In the spirit of humility, despite being raised by a lifelong Sunday School teacher, formerly serving as an Elder and now working at RCB, I have always struggled to understand the concept of God’s grace and the ways in which grace both brings us freedom from our sins and expectations for living lives of graciousness. If we are saved entirely by God’s grace and not by our deeds, how should I explain the focus of mission to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus, or in other words, to seek to live by doing good works?
In addition to enrolling in an introductory course on the New Testament at New Brunswick Seminary to deepen my understanding, I recently turned to a wonderful book, “The Riddle of Grace”, by Scott Hoezee. Hoezee defines grace as “being first of all that power of God, rooted in his abiding love, by which God forgives the sinful, accepts the unacceptable, revives the spiritually dead, and so enables a reunion between the Creator and his wayward creatures”. He goes on to say, “the power of God’s grace does not end merely in forgiving our sins; it also aims to change our lives.” In other words, once we have received God’s grace and are “a new creation”, we are called to use our gifts to do good things with our lives, even knowing that we can never be perfectly obedient to Christ’s commands.
Hoezee recognizes the difficulty of living according to the “fruits of the spirit” named in Galatians 2:22-23, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”. And he recognizes, as did Paul writing in verse 26, that those who try to embody these fruits of the spirit risk becoming “conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” Living graciously invites us to accept all people as equal and worthy of God’s grace and allows us to live in our humble attempts to follow Jesus’ guidance, knowing that when we inevitably fall to sin, Jesus has already saved us through his death and resurrection, forgiving our sins when we confess to the specific ways, we fall short.
So then, I have a new layperson’s understanding of what it means when Pastor Matt tells us that “there is nothing we can do to make God love us anymore, and there is nothing we can do that will make Him love us any less”. As a parent, it is like saying to our children that it is their effort that counts, that we do not expect them always to succeed, and if they fail, our loving arms will be there to embrace them and give them the strength to try again. Even as an older person, I find that immensely comforting, despite the challenge of gracefully forgiving our children’s wayward acts!