Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Assaulted by grace

Reading through Barth's commentary on Romans has got me thinking about grace. Grace - God's absolutely free acceptance and forgiveness of the sinner - is a comforting reality in the life of the Christian. If I am not justified by grace, I know for sure I will not be justified at all. If I am not in the right because God in Christ puts me in the right, then I am certainly in the wrong. The fact that God has, in Christ, actually been gracious to me is therefore my only comfort in life and death.

But have I allowed grace to become something not only comforting but comfortable?

In actual fact, God's grace is an assault on me and everything I want to be. God, in Christ, acts entirely unilaterally towards me. He simply declares me to be righteous, counts me righteous, makes me righteous - and all independently of me. Without consulting me, God sets aside the person I am - sinful, compromised, religious, moral, making an effort, failing - and produces a new me. And he does it, not provisionally and pending my approval, but with absolute finality, because the setting aside of the old me is accomplished through my death with Christ, and the production of the new me is accomplished through my resurrection with Christ - and Christ being raised is no longer subject to death. And so God's grace successfully assaults me, kills me, and raises a new me, a different me, united to Christ.

Think about the prodigal son. He has decided to live for himself, to discover himself, to assert himself, to do it his way. He fails, and sets off for home. His new plan is to beg for mercy from his father, or more particulalry, to suggest a plan by which his misdeeds and failure can be atoned for. He wants the father to take his sin seriously, to take his self-expression seriously - even though he recognises that this will invalidate his claim to sonship.

The father declines to deal with him thus.

He will not be dealt with as the person who has expressed his own identity in rebellion. That rebellious son will not be taken seriously as the person he is. The father will not even listen to his plan for reconciliation; rather, he unilaterally declares the breach healed. Sonship restored. Death dead, and life restored. In a real sense, the grace of the father sets aside those wasted years - and the person who wasted them - to make room for a new person.

Wonderful, comforting, necessary. But not comfortable. Grace assails me, defeats me, slays me. And raises me new.

1 comment:

  1. This is really helpful, thank you. It articulates clearly and makes sense of the offence of grace and helps me to understand one of the reasons why I'm often so reluctant to come back to the cross. Thanks as well for highlighting the parable of the prodigal son - the portrayal of the father there always reassures me, and in this context reminds me that though I naturally recoil from grace as you've described it, it is actually a lovely, wonderful and glorious expression of the Father's character.