Friday, January 30, 2009

Disturbing grace

Perhaps another and more troubling way in which God's grace is not comfortable is that it will not allow me to settle for being as good as I am. We sometimes think that because God is gracious - because he does not ultimately treat me as my sins deserve - I can just be content with who I am. In actual fact, I think that God's grace creates radical discontent with who I am. Let's explore.

Imagine that my relationship with God were governed by law - whether that is morality or religion or whatever. Any system that works by laying down a standard and then calling me to keep it. We could illustrate that system as being like a ladder: each individual command or ritual or good deed is a rung on the ladder, and at the top is righteousness and peace with God. So, there I am climbing.

And I sin. I fail in some way. What do I do? Well, I could despair. Yes, certainly I could do that. But I might do something else instead. I might say "well, I guess I'm not there yet. But at least I'm trying, and I'll do better next time". Now, that might call forth a mighty effort from me to do better - I might really try to scramble on to the next rung of the ladder. But I haven't been challenged to my core. I am essentially content with who I am. Not having completed the project of righteousness is okay; I have the rest of my life to do better. The system of law allows me to think that I can improve myself, and therefore allows me to think that perhaps this failure is just a product of the stage of self-improvement that I am currently at. I will grow out of it.

Grace challenges me much more radically when I sin. Because grace doesn't give me a ladder to climb. Rather, it tells me that what I have just done is impossible.

It is impossible for you to sin if you are a Christian. You died to sin - how can you live in it any longer? You have been raised with Christ - how can you wallow in the grave of sin? You have been redeemed - how can you still be a slave? You are seated with Christ in the heavenly places - how can you be dirtying yourself with the earth? Not possible.

And yet, here I am. I sinned. And I cannot say "well, I will get better. This is just my adolescence as a Christian. In future, this won't happen, because from now on it is onward and upward". I am already up as high as can be: perfected in Christ. Therefore, that sin cannot be me - not the me as God sees me, not the me as I am called to see myself in faith. Am I so radically divided against myself? Can I, in that case, hope to stand?

How God's grace disturbs me, even as it comforts me!

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