What We Believe
As a Presbyterian church, we make a lot of the word “grace.” And yet, though we and a lot of other people use the word “grace,” most folks aren’t really sure what grace means. In order to understand “grace” and how it “transforms,” you first have to understand something else first: you and I are sinners who deserve God’s wrath and punishment.
The Bible repeatedly speaks about our sin and sinfulness: we are deceitful (Jer. 17:9); dead (Eph 2:1); dirty (Isa 1:18; 64:6); wayward (Isa 53:6); lawless (1 John 3:4); disobedient (1 Tim 1:9); ungodly (Rom 4:5; 5:6); and unrighteous (Rom 3:9-20). We fall short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23); we suppress God’s truth (Rom 1:18); and we act out in sinful ways (Eph 4:19). We deserve God’s wrath for our sin and disobedience; in fact, the Bible says that we already stand condemned before God (John 3:17-18; Eph 2:3).
Now, the only way we can see our own sinfulness is as we compare ourselves to a holy God. The Bible teaches us that God is holy, pure, spotless, radiant, and glorious (Isa 6:1-8); he dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:16); he is righteous at the very core, just in his very being (Psa 7:11). His standard is perfect holiness and he calls to us, “Be holy as I am holy” (1 Pet 1:16). All of that means that when God condemns us, we deserve his condemnation; for he is holy and we are not.
Against this backdrop of our sin and God’s holiness, something intervenes. Actually, God himself intervenes: the Father, who is rich in mercy and steadfast love, chooses to save some undeserving sinners in order to display the riches of his grace. And so, he unites us to Christ, makes us alive with him, raises us with him, and seats us with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph 2:4-7). He grants us faith to rest and receive Jesus as he is offered in the Gospel (Eph 2:8-9), he declares us righteous even as he clothes us with Christ (2 Cor 5:16-21; Gal 3:27, Rom 13:14), and he gifts us with the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13-14). He empowers us to live in ways that please him with the result that we can live as new kinds of human beings—where we had to obey our sinful desires in the past, now we are able to live godly lives in and through Christ’s Spirit (Titus 2:11-14).
All of this divine intervention is undeserved favor, undeserved mercy: it is grace. And it doesn’t simply deal with us at the beginning of our Christian lives; rather, this grace is for every moment of every day of our discipleship. We come again and again to this fountain of grace, trusting in our union with Christ (Col 3:1-4), and putting to death our sin and living in light of what is true about us (Col 3:5-16).
But this redeeming grace that transforms us as individuals doesn’t stop there. It goes on to transform the world around us through us. In fact, the Apostle Paul teaches in Ephesians 1:7-10 that our personal redemption is a sign and a seal of the cosmic redemption that God is working in Christ in whom all things will be united, summed up, brought to complete flourishing. And so, as we live our lives exploring and expressing the preeminence of Christ in all things—in our work, our marriages, our families, our music, our art, our play, our everything—we show the world around us what is going to happen to this world. God is making all things new just as he has made us new creations (2 Cor 5:17; Rev 21:1-8).
So, when we talk about “grace transforms” at First Presbyterian Church, this is what we mean. What does God intend to transform by his grace? Everything!