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Aug 26, 2018

Both Sides of Amazing Grace

Both Sides of Amazing Grace

Passage: Ephesians 2:8-10

Series: Summer 2018

Keywords: forgiveness, grace, holiness, power, salvation, sanctification, sound doctrine, works, sound practice, justification


This message seeks to balance the work of grace in justification with the work of grace in sanctification. Furthermore, it examines what grace might look like in a life dominated by active grace.



(A sermon by Don W. Moore)

After the music video, AMAZING GRACE:  It is my privilege to speak to you today and my even greater privilege to speak for Jesus, about both sides of His amazing grace.  As the second verse of that old beloved song says, it is indeed grace which teaches our heart to fear God’s wrath just as it did for the author of the song, John Newton, as he knelt while still a young man on the deck of a slave ship in a violent storm, fearing that all of them would be lost to the sea and that he would be lost in hell.  And it is grace which relieves those fears through salvation by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ shed on the cross to pay the price for the sins of all repentant sinners, as Newton’s life began to show after that stormy night. 

I want to illustrate the nature of “Amazing Grace” by telling you how God saved me from drowning in Galveston Bay, TX, on Dec. 5, 1970, after He had saved me some time earlier from drowning in the sea of sin.  [This story in the audio recording only.]

      A.  Ephesians 2:8-10 English Standard Version (ESV)

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. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

So that is how God saved me twice, first from the sea of sin and then from drowning.

NOTE:  The most helpful illustration I know for understanding the relationship between faith and good works in the Bible is to think of GRACE as a tree, whose root is FAITH and whose fruit is GOOD WORKS.  Do not confuse the root with the fruit, for neither one can take the place of the other.  Thus there is no contradiction between what Paul says here and the questions James asks in Jam. 2:14—“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”  Despite the rhetorical nature of the questions, he answers them himself in v. 17 to remove all doubt:  “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."  James is NOT saying that faith + works = salvation, but rather that faith which does not produce good works is a dead faith to start with rather than a saving faith—a dead root which can produce no fruit.

Perhaps 6 or 7 years after God saved me from drowning in Galveston Bay, I had another even deeper realization about grace which has stayed with me in the 40 years since, and continues to give me a profound sense of gratitude for the amazing grace of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  I realized in an almost blinding moment of insight that, on the best day of my life (spiritually speaking), the day when I’m the most committed to Jesus, the most loving, and the most pure, I am not one iota less in need of trusting in the atoning blood of Jesus shed on the cross to redeem me from my sins as the ONLY basis of my acceptance by a holy God as I am on the worst day of my life (spiritually speaking), the day when I’m the most rebellious, the most unloving, and the most impure.  The BASIS of my acceptance by God (which is called justification) NEVER CHANGES, no matter how good or bad I currently am in the ongoing process of change (called sanctification)—the progressive transformation by the Holy Spirit of becoming more and more like Jesus so that I bear the FRUIT of salvation.

But grace is not opposed to EFFORT (which is an action) though it is opposed to EARNING (which is an attitude).  We can never earn our salvation, but neither can we live a life of obedience and good works without great effort.  Paul illustrates this when he writes, “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:10-11 ESV).   The grace of mercy forgave Paul in the midst of his rebellion against God, and then the grace of power enabled him to work harder for God than any of the other apostles.

We err when we think of grace almost exclusively in terms of forgiveness and mercy for our sins and failures (i.e. justification), while largely missing that grace is also the power and ability to conquer sin, cultivate holiness, and walk in good works (i.e. sanctification).  When I was a youth minister back in the 1970s, I spent many hours on a very illuminating project.  I looked up and wrote down on a sheet of note paper every one of the 130 references to grace in the New Testament, then inserted either FORGIVENESS or POWER in its place as a synonym to see which one best fit each context.  To my amazement and enlightenment, I found that grace refers to power to live the victorious life in Christ about twice as often as it refers to forgiveness for our sins.  (I still have that sheet of paper, and highly recommend the same project to other believers.)

When we think of grace only as forgiveness and mercy instead of also seeing it as the enabling power of God for righteous living, we shortchange both our sanctification and God’s glory.  We need to remember Hebrews 4:16—“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  The mercy is for our failures and the grace to help in time of need is the power to grow and change so that we don’t keep repeating the same failures.  It is true that God accepts us initially as we are, no matter how sinful we may be, and it is equally true that He is utterly unwilling to allow us to remain immature, disobedient, and unproductive in His kingdom.  He expects and requires the obedience which leads to growth and change, and supplies the grace of power to make this possible.  Perhaps no other passage of Scripture explains this side of grace better than what Paul wrote in Titus 2.

      B.  Titus 2 English Standard Version (ESV)

Teach Sound Doctrine

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled.Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity,and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative,10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.


  1. Those transforming effects are what the “true grace of God” (1 Pet. 5:12) does in a believer’s life, as opposed to the false grace prevalent in many places today which was warned against way back in the first century (Jude 4).
  2. We generally think of “sound doctrine” as referring to orthodoxy—right beliefs, but that is only half right. Here it refers primarily to orthopraxy—right behavior.
  3. Believers are called to behave in ways:

                   . . . that accord with sound doctrine (v. 1)

                   . . . that do not cause the word of God to be reviled (v. 5)

                   . . . that in all respects are a model of good works (v. 7)

                   . . . that provide nothing evil to say about us (v. 8)

                   . . . that in everything adorn or beautify the doctrine of God our Savior (v. 10)

  1. It is by coming boldly to the throne of grace in our times of need that we obtain the enabling power to live such transformed lives, for it cannot be accomplished by human power. The true Christian life is not just difficult; it is utterly impossible apart from trusting in the power of the Holy Spirt, who energizes this second side of grace for sanctification (just as the blood of Christ makes effective the first side of grace for justification). 

So in what ways am I allowing God’s grace to work its transforming power in my life, as every believer should be able to testify about, after Jesus delivered me from drowning in the sea of sin?

  1. One of the first was beginning the process of becoming open and transparent about my sins, weaknesses, and failures instead of remaining closed and opaque as I’d been all my life until then, as modeled by the apostle Paul (2 Cor. 1:3-9; 2:1-4; 6:11-13; 12:7-11).
  2. Another was investing myself deeply in the lives of young people throughout my life, as a juvenile probation officer right after college, then as a youth minister, then as a school bus operator, and now that I’m retired as a mentor of young men, which is very time intensive the way I do it—and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my 73 years of life. I don’t think there is anything I could be doing now that would glorify my heavenly Father more than investing the winter of my life in these young men who are entering the summer of their lives, much as Paul invested the latter part of his life in young men like Timothy and Titus.  (If I chose to spend most of my retirement years out on the golf course instead, I suspect that my Lord would be getting teed off too.)
  3. Another is humbling myself before these young men so that they can speak into my life even as I speak into theirs, as we see commanded in Heb. 3:12-14 ESV:

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

One of the guys was at my place when I received an unwelcome business phone call that should not have been necessary.  I was impatient and abrupt in talking with the woman.  When the call ended my young friend said, “Well, you certainly didn’t sound very patient and kind with her.”  I was instantly convicted of my sin, agreed with his respectful rebuke, and told him I appreciated him honestly reflecting to me what I’d done.  Sin is so deceptive at so many levels that we all need for people close to us to care enough about our welfare to do what he did for me as well as what I do likewise for them.

  1. Another way I allow God’s grace to transform me is by taking seriously the examples these guys often set for me without even realizing they are doing so. They share with me their sins and failures, sexual and otherwise, and also their victories and successes, sexual and otherwise.  From repeatedly hearing about the latter, I realized that some of them were consistently living in victory over lust much better than I was.  That troubled, humbled, and convicted me.  Then on May 6th we had our second annual get-together, which is the only time when all of the guys and I are together at the same time.  We watched the movie PILGRIM’S PROGRESS made from the famous book by the same title, and that convicted me even further, reminding me of Paul’s serious warning to the Philippian church in Phil. 2:12-13 ESV:

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

That first verse makes it sound as if it is all up to us to accomplish this, and the second verse makes it sound as if it is all up to God.  The truth is that they are like a pair of scissors—remove either half and you have “shear disaster” (for either blade by itself will just not cut it).

          So I realized, first from these guys’ positive examples of victory over lust and then the very sobering movie about the many temptations and obstacles waiting for us along the way as every pilgrim seeks to progress all the way to heaven, that I had again been hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  I had rationalized that lustful thinking is a normal part of being a man despite God’s command to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).  I had been using the grace of forgiveness as a cop-out, despite Paul’s clear warning against this in Rom. 6:1-2, 13-18 ESV:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 

13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!   16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were com­mit­ted, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

So after watching PILGRIM’S PROGRESS I spent the next week working out my “own salvation with fear and trembling” as Paul commanded the Philippians, which resulted in serious repentance followed by this paradoxI feared the Lord as never before, loved the Lord as never before, was more secure in His love for me than ever before, and more victorious against sin than ever before.  For the first time in my life I actually experienced the truth of Acts 9:31—that the disciples were “walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.”  I am recommitted to following Paul’s example in what he also wrote to the Philippians, in 3:8-16 ESV, counting everything as rubbish

in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 

Like Paul, I am not already perfect—not even close, but I press on “by any means possible” toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, to be an example in the winter of my life that others may follow.  Because my progress in the sanctifying power of grace is always incomplete, imperfect, and relative in this life (because of being partially dependent on my flawed participation in the process), I never depend on it for my acceptance by an utterly holy God.  For THAT I trust exclusively in the justifying forgiveness of grace, which is always complete, perfect, and absolute even in this life (because of being wholly dependent on the righteousness of Christ rather than my own). 

It is however my good works which verify that I have saving faith rather than dead faith (Jam. 2:17); my diligent growth in the character of Christ which makes my “call and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:5-11); and my practice of righteousness rather than sin which confirms that I am born of God (1 John 2:28-29; 3:7-9).  As John the baptizer said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  It is only by my trusting in the sanctifying power of grace that I can increasingly die to self in order that the life of Christ can increasingly grow within me.  It is not easy because the authentic Christian life is a constant warfare, and warfare is not easy.

This then is what both sides of amazing grace are doing in my life now, and I commend that same forgiving and empowering grace to each of you.  Now I want us to see the trailer for the movie, I CAN ONLY IMAGINE, about the astonishing transformation in Arthur Millard, the abusive father of Bart Millard, who is the singer for the Christian band, MercyMe.  The movie is the inspiring and largely unknown true story behind MercyMe's beloved, chart topping song “I Can Only Imagine” that brings ultimate hope to so many.  I will have just a few sentences to add when this trailer has ended.

      C.  I CAN ONLY IMAGINE Trailer #1 (2018) | Movieclips Indie (2:14)

(After the trailer):  I can only imagine how much, or how much more, you and I could be transformed for the glory of God if we trust both sides of amazing grace—the forgiveness of sin and the power for change, which God so abundantly provides.  But let’s do more than imagine; let’s genuinely trust both sides of His grace and rejoice with awe at how He changes us as individual believers and as a congregation.

Both Sides of AMAZING GRACE (Heb. 4:16)



Complete, perfect, and Absolute

    even in this life (since it is wholly dependent on the righteousness of Christ rather than our own). 


Vitally important to trust in grace as forgiveness for  our ACCEPTANCE by God, which removes any attitude of earning it (Rom. 3:21-28; 5:1-2; Eph. 1:6; 2:8-9; Gal. 5:4-5; 6:14; Isa. 64:6).



Incomplete, imperfect, and Relative

    in this life (since it is partially dependent on our cooperation with the Holy Spirit for its implementation).


Vitally important to trust in grace as power for our APPROVAL by God, which leads to diligent actions and efforts to please Him (Tit. 2:11-14; 1 Cor. 15:9-10; 1 Thess. 2:4; 4:1-8; 2 Tim. 2:15; Rom. 6:1-14; 12:1-2; Eph. 2:10; Heb. 13:20-21).