Impossible Grace

The last time that I wrote in this blog was the day that I found out that my grandfather died. It feels like a whirlwind of time has past since the funeral this past weekend, but it has only been a few days. Time has a funny way of never staying still, of speeding up, stopping, slowing down, and of generally not asking anyone’s opinion.

This past weekend I enjoyed time with a part of my family that I do not get to see very much. I learned a bit about myself through a better understanding of who they are. Although it could never be a completely clear picture of the component members of my maternal-side family for two primary reasons: 1) because families have a tendency to act altogether and different when they get together, and 2) because of the nature of our visit. I sufficed to learn from them as much as I could. I also had the chance to learn about some of the things that my grandfather did in this life. I believe that he was a good man, and we have been blessed to have loved him.

The funny thing about that statement is that he KNEW he was a sinner. I remember him telling me a story a number of years ago about some of the horrible things that he did in World War II. He fought in the Pacific Theater as a medic and struggled in the battle of Guadalcanal. He said that he would never forgive himself for the things that he did. He was acutely aware of his sins, his sinfulness, even after decades of time had passed. Time’s vacillating tendencies were not powerful enough to erase his guilt.

I have that same Achilles heel. I suppose that you, dear reader, may be troubled when you ask yourself the same type of question: “how good am I at getting over my shortfalls, iniquities, or sins.” You probably would answer much like my grandfather. We can’t. We don’t. We typically find something to fill that questioning in our hearts, and we end up with a short dose of alleviated conscience. Nothing seems to fit well, or for more than a shot of morphine’s length.

So, we, terrible sinners, full of guilt and iniquity, peer into our own very grave by looking at the man in the casket. Ominous things come into our minds. Some stay longer than others, if we are not able to cloud them out with something. Nothing relaxes our souls. We are restless. The grave itself testifies to our short stay here, and the failures that lead each of us to her earthen home. “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekial 18:20a).

If you have read up to this point, then I have to make an admonition. That is uncomfortable to me. I want nothing more than to avoid what I sense within me. Still, I’ve noticed in my short life that the grave makes us look inside of ourselves more than any other thing in life. What we find is not refreshing. It’s depressing. What is inside of us looks more like the grave than something alive.

But that is not the last word with God. In Jesus, we have a hero and someone who fills perfectly that something that we desire filled. Jesus doesn’t let us avoid our sinfulness, but he embraced it on the cross in our place. There is no doubt that the Son of God suffered death and hell to save us from ourselves (John 3:16). The following passage imputes to sinners how strong God’s promises are to us regarding his payment for sin and our certain eternal life with him through faith.

When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:13-20)

The writer to the Hebrews explained in the sentence preceding this paragraph the means whereby we receive the gift of salvation. He said that we obtain these things, not by our own merits, but through “faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (Hebrews 6:12b). We inherit them through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and have proof of his forgiveness to us through his resurrection.

But, the author wrote that salvation comes through “patience,” too. After viewing the funeral this past weekend, I have a better understanding about why he included “patience.”

We see the ravages of sin everywhere in this world. We feel the burden of our sins within our own hearts. We have so many pressures, as human beings, as Christians, that it becomes possible to lose hope when we look at a grave. We become impatient. The grave of our human heart overcomes our minds and unquiets our spirits.

The point that I want to impress upon myself, and you few readers, is that God has given us these gifts of faith and salvation and will not take them back. Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Now, re-read the second part of the passage listed above for a moment:

Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

God swore to promise us salvation through faith. He swore it and “confirmed it with an oath.” Those who die with faith have eternal life because God promises it. So, if God is the one who creates faith, as the passage from Ephesians points out, the one who promises salvation to each and everyone who believes, and the one who cannot lie and has sworn on oath to uphold salvation in this manner, then the matter is settled. God has decided that his grace and love for sinners super abounds our own internal graves and their external manifestation. Always. Through faith and patience, which come from him.

That is why the Apostle Paul calls us “more than conquerors” in Romans 8. Through faith, we have been forgiven, redeemed, bought back and remade into even more “patient” servants of Christ. Through life, even through death, we have the promises of God that we are reconciled to him through Jesus. That is why when we see a sinner who has died with faith, we can confidently say that he will be welcomed into heaven. God did it, promised, and swore it. It begins to feel like there is no matter more important to him than our salvation.

My grandfather may be gone. There will likely be others who I may have to endure watching die before I am taken. I may still cringe a little at the thought of death. Your life may be similar to mine. But in our hearts, let Jesus, the giver and fulfiller of promises who promised it all to you and me, give us peace that surpasses all human understanding. Peace in faith. Let your heart rejoice in God your Savior!

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