Thursday, December 1, 2016

Guilt and Grace

December 1, 2016

Of the 13 (14 if you count Hebrews) letters St. Paul wrote to the first churches, all but one begin with a salutation followed by words of praise for something he had heard about their faith. The one exception was his letter to the Galatian Christians. After his initial greeting, he launches into what amounts to almost a tirade, marveling that they would so soon turn away from the Gospel of grace he had preached, to trying to earn God's favor by works and rituals. He is so distraught over their abandonment of his Gospel of pure grace that he calls down a curse upon those who would preach anything else. Even the corrupt Corinthians didn't earn his ire, though they were heavily involved in all sorts of sin and decadence.

Later in this Galatian letter, he declares that Christ has been made a curse for us, re-emphasizing the seriousness of their situation by implying that since Christ was cursed for our sake, to receive Paul's curse indicated that they were completely outside the pale of Christian faith. Abandoning grace means abandoning all that makes us Christians.

Linda and I were talking about this just this morning. We talked of how easy it is to unintentionally abandon grace. We both were brought up in pretty conservative churches. The church culture of our youth included such things as "don't drink, don't smoke, don't go to dances or movies." I don't believe for a moment that our instructors in the faith intended to instill in us a works righteousness mentality. They were simply trying to spare us from so much of the sorrow that engulfs peoples' lives, but the end result was that we internalized these rules, and added to them till Christian life consisted more of guilt than grace. Every little infraction added another layer to this oppressive burden that we shouldered.

This is exactly what St. Paul was trying to spare us from. He knew by sad experience that rules only imprison, and that only the grace, the undeserved, unearned favor of God demonstrated in the gift of his Son has the power to set us free. Later in this short letter, he warns against using this freedom as an occasion for sin, listing a whole bunch of things that can entrap us, but he never lets go of grace. We shouldn't, either. Tonight I am grateful for our conversation this morning, for the Scripture that guides us, and for the grace that frees us from guilt to live in love and gratitude.

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