“I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and now, I am convinced, is in you also.” – 2 Timothy 1:5 (CSB)
I’m old enough now to have seen peers walk away from the Christian faith. It’s always tragic and discouraging. It’s also a reminder of how important it is for me as a parent to pass along the Christian faith to my children. A solid foundation of faith begins in the home. That involves more than just church attendance (which is indispensable) and occasionally talking about God. It means actively passing on the tenants of the faith to our children and demonstrating that a relationship with Christ is of utmost importance. Could they still choose to walk away? Of course. But our job is not to make them believe. We are not responsible for the outcome. We are responsible for passing along our faith and showing them how to live as a follower of Jesus.
“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9 (CSB)
Lest we think our radical transition from death to a stunning new life was our doing, Paul reminds us that we are saved by grace. Period. End of story. Christianity excludes all forms of boasting because it is God who saves. It’s not in any way dependent on something we have done. Our works are powerless to save us. After all, what could we really do for an infinite, perfect, and holy God? What could we offer to make him change his mind about us? It’s only by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus on our behalf that we are made right with God. What separates biblical Christianity from every other religion is that it’s not about what we do. It’s about what God did for us. We were dead but God made us alive through Christ. That’s amazing grace. That’s good news.
“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand.” (Psalm 130:3 ESV)
We naturally overestimate our own goodness. We minimize our sins and instinctively magnify the sins of others. We arrogantly claim in both word and deed that we know better than God. Worse, we scoff at the notion that a loving God would call us to live in ways that are at odds with what we want and how we feel. Were it not for the indescribable mercy of God, we would all be doomed. Yet there is hope.
“But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 130:4 ESV emphasis mine)
When you owe a debt that can’t be paid and you receive forgiveness, the natural response is humility, reverence, and awe. You don’t look for loopholes. You don’t pretend you know better. You don’t take advantage of the situation. You seek to do the will of the one you have offended. You follow him even when it doesn’t make sense or it goes against what you feel. Forgiveness fuels a life of holiness. It leads us to say, “yes” when we want to say, “but.”
“For by grace you have been saved through faith…” (Ephesians 2:8 ESV)
Grace. One word sums up the message of salvation. One word addresses our deepest need. One word shatters every categorical distinction.
Grace is for those who think they are beyond the reach of grace.
Grace is for those who think they don’t need any grace.
Grace is for those who think they are unlovable.
Grace is for those who think they are inherently lovable.
Grace is for those who think grace is only what “the other people” need.
Grace is for those who think they have grace figured out.
Where was God when…? Why did God allow…? What was God doing…? These are natural questions in the face of hardship or tragedy. None of them are new. People have been asking them from the beginning of time. Most of the time there are no easy or emotionally satisfying answers. Yet one thing is undeniable even in the midst of difficulties – God is completely and totally sovereign.
Yes, that raises even more questions. But in the midst of asking them, we must not sacrifice the beautiful truth that God is sovereign over everything. To do so takes us to a place much worse than our circumstances. It forces us to wrestle with this question: If God isn’t sovereign over everything, how do we know we can we trust him with anything? Thankfully, God is sovereign over everything. That’s why we can face anything and trust him with everything.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is the first part of Ephesians 2. It’s a succinct description of our life before Christ (verses 1-3), God’s miraculous intervention to change us (verses 4-7), and the truth that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone (verses 8-9). The section ends (verse 10) by noting that we have all been uniquely created by God to carry out the good works that he has planned for us. From there, Paul moves into a discussion about the one new family of God brought about through the work of Christ. I think his transition to talking about the church is particularly interesting in light of what he has just said in verse 10.
Although the good works God has planned for us impact every area of our lives, they are especially important in the context of the local church. It’s there that we can use our gifts to encourage and push one another into greater love for God and greater love for one another. It’s there that we tear down the walls of hostility toward those who are different. It’s there that our good works come together and enable us to grow into the fullness of what God has for us.
I’m a planner. I like to sit down, figure out the best way to do something, and then do it. For some things that works just fine. Especially if it’s something that I know how to do. Planning brings a level of certainty to the situation and it makes me more comfortable. As humans, we are wired for predictability (even if the only thing predictable is that we like the unpredictable). But life isn’t always predictable. There are times where we know we need to so something but we aren’t sure how to do it. We don’t know the best way forward. We aren’t even sure that it will all work out. We just know that we need to do it.
That’s where faith comes into the picture. Faith requires us to take the next step even when we don’t have all the answers. It’s a scary place to be and maybe that’s where God wants us. It means we have no choice but to rely on him.