Written Sermons & Bible Studies

The Covenant of Grace: Forgiveness and Participation

I have now been with you for 21 months. In that time, I have been around Christians at a level I have never experienced before. The people I have been with have been first and foremost you. But I have spent time with Christian counselors and consultants and other pastors as well as people in The Church of God Anderson movement of which Place of Grace Fellowship belongs. These relationships have been a blessing, showering tremendous grace on my life.

We live under the Covenant of Grace given us by Jesus Christ and made active in our lives by the 24/7 presence of the Holy Spirit in our very being. That grace infuses our relationships and unifies us as a church. Today we end our sermon series on the covenants of God by discussing the Covenant of Grace through Jesus. The Covenant of Grace is God’s act of forgiveness of sin through Jesus’ death on the cross and gift of abundant grace that we share with each other and our community.

Ironically, among people who have given their life to Christ, I have been amazed at how often they will refer to themselves as a “sinner” or as being “sinful.” They believe that because they are sinful or were once very sinful or have a past that was sinful that they are not qualified to be spiritual leaders or even participate in the work of Christ as a disciple or to help disciple others. Some people will move into discipleship and ministry; some will even be pastors and yet they identify as a sinner or being sinful. It’s like an imposter syndrome for Christians.

This is a big deal. You become what you believe you are. If you believe you are a sinner, then you act like a sinner. If you believe you are sinful, then your focus is on sin. You may not actually sin, but you see sin around every corner, and you still believe you are sinful. Then, you risk becoming passive. Sinners do not pray for others boldly. Sinners go through life cautiously because they may sin. Nowhere in Scripture do I see Christ desiring that his followers see themselves as sinners or sinful. This view speaks to a misunderstanding of the Covenant of Grace.

In Christ, we are not sinners or sinful. You are not a sinner or sinful.

To understand my point, let’s read Philippians 2: 5-11. We can never hear this passage too much or consider it too often.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death —
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

In Philippians, Paul talks about Jesus giving up his God status to become human. Becoming human and dying on the cross wasn’t something Jesus had to do; it was a choice. This choice is a lot like the Covenant of Grace, a promise from God to us. God doesn’t have to offer us this promise, but God does.

In our passage, Jesus willingly walks away from being God to become human. He didn’t have to do this; it was a voluntary act. It served as the ultimate “gift” to humanity. He gave it freely without the expectation of something in return. In Roman society, a gift usually created an obligation for the recipient to reciprocate. Jesus’ gift breaks this cycle; it’s a gift without strings attached.

God’s grace is a gift to us. It’s not something we earn through good deeds or moral perfection. Just as Jesus gave up his divine status freely, God’s grace is freely given to us. We don’t have to “reciprocate” to receive it; we simply must accept it.

Jesus accepted a human nature. He accepted human nature that we might accept grace as a “gift” freely given and freely received.

A gift in Roman society had obligations that came with it. In essence, the free gifts of Jesus’ humanity and God’s grace challenge the Roman norms around gift-giving and pay back. Jesus’ radical acts of love, freely given and freely received, without an expectation of repayment, were never experienced by anyone in Philippi. That was true for gifts between people; imagine a ruler or a god giving a gift freely with no obligation. Now that would’ve been inconceivable to the Philippians.

When Jesus accepted human form, he bridged the gap between God and people. God was able to participate in human life and have close relationship with us. It also made it possible for humanity to participate in the life of God. We are invited into a transformative relationship with God through Jesus, made possible by his taking on human form, living among us, giving up his life on the cross, arising from the grave, and being elevated by God as Lord of All.

The Covenant of Grace gives us unmerited favor from God through Christ Jesus.  Through this covenant, our sins are forgiven. We don’t earn God’s grace; we only need to accept it and we are united with Christ through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Christ transforms us and allows us to be eternally filled with life in a way that was not possible before. We are made holy through our relationship with Jesus Christ. 

Holy people are not sinners or sinful.

Let’s imagine two worlds, first century and today, and two realistic characters living with the burden of sinful identities that are transformed by the Covenant of Grace. In Philippi was an ex-Roman soldier named Marcus. He thought of himself as a sinner. It was like a heavy shield. He had committed acts in war that haunted him, and he felt unworthy of any divine love or grace. But he had accepted Christ and received the gift of grace. One day, Marcus heard Paul speak about the Covenant of Grace during his visit to Philippi. The words struck him like a bolt of lightning. For the first time, he understood that grace was a gift from God, unearned and freely given. Marcus shed his identity as a “sinner” and embraced a new identity as a follower of Christ. He started attending a small Christian gathering, where he learned more about living the Way of Life. As he took the teachings on grace to heart, he started volunteering to help the outcasts and the poor. As an honored former Roman soldier, he protected the persecuted Christians. Marcus used his position to protect a group of Christians who were about to be arrested and possibly executed. He risked his own life and career but felt a sense of peace he’s never felt before. His actions saved lives and strengthened the faith of the Christian community in Philippi. His actions became a living testament to the Covenant of Grace he had received in Christ.

Emily, a small restaurant owner in San Antonio, identified herself as a “sinner.” She felt her past mistakes were too great to overcome. It seemed to her that her identity would always be tied to her sins. Emily found herself in a local church one Sunday, drawn by a sense of seeking something greater. The pastor’s sermon on the Covenant of Grace struck a chord. The idea that grace was a divine gift, freely given, seemed almost too good to be true. For the first time, Emily considered the possibility that she could be more than just a “sinner.” She realized that she could embrace a new identity as a follower of Christ, walking in the Way of Life. Motivated by her newfound understanding, Emily began to change her interactions with those around her. She treated her customers and coworkers with kindness and empathy, seeing them through the eyes of grace. On her days off, she volunteered at a local food bank, desiring to extend the grace she had received to others. Emily started a weekly “Grace Meal” at her restaurant where the homeless were invited to dine for free. She shared her story with them, offering not just food but also hope and a sense of community. The event became so impactful that other local businesses start to contribute, turning it into a community-wide initiative.

Marcus and Emily saw themselves as sinful, and their stories look very similar. They both accepted grace and shed the labels of sinner and sinful. As their identities were changed, their lives were transformed, and they were inspired to have an impact in the world. Although these stories were fictional, the Covenant of Grace and the Way of Life are real. We see their impact in the stories of people here at Place of Grace.

The Covenant of Grace means we no longer condemn ourselves as “sinners” or “sinful” because God no longer condemns us. God knows we won’t live a perfect life and never mess up. Understanding that we’re loved by God, despite our flaws, deepens our faith and draws us closer to God. We’re on a journey toward becoming better. Our relationship with Jesus moves us toward holiness.

As followers of Christ, we focus on our potential for good, not just our past mistakes. Our new identity in Christ encourages us to keep moving forward. It says, “You are not your worst mistake; you are a beloved child of God with the potential for growth and change.” This message can be incredibly appealing to those who feel stuck in their own shortcomings or circumstances. It helps us build better relationships because we approach others from a place of grace, not judgment.

Seeing ourselves as followers of Christ saved by grace, we open the door to personal growth, stronger relationships, deeper faith and positive community impact. We’re not held back by the fear of not being “good enough” because we know we’re loved and accepted as we are. We naturally extend grace to others. We demonstrate kindness, generosity and acceptance. We bring a message of hope and transformation. As followers of Christ, we’re empowered with grace to step up and make a difference in our community.

John Wesley famously said, “Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.” We are free to do all of this because of the Covenant of Grace. 

As Matthew 10:8 says, Freely you have received; freely give.

The Covenant of Grace is God’s promise to forgive our sins and give us a new Way of Life in Christ. God doesn’t want our past to hold us back. God wants us to have a relationship with Jesus and realize the power of our identity in Christ. Grace creates a shift in how we see ourselves and how we engage with the people in our lives. The grace we have in Christ empowers us to be more than just recipients of God’s love and forgiveness. Grace calls us to be active participants and extend Christ’s love to others. As you leave today, remember: You are not defined by your past mistakes or current shortcomings. You are a follower of Christ, graced and empowered to live a life that reflects God’s love. And in that identity, there’s extraordinary potential for transformation—both for you and for those around you.

About Pastor Tim

Tim Holmes

Senior Pastor

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