THE LIFE-CHANGING POWER OF THE GOSPEL OF GRACE – PART 1 – Acts 16:11-18
How many times have you heard people say when they hear the Gospel, “That’s good for you. I’m glad it works for you.” They are implying that because it works for you it’s true for you, but it doesn’t work for me, so it’s not true for me. There is no faith that works for everybody. That means there must be a certain type of person for whom Christianity works. I was reading a blog about a minister who gave up the faith because he realized, “it was for weak people.” He wanted to be strong, so it didn’t work for him. But that is not how the Bible presents Christianity. The first question is not if it works for me. The first question is, is it true? The real question is not if it works, but if it’s true. If it’s true, it will work for you.
The Book of Acts is a great study on Christianity working for all different kinds of people. We have been talking about God pulling His people into His heart but only to send us out to pull others in. God has been pulling all kinds of people into His heart and sending them out in Acts. For example, He pulled in an Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8)—a sexually altered black male—into His heart and sent Him off to Africa with the Gospel. He pulled into His heart a morally upright, God-fearing Gentile named Cornelius (Acts 10). In Acts 9, He pulled in a self-righteous academic Christian-hating, violent Jewish Pharisee named Saul and sends him out to be a missionary to change the world.
The Gospel is for everyone: regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, socio-economic, political position, moral uprightness, etc. It works for every person because it’s true. Because it’s true, the Gospel is still changing people’s lives. Today we are going to meet two very different individuals (really three in this section if you include the jailor). They are as different as different can be and yet the Gospel hits them in different ways and changes them. Lydia is upper class, but the slave girl is more lower class and the jailor is middle class. Lydia is spiritually open, the slave girl is hostile and the jailor is indifferent. We have a woman, a child and a man. Yet the Gospel changes all of them. There is nothing more rich, diverse and flexible to change anybody like the Gospel!
So guess what? No matter who you are and what you have done, how good or bad your week was, how bad your addictions are, how tough your marriage is, how impossible your future seems to be, if you believe the Gospel a little bit more today, if you can the sinfulness of your sin a little better today and the graciousness of grace a little bit more today, you can be sure it will change you. We don’t seven words to change us or ten more steps to get power, but one word to believe first: Gospel.
As Tullian Tchvidjian says, “When we are saved, God does not move us beyond the gospel; he moves us more deeply into the gospel, because all of the power we need in order to change and mature comes through the gospel. The gospel is the power of God. Many Christians live frustrated lives because they think we need something other than the pure gospel after conversion. We tend to look for power in other places besides the one place where God promises to distribute power.”
Let’s look at the life-changing power of the Gospel in two lives today:
I. Lydia: A Gospel for the Religious (vv.11-15)
This is Paul’s second missionary journey. Silas is with him and so is Timothy and Luke (notice the “we” and “us” used in vv.10-11). The Gospel now comes to Europe. This is how the church of Philippi gets its beginnings. Later Paul will write to the Philippians. Paul’s custom when he arrives at a city is to go to the Jews first and proclaim the Gospel. At Philippi, however, there does not appear to have been a regular synagogue. That can only mean that there were very few resident Jews; had there been ten Jewish men, they would have sufficed to constitute a synagogue.
So instead there was a small group (notice they “sat down,” you would usually stand if it was a big group) Bible Study and it looks like it was all women. Either they were Jews by birth and/or Gentile women who worshipped the God of Israel. They hear the Gospel. One woman seems to be particularly interested. What do we know about her? She owned her own business. She’s a businesswoman. She sold purple goods. The purple dye…was obtained from the secretion of shellfish (mollusks). Since approximately eight thousand mollusks were required to produce one gram of purple dye, purple cloth was extremely expensive.
Only the upper crust wealthy folk could afford purple. Emperors would wear it. In other words, she sold beautiful, expensive clothes to rich people. This also meant she herself was well-to-do. She was also a worshipper of God. She left paganism as a Gentile and was seeking God. So she has high morals and high integrity. She was an upper class, center of society, religious woman.
How does the Gospel come to her? It came through a sit-down small group Bible study discussion where her heart gets gripped by the Gospel. Paul proclaims Christ to the religious. Notice she responds and instantly wants to serve with God has given her as she opens up her home. Three lessons here:
First, Women are important for gospel ministry. Some paint Paul as this hater of women. Perhaps the old Paul was, but not new Paul. The old Paul would prayed everyday thanking God he wasn’t a woman. The new Paul, notice, doesn’t run when he sees women gathering together. If he was a hater, he should have. In fact, the resurrection witnesses are women. This would have been unheard of in ancient cultures where women were not taken seriously. If you wanted to fake it, you would not use women are credible witnesses. Secondly, upon salvation, your homes are not just homes, they are ministry centers. Notice in v.40 they end up meeting at her house. I think one of the greatest blessings for LH has been people opening up their home for ministry. The early church thrived on that and we need more and more people ready to see their homes as a ministry center.
Lastly, beware of the tendencies of our heart toward religion/moralism instead of the Gospel. When I say religion I mean moralism and legalism. We can avoid God by as Lord and Savior by ignoring him altogether or we can avoid God Lord and Savior by developing a moral righteousness and then presenting it to God in an effort to show that he “owes” you. The Gospel is different from moralism. It is very easy to move from the Gospel to religion. Martin Luther used to say the default mode in people’s heart is the religion mode. And the effects of “works-religion” persist so stubbornly in the heart that Christians who believe the gospel at one level will continually revert to religion, operating at deeper levels as if they are saved by their works. When we studied this in the Gospel in Life by Keller, he showed us these differences between Religion and the Gospel:
|“I obey; therefore I’m accepted.”
|“I’m accepted; therefore I obey.”
|I obey God in order to get things from God.
|I obey God to get God—to delight and resemble him.
|When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or myself, since I believe, like Job’s friends, that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.
|When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle, but I know that while God may allow this for my training, he will exercise his fatherly love within my trial.
|My self-view swings between two poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to people who fail. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel humble but not confident — I feel like a failure.
|My self-view is not based on a view of myself as a moral achiever. In Christ I am at once sinful and lost, yet accepted. I am so bad he had to die for me, and so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper humility as well as deeper confidence, without either sniveling or swaggering|
My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work or how moral I am, so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to others.
My identity and self-worth are centered on the One who died for his enemies, including me. Only by sheer grace am I what I am, so I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. I have no inner need to win arguments.
Are you falling into religion in your life? Could that be the reason for your frustrations and misery? Secondly:
II. Slave Girl: The Gospel for the Irreligious (vv.16-18)
They also meet another person: a demon-possessed slave girl. She must be between 10-14 years old; just a kid. The word “owners” suggest that her parents probably sold her. Her parents have rejected her. She is a slave. She also has her predictions come true via fortune telling. She is some clairvoyant. She’s also demon-possessed meaning here that she would have multiple voices, bizarre behavior, wild and unpredictable. Think the Exorcist. By the way, don’t assume all the psychic stuff, horoscopes, palm reading, Ouija boards, etc. are all fake. Most of them probably are, but some are demonic. Anyway, she sees Paul and his gang and follows them around shrieking at them. Notice also demons can have right theology. Intellectual or vocal assertion of faith doesn’t necessarily mean much without lifestyle change.
But she is a little different from Lydia wouldn’t you say? Today we might picture her, for lack of a better comparison, kind of like the drug-addicted prostitute exploited by a pimp living in a crack house somewhere.
I love Paul here and the honesty of the Bible. If this was fake, I would have changed it to say, “And Paul moved with great compassion, sat down and she laid in his arms, cast the demon out.” Paul is ticked here because this little girl is shrieking at them every day and everywhere they go and cast the demon out.
Notice Paul with the slave girl. Notice how the Gospel comes to her. Lydia needed a Bible Study, but this girl needed a power encounter. She needed a new Lord who can break through her slavery. Notice Paul calls on the name of Jesus Christ. In essence he’s saying, “Jesus’ name is greater than your name. Jesus’ power is greater than your power.” You cannot control what’s controlling you by suppressing it and trying to force it to not control you. You need to give your heart to a greater Master who is controlling.
We can easily look at her and say, “poor girl, such a slave to bad masters.” But remember none of us is in control of our own lives. Even as believers, we can be like this girl in many ways. We are always mastered and controlled by what we love most, by what’s most important to you. Whatever you live for, you are controlled by. I know I live for people’s approval and I am a slave to it, because I am often controlled by the people’s love that I want. You are controlled by the Lord of your life and the Lord of your life is whatever you love the most and whatever is most important to you. I love my comfort. I love entertainment. But they enslave me. They make me lazy, unloving to my family and irritable. They are horrible masters!
I will stop there for now. We will come back to the Philippian jailor at some point and see the Gospel changing him as well. But today let’s look at these two individuals. When I studying this, I thought I was definitely more like Lydia before salvation and very often after salvation.
To all Lydias everywhere, trying to earn God’s favor, believe the Gospel! Jesus Christ lived the perfect life according to the Law. He was the only one who ever did. Your perfectionism and standards you have set are imperfect, but His performance was perfect. He went to the cross to die for our sins in so doing it, He earned the blessing that perfect obedience deserves, but at the same time he took the curse that disobedience to the Law deserves, so that when you believe in Him, the curse for that disobedience falls on Him and His blessing that earned for His obedience falls on you and you are saved by grace. Lydia was an expert on beauty, but she never seen anything and anyone more beautiful than Christ.
Maybe you can identify with the slave girl. You have masters that control you. Maybe it’s lust, instant gratification, comfort and pleasure. And you’re addicted to it and using it to escape your life. Maybe your master is a person. You have centered your identity on a person. So now you are emotionally dependent, controlling and easily jealous. Maybe your master is love for money. You are easily eaten up by worry about it and jealous of others who have more than you. Maybe it’s people’s approval. As a result, you are overly hurt by criticism, always fear confronting others and controlled by the people’s love that you want.
The Gospel comes to the slave and says Jesus is a better master. Slave girl, meet Jesus, a greater Master who became a slave to deliver slaves from enslaving masters who suck the joy from our lives. He is a great Master; so great that unlike every other Master, that if you fail Him, he will forgive you. He too was rejected so we could be accepted.
Then I realized I am both Lydia and the slave girl. I rely on a good pastor image for my salvation and I am controlled by so many other masters. If that’s you, I have good news for you too. The Gospel says Jesus is beautiful enough for Lydias and powerful enough for slaves. Look at these women. Jesus wins both of them and fills both of them. The Gospel is for everyone and can change anyone. Whoever you are and whatever you need and whatever you have done, meet Jesus….He can make you what you should be. As the old hymwriter said,
O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!
Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life, and health, and peace.
He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.
Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts. The New International Commentary on the New
Testament (p. 310). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles.
New Testament Commentary (Vol. 17, p. 590). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
Keller, T. J. (2012). Center church: doing balanced, gospel-centered ministry in your city.
Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.