Grasping the Grace, Hitting the Heart

Editor’s note: This article comes from a Chinese house church pastor. He is responding to a preaching workshop conducted in Shanghai by an American pastor. The workshop focused on preaching through the Gospel of John. The China Partnership is working with the American pastor to develop a curriculum on gospel-centered preaching.

What touched me most in attending the preaching training on the book of John is that our expository sermons should grasp the grace of our Lord. He is the Lord of grace and cares not for our worship, unless we worship in spirit. We must interpret and grasp grace more profoundly.

In John, we see that Jesus attends a wedding, happy and excited, abundantly providing wine to people, bringing us a lot of comfort and joy. Jesus also publicly, radically takes on the work of cleansing [the temple.] The same Lord stands behind both events. If Jesus breaks into our lives, on the one hand providing food and on the other hand turning over tables, these direct images reveal to us his authority.

Why is there a need for sacrifice? Why is there a need for blood? Prayer was the last thing people were doing [at the temple,] and therefore Jesus is angry. Jesus says, “My Father’s house, is it only for possession?” He is the holy temple. Without his sacrifice, it would be impossible for us to change. The wedding feast reveals the grace he bestows; cleansing the temple reveals that people need to recognize grace.

Nicodemus comes to talk about theology with Jesus. But contrary to what Nicodemus wants, Jesus teaches that repentance comes from a regeneration that is the work of the Holy Spirit. Only when the Holy Spirit awakens our hearts can we see God’s light. We cannot have the ability to respond unless Jesus calls us, the Holy Spirit comes upon us, and our hearts are changed.

Paul says that we were dead in our transgressions and sins. He uses “were” rather than “are” or “will be.” We have no capability to be born again. We need a power from outside of us to be born again, a power which comes from nowhere but God. Being born again transforms and transcends our lives, which means that we possess a brand new form of life. It gives us greater ability to see a kingdom that non-believers cannot see and to boast a life character that non-believers cannot have. We thus have heavenly eyes to see God’s kingdom.

The way Jesus answers the Samaritan woman demonstrates his ability to point out all our sins. It is God’s work to condemn our sins, yet not destroy us, but rather to build us. The evil spirit accuses and condemns our sins in order to bind us more tightly and to get us further away from God. God knows everything about us, but he still loves us and does not reject us. We have no way to worship in spirit and in truth unless we are born again in spirit and in truth. Life comes before worship. Life comes from God’s grace.

John 8 is a classic picture of grace. It is awful and shameful to be caught in adultery. The profound distinction between Jesus and all other religions is grace. Love pushes you to benefit those in need. However, grace benefits those who have no worth at all. I was his foe, offending and hurting him with sinful behavior. I deserve his punishment, and yet he responds to me with love and blessings – this is grace. While we deserve punishment, he does not punish, but bestows love on us – this is grace. Grace means a great cost on the part of the giver and a great gift to the receiver. This shocks us.

Jesus, high above, came down to live with lowly people. More than living with us, he became a lowly one himself. Leaving his place as King, he became a slave. He not only lived with people, but also became poor. He came not to be served by many, but to serve many.

It is a love of greatness and no other love can compete with it. The Son has glorified the Father and the Father, the Son. They love each other, praise each other, and enjoy each other. If you are self-centered, you are fixed and demand all to turn around you. But the love of the Triune God is dynamic. The fathers in the early church period described this relationship as participating in one another, like dancing. The relationship among them is focused on the others and is internally dynamic with the oneness of union.


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Jesus prays for this same oneness for the church, which is the foundation of the church as one body. The strength of the church as one body lies in the Triune God, rooted in his oneness, with Jesus as the High Priest praying for us. In the church, you shall say to your brothers and sisters, “You need to turn around me and I around you; you need to join in my life, and I in yours. We need to dance with one another like the Triune God.” In time, we should be able to say that there are parts of each other’s lives that we need. We should be able to say to each other that if we do not join in the dance of the church, our lives will lose their most important parts.

We need to hit the heart because the work of Jesus is to hit our hearts. The change of our hearts is the most significant. When your wife points out your sin, you will not listen to her when she asks you to do something if your heart is not being changed. The change of the heart is the starting place. Certainly, only after the heart changes can we take action.

It is crucial to do a “heart operation” if we want to learn about our hearts. Do not expect hearts to change quickly since the heart is complicatedly bound up. The surgical knife is a helpful tool – in some people’s hands it brings only some healing pain, but in other’s hands it may be lethal and bring death. One must use it with wisdom. Grace changes our heart, but the change is painful. Therefore, we need to preach the lifelong gospel of grace in order to take every thought captive and make it obey Christ, so that God’s people can be called together to worship him.

As preachers, we need to carefully apply the connections of the gospel and discover Christ’s redemption in the scriptures. Rigid connections and applications should be avoided and replaced by living, vivid, and meticulous interpretation and application. Be patient and accompany your brothers and sisters. Don’t give rushed conclusions. We need to guard against becoming more and more familiar with scripture while losing its pleasant surprises.

I am grateful that our Lord of grace gives us his words and his revelation to enable us to understand his will, knowing his work and grace. My wish is that we can follow his steps joyfully and happily, by his grace to us, in order to accomplish the great commission that he gave first to the disciples and also to us now. Let us be the good soldiers of Christ and fight the good fight.

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Further Reading

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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Chongqing

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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