by Linda Rex
Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t fix things? Why doesn’t he fix this broken world? If God is such a great, awesome Being, why doesn’t he fix everything when we ask him to?
Specifically, why does God allow us to keep stumbling over and over again in the same way when we continually are asking him to help us to change and be different? Are people who are chronic sinners covered by grace or are they somehow outside the limits of grace, in some place of condemnation, headed straight for hell?
Do you ever think about questions like this? These are the tough questions of life. And there are no easy answers. It is questions like these that caused Martin Luther to walk away from Catholicism and to tack his objections on a church door. And he had good reasons for his objections. When is grace not enough? Is there a limit to grace? Is grace an umbrella under which only a few can stand and the rest (those “heathens”) are left outside?
Salvation is, as Paul wrote, not something earned, but “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8). Every good and perfect gift, including grace, comes down from God and he does not change his mind.
He cannot change his mind about grace because he has committed himself unreservedly and completely to humanity in Jesus Christ. He has united his Godhead with our humanity in the person of Jesus Christ.
There is no limit to grace. God didn’t just commit part of himself to us—he committed all of himself to us by uniting himself with us in our human flesh. There is no limit to God’s grace because God didn’t take up just part of humanity in Jesus Christ, but all of humanity. As the church fathers said, what is not assumed is not healed. God’s grace is unlimited.
But what about us? Is it all up to us to receive God’s grace? What if we reject it? What if we turn away from it? What if we, even knowing the consequences, continually turn away from God’s grace or abuse it? And what if we mess up after we have put our faith in Christ? What if our best efforts at “being good” fail?
Well, this is a topic worth wrestling with. If indeed, all of humanity was taken up in Jesus in his life, death and resurrection, then he stood in our place when he obeyed John the Baptist’s call to repent and be baptized. He certainly didn’t do it on his own account—he never sinned because he was God in human flesh. He did it in our place, making the choices we should have made and should make day by day and don’t. Jesus lived the life we ought to live in relationship with God and others. He, through his life, suffering, and death, and resurrection, was humanity’s perfect response to the Father, in our place, in our stead.
Whether or not we receive and embrace the grace offered by God is bound up in Christ’s perfect response to the Father on our behalf. So what is left for us to do? All God asks is that we participate in Christ’s life, death and resurrection. This is why Christ is central to everything in our relationship with God and others. We participate in his “Yes” to God in the face of our human “No.”
The scripture says sinners will not be in the kingdom of God. For example, the apostle Paul writes that people who practice “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing,… will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Since we as Christians have all been guilty of these things at some point just like every other human being on earth, we all stand in the same place—in need of grace. This is why Jesus stands in our place even today as our “high priest” interceding on our behalf with the Father. This is why in Romans 8:1 we read that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ.
When we realize this and embrace the gift Jesus has given us—himself in our place—we begin to experience an inner transformation. The Holy Spirit, God’s gift to us of himself to us, within us, begins to change the way we think, feel and believe.
But it does not happen all at once. And indeed, there are things that we will wrestle with throughout our life, whether physical, spiritual, mental or emotional, that God will not immediately fix or remove. Whatever the apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, God didn’t fix it. Instead he used it to keep Paul dependent upon his grace. It is in our humanness and weakness that God’s power works most effectively. We always and ever participate in Christ. Our mantra must be, “not I, but Christ.”
When someone willfully sins over and over, and turns away from God’s grace—God’s grace doesn’t go away for them. It is still there. They can still participate in Jesus’ perfect response to the Father. But if in the presence of that perfect love they live in rejection of it, they will be miserable. They will suffer all the consequences of rejecting the gift God has given them by giving them himself. Because they are denying their true humanity—they are denying and rejecting themselves. They reap the consequences of that inner split. Question is—when they stand in glory and face the One, Jesus Christ, who is both the Judge and the Judged—will they be found to be in him? And that is another question worth wrestling with.
Lord, thank you for your perfect gift of grace. Thank you for the infinite measure of grace you have given us in Jesus Christ. Please grant to each of us repentance—a change of mind and heart—that will enable us to fully receive and be transformed by your gift to us of yourself. Thank you that even though we are imperfect, you have perfected us in Christ. Thank you that even though we are weak, in Christ we are strong. Thank you that even while we were yet sinners, Christ, you died for us. You are our only hope, Lord Jesus. We trust completely in you. Amen.
“Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.'” 2 Cor. 12:7–9