Sunday, September 11, 2011

Law or Grace?

It was years ago when I was having breakfast and reading Law or Grace? by M.R. DeHaan. The place was crowded and the only vacant chair was at my little table.

A waitress asked me,” Do you mind if this lady joins you?”

“Not at all”, I replied.

The lady was probably in her late sixties, with neat white hair. She was dressed in a powder blue skirt and jacket and a ruffled white blouse. Her little round hat had a veil, and she was wearing white gloves. This outfit was typical conservative dress for that time in Cincinnati, a town where formality was still the norm and casual familiarity was not.

I had only a few pages left to read and my book was soon finished. As I said, you didn't just start talking to people at that time and place. I can remember knowing such a lady for two years before we addressed one another by our first names. But a strong impulse came over me—Give her the book.

“Excuse me, ma’am”, I said, “but I've just finished reading this book by Dr. DeHaan, and I wonder if you would like it?”

She brightened up when I spoke to her and said, “Why thank you, my husband has had a heart attack and maybe he would like to read it. He's not allowed any activity for awhile and he's getting restless from being confined to bed.”

I finished my coffee and wished the lady a nice day. I kept thinking about her husband. Was he one of the "work 'til you drop", type‑A personalities so common in that part of the country? Or maybe he had an even worse problem. Was he trying to win his salvation by an abundance of good works? That type of person was common also.

De Haan addressed this idea in his wonderful book. It is out of print by now, but you can still find used copies.

Just how do we get saved, and how do we stay saved? You would think these questions were answered long ago, and they were. But religion keeps messing with our minds, complicating things, so many people don't hear the simple message of the Bible. Then there is our fallen nature that says, with pride, I don't take anything for free, I work for everything I get.

When I was teaching I gave away books to people studying with me. Sometimes it was really hard to convince a person to accept one. It went against their grain. A man told me, “I've been out of work for six months and I can't give you anything.” I opened the cover and showed him the message stamped inside, ‘ Paid for by the great general fund in the sky.’ “It's already paid for, please take it, I would plead with them.”

But people want to pay their way. With books this is a minor problem, of course, and a little persistence will generally win a person over.

But when eternal salvation is the issue you sometimes just can't convey the message. Sometimes a person, even well‑ versed in the Bible, just can't see it. So many of us have been trained by the school of hard knocks that if something is offered as free, there has to be a catch somewhere.

Young Martin Luther tried to win favor with God by burdening himself, fasting, and creating needless suffering. He tortured himself with all types of burdens. He was, at that time, still a Catholic monk. An older man of the order saw how miss‑directed Martin's efforts were and, taking a chair in one hand, led him to a life‑sized crucifix. He had him sit in the chair facing this image of the suffering Christ. "Look at these wounds" he told him. Wasn't that a great lesson?

When people talk about "easy believerism", and say, “That's cheap salvation!” They are thinking of themselves and not about Jesus. It wasn't easy for him. He suffered not just to make it easy for us to be saved, but to make it possible for us to be saved. He suffered and was humiliated, and died for us.

Imagine that, if after a lengthy and agonizing birth, a baby could say, "That was so easy, Mother". She would say to him, "It was easy for you, son, but it was not easy for me".

A book of the New Testament was written to rebuke a group of people who had been taught that their salvation was a gift, and not won by any works on their part. But they turned away from the message of grace.

This book is the Epistle to the Galations. In it, Paul, writing to people who thought they must win salvation through the law of Moses, says; ...for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. Gal. 2:16.

In another book, Paul tells us: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and not of yourselves. It is the gift of God Not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8,9.

Let us not boast, but let us "Look at these wounds".

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