“…the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6)
A rabbi and a priest are having a conversation. The priest says to the rabbi, “You ought to have ham. You’ll like it.” The rabbi says to the priest, “You ought to have sex. It’s better than ham.” We tend to exalt our pride and think that by living righteous and holy lives we will thereby go to heaven; if we fall short, God will turn His back on us. God, obviously, wants us to pursue righteousness and holiness. However, Scripture is clear in that, “…all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God….” (Romans 3:23) The “good news,” the Gospel, says that we are “…justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 3:24) The only way we appropriate God’s grace toward us is by trusting Him for our salvation and for keeping us amidst the vagaries of all of life’s circumstances. (Romans 5:2) Even though we know that it is only through God’s grace, or unmerited favor, to us that we will spend eternity with Him, we still seek to put burdens upon ourselves and upon others. These burdens give the illusion that we are righteous and deserving of God’s mercy. However, believing that illusion is probably the greatest sin of all! We are not righteous, nor are we capable of ever being righteous in God’s sight, save for the shed blood of His Son on the Cross two thousand years ago. Just as we were in Adam when he sinned, we were in Christ when He was on the Cross as a propitiation for our sins. All of our past, present, and future sins were nailed to the cross with Him! There is absolutely nothing we have to do, nor is there is anything we have ever done, to merit the free gift of salvation! Moreover, there is nothing we can ever do to merit this wonderful gift! We can not in any way merit salvation! Anticipating our Messiah, our Kinsman-Redeemer, Isaiah told us, “…though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18) As Paul says, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law….” (Galatians 3:13) “….by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight….” (Romans 3:20) The Gospel is “good news” precisely because God reached down from heaven and called us by name to be His own, and we did nothing, nor could we do anything, to merit such a wonderful gift. Indeed, the Apostle Paul assures us that “ while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) We didn’t do anything to merit God’s wonderful, free gift to us; we were sinners when He redeemed us and reconciled us to God; we’re sinners now; we’ll be sinners until we see God face to face! The Blood of Jesus is sufficient to cover over all of our sins and sin-nature! That’s what’s meant by “God’s grace” or unmerited favor to us! Unfortunately, many Christians have little faith in the grace of God! They think they have to add performance in order to merit the salvation that only God gives through His grace. This erroneous belief existed from the beginning of Christianity and prompted Paul to say to the Ephesians, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Notice that the Apostle Paul points to the fact that when we think our good works merit salvation we are demeaning the grace of God and elevating ourselves as vehicles of our own salvation. Unfortunately, all too many public professing Christians reinforce the lie that one has to think and act as they do (or say they do) in order to be Godly; these professing Christians frequently have a great deal to do with the current demonization of, and discrimination against, God’s LGBT children. We’d be better off listening to the Apostle Paul than listening to them! Clearly, good works come from a life of faith in God! However, those works play no part in our salvation. If works determined our salvation, the Gospel wouldn’t be “good news,” since we would still be in bondage to the legalism of Judaism, and Christianity would merely be a sect, an offshoot, of Judaism. However, Paul says “… that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ…for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16) We are now under the Gospel of grace, the only Gospel to be found in Christianity! Jesus didn’t come for the righteous, since there aren’t any such people. He came for people like you and me! We’re flawed, sinful, crocks of clay who hold the unspeakable treasure of God within us. God will deal with our sins and flaws in His time. As a matter of fact, He may well use these flaws and our knowledge of our sin-nature to enhance our ministry, by making us more empathic with the flaws and sins of others. Don’t be a legalist! Fulfill your ministry and know that you are under God’s mighty hand, and that He will always protect and walk with you, regardless of life circumstances! God doesn’t turn His back on His children, those whom He has called by name. Please, relax, and always rest in that knowledge.
Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at California State University, Chico, served as an ordained priest in the Congregational Catholic Church, a division of the Independent Catholic Churches International (ICCI). For many years he published a weekly column in the Sacramento Valley Mirror titled “Christianity and Society,” where he dealt with a variety of social issues from a biblical and sociological perspective. Maneker also published a blog called “A Christian Voice for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights” and the website Radical Christianity.