The way that people, even church people, understand God is all over the map.  To some, God is the violent dictator crushing people under his feet.  To others He’s like a capricious child, subjecting the world to His whims.  Still others believe him weak and impotent or removed and distant.

This series is designed to help you encounter the God we wish you knew, the God who is personal, present, caring, and powerful, the God who fills the void in your soul.

  • What attribute of God’s character do you struggle to understand?


Introduction

In his sermon, Gene told a story about a man he met in an airport.  The man worked for an electronics company, but a decade earlier he had been stealing cars for a living.   When he discovered God’s grace, it transformed him.  He told Gene that becoming a follower of Jesus made a free man out of him.

Many people think following Jesus will take away their freedom, but this man found freedom in following Jesus.

  • What has been your experience with faith? Is it something that has set you free? Or do you feel like faith has kept you captive?

Our goal is help you understand the amazing grace of Jesus, to help you understand that Jesus came to set us free, that God doesn’t want to have a faith that makes us feel less than, unworthy, or not good enough but rather to have a faith that causes us to understand in the deepest core of our being that we are forgiven and loved.

Have a volunteer read Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus tells this story as a demonstration of God’s grace.  The vineyard owner—who represents God—doesn’t pay the workers what he owes them.  He generously gives them far more than they deserved.

Can you imagine? You’re struggling financially.  You’ve got bills to pay and mouths to feed.  You’d give your left arm for a steady job, but for right now, you’re a temp worker.

One day, no work comes your way, and you’re trying to figure out how your family is going to eat dinner.  Finally, just before quitting time, you get hired for the last hour of the workday.  It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing, maybe enough to buy a little something for your family to eat.

It’s quitting time, so you go to the business owner to pick up your measly check, and you get paid for the whole day.

  • Have you ever experienced grace like this? What kind of impression did it make?  How did you respond in the moment?  What impact did it have on how you view the world, on your character and personality?

To understand what grace truly is, you need to understand justice and mercy.  Justice is getting what we deserve.  Mercy is not getting what we deserve.  But grace is getting what we don’t deserve.

It’s easy to want justice.  But if we’re honest, we usually only want justice for other people, not ourselves.  When is the last time you broke a traffic law?  Last week?  Last night?  On the way to small group?

Justice would dictate that you get a speeding ticket for doing 70 in a 65 zone.  But you don’t want justice.  You want mercy.

Now, that jerk in the car that just cut me off?  Boy, I wish a cop had seen that!

Imagine that instead of giving you a speeding ticket, the officer who pulled you over escorted you to your destination with lights and sirens, helping you get there faster than you ever could have on your own.

That’s grace.

That’s the God we wish you knew, the God who pays a full day’s wage for an hour of work, the God who gives us far more than we deserve, the God who demands justice for the wrong things we do… and then proceeds to take the punishment justice demands on Himself, being at the same time completely just yet expressing profound mercy and grace.

  • Most of us tend to be either more justice-oriented or mercy/grace-oriented.  Which are you and why?

Have a volunteer read Romans 6:23.

Some of us grew up in performance-oriented homes where the way to be loved was to say good things, behave in good ways, and excel in some particular area of achievement. The unspoken message: “We will love you if… We will approve of you if…”

It’s easy to transfer that characteristic from our parents to God. We begin thinking we have to earn God’s approval with our performance.  We come to believe—whether we’d admit it or not—in karma: the idea that our spirituality is dependent on our doing more good than bad, rather than on God’s generous grace.

God is the employer who gives us a full day’s wage because of His grace, His generosity, because Jesus was willing to hang on the cross to pay for the things we’ve done wrong.

The truth is, no good we could ever do could repay that. The price God paid was too high.  All we can do is accept God’s generous grace.

We all, at times, try to earn our own salvation, to earn God’s forgiveness. We might know intellectually that is impossible, but we feel like there’s something we can do, should do, to earn it.

  • What are some of the ways you personally have tried to earn God’s free gift of grace?

Ironically, this subtle attempt to earn our salvation, which initially stemmed from a feeling of unworthiness, often grows into self-righteousness.  At first we felt unworthy and so began trying to become worthy.  Eventually we do enough good that we begin feeling worthy and start looking down on others who we perceive as less worthy.

This is what happened to the Pharisees, the religious leaders that were always trying to trick and trap Jesus.  They started out as a group that earnestly wanted to follow God’s ways as closely as possible, but in their pursuit of doing everything right, they began looking down on those who they perceived as not being as faithful.

  • How can we avoid becoming self-righteous like the Pharisees?

Of course, none of this means that we shouldn’t do good things.  If one day a friend walks up to you, hands you the keys to a new BMW, and says, “These are the keys to your new car.”  When you ask why, she says simply, “Because I love you.  I care about you.  You mean the world to me.”

How will you respond? Are you going to spit in her face, tell her you can’t stand her and never want to see her again?  Are you going to just respond, “Oh, ok, cool.” and make out like it’s no big deal?

No, of course not!  You’re going to be grateful.  You’re going to say thank you.  And you’re probably going to be extra nice to that friend, not because you have to and not because you can somehow earn the car by being nice.  You respond that way because you’re grateful.

If your friend asks to borrow the car are you going to lend it to her?  Why?  Because you can earn the car by loaning it to her?  Because you have to?  No.  You’ll do it because you’re grateful, because her generosity engendered love and generosity in you.

It is an imperfect comparison to be sure, but it is in many ways similar to God’s gift of grace to us.  We can’t pay him for it.  No good deeds are going to allow us to earn His grace.  But God’s grace towards us elicits a response of gratitude in us that causes us to love and to serve both Him and others.  We don’t (or at least we shouldn’t) serve God because we have to but because we get to, because we’re grateful for His grace.

  • When we’re doing something good, what are some indicators that we’re serving out of gratitude? On the flip side, what are some indicators that perhaps we’re doing good deeds in an attempt to earn God’s grace?


Application

At the end of service this past weekend, Gene presented an opportunity to be baptized, to identify with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, publicly declaring that we are followers of Jesus, allowing the waters of baptism to serve as a symbol of God’s cleansing of our lives.

Most of you have probably already been baptized, and that’s wonderful.  But some of you haven’t.  Maybe you were thinking about it last weekend, but you just couldn’t pull the trigger.  You were nervous or scared or you just weren’t sure you were ready, but you’re still thinking about it.  Maybe you’re even wishing you had gone forward.

It’s not too late.  If you want to be baptized, you can just email us, and we’ll make it happen.  And we would encourage you to tell your small group so that they can support and encourage you as you take this step.

If you want to be baptized, just contact the point person for baptisms at your campus:

  • Anaheim: Steven Ma – stevenma@prodigy.net

  • La Habra: Norm Hamre – nhamre@eastside.com

  • Park Rapids: Justin Domogalla – jdomogalla@eastside.com