We Christians place too much weight on our own response to God’s grace. For example, we place too much emphasis on our own faith. Is it mustard seed faith? Or should it be as a child’s trust? Is it the kind of faith to deny oneself and take up a cross or the kind that gives up everything to follow Jesus?
It is like an applause meter. The faith meter. Some days that needle hardly moves and some days it goes way up. Are all these things the measure of our salvation? I think not. I really believe that it is the faithfulness of Jesus that really matters. His meter is off the charts. He has secured salvation for humanity by his sacrifice on the cross. All these other things are ways given to us, sometimes called the means of grace, to help us interact with the Christ we know. Scripture tells us that God who began a good work in us will bring it to completion as Christ returns. (Philippians 1:6)
Sometimes I think we get hung up on our own goodness and achievements that we miss the goodness of God, the grace of God given to us as a gift. I am pretty certain that in Ephesians 2:8,9 Paul is writing that ‘grace’ is the gift. Faith is the avenue, one of the means by which we are open to what God is doing.
Some are fortunate enough to experience this transformation that Christ brings here on earth. Some may experience it at the end of life and even post mortem. Christ’s faithfulness will never fail to accomplish the ultimate transformation and restoration of all creation.
Abraham, who was chosen and blessed by God and with whom God made the covenant to bless all people failed, as did the people to keep God’s ways, but Christ kept them for all the creation.
Cheap grace, in a different context from what Bonhoeffer wrote about, can mean that we make too much of our response to God and not enough about the love and goodness of God who is able to do more than we even ask of God.
There is a fun illustration that is instructive here.
A man dies and goes to heaven. Of course, St. Peter meets him at the pearly gates. St. Peter says, “Here’s how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you’ve done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.”
“Okay,” the man says, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.”
“That’s wonderful,” says St. Peter, “that’s worth three points!”
“Three points?” he says. “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service.”
“Terrific!” says St. Peter, “that’s certainly worth a point.”
“One point? Golly. How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.”
“Fantastic, that’s good for two more points,” he says.
“TWO POINTS!!” the man cries, “At this rate the only way I get into heaven is by the grace of God!”
“Come on in.”
I love my children. I love them whether or not they love me. Their response of love will certainly help the relationship, the interaction we have, as well as their growth. But I will love them no matter and if I who am just a human will love and will work all things to their good as I am able, will not God do even more for his children, his whole creation.
Sometimes I think that Evangelical Christianity is safer with its doctrines, rules and decisions about who’s in and who is out. It’s almost like we, our egos not our spirits, want justice the way we see it. Universalism is a bit too wild for this traditional faith, this understanding of how God’s grace is so vast and restorative.
From Ephesians 1 we read Paul’s words:
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he[b]predestined us for adoption to sonship[c] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (ESV)
Perhaps and maybe hopefully the whole creation is like the Gentiles were before they were ‘brought into the fold’ as it were. Maybe we ‘believers’ are just the beginning to God’s bringing to unity all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
I like the way the MESSAGE has it:
7-10 Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.
And if we are now privileged to enjoy this ‘summation’, the ‘bringing to unity’ then it behooves us to thank God and to praise his glorious plan for all ages in Christ Jesus. Amen (for now).