly on trial. And if you want good things in life, you better figure out how to keep this guy pleased.
It is genetically wired into us since the fall. Early on we learn the highest value is being accepted and it appears the means of acceptance are performance and performance is hard because I fail. Another result of the fall is the assumption that nobody else fails quite like me. I assume that you guys have it together and that I'm failing in a particular, unique way. So I live with the awareness of just how poorly I know I'm doing. And now I'm scared and I don't want to be but I am. I figure I've got to posture myself. I've got mask myself. I've got to brag and put others down. I've got pretend to be more than I am. I've got to posture and mask. And so I do the dance and I put on a mask.
Then comes the sweet, sweet gospel of Jesus Christ. In 2 Cor 5:21, it says, “He made him [Jesus], who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” Wow. We get cloaked in righteousness. Our nakedness is covered by the willingness of Christ to become naked and stay naked and never put on a mask. And Christ suffers the penalty for my sins. And for my sins, I am traded a robe of righteousness.
And I find myself believing the gospel and the pattern is broken. New wiring fills my circuits. I become a new creature. I start believing that I'm lovable just because, well, he loves me. And I'm accepted and holy. And he created me lovable and I'm exactly who he wanted me to be. He only needed to break through sin, death and separation and now we're radically remade.
And so I begin to walk this journey of discipleship. I begin to follow Jesus into this new life. I begin to mature into his image.
And then something happens. I don't know what exactly. Maybe you go through a dry season. Maybe you feel you let God down or you lose a friend. And now gradually, the lie sneaks back under the door. The lie that you're too weak and undesirable. You begin to think his absence is due to his displeasure with you.
So you start to shore things up and make the grade. You start to set some standards. You've got to get serious about this. Better clean house. You're a little off-kilter but you can get this righted.
Not long on this journey you approach a fork in the road. And there are two signs. You're going along, minding your own business and all of a sudden there's a fork in the road. And there's this huge pole with two signs on it. One sign says, “Willpower” this way. The other sign says, “Faith” this way. I don't want to choose. I just want to be on this path that I was on. But these now are the primary motivations of how I walk the rest of the journey. These are the primary motivations of my heart.
Let's think. Willpower. Yes. That makes some sense. Yes. I've got to kick my own butt. I've got to work at this to get close to God. Yes. This is what I want. And so I go down the path of willpower.
And soon I come to a huge building and there's a door with a sign above it. And the sign says, “Striving to be all God wants me to be.” Yes. That's right. Striving to be all God wants me to be. It sounds like the marines, “Be all you can be.” And I think, “I can do it.” I'm gonna get it this time. And I look down at the doorknob and it says, “self-effort.” And I think, of course, that's it. I'm gonna care now. I'm gonna do my part. God helps those who help themselves.
[Click. Open door.]
I walk into the room and it's this huge, loud, busy, crowded room. And a hostess greets me at the front. And she says in a voice kind of too polite, too slick, “Hi, Welcome to the room of good intentions.” And I say, “Hi, this is great. I think I've found my place. These look like the sold-out people I want to be with. How's everybody doing?”
And suddenly the room gets quiet. And then in almost one voice they reply, “Fine. We're doing fine. Just fine. Couple things here but we're fine really. Fine. Fine as fine can be.”
And the host turns and asks me, “How are you?” And I reply, “Well, thanks for asking, I'm, well, ummh. I've been having some issues. I'm struggling a little bit. I mean, I think things are better now but, umh, sometimes I feel badly and um.”
[Shh. Finger to lips.]
And she hands me a mask. And I look around the room and they encourage me to put it on. And I say, I'm fine. I'm doing fine.
And as I walk back in the room, I see a banner and it says, “Working on my sin to achieve an intimate relationship with God.” Yeah, that sounds right. That's what it has always felt like has been wrong. It feels like when I'm talking to God, he's way over there. And I'm trying to get close to him. And I just want to tell him, I love you. I'm going to get there. I don't know if you can hear me. I'm going to get this better. This time now maybe it'll work.
But nobody tells me there are 34 wheelbarrows more of sin to be brought in daily. And nobody tells me that I don't know how to fix my sin. I can't.
I'm in this room and at first it feels so great. People here display perseverance and courage and intelligence and hard work. They have a sold out determination and are chasing a pursuit of excellence. Yes. I'm so happy to be here.
But as weeks turn into months, I start to notice some things. Many in this room sound cynical and look tired. They're working so hard and if you catch them off guard, when they don't think anyone is watching, then you see unbelievable deep pain in their faces. The conversations in this room are kind of superficial. And frankly I'm starting to think I don't belong here. I feel like if I can't control my sin soon enough then I'm gonna be on the outs with everybody in this room and probably with God.
And so I work more in an effort to sin less. I feel better for a while but the more time I spend in the room of good intentions, the more disappointed I feel. Despite all my effort, I can never seem to do enough. And eventually I feel like I'm drowning and I'm out of breath and I'm overwhelmed.
And I stumble out of the room. And I walk back on the road to the fork.
See, the room of good intentions has this problem. It reduces godliness to this formula: more right behavior plus less wrong behavior equals godliness. Better grades plus less rated-R movies equals godliness. And that's everything but biblical. When we fully embrace that we live our lives hidden. The problem is it disregards the godliness, the righteousness that God has already placed in me. We are Godly because Christ lives in us and works through us. See you guys, we must never reduce christianity to sin management. If we do so then we're just rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.
Sometimes we paint the Pharisees as cartoonish villains. We forget they were people like you and me. And they had good intentions. They worked hard to safeguard and maintain their relationship with God.
So I go back to the crossroads again and the signpost is still there. The path of faith. What is that? I don't get that. What do I do? It doesn't work. But I don't have a choice. This is the only path left. So I walk down it, limping.
And I come again to another huge room. And above the door it says, “Living out of who God says I am.” And I'm like, “Whatever. Those are some words.” And I notice that the doorknob reads “humility.” And things start to make sense now. And I open the door and step inside.
I walk into another crowded room full of people and a hostess comes up and greets me. She says, “Welcome to the room of grace.”
And I answer tentatively because I've already been in a room before. I say, “Thank you.” And she presses and asks, “How are you?” And I feel like I've been here before.
So I say, I'm fine. Who wants to know? And the room stays quiet. Well now I'm mad because I feel judged. So now I yell, “Ok, everyone listen up. I'm not fine. I haven't been fine for a long time. I'm tired and confused and afraid and I feel guilty and lonely and sad most the time. You asked, so there. I'm not doing fine.” And I turn to leave.
And from the back I hear this voice call out, “That's all you got? I'll take your confusion and bad thoughts and raise you bad grades and porn addiction. You've got to sink pretty far before you get in my league.” And the hostess nudges me and says, “I think he means, you're welcome here.”
And there is much warm laughter as I am welcomed into a sweet family of painfully real people. And there's not a mask to be seen anywhere.
I'm in the room of grace. Grace. Grace appears 122 times in the New Testament.
The Jewish Christians in Paul's day struggled so much with grace. Read Romans 5 through 8 and you'll see them arguing. The Jews say, “If you dare tell them that the list is over then you won't believe what they'll do. They'll space out. They'll do Christianity light. They're not gonna live for Jesus.” And Paul replies, well you would have a point except for two things:
They have a new identity. On my worst days you guys, I'm Christ in Grant Jenks. With a robe of righteousness around me always.
And not only that but I have the Holy Spirit constantly with me pointing me back to Christ. If I wanted to take advantage of God then I could do that under grace or the law. But now that Christ lives in me, I don't want to.
What if God’s goal was to free our hearts by grace? This is the New Testament gamble. This is what God did. He laid it all on the table. What if God told us who we are? What if he took away fear, condemnation, judgment and rejection? What if he told us he loved us and that he couldn't love us any more or any less than he does right now? What if he said he had made things right no matter what we've done?
Could we stop beating ourselves up? Would we love him in return?
What if he told us that we could disown him, steal his wealth, squander our inheritance, and fornicate with women, but if we turned and came back home, then he'd throw us a party and welcome us back with a hug? What if he told us he lived in us and put his love and power at our disposal?
What if he said we didn't have to pretend? We didn't have to wear the mask any more. What if we knew we didn't have to look over our shoulder? We didn't have to wait for the other shoe to drop. What if he told us there was no secret agenda, no trap door?
Hebrews 11:6: Without faith, it is impossible to please him. Do you see why the signposts are there? Willpower makes it all about me. Faith makes it all about God. Willpower is a good thing but it can't be the primary way we get close to God. Willpower leaves us still in need of a savior. We're stuck with our talent and skill and diligence and the truth is, I don't have it.
I notice a banner in the back of the room of grace: Standing with God, with my sin in front of us, working on it together. What if God was never “over there”? What if Jesus Christ walked all the way around? And he looked me in the face and he held me and stroked my hair and sat with me.
See I think he would put his arm around me and we'd sit down together. And we'd look at my sin. And he'd say, “My, my, my. That is a lot of sin. And we'll work on it when you're ready. I got you covered. My shed blood is that powerful.”
Have we been changed? Yes. As day is from night, we have been changed. See if I brought a caterpillar to a biologist and asked him to analyze and describe its DNA. Then he'd say, I know it looks like a caterpillar but it is scientifically, in every testable DNA result, fully and completely a butterfly. Wow. Because the caterpillar is in essence a butterfly it will one day mature into one. So it is with us. We have a new identity in Christ.
Some of you sit here today and you're bluffing. You're wearing masks. And you're scared to look inside. You're scared to be known for who you really are.
May I dare believe God makes me a new creature right now. May I dare believe God doesn't keep a logbook of my wrongs. May I dare believe God isn't disgusted with me, he isn't ashamed of me. May I dare believe, help my unbelief!
See in the room of grace, we grow up and mature into something that's already true about us, godly. In the room of good intentions, we're left with the work-based, performance-driven relationship with God that puts the responsibility on my effort rather than God's love.
This is what Peterson is talking about in The Message in Galatians 3:5: Does God lavishly provide you with his own presence because of your strenuous moral striving? No. It is because you trust him to work in you.
Don’t mistake me. Faith is not a switch. I find as I trust God with small things, I am able to trust him with bigger things. The small stuff is church on Sundays and Friday nights. It’s bible study and quiet times. If you come to us after four years and say, I’ve done nothing to mature in my relationship with God, now what do I do with my life? It’ll be tough. We aren’t magicians. Maturing in God’s grace is a process. Don’t squander the time you have now.
In the room of grace there is a gift giver. And for every sin, he gives a gift. Some gifts come quickly. Others take a long time to arrive. These gifts are all good. Some gifts heal you. Some gifts give you superpowers. They are all good gifts given by a good Father for good children.
Now people go in and out of the room of grace. I wish it weren't true but not all stay. See once you come in, you must not only learn to believe that you are accepted, you must actually learn to accept the yokels who are already here. And new ones come in fresh each year. And they are goofy and flawed and failed and common and broken and weird and often very inappropriate. Now and then a presentable one slips in but he soon learns he was wearing a mask. He must learn to rely only on Christ or he'll go back to where appearances make the man. Together they make a beautiful mosaic of Christ.
But it doesn't end here. The goal of the room of grace is not just your healing, but your release. It's moving into the dreams and destiny God puts within you. There is a ticket of destiny with your name written on it. It doesn't matter how old or broken you are. It doesn't matter how tired or frighten or how many times you fail. And so you go on in the room of grace receiving these gifts and building a vision of your dreams and destiny.
For some the release feels premature. For others the wait is agonizingly long. But all learn to believe that God would call them from that room. Grace teaches us to wait for God's exaltation rather than to pursue power or position. Our lives are no longer about proving our work to others. Our dreams are clarified as our sin is resolved.
And then one day the why's stop. Why has it taken so long? Why was I treated that way? Why did I have to go through so many ups and downs? Why were there so many revisions of my dreams?
And then one day a friend or some mature friends lead you to the back of the room. And they tell you they knew this day was coming. And they are so proud of you. And they drop you off at what looks like a train station.
And the steam rolls away from the station to reveal the outline of someone walking toward you. You notice an arch over the station labeled, “Dreams and Destiny.” You approach the man on the platform and you realize it's a ticket-giver. It's the same man who gave you those gifts for all those years.
And the man walks up to you and hugs you tight. And he looks into your eyes and he tells you he loves you. He loves you as much as the Father has loved him. He tells you that this destiny was created just for you. And then a train pulls into the station. And you just fall to your knees. You're overwhelmed with gratitude. And he calls to you, “You better hurry up. You want to catch that train.” And you jump up and you run aboard, and you head into the lives of all those who need a room of grace.
This is not a game. This is not religious consolation. This is a realm. And people live there. And you are welcome there.
Room of Grace Reflection Questions
1. There was a lot of imagery in this teaching. What images do you remember? Which one was your favorite? Were there any that surprised or confused you?
2. In the Room of Good Intentions, people used masks to hide themselves. How did people end up in that room? Why did people wear masks there? What was that community like?
3. What were people like in the Room of Grace? How did people end up in that room? What role does the gift-giver play in that room?
4. Take a moment and picture yourself in the story. On what path or in what room do you see yourself? Are there times when you wear a mask? What do you need from the gift-giver?