“From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” John 1:16
At the beginning of a new year, as we come to renew our covenant, it is good to think about God’s grace, to think about the undeserved love we receive from God, and to think about how we respond.
God’s grace comes to us in Jesus, God’s grace was there before the beginning of time. John Chapter 1 Verse 10 tells us, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him”
The world came into being through him, God’s grace is there before the beginning. God’s grace is outside our time. God’s grace comes to us, even though we do not deserve it, even though we have done nothing to merit being counted as children of God.
Writing to the Philippians in Chapter 3 Verse 7-9, Paul says, “whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith”. Saint Paul says he has no righteousness of his own. If Paul, the most devout and conscientious of men, has no righteousness, then how do we appear to God? We deserve nothing and that we are owed nothing, yet, in the words of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans Chapter 5 verse 8, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us”.
Grace is difficult for us because it runs contrary to all our human inclinations, it runs contrary to all of our ideas about who is deserving and who is undeserving, it runs contrary to our ideas about rewards and punishments.
I find grace the hardest Christian teaching to accept; preaching about it is one thing, living it is another. Within our Protestant tradition, and within the community in which I grew up, there is a very strong work ethic, the feeling that you should always be doing something. I cannot sit and do nothing, even spending time reading books or writing sermons can be stressful. I need to be out and about doing things, calling at the hospitals, out on the farms.
But why all the frenetic activity? To earn God’s approval? God doesn’t ask for constant activity. Salvation is not something we earn. God’s promise to us rests on his grace, it does not rest on how many things we do.
Yet if you read most Christian publications, they are full of all the things that people are doing, about events and activities and plans. Churches are judged not on what they are, but on what they do. Read all that is going on and it is very easy to lose sight of God’s grace, to feel that if only we did more or we tried harder, then we would somehow be closer to God. It might say in Ephesians Chapter 2 Verse 8, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no-one can boast”, but Christians are very good at boasting. The church is very caught up with ideas of numbers and success, it is not very good at grace.
Grace means that God loves us for nothing; something that is not easy for us to accept. It challenges our natural pride; it makes us think about our faults and failings. If we are not worthy of God’s love in our own right; if we haven’t earned it, if it has to be given to us for nothing; then there must be a whole lot wrong inside us. This is not an easy thought when we feel that we live upright, decent and respectable lives. Yet the question we must answer is whether or not we accept this grace, this free gift to us. We cannot earn our own salvation, it comes only by grace.
Encounters with grace can be disturbing; encounters with God can be disturbing. Do you remember when Jesus first meets with the fishermen in Saint Luke Chapter 5? They have been fishing all night and they have caught nothing and Jesus tells them to try again, so they do, and they pull in a huge catch. Saint Luke tells us, in Chapter 5 Verse 8, “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!'”
Grace can make us feel like Simon Peter, we can be afraid when we meet with God, afraid of what he sees in our hearts, afraid of what changes he might expect from us. We might wish that God would go away
God knows what we are like. He knows every thought and every action. He knows ever word and every deed. We cannot escape God. The only question is whether we accept him, whether we accept this free gift.
“From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace”, Saint John tells us. As we begin a new year, as we make promises to God, we can do no better than to say “yes” to God’s grace in our lives. “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God”, says Saint John Chapter 1 Verse 12. Saying “yes” can mean becoming a different person in 2015, saying “yes” can mean really keeping the covenant we make today.