“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. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NRSV)
As Christians who practice their faith according to the Lutheran tradition, we understand ourselves to be caught in an apparently inescapable paradox: simul justus et peccator (simultaneously saint and sinner). We are sinners, born of a fallen humanity, remaining full of sin throughout our natural lives. Yet, by the grace of a loving, forgiving God, who sent His only Son to die on the cross to pay our debt, we are made clean and reconciled to our Creator. How can it be that we, sinners through and through, are able to live our lives in the knowledge that we are saved, forgiven of our every blemish and stain?
In the pre-Reformation era, the Church practiced the sale of indulgences. Extra merits accumulated by the Saints and Christ himself could be purchased to redeem one’s personal sins or reduce time in purgatory for deceased relatives. This practice of “grace for sale” deeply concerned Martin Luther. As he studied Scripture, he became convicted of the doctrine of sola gratia (grace alone). Grace is defined as “unmerited favor or assistance.” It is only through our faith in Christ Jesus (sola fide – faith alone), not our works, that we receive the grace of God – complete forgiveness of our sins.
In the book, “Reclaiming the ‘L’ Word: Renewing the Church from its Lutheran Core,” author Kelly A. Fryer writes, “In this Jesus, we meet a God who loves us not because of everything we have done to deserve it, but SURPRISE, in spite of everything we have done to push God away, in spite of every time we have demanded the right to worship gods of our own making, in spite of it all. In this Jesus we see ourselves clearly . . . and we see God, a God of surprising grace who has given everything there is to give so that we can be set free.”
It is in this God-given freedom flowing from God’s grace that allows us to grow and thrive in the inherent tension of simul justus et peccator. Because we understand that we cannot be perfect or merit God’s favor on our own, we are free from the guilt and burden of always striving for perfection – perfection that comes only with the blood of Christ. No Longer must we try earn our Father’s forgiveness (which we can never accomplish), because through our faith we are saved by grace alone – sola gratia.
This marvelous, amazing gift of grace is given to us out of the boundless love of God, our Father in Christ Jesus, the Son. But as with any gift, it does no good if not used. We are to accept this gift with love and gratitude, to clothe ourselves in it, to re-open it daily to refresh ourselves and remind ourselves of our eternal salvation, and to pass it along to a world in need. We are to reflect the light of this grace in our daily lives, to give it away as freely as it was given to us.
In grace alone,