When the Protestant Reformation resulted in the creation of new branches of thought in the Christian Church, something unexpected happened. Like political parties in the US who continue to polarize one another pushing each other to extremes few self-reflective Americans can actually see themselves in, so the church found itself arguing from the edges. For us, however, the issues aren’t the economy or entitlements (though most Christians seem much more eager to talk about those things than anything having to do with Jesus), but instead works and grace. You see, the Catholic Church at the time argued that indulgences and a certain amount of Hail Marys and the appropriate types of works are what with Jesus’ death saves us. The Reformers on the other hand argued that if a certain type of behavior was what saved us, than we are all in trouble. For them grace alone (and all alone) was what saved.
And so, as conflicts are want to do, as the two parties argued they ended up preaching from positions outside where either of them would have been comfortable when they started. Some in the church argued Christians HAVE to DO SOMETHING to be saved. Say a prayer, ‘find’ Jesus & accept him, live in a manner worthy of the gospel, or anything else. Others argued, however, that since we were saved by grace there is nothing we have to do to be saved. But what that argument turned into was there is nothing we have to do.
See the problem? On the one hand Jesus might not have died since salvation is all on us, and on the other grace is cheap and we can be lazy.
Admittedly, I find myself in a church that tends to fall in the latter half of that argument. But I, and I think I’d be joined by Martin Luther and many other reformers, am not necessarily happy about it. Have we leaned so heavily on God’s power to save that we forgot what that salvation looks like? Can we become so dependent on God’s grace, that we forget how it compels us to live? And, finally, has the church become so set on not working for salvation, that we forgot that discipleship still (always) means effort and commitment?
I don’t think it’s an accident that the father of grace alone, the Apostle Paul, who wrote, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift.” (Romans 3:21) also used another set of words to describe the recipients of that graceful gift. In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul described Christians as “co-workers” (1 Cor. 3:9, not to mention also calling them, gardeners and builders in the same chapter). How can it be that someone so set on grace alone’s power to save also continued to lift up our responsibility to work—and please forgive the intention ambiguous preposition—for that grace? Or maybe a better question is how do we get that back?
Thomas Edison once wrote, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work.” I think the Christian version of that quote would say something like, “discipleship is missed by most people because it comes dressed with fishnets and looks like work.” Or something like that. The point being, how often we miss out on following Jesus (not just being saved by him), because we think our faith life begins and ends with God’s power to save.
You have been saved by God’s grace. Alone. You are a sinner and you have fallen short. We all have. But God, through the amazing grace poured out through Christ Jesus our Lord, has saved you. So what are you going to do with that? It’s easy to say nothing, and honestly, you don’t have to. God saved you. But the Christian life has never been modeled on passive verbs, but active ones.
So may you go. May you show. May you tell. May you love. May you nurture. May you build. And above all, may you never forget to work. In Jesus name. Amen.
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