June 23, 2019

Receiving the Gift of Grace

Passage: Romans 5:1-5

The relationship that our God has ever sought with us is one that is as old as time itself and yet it has been one of the most elusive of relationships – not only for us in this time but for all people in all times. The very fact that we acknowledge that we have a Creator puts us in the position of believing that someone other than ourselves is responsible for our very existence. The very fact that we have our beginning in the mysterious conjoining of a fertilized egg that then must take a journey of 9 months to mature to the point where it can be viable in this world – and then only be sustained through the efforts of those who are determined to care and fed this new human – is a miracle in itself for no matter how much we may understand the process by which we have come to be, our very existence still defies all explanation. As close as science has come to that moment of first creation, we are still not able to provide a definitive explanation for how this world and the solar system of which we are a part and the wider universe came to be created.

And so, the interactions of the God we acknowledge as our Creator have been recorded for us in the books of what we call the Bible. We can trace the historical journey of the first people to encounter this God and we can begin to understand the spiritual journey that led them to be the people of faith in their generation. Each generation faced different circumstances in their lives and each generation needed to suffer the realities of life. Through it all they were promised that the presence of this God whom they acknowledged as their Creator would be with them. They were given instruction and guidance through commandments and laws that were designed to reveal to them the vision for life that was in the mind and heart of this God from the beginning of time. And as the people sought to follow those commandments and laws, this God sought to care for and love them no matter what.

The great hope of this God was that this people would accept instruction and guidance and that their free will would be exercised in such a way as to reveal that they acknowledged that this God’s will would lead them to experience the truth of what this life was meant to be not only for themselves but for the larger society of which they were a part and hopefully for all the peoples of the world.

But just as today so in those times past people struggled to accept the ways of God and live their lives in accordance with the vision of God. They struggled because they believed that God did not always know what was best; they struggled because they believed that they knew better; they struggled because the world around them had a different vision and they wanted to be part of that world more than the world God had envisioned in the creation of the world and its peoples.

And so, they strayed from the commandments and the laws. They interpreted the commandments and the laws in such a way as to justify themselves in the eyes of this God in the belief that nothing could ever separate them from that status of a chosen people. They were divided in their loyalties. They would give to God what they believed God wanted based on the system of sacrifices but without the understanding that the sacrifices were meant to be visible signs of an inward faith and trust and willingness to listen and learn. The disconnect between the inward and the outward continued to increase to the point where the people lost sight of the vision and were simply living a life of appeasement rather than a life of true faith and belief.

The people could not bring themselves to live that vision of life that this God had sought for them to live. They could not put themselves right with this God for they could not fulfil the commandments or the laws. Yet this God still sought for them to live in a harmonious relationship with him and one another. For this God the answer lay not with more commandments or laws; not with curses or punishments. The answer lay with a sacrifice that no other sacrifice could ever match and with a gift that would allow the people to approach this God without fear and with great hope not only for this life but for a life lived to eternity.

And so, Paul shares with us in a few short verses a truth that has uplifted and sustained people of the Christian faith for centuries. We could never justify our lives in the eyes of this God. Each of us falls short of the vision of this God in so many ways. We need to put things right with this God and with each other, but we struggle to achieve the perfection that is laid before us. We desire perfection, we desire the idyllic life of peace and wholeness. And while we still have not achieved that here in this time and place, it is the desire of this God to make it possible for us to know that for this life we can know that our imperfections, our failures, our sins can be and are forgiven – not by any action of ours except that by faith we believe in the word of God as spoken through the message of Jesus Christ and confirmed to us through the Holy Spirit.

The gift of grace, the promise of forgiveness that brings peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, this is what God offers to us out of love and out of a desire to be in relationship with us. But this gift of grace, this gift that erases our sins and puts us in a position where we can be right with God and so live with hope, this gift of grace is granted to us solely by our willingness to accept this grace through faith.

But I want you to note something important in these words of Paul in Romans 5. So often we believe that our faith in God and God’s love that puts us right with God means that we are now in a place where nothing can harm us in this life. But Paul does not say this, nor does he ever suggest that we will not suffer. Rather he affirms that we have been granted a peace that will attend us throughout this life; we have been granted a hope that will sustain us throughout this life; and we can trust in that peace and that hope because of the gift of God’s own holy spirit which constantly reminds us of God’s love.

Does receiving the gift of grace that puts us in a right relationship with God absolve us of all responsibility for our thoughts and actions? No! The gift of grace is God’s gift to us who are willing by faith to receive it and are willing to love the One who has graciously welcomed us to live the vision of life laid out before us both now and forever.

We cannot gain the grace, the forgiveness, the peace of God through any action on our part except to receive by faith. But having gained that grace, forgiveness and peace we can seek to do everything within our power to show our thankfulness and follow the commandments to love God with our whole being, to show true love to neighbour and to show true filial love to one another.