Monday, December 3, 2012

By Grace Through Faith

Let me share a passage that's been troubling me.  "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand;"(Romans 5) See that's a puzzle there, right.  

I keep trying to say it in my own words, work out exactly what it means, to no avail. Let's see: faith justifies us so that we can have peace with God. That peace was bought by Jesus and comes through Jesus.  And Jesus (by means of our faith) is the one who introduced us to the grace of God.  Is that right? Let me try again (these puzzles in Romans are hard to solve). We stand in grace. See I get that part. But as I work backwards towards the idea of being introduced by faith into grace I feel a little dizzy.  How about I tell you a story instead?

Once there was a judgmental Pharisee who wanted to invite Jesus to dinner.  In the New Testament we don't have a single occasion where Jesus turned down a dinner invite, so of course he goes.  When he gets there, Jesus stretches out at the table (they didn't use chairs but reclined on one elbow), and word begins to get around town - the Rabbi is eating at Simon's house.  An unnamed woman hears and decides to crash the party.  Seeing Jesus at the table, she comes up behind him and starts to cry.  She breaks a bottle of perfume on his feet and leans down and kisses them.  She uses her long unbound hair to wipe away the tears (Luke 7).

There are three characters here: Simon staring incredulously at the unmitigated gall of this women to interrupt his dinner party, Jesus blithely accepting this bizarre foot washing, and the sobbing sinner. Simon's thoughts are revealed; he's wondering how Jesus can be a prophet and not know who is crying all over his feet.  Jesus is about to tell one of His pointed and painful stories (the parable of the two debtors).  And our sinful woman?  Her, I wonder about.

What prompted her to this extravagant display?  What does she want?  She asks for nothing, not for healing, not for forgiveness.  She has nothing valuable to give.  But she offers what she has, tears, hair and perfume (women's things you might notice).  I wonder if she heard Jesus teaching, if she met him on the street.  I wonder if she heard him say, "Come unto me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest"  (Matthew 11:28). Sin is a heavy burden to bear.   Jesus had the last word.  He said to her, "Your sins have been forgiven."  Then he told her "Your faith has saved you; go in peace" (Luke 7:48-50).

It was outrageous faith that saved her.  Faith is hearing Jesus is in town and coming to see.  Faith is bringing what she had - perfume and a broken heart.  Faith is opening herself up to a curt dismissal at best, public ridicule at worst by stepping into the Pharisee's house.  In faith she would have risked anything to weep on the teacher's feet.

The lady had no reason to expect Jesus's help.  She had done nothing to earn his favor. She just had faith, and that faith saved her. In God's eyes she was righteous despite her sin because she believed.  Her faith brought her to the feet of the very Son of God, the only one on earth with the power to take the burden of her sin away and set her free.  Her faith (in Jesus) introduced her to the grace of God.  For the first time in her adult life she was at peace with her Father.  She was forgiven.

The story overflows with grace. It was perfectly clear to everyone, especially Simon, that she didn't deserve a place at dinner, let alone a place in heaven - that's grace. God owed her nothing; Jesus had no relationship with her. Their ready acceptance of her was grace.  Forgiveness itself is an expression of undeserved favor from offended to offender.  All of it was freely available - that's the definition of grace.  However, only her faith in Jesus Christ brought her there, introducing her to a place where she could stand, where grace is sufficient and abundant and free.

Are we tempted at this point to think too little of the grace of the God, to take it lightly and suppose that its abundance allows us license to behave how we please? If so, we  need to ask ourselves: at what price does our forgiveness come?  Romans 5 makes it clear that peace was bought with the blood of Jesus. That's what grace cost. God offers forgiveness to us when we were in Paul's words, God's enemies.  That's what grace is.

I feel a lot more confident now about those verses in Romans.  I can see how our faith in Jesus introduces us to grace. We're begging a favor from the only One who can help us - nothing to be proud of there.  Still, without a modicum of faith in Him, especially faith in His compassion, His love, His willingness to take us as we are, tears, hair, perfume and all, we can't find a place to stand.  And to stand in favor with him, to stand approved in the grace of God, is the single best thing that could happen to any human being. There is no path to that amazing grace, except "The Way, the Truth and the Life."


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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