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GRACE PRINCIPLES

Do you ever look at your life and think, “How could God ever do anything with a person like me?”

Maybe you have left a wake of heartache, trouble, and difficulties behind you. Or perhaps the world has regarded you as unimportant and unnecessary. Because of your mistakes and failures, you don't see much hope for the future. The good news is that God can transform your life and your situation, no matter what it is. The Holy Spirit can enable you to live in a Christlike manner. God's grace has the power to turn your life around.

SCRIPTURAL PRINCIPLES
•    Life before Grace
All people are spiritually dead before they receive Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Even those who became believers as children had sinful natures and needed God's transformation (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Paul, who went by the name Saul before his conversion, is a prime example of the difference that grace can make in a person's life. Humanly speaking, this Jew was an impressive man. Not only did he hold a respectable place in his culture, but he also was educated by one of the leading rabbis at the time and exceeded all of his peers in studying and understanding theHebrew Scriptures. Saul was a highly religious man who was, nonetheless, spiritually blind and separated from God.

How did this young man go wrong? His one goal was to destroy the church. He heartily approved of Stephen, the first martyr, being stoned to death (Acts 8:1). After that, Saul invaded the homes of believers, violently dragged men and women to prison for believing in Jesus (Acts 8:3), and voted for them to die when he had the chance (Acts 26:10). After his conversion, he realized the pain he had caused and referred to himself as "the chief of sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15). He recognized in 1 Timothy 1:13-14 that without grace, he was hopelessly wicked.

Do believers today focus on the apostle Paul's shameful past? No, we consider him a godly man. We remember him as the leader of the early church and find that his letters are invaluable resources for godly living. The apostle's life demonstrates God’s willingness to transform anyone, no matter what he or she has done.

•    Life by Grace
Grace is God's undeserved and unearned favor, kindness and love towards us. Motivated by love, the Father sent Jesus Christ to die for the sins of humanity. Most religions teach that people have to earn the approval of their god or deity. Only Christianity asserts that our Maker accepts us on the basis of what His Son has already done on our behalf. By grace, we can be confident that we are God's righteous children.

How did Saul become a follower of Jesus? Acts 9:1-6 tells us that, while on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus and bring them to Jerusalem, Jesus appeared to him in a vision. The Lord rebuked Saul for persecuting Him and for tormenting the church, and then struck him blind. Was this Pharisee seeking God? Not at all. The Lord chose to reveal Himself. The process by which a person comes to know Christ will not always be so dramatic. Yet no matter how we come to faith in Jesus, none of us can take credit for it. We are saved only by God's grace.

If you are not a Christian, do not attempt to please the Lord on your own. Instead, just as Saul did, confess your sins and turn your life over to His control. Don't believe the Devil's lie that you are an exception to God's grace—that you have done too much to ever be accepted by Him. If the Lord took Saul, the murderer, and made him into Paul, the missionary, He can transform your life as well.

•    Life in Grace
Scripture says in
        "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation."
People who accept God's gift of grace will think and act differently. On the outside, they might look the same. But inside, they begin a brand-new life (2 Corinthians  5:17). Paul's conversion transformed his attitude as well as his actions. As the “chief of sinners,“ he felt especially thankful for God's grace (1 Timothy 1:15). Like Paul, we need to remember that we are dependent on the Lord for everything—our salvation, our forgiveness, and our lives. Not only should that prompt our gratitude, but it should also create in us an attitude of humility. Pride, which attempts to steal God's glory, has no place in a believer's life.

Grace also filled Paul with compassion (Romans 9:3-4). A church that has no compassion for the lost is not fulfilling one of its most important purposes: to take the message of grace to the world.

Grace also motivated Paul to serve the Lord (1 Timothy 1:12). When we experience the forgiveness and love of God, we naturally want to share it with others. That doesn't mean you must become a pastor or full-time missionary. As you go about your daily activities, simply take advantage of opportunities to reach out to hurting people.

One caution: your motivation should not be to win someone's approval or acceptance. Paul was stoned, beaten, and imprisoned for the gospel. Although we might not face the same persecution, you and I must also be willing to suffer for the sake of Christ.

Do you feel disqualified because of your past? The truth is, God gave you a fresh start the moment you asked for salvation. You became a new creature in Christ Jesus. You don't have to wallow in shame as a result of anything you did or failed to do. The grace of God makes you fit to serve Him. What would the Lord do in your life if you surrendered completely to Him? The apostle Paul never imagined that one day he would play such a pivotal role in leading the early church. God changed him from a murderer and blasphemer to a missionary and apostle. His grace still holds the same power. Are you willing to give Him control and see where He will lead you?

THE INVITATION
★    You can't depend on your own goodness to get to Heaven. We've all sinned  (Romans 3:23). Jesus paid the penalty for your sins with His death on the cross and His resurrection (John 3:16).
★    To be forgiven and be guaranteed a place in Heaven, you need to repent of sin, confess that you are a sinner, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ in your heart (Acts 2:21).
★    You can use the following prayer or your own words, but you must actually believe in your heart that your prayer is real:
         Lord Jesus, I believe You are the Son of God. I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed.
      Please forgive all my wrongdoing and let me live in relationship with You from now on.
      I receive You as my Savior and recognize that the work You accomplished once and for all on the cross was done on my behalf.
      Thank You for saving me. Help me to live a life that is pleasing to You.
                     In Your name I pray, Amen.

    Rev. Dr. Nicholas J. Gray, Pastor   Broadway Baptist Church   Sedalia, Missouri   2015