05 May Grace and Works
AUTHOR: David Z. Nowell
Talking about grace and works in Sunday school, using Peterson’s book on Ephesians.
I get the struggle.
I understand that guilt and self-reliance push us to try to earn God’s favor by our good deeds. But at the same time, I also think we set up a false dichotomy between the spiritual (grace) and the physical (works) to the point that we want to dismiss the physical as irrelevant to our lives of faith.
But the lesson from the New Testament is that the Lord of Eternity is also Lord of the Present.
Remember the story of the healing of the paralytic? Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. The friends of a paralyzed man try to bring him in the front door, but the crowds are too thick, so they take him to the roof, remove some tiles, and lower the paralyzed man down in front of Jesus.
Really, really serious friends here.
Jesus looks at the man lying at his feet, and, in my version of the story, glances up with a grin at the friends peering down through the hole in the roof; this will get their attention. “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Don’t you know the Pharisees came out of their seats on that one? “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Jesus gets it, understands the quandary. “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
Then comes the most important so you will ever hear: “So he said to the paralyzed man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’”
Do you see it? How did Jesus establish his spiritual authority? By demonstrating his material authority.
The power to change an eternity—and a today—are precisely the same.
But we do need to give some credit here. The Pharisees ask the right question, even if it is rhetorical. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And the answer resonates for us today, now.
And the God who forgives sin is the God who heals.
That is the important part to this. God, alone. Jesus’ authority came from beyond himself. Its locus was in his relationship with the Father. Earlier in chapter five, Luke records, “. . . the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
If we are living the life of grace, we will see the evidence in a life of works.
And the child abandoned to the streets, and the hungry widow, and the outcast in our community will also encounter that grace.