Not By Works
Grace is a funny word. It has two significant meanings to most Christians – the prayer we say before a meal, grace, and the way God relates to us, grace. Beginning with the second meaning it becomes important during the Reformation when Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic monk and professor, struggles with how one lives in relationship with God.
He saw God as an angry God punishing people for their sins. This was in the Middle Ages during the time of the plague when thousands were dying so it did appear to many that God was angry and punishing people. If death seemed imminent for many then how God viewed them matters a great deal for it seemed to determine what happened to them after death.
Many people, including Luther, believed we were saved, or lived in right relationship with God, based on what we did and thus earned, or failed to earn, God’s love. This led to many wondering if they could ever be sure of doing enough and put the importance on what we do for God. Luther would go to confession several times a day for he lived in fear that he might sin right after confession and thus be doomed to hell for his actions!
While studying scripture, specifically Romans, Luther pondered the text Romans 3:21-26; Righteousness through Faith “But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Thus Luther now understood that his relationship to God depended not on his actions but on God’s grace, the gift of God that is unearned and undeserved and can not be worked for. He found this freeing and it became a cornerstone of what became the many varieties of the Lutheran church. Many denominations do consider grace important but for Luther it is a lens thru which he understands scripture. Justified means made right with God or living in right relationship with God.
Let’s go back to the first meaning of grace, at the meal. What better displays the gift of God than thanking Good for the food before us even if we are farmers who have grown it ourselves! This idea of gift then shapes our whole relationship with God and frees us to love our neighbor, not to focus on ourselves and winning God’s love for it is free and a gift! It turns our attention from ourselves to God and neighbor.
Carl Ames - Pastor