Where Clarity and Humility Meet
Posted in Grace/Forgiveness
Scripture: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians begins the way most of his epistles do. Paul identifies himself as an “apostle” and the recipients as “saints,” and he bids them “grace” and “peace.” Only, in Ephesians he wants to stay with the Grace theme for the first section of the letter. Grace is important to what Paul has to say to the church in Ephesus. He uses the word “grace” six times in the first 33 verses. Grace has been lavished on them. Grace is glorious and is freely bestowed. Grace is the point. By grace they have been chosen, destined and adopted. God’s grace, and nothing else, is what has rescued them from the life into which they were born, the mundane life of the flesh and its appetites.
It’s all about grace – the unmerited, free gift of God. Paul wants to remind the gentile Christians of Ephesus that in Jesus Christ the God of Israel gave them life they neither expected nor deserved. The God who rules over all that is has welcomed these outsiders, dead in sin, into the work of redemption and praise, the hard work of tearing down dividing walls of hostility so impregnable in our world.
For this life and task, you have been rescued by grace. You didn’t choose this life. You didn’t sign up for Wall Removal duty. You didn’t volunteer for a life praising the glory of the God who has put everything under the feet of Christ. You were drafted. You were adopted. Your salvation was not your act, not even a little. Just in case the Ephesians might miss that bit and think “saved by grace through faith” leaves the door open for “faith” to be something we contribute to the process; as though faith were a meritorious act on our part – Paul circles back to slam that door shut. “Not the result of works,” he says. If you earn it, it’s not grace. If you qualify for it, it’s not grace. Paul couldn’t be more clear, grace has been lavished upon you.
Our salvation, our rescue from other possible lives, is wholly and entirely God’s act.
Which is clarifying. It reveals the character of the God who has saved us and claimed us. It tells us who we work for. Grace reminds us that we are sinners in need of mercy in order to live. This fundamentally gracious God has chosen, adopted, and destined us for a purpose, has set us a task, invited us to participate in the healing and redemption of the world. We are not rescued for our own comfort or luxury or triumph or pride. We are claimed to tear down walls and live lives worthy of the calling to which we have been called.
Which means grace is also profoundly humbling. We didn’t earn our place at this table. We didn’t contribute to the establishment of this Kingdom. We didn’t discover this path to new life. It was done for us. We were lost in sin, pursuing our own interests, securing our place in the world when we were rescued for this higher and more glorious mission.
Our Christian lives are lived at the confluence of clarity – knowing who we are and who has saved us – and humility – knowing that our escape from death was done for us, not by us. Where clarity and humility meet there is an opportunity for real liberty, a freedom to live confidently and boldly for the God whose grace has given us life.
I think that’s what Paul wants the Ephesian Christians to know and do. Theirs was a world rent asunder by hostility and hatred and rivalry between Jewish and Gentile converts. The presence of Jews in the church made it dangerous for the Gentiles to identify as Christians. The Gentiles were blamed by the Jews for Rome’s violent repression of Jerusalem after the revolt in 66 AD. There were a lot of hostile dividing walls for them to tear down. So, maybe that is also what Paul wants the Columbian Christians to know and do today. We are not strangers to hostility or division. If we summon a renewed awareness of the clarity and humility that inform our faith, our knowledge of what God has done in Jesus Christ, we can live lives worthy of the calling to which we have been called. We can step up for Jesus and be instruments of peace and healing, solidarity, and community. The world needs it. The Lord commands it. Humility is hard, but like it or not grace is free, and lavish, and ours in Christ.
Prayer: Gracious Lord, we sing to the praise of Your glory and give You thanks for rescuing us from sin, adopting us into Your body, the Church, and sending us out in mission to make Your vision of human life and community real in the world. Clear-eyed and humble before You, we offer ourselves to the work for which You have prepared us. Amen.
Submitted by Rev. Dr. Douglass Key