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You Can’t Earn This!



As we continue in our Anchors series, Ben Stuart explains how God’s radical grace is kindness extended and freely given and how there is no one out of God’s reach. In the Gospel of John, Jesus encounters two extremely different people and meets both where they are by demonstrating the radical grace of God.

Key Takeaway

There is nothing you can do to earn God's grace. Its kindness extended as high as you've climbed and as deep as you have fallen. The reception of it is from our open hands, ready to receive mercy.

God puts on display the glory that all He has made so that we look at it and come to know He is God.

We need more than observation of God. We need to communicate with Him. We weren't just made by Him but for Him. We were meant to know Him. Psalm 19 displays this by starting out declaring the glory of God and seeing all He has done, but the passage pivots in verse 7 to talk about the beauty of the law, God's communication with us, and using His personal name, Yahweh. We don't just believe in the glory of God but in the grace of God.

The only way for the masterpiece to meet the Author is for the Author to write Himself into the play. That's what Jesus did; He wrote Himself into our world.

John 1:1—Jesus was the word, the communication of God. The word was with God (distinction) and the word was God (unity).

John 1:2—He was with God in the beginning. One attribute, but different personalities.

John 1:3—Jesus is not a made thing, but through Him all things were made.

John 1:4—He provides animation and illumination.

John 1:5—The darkness is the dislocation with the Heavens. We can see that we're not all who we are meant to be. In our tragedy, there is a Light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Where does darkness come from? Romans 1:21 says we knew God but did not give Him glory or thanks. We lost our first and greatest priority, and our foolish hearts have gone dark. Something broke in us.

John 1:9—The Author decided to write himself into the play.

John 1:12-13—To all who receive Him, He gave us the right to become children of God. He didn't join us to destroy us but to give us the life we were meant for.

John 1:14—He moved into the neighborhood. He is full of grace and truth. Jesus is honest with you about your human predicament, but He is tender with you, extending His grace to you.

John 1:16—From His fullness, we have all received grace upon grace.

John 1:17-18—God has made Himself known to us.

When you think about Jesus, you think about how He is the agent of God; through Him, all things are made. He is the expression of God. If you want to see God, look at His Son. He is the agent and the explanation. When you think about communing with Him, you think of grace, of kindness extended.

How does John illustrate what it is to commune with God?

In John 2, we see Jesus bring wine to a wedding and whip to the Temple. John 3 and 4 introduce two people who could not be further apart, but Jesus communes with each of them.

In John 3, we meet Nicodemus, a pharisee who had accomplished everything and ascended to the religious top. He was also a ruler of his people. He had religious and political success. Nicodemus had worked so hard and climbed so high, but he recognized that he was empty. He wants to know if Jesus has what he needs.

Jesus tells Nicodemus how to enter into right relationship with God. He uses two metaphors that are devastating to Nicodemus, a works-based person because they are in areas where he has no control.

  • Birth: "You must be born again." You didn't help at all during your birth; you were totally passive. You don't earn it; you can't do it by yourself. It has to be done to you. It is kindness.
  • Wind: "It goes where it wishes." You can't control it, and you can't achieve it.

Do you want a relationship with God? To know the unknowable? Do you want intimacy with the Almighty? It's a gift. You can't earn it; it's not for sale. You can't make it happen. It's kindness extended down towards you, not something you can rise up and accomplish.

What is it to know God? Grace. It's kindness extended to the one who needs it. That's how the Christian comes, not with a list of accomplishments, but with empty hands that need mercy. Hope builds the confidence that the other delights to bestow their love on you. God delights in loving His children. Don't make it gross by trying to earn that love. It's not for sale.

What devastates our pride is when we realize how high the heights go. We can't earn the smile of the Almighty, we're not even in the same league, but He condescended to come to us.

In John 4, Jesus goes to a Samaritan woman. In this culture, women were viewed as less than men, and there was an extreme disdain for the Samaritans from the Jews due to a bad history. Jesus asked her for a drink of water, but she never answered the question. it's implied that what Jesus was doing was too insane for her even to answer. This is a woman who has married five times and is living with a man who won't marry her. John doesn't say why. All we know is this woman is broken and coming to the well in the middle of the day so no one would be there.

Jesus sits down with her and tells her that if she knew who she was talking to, she would ask Him for water. Jesus tells her all about the details of her life; He's full of truth. When Jesus put His hand on a wound, she does what a lot of people do, she pivots to a philosophical argument. Jesus stops her where she's at and tells her He's the Messiah. The creator of all, the hero just walked up to her well because that's what grace does. It's kindness, not merit. It's extended, not withheld.

When you understand God's glory, you understand how radical grace is. You can't ascend above the need for grace and you can't descend below its reach. What is critical about the Christian story is that to know the unknowable, the Author would have to write Himself into the play—and He did.

What about the darkness? John 3:14-17. Jesus is bringing up the history of the Old Testament where the people were dying from snake bites. They had to look up to the bronze statue of a serpent to live if they were bitten. Jesus draws the parallel that we are sick because of the choices we have made. We can't coddle it, deny it, defend it, own it, or make it an identity. We are to look up and see the consequences of our sins. We come with humility. God comes with grace. Jesus came to save. What was lifted up on a Cross was not a serpent, but Jesus Himself who took on death for us. He can extend grace because He's moved sin out of the way. Infinite condescension so that you might rise.

Jesus didn't just walk into the human story. He's walking into your story.


"When you understand the glory of God, you understand how radical grace is. You can't ascend above the need of grace, and you can't descend below its reach."

Ben Stuart

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Scripture References

  • John 1:1-5
  • John 1:14-18
  • John 3:1-18
  • John 4:1-26
Ben Stuart Ben Stuart is the pastor of Passion City Church D.C. Prior to joining Passion City Church, Ben served as the executive director of Breakaway Ministries on the campus of Texas A&M. He also earned a master’s degree in historical theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Donna, live to inspire and equip people to walk with God for a lifetime.