As I said on Sunday, the Apostle Paul never got over the reality of grace. The fact that he could actually “cease striving” and still be accepted into fellowship with God because of what Jesus did for him was quite literally life changing.
But let’s be real. It’s not easy to “cease striving.” You and I are conditioned by both nature and nurture to strive. To achieve. To earn.
I’ve shared with you before that I was a Boy Scout. Not just any old kind of Boy Scout. Like my father before me, I earned the rank of Eagle Scout.
To become an Eagle Scout back in 1971, a young man had to demonstrate a certain level of proficiency in 21 different areas. There were required skills like swimming and knots. And there were optional skill areas, like music or canoeing. Once you demonstrated your skill in a particular area, you earned a badge – a merit badge.
As long as you did what was required, the badge was yours. It was owed to anyone who mastered the necessary skills. It wasn’t a gift. It was earned. It was merited.
We love merit. And we’re uncomfortable with grace. That’s why we have to continue to tell ourselves that what the Bible teaches us is actually more true than what we think or believe. It’s grace that has brought you safe thus far. And grace will lead you home.
If your salvation is by grace, Paul said, it is no longer on the basis of works. Otherwise, grace would no longer be grace.
Throughout the history of the church, there have been attempts to mix merit and grace into some kind of a salvation stew. In the middle ages, Christians looked at what the Bible teaches about rewards that God has promised to His children in passages like Matthew 6:19-21 (“Lay up treasures in heaven”) and 1 Cor. 3:14-15 (“If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward”). They concluded that our obedience and good works had to count for something in eternity.
Allow me to get technical for a minute.
Some medieval theologians talked about different kinds of merit. There is what is called strict merit, where your works are sufficient to earn you the reward in question with no grace involved. So, for example, let’s say there’s a car that’s worth $30,000. Under the terms of strict merit, to earn that car, you need to pay the amount in full.
Then there is condign merit. In this case, let’s say the car is worth $30,000, but the seller has promised it to you for $20,000. With condign merit, your works may not match the value of the car, but the seller keeps his promise and sells it to you for the agreed on price.
Finally, there is congruent merit. Here, the same car is worth $30,000. You do your best, work hard, and all you can come up with is $6,000. With congruent merit, the seller pays the balance of what is owed from his own treasury. He makes up the difference.
Christians have always agreed that our salvation is not on the basis of strict merit. We could never live a life that earns us salvation or God’s blessings.
But some in church history suggested that while God’s grace is the key factor in our salvation, our works contribute at some level – either condignly or congruently.
The impulse to mix merit with grace often comes from a concern that if our works count for nothing in our salvation, then we will neglect obedience or holiness. If good works count for nothing why would anyone bother?
But the Bible teaches that when our lives and priorities are reshaped by God’s grace, then obedience, holiness and acts of charity begin to emerge in us and from us, not as a way of earning God’s favor, but as a reflection of the new desires and new motivations of our new lives. We’re no longer obeying God or serving God or sacrificing to serve others in an attempt to earn God’s love or favor. We now obey and serve and sacrifice because it’s who, by God’s grace, we now are. It’s what His children love to do. Not always, of course. And not perfectly. But the new desires and motivations are planted in us when we’re converted, and they begin to shape how we live and the choices we now make.
Grace, as you know, means you get not what you deserve but what you don’t deserve. Mix in merit of any kind – congruent, condign, whatever – and all of a sudden, grace is no longer grace. It’s why we sing not the labor of my hands can fulfill Thy law's demands; Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone.
When we are finally able to wrap our heads and hearts around the reality of God’s free and full gift of grace, the good news has both a liberating and a sanctifying effect on us.
So today, re-believe the gospel. Rest. Cease striving. Rejoice in the reality of God’s grace. And watch how that reality reshapes how you live.
Don’t forget that Kids Small Group happens on the first and third Thursday nights each month. That means next Thursday, February 1, we’ll have a church full of kids ages 0-12 enjoying pizza, songs, stories and fun. Drop your kids off at 5:45 and pick them up by 8:15.
If you have any questions about KSG, send an email to Matt Gurney at email@example.com.
It’s not too late to take part in the spring Women’s Bible study on Monday nights at 7:00 at the church. Curtis Thomas is leading a 12-week study of the book of Philippians.
You can pick up your workbook on Sunday morning at the welcome desk in the lobby at church. The cost is $8.
Direct any questions to Terry Morledge. firstname.lastname@example.org
And don’t forget that Sunday morning, February 4 is our 10th anniversary as our church. We’ll some time during our morning worship service giving you an opportunity to share briefly about how God has worked in your life during your time at RCC.
And when church is over, we’ll stick around for our annual Souper Bowl Sunday lunch. Plan to bring a crock pot of soup or stew or something that can be dished up and shared. And we’ll have a birthday cake we can share as we celebrated our first decade together as a church family.
If you’re new to Redeemer, and you’ve wondered about our approach to church membership, we have just the thing for you. On Saturday morning, February 17, you can meet with a few of our elders for a morning session where we’ll talk about our mission and vision as a church and about what it means to become a covenant member of Redeemer.
There is some pre-work necessary before the class. If you’d like the details, send an email to email@example.com and he’ll fill you im.
Did you know that one reason God saved you was so that your relationship with Him would provoke jealousy in the hearts of your Jewish friends?
What’s that all about?
We’ll find out this Sunday.
See you in church!
Soli Deo Gloria!