By Curtis Shelburne: Religion columnist
Some things never change. When in his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul is relentlessly pounding home to his readers the point of the gospel that salvation comes only “by grace through faith” — indeed, that it cannot come “by law through works,” he faces these two thousand years later the very same criticisms he did then.
Take a look, for example, at Romans 6. Paul knows exactly what his critics will throw at him: “So, Paul, if God’s grace is shown clearly by the amazing way it forgives my sin, I’ll just sin more and more and let God’s grace really shine.”
Paul’s answer is, “God forbid! May that never be.” And he reminds us of the beautiful picture our baptism — our “death” with Christ and our “resurrection” to new life.
“Don’t you know that you’re new people now?” Paul is asking. “Don’t you know that you’re to count yourselves dead to your old way of life? Don’t you know that sin no longer has any more claim over you than the IRS has over a dead man?”
“Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. . . . For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (6:11, 14).
You see, the mistake of the person who sees God’s grace as an excuse to live a shabby life is not that he makes too much of grace; on the contrary, his mistake is understanding and valuing it far too little.
Will grace forgive any sin, except the ultimate sin of turning our backs so completely on God that we don’t even desire forgiveness? Yes.
Is grace absolutely the free gift of God based not at all on law or merit? Yes.
But grace has a cost, the highest cost ever paid, and God paid it: The blood of his only perfect Son.
The Apostle John writes that the blood of Christ continually cleanses God’s children of all sin. And, in Romans 4, St. Paul quotes David, “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”
Those who know how much God paid will never take his gift lightly. One way to spit in the gift-Giver’s face is to live a shabby life. Another way is to live in fear as if the price had not been once and for all time and all sin truly paid.
Life is not a line with law at one end and grace at the other, law-people who lead really careful lives at one end and grace-people who wildly strain the bounds of grace at the other.
Real grace encompasses all of life and is a beautiful way — the only genuine way — of relating to the God who graciously gives us power to live beautiful lives and dance before him with joy and spontaneity that legalism can’t even begin to understand. Real grace produces a kind of loving and fearless obedience that religious rule-keeping is absolutely powerless to produce.
Real grace. Thank God we’ll have all eternity to thank God for it.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org