Sometimes it’s hard to accept a gift. Our culture of merit tells us that we must do and be in order to receive a reward, so when someone gives you something, especially when it’s precious, for no apparent reason, our first reaction is usually to fall all over ourselves saying that it’s not necessary or that we don’t deserve it. It’s so difficult to accept a valuable, unmerited gift, that after getting it set about trying to prove our merit and worthiness of the gift. We are now so intent on earning the gift that we never get a real chance to enjoy it.
We do the same thing with our Christian faith. We hear that God’s love and salvation is a gift of grace. It’s a one-way gift that’s freely given, not because of our birthright or anything that we do, but because we put our trust in Jesus. A loving God looks on us in our broken sinfulness and calls us God’s own. Paul discusses this concept of God’s gift of grace in today’s verses. He tells the Romans that “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Rom 3:24). He says this in response to some Jews who believed that their birthright as Jews earned them a special place in God’s favor. They saw it as a privileged position. There are also those who thought that strict adherence to the law, the many rules the religious establishment formed around the life of faith, would earn them God’s favor.
But we can never be good enough to merit God’s favor or earn the gift of salvation. The problem comes when we fall off the wagon, which always happens in one way or another. In our sinfulness, we will always fall short. (Rom. 3:23). This constant striving and moving one step forward and two back creates a fear that we’ll fall out of God’s family. Martin Luther called this the “Terrified Conscience” and responded by latching on to Paul’s argument that we are saved and made at one or reconciled with God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We are saved by grace through faith.
We hear it and maybe even understand it, but we don’t always live as if we believe it. We create rules, activities, clubs, prayer groups and a million things the “good” Christian must do, that we lose sight of the gift. It’s longer a gift, but something we can convince ourselves we earned through our actions. We justify the gift through what we do. There is, however, only one who justifies our receipt of the gift. He died for us so that we can live without fear as if death in its many forms is no more. The acceptance of this gift and leaning into it with all our might is the one thing that changes everything.
I love the words of the old hymn: “Cast your deadly ‘doing’ down, down at Jesus’ feet; Stand in Him, in Him alone, gloriously complete.”
Paul begins to flesh this out in the following chapters. It's starting to get good!