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Archive for the ‘Grace’ Category

On this weekend when we honor workers and celebrate the rewards of our work, I am reminded of a scripture passage that encourages us to work out our own salvation: Philippians 2:12-13.  It says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good please.”

At first hearing, these two verse may cause panic in the protestant mind: “I thought we were saved by grace.” “I thought it was impossible to work our way to heaven.”  “How can Paul possibly say, ‘work out your own salvation’?”  “Do we really need fear and tremble?”

I think our initial reaction to this verse may be a result of our tendency to view salvation as escape, rather than as an empowerment. Many of us tend to see salvation as something God gives us so that one day in the future we may escape our bodies and earthly situation.  And if we’re not careful, we end up ignoring God’s call  for the present time and in the material world.   In the Bible, salvation is God’s actions to deliver his people.  This deliverance is not for their relaxation, but for their restoration. This restoration begins here and now, as the kingdom of God breaks in upon this world , and accomplishes God’s will on earth, just as it is in heaven.  As God’s restores us through his saving power, he equips us to be his agents of healing in the world.   This is why Paul finishes the verse by saying, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Our salvation isn’t merely for our own pleasure in the sky hereafter. It is for God’s pleasure now and in the future as he works in us and through us to redeem the world.  As his agents on earth, we our called to make sure that we are working out this salvation. We are encourage to hold fast to the word of life, to persevere in the race, confident that it is God himself who is energizing us and working through us.  And one day, we will gladly enter into our eternal reward.

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Pharisäer und Zöllner - Fresko (F3), Basilika ...

Pharisäer und Zöllner – Fresko (F3), Basilika Ottobeuren (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“He (Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:  “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)

Before God, we are all miserable sinners. The only difference is that some acknowledge this and plead for nothing but mercy. Others thank God that they are not the same kind of sinner as their neighbor.  The Pharisee in this story thinks that because he has not committed the obvious taboo sins of his culture, he is fine. Even more he fasts regularly and tithes on everything. All good thing things. Yet, he forgot about the one sin that leads to all others: Pride.
It was pride that caused the fall in Eden and it is pride that causes my fall and yours today. We compare ourselves with others, seeking to justify ourselves in the sight of God and men. To do this, we must paint a very bleak picture of our neighbors’ morality, and a very charming portrait of our own goodness. In highlighting our goodness and focusing on others’ failures, we become self-deluded, thinking that our sins are trivial. We begin to see no need for repentance and mercy, only “thankfulness” that we are not like those we hold in contempt.
The remedy for us is humble repentance. As Jesus said, “…everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” That’s why we have the Lenten season – to humble ourselves once again so that we may be exalted with Christ as Easter.

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Titus 2:11-14 looks at salvation and grace from a different perspective than we normally do:

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

God’s grace has been given to enable us to lead self controlled and godly lives in the present age. We often think of salvation as the thing that will give us rest and an easy future in heaven. Salvation does bring rest, but it also brings a challenge as it “trains” us to give up our worldly passions and exchange them for a life of Christian discipline.

Our culture often bulks as the idea of self-control, and I must admit my own guilt in this area. We often find discipline to be a vice – an invention design to suppress  our authentic expressions of our true selves. The gospel brings us back to reality and says that actually much of our “authenticity” is the problem: our true selves are like sheep that have gone astray, with every one going along on his own way.

This gospel of Jesus Christ brings salvation to the lost sheep, with God forgiving them for straying from his path. The gospel also brings transforming grace that enables us to live with more self-control, as we put off our old selves and become his new creation here on earth.

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