Responding to Grace
Christianity is not necessary in our society in order to make “good” people. Other religions preach most, if not all, of the same morals that our Christian Bible does. Our civic laws perform much of the same function as the original Ten Commandments!
Where Christianity differs is in how that goodness comes into play. Christian ethics, values and morals come as responses to God’s grace. God’s grace comes first. We, as God’s faithful people, are called, then, to live our lives in response to that grace.
The word that we use for this kind of grace is “prevenient” grace. God’s grace goes before any call to obedience to God’s commands. God’s commands always come after a “therefore”.
Admitting our Need
This doctrine of grace is the hardest part of Christianity for us to accept. It hits us in our pride and hits our egos. “Surely we must do something to deserve God’s love and mercy,” I have had many people say to me when I preach this Gospel. But prevenient grace forces us to admit that we are all sinners, helpless, in need of salvation, before we ever received God’s grace as a gift. But more often than not we want salvation as a prize not a gift. This then means that only people who have won God’s salvation are those who deserve it. Discovering that we have been made right with God before ever doing anything about it that can be a shock to our systems.
It’s always tempting for us to substitute earned grace for God’s gift. This was the issue that Martin Luther had with the Catholic Church. Much of 16th century Christianity had become a religion based on earning salvation. Luther rebelled against what had become the status quo. Unfortunately for you and I much of post-Reformation Christianity has continued to run the same risks. Our western individuality with its concern for our own personal relationship with Jesus, and our legalisms over who is saved and who is not, is just as poisoned by pride as any 16th century system of merits.
Unity not Uniformity
But Paul’s letter reminds us that true Christian good works are performed because we have been forgiven not in order to receive forgiveness. We live our lives in grateful penitence. To do this requires humility and unity. We must be ever humble that only God can truly judge us. When we set ourselves up as judge over our neighbors we are, in effect, substituting our pride and ego for God’s grace and mercy. And, finally, we must live with each other in unity. Paul took great care to hold to God’s vision of one church. Unity does not mean uniformity. This requires us to see ourselves as a broken body of Christ until that day when we are all together before God’s mercy seat.
My prayer is that we, at Good Shepherd, always strive to bear with one another in humility and that unity which can only come as a gift of the Holy Spirit. We do our best when we celebrate our differences and equip each other to use our gifts to God’s glory… all as a response to what God has done for us.