Saint Paul, generally considered one of the greatest heroes of the Christian faith, called himself a “wretched man” and the “chief of sinners.” I sometimes wonder if he’d still say that if he’d met me.
We’re in a series titled “Fighting for Grace” at church, which looks a lot better on an overhead than “A Study in Galatians,” and also paints a nice picture of the way a Christian should view this doctrinal issue. Too often do we look at grace as some vague construct of theology, some abstract idea that God must be calling upon as an excuse to get us into heaven. It’s a very easy thing to ignore when you’re either not thinking about your spiritual state, or thinking about it a lot.
The way I see it, self-examination is a difficult thing when you’re called be holy, because all you will ever find is a flawed human being in place of that holy creature you dream of being. You see your mistakes, your shortcomings, your failures, and they dwarf your victories. It’s a small comfort than in Romans 7, even Paul shares this perspective for a brief moment – but if Paul had moments like that, who am I to think I will ever get past them?
It’s grace that must be called upon to bring context to these failures and hope to the wretched man. As hard as it is to admit, we must admit that our sins are no worse – and no better – than any other person’s. That cute girl at Bible study? Just as wretched and damned as you, apart from Christ – and so is that jerk you work with and can’t stand. And so is Hitler (because no internet discussion is complete without at least one Hitler reference). The homosexual in the pride parade is in no worse a state of sin than the pious preacher who “borrowed” a few dollars from the offering plate. Sin isn’t about shades of gray, it’s about being either perfect, or imperfect. Holy or not holy. Black or white.
In that context, grace makes sense. It’s the force of spiritual nature that turns black to white, dark to light – it’s a reversal of spiritual polarity, so to speak. You couldn’t be any worse off, and after grace, you couldn’t be any better off. Grace obliterates everything you’ve done and replaces your karmic score with that of Jesus Christ, the perfect savior of mankind and son of God.
But that’s not fair, we spoiled Americans cry out. The idea of free, total salvation for any who accept it, regardless of history or future, regardless of action – a completely equal status before God? Why, that sounds downright communist. I earned this, we cry out, I can be better, just give me more time…
But remove grace from the picture and you’re back in black, shining your keychain flashlight into the night sky and pretending it’s the sun. You’re deluding yourself. All your “good works” are of no greater value than the diapers in the church nursery’s trash can – at least that’s how Isaiah put it, more or less.
Accepting grace means accepting your weakness. Accepting your complete and total lack of power to do anything about your eternal scenario. Accepting your spiritual impotence. Fighting your pride, fighting your sense of self-worth, fighting the messages of the world, fighting the status quo…
Fighting for grace.
Get it now?