Tag Archives: grace through faith

God’s Grace Is Amazing, But It Is Not “Easy”

God’s grace is wonderful. But if we think grace is easy, we need to think some more.

One of Jesus’ most famous stories was told in response to a religious lawyer’s question: “Teacher, who is my neighbor?”

The question was blatantly self-serving. Luke prefaces the lawyer’s question: “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked . . .”

The greatest temptation we all face is to try to “justify” ourselves rather than accepting by faith the justification that comes only through grace. We understand the question’s tone all too well.

“And who is my neighbor?” (10:29).

Let’s make a law about this so I can be very sure I’ve done what is required and no more. After all, love is costly business, and I’d hate to waste a lot of time loving someone with no claim on my love. Let’s clear this up so I can check this off the “to do” list, present the completed list to God, and expect to be paid a wage for services rendered.

We’re all expert in religious accounting. It’s easier to count than to worship. Trusting ourselves rather than trusting God is humanity’s default mode. And it’s easy to find a religious group that is more of a “religious” accounting firm focusing on our effort to keep the law rather than being the worshiping Body of Christ focusing on blood-bought salvation we in no way earn.

Ah, but that “all-about-me” question hangs in the air: “Who is my neighbor?”

Remember the story? A foolish traveler, a Jew, is waylaid by robbers, beaten senseless, and crumpled by the side of the road. In turn two religious men, a priest and a Levite, see him and walk on by, willfully blind to his need. But a Samaritan, a man whose race and religion all Jews, including this lawyer, would despise, stops, helps the man, and even pays for his lodging and care.

Then Jesus asks his own question: Who was a neighbor to the man in need? And the lawyer stammers, “The one who had mercy on him.” “Go,” Jesus says, “and do likewise,” indicating that the lawyer will never run out of neighbors and never be able to check this item off his religious “to do” list.

Salvation by law, by rule-keeping, which is no salvation at all, says, “How little can I do and be saved?” Salvation by grace through faith says, “How may I joyfully honor the God who has already saved me?”

So here are a few religiously legal questions for us, though you could add a thousand more: How often must I go to church? How much of my money do I have to give? How much can I play with sin in action or attitude? When can I say I’ve completed all the “right” rituals, worshiped enough and just “right”? When can I look down on others of God’s children who are not as “right”? How many miles away from my own front door does my responsibility to show God’s love extend?

If you think these are law questions and not grace questions, not the kinds of questions God wants us to waste time asking, I think you’re right. A legal approach to religion is not only cold, shallow, and barren, it is far too easy.

Grace? Now that’s another thing entirely!

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


“Control Freaks, Prepare to be Controlled”

 

control-freak

Control freaks, beware! A “controlling” approach to life is fraught with danger and tears.

We all fall into that mode from time to time, thinking that if we can just “get it right” and force (we’d say “encourage”) others (spouses, children, coworkers) to  “get it right” by submitting to the improvement plan we create, we can fashion for ourselves and others a perfectly ordered, smoothly running, incredibly efficient existence. As long as we’re in charge, masters of the situation, all will be well, right?

Life doesn’t work that way, and, ironically, people who have a deep need to be masters end up as slaves continually dealing with fires that they rarely realize they’ve set or stoked themselves by their own sick need. And they are not the only ones who end up wrecked and broken, resentful and resented.

In a fine article in Christianity Today entitled, “Justify Yourself,” David Zahl writes that 500 years after Martin Luther helped the world rediscover the truth of the gospel, that salvation is by grace through faith and not by law through works, we still need to be reminded—and in very practical ways.

Zahl points to a university task force exploring reasons for a “spate” of suicides on its campus. Seriously contributing to the problem was the pressure many students felt to push for perfection in “every academic, co-curricular, and social endeavor.” The result? Serious anxiety and/or depression.

Jesus told us, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy” (Mt 5:7). But what if the fingers gripping your throat are tentacles of your own perfectionism? As you choke for air, the neurotic need you refuse to recognize is also throttling your spouse, kids, and coworkers.

It’s a sad symmetry. Failing to feel mercy and grace, or admit we need it, we become unable to extend it. Even if we can’t see the reality, all of our relationships become conditional and sick: “You’ll be okay with me IF . . .” That is poison.

When Luther grappled with Scripture, the Apostle Paul’s words both assailed and freed him: we are truly saved only by grace through faith; law through works will only condemn us. But that’s just religion, right? Wrong!

As Zahl points out, that truth is as practical as hyper-driven students and suicide rates, women who’ll never be thin enough or successful enough, business folks who’ll never get enough work done and get shaky if they ever turn off their cell phone, kids with headaches and tummy aches and no virus but adult-sized stress, spouses whose marriages are more based on performance review than on unconditional love . . . Resentment flourishes. No one ever feels that he/she has done enough. Worse, no one feels that he/she IS enough. “If only I can do, get, achieve . . .” “If only I can get YOU—spouse, child, coworker—to do, get, achieve . . .” then my own life and existence will be justified. But what’s enough? When will I reach it? The answer? Never.

The fruit of a law-based life? Bitterness, resentment, anger. “The sad irony of our lives,” Zahl writes, “is that our desire to be in control almost always ends up controlling us.”

The good news of the gospel is that we don’t have to justify ourselves; it’s already been done. We’re completely loved, forgiven, and free. If we know that, let’s pass it on. If we don’t? Well, control freaks, prepare to be controlled.

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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