Rincon, Puerto Rico. Photographer Flickr name: Cogito Ergo Imago
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8,9
“The greatest enemy to human souls is the self-righteous spirit which makes men look to themselves for salvation.” Charles Spurgeon
“Every week I preach justification by faith to my people because every week they forget it.” Martin Luther
In the history of this world, there have been a lot crazy and interesting things that have taken place. From 50 ft 2,5000 pound boa constrictors roaming parts of the earth, to nations almost going to war over a butchered pig, to being minutes away from a full nuclear war on several occasions, to sending a hundred thousand dollar car to space, to having computer systems in our pockets with access to endless information.
Of all of the interesting and ridiculous things in history nothing is so astonishing as the gift of grace through Jesus. Paul in his letter to the Philippian church says “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The book of Romans states “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Grace from God through Jesus is an utterly ridiculous concept. Why is it ridiculous? It is ridiculous because God in His sovereignty knew us humans would rebel against Him and sin. God, also being good and just, knew He would have to execute proper justice against us for our treason and sins against Him. But God, armed with this knowledge lovingly decided to make a way of reconciliation and grace by paying that penalty on our behalf through a excruciating sacrifice on the cross. Martin Luther expresses it this way, “That is the mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied Himself of His righteousness that He might clothe us with it, and fill us with it. —Martin Luther, Werke (Weimar, 1883), 5: 608
God’s grace is an amazing and beautiful concept, but unfortunately is hard for many to accept. It can be hard to accept for at least a couple of reasons. One reason is because almost everything in life is earned. This starts at an early age with chores and reinforced behavior management, it continues throughout school, and all of our lives through work. Deeply embedded into our lives is that we must work to earn something, this is good and right, but it is not what the Gospel is about. The gospel is a gift of God to be received by faith, not by anything we have earned or done by ourselves. Donald Bloesch says it this way “Our peace and confidence are to be found not in our empirical holiness, not in our progress toward perfection, but in the alien righteousness of Jesus Christ that covers our sinfulness and alone makes us acceptable before a holy God.”
Another reason grace is so hard for many to accept is because we think we are good, or at least not that bad. This idea is deeply embedded in our culture. The problem with this idea is that the Bible takes a very hard line against this idea, and it makes the work of the cross light and less important. If there are good and bad people, Jesus would not have to take that excruciating death on the cross, people could be justified by their works. The book of Romans tells us “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” This idea is hard to grasp because we often like to compare ourselves to Hitler, Stalin, hardened criminals, and people we don’t like. We suffer from an illusion of moral superiority. We don’t view our righteousness with regards to keeping God’s commands but rather in comparison to other people. I will admit the idea that we are good is sometimes an enticing idea. To help combat this I encourage you to spend a few hours and just read through Jesus words in the gospels. Jesus words cut to the core of what is considered sin.
Jesus is looking for those with a contrite and worshipful spirit towards Him. (Luke 7:36-50, Luke 18:9-14 ,Psalm 51:17) We must know that we are sinners, who don’t measure up to God. We must hate our sin, and pray to become more like Jesus. And we must know that through the cross, Jesus has issued us a full pardon for all of our sins, past, present, and future. We must know deep down that Jesus has strong, emphatic, sacrificial, love for us. We must learn to live in this healthy tension. John Newton the author of Amazing grace expresses living in this tension well “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”