Grace Settles It
Well, we did it. We put everything we had into a big campaign to communicate Peace’s need for a new ministry center. Half our membership was involved in one way or another and we had committees and cottage meetings and posters and brochures and videos and a big, fantastic meal together. We gave it our all. Now all we can do is sit here and wait for the three-year commitments to be tallied up and announced on December 11.
Do you think we did it? Was it enough? Will all that work be enough to save the future of our congregation? Will God bless those efforts so that we can continue to be his people here in Otsego?
If you think about it, you’ll begin to see that questions like those are about much more than just the campaign that we have begun. Look around you at the people you are worshipping with this morning and do not fear to ask the more disturbing question: Is it really people like these that God has called to his vital mission here?
Think for a minute about the people who leave you feeling uneasy about our future. It doesn’t exactly paint a picture of optimism, does it? How can we ever settle any of these issues about our future if we don’t have the very best and most positive people among us?
Grace Settles It. All the lingering questions, all the nagging worries—grace settles it once and for all.
No! A great big donation from some millionaire’s estate—that settles it!
No! This new book on Christian living that’s bringing back authentic Christianity in congregations across the country—that settles it!
No! Finally ridding the church of slackers and worldly Christians—that will settle it!
They had the same kinds of ideas two thousand years ago, but when the congregation in Corinth was having trouble, the Holy Spirit had Paul write them this familiar line to settle it: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Grace and the peace that God sends along with it—nothing else was going to settle their issues. It may have sounded simplistic, but it was the most powerful thing that Paul could give them: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
And, again, when Paul was thinking about these troubled Christians and thanking God for their strengths, what specifically did he thank God for? “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.”
Grace, grace, grace! Sure, we all know it’s great, but how practical is it when you have problems to solve? Can’t he have offered them anything more? I mean, what is grace? It’s undeserved love, right? Now don’t get me wrong: I know it’s extraordinary that God loves us even though we don’t deserve it. But just because he loves us, that doesn’t take care of our weak Christians, does it? That doesn’t rid us of fears and doubts and conflicts about our future!
Maybe this reveals a weakness in our simplest definition of grace: “undeserved love.” It’s so simple that it makes grace sound as though it is, itself, something simple that just kind of sits there.
But, oh, no! Grace does not “sit there.” It can’t sit there. Grace is a living thing because it is not just a feeling in God, but a course of action he is continually taking. When Paul thanked God for the grace he had given the Corinthians in Christ, he explained that it wasn’t just some pretty bauble stored in a display case somewhere: “For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.”
When you’re wondering whether or not the church is going to be able to survive, grace settles the question, because grace is the characteristic of God that causes him to act, to give, to provide for his people, enriching them with every gift that they need not only to survive but to thrive as his church!
So why is it that the church barely seems to get by? If God is settling everything for us through the acts of his grace, then why do our finances always seem to be so unsettled?
The answer is sin. And I don’t just mean sin in the sense of wrong things that you and I have done. I’m talking about sin as that active and destructive force working within us, the deadly force that was even at work inside Paul, himself, waging war against his new self (Romans 7). That destructive force is the reason why the church barely seems to make it while thieves and hucksters prosper.
Well that doesn’t make any sense. If God is so concerned about sin, why do the people who are completely steeped in it prosper? If grace does not just “sit there” but is God acting powerfully in love toward us, then why is it that we are facing trials of all kinds while the “big” sinners prosper? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
Grace settles that question, too. It’s just that you have to remember that sin does not only exist in unbelievers. It exists in God’s people on earth, too. And grace acts powerfully in two ways to deal with that sin in us.
The first way is to send us a Savior. It’s so easy to forget that—not to forget that he sent a Savior, but that it wasn’t just the world of lost unbelievers who needed him so badly. God’s chosen ones aren’t chosen because they have a lesser measure of sin within them. They are chosen “in Christ Jesus,” that is, chosen because Christ Jesus took their sins away, not because they had fewer to remove.
Did you notice how many times in this short text Paul refers to a Christian’s relationship to God only being possible because of Jesus and the Good News about what he has done? “In Christ,” “about Christ,” “with Christ”—only in verse seven do I not see a direct reference to our blessings from God only being possible through the work of Jesus, and that verse is about waiting for Jesus to come again and take us away from this sinful existence forever!
In Christ, grace settles all questions of our relationship with God. When Jesus died on the cross, he was establishing our relationship to God by taking the death penalty for sin upon himself. His resurrection then declared us free from any condemnation for sin in our lives, for if there were any sin left to punish, then the one who took sin upon himself would still be in the grave, paying for it with his continuing death. But “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25).
So, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Are you confident in that? Are you sure of that? Because we absolutely must understand that before we can tackle the tougher questions, the ones that bother us most. Do you know that he chose you in your baptism (Romans 6; Galatians 3:26,27)? And, rest assured, if you have not been baptized, he is calling you to this peace and salvation right now through the preaching of the Good News of Christ—that is how he gathers his people out of the world (2 Thessalonians 2:13,14).
All right. So now that we know that grace has settled all questions of punishment from God through the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins, how shall we answer those more nagging questions about the apparent prosperity of the wicked and the struggles God allows in his church? Paul answers those questions for us: “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”
And that’s the second way that grace deals with sin: Keeping you strong to the end. Preservation in the faith is the name of the game. Only it’s no game for God. The stakes are too high for it to be a game. Your very soul is at stake—the soul he sent Jesus to save—and he’s not going to let that go. And so he lets us struggle.
What? You don’t follow that? Consider what happened to the world that was at ease and prosperous before the Flood. Consider also what has happened to American society as its prosperity grew.
The closer sinners get to a life of ease in this world, the less they hope for a life to come. God allows struggles because “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful,” and he has promised to “keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As painful as our struggles are—and as little as God likes to see us in pain—we need our struggles in order to maintain our faith. “…we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God,” Paul wrote in Romans 5:2-4. “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope”—hope for a better world to come and not just a comfortable life here.
Grace settles it. It settles all the nagging questions about what on earth God is trying to do with us. He is trying to get us to heaven. And he will get us there. God is faithful. He will keep us in the faith by every beneficial means. Grace settles the questions: Everything in this life, both the good times and the rough times, are specifically designed by him to drive us to his Word and Sacraments for comfort and new life, until grace settles us by his side in heaven. Amen.