[serialposts]I can remember talking about this passage in Confirmation as if it were yesterday. There’s not much I remember from those middle school years, but this passage stuck with me. This is what makes us Lutheran, my pastor said. It is this passage that identifies us as Simul Iustus et Peccator.
Simultaneously saint and sinner.
I can remember being so confused by this. How could I be both a saint and a sinner all at the same time?
At the beginning of this passage, Paul lays out the law:
You were dead in your transgressions and sins…
Dead. No hope. End of the road. The Message puts it this way:
You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live.
Wow. Talk about hitting the nail on the head. I am constantly worrying about what other people might think of me. We are continuously striving to leave a life pleasing to Christ – but all too often we find ourselves caving to peer pressure. Magazines, TV shows, movies – even ads on the side of public buses – they all beg us to live a worldly life.
A life that leads us to emptiness and death. A life that pulls us further and further away from God and from each other. Let’s face it – we are pretty hopeless.
But then Paul lays out the gospel:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.
If there is one verse in the entire Bible that has shaped my life, it’s this one. There’s nothing I can do – or not do – to save myself. I am saved by grace alone. And it’s not anything for me to brag about … because it was given to me freely. I didn’t earn it. I didn’t ask for it. God’s love is so great and so abundant that He just reaches out and showers me with grace and mercy.
There have been so many times over the last ten years that I have wrestled with leaving church. So many times that church felt like more of a country club and less of a group of people gathering together to follow Christ. So many hearts broken because of the words and actions of people who call themselves Christian. So many frustrations over worship styles and new ministries.
Yet every single time I think I’m done with church, I’m reminded of this verse. This paradox – that we are all saint and sinner – simultaneously.
Because you see, the church is made up of people. People who are dead to sin – and yet alive in Christ – all at the same time. None of us are perfect – no matter how hard we try – and yet God grants us grace and mercy in spite of our transgressions.
And when I stop boasting because of my own salvation – and begin to truly realize just how great the grace of God is – it is in that moment that I realize God has created each one of us to do great things. Sometimes we let the world steer us off course, but praise God for granting us the grace and mercy to get us back on the right track.
We don’t do great things so that God will love us. No … we do great things because God loves us. Because God lives in us through Christ Jesus.
To quote Caedmon’s Call,
I’m so thankful that I’m incapable of doing any good on my own.