Much theology can look utterly alien to the contemporary western mind. Salvation – what’s that? What do I need to be saved from? And Grace? That’s a nice name. Etc. As I read recently here, ‘in our radically secular society we believe we can not only save ourselves but even invent the meaning of our lives.’ (we think we’re so clever!).
I believe the Reformation’s core rediscovery remains dynamite. Namely, that spiritual freedom, salvation (from slavery to self basically, in all its forms), and fellowship with God are not earned, but gifted. Freely given. Received, not achieved.
The radically distinctive nature of this gospel idea should never be downplayed – unique among world faiths. It’s grace (free unmerited favour) that saves us, and good works flow from this out of gratitude and joy – fruit, not root. But it’s not cheap – the cost was the cross, and remembering this helps me avoid taking it for granted.
Grace stands out too in the everyday workaday world. From climbing the corporate ladder to teen anxiety over peer approval and Instagram likes, the worlds we inhabit our hedged round with conditions and expectations. But grace makes no demands, lays out no conditions – other than my willingness to accept it.
The beauty is, the more fully I embrace it, the better equipped I am to handle these pressures, and even model a different way. No power in the world is more able to effect change, in me and the world around me, than grace – divine love in operation.
Western technological and material achievements can foster an illusion of self-sufficiency. It’s a fleeting mirage. Jesus said to a man whose barns were full, ‘You fool! Tonight your life will be demanded of you…’ Death is the final riposte to all our pretensions of control over our existence.
Though I do have agency, I’m not the captain of my soul – however much I may like the swashbuckling swagger. I’m accountable to a greater Reality. To the proud self-sufficient part of me, grace – which elicits trust and dependence – is offensive. It may take a circuitous trail of circumstances and events to awaken me to my need of it. And amid shifting eddies of distraction and diversion, it takes attentiveness and a certain kind of discipline to hold onto the life raft and not be sucked down into all manner of inner enslavement. But it’s always there, beckoning me back. As the U2 lyric says:
It’s a name for a girl
It’s also a thought that
Changed the world