Sunday, May 26, 2013

Infinite Grace 7

In honor of Memorial Day this post is about grace, peace, and freedom using the sayings of Jesus and the writings of Martin Luther.

Jesus, the most free man to walk upon the earth, said, "If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." (John 8. 31b, 32). A born-again Christian, immigrant and loyal American, it didn't take me long, however, my eyes and ears no doubt honed by my unconventional, foreign and resident alien experiences, to notice a discrepancy in our national and evangelical rhetoric. We celebrated our rights and freedoms even while many around, me included, were in dreadful slavery to career, work, debt, besides struggling with false teaching, striving, disorders, and addictions, trivial and critical as we chased the elusive, ever-changing American dream; followers of Jesus Christ seemed to be quite caught up by the larger culture and entrapped in -isms (e.g. hedonism). I was pretty sure that Christian freedom was far superior to the freedoms that we celebrate several times a year as Americans: Independence Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day without denying or detracting from the importance of these. I believed (and continue to believe) followers of Jesus are free (and are being set free). What are the characteristics of this freedom? How is it a part of my daily human experience, I wondered and God in his marvelous way began to weave things together. In 2009, feeling led, I studied Galatians. Four years later, Casa Charis: A Daybook of Freedom is the resulting devotional I began to write, how Jesus leads us to freedom. I will post a sample from the book shortly. In the meantime, I share some words of the leader of the Protestant Reformation. Galatians is the epistle on which Martin Luther hung his justification by faith doctrine. This excerpt on Galatians 1.3 is about grace and peace, divine gifts. Grace frees us from human bondage and peace is also one of the hallmarks of a free life, a life in Christ.

Verse 3. Grace be to you, and peace, from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

The terms of grace and peace are common terms with Paul and are now pretty well understood. But since we are explaining this epistle, you will not mind if we repeat what we have so often explained elsewhere. The article of justification must be sounded in our ears incessantly because the frailty of our flesh will not permit us to take hold of it perfectly and to believe it with all our heart.

The greeting of the Apostle is refreshing. Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the conscience. Sin and conscience 14torment us, but Christ has overcome these fiends now and forever. Only Christians possess this victorious knowledge given from above. These two terms, grace and peace, constitute Christianity. Grace involves the remission of sins, peace, and a happy conscience. Sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to the Law. The Law reveals guilt, fills the conscience with terror, and drives men to despair. Much less is sin taken away by man-invented endeavors. The fact is, the more a person seeks credit for himself by his own efforts, the deeper he goes into debt. Nothing can take away sin except the grace of God. In actual living, however, it is not so easy to persuade oneself that by grace alone, in opposition to every other means, we obtain the forgiveness of our sins and peace with God. 

The world brands this a pernicious doctrine. The world advances free will, the rational and natural approach of good works, as the means of obtaining the forgiveness of sin. But it is impossible to gain peace of conscience by the methods and means of the world. Experience proves this. Various holy orders have been launched for the purpose of securing peace of conscience through religious exercises, but they proved failures because such devices only increase doubt and despair. We find no rest for our weary bones unless we cling to the word of grace.

The Apostle does not wish the Galatians grace and peace from the emperor, or from kings, or from governors, but from God the Father. He wishes them heavenly peace, the kind of which Jesus spoke when He said, “Peace I leave unto you: my peace I give unto you.” Worldly peace provides quiet enjoyment of life and possessions. But in affliction, particularly in the hour of death, the grace and peace of the world will not deliver us. However, the grace and peace of God will. They make a person strong and courageous to bear and to overcome all difficulties, even death itself, because we have the victory of Christ’s death and the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins. 

Source: Martin Luther's A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians Commentary (a new abridged translation by Theodore Graebner to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for making Luther "talk American." The full-text is available from Christian Classics Ethereal Library, CCEL).

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