Believe in God’s grace

In his book, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace, James Montgomery Boice wrote, “When the Reformers like Martin Luther spoke about ‘grace alone’ (sola gratia), they were saying that sinners have no claim upon God whatsoever. None at all. Instead, God owes them nothing but punishment for their sins. But in His infinite mercy, He saves sinners in spite of their wickedness, simply because it pleases Him to do it.” This basic tenet of the Protestant Reformation, 500 years ago, is so difficult for man’s sinful nature to swallow. Our only hope before God is grace alone.

Man in his poisoned heart wants to think that he has something to offer God. Something that will persuade Him to show us His favor, now and in eternity. There has got to be some good in us, some redeeming quality in us that is commendable, or at least acceptable. But the Scriptures are so very clear: our best efforts to please God are like soiled menstrual cloths (Isaiah 64:6). There’s a visual for your mind!

For example, what we might consider sacrificial and selfless, God sees with His penetrating gaze as self-serving and ostentatious. Without the mirror of His Word, I look for pats on the back while God is cringing as He sees the real motive for my act of service. His discerning eye cuts through the bone and marrow down to the thoughts and intents lurking in the heart. Frankly, if we ever hope to have any righteous standing in the presence of the Almighty, it cannot come from within ourselves. It must come from outside ourselves.

Since the fall of man into sin while dwelling in Eden’s paradise, the will is in bondage to rebellion against God. St. Augustine said in his Confessions that what bothered him the most, looking back as a youth to the time when he stole apples from his neighbor, was not the act of stealing someone else’s property. But that his heart loved every minute of committing the theft. This stands in contrast to what you often hear at funeral homes where everyone seems to be a good person who is on their way to heaven. The truth is, not one person qualifies as a “good person.” Not you. Certainly, not me. Check out the words of the hymn Rock of Ages.

We want the assessment of our loved ones and dear friends as being “a good person.” But God knows otherwise. We are plainly told by St. Paul writing to the Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (and His righteous demands).” We bring nothing to the table in our dealings with God. Only the desperate realization that in the presence of the Living God, we stand exposed as did our first parents, scrambling to hide and cover themselves from their shame. Mankind continues to hide from God today, disregarding any accountability, trying to cover up in the foolishness of thinking “there is something I can do to appease my guilty conscience.”

Favor with God cannot be attained by suppressing sinful actions. Nor by doing more righteous acts than sinful ones. Nor by living a better life in comparison to many others. Salvation can come only by dealing with humanity’s sin problem and our complete lack of righteousness whatsoever. We must be rescued from this defiant, stubborn nature, so callous to God and determined to blaze a trail of rugged individualism apart from God. What we need is a radical change of heart. It is provided by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Revealing and achieving salvation for sinners, Jesus Christ accomplished our righteousness living under God’s Law, accomplished our pardon through His innocent suffering and death, accomplished our deliverance from death through a powerful resurrection that conquered death. The Holy Spirit delivers the gift to the human heart in His powerful Word.

C.H. Spurgeon, the 19th century theologian, wrote, “The Lord saves His people by His clear, unmixed, undiluted mercy and grace, and for no other reason.” Salvation is truly God’s work alone, removing human pride and any opportunity to exalt oneself. Man is rescued by God by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone. He rescues man from the penalty of sin, from the power of sin, and one day in the resurrection, from the presence of sin forever. It is solely by grace that we have assurance of knowing where we stand with God today, tomorrow, and on the Last Day. Our sin has been dealt with. We have everlasting life with Christ and in Christ.

Sola gratia. Grace alone. As the prophet Jeremiah pleaded with God’s people to come back to “the ancient paths” of building their confidence and trust on God’s Word and His mercies, Martin Luther kindled the flame of the Reformation on Oct. 31, 1517, exhorting the Church of his day to get back to the basics of the Gospel … grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, trusting Scripture alone. For the sake of Christ’s finished work on the cross, dying for us, we receive what we could never earn or deserve: God’s amazing grace. It’s a gift to us from a God whose love for sinners reaches down to save “a wretch like me.”