I find myself in Jacksonville, Florida on nearly a week of leave to re-energize and refresh and read and go to the river and pray. No, literally, I’ve already done that today. Here is a picture below.
Part of my time here I have also decided to read the book that a friend of mine wrote called Grace Without God. As you can tell from the title she is part of the Nones generation and has no religious affiliation. The overriding question in the book (at least from my conversation with her since I haven’t started reading the book) is how do those who are not affiliated to church and also to God (I know, two different things but for her they would be the same thing) still be able to get the joy from fellowship and still have a sense of grace. I will be curious as to what insight she has and match it with the relevance that we still have as an institutional church. We do have relevance, and I can see it every day through each one of you. How does someone without that point of reference be able to see that same kind of relevance, but without God? It’s a great question and hopefully before this trip is over I’ll come back with some kind of answer.
Paul talks a lot about grace in this chapter. It really is the Grace chapter for Romans. He begins by repeating that we have been justified, made right before God, by faith, not by our works. Then in vs.2 he begins to talk about Grace and we see how important it truly is. He calls God’s Grace that upon which we stand. You remember that hymn…On Christ the Solid Rock I stand. That solid rock is the grace of God that forgives us even while we were yet sinners. Jump now to vs.8. This is an extraordinary verse for me. Anyone would die for someone who deserves it. We would all die for our spouses and our children. But if we saw someone whom we didn’t trust and was foul mouthed, and was antithetical to everything for which we stood, it might be hard to stand in front of a moving train to save his life if our life is put in danger. But that is exactly who we are (remember, we have to begin with the fact that we are sinners), and that is exactly what Jesus did for us.
Don’t gloss over the whole Adam and Jesus discussion. Jesus has always been described as the second Adam. This is true in the sense that through Adam sin entered into the world, and through Jesus’ righteousness, justification became a part of our reality. Let’s talk about the sin that entered the world through Adam. Yes, I know, Eve ate the apple, but both of them, Adam and Eve were guilty. Remember, in the Hebrew the word Adamah means dirt and Adam can mean man or better yet, humanity. So if we talk about Adam and the sin that entered the world we have to talk about original sin. Now, this is where my potential non-orthodoxy enters the picture.
I do not believe, as St. Augustine said, that every single one of us is born a sinner from birth. We are created in sin according to St. Augustine. I don’t believe that. We are born, each one of us, with a propensity for sin. We are born with a seemingly irreversible desire and attraction for sin which will inexorably lead us to sin. But, we are still born in the image of God, and that image is perfect. As Calvin states, that image is so cloudy and obfuscated that it is almost impossible to see. It is almost as if we are born with sin, but we are not. We are born with an undeniable momentum that will carry us toward sin. For me that is far different from saying that we are born with sin attached. God makes us in His own image and hopes beyond hope that we will not turn away from Him. But sadly, we do.
But take heart! Just as freely as we sin, so freely, as vs.15 following reminds us, do we receive the gift of salvation. This is so important to remember. Jesus died for us without strings attached. Vs. 18 is the verse that reminds us that even though we sin, Jesus’ justification covers it, completely.